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Vital Signs

Remaking Conservatism

Charles Kesler, in an otherwise unremarkable essay in the Claremont Review of Books (Summer 2009), argues that an effective response to the challenges of modern liberalism requires a revolution within conservatism.  He says a reformation on the right must involve a “return to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution” as interpreted by President Lincoln.  Like all good West Coast Straussians, Kesler follows his mentor Harry Jaffa, who boldly defied the conservative consensus that regarded Abraham Lincoln not as a conservative icon but as a consolidator of federal power at the expense of state sovereignty.  Conservative calls to resist the federal encroachment on states’ rights with threats of secession are “boneheaded” because they are “un-Lincolnian.”  Kesler predictably discourages invoking the Tenth Amendment because it was used to resist civil-rights legislation in the 1950’s and afterward.  His preference for the preamble of the Declaration of Independence over the supposedly tainted Tenth Amendment is further evidenced by his criticism of Southern conservatives who defend a “radical view of states’ rights” against “human or natural rights.”  Furthermore, he reprimands Anglo-American conservatives who try to “expunge all abstract doctrines of equality and revolution from our political life.”  Ultimately,...

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