July 28, 2011

July 28, 2011 | Commentary on Political Thought

It's Time for an American Renaissance

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., is the latest candidate to enter the crowded contest for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. He's also an author, and a thoughtful one at that.

Though he is a font of policy proposals, the Michigan congressman dives deeper and diagnoses the intellectual illnesses weakening America and the West.

In "Seize Freedom!: American Truths and Renewal in a Chaotic Age" (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2011), McCotter offers remedies ranging from regulatory and tax reform, energy and education, to international trade and organization.

In a surprisingly slim, crisply composed volume, he zeros in on the dire threat of record breaking debt, deficits and spending. On foreign policy, he writes prescriptions for the global war against Islamic radicalism ("a faceless foe along a million-mile front"), the containment of Iran and Red China (yes, China is a strategic menace, even as they hold $1.5 trillion of America's debt); and the creation of a "Liberty Alliance" -- a new "coalition of the willing" among free nations- to promote economic and political freedom.

America's leaders, McCotter insists, must be adept at multitasking. While 20th century Americans survived the Great Depression, fought a global war against fascist dictators, overcame the Soviet leviathan, and ended the legal segregation that undercut our moral stature, we confronted those challenges successively.

In the 21st century, we face the challenges of globalization; a world war against Islamic radicalism (a "hideous ideological concoction"); the emergence of Communist China as a global rival; and a corrosive moral relativism -- the "dictatorship of relativism" in the words of Pope John Paul II -- that pervades our public life.

It undercuts natural law and natural rights (the "American Truths") set forth in our Declaration of Independence, the moral justification for our national existence. Unlike the "greatest generation" of the last century, we must face these challenges simultaneously. Ours is a chaotic age.

McCotter identifies ideology and relativism as the twin evils of our time. Conservatism, properly grounded in the wisdom of the West, is the tonic. So practical policy remedies should reflect, and be accompanied by, a broader intellectual renewal.

Our public life should be revitalized through our a rich intellectual inheritance -- the truth that government exists to secure our natural rights, a divine gift -- combined with our repudiation of ideology itself, whether of the Left or Right.

While philosophy is a love of wisdom and a humble search for truth, ideology (based on class or race, or some other form of idolatry) is a narrow formula always promising human perfection and always delivering hell on Earth. No wonder that John Adams called ideology the "Science of Idiocy."

Relativism -- the proposition that something can be true and not true at one and the same time -- not only denigrates the intellect but also unfetters the will.

The rulers' affirmation of "their" truth -- literally the "triumph of the will" -- is tantamount to Big Government on drugs. For media types hunting for sound bites in a 24-hour news cycle, if they have the patience, McCotter offers uncommon fare.

Drawing upon the wisdom of such champions of the Western intellectual tradition as Edmund Burke, Hilaire Belloc and Orestes Brownson, McCotter sees the central task of America's statesmen as securing both order and freedom, and reconciling their competing claims in justice.

Because of the imperfections of human nature, order and freedom will never be perfectly balanced and perfect justice will forever elude us in this world: "Ideologues fit the world to their minds; conservatives fit their minds to the world."

But if American statesmen do their duty, McCotter predicts, the world once again will benefit, as it has done so in the past: "America's future does not lie in becoming a secular, cosmopolitan, socialist backwater. Our America is beautiful. She does not exist to emulate others; she exists to inspire the world."

Robert E. Moffit, Ph.D., is a senior fellow with the Heritage Foundation's Center for Policy Innovation.

About the Author

Robert E. Moffit, Ph.D. Senior Fellow
Center for Health Policy Studies

First appeared in The Washington Examiner