The Conservative Responsibility in 1996: A Symposium: Constitutionalism

Dennis Teti

June 1, 1996

If principles are the brains of politics, the conservative movement is brain-dead. Corrupted by relativist morality, consumerist economics, and pragmatic politics, post-Reagan conservatism has slithered under the “big tent” where “values” substitute for good and evil and “facts” begin and end with budget numbers.

Our polity is divided between “village people” communitarians who threaten individual rights and libertarians fixated on the mantra of “choice” without principle. Meanwhile the family loses its privileged standing, minority communities collapse without responsible fathers, doctors win the right to help patients kill themselves, and criminals who break sodomy laws in some states will soon be able to “marry” (whatever that means) in others.

Conservatism refuses to take our moral condition seriously. What is needed is a new “constitutionalist” movement, based on our nation’s central moral principle that “all men are created equal,” as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and incorporated implicitly in the Constitution.

Every American knows that God gave each of us the same natural rights. The most fundamental are the rights to live, be free, and pursue happiness; government’s task is to secure those rights against violation. Our nation’s moral character begins with that same natural law which is the basis of our rights. Thus, violations of natural law are among the most heinous crimes since they strike at the very source of our liberties.

Americans are “constitutionalists” at heart. But lately we have disregarded the law of nature, and now we are paying a high price: in drug abuse, violence, soaring crime, hedonism, and above all the destruction of the natural social unit, the family. The very concept of “family” is under attack by those who would “redefine” it to include every imaginable coupling (why not “tripling” and “quadrupling”?). But nature, preferring the traditional family, is not fooled by man’s “redefinitions.” The wage for violating the law of nature is not a life of liberation but a culture of death.

“Constitutionalists” will have to determine by induction which party’s platform can be justified by the moral principles of equality and liberty. The touchstone is the family. Should abortionists take the life of partially born infants? Should abortion be banned? Should so-called “gay marriage” be sanctioned? Should doctors talk ailing senior citizens into committing suicide? Should parents control their children’s schools? The partisan answers are not obvious. After all, the most compelling spokesman for the unborn is a Democrat, former Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey. And while libertarians such as Massachusetts Governor William Weld would foist unprincipled “choice” on the GOP, some Democratic leaders are trying to soften their party’s pro-abortion extremism.

The family is the root not of empty “family values” but of the nation’s moral character. Until a genuine “constitutionalist” party arises to restore the family’s constitutional dignity, Americans will have little to vote for. Great empires have fallen when they stopped cultivating national character. Rebuilding the moral excellence of our citizens is America’s most urgent task.

Dennis Teti, Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Hillsdale College, is a frequent contributor to OP from Alexandria, Virginia.