Ideas to Impact Blog

Reengaging with the Founding Principles

In this session, Bill of Rights Institute President David Bobb discussed with The Claremont Institute Senior Fellow Charles Kesler the unrelenting attack on America’s founding principles, the rebirth of these principles that is now underway, and practical ways we can be sure that they endure.

Averring that “It’s not a healthy situation to be one nation with two systems,” Dr. Kesler drew an uncomfortable comparison between the situation in the United States and what China has been doing in Hong Kong. The agreement for years was based on the principle of One nation, two systems. But the result is that Hong Kong is losing its system and freedom and being absorbed into the mainland China system. A nation can’t have two systems.

Similarly, and unfortunately, there are “two conflicting, contradictory views of America. Two visions of justice, two different understandings of what America is about and what the future of America ought to be.”

One is the Founders’ vision, which until recently was held by most Americans, regardless of party. The other is represented by the idea of the “living constitution,” first stated by Woodrow Wilson—the only US president to hold a PhD. It was a kind of Darwinian constitution, constantly evolving with the times and the changing problems of society. Wilson made his philosophy clear when he said on multiple occasions that his job as president of Princeton was to make sure that the young men of this generation left Princeton as unlike their fathers as possible.

This wasn’t just about the family and fathers, but about the Founding Fathers. The idea was to introduce a new and constantly changing wisdom which the Founders could not have dreamed of. That is the living constitution, and today it is, as Dr. Kesler put it, “more powerful, more protean, more active, more aggressive, and more ambitious than ever before.”

Civic education is key to passing on the Founding principles to the next generation, and both The Claremont Institute, where Dr. Kesler is a Senior Fellow, and the Bill of Rights Institute—which has reached more than 60,000 civics teachers nationwide— are in the thick of this battle.

In his closing remarks, Dr. Bobb affirmed Betsy DeVos’ insight that millions of parents have had their eyes opened as to the failure of schools. The question now is: What will they be able to do with that realization?