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Making Patriots

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

While we’re discussing citizenship, we’d be remiss if we didn’t direct you to Walter Berns’s 1996 Bradley Lecture on patriotism or, for that matter, his book, Making PatriotsMaking Patriots is a slim volume, but one deep in insight, and it should rank high on your list of summer reading.

Here is a representative snippet from his Bradley lecture:

The Founders were aware of the danger that we would claim our rights, and even, as has proved to be the case, that we would convert many an interest into a right, and all this while neglecting our duties. That is why Madison and his Federalist colleagues resisted the demand made by Patrick Henry and other Anti-Federalists that a bill of natural rights, similar to that in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, be affixed to the Constitution, indeed, be attached to it as a preamble. And that is why Hamilton, in Federalist 84, was so emphatic in insisting that the Constitution itself is a bill of rights. Having established a free government–no simple task–they saw the necessity to gain support for it, and feared that that support would be jeopardized by giving rights, especially natural rights, pride of place in the Constitution. Herbert Storing made their point with a couple of questions. “Does a constant emphasis on unalienable natural rights foster good citizenship or a sense of community?” he asked. “Does a constant emphasis on the right to abolish government foster the kind of popular support that any government needs?” As Storing said, the Federalists–led here by Madison–did not doubt that these first principles were true, that they may be resorted to, and that they provided the ultimate source and justification of government. Their point was that even a rational and well-constituted government needs and deserves a presumption of legitimacy and permanence, and, to quote Storing again, “a bill of rights that presses these first principles to the fore tends to deprive government of that presumption.”

As they say, read the whole thing.

Cross-posted at the Enterprise Blog.