David Brooks has an excellent column on my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin’s dissertation, “The Great Law of Change: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Meaning of the Past in a Democratic Age.”
Yuval traces the pedigree of our political ideas to Burke and Paine and examines their differences about the nature of man and society, the character of our social relations, the capacity of human reason, and the proper uses of political power. It is an important reminder that so many of the contemporary issues we face in politics turn decisively on our presuppositions, on our operating assumptions and prejudices, and, in Levin’s words, “upon our view of our own place in the great human story — past, present, and future.”
Such things are always important, but it strikes me that they are triply important today, since the debates we are currently engaged in are about political first principles. It’s vital that from time to time we step back from the fray and examine, and reexamine, our political philosophy and most cherished beliefs in light of present circumstances.
Oh, and Brooks’s column is a reminder of something else as well: Yuval Levin — who edits the indispensible National Affairs magazine — is one of the brightest stars in the conservative constellation.