Published Humanitas, Volume XXVI, Nos. 1 and 2, 2013

It has been said that every religious heresy proceeds from a misunderstanding of the nature of God. Something similar could be said about constitutional heresies. They proceed from a misunderstanding of the nature of the Union. From the time the conservative intellectual movement emerged in the United States in the early 1950s, for example, its self-professed members have been divided into hostile camps who disagree sharply on the nature and meaning of the constitutional system that all federal office holders are bound by oath to support or uphold. The differences over constitutional interpretation reflect even more fundamental differences concerning human nature and man’s historical predicament.

For those who might be called mainstream or traditional conservative thinkers, such as Russell Kirk and Peter Viereck, the Constitution that emerged from the Philadelphia convention was the product of a culture and worldview, deeply rooted in European and especially English history, that was acutely aware of flawed human nature. Men and women are torn between higher and lower inclinations. Because we cannot always count on individuals and groups to do what is right for its own sake, governments are instituted to put restraints on the governed in furtherance of community. But since government itself is composed of imperfect human beings, we also need to limit the power of public officials…

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