The Mount Vernon Statement

A group of 80 conservative leaders met in Mount Vernon to sign a sort of declaration of principles for the conservative movement. Many on the Left will decry this as “purging” the Republican Party, while ignoring the masive groupthink in the Democratic Party and the ostracizing of any Democrat that doesn’t toe to the party line. Needless to say, the Statement has generated a bit of buzz, as it purports to be a defining statement for American conservatism.

So first, the The Mount Vernon Statement itself.

The Mount Vernon Statement
Constitutional Conservatism: A Statement for the 21st Century

We recommit ourselves to the ideas of the American Founding.  Through the Constitution, the Founders created an enduring framework of limited government based on the rule of law. They sought to secure national independence, provide for economic opportunity, establish true religious liberty and maintain a flourishing society of republican self-government.

These principles define us as a country and inspire us as a people. They are responsible for a prosperous, just nation unlike any other in the world. They are our highest achievements, serving not only as powerful beacons to all who strive for freedom and seek self-government, but as warnings to tyrants and despots everywhere.

Each one of these founding ideas is presently under sustained attack. In recent decades, America’s principles have been undermined and redefined in our culture, our universities and our politics. The selfevident truths of 1776 have been supplanted by the notion that no such truths exist. The federal government today ignores the limits of the Constitution, which is increasingly dismissed as obsolete and irrelevant.

Some insist that America must change, cast off the old and put on the new. But where would this lead — forward or backward, up or down? Isn’t this idea of change an empty promise or even a dangerous deception?

The change we urgently need, a change consistent with the American ideal, is not movement away from but toward our founding principles. At this important time, we need a restatement of Constitutional conservatism grounded in the priceless principle of ordered liberty articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The conservatism of the Declaration asserts self-evident truths based on the laws of nature and nature’s God. It defends life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It traces authority to the consent of the governed. It recognizes man’s self-interest but also his capacity for virtue.

The conservatism of the Constitution limits government’s powers but ensures that government performs its proper job effectively. It refines popular will through the filter of representation. It provides checks and balances through the several branches of government and a federal republic.

A Constitutional conservatism unites all conservatives through the natural fusion provided by American principles. It reminds economic conservatives that morality is essential to limited government, social conservatives that unlimited government is a threat to moral self-government, and national security conservatives that energetic but responsible government is the key to America’s safety and leadership role in the world.
A Constitutional conservatism based on first principles provides the framework for a consistent and meaningful policy agenda.
  • It applies the principle of limited government based on the
    rule of law to every proposal.
  • It honors the central place of individual liberty in American
    politics and life.
  • It encourages free enterprise, the individual entrepreneur, and
    economic reforms grounded in market solutions.
  • It supports America’s national interest in advancing freedom
    and opposing tyranny in the world and prudently considers what we can and should do to that
    end.
  • It informs conservatism’s firm defense of family, neighborhood,
    community, and faith.

If we are to succeed in the critical political and policy battles ahead, we must be certain of our purpose.

We must begin by retaking and resolutely defending the high ground of America’s founding principles.

February 17, 2010

Donald Douglas points out that the statement is surprisingly small L libertarian in its nature. He also brings up some concern about the point on faith and family:

I would focus on how we interpret the last clause at the summary, “conservatism’s firm defense of family, neighborhood, community, and faith.” Will a libertarian interpretation of constitutional originalism provide a necessary and sufficient foundation for the protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

I would answer simply, “Yes, it will.” Family and community should foster these values, and faith should as well. That is what the Founding Fathers intended — that faith and family should serve as the moral backbone for the nation, so that the government need not intervene in matters of morality or charity.

My issue with this point is simply the interpretation of the term “faith” – defining religion as faith is a decidedly Protestant Christian innovation, but I’m going to assume that this refers to religion in general. I don’t really see that any one religion would be better suited to the task of promoting morality than another (aside from sectarian arguments that some religions are not moral, but we’ll avoid that since the Constitution is clear that no religion should be favored over another). I think in this case it is the community- and family- building aspects of faith that are important, and it could be argued that religion is needed primarily for its support of he other two.

I am also cautious about the point regarding America’s goal of advancing freedom to the world. It certainly seems like a noble goal, and I’m all for opposing tyranny across the globe, but I think I’m a tad more isolationist that the statement implies. Protecting our interests overseas is undoubtedly important, and promoting freedom, liberty, and capitalism are certainly in our best interest, but I’m concerned that this point can be taken as carte blanche for unduly influencing other countries. We cannot hold to a rule of law and individual liberty if we do not respect the sovereignty of other nations, even if we don’t like how they run things (Although we can certainly tell them how they suck).

As a whole, though, I think the statement is pretty good. It affirms that conservatism is libertarian at its core, and that liberty and limited government are key to the American system.

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