JWI affiliated scholar and Newsweek opinion editor, Josh Hammer, published an article in The American Mind titled: Who’s Afraid of the Common Good? This essay comes as a fiery response to C. Bradley Thompson’s argument that America’s Founding was not rooted in any “authority, order, stability, community, social cohesion, continuity, solidarity, sacrifice, duty, law, orthodoxy, virtue, goodness, and God.” Mr. Hammer writes that Professor Thompson misunderstands the nature of republican self-governance and the nature of the common good. It is clear that the Founding Fathers were religious, family-centered, common good communitarians. They affirmed that liberty is the freedom to do that which is good and that no man is truly at liberty to do that which is evil.
Some excerpts from the essay:
Thompson, a scholar at a major research institution who claims to have studiously considered, and have earnestly concluded, that America’s Founding was not in any way rooted in “authority, order, stability, community, social cohesion, continuity, solidarity, sacrifice, duty, law, orthodoxy, virtue, goodness, and God,” has most recently directed his liberalized ire at my friend Adrian Vermeule, Harvard Law School professor and provocative public intellectual. In his recent response to Vermeule’s widely read March 2020 jurisprudential salvo, “Beyond Originalism,” Thompson excoriates both Vermeule himself and the broader concepts of a legal and political regime oriented toward the common good.
Thompson, impressive bona fides notwithstanding, misunderstands the nature of republican self-governance in the classical tradition—and he misunderstands the nature of our specific constitutional order. Most germanely, he misunderstands the conceptual intersection thereof: namely, the overarching nature of a legal and political regime oriented toward the common good. In truth, Thompson has needlessly frenzied himself over a rather anodyne and unthreatening phraseology. Indeed, if nothing else, I hope to aid my individual autonomy-fetishizing professorial interlocutor to sleep just a bit better at night.
Rather, what we common good-oriented conservatives believe is very simple. We believe that individual liberty, let alone licentiousness or hedonism, is not the be-all/end-all of why governments are instituted among men. We believe that although individual liberty—especially religious liberty—might be an intrinsic end to a limited extent, it is more comfortably conceptualized as a means toward realizing the classical aims of politics qua politics: societal justice, human flourishing, and the common good of nation-state, communities, private institutions, and families alike. We believe, as Aristotle put it in his Politics, that “a state exists for the sake of a good life, and not for the sake of life only.” Elected statesmen and constitutional interpreters who take a common good-centric approach, therefore, prioritize the institutional and communitarian health that, contra the individual autonomy fetishists and laissez-faire fundamentalists, alone can lead to true human flourishing.
Thompson can try his hardest to depict the American Founding as a libertarian revolution, but there is simply no plausible reading of men such as Tocqueville that would indicate the Founding-era creed as anything other than religious, family-centric, common good communitarianism.
To read the full essay click here.