by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
How should conservatism do the vision thing? The new statement “A Way Forward,” coming out of the American Project at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy, speaks to an attempt to restore American constitutionalism by showing how certain populist insights connect with our Constitution. This statement, signed by Avik Roy, Elizabeth Spalding, Ted McAllister, Bruce Frohnen, and others, does not root our shared citizenship in abstractions or theory. The statement successfully navigates the shoals of a hollowed-out individualism and the collective progressivism best seen in Obama’s “Life of Julia” campaign cartoon.
“A Way Forward” is built on understanding people as both citizens and creatures. The statement curiously does not build its positions on the language of the Declaration of Independence but relies on “the idea grounded in our Constitution.” The signatories note that what is, ultimately, exceptional about America is our Constitution, which provides the basis for “the energetic social and political institutions — from schools and houses of worship to workplaces and political parties — to supply moral order and speak to our deep human needs for virtue and belonging.”
A robust republicanism informs “A Way Forward.” The statement observes that conservatism lost itself in its successes after the 1980s, where “the simple equation of economic policies meant to produce growth became a simplistic mantra for winning elections.” The fallout from globalism and the incessant wars of our ruling class were ignored by conservatives for too long. Thus conservative calls for limited government, free markets, and the rule of law eventually proved to be meaningless abstractions in the eyes of many Americans, remote from their actual experiences as workers, family members, citizens, and worshipers.
The statement evinces that we are relational persons who must understand ourselves in connection to our past and in our responsibilities to one another in order to govern ourselves as republican citizens. If this is secured, then we can build a future with reforms and innovations rooted in who we are as a constitutional people.