Conservatism, Liberty and the Constitution

A SHINING CITY ON A HILL is a vision of God's will for Good, Just, and Righteous government done in Wisdom, and it is not a Liberal or utopian ideal for government attempting to a leftist Social Justice, but rather it is a practical, moral vision based on common sense and “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” of Thomas Jefferson and the American founders and as seen in the Judeo-Christian worldview. A SHINING CITY ON A HILL is best summed up as “One nation, under God, indivisible with Liberty and Justice for all.”

Part of the UNDERSTANDING Series:

UNDERSTANDING Conservatism, Liberty and the Constitution

A prominent radio talk show host and self-described “conservative” said recently that he could not see how any American could be against individual liberty and the Constitution, and the fact that so many leading Americans seem to be against both individual liberty and the Constitution shows how greatly the nation has declined in recent years.  Is this common conservative analysis an accurate analysis of the problems of our nation today? No, it is not.  The fact is the reason why so many Americans, national leaders, Christians and church leaders seem to be against “individual liberty and the Constitution” is the way in which many conservatives define individual liberty and the Constitution is not only highly flawed but not historically accurate.

 Individual Liberty

Certainly individual liberty is a fine thing. And this can almost immediately raise the question of why anybody would be against individual liberty in any shape, form or fashion. In truth the answer is quite simple for anyone who has taken Social Political Philosophy 101, which apparently few if any self-described conservatives have today.

The fact is “liberty” without restraint or law is known as license, and license is universally recognized as a bad thing morally, socially, economically, politically and so forth, and license leads to hedonism, rampant immorality, exploitation, lawlessness, and to a breaking of an implicit social contract in any given society and even to anarchy and a generally miserable state of existence for all but the most rich and powerful in a widespread (survival-of-the-fittest) Social Darwinism.

This means anyone who advocates “liberty” without coupling it to the Just rule of law Wisely done is in fact implicitly advocating license, hedonism, and Social Darwinism. Does this mean that all self-described “conservatives” are in fact hedonists and Social Darwinists?  I personally have no idea and assume not, but who knows? If you look like a duck, walk like a duck and quack like a duck, you are, presumably, a duck. And if you assert and advocate hedonism and Social Darwinism, presumably, you are a hedonist and Social Darwinist, and people are going to think you are whether you are or not, and they are going to want to have nothing to do with your “conservatism” and your “individual liberty.”

 The Constitution

For many, if not most, self-described conservatives the situation with people opposing the Constitution is very similar to the situation with people opposing liberty as license. When self-described conservatives say “the Constitution” they usually mean their particular version of the Constitution, which is something of an idiosyncratic one that the vast majority of people reject as well as the vast majority of traditional Constitution scholars.

This self-described “conservative” view of the Constitution is known as the “enumerated powers” view. The enumerated-powers view holds that Congress can do nothing that is not specifically outlined in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, such as, “borrow money,” “declare war,” “establish post offices,” etc.  And, further, this limiting Congress to strict enumerated powers is usually justified by a quote from James Madison who also held to this strict enumerated-powers view and reading of the Constitution.   

Apart from the merits of this strict enumerated-powers view, it has generally been held to be impractical by most people, and further it has to ignore other key sections of the Constitution and even other more important sections. Article 1, Section 8 besides listing various enumerated-powers also says that Congress shall “provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.” The strict enumerated-powers people say, in essence, this “general Welfare” phrase should be struck from the Constitution.

But it is worse than this for many self-described conservatives because the Preamble to the Constitution states some of the primary purposes of the Constitution and the federal government are to “establish Justice” and to “promote the general Welfare.” And there is little or no wiggle room for self-described conservatives to limit Congress to various limited enumerated powers of Article 1, Section 8. This means one can hold to the strict enumerated-powers view if one wants to, but this view is not widely embraced, and it does not appear to be consistent with the text and tone, letter and spirit of the Constitution traditionally understood.

 Bottom line: A Well-Defined Conservatism

The self-described “conservative movement,” that almost invariably defines itself as being for “individual liberty” and “the Constitution,” is in fact in the eyes of the public seen to be advocating license, hedonism, anarchy, Social Darwinism, and a somewhat quirky and impractical view of the Constitution as the central points of their “conservatism,” and tragically many conservatives cannot figure out why so many Americans want nothing whatsoever to do with them or their “conservative movement.” Oh, to see ourselves as others see us, rightly or wrongly?

In order to win large numbers of followers the conservative movement needs to redefine itself from “individual liberty” (as license, hedonism and anarchy) and “the Constitution” (as strict enumerated powers of Article 1, Section 8) to “Liberty and Justice for all” and the more obvious plain meaning and “original intent of the Constitution.”