American Values

Introducing the Volokh Conspiracy Symposium on "Our American Story: The Search for a New National Narrative"

The symposium will include posts by contributors to this new book on what makes America and its history distinctive.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

This week the Volokh Conspiracy will be hosting a symposium of posts by contributors the just-published book Our American Story: The Search for a Shared National Narrative, edited by Joshua Claybourn. There will be posts by Claybourn, columnist Eleanor Clift, Prof. Nikolas Gvosdev of the US Naval War College, Jason Kuznicki of the Cato Institute, and legal scholars Richard Epstein (NYU/University of Chicago), Gerard Magliocca (Indiana University), and myself.

Here is the abstract of the book:

Over the past few decades, the complicated divides of geography, class, religion, and race created deep fractures in the United States, each side fighting to advance its own mythology and political interests. We lack a central story, a common ground we can celebrate and enrich with deeper meaning. Unable to agree on first principles, we cannot agree on what it means to be American. As we dismantle or disregard symbols and themes that previously united us, can we replace them with stories and rites that unite our tribes and maintain meaning in our American identity?

Against this backdrop, Our American Story features leading thinkers from across the political spectrum–Jim Banks, David W. Blight, Spencer P. Boyer, Eleanor Clift, John C. Danforth, Cody Delistraty, Richard A. Epstein, Nikolas Gvosdev, Cherie Harder, Jason Kuznicki, Gerard N. Magliocca, Markos Moulitsas, Ilya Somin, Cass R. Sunstein, Alan Taylor, James V. Wertsch, Gordon S. Wood, and Ali Wyne. Each draws on expertise within their respective fields of history, law, politics, and public policy to contribute a unique perspective about the American story. This collection explores whether a unifying story can be achieved and, if so, what that story could be.

I previously wrote a post about my own contribution "Foot-Voting Nation," here.

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  1. If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.

    Then again, I have to admit, that it’s already broken, but not by those trying to fix it, but rather those who sought to replace it, and having now broken it, we now we have to find a replacement (because the old one just won’t do, having been broken).

    Still, I nominate the old one.

    1. What features of “the old one” particularly appeal to you?

      1. The promise, and the peril, of a country founded on the ideal of “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” with government not much more than a night watchman. And where there are rights, there also comes civic responsibilities, which is facilitated by a shared culture.

        I will be the first to admit that the ideal was not applicable across the board, but then again, the inherent contradictions eventually led them to be. Sorry to sound trite, but E pluribus unum; Multiculturalism will be the end of America.

        1. government not much more than a night watchman.

          Not sure that’s really an accurate description of reality, or at least it hasn’t been for a very long time.

          1. Not since the New Deal at the least, and arguably not since the Civil War.

            1. I don’t know that it was ever contemplated, at least not since the Constitution was ratified.

              Take economic regulation, for example. The Constitution plainly gives Congress the right to regulate interstate commerce. Presumably, the drafters anticipated that Congress would use that power, one way or another, and thought that acceptable. We might say it’s gone too far, but any significant amount is beyond what a night watchman does.

              1. It’s really more a matter of degree. A night watchman state won’t regulate commerce to any large extent because it won’t have the large regulatory state to enforce it with, which was created with the New Deal. Tariffs and excise taxes, etc. that the early Republic had not make it so it was not a night watchman state (at the federal level).

        2. “…with government not much more than a night watchman.”

          But the original Constitution placed virtually no limits on one level of government, namely the States. It may have contemplated as “night watchman” at the federal level, but until the 14A–really not until the 20th century–the Bill of Rights didn’t operate against the states.

          I also don’t think it’s the case that the founding government at the federal level was merely a “night watchman”, unless you mean they watched the night for human beings, and then forcibly transported them back into state-enforced servitude. How heavy-handed government was in the 18th and 19th century is certainly going to depend on who you ask, and there aren’t any government regulations burdening my life in the 21st century as those that would have applied to fugitive slaves. Most of the onerous federal regulations that people complain about today are things already regulated at the state level. (Naturally, since in order for a proposed federal bill to get enough support, it has to be something that a majority of states’ reps and senators already find palpable.)

          The hand wringing over our lost shared culture or heightened political disagreement ignore how much progress we’ve made. Political acrimony was much higher in the 18th and 19th centuries than at any point in the 20th or 21st century.

  2. “Over the past few decades, the complicated divides of geography, class, religion, and race created deep fractures in the United States. . . .”

    You lost me in the first sentence.

    Read any reputable US history book to see how wrong you are.

    Our “fractures” (rural/urban, ocean/farmland, export/import, etc.) , have always been with us.

    Additionally (as I’ve said many times), I don’t consider our “fractures” to be a negative factor – and just the opposite – they help form our strength and durability, allowing us to be flexible and respond to changing societal and political changes.

    1. Reason really needs an edit function.

    2. Yes. And don’t leave out the racial fracture.

      Not new.

  3. This collection explores whether a unifying story can be achieved and, if so, what that story could be.

    So no thought given to whether it should be achieved?

  4. “Markos Moulitsas”

    Really?

    1. I said the same thing about Eleanor Clift.
      I’d pay folding money to see her debate Epstein.

  5. Our narrative is that we don’t have a single narrative.
    Few countries today can legitimately lay claim to such a status.

  6. […] 1. Ilya Somin, “Introducing the Volokh Conspiracy Symposium on ‘Our American Story: The Search for a New Natio…‘” […]

  7. […] 1. Ilya Somin, “Introducing the Volokh Conspiracy Symposium on ‘Our American Story: The Search for a New Natio…‘” […]

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