NB BookNotes: Peter Berkowitz Defends 'Constitutional Conservatism'

On Tuesday, I sat down with Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institution to discuss his new book, Constitutional Conservatism: Liberty, Self-Government, and Political Moderation. That latter part of the subtitle might trip up a lot of folks, so I asked him to explain what exactly he meant by political moderation.

Political moderation rightly understood, Berkowitz explained, is not "compromise for the sake of compromise," but rather a "recognizing and reconciling [of] competing and worthy... political principles," such as individual liberty with traditional social customs and moral virtue. The Hoover senior fellow noted the concept has its origins in the great conservative British statesman Edmund Burke as can be seen in the political thinking of National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. and conservative "fusionism" proponent Frank Meyer. [watch the full interview below the page break]

"The [conservative's] task of conserving liberty" is about "understanding the family of worthy principles that are necessary to honor, to conserve liberty," the constitutional scholar explained.

"There's a tendency among both social conservatives and libertarians and in fact everybody in politics to identify one single principle and take it to an extreme," he added later in the interview. So while the temptation for social conservatives can be to pursue traditional morality without regard for limitations on government power, Berkowitz noted, the libertarian is prone to forgetting that "rugged individuals are not born, they are formed, they're made, they're educated, their virtues are cultivated... in families, in communities, often in communities of faith."

Also discussed in our 15-minute interview was how to combat the media's bias against constitutional conservatives and Dr. Berkowitz's thoughts on which politicians in America today best exemplify a commitment to constitutional conservatism.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters