Brookfield Basics

A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.

The Fourth

We recently returned from a tremendous trip to the Rocky Mountains, the subject of which might prove fodder for a subsequent submission.   We drove there and back, taking us across a great breadth of this Country, and as the miles clicked away, I thought about our Country, its history, and given the season of the Fourth, its founding.

A friend of mine lent me a tremendous book last winter entitled Vindicating the Founders - Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America.  Written by Thomas G. West, a professor of politics at the University of Dallas, it is a scholarly and penetrating analysis.  As its title suggests, his work is a vindication of The Founders with respect to their reasoning, rationale, and ultimately their work in laying the legal, political, and social foundations of our Country.  Specifically, Mr. West serves as an erudite and articulate apologist for the work of the Founders in the areas identified by his book's title: race, sex, class, and justice; a dynamic which has probably rendered him as "persona non grata" in much of his peer group.   

It has become not only fashionable, but virtually "di rigeur" in some circles to trash the lives, character, work, and results of The Founders.  Nowhere is this more true than in the halls of America's Universities where,  while noting the many outstanding exceptions like Mr. West, the general rule of our country's educational elite, protected by their tenure and substantial compensation, is to turn their focus to debilitating and denigrating the work of The Founders.  The motivations behid this "trashing" are many, and cannot be explored in this brief piece.  But its reality is in large part what makes Mr. West's work so refreshing.  

My own opinion is that, while recognizing the very real failings of early American society and the men and women that shaped our Country, the most odious of which was obviously slavery (a practice that many Founders railed against and worked to end),  the people who founded this Country and laid its political and social foundations were, as a group, the most educated, careful, and penetratingly analyitical in our history.  Their knowledge of politics, history, law, philosophy, and human nature was profound, and was collectively reflected in every document they authored or commentary they offered.  

There can be little question that some of the spiritual beliefs of The Founders were inseparable from their view of human nature and history - their "world view" as it were.  But contrary to what some in America's Evangelical movement believe, America was not founded as a "Christian Nation".  Rather, its cornerstones were carefully crafted and laid as a secular, independent political entity.  For what is now approaching three centuries, America has been blessed by a number of  phenomena:  things such as two enormous oceans girding our shores, a cultural quilt woven and nurtured by the input of several different cultures, abundant natural resources.......But none of these blessings have accumulated to our aggregate benfefit more than the system of government they bequethed to us, with its beautifully crafted system of "checks and balances", its insistence upon limitations of the reach of the Federal Government and protection of State's rights, and its foundational anchor of the recongition of man's inherent capacity to do wrong.   

James Madison, primary author of the Federalist papers once quipped, "if men were angels - none of this would be necessary".

Happy Fourth of July to all.

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