Book Review: The American Ideology
If one is to be a conservative it is important to ask: “What exactly it is that is being conserved?”
Brian Vanyo, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, answers that question in his new book, The American Ideology: Taking Back our Country with the Philosophy of our Founding Fathers.
Vanyo, a graduate from the University of Virginia Law School, said what American conservatives are preserving an ideology that was adopted during the American Revolution, encapsulated in the Declaration of Independence and codified in the Constitution.
It includes the unique culture, based around Christian values, passed down from the early Americans and described by the famous French observer Alexis de Toqueville as “American exceptionalism.”
Vanyo focuses on American legal history at the Founding based around Natural Law and points to the philosophers and legal theorists that had the most impact on American ideology; these include John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, William Blackstone and many others.
Importantly, to the Founding Fathers, “natural rights” come from God and not the government, which makes America unique among nations, he said.
Rights are based upon what the government can’t do to the individual and reflect the human condition in the “state of nature,” he said. This directly opposes the “positive rights” theories of modern day liberals who believe that the government can grant rights and benefits to its subjects.
The structure of the American government was designed to both protect critical natural rights, he said. To limit the power of the government over its citizens. This wholly unique “federalist” system of checks and balances in the American government both vertically, between the federal, state and local governments, and horizontally, between the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches gives the Constitution its teeth and ensures that it does not merely have what Founding Father James Madison called “parchment barriers” to prevent tyranny.
The American Ideology contrasts the principles that guided the Founding and the first Bill of Rights and those that guided the progressive and the “Second Bill of Rights” that were a cornerstone of the Franklin Roosevelt presidency during the 1930s and 1940s, he said.
Throughout the book, Vanyo demonstrates how the American government has been stretched and perverted over time by those who believe in unleashing the power of government. He especially points to judicial activism and overreach as one of the key culprits in expanding the role of the federal government well beyond the intention of the Founders and to the early 20th century progressive ideas that fueled it.
Vanyo wrote that he is concerned about the power swing toward the judiciary. The increasing power of the Supreme Court is basically un-republican and opposed to the principle of majority rule.
“The Supreme Court’s paternalistic control over society today exists mainly because the people have let it encroach upon their governing authority,” Vanyo said, “Although this claim is wholly contrived—judicial supremacy has been rejected time and again throughout American history—new generations of Americans have come to accept the Court’s revisionist account of the past.”
A very different ideology, opposed to the classical liberalism of the Founding Fathers, has taken over American politics, he wrote. He points to specific cases when this different ideology, which goes under many names, from liberalism to progressivism to socialism, has dramatically changed American government and broken the very careful balance crafted by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution.
Early 20th century reforms, such as the 16th and 17th amendments passed under President Woodrow Wilson, created the income tax and direct election of senators, which weakened the states in regard to the federal government, he said.
The assault on state governments and economic liberty continued under Franklin D. Roosevelt during the New Deal, and many massive, unconstitutional programs were passed that dramatically increased the size and power of the federal government, he said.
The increase in the power of government and distortion of the Founder’s intentions for the republic has left America in a fragile and dangerous state, he said.
Vanyo wrote, “America today is much unlike the republic that the Founding Fathers created. In many ways, it resembles the depraved, dependent state envisioned by Tocqueville in his forecast of democratic despotism. It increasingly resembles past failed democracies…”
All is not lost though, according to Vanyo, he said, “More than ever there needs to be a revolution in American government—a revolution by political action to restore the principles upon which the United States was founded.”
The American Ideology does a great job of bringing the principles and ideas of the Founding Fathers to a modern audience and placing them in the context of current politics and policies. Vanyo makes these ideas accessible to the average reader and intersperses direct quotes from the Founders within the context of their time and the American history.
This is not just a book with random quotes from Founders to prove a point; it weaves a web to demonstrate the connection between founding ideas and policies that make up the original “American ideology.”