The Limits of the American Founding: What Our Political Fathers Didn’t Teach Us

We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future Matthew SpaldingISI Books, 2009; 267 pages, $26.95 This wonderfully lucid, judiciously penetrating, and most edifying book grew out of lectures that Matthew Spalding, a contributor to this journal, has delivered to politically minded young conservatives over the years. It is the best available expression of the view that the timeless truths of the Founders provide the best antidote to the Progressive deformation that has characterized our country’s self-understanding since the time of Woodrow Wilson. Wilson inaugurated a movement away from devotion to the natural and divine principles—the true foundationalism—that guided our Founders and best statesmen prior to the twentieth century. This “Founders good, Progressives bad” theory has become the stock conservative response to the era of Obama, with its most popular exponent being Fox News’ Glenn Beck. This stark dichotomy obscures a source of our moral disorientation today: the ambiguous but overwhelming influence of John Locke on the Founding. That our principles are primarily Lockean is not all good or all bad, but it is a problem that should receive scrutiny from conservatives in a friendly and loyal but nonetheless real criticism of the Founders as theorists. These individualistic principles fail to do justice to who we are as political, social, familial, and communal beings who lovingly assume personal responsibility for the duties we have been given. Much to his credit, Spalding strongly defends “the family, centered on marriage . . . as the natural or prepolitical institution of a free society.” Every effort must be made to “shore up all the institutions of civil society that are increasingly under progressive assault—families, churches, schools, and private associations—for their own sake, but also so that they can sustain and cultivate the virtues and character required for republican governmen
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