by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
It only recently came to my attention that Nathanael Blake, writing in Public Discourse earlier this month, called me a liberal. Or, if the slight is not quite so severe, he has at least lumped me in with some conservatives who have drifted left, on account of my appreciation for the American Founding and my exhortation that conservatives not abandon its principles. …
… These principles, moreover, were not simply made workable by the fact that non-liberal aspects of the American heritage restrained them. The focus on natural rights in the Founding, and the focus on virtue, were, rather, two sides of the same coin. As West puts it, “The founders’ concern with natural rights and their concern with virtue did not belong to distinct categories of thought. Instead, they thought of virtue as a condition of freedom and a requirement of the laws of nature.” …
… The theory of the Founding itself did not simply assume a virtue generated elsewhere; it inculcated said virtue, but with “natural rights and the laws of nature” as the perspective of its practitioners’ politics. The Founders “embraced ‘other traditions’ — common law, Protestantism, etc. — only to the extent they helped to ‘secure these rights,’” in West’s words. And the fact that the Founders cared deeply about virtue and enshrined it in public policy was not an aberration from their shared worldview, something they picked up from elsewhere, but a reflection thereof.
Though they may have disagreed among themselves on what means were best to accomplish these ends, there was no serious dispute among the Founders as a whole as to these means.
In The Political Theory of the American Founding, West asserts that “the founders’ principles provide real guidelines to political life.”