Natural Rights, Natural Law, and Liberty

It seems Michael Anton wants to define American conservatism. He accuses the other side of playing this game, but there are not many “conservatives” who have spilled as much ink on the topic as Anton in the last couple of years.

I had it out with him in 2021. Now, he has directed his fire at others who are questioning the underpinnings of the West Coast Straussian view of the American founding.

Much of the debate centers on the role of “tradition” versus “natural rights” in the founding period. Were leaders of the founding generation simply Enlightenment “natural rights” thinkers who wanted to codify some Utopian order, or was the founding influenced by the Anglo-American tradition sans ideology?

This is perhaps too simplistic of a dichotomy, but it certainly drills to the root of the problem.

Anton does not think the Anglo-American tradition can apply to people like him–sons of immigrants without English blood–and he bases his “conservatism” on a Lincolnian understanding of American history and society with his reading of “natural rights” and the classical tradition added to the recipe. The result is an inedible dish served up cold.

Traditions are rich, warm, and meaty, the type of stick to your ribs meal that maintains vigor and order. This is not to suggest that Anton’s understanding of American history has not been morphed into a type of American tradition. It has, but it’s influence has largely resulted in the growth of American progressivism, not the solidification of anything “conservative.”

There’s a reason 1860s Republicans called their opponents “conservatives” in order to differentiate their positions from their own.

These are the same people Harry Jaffa and Michael Anton want to champion as modern American “conservatives.” Perhaps so if you are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

No, real American traditionalism dates to the Christian roots of the Magna Charta and the development of the “liberties” of Englishmen. They used that term more frequently than “rights,” and had a much different view of “rights” and “liberties” than modern political thinkers.

Paul Gottfried offered a nice reply to Anton’s latest rant at American Greatness, an exchange I had to cover on The Brion McClanahan Show.

I don’t want to steal my thunder on the “natural rights” vs. “liberty,” so you’ll have to check out Episode 754 of the show.

Subscribe to The Podcast

Comments are closed.