Our Constitution: Alive or Dead?nThe Conservative Constitutionnhy Russell KirknWashington, D.C.: RegnerynGateway; 241 pp., $22.95nConsensus on the benign motivesnof our Founding Fathers and thennature of the Constitution that hadnpersisted through the 19th century begannto crack at the beginning of then20th under assaults from the Progressives.nIt has disintegrated at an acceleratingnrate since, so that today we, as anpeople, are uncertain of our legacy. Innthis work, addressed to the “commonnreader,” Russell Kirk does not settle anynof the controversies that have given risento this disintegration. Nor does he appreciablynadvance our understanding ofnthe subtle disputes over the nature ofnour founding that have emerged innrecent decades. But he does make someninteresting points that are bound to addnfuel to the fires.nThe Conservative Constitution consistsnof lectures that have been splicedntogether into 15 chapters, only looselynconnected with each other by theirnfocus on some aspect of our constitutionalnorder and certain problems surroundingnits meaning and operations.nThe first six chapters, in one fashion ornanother, deal with the Framers, theirngoals, and the influences on theirnthinking; the remaining chapters withndisparate matters such as pornography,nthe differences between our Bill ofnRights and the French version of then”rights of man,” the controversy overn”original intent,” the intended meaningnof the Establishment clause of thenFirst Amendment, the constitutionalnprotection of property, and, amongnothers, secular humanism.nAt the outset. Kirk maintains thatn”whatever may be said of certain SupremenCourt decisions since the SecondnWorld War, the Constitution con-nGeorge W. Carey is a professor ofngovernment at Georgetown University.n34/CHRONICLESnby George W. Careyn”Your Constitution is all sail and no anchor.”n—T.B. Macaulayntinues to function today as a conservativenframework for the Republic.”n”No other national constitution of ourntime,” he emphasizes here andnthroughout, “extends such protectionnto Permanent Things.” Now, in Kirk’snestimation, we are heavily indebted tonEdmund Burke for the conservativencharacter of our Constitution. ThenAmerican patriots, those who foughtnfor independence, were as one withnBurke on at least one significant point:nthey viewed themselves as fighting for anrestoration of the rights and libertiesnthat were part of the English tradition.nIn contrast to the French Revolution,nthen, the American Revolution wasnnot really a revolution at all; the Americans,nunlike the French revolutionaries,n”intended no radical break with thenpast.” Rather, as Kirk writes, “theynthought of themselves as conservatorsnrather than innovators”; in their resistancento the innovations of George IIInnn”they were endeavoring to prevent,nrather than to make, a revolution.”nIn dealing with Burke’s influence onnthe Constitution, Kirk goes beyondnpointing up a mere coincidence of an”conservative” outlook between thenFramers and Burke and undertakes tonshow the direct impact of Burke’snviews on their thinking. In this endeavor,nwhich moves into relatively virginnterritory, Kirk is far from convincing.nFor instance, he places great significancenon what he perceives to be thencorrespondence between “the generalnframe and substance of the UnitednStates Constitution” and “the politicalnprinciples of the Rockingham Whigs,nwhose manager and intellectual chiefnBurke was.” In this regard, however.nKirk acknowledges that Burke probablynwould not have endorsed the Constitutionnwithout reservations, chief amongnthem being its provision for the separationnof powers. Yet, given the factnthat the separation of powers is anfundamental principle of our constitutionalnorder—one that accounts innlarge measure for its organization,nstructures, and procedures — such anreservation cannot be lightly dismissed.nIn fact, it belies Kirk’s argument concerningnBurke’s enormous influencenon our Founders, the more so as Hamiltonnpoints out in Federalist 9 that keynelements of the separation of powersn— e.g., “distribution of power into distinctndepartments,” “the introductionnof legislative checks and balances” —nwill serve to spare the new republicnfrom the “perpetual vibration betweennthe extremes of tyranny and anarchy”nthat have proved fatal to previous republics.nNevertheless, even with regardnto the matter of separated powers — anconstitutional principle that enjoyednvirtually unanimous support at thentime of ratification — it is fair to saynthat the Founders did share Burke’sntemper and concerns: building on theirnown political traditions and practices,nthey were concerned with establishingninstitutions that would provide orderlyn