Read Mike Lee’s Speech

In August 2009 I first heard Mike Lee speak; this was before he declared himself a candidate for US Senate. My blog post about the experience was entitled, “I Think I Found a Great Candidate.” I’ve thought this before, and I’ve probably said this before, but . . .

I told you so.

At the same time, I was in the middle of publishing three lengthy essays on freedom in America. The second was entitled, “I Am a Tocqueville Conservative.” (I’ve lately republished those posts here at Freedom The connections here are not obvious, but if you read my Tocqueville piece, then read this recent speech by Mike Lee, you’ll see why I liked him so much in the beginning, to say nothing of now. And you might think he is a Tocqueville conservative.

His speech is important. Even if you don’t read anything of mine, read his speech. Please.

(This speech got a bit of attention in The Washington Post. See also Holly Richardson’s recent piece on “Senator Mike Lee’s Impressive Turnaround.”)


Essential Books on the US Constitution (Founding)

(Last updated 25 September 2104.)

Many of these books are slow going, but they can be very rewarding. And they’re pretty much essential, if you want to be solidly grounded in a free nation’s founding principles and essential institutions.

The Federalist (or The Federalist Papers) by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay

This collection of newspaper columns is the book most other books on the US Constitution quote. I suggest that, if you’re disinclined to read the whole book at once, you simply skip the ones that don’t sound interesting.

Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 by James Madison

Instead of sitting with the Virginia delegation, James Madison sat near the front of the hall, so he could hear everything and take these notes. You could read this cover to cover, but I use it for reference, to look up discussion on issues and constitutional provisions I’m studying.

Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville

Writing in the mid-1830s, Tocqueville explores not just government, but American society, as well. He explains how Americans were able to become and stay free, and foretells major threats to our freedom with uncanny prescience.

What Is Socialism?

Author's Note

The Debate

I’ve held forth at some length recently on the meanings of the words republic and democracy, which are of interest to Americans generally, and which have also, here at home, been at the center of heated debate in recent years, over the Alpine School District’s official statements of its mission, goals, and values. The debate is confusing and off-putting for many, in part because it sometimes takes a combative tone, but also because one side has directed a great deal of energy toward artificially narrow definitions of democracy and republic. We are told that a republic is good and a democracy is bad — end of story. Neither concept is that simple, and the part about democracy being bad rings false to a lot of people who love both their country and their freedom.

If the activists were more careful with their terminology, they’d say that a certain kind of republic (our kind, the democratic, constitutional republic) is good, and we need to understand and preserve it; and a certain kind of democracy (our kind, the liberal, constitutional, representative democracy) is good, and we should understand and preserve that, too. They’d say that we should be careful not to be diverted to either direct or social democracy, both of which really are bad — and one of which is a major feature of the Alpine School District’s official goals and values.

The movement could put itself on a sound theoretical footing by adjusting its arguments in two ways: opposing social democracy specifically, instead of insisting that all democracy is evil; and explaining social democracy without calling it Marxism. Besides sounding too extreme and too alarmist for the circumstances, Marxism actually is a different road to socialism. The movement’s alarm over socialism is at least partially justified, but its influence is compromised by imprecise and incorrect terminology.

I Am a Tocqueville Conservative

Author's Note

This is the second in a three-part series of essays on freedom in America. The first is entitled, “The Gulf Which Divides Us.” The third is called “Cheese, Sunroof, Freedom.”

I am and always have been a bookish fellow. (I do not wish to boast or drop names, but to make a point.) In the discipline of political theory I have read a lot of Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and the others. I’ve studied the debates at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. I have spent fascinating hours — sometimes months — reading and discussing Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Macchiavelli, Locke, Hobbes, Burke, Mill, Hegel, and . . . the list goes on.

I’ve also carefully studied some thinkers who particularly terrify a certain sort of conservative, the one who thinks that the safest intellectual course is never to wrestle with the words of those who disagree. As I write this, I’m about ten feet from a bookcase, one shelf of which is filled with well-marked writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Bakunin, Fourier, Saint-Simon and a number of other socialists and communists of whom most people never hear and never want to.

Some of these thinkers have influenced my own thought profoundly, as in many cases they influenced each other; some have merely challenged or informed, which is also useful.

You’re now thinking that it’s a wonder I can function at all in normal human society, or communicate plainly enough to buy a postage stamp. Perhaps it is.

There’s another thing that may surprise you about all this. I have not named the two individuals who I suspect have had the greatest influence on my political thought.