In Rekindling Constitutional Ambition, his recent post for Law and Liberty, Yuval Levin offered some particularly helpful insights for thinking through our constitutional problems. As Levin points out, friends of the Constitution are currently in a period of uncertainty about what goals they should be aiming for, even apart from the usual confusion over how to achieve their goals. Some friends of the Constitution argue that the election of Donald Trump to the presidency would allow for a revival (such as the writers at the Journal of American Greatness blog), while others (such as the signers of the Originalists against Trump statement) argue that it would undermine obedience to the Constitution as that document was originally intended.
Eighty years ago this week, Herbert Hoover published a book of political philosophy entitled The Challenge to Liberty. Although little remembered today, it deserves scrutiny, especially by those interested in the history and theory of classical liberalism in its American context.
When President Hoover left the White House in 1933, he and his wife returned to Palo Alto, California to live. At first he maintained a public silence about the new chief executive and his shimmering New Deal. He did not wish, by any premature, partisan outburst, to jeopardize or appear to jeopardize economic recovery during a national emergency. At any rate he doubted that comments of his would have an effect in the current public atmosphere, poisoned as he considered it to be by the incessant “smearing” of his record by the opposition. He hoped also that, as New Deal measures failed (which he expected them to do), the American people would learn from disillusioning experience and return to their traditional values.
The universal human rights régime, under which we live, originated in response to the racial and other atrocities committed by Nazi Germany and its allies. The architects of the post-War system intended to institutionalize the liberal and egalitarian vision that had animated the Allied war effort. Drawing from the constitutional practices of liberal Western societies, they placed the rights-bearing individual at the center of the new global order. They thus refashioned the pre-War states system in four major ways.
As the ambit of modern life expands, like a gas, serious political ambition dilutes. We range more widely, but in a scattered way—a molecule of attention here, another over there. The time and care needed for real (as distinguished from Facebook) friendship and citizenship evanesce as we learn to think and feel in short bursts. Because it is worldwide, the Web is flimsy, thin-spun. Building character takes time but any twit can tweet. Citizenship requires patriotism, love of one’s own, but one loves nothing so ephemeral as virtual reality. Statesmanship takes sustained thinking, but the distracted mind sustains only nervousness. This is…
Herbert Hoover's legacy is perhaps forever linked with the failure of the American economy under his presidency after the stock market crash of 1929 and his ensuing defeat by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the election of 1932. Further adding to his difficulties is the charge that he was progressive-lite in his policies before and after the Great Depression. The proper foundation, it follows, for advocates of a renewed conservative focus is Calvin Coolidge, a President who cut budgets and taxes. This discussion with Hoover scholar George Nash begs to differ. Nash, who previously appeared on Liberty Law Talk to discuss the…
Imagine, if you will, that a president who has not shown himself overly careful about a strict observance of the Constitution, announces that he does not propose to abide by the term limits of the Twenty-Second Amendment, and that he proposes to run for a third term. He notes that the members of the Supreme Court might have a problem with this, but argues that they should not have the sole authority to interpret the Constitution, that he also might do so when backed by the will of the people, and that democratic government is the grundnorm of the Constitution…
Cass Sunstein recently published two short essays-here and here-on the current political struggles between “tea-party” conservatives and progressives. In the first essay, Sunstein attempts to link our current political fracturing with the famous standoff between Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss. His second essay, which compares Whittaker Chambers and Ayn Rand’s divergent philosophies and then links their disagreements to various tendencies within present-day conservatism, is much better.
Constitutionalism is in crisis—obviously in Europe, more arguably in America. High on the list of intellectual breakthroughs that might help us sort through our contemporary confusions is Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel’s Philosophy of Right—to my mind, the best book ever written on the subject.
Argh! Barf! Say what?