Mount Vernon Statement: the contradiction at the heart of this conservative fusion
First, their argument. The main nugget of “Constitutional conservatism” is that America needs to return to the “limited government based on the rule of law” ideals of the Founders, who “sought to secure national independence, provide for economic opportunity, establish true religious liberty and maintain a flourishing society of republican self-government.”
In “recent decades,” the statement continues “America’s principles have been undermined and redefined in our culture, our universities, and our politics,” while the ““selfevident [sic] truths of 1776 have been supplanted by the notion that no such truths exist.” The signatories demand that the federal government respect Constitutional limits and apply the principle of limited government based on the rule of law to every proposal.
They round out their philosophy by arguing that these ideals, embodied in the “conservatism of the Declaration,” connect with the natural law tradition. Without this natural morality, the free market cannot operate; but with too big a government, “moral self-government” fails. Thus the connection between libertarians and social conservatives.
Thomas Jefferson would scoff at the characterization of the Declaration as “conservative.” American conservatives have always had a difficult ideological road to travel. They have to be conservative about the historically radical ideas of democracy, liberty, and individual rights. The result here is an odd reading of the Founders, federalism, and the Constitution.