In introducing his new book, Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America, Paul Gottfried identifies a fundamental divide between neoconservatives and the traditional right. The divide is over the question: What is this nation, America?
Straussians, writes Gottfried, “wish to present the construction of government as an open-ended rationalist process. All children of the Enlightenment, once properly instructed, should be able to carry out this ... task.”
For traditional conservatives, before the nation is born, “ethnic and cultural preconditions” must exist. All “successful constitutional orders,” he writes, “are the expressions of already formed nations and cultures.”
To the old right, America as a nation and a people already existed by 1789. The Constitution was the birth certificate the nation wrote for itself, the charter by which it chose to govern itself. The real America had been born in men’s hearts by the time of Lexington and Concord in 1775.
In a recent issue of Modern Age, Jack Kerwick deals with this divide.
Irving Kristol, he writes, and quotes that founding father of modern neoconservatism, saw America as “a ‘creedal’ nation, a nation to which anyone can belong irrespective of ‘ethnicity or blood ties of any kind, or lineage, or length of residence even.’”
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