The False Prophets of American Conservatism

Reprinted by The Claremont Institute, June 11, 2014. In Kenneth L. Grasso and Robert P. Hunt, eds.,  A Moral Enterprise: Politics, Reason, and the Human Good (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2002.)


While the crisis of today does not have the immediacy of the crisis over slavery, its underlying character is the same. It is commonplace today to compare the issue of abortion to that of slavery, and especially to compare Roe v. Wade to Dred Scott. And, indeed, the parallels are many and striking. More profound than the details of these comparisons, is the one cause underlying the many resemblances. When Douglas declared that he didn’t care whether slavery was voted up or voted down, that he cared only for the right of the people to decide, he gave expression to a concept of democracy that identified majority rule with indifference to the morality of the outcome of majority rule. Such moral relativism dominates political thought in our time far more profoundly than when Douglas and Lincoln had their debates. And this moral relativism, now even more than then, takes the form of a rejection of the principles of the Declaration of Independence. This is not because it is the Declaration alone that embodies moral realism and moral rationalism. Indeed, the principles of the Declaration are expressed in many other places, in the Revolution, and in the Founding generally. The “laws of nature and of nature’s God” in the Declaration represent, however, a distillation of the wisdom of a tradition of more than two thousand years.

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