If you are already a member of Steve Hayward’s vast network of friends and fans, you no doubt already have your copy of his new book "Patriotism Is Not Enough: Harry Jaffa, Walter Berns, and the Arguments That Redefined American Conservatism."
If, on the other hand, you are asking yourself whether you want to read the book, that can only mean one thing: you are not yet a member of the Hayward network.
My recommendation is that you get your hands on a copy right away. And my recommendation comes with the warning that reading it will almost certainly make you a member of the Hayward network.
The subtitle may have caused you to hesitate. Perhaps Harry Jaffa (who was a professor at Claremont McKenna College, Claremont Graduate University and a distinguished fellow of the Claremont Institute) and Walter Berns (who was described by the New York Times in his obituary as someone whose "ideas fueled the neoconservative movement," and who was a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a professor at Georgetown University) are not household names around your house, and “the arguments that redefined American Conservatism” might sound like conservative inside baseball, but don’t be misled. When Mark Twain famously said Wagner’s music was "better than it sounds," everyone got the joke. When I tell you that the book is better than it sounds I am being perfectly sincere.
The book’s ten chapters are not a blow-by-blow account of ten rounds of intellectual combat between Jaffa and Berns. The book almost seems to set us up to expect that with a beautiful quotation of C.S. Lewis and a delightfully written profile—it could have graced the pages of The New Yorker—which brings Jaffa and Berns to life.
Then, rather than putting us in the ring with Jaffa and Berns, Hayward takes us on an exciting intellectual exploration, deepening our appreciation of what makes America the wonderful exception to mankind’s experience on this planet that it is.
Hayward presents Jaffa and Berns as representing two sides of a fascinating exploration of how to understand America and the American Founding:
“The substantive difference between Jaffa and Berns might be reduced to which single term in the Declaration each man emphasized as the most important. For Jaffa, the key word is equal (“all men are created equal”); for Berns, it is secure (“to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men”)…there is a strong case for each side of this argument…the battleground of this feud changed conservatism, and may yet save the country.”
Save the country? What an astonishing claim! How can a debate among intellectuals possibly save our country?
It turns out that our “experiment in self-government” runs on ideas that need to be broadly understood, felt, lived and secured—not just by eggheads—but by “We the People.”
Ideas—be they good or bad—have consequences. Egalitarianism of the leveling, rob Peter to pay Paul, “You did not build that” variety, and an Establishment of know-better Washington Mandarins are causally connected. Change the meaning of equality—America’s moral, cultural and political lodestar—and you change the purposes of government. Egalitarianism and the Administrative State are locked at the hip.
On this point Berns might well agree with Jaffa, but Berns thought a state of equality was naturally prone to egalitarianism. For that reason, he focused his attention on defending the Constitution as a means of constraining equality’s egalitarian excesses, and in so doing, securing our liberty. Berns’ position has been the predominant Republican (and Conservative) position for the past half-century.
Jaffa’s enduring insight is that a Republican Party or Conservative Movement that lacks the capacity to speak of equality, properly understood—in which our natural equality is the generative cause, requiring a politics of liberty and self-government—is playing a dead hand.
Lincoln captured the competing foci of these academic rivals in a language that favors Jaffa’s emphasis.
Lincoln saw the Declaration of Independence as our experiment’s “Apple of Gold” and the Constitution as its “Frame of Silver.”
Gold is more precious than silver and a frame is of secondary importance to that which it exists to adorn. Change the soul—the end of politics—and the frame necessarily readjusts.
If we want to take back our rights from our deep state betters, we need reassert a notion of equality that sees their accumulated power as a taking of what is naturally owed to us.
At its founding Progressivism was a conscious, intellectual rejection of the Founders’ vision. A century of immersion in Progressive politics has made it extremely difficult for Americans, especially educated Americans, to think outside the Progressive box. A presidential contest which pitted the Mitt Romney of RomneyCare against the Obama of ObamaCare illustrates this sad truth perfectly.
In contrast, many American voters understood right away that in 2016 Donaldo Trump offered the opportunity to vote against rule of, by, and for an establishment of self-serving betters and desktop dictators.
They saw in Trump a disunifying personality with a unifying message of American Greatness. Like Lincoln and Jaffa, Trump grasps the central role of equality properly understood: an America made for citizens and not wards of a nanny state; a“Can Do” government and economy that works for all Americans and not just a chosen, established few; an America that talks and acts in defense of its national interest—possessing the biggest stick on the global block, but restrained in its use.
Ordinary people of common sense, the core of Trump’s supporters, grasped this immediately, though naturally it often took educated people, who recoiled from Hillary Clinton, longer to come around to appreciating Trump.
Even in light of President Trump’s heralded speech before Congress, many Republicans are still committed #NeverTrumpers.
The Republican establishment, the supposed opposition to the party of Progressives, are in the grips of progressive assumptions without realizing it, and only recoil from the anti-Americanism of contemporary Progressivism, thus explaining why “Patriotism is Not Enough.”
To make that perfectly explicit, Bill Kristol, once the dean of opposition to the Democrats, recently tweeted that he preferred rule by the "deep state" to rule by what he called “the Trump state.” In the Age of Trump, neo-conservatives are trending towards becoming neo-liberals.
This Crisis of the Conservative Mind Divided needs to be thought through and agued about.
In "Patriotism is Not Enough," Hayward gives us the political philosophy that our contemporary patriotism is lacking. And most importantly, Hayward does so in a manner accessible to both Tea Party conservatives and newly minted Trump Democrats.
My advice to readers is to cut out the middlemen represented by America’s public intellectuals and start your own discussion group around "Patriotism is Not Enough."
That said, I remain worried about Jonah Goldberg and hope that he and others who deal in ideas find in Hayward’s book a path to wrapping their minds around Trump and his equality loving, constitutionally sound, and pacific leanings.
We are indebted to Hayward for his delightful book. It helps each of us fulfill our duty as citizens and our obligation to the American founders joyfully.
Robert Curry is the author of Common Sense Nation: Unlocking the Forgotten Power of the American Idea from Encounter Books.