Preparing the Grounds

PThe Political Animal Project is a political education campaign designed to help renew the American Republic by spurring the development of “new modes and orders” of self-rule. As frustration mounts among decent-souled citizens, we seek to reclaim the transformative promise of the West that is woven into the foundation of the American political order. And, moored in our Declaration’s political faith, we devote ourselves to the task of upbuilding tomorrow’s constructive political culture that might once again forge new links into our regime’s common purpose.

This approach to renewing political life is decidedly out of fashion. Simply put, it’s unpleasant to measure individual well-being in relation to our atrophied public domain. The only justifiable reason for burdening our private lives with the problems of said public realm is if the well-being of the former depends somehow upon the condition of the latter. We contend that the two are causally connected and that, as a rule, we’re paying insufficient attention to the interrelatedness of these spheres.

While self-preservation may be the first and fundamental law of nature, politically the person doesn’t come first. Rather, the linkages in our cultural chain that facilitate the pursuit of well-lived lives must have priority over individual claims of autonomy. Such a position finds us in disagreement with much of the left and the right. Nowadays, it has become increasingly common for both conservatives and liberals to assert that the Constitution establishes a government over individuals. And while individuals are critical, such an emphasis misses the deeper truth of causal priority. Simply put, the individual is not its own cause and depends on being born and nurtured within a family that draws its support from a specific community before an individual emerges into view. Therefore, we hold that the family, rather than the individual, is the primary unit of government.

Operationally, we assert that our humanity is an uncertain proposition that is always in danger of retrogressing into mere barbarism or progressing into a sort of moral-gigantism. As such, we view humanity as a mean on a continuum between the extremes of slavery to our appetites on one hand and the unfettered domination of our reason on the other. In other words, we can actualize the ideals of our political faith and establish centripetal tension in the soul and city or sever the ties that bind and become shaped by domineering forces.

It will be our task to show that maintaining this dynamic mean requires that a free people pursue the ends of both civil and religious liberty.

Our meaning of civil liberty differs from the common usage of civil liberties. We hearken back to an older republican tradition of thought that was well-articulated in Cato’s Letters during the early 1720s and which significantly influenced the thought of America’s founders. For now, we can boil civil liberty down to the idea that virtue joins, and is the causal condition for holding together, private property and public law (p. 255). Rather than the modern notion of civil liberties that describe what government cannot do to individuals, civil liberty, in the classical republican tradition, expressed a positive obligation to simultaneously upbuild the domains of private interest and the public good.

Similarly, our reading of religious liberty as an end differs from Lockean-based liberty of conscience claims. Rather than beginning with Locke’s so-called “orthodoxy of the individual unto himself” (Letter Concerning Toleration)—a position that undermines the possibility of religious tradition as such—our usage of religious liberty as an end begins with a transcendent principle of natural right that reveals the inadequacies of any given material context and which binds people to a way of life that seeks to remake present conditions in pursuit of justice.

Yet, to miss the mark is human. Thankfully, the founders of our representative Republic preserved freedom’s way of return by grounding our Constitution upon the bedrock of our Declaration of Independence. Not only did our forefathers give us a constitutional blueprint, but they also passed down compass bearings to guide our return to first-principles here in the 21st century. No matter how far we may have deviated from self-rule, we might reorient our lives according to the fundamentals of our Declaration’s political faith and embrace liberty’s timeless apprenticeship.