A Student of History

April 29, 2006

What Would the Founders Do?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 1:03 am

That is the name of a new book by Richard Brookhiser, author of one of my favorite books on George Washington.  Here's part of the sales pitch:

If the Founding Fathers were alive today, what would they do about terrorism? What would they say about public expressions of religion? Would they be for or against gun control? The death penalty? "Gay rights"? Now, in What Would the Founders Do? Our Questions, Their Answers, acclaimed author and National Review senior editor Richard Brookhiser examines the founders' own words in their historical context to theorize what they would think of today's most controversial and important issues.

Hmmmmm…..  I am a bit wary to say the least about this kind of exercise.  When I was an undergrad, I recall many of my peers trying to figure out whether Jefferson would have been a Democrat or a Republican (back in the early 1980s.)  I was always amazed at how, if they tried, these guys could cherry-pick bits and pieces of TJ's philosophies, quotes, and writings to bolster their claims.  Is Brookhiser doing that here?  I will have to check it out myself, but I am a bit skeptical.

Maybe the claims are a bit much.  From the NRO sales pitch, RB is able to tell us what the Founders would do (and say) about:

The Death Penalty * "Gay rights" * Gun Control * Censorship * Assisted Suicide * Stem Cell Research * Katrina (and other natural disasters) * Federalism * Judicial Review * "One Nation Under God" * Christianity * Religion in Public Life * Religion in Politics * Luxury Taxes * Family Farms * Outsourcing * Welfare * Oil Drilling in ANWR * Building Infrastructure * The Federal Reserve * Social Security * State-Sponsored Gambling * Terrorism * Rogue States * Weapons of Mass Destruction * Military Conscription (the Draft) * Pre-Emptive Wars * "Special Relationships" with Foreign Countries * Covert Operations * Spreading Democracy * Pacifism * An American "Empire" * Tuition Tax Credits * Private School Vouchers * School Curriculums * Religion in Education * Intelligent Design * Confidential News Sources * Objective Journalism * Female Equality * Women's Rights * Women in the Workforce * Marriage and Motherhood * The Family * Out-of-Wedlock Births * Privacy * Reparations for Slavery * Indian Casinos * Immigration Policy * English as the National Language * Partisanship * The "Politics of Personal Destruction * Campaign Finance Reform * Term Limits * Political "Back Room Deals" * Polls and Polling

5/16/2006: since my original post about the book, I have been advised of a website promoting it, so have a look here


  1. I am skeptical, as well. I think the question has a natural application to some topic (federalism, religion, term limits), whereas other topics are far too removed from the social mores of the founders’ time. Even federalism is questionable, since the founders had not lived through the Great Depression, which in turn occurred in the context of the spread of international communism. The New Deal and increased federak power were a response to the crisis of the times. I’m not sure how much good it does to ask the founder of a fledgling, agrarian-bases, isolationist republic to address questions so far removed from his milieu.

    On the other hand, this is all in fun. Sort of the historian’s equivalent to a comic fan’s discussion like, what would happen if Superman met the Silver Surfer?

    Comment by Mic McConnell — May 2, 2006 @ 2:12 pm | Reply

  2. There is another meaning of Federalism though, which took hold after the Revolution in what Elkins and McKittrick called in their book THE AGE OF FEDERALISM, 1788-1800. That is to say, a strong vs a weak central government, with an emph. on federal power rather than state power.

    Comment by John Maass — May 2, 2006 @ 4:37 pm | Reply

  3. […] In a previous post, I mentioned Richard Brookhiser’s new book What Would the Founders Do?  As part of the promo for the book, there is an interview RB by Kathryn Lopez, National Review senior editor found here. […]

    Pingback by A Student of History » What Would the Founders Do? — May 25, 2006 @ 12:36 pm | Reply

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