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What Conservatives Are Trying to Conserve

Conservatives see America as exceptional in world history.

Bill of RightsAmerica, in a very short period of time, produced unprecedented prosperity . . .

· because of  America’s Constitution (including the Bill of Rights), which limits government power;

· because of freedom;

· because America’s founders (James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, George Washington, John Adams, and others) who designed our government were so brilliant;

· because of George Washington’s leadership (“The Indispensable Man“);

· because of the “rule of law” and the principle of “equality under the law” for all citizens;

· because Abraham Lincoln saved the union, abolished slavery, and brought the Bill of Rights protections to black Americans; and

· because of America’s “protestant ethic and spirit of capitalism” (as Max Weber called it in his classic book on why America was so successful so quickly).

America is exceptional because of the unprecedented freedom and prosperity created by this unique combination of circumstances, events, thinkers, and leaders.

Nothing like America had ever existed before.

It’s not arrogance to say this.  It’s not that we are an exceptional people. We’re not better than anyone else. But we have had an exceptional system, a Constitution designed by America’s founders, but tweaked along the way with Constitutional amendments.

America is the first country in history to be founded on an idea — a proposition.

The American idea is this — set forth in our Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Then the Constitution, adopted in 1787, underscores this by saying the purpose of the federal government is to “secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.”

Slavery was clearly a major blemish on what our founders had achieved in writing the Constitution and getting the Constitution ratified by the states.  The Constitution, of course, was the result of all kinds of compromises and tradeoffs.  This is how laws are passed in a democracy.

The inherent contradiction between this and slavery was remedied by the Civil War (at a cost 750,000 lives on the battlefields).

The important point is: America was founded upon this proposition: that “all men are created equal” — not equal obviously in talents, but equal before the law.

Slavery was a contradiction that could not survive this moral principle.

By the way, America’s founders were well aware of this fact.  They also believed ratifying a Constitution that tolerated slavery in some states was better than not having any law at all.

Most of them knew America would have to address this contradiction later.

Nevertheless, America’s Declaration of Independence, winning a seven-year war of Independence against the British Empire, and the ratification of the Constitution in 1787 were magnificent achievements that laid the groundwork for the abolition of slavery.

Slavery, of course, was the norm in the world at that time.  It’s still the norm in some parts of the world today. But it was ended in America.

It was ended in America because it could not withstand the principles set forth in America’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution. The hypocrisy of allowing slavery to continue was too glaring.

In America, everyone would be treated equally by the law.

America was the first nation in history to be “conceived in liberty.”

America was the first nation in history to enshrine freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association as rights.

In America, criminals are presumed innocent until proven guilty unanimously by a jury of one’s peers. That was new. America’s Constitution prevents the government from entering our homes without a court-issued warrant (“unreasonable searches and seizures”).

In America, we can’t be forced to testify against ourselves (no torture, no forced confessions). We have the secret ballot. Government cannot take our property without just compensation and due process of law.

These are amazing achievements — still not found in 90 percent of the world.

We’re now losing these achievements.

Liberty (made possible by our Constitution and the “rule of law”) turned out to be the oxygen that fuels human innovation and progress.

The reasons for America’s stunning and rapid growth were chronicled brilliantly by Alexis de Tocqueville in his great work Democracy in America.

I also try to shed some light on this miracle called the United States of America in a book I wrote titled Faith & Freedom: The Christian Roots of American Liberty.

A few other countries have since been able to approximate America’s level of prosperity by imitating the key elements of the American system.

But most of the world still lives in abject poverty.

Most of the world would move here if it could — which is why we need a secure border and controls on immigration.  We can’t handle most of the world moving here — not if we are to preserve what makes America exceptional in world history.

The United States of America — including our Constitution and free-enterprise system —  is the civilization American conservatives are trying to conserve.

Click here for Part I of the series, Why I’m a Conservative, Not a Libertarian

Click here for Part II of the series, We Do Need a Social Safety Net

Click here for Part III of the series, What a Conservative Social Safety Net Would Look Like

Click here for Part IV of the series, The Guiding Theme of American Conservatism

Click here for Part V of the series, True Conservatism Must Be Grounded in Reality

Click here for Part VI of the series, Why Ideologues Are So Dangerous

Click here for Part VII of the series, Cut Defense Spending by One Third and Unwind our Foreign Entanglements

Click here for Part VIII of the series. Immigration: A Huge Difference Between Conservatives and Libertarians

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