Conservatism: A Rediscovery or Distortion?

Yoram Hazony recently published a new intellectual history of American conservatism.

This is a worthwhile topic, but one that Hazony doesn’t seem to understand.

Russell Kirk did a much better job in The Conservative Mind nearly seventy years ago.

Why? Because Kirk included Southerners like Calhoun and Randolph.

Hazony argues that American conservatism is tied exclusively to the nationalists of the founding generation, meaning Washington, Marshall, Hamilton, Adams, and others like James Wilson and Gouverneur Morris.

He correctly identifies some of the most important characteristics of conservatism, but he fails to grasp the distinctiveness of American conservatism compared to a European model.

That comes down to one important word: federalism.

But not the federalism that Hazony attaches to American conservatives. To Hazony, federalism means nationalism.

That would have been news to those who understood the term in the 1780s.

The Federalist faction certainly stole the term, and they did it because they knew how committed Americans were to the principles of decentralization, i.e. the antithesis of nationalism.

In fact, the Constitution would not have been ratified if anyone thought it created a “national’ government.

That was the point. The so called Federalists duped the public.

The book provided a nice starting point for an episode of the Brion McClanahan Show, so I covered it on episode 686.

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