The Thought ofnthe Constitutionnby Michael LindnConfronting the ConstitutionnEdited by Allan BloomnWashington, D.C.: The AmericannEnterprise Institute for Public Policy;n564 pp., $24.95nIn their program “A Decade of Studynof the Constitution,” Robert A.nGoldwin and his collaborators at thenAmerican Enterprise Institute havenconsistently published the most readablenand stimulating discussions of contemporarynconstitutional issues to havenappeared in America. The virtues ofnprevious AEI books such as How Democraticnis the Constitution? are embodied,non a larger scale, in a new collectionnof essays edited by Allan Bloom,nConfronting the Constitution, whichntakes the form of a theological disputationnwhere the orthodoxy being defendednis “the thought of the Constitution,”nor, more precisely, the philosophicalnbeliefs and social structuresnsupposedly implicit in the early Americannversion of liberal democracy.nHeresies against the Constitutionninclude Utilitarianism, Marxism, Idealism,nHistoricism, and other Ismsnwhich. Bloom asserts in a brilliant if notnentirely persuasive essay, are offshootsnof Rousseau-ism: “In essence,nRousseau’s bourgeois is idenhcal tonLocke’s rational and industrious mann. . . [who] might be an instrument ofnstability, but the cost of relying on himnis human dignity. This contrast betweenntwo ways of seeing the centralnactor in modernity summarizes thencontinuous political debate of the pastntwo centuries.” Bloom notes that, withnone exception, “All of the contributorsnto this book are . . . students of, ornstudents of students of, Leo Strauss,” anGerman emigre scholar who “reinterestednus in America by teaching usnhow to read our country’s political textsnand demonstrating how wise they are.”nVery Straussian is Bloom’s distinctionnbetween classic Lockean liberal democracynand modern ideologies (fornStrauss, Machiavelli rather than Rousseaunwas the evil thinker who separatednthe “ancients” from the “moderns”).nAlso characteristically Straussian is then38/CHRONICLESntendency to treat politicians and historicalnevents as epiphenomena of politicalntheory. As Bloom says, “Bacon,nLocke, and Montesquieu are worthyninterlocutors — on the level of Kant,nHegel, Marx and Nietzsche, who inspirednless impressive political achievements.”nIf you mentally added, “suchnas those of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot”nto the last line, you win an A in thenStraussian school of esoteric reading.nAs a rule the essays in Confrontingnthe Constitution are thorough andnscholarly. Thomas L. Pangle andnDavid F. Epstein have contributedngood discussions of “The PhilosophicnUnderstanding of Human Nature Informingnthe Constitution” and “ThenPolitical Theory of the Constitution,”nrespectively. The sections on post-nLockean philosophies are less impressive.nHarvey C. Mansfield, Jr., thenchampion of extra-constitutional executivenprerogative, engages in a ramblingnand incoherent attack on a strawnman he calls Social Science. Onenwonders why chapters on the existentialists,nFreud, and the trio of Rawls,nDworkin, and Nozick were includednat all, particularly since this meantnless space went to the important alternativesnto Lockean liberalism — Utilitarianism,nIdealism, and Historicism.nSusan Shell’s too-brief and muddiednaccount of the German idealist traditionnof Kant, Fichte, and Hegel fails tonmeet the standard set by Bloom in hisnown essay on Rousseau. A certain lacknof moral discrimination and historicalndistance is evident in her praise ofn”what Abraham Lincoln once callednour ‘political religion,’ the core beliefsnthat constitute us as a country and as annation,” and in her criticism of then”fanatical nationalism” of the MexicannWar. (Who was more “fanatical” —nPresident Polk, who secured Texasnagainst recurrent Mexican invasionsnand gained the Southwest in a limitednwar ending in a negotiated settlement,nor President Lincoln, who invoked anmystical “Union” and drenched thencontinent in blood while refusing tonnegotiate with the South?) The absencenof a thorough and serious discussionnof Idealism is a pity, because it isnthe idealist conception of communitariannnational democracy, not Lockeannliberal democracy, which inspired then”Springtime of Nations” in Europe inn1989.nnnThe Idealist tradition, it might benadded, could provide American conservatismnwith a firmer intellectual basisnthan the inanities of natural-rightsnand social-contract doctrine, or thensonorities of Burkeanism. Such a suggestion,nof course, would horrifynStraussians, whose definition of Americanas a purely voluntary society unitednby rational assent to a few 18th-centurynWhig dogmas better describes a clubnrather than any flesh-and-blood country,nincluding America, yesterday andntoday. Bloom, with others of hisnschool, finds it difficult to distinguishnhealthy subphilosophical patriotismnfrom throne-and-altar reaction andnxenophobic fascism: “The genius ofnthis country — which cannot and doesnnot wish to treat its citizens like plantsnrooted in its soil — has consisted in ancitizenship that permits reflection onnone’s own interest and a calm recognitionnthat it is satisfied by this regime.”nIs it “reflection on one’s own interest”nrather than “the instinctive and unquestioningnlove of our own” thatnmotivates our troops in Saudi Arabia?nBloom writes of such watery commitment,n”This is the peculiarly Americannform of patriotism.” Actually, it isna form of patriotism most Americansnfind peculiar.nThis completely abstract definitionnof American identity, empty of everythingnhistoric, cultural, and contingentnwhich makes the United States morenthan a test case for a hypothesis ofnI Sth-century intellectuals, is what separatesnconservatives from Straussiansn(and libertarians). Either there is annAmerican nation, above and beyondnmere frames of government and “politicalnreligions,” or there is not. If there isnan American nation, then constitutionalnquestions take second place to questionsnof cultural and social identity. Ifnthere is not an American nation, merelynan American government, then anclever constitution and elaborate politicalnideology will not prevent Americannsociety from collapsing into racial, religious,nregional, and class Balkanization.nStraussians believe that then”thought of the Constitution” is allnthat ultimately holds the United Statesntogether. Conservatives fear that theynmay be correct.nMichael Lind writes from Washington,nD.C.n