Next week at Acton University I am giving a lecture titled, “Calvin Coolidge and his Foundational Views on Government.” One of the great things about studying Coolidge is that he is extremely accessible. Coolidge noted during his political career that practicing law was valuable for honing communication skills that promote brevity and clarity in speech. The Coolidge lecture at Acton University will attempt to do likewise. He’s a president that probably would have little trouble with the 140 character limit on Twitter. If you aren’t able to attend Acton University, I’m told the lecture will be recorded, and at some point will be available for a very small fee.
One of the most relevant things about Coolidge today is that in his era he was battling the progressive scheme to perfect man in an attempt to move beyond the spirit of America’s founding principles. In one masterful broadside against the progressive scheme delivered on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, he declared:
It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter.
If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.
Coolidge noted in his 1925 State of the Union Address that the age of perfection “is more in danger of being retarded by mistaken government activity than it is from lack of legislation.” He wrote his father a letter while in office, saying, “It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.” We see this playing out clearly in the opposite fashion today, as our federal government becomes more inept and corrupt the more of society it tries to overtake and direct. A large portion of the citizenry, I think, are waking up to the fact that the federal government is unable to solve or even manage their problems. Coolidge simply believed the federal government could be effective, but only when it is limited by its proper constitutional constraints. To echo recent political star David Brat, “Our founding was built by people who were political philosophers, and we need to get back to that, away from this kind of cheap political rhetoric of right and left.” There will be much more to say about Coolidge at Acton University, and if you are in person next week, I hope you have an opportunity to attend the lecture.