Rediscovering Principles — But Which Ones?

Matthew Spalding

recently discovered a book that purports to utilize a very similar tactic to my own work-in-progress — commenting on the degree to which modern America conforms to fundamental “Founding” values.

Matthew Spalding (We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future ) cites the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as I do, but for the most part uses a different set of principles from the ones enunciated in the preambles to those documents.

As might be expected from an author closely associated with the Heritage Foundation, his conclusions (from the last chapter — I haven’t read all the preceding chapters yet) comprise a veritable glossary of modern conservative philosophy: limited government, limited regulation (no mention of the deregulation of financial markets that just about caused another Depression), anti-welfare, anti-gay, pro-religion (anti-secular), opposed to socialized health care, anti-deficit (apparently unless the red ink is used to finance wars that implement an engaged foreign policy), pro-strict constitutional constructionism, pro-free enterprise, and pro-”liberty” (but apparently not opposed to the sections of the Patriot Act that violated the Fourth Amendment).

Appointed judges, intellectual and political elites, mainstream journalists, bureaucrats, and Europeans — the customary targets of conservatives — fall victim to his keyboard. He almost equates property rights to the means of pursuing happiness, totally ignoring reams of evidence to the contrary. (As we know from last week’s article, nobody expects a correlation any more between belief systems and evidence.)

Who is Matthew Spalding? He’s a graduate of Claremont McKenna College, with a doctorate in government from Claremont Graduate School. (You’ll find no mention of his doctorate anywhere in his book. Perhaps he’s not proud of it; or perhaps having a degree of that nature makes it difficult to criticize the intellectual elite.) Spalding serves as project leader for the Heritage Foundation’s First Principles Initiative, which “seeks to provide a much-needed education for policymakers, the news media and ordinary citizens on the ideas of liberty and constitutional self-government” (quote from the Heritage Foundation website).

Spalding testified recently before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, warning about constitutional and practical problems associated with naming high-level bureaucrats (commonly called “czars”) to positions with the power to coordinate public policy in selected arenas (like health care). Perhaps he didn’t anticipate that anyone would make a connection between this testimony and the fact that the Foreward to his book is written by none other than William J. Bennett — reformed mega-gambler, author of The Book of Virtues (are you laughing yet?), and former Drug Czar under President George H. W. Bush (if irony makes you laugh, you are now writhing in agony on the floor).

Seeing something like this in print (a plethora of assertions without footnotes, albeit with a list of relevant references at the end), the merits of which are easily demolished by a simple examination of facts combined with the ability to formulate logical analysis, merely adds to my motivation to publish the counterpoint to that view.

Ron Wolff

Ronald Wolff publishes the blog Musings from Claremont, where this article first appeared. Republished with permission.

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