In the National Review, Richard Reinsch reviews Bradley Watson’s Living Constitution, Dying Faith: Progressivism and the New Science of Jurisprudence. I encourage you to read the review, if not Watson’s book: “The Undoing of American Constitutionalism.” According to Reinsch’s review, Watson argues that the American pragmatism of William James and the social Darwinist view of the body politic have destroyed the American constitutional order by supplanting the founders’ view of government and natural rights with progressivism. Reinsch writes:
Against these apostles of ceaseless adaptation, progress, and organic growth of the state loom the men who framed America’s constitutional order and its underlying philosophy. Watson synthesizes the varying rationales for liberty held by the Founders under the overarching understanding they held of man’s natural rights in his property and person, and the corollary that government must secure these rights and, in turn, defend citizens from the government itself. However, this conception of government as necessary to the protection of man’s natural rights, but also preternaturally dangerous because of man’s vice-ridden passions and propensity to form factions, is simply incompatible with progressivism. Under the latter’s dispensation, the citizen now joins in an undulating partnership with the government, under the administration of experts whose intervention actualizes the liberty and self-development of persons and groups. From this perspective, natural rights are seen more as the negation rather than the fulfillment of freedom. James Madison has been thrown into the dock.
I find such approaches to politics extraordinarily helpful. So much partisan bickering is simply people with incompatible views of man and of community arguing past one another. To resolve such conflicts through reason, rather than violence—in any of its many modes—one needs to dig deeper and address the foundational issues. Of course, few people wish to spend the time and energy to do so, and few people can. It is much easier to wage war—and, as history shows, much more effective from a practical point of view.