Just as it belongs to religion to give worship to God, so does it belong to piety to give worship to one's parents and one's country.
A Vow to Serve
Reading about the principles of the American Founding is not "extremist" activity.
When I was sworn in as the 24th Sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona, I took an oath to support the Constitution. So did the more than 3,000 sheriffs serving across America. The best of us reaffirm this oath every morning. This daily commitment to the legally enshrined principles of justice is the crucial philosophic orientation that separates America from a lawless land where “every man [does] that which [is] right in his own eyes.”
There is a growing faction of elite “progressives,” however, who deride both the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. In their telling, these venerable documents are old, dusty, and out of date. These radicals want to replace the bedrock principle of equality with the idea of “equity,” colorblind justice with never-ending (and, for them, quite profitable) racial grievance. Worst of all, they want to eliminate our settled and fair laws and replace them with the tyranny of power politics.
I don’t accept these revisions to the American way of life and neither should you.
But it’s not simply enough—and here I address my fellow sheriffs—to feel that something is gravely wrong with this picture of our future. We have to understand the why. And to get to this position, it is helpful to do a deep dive into our founding documents and the great men and women who first (and best) articulated the philosophic principles that forged a great nation.
Recently, I spent a lovely week in sunny Huntington Beach studying precisely these subjects while participating in an academic fellowship for sheriffs with the Claremont Institute, a think tank devoted to “restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life.” We pored over and discussed everything from the statesmanship of Washington and Lincoln to the teachings of Aristotle and Aquinas on natural law and natural rights. Other sessions were devoted to understanding the assault of progressivism on our cherished values of liberty and freedom. It was a wonderful experience to read and discuss these great books with other sheriffs from all around the country.
Like clockwork, however, the usual detractors emerged to characterize a week of talking about books as an example of how Claremont is training sheriffs to empower militias in order to take over the country in 2024. My classmates and I were labeled as “extremists” who consider ourselves “above the law,” intent on policing “brutally,” thanks to our “relative impunity.” This is all so laughable it’s hard to know where to begin. If spending a week reflecting on the Federalist Papers and George Washington’s Rules for Civility and Decent Behavior is the activity of would-be extremists and conspirators, then I suppose you should include me among the guilty ones.
I mention this gross and purposely obtuse response not because it is worth taking seriously, but so both my colleagues and fellow citizens understand the kind of reaction they can expect when they try to educate themselves about America’s founding principles. Don’t be intimidated. Justice, equality, rule of law, separation of powers, and consent of the governed will erode unless we make it our duty to understand their importance and function. Our elites count on this happening, so they try everything in their power to stamp out attempts at learning.
The Founding era in America was, like today, a socially and politically tempestuous time. But then, unlike now, philosophic ideas were publicly debated on stage, in taverns, and at home. Those disputes gave light to two vibrant documents totally unique in the annals of history. Unless we, together, follow the examples of our forefathers—enemies of freedom and free-speech be damned—the elemental truths upon which our nation was founded will be lost. And what replaces them will be unrecognizably bad.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.