Published for The National Review, August 7, 2012
Jonah has already pointed to his superb (my word, not his) review of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness in the new Claremont Review of Books. You should be sure to read both the review and the book (a collection of some of Claremont’s very best pieces). The review is a wonderfully learned and engaging essay about American conservatism and its various intellectual tributaries. I think I agree with essentially all of it, and I learned a lot from it, but there was one paragraph that leaves me wanting to offer a couple of thoughts.
Having laid out Thomas Silver’s view that some strands of conservatism lost their way by neglecting the Founders’ grounding in nature and natural law, Jonah writes:
It is not clear to me that conservatives have to subscribe to a dogmatic belief in nature in order to be reliable conservatives, to get right with the founding, or to make strides in the fight against the unfolding progressive revolution in politics (after all, it was this motley camp that got Reagan elected in the first place). At the very least, if this natural law approach to politics is the ultimate and proper destination of the street car called conservatism, other right-wing fellow travelers can ride for a good long while in the same direction before the insufficiency of their philosophical fare requires them to hop off. There may be some first-order disagreement between the Claremont conservatives and the more technocratic thinkers around, say, the excellent fledgling journal National Affairs, but those disagreements seem entirely academic given the political and economic realities we face. Indeed, the diversity of philosophical opinion among the supposedly unanimous Founding Fathers themselves seems far greater than that among the leading conservative intellectuals today.