Constitutional Conservatism

with Peter Berkowitz

This Liberty Law Talk is with Hoover Institution fellow Peter Berkowitz on his new book Constitutional Conservatism: Liberty, Self-Government, and Political Moderation. The book deepens Frank Meyer’s conservative fusionist project by adding an Aristotelian and Burkean challenge to both libertarians and conservatives in America. Both groups must lead with political moderation, Berkowitz counsels. One example of such moderation was Ronald Reagan, Berkowitz observes, and this explains much of his success. But this sounds odd, surely Reagan stood for something.

Berkowitz’s understanding of moderation, however, is not that of the mealy-mouthed variety, but is found in the application of principles to the politics that public opinion will bear. Moderation may involve, relatively speaking, appearing extreme as one insists on refusing to compromise certain principles. But the substantive point is the bringing to bear of principle within the time and circumstances given to the statesman. Politics, it follows, cannot be reduced to various theoretical commitments like the natural law, free market theories, or autonomistic individualism. And this, I think, most obviously has not been done by many on the Right consistently enough. To do so is to take political representation seriously. Finally, Berkowitz leaves us with the formative role of tradition in a liberal society that liberty and progress must remain in dialogue with or risk dissolution at the hands of the Left, for whom the clock is always behind schedule.