Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Political Philosophy

A Berry Big Event

James Ceaser will be speaking at Berry College (in or near Rome, GA) next Thursday, April 23 at 6:30 p.m. His topic will be something like why does Tocqueville talk up the Puritans but not the Declaration of Independence in DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA. Jim will be subjected to four outstanding friendly critics. They'll also be a panel on the recent election at 3:30--featuring distinguished experts such as Jecelyn Evans and Ivan the K--which will be in honor of Ceaser et al's incisive new book on said election. If that's not enough, they'll be two panels full of student presentations and commentary at 11:30 and 1:30. Please contact ME ( for further information.

We're very sorry that we couldn't extend a more general invitation to our friends to attend. We have no money in these tough times, and some of our regular sources of funding weren't available this year. There's hope for more next year, though. This is a more student-run event than ever this year, and thanks to Jacque Smith, Laura Lieberman and our award-winning professor Eric Sands ( for working so hard to keep hope alive this year.

Let me also thank IVAN the K for hosting a great conference on CHANTAL DELSOL. I'll say a bit more about what I learned in THE COUGAR CAPITAL OF THE WORLD later. But here's one exchange that links together the two conferences: SEAN SUTTON (a great guy and superb teacher) and I had a mild disagreement about how much the Declaration of Independence can be the foundation of judicial review. I talked up the importance of LEGISLATIVE COMPROMISE, saying that even the great Declaration was the product of legislative compromise. Sean exlaimed, correctly, that that made the Declaration better. And of course I agreed.

So my question to Jim might be whether our Puritan and Declaration foundings are as opposed as some say. Let me quote a few words from R.L. Bruckberger's IMAGES OF AMERICA (Bruckberger was French vistor to our country who's been called, with a little justice at least, the Tocqueville of the 1950s): "The greatest luck of all for the Declaration was precisely the divergence and the compromise between the Puritan tradition and what Jefferson wrote. Had the Declaration been written in the strictly Puritan tradition, it would probably not have managed to avoid an aftertaste of theocracy and religious fanaticism. Had it been written [simply] from the standpoint of the...philosophy of the day, it would be have been areligious, if not actually offensive to Christians." And so the Declaration of Jefferson, as changed by Congress, can't be simply explained or justified by "the philosophical context of its time; it must be viewed as a more profound accomplishment."

Discussions - 7 Comments

Father Bruckberger's book was a bestseller when it was released in the United States in 1959. It's a thoughtful and beautifully written European (and Catholic) appreciation of the American experiment in self-government and has more than superficial resemblances to the work of Orestes Brownson and John Courtney Murray. A fiftieth anniversary edition has just been reissued by Transaction with an Introduction by yours truly (the original Foreword by Peter Drucker is also included in this volume). Bruckberger's lucid, "triangular" comparison of the American with the French and Bolshevik revolutions(the latter two rooted in the "philosophy of the tabula rasa") and his rich and idiosyncratic reflections on political economy are alone worth the price of admission. And his interpretation of the Declaration--as modified and improved by the Continental Congress--as in definitive respects superior to the 'private philosophy' of Jefferson will interest many readers of NO LEFT TURNS.
I also strongly recommend reading any of the books by Chantal Delsol available in English(ICARUS FALLEN, THE UNLEARNED LESSONS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, and UNJUST JUSTICE: AGAINST THE TYRANNY OF INTERNATIONAL LAW(the latter translated by NLT's own Paul Seaton). Hers is an original reflection on "late modernity" that avoids the twin pitfalls of fundamentalism and relativism and does so with unusual grace and insight.--Dan Mahoney

It really was a terrific event and all the speakers did a fantastic job. As for the Bruckberger point, part of what has made the US only ambiguously modern and generally better at cultural transmission than its European counterparts is the way its own internal inconsistencies reflects the very nature of political life: the tensions within the American regime between and am impersonal and deeply personal logos is particularly emblematic of our twin longings for harmony with nature and others and transcendence of both. So unlike the French Rev which tries to purge political experience of all contradiction by re-engineering the human person, the American revolution attempts to fashion a regime that properly captures those permanent contradictions through real political compromise.

I wish I could make it, Dr. Lawler. The Berry conference is always a fantastic event.

I hope everyone in the Berry area realizes this is most certainly an event worth attending.

The same is even more true for the Constitution. It has even more political compromise. That's why its so egregious when judges substitute their own whims. They are tearing up a contract people thought they had made with one another, and imposing another to which no one agreed or would have agreed.

If one looks the gramar and reads closely the Declaration, you will notice that there is some key differences with Locke/Hobbes's view of social contact and the emergence of modern natural right.

I'd argue that both the Puritans and the Declaration are distinctively modern and so cannot be completely dissimilar or wholly opposed (not deny that they are different in important ways). Both the Puritans and the Declaration believed they could pick up and leave the past behind and start over. Fortunately, neither did entirely. I think that this is Hawthorne's take on the Puritans and the American Founding in The Scarlet Letter.

The Deist is right in saying both are modern but neither completely modern.

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL: