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04/30/2017

New Book: Thomas West, "The Political Theory of the American Founding"
Michael Ramsey

Recently published: Thomas G. West (Hillsdale College), The Political Theory of the American Founding: Natural Rights, Public Policy, and the Moral Conditions of Freedom (Cambridge Univ. Press 2017).  Here is the book description from Amazon: 

This book provides a complete overview of the American Founders' political theory, covering natural rights, natural law, state of nature, social compact, consent, and the policy implications of these ideas. The book is intended as a response to the current scholarly consensus, which holds that the Founders' political thought is best understood as an amalgam of liberalism, republicanism, and perhaps other traditions. West argues that, on the contrary, the foundational documents overwhelmingly point to natural rights as the lens through which all politics is understood. The book explores in depth how the Founders' supposedly republican policies on citizen character formation do not contradict but instead complement their liberal policies on property and economics. Additionally, the book shows how the Founders' embraced other traditions in their politics, such as common law and Protestantism.

Via Steven Hayward at Powerline, who adds:

First, West’s account is not just at another rich synthesis of the various intellectual traditions and currents that most historians attribute to American political thought, but instead makes a powerful case for the centrality of the idea of natural law and natural right above other ideas: “If I am correct, the founders embraced ‘other traditions’—common law. Protestantism, etc.—only to the extent they helped to ‘secure these [natural] rights.’”

Second, West directly and powerfully rejects the smug historicism typical of most accounts of the American founding today even by some authors who regard themselves as sympathetic to the founding. Historicism assumes our current opinions, even consciousness itself depending on how far out you travel on the historicist spectrum, are limited by our own historical horizons. For people trapped in the prison of historicism, the “truth” of the founders may have been true for their time, but our times and ideas are—and must be—different. (This is the root of that laziest of liberal tropes about “the side of history.”) West believes (and I agree) that the achievement of the American founding was crystalizing the accumulated and hard-won political wisdom of two millennia of western civilization into a truly novus ordo seclorum—a new order for the ages, meaning an advance of human social order based on permanent principles of right. As George Washington wrote in 1783: “The foundation of our empire was not laid in the gloomy ages of ignorance and superstition; but at an epoch when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any other period.