John J. Miller
visited Wilson's birthplace in Virginia, notes the portrait of Edmund Burke painted by his wife, and then this revealing comment about an aspect of modern conservatism: "The description says that Burke was one of Wilson's intellectual heroes.
It reminded me of how differently Burke was viewed a century ago.
Before there was a conservative movement, Burke was widely regarded as a
liberal. Then came the rescue efforts of Russell Kirk and Peter Stanlis
and the fundamental reorientation of Burke's legacy. This was one of
the modern conservative movement's first intellectual triumphs. But it
occurred a generation after Wilson's death, and so the image of a
conservatism once gazed down upon a champion of progressivism. We can
only imagine what Burke would have thought of his supposed disciple."
The really interesting question is how Wilson is viewed--how Wilson understood himself--not how Burke has been made this or that by Kirk and Stanlis. John should read Wilson with more care for Wilson was very explicit in revealing how he broke with the Founding; in denying the possibility that political theory could explain the legitimacy of political power or why citizens or subjects should obey the law. This is why much of Wilson's academic work talked about the evolution
of states then in existence ("governments have their natural evolution and are one thing in one age, another in another") and why he was so against the theory of natural rights, inalienable rights, or the Laws of Nature. No social contract for old Woodrow, no consent, and certainly no limits on government (he thinks modern social science, anthropology, for example, refutes this kind of thinking). We should not be surprised that he becomes the first president to attack the Constitution, both its structure and its purpose. Leadership, democracy, and efficiency become everything to him. And this has what
to do with what Miller calls conservatism, or maybe I should say, American conservatism? And how will it help a Tea Party man, or any citizen, focus on the present crisis and re-connect him with our political principles?