The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

March 24, 2019

Political Principle: Ordered Liberty; Chapter 5 from "The American Cause" by Russell Kirk

American Political Equilibrium

Justice, and order, and freedom: the true polity, the really successful commonwealth, emphasizes equally all three of these. Now and then, in the history of the United States, we have erred by neglecting one of these principles, at some particular moment, or by over-emphasizing another, on a different occasion. Yet, taken all in all, the concepts of the founders of the Republic have endured with a strength and consistency most rare in the course of national destinies. Americans do not presume to argue, if they are wise, that their American institutions might be easily adapted to the needs and ways of other nations; nor that their commonwealth has functioned in every respect better than any other national state. Such self-praise is more liable to vex than to convert our neighbors. But when we hear this little failure of justice in Georgia, or that little neglect of freedom in New York, bewailed and denounced out of all proportion by critics of American institutions, at home or abroad, we have the right to appeal to the perspective of history. Historically judged, the American Republic has maintained a balance of justice and order and freedom for well over two centuries which many nations have not been able to maintain as successfully for even a single year in the whole record of their affairs. Nearly all Americans, on nearly all occasions, can rely, if the necessity arises, upon obtaining impartial justice from the courts; upon being wholly secure in their persons and property through the solidity of American order; upon doing any reasonable thing they like without reprimand. The same could not be said for the glory that was Greece or the grandeur that was Rome.

1 Editor's note: Latin cuique suum.

2 Editor's note: U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Sections 9, 10.

3 Editor's note: John Milton, On the Detraction which followed upon my writing certain Treatises (1645).

4 Editor's note: Kirk is alluding to Franklin Delanor Roosevelt's speech, “The Four Freedoms,” delivered to the Congress, January 6, 1941.

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