Book Review: “Recovering America”
By Daniel Cullen
“‘Against innovators and radicals,’ Emerson remarked, ‘conservatism always has the worst of the argument.’ ‘Always apologizing, pleading a necessity, pleading that to change would be to deteriorate,’ conservatism ‘makes no poetry, breathes no prayer, has no invention; it is all memory.’ Coming Home: Reclaiming America’s Conservative Soul accepts the Emersonian challenge, calling on Americans to retrieve their heritage from the progressive cultural elites who would consign it to oblivion. Ted V. McAllister and Bruce P. Frohnen are accomplished scholars of American intellectual and political history, but their slim and trenchant book addresses primarily their fellow citizens—and they do not mince words. Americans are in danger of forgetting the historical inheritance that sustains their identity as a self-governing people. This spiritual crisis calls for a ‘revolution,’ in the classical sense of turning back to first principles.
The Conservative Predicament
Its title notwithstanding, Coming Home disavows nostalgia; its tone is combative, not elegiac. America suffers not from homesickness but homelessness—the alienation of a people from its true self. ‘A civilization is diseased when its people lose faith in its essential ideals and institutions, and when its elite loses or distorts its historical memory.’ The conjunction is not accidental. Americans are assailed by what the philosopher Roger Scruton dubbed ‘the culture of repudiation’ a relentless negation of the traditional norms that leaves the world of human ties swept bare. In denigrating our cultural forebears, our elites have rendered our identity opaque and deprived us of a sense of home. The latter grows only from below, through people’s associative impulses and habits of affection, but it is easily destroyed from above when the state arrogates to itself the functions of civil society…”
Daniel Cullen is Professor of Political Science and directs the Project for the Study of Liberal Democracy, a program supporting teaching, scholarship and critical discussion of the principles of constitutional government and the philosophical sources of those principles in the Western intellectual tradition. He oversees the Jack Miller Center’s National Constitutional Day Initiative. He is the author of Freedom in Rousseau’s Political Philosophy (NIU Press, 1993), and has published various essays on Rousseau, Montaigne, democratic theory, liberal education and most recently, on the political philosophy of Roger Scruton. His most recent book is Liberal Democracy and Liberal Education, which he edited and co-authored. He is currently writing a book on the philosophy of Roger Scruton.
Professor Cullen is the JMC Senior Fellow for Constitutional Studies.
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