Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Two Cheers for Constitutional Conservatism

The ever-insightful Peter Berkowitz concludes his defense of constitutional conservatism:

If they honor the imperatives of a constitutional conservatism, both social conservatives and libertarian conservatives will have to bite their fair share of bullets as they translate these goals into concrete policy. They will, though, have a big advantage: Moderation is not only a conservative virtue, but the governing virtue of a constitutional conservatism.

I await the "expanded version" of this op-ed to appear in Policy Review but would propose that such a fusionist interpretation of the Constitution rests on its suffusion by the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution’s "[m]oderation is ... a conservative virtue" through the extremism of the Declaration of Independence. Conservatives who have denigrated the Declaration--and they span the gamit from Bork to Kirk--undermine the cause of constitutionalism, its prudence together with its economic, defense, and moral blessings.

Discussions - 3 Comments

Great article...

I don't have much money, but I would bet it all on none of that happening. I have seen none of these ideas coming from conservatives mouths. I espeically liked the idea of homeland security following the law. Let us not forget what Ben Franklin said, "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither liberty or security. But, what does he know...He did not live through 911.

The continual fetishizing of the federal constitution hardly seems wise. A constitution is an instrument toward an end (erecting a governmental structure and defining certain immunities which pertain to individuals and corporate bodies) and ours has a number of defects which we might do well to discuss rectifying. That aside, consider his understanding of the contents of a 'constitutional conservatism':


Moreover, a constitutional conservatism provides a framework for developing a distinctive agenda for today's challenges to which social conservatives and libertarian conservatives can both, in good conscience, subscribe. Leading that agenda should be:

- An economic program, health-care reform, energy policy and protection for the environment grounded in market-based solutions.


- A foreign policy that recognizes America's vital national security interest in advancing liberty abroad but realistically calibrates undertakings to the nation's limited knowledge and restricted resources.

- A commitment to homeland security that is as passionate about security as it is about law, and which is prepared to responsibly fashion the inevitable, painful trade-offs.

- A focus on reducing the number of abortions and increasing the number of adoptions.

- Efforts to keep the question of same-sex marriage out of the federal courts and subject to consideration by each state's democratic process.

- Measures to combat illegal immigration that are emphatically pro-border security and pro-immigrant.

A case for school choice as an option that enhances individual freedom while giving low-income, inner-city parents opportunities to place their children in classrooms where they can obtain a decent education.

- A demand that public universities abolish speech codes and vigorously protect liberty of thought and discussion on campus.

- The appointment of judges who understand that their function is to interpret the Constitution and not make policy, and, therefore, where the Constitution is most vague, recognize the strongest obligation to defer to the results of the democratic process.


Only three of his nine bullet points concern governmental structure or spheres immune from government action, so his use of the appellation 'constitutional conservatism' is odd and likely to perplex. Also, state the antithesis of each of his points and ask if one would expect an engaged Republican registrant would likely subscribe to any. His preferred political program is not disputed in the constituency he addresses, so what is the point of this piece of commentary?

I don't agree with you definition at all. Being governed by a document is exactly the point of the whole thing. Its not about setting up procedural structures. The point is a document can't be bribed or corrupted. How is this point lossed? Is the second amendment one of those defects? What are the defects though, and why? That would be far better than the vague comment. If you want to stip me of my liberty at least have common decenecy to give me an argument as to why. As for him writing to a group of people who already believe what he is saying: LOL. If people stopped doing that then no books would be written. Thats part of the right left paradigm we live in. Anything outside of this is strange or wierd...probably with alciada. Why else would Ann Coulter be a best selling author or someone like al Franken write books. It's certainaly not for their discouses on human understanding. I have been toying with defining this and I think I can but its a very crude way: Thought Masturbation.

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