"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The American founding as restoration

One question that keeps coming up in conservative & libertarian circles regards the relationship of the American founding with the deeper and broader traditions of Western civilization. Were the American revolutionaries as a whole seeking to create the world anew, or were they seeking to a re-establish the fundamental norms of civilized government that they had known and learned about during the colonial period -- the rights of Englishmen & the natural rights of all human beings?

This question is recurring because it goes to the heart of what conservatives & many libertarians view as a key aspect of political legitimacy in America: the rootedness of policy & political theory in the founding genus of American order. Here's one answer:
[T]he founding was the rearticulation of Western civilization in its Anglo-American mode. The founders were thoroughly educated in the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew sources of this civilization, often knowing the classic writings in the original tongues, in addition to French and English literature. While substantially influenced by the secularizing tendencies of the movement from Humanism to Enlightenment, the American Revolution was essentially restorative and retrospective, in the primary meaning of the term as a movement to re-establish truth and justice on a primordial foundation, one lost through corruption and rebellion by men motivated by the perversities of valuting ambition and the lust for power engendered by selfishness, sin, and evil. This model of revolution as the "turn of a wheel" represents the primary -- not exclusive -- tendency of the American and perhaps of all earlier Western revolutions to be restorations.
Elias Sandoz, A Government of Laws: Political Theory, Religion, and the American Founding (University of Missouri Press: 2001), pg. 151.

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