Monday, June 21, 2010

The Call to Constitutional Conservatism

In January 2009, just before Barack Obama took office as president, Peter Berkowitz called for conservatives to focus on first things and rally around the Constitution rather than fire up passion over this and that social issue. ("Conservatives Can Unite Around the Constitution," Wall Street Journal, January 2, 2009.)

Indeed, while sorting out their errors and considering their options, conservatives of all stripes would be well advised to concentrate their attention on the constitutional order and the principles that undergird it, because maintaining them should be their paramount political priority.

A constitutional conservatism puts liberty first and teaches the indispensableness of moderation in securing, preserving and extending its blessings. The constitution it seeks to conserve carefully defines government's proper responsibilities while providing it with the incentives and tools to perform them effectively; draws legitimacy from democratic consent while protecting individual rights from invasion by popular majorities; assumes the primacy of self-interest but also the capacity on occasion to rise above it through the exercise of virtue; reflects, and at the same time refines, popular will through a complex scheme of representation; and disperses and blends power among three distinct branches of government as well as among federal and state governments the better to check and balance it. The Constitution and the nation that has prospered under it for 220 years demonstrate that conserving and enlarging freedom and democracy depends on weaving together rival interests and competing goods.

I don't see how we can ignore the social issues, but when the Constitution is under assault, there can be no other rallying point in a time of civil cold war when those under oath of office to defend it don't actually believe in it.

No comments: