Two Experiments

It is a commonplace among American conservatives that, at some point in the past, the way Americans understood their constitutional and cultural tradition diverged from the reality of the constitutional order established in 1787.  For the Southern Agrarians and their intellectual descendants, the great change occurred with the Civil War, which elevated “union” over the nation’s federal system and Abraham Lincoln as the national savior, thus inaugurating the new understanding of president-as-autocrat.  Others fault FDR and the New Deal, which kicked off a project in social engineering, now in its seventh decade, led by progressives who think they can tinker with human society as easily as they can with a stock portfolio.  Legal conservatives locate the transition in the decisions of the Warren Court, which weakened the rule of law and state sovereignty.  As a result, we now have a contemporary political culture in which nothing is settled unless five justices of the Supreme Court say it is so, and sometimes not even then.  Although many conservatives indulge in the game of trying to pinpoint the historical moment when the forces of ideology triumphed, less effort has been made to understand why it happened at all, and whether recovery and regeneration are possible.  Too often, conservatives have simply preferred to lament a lost past (Russell Kirk being a notable exception among traditionalists). ...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here