Mount Vernon Statement: the contradiction at the heart of this conservative fusion
Do conservatives really think that two of history’s most radical documents – the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – were conservative?
Have you heard the one where Ron Paul, Pat Robertson, and John Bolton walk into a bar? According to the “Mount Vernon Statement,” the declaration of first principles signed yesterday at part of George Washington’s estate by conservatives of varied persuasions, the punch line would be “Constitutional conservativism.” Led by Edwin Meese, President Reagan’s attorney general, the collection of prominent economic, social, and “national security” conservatives aimed to clarify and recommit themselves to conservativism’s bedrock political philosophy.Skip to next paragraph
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They modeled the project self-consciously on the 1960 Sharon Statement that ushered in "new conservativism" when the Young Americans for Freedom signed it at William F. Buckley Jr.’s estate in Sharon, Conn. Like those young activists, Frank Meyer's and Mr. Buckley’s vision of a theory able to “fuse” disparate American conservative ideologies inspired Meese and Co. The resulting mix of pabulum, historical revisionism, and internal inconsistency sheds light on enduring and contemporary tensions within American conservativism.
First, their argument. The main nugget of “Constitutional conservatism” is that America needs to return to the “limited government based on the rule of law” ideals of the Founders, who “sought to secure national independence, provide for economic opportunity, establish true religious liberty and maintain a flourishing society of republican self-government.”
In “recent decades,” the statement continues “America’s principles have been undermined and redefined in our culture, our universities, and our politics,” while the ““selfevident [sic] truths of 1776 have been supplanted by the notion that no such truths exist.” The signatories demand that the federal government respect Constitutional limits and apply the principle of limited government based on the rule of law to every proposal.
They round out their philosophy by arguing that these ideals, embodied in the “conservatism of the Declaration,” connect with the natural law tradition. Without this natural morality, the free market cannot operate; but with too big a government, “moral self-government” fails. Thus the connection between libertarians and social conservatives.