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Truth Through Combat

American History in 2 Bullet Points

  • The Constitution – triumph of conservatism over liberalism.
  • The Civil War – triumph of liberalism over conservatism.

Considerations: the revolution and ensuing constitutional draft were a victory for states rights and a limited federal state. The enumeration of powers in the Constitution was the key moment in this victory.

The Civil War marked the end of conservatism’s victory lap. That conflict might have been about slavery, but it was also about the underlying constitutional issues: slavery was being defended by those who believed in the ideal of a limited national government that allowed local governments to make local decisions. Hence there is a straight line from the arguments of the founding federalists to the arguments of the confederacy.

So, where do “conservatism” and “liberalism” come into play? There is a natural kinship between federalism and conservatism. The interest of conservatism lies in limiting the power of government. The power of a national government to effect change is thus in itself an anti-conservative creation. Therefore it is in conservatism’s interest to limit the power of that government, thereby limiting the reach of government in general. The more power the federal government has, the less power the states will have and therefore the less power the people will have.

Liberalism believes in the exercise of power as a tool for promoting the general welfare. For liberalism, the Constitution grants the federal government an unlimited sovereignty over all aspects of life. Since a national government is uniquely positioned to effect large-scale change in the lives of men, liberalism will typically argue against federalism. That is, liberalism does not believe in power-sharing, since such power-sharing will make it more difficult to effect desired changes at the national level.

Does this mean federalism died in 1865? If so, what are the implications of this death?

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