The United States, as originally established by the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, was in profound ways a “promised land,” a “city set on a hill.” “Our Founders understood they were doing something unprecedented. For the first time in human history, a nation-sized body of people with a preexisting economic system and shared legal philosophy and basic religious faith were seeking to learn from all the lessons of human experience over the centuries to design the best governmental system ever created” (p. 131). To recover this nation’s promise, doing our part means recalling the Republican Party to constitutional conservatism (and, importantly, not supporting any divisive third party movement), for while both parties share responsibility for the nation’s plight only the Republicans indicate any openness to fiscal and cultural conservatism.
Our republic may collapse if it continues its prodigal ways, illustrating Thomas Jefferson’s lament that the “natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” Illustrating this loss of liberty, under Obamacare a person is in fact required to buy health insurance. Thus the government can “tell you how to spend your own money” (p. 244). Aptly, Ronald Reagan said: “Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem.” Employing a nautical metaphor the authors say: “The USS America has been hit by a missile—an economic and governmental missile. Unless all citizens muster to general quarters, our ship of state will go down” (p. 3). The missile carried three explosive war-heads: “economic mismanagement, trillions of dollars of deficit spending, and massive entitlements that cannot possibly pay what they’ve promised. The 111th Congress (2009 and 2010) amassed more debt--$3.22 trillion—in just two years than the first one hundred Congresses combined over a period of two hundred years. That’s $10,429 per person—including each child—in the United States, just in the past two years. And that number doesn’t even touch our other $11 trillion in debt, or $88 trillion in unfunded entitlements” (p. 3). We face a literal “tsunami” of entitlement spending that will surely swamp us unless we quickly take action to avoid it.
Structuring the book’s argument is an appeal to three basic strains of conservatism: “economic, social, and social security” (p. 76)—the ECons, SoCons, and SafeCons. However they may differ in their convictions and priorities, they share a basic commitment to constitutional principles and the underlying belief in a “Sovereign Society,” wherein “individual Americans are truly sovereign in their own lives” (p. 99).
All three groups must forget their differences and support the great cause of our day: constitutionalism. They really do need each other, since not even a united two of the three movements can prevail in modern America. In fact, their causes overlap in significant ways. As Congressman Mike Pence, a leading SoCon, noted, “‘We must realize there’s a direct correlation between the stability of families and the stability of our economy’” (p. 85). The ECons stress the need for jobs, balanced budgets, and private property. SoCons plead for the restoration of the traditional family and the role of faith in both individuals and the public square. As Ronald Reagan insisted, “‘politics and morality are inseparable. And as morality’s foundation is religion, religion and politics are necessarily related. We need religion as a guide’” (p. 114). Thus a “family flat tax” replacing the income tax would, Blackman and Klukowski argue, help both the nation’s economy and traditional families.
SafeCons demand that government enforce the laws and protect the nation—police and courts, soldiers and arms that make us secure. Beyond these concerns, there are two important philosophical positions essential for conservative constitutionalism: 1) federalism, allowing what Justice Louis Brandeis described as 50 creative “laboratories of democracy,” and 2) judicial restraint and originalism in the courts. Given the authors’ background, it is understandable that they devote significant sections of the book to judicial matters. Since the New Deal’s triumphant reshaping of this nation the Left has found “that an activist judiciary was essential to their agenda” (p. 149). Lawyers and judges committed to an ever-evolving, “living constitution,” threaten the very foundations of this nation, for justices seeking to implement their own visions of “social justice” become activists rather than guardians of the constitution. “In their left-wing world, it’s absurd to think that the Constitution actually limits the power of the federal government. They think government should do anything it wants” (p. 227).
Resisting such leftist trends are members of the Federalist Society, now numbering “almost fifty thousand judges, lawyers, law professors, and law students” who champion judicial restraint and originalism. Should originalists come to dominate the federal court system healthy changes would quickly take place in America. One sign of this possibility came in 2008 (D.C. v. Heller) and 2010 (McDonald v. Chicago) when the Supreme Court upheld the Second Amendment, securing gun rights for individual Americans. These decisions were informed by two decades of vigorous scholarship, providing evidence employed by the Court when rendering its decisions. Though these two decisions are only the beginning of a larger struggle regarding gun rights, “[a]ny way you look at it, we are at the beginning of a new era of constitutional law” (p. 294).
Though filled with warnings and laments, this book is basically a hopeful call to arms, an appeal for conservative Americans of all stripes to speak out and vote and bring this nation back to its original principles. While the book’s length and intricate legal arguments may tax the general reader’s patience, it certainly provides both analysis and information important for citizens concerned about the nation’s prospect. Thus an ECon, Steve Forbes, says: “We need leaders advocating policies that will reverse our economic decline, balance our budget, and bring sanity to our tax system and ruinous spending. This book makes the case for how the Constitution can return America to prosperity.”
A SoCon, Tony Perkins, writes: “America’s families are in crisis. Without apologies, Ken and Ken make a compelling case of why our economy cannot reach its full potential, or America face our most pressing needs, unless we protect and rebuild the family as the basic unit of our society. Their book is a must read.” Then a SafeCon, Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin (Ret.) says: “The United States faces deadly threats to our citizens and our way of live. Our Constitution was written for trying times such as today. This book explains how and what we as a country must do about it.” Could all the Americans who share the concerns of Steve Forbes, Tony Perkins, and Jerry Boykin come together and energetically engage in the political process, this nation can be restored to its Founders’ vision.
Gerard Reed is a retired professor of history and philosophy, most recently Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. He is the author of three books--The Liberating Law; C.S. Lewis and the Bright Shadow of Holiness; C.S. Lewis Explores Vice & Virtue--as well as a variety of articles and book reviews.