The late W. Cleon Skousen celebrates, of all things, the Constitution of the United States of America. He believed it was an extraordinary work, and wrote a book (available in paperback) to that effect: “The Five Thousand Year Leap: A Miracle that Changed the World.”
The book was written over a quarter-century ago (copyrighted in 1981), but has gained notoriety over the last few years as a result of Glenn Beck recommending it. Mr. Skousen died in 2006, but the visibility brought through Mr. Beck’s promotion now finds the book being disparaged, with Mr. Skousen characterized as a “right-wing crank.”
The reason for the attack? Mr. Skousen had the temerity to list 28 principles contained in our Constitution that form the basis for the “American Exceptionalism” described by Alexis de Tocqueville. He illustrates how our Constitution strikes the “sweet spot” between tyranny and anarchy in human governance. He lays out the thinking of the Founding Fathers in such a way that it gives people the inclination to say, “I believe in the principles of our Founding Fathers!” He also provides references to the writings of John Locke, Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Cicero, Plato and Aristotle to back up his point of view.
His work gives a practical basis to an argument that has been too abstract over the last decade. When Republicans are accused of being Racists, they counter with facts related to which political party seceded from the Union and started the Civil War. Now, when confronted with the theme of “Republicans shredding the Constitution,” they can refer to the writings of the Founding Fathers and describe their support for those principles.
We’ve had that traditional political promise: “I can get you more than the other guy!” There is now a more Republican position that can be supported and celebrated: “I promise to defend the principles of our Founding Fathers!”
To make it easier to become acquainted with the content of the Skousen book, I’m listing each of his 28 principles as hotlinks to HTML pages. These pages will have remarks on the principles and allow for comments. Please feel free to contribute to the discussion!
From the Table of Contents, here are Skousen’s 28 principles:
1. The Genius of Natural Law.
2. A Virtuous and Moral People.
3. Virtuous and Moral Leaders.
4. The Role of Religion.
5. The Role of the Creator.
6. All Men are Created Equal.
7. Equal Rights, Not Equal Things.
8. Man’s Unalienable Rights.
9. The Role of Revealed Law.
10. Sovereignty of the People.
11. Who Can Alter the Government?
12. Advantages of a Republic.
13. Protection Against Human Frailty.
14. Property Rights Essential to Liberty.
15. Free-market Economics.
16. The Separation of Powers.
17. Checks and Balances.
18. Importance of a Written Constitution.
19. Limiting and Defining the Powers of Government.
20. Majority Rule, Minority Rights.
21. Strong Local Self-government.
22. Government by Law, Not by Men.
23. Importance of an Educated Electorate.
24. Peace Through Strength.
25. Avoid Entangling Alliances.
26. Protecting the Role of the Family.
27. Avoiding the Burden of Debt.
28. The Founders’ Sense of Manifest Destiny.
I hope this post is thought-provoking. It summarizes Mr. Skousen’s work, but the book itself is filled with references and citations that bring the thoughts and feelings of our Founders to life. If you happen to want to know how George Washington felt about some aspect of the Constitution, you can see what he actually wrote. If you question the reference, you can check out the citation for yourself. That’s a welcome contribution to Constitutional scholarship!
And here’s a final note…
If you want to compare our Constitution with similar efforts in the area, here’s a link to the work on the constitution of the European Union. Compare the fundamental principles of this document with those in our Constitution. I’m hoping you will agree there was something exceptional in what our Founders accomplished over two hundred years ago.