Reading the Constitution in the Light of Russell Kirk

by James Matthew Wilson on July 1, 2013 · 0 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

Berwyn, PA.  Gerald Russello reflects on Russell Kirk’s theory of the unwritten Constitutionone in a new essay published on the Liberty Fund’s Liberty Forum.  His essay is part of a symposium that includes essays by Bradley Birzer, Gary Gregg, and yours truly.  Russello begins,

In his great work, The American Republic, written in 1866, the American Catholic political writer Orestes Brownson – who ranks with Calhoun and John Adams as among the finest political minds America has produced, and who still remains somewhat neglected – wrote this about the nation’s political order.

The constitution of the United States is twofold, written and unwritten, the constitution of the people and the constitution of the government.

The written constitution is simply a law ordained by the nation or people instituting and organizing the government; the unwritten constitution is the real or actual constitution of the people as a state or sovereign community, and constituting them such or such a state. It is Providential, not made by the nation, but born with it. The written constitution is made and ordained by the sovereign power, and presupposes that power as already existing and constituted.

Russello proceeds to weigh some of the traditional objections to Kirk’s view and the vindicates Kirk in compelling fashion.  My contribution offers a commentary on three premises introduced in Russello’s essay: a) Kirk’s theory of civilization that conceives the present as a tapestry of the past; b) his conservative theory of reason, and, finally c) the theory and scope of the Natural Law.

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