High among the things American conservatism seeks to conserve is our country’s political inheritance from our founding, an inheritance that makes it possible for us to be a free, prosperous, decent, and self-governing society.
That work is unending and sometimes arduous — because the inheritance is complex and often misunderstood, because the threats to it are many and varied, and because conservation is rarely reducible to resisting change. Our claim is not that the Founders were perfect but that they were wise, and that we need to fit the times to the Constitution more than the other way around.
Constitutional government is betrayed when the public is asked not to consult with experts but to submit to them. Or when courts deny our system’s foundational premise that all men are created equal in their basic rights. Or, as we have recently seen, when a mob seeks to intimidate legislators into forgetting their duties.
Our political debates are often necessarily contentious, but they must remain only metaphorically battles. Different stripes of conservatives can have productive arguments with one another about how to help families flourish, what the proper bounds of government are, and who should lead the Republican Party. But that debate must not partake of conspiratorial fantasies, and lawless violence must never be on the table. We must strive, against all demagogues, to make our reason the master and not the servant of our passions.
The spirit of republican deliberation is already too frail in our times. Our fellow citizens doubt one another’s good intent and capacity for self-government. Even conservatives are tempted to give up the defense of the Constitution, which would leave it friendless and dying. Nothing, at such a moment, can sound more naïve than a call for Americans to rededicate ourselves to our patrimony. Nothing is more essential.