(Feb. 27)  Last weekend, a group of conservatives convened the annual Principles First Summit, this one with the theme of “Conserving America’s Liberal Tradition.” I spoke on the opening panel, alongside thinker-journalists William Kristol and Matthew Continetti and historian Francis Fukuyama. As the curtain riser, our theme was essentially the theme of the conference as a whole: “America’s Tradition of Classical Liberalism.” And by “classical liberalism,” of course, what is meant is what once was known as the “liberal tradition” that describes the philosophical framework that, very broadly speaking, guided founders James Madison and Ben Franklin and theorists John Locke and Edmund Burke, among many others. It is that traditional “liberalism,” not modern American political liberalism, that modern Reaganite “conservatives” are determined to conserve.

With the caveat that this was part of a panel discussion in which I was conversing with those three other wonderful speakers, and that therefore only part of this actually was written out while part was ad-libbed, what follows is my best reconstruction of my opening remarks.

Thank you.

With all the current political challenges as outlined so far this morning, I feel a bit like C.S. Lewis’s Narnian mouse, Reepicheep, whose “mind was full of forlorn hopes, death-or-glory charges, and last stands.”

And while it may seem odd to go from C.S. Lewis to Fleetwood Mac, I also am put in mind of, quoting from Fleetwood’s song “Dreams,” “remembering what we had, and what we lost: what we had, and what we lost.”

Here’s what we in America once had. Think of yourself as an 11-year-old, one who is fond of reading heroic literature and enthralled by sports teams that triumph against the odds. And your country is really moving into gear in an 18-month-long buildup to celebrate its bicentennial. It’s April 19, 1775, the 200th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and the romance of it is what catches your eye, with the poetry of “Listen my children and you shall hear / of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,” and of “By the rude bridge that arched the flood, their flag to April’s breeze unfurled: There the embattled farmers stood, and fired the shot heard round the world.”

And then about six weeks later, almost a year to the day before the Declaration of Independence, the commemoration is of George Washington showing up to the Continental Congress, arrayed in his impressive dress-blue military uniform and signaling readiness to be chosen, which of course he was, to risk all his status and wealth — he was one of the 10 richest men in all the colonies — to lead a ragtag militia against the greatest army in the world.

You want to know what could inspire such risk and such courage: What was at stake, what drove these men?…. [The full column is at this link.]


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