Matthew Spalding, reviewing Hilldale College president Larry Arnn’s The Founders’ Key in National Review, quotes him as asserting: “The way we talk, the way we stand, the way we dance or sing — all are influenced by the laws of our land and the principles behind them, and our laws and principles spring from these two documents,” meaning the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
“Influence” is a nice, vague word. Let’s be concrete: neither the Declaration nor the Constitution is meant to have anything to do with how we talk, stand, dance, or sing, and it’s absolutely false that our “principles” spring from any two documents. This is proposition nationalism of the most totalitarian — and wooly — sort.
It’s also the kind of thing that gives Straussianism a bad name. The rest of Spalding’s review is unobjectionable, but there is a serious crack in the would-be governing philosophy of anyone who thinks that the habits of daily life should be, let alone are, the product of political planning and ideas. Note well the connection between this way of thinking and the project of democratizing the Middle East through “regime change.” Change the regime and you change the life of the people, it’s that simple. All you need is a written constitution and some fuzzy notions of natural rights. Men’s and women’s souls and traditions are clay. Nothing could be less Burkean.
Today is Lou Reed’s birthday: make like Vaclav Havel and crank up the Velvet Underground to just say no to this vision of politics over life.