- - Saturday, July 23, 2022

A few days ago, a columnist over at Washington’s other newspaper decided that the rapidly growing national conservatism movement was not his favorite flavor. In particular, he took issue with their statement of principles, which affirms the importance of national independence, the rule of law, free enterprise, the importance of the family and the rejection of globalism.

The columnist chose to ignore that and instead point out that the principles lacked a certain amount of deference to the Declaration of Independence and were too focused on the Constitution.

Let’s think about that for a second.

The Declaration was the product of one man. The Continental Congress considered it for about three days and agreed. The bulk of it was a list of mostly lawyerly grievances directed at the crown.

There were a few paragraphs at the top that wandered off into Enlightenment philosophy, most egregiously concluding that there are universal truths that are “self-evident.” Unfortunately, across history, most of the planet — including those marked by religiosity or by unbelief — has been unable to agree on what such truths might be. Indeed, outside of specific religions, there is almost no uniform sentiment about truths at all.

Parts of those self-evident truths include the idea that men are given “inalienable” rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by their creator. That’s nonsense. To borrow from the late Justice Paul Stevens, as a society we alienate those rights — to the extent they can be understood as defined, meaningful rights — all the time.

Finally, the Declaration argues that governments are instituted to preserve those rights. Is that really all governments do? Is that the extent of our beliefs about the responsibilities of a nation?

The truth is that governments are instituted by people to do a whole variety of things — create a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

If those words sound familiar, they should; it is the preamble to the Constitution. If it sounds substantially more expansive, durable and meaningful than the Declaration, that’s because it is.

That’s the real point and purpose of national conservatives. The Declaration is, ultimately, too narrow a conception of what a nation and its citizens are and should be. We are more than individuals scrambling around trying to maximize our personal rights.

Successful nations are collections of people striving to improve their families, their friends, their neighborhoods and their communities, and through all of that effort, improve their nation. In short, creating, maintaining and improving a nation is a group effort.

That’s the reason men have gone off to fight in wars for generations. It is the reason we honor mothers and fathers. It is the reason we value education. All of these things make all of us better and stronger as a people.

The Constitution is the foundational law of the United States. The skill of its authors and the intensely democratic process of its negotiation (which took four months) and ratification (which took another 32 months) — is a monument to the wisdom and potential of self-rule. That process — and the compromises that were made — created the foundation for us to become the most powerful, most prosperous, most admired (and most hated) nation in the history of the planet.

Taken together, the preamble, the articles and the amendments of the Constitution are a complete and masterful expression of what Americans care about.

In comparison, the Declaration is an excellent bit of wartime propaganda, hastily prepared and hastily approved.

The real objection to national conservatism is, of course, that it would bring us back to the centerline of our founding — national independence, rejection of excessive foreign entanglements, a strong but limited government, the rule of law, the importance of family, respect for religion and appropriate regard for free enterprise.

All of these things were, until about 50 years ago, integral to the American creed and the American conception of government.

Alternatively, the propaganda about the universality of man and the fanciful idea that other nations and peoples are pretty the same as us — as argued in the Declaration — has been exposed as nonsense by the last three generations of post-colonial conflict across the planet.

Just as we respect differences among people, we should respect differences among nations. But for some, leaving well enough alone is never an option. The impulse to tell other people what to do is a powerful one.

Finally, one of the virtues of conservative political thought is its emphasis on tradition and its caution toward new ideas and new approaches. The Constitution and the values upon which it is based have been our guiding star for almost 250 years. We should keep it that way.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House. 

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