In “Moral Individuals Make for Limited Government: John Adams’s Conservative Message,” Auslin argues that America’s second president’s philosophies explicitly link “the nature of our government” to “the quality of the citizenry” in ways that still ring true with today’s conservatives.
Beneath news headlines and politics focused on ephemeral issues, the great questions of political life in American society continue to roil. Perhaps the most important is the relationship between the citizen and the state.
As conservatives look at a rapidly changing society, they may well ask, How connected are the qualities of the citizenry and the nature of their government? Should a less moral citizenry, for example, be governed by a more powerful government? Conservatives argue that the two should be separate, since the natural rights of man, regardless of his character, demand limits on government. Yet, in the actual conditions of society, the connection between the two is more direct, leading us to justify the nature of our government in light of the quality of the citizenry.
In seeking to keep the two elements separate, conservatives run afoul of what often seems to be common sense, making their prescriptions seem both coldhearted and irrelevant to the reality of a complex society. Explicitly linking the two, however, as did Founding Father John Adams, may help make the conservative argument resonate more effectively.
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