We have a glut of text and trade books on American history. But what we don’t have is a compact, inexpensive, authoritative, and compulsively readable book that will offer to intelligent young Americans a coherent, persuasive, and inspiring narrative of their own country.
Conservatism has never been the only voice in America, but it is the most distinctively American voice, emerging from the customs, norms, and dispositions of its people and is grounded in the conviction that the capacity for self-governance provides a distinctly human dignity. Emphasizing the ongoing strength and importance of the conservative tradition, the authors describe our Constitution’s emphasis on maintaining order, balance, and protection of the primary institutions of local life. Also important, here, is an understanding of changes in American demographics, economics, and politics. These changes complicated attempts to address the fundamentally anti-traditional nature of slavery and Jim Crow, the destructive effects of globalism, and the increasing desire to look on the federal government as the guarantor of security and happiness.
Clarence Thomas’s 1950s childhood, as a black kid in hyper-segregated Savannah, under the vigilent eye of his ferociously self-reliant grandfather, formed him into the independent-minded, responsible individualist that America’s Founding Fathers assumed—wrongly—would always be this nation’s unique character type. The old-fashioned virtues he learned gave him the strength to reject the 1960s victimology and identity politics in which his well-earned academic success marinated him. When, after decades of government service, constantly battling the responsibility-shirking orthodoxies of racial grievance, he rose to the Supreme Court—after his own confirmation hearings’ up-close experience of the rancorous race and sex politics that define our era—he was uniquely equipped, by character and culture, to understand and revere the Constitution as the Founders wrote it, “to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
As 2018 ended, an orchestrated propaganda campaign paralyzed U.S. foreign policy. The trigger was the killing in Istanbul of Jamal Khashoggi, a member of Saudi Arabia’s wealthy and politically powerful oligarchy. Mainstream media and misguided, melodramatic politicians hoodwinked millions by portraying Khashoggi as a martyr for press freedom and democracy. The real Khashoggi was nothing of the sort. President Trump’s efforts to restore realism to foreign policy must contend not only with Democrats but also with naïve Republicans who reject the national-interest realism of Jeane Kirkpatrick, author of “Dictatorships and Double Standards.”
Burdens of Freedom presents a new and radical interpretation of America and its challenges. The United States is an individualist society where most people seek to realize personal goals and values out in the world. This unusual, inner-driven culture was the chief reason why first Europe, then Britain, and finally America came to lead the world. But today, our deepest problems derive from groups and nations that reflect the more passive, deferential temperament of the non-West. The long-term poor and many immigrants have difficulties assimilating in America mainly because they are less inner-driven than the norm. Abroad, the United States faces challenges from Asia, which is collective-minded, and also from many poorly-governed countries in the developing world. The chief threat to American leadership is no longer foreign rivals like China but the decay of individualism within our own society.