As a staff writer for the Weekly Standard, Matthew Continetti has become one of the brightest lights among young conservative journalists. I first met him a few years ago when he was in Minnesota researching a Weekly Standard story on Tim Pawlenty. When Matt was in town last year researching a story on Minnesota Sixth District Rep. Michele Bachmann for the New York Times Magazine, we had him over for dinner. (The Times seems to have deep-sixed Matt’s story.) Matt’s most recent book is The Persecution of Sarah Palin. I greatly admire his work.
In last week’s Weekly Standard cover story, Matt juxtaposes Rick Santelli with Glenn Beck to offer up “The two faces of the Tea Party.” NRO’s Daniel Foster comments on Matt’s article in the NRO/Corner post “Of Beck and the Birchers.”
Foster situates himself halfway between Beck and Continetti (as would I if I could take Beck seriously). Matt’s most devastating reckoning with Beck comes in his account of Beck’s affinity for Cleon Skousen and related conspiracy theories. As Foster writes, “it is surely this association that is the most potentially damning.”
Matt also takes issue with Beck’s trademark condemnations of progressivism. I’m with Foster on the proposition that “conservatives like Continetti are too kind to the post-New Deal order.” Whatever accommodation politicians must make with the post-New Deal federal government, it represents a deep rupture with the doctrine of limited government embodied in the Constitution.
Taking issue with Beck, Matt defends the Americanness of progressivism, asserting that “progressivism is a distinctly American tradition that partly came into being as a way to prevent ideologies like communism and fascism from taking root in the United States.” Here Matt is clearly referring to referring to Roosevelt and the New Deal, and one understands the point. Yet Roosevelt’s battle with the Supreme Court was no accident, and it is not wonderful that Roosevelt ultimately prevailed. As James Ceaser writes, the progressives “sought to replace, which meant virtually to efface or supplant, the original Founders.” (I am borrowing the Ceaser quote from William Voegeli’s Never Enough.)
Moreover, if one traces the origins of progressivism, as Ronald J. Pestritto does in Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, one discovers the deep hostility of the progressives to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The progressives’ hostility to the Declaration and the Constitution is rooted largely in nineteenth-century German thought.
Wilson and other progressives thought that the insights of German philosophers such as Hegel rendered the thought of the Founders obsolete. (Paul and I quoted some of Wilson’s more pointed comments on Hegel and the Founders in “From Hegel to Wilson to Breyer.”)
Anyway, my point, and I do have one, is to suggest that you read Continetti, and then Foster…and the important books cited in their pieces.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill