When it comes to the Founding Fathers, Paul Ryan is as aggravating as the people who have rebranded themselves American Nationalists:
“We have to go back and fight for our ground and re-win these ideas and marginalize these guys the best we can to the corners,” Ryan said. “Do everything you can to defeat it.”
Ryan made the comments in conversation with National Review senior editor Jonah Goldberg. The two conservatives spoke at an event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. Ryan had harsh words for the alt-right, an umbrella term for extreme right-wing individuals who reject mainstream conservatism and often embrace racism and white supremacy.
“That is not conservatism. That is racism. That is nationalism. That is not what we believe in. That is not the founding vision, that is not the founders’ creed,” Ryan said. …
He said the faction “hijacked” conservative terms like “western civilization” and distorted the conservative message.
“It is identity politics. It’s antithetical to what we believe and it’s a hijacking of our terms,” Ryan said. “How do we get the core back? How do we get back classic liberalism properly understood in the 21st century?”
I don’t agree with either side on this subject.
The Founding Fathers weren’t mainstream conservatives. The Declaration of Independence condemns King George III for inciting the “merciless Indian savages.” The Constitution contains the 3/5th Clause, the Fugitive Slave Clause and refers to “Indians Not Taxed.” White Nationalists have pounded away at the fact that Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted US citizenship to “free white persons.”
The “founding vision” of the United States had no room for women in politics or the rights of homosexuals. American Indians were treated as foreigners. Blacks were overwhelmingly slaves. American citizenship was based on whiteness. The deracinated, cosmopolitan vision of Americanism as a purely ideological creed for a rootless people didn’t triumph until aftermath of the Second World War. It was created by a group of alienated Jews known as the New York Intellectuals in the 1930s.
The American Revolution itself was a product of “identity politics.” The rhetoric of liberty and constitutionalism became a key component of British national identity after the Glorious Revolution. The song Rule, Britannia which originated in 1740 contains the line “Britons never will be slaves.” The American colonists thought of themselves as “free” because they were British subjects. Liberty was meaningful to the American colonists because their slaves weren’t free and the Catholic Spanish and French weren’t free. Liberty was a marker of Anglo-American ethnic identity like Protestantism.
The American colonists were incensed because they felt their sense of identity was being trampled on by the Crown and Parliament. The Revolution began as an argument over the nature of the British Constitution before it was justified on the basis of Enlightenment universalism. At best, the “founding vision” of the United States was an ancestor of classical liberalism. It was not the same thing. It certainly wasn’t anything we would recognize today as mainstream conservatism.
18th century Whiggery was an ethnic creed before it evolved into a universalist ideology. It was rooted in the peculiar historical experience of the British Isles which deviated from the absolutism of Europe.