Paul Rahe: The first step forward

We recently posted William Voegeli’s response to our series of posts by Hillsdale College history professor Paul A. Rahe. In his response, Voegeli challenged Professor Rahe “to help render the conservative movement more strategically acute.” Professor Rahe writes:

We should begin by turning to American history for guidance. What we seek is a political realignment – predicated on a dramatic shift in public opinion – accompanied by a radical shift in public policy.
This has happened before, and it has nearly always involved a return to and reinterpretation of America’s first principles. Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt all appealed to the equality principle embedded in the Declaration of Independence, and the movements that they led charged their opponents with an abandonment of this principle, contending that liberty was threatened by monarchical, aristocratic, or oligarchical power.
Here is the charge leveled by FDR when he accepted his party’s nomination for the Presidency in Philadelphia just a few days before the 160th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence: “Philadelphia is . . . fitting ground on which to reaffirm the faith of our fathers; to pledge ourselves to restore to the people a wider freedom . . . That very word freedom, in itself and of necessity, suggests freedom from some restraining power.”
Where, in 1776, Americans had “sought freedom from the tyranny of a political autocracy,” Roosevelt urged them to seek liberty from “economic royalists” who had “created a new despotism” in which “a small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor – other people’s lives.”
“For too many of us,” he charged in 1932, “life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.”
In my judgment, Roosevelt’s rhetoric — or something very much like it — deserves revival, for the argument that he disingenuously advanced on behalf of state control can now in all honesty be deployed against it. We really are governed now by a small group intent on concentrating into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor – other people’s lives. And for the first time in my lifetime Americans are waking up to the threat.

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