The Particular and the Universal
Cover of issue 35

How to Cite

The Particular and the Universal: Kirk’s Second Canon of Conservative Thought. (2006). The Political Science Reviewer, 35, 179-199.


Since the nation’s founding a salutary tension has informedAmerican political thought—a tension between the abstract,universal truths expressed in the first part of the Declaration ofIndependence and the particular, experience-based prudence ofthe Constitution. The one establishes moral imperatives (anddefines a just government) while the other establishes a new orderout of the lessons of the past wedded to the cultural conventionsof the American people. While the tension itself has fostered someof the most productive political thought in the American tradition,the pressure to end the tension, to simplify the Americanideal, and to articulate to ourselves and a listening world adefining principle, has led to a notable imbalance. From the right,perhaps more than from the left, we hear that America is a nationof ideas, by which they mean the abstract natural rights articulatedin the Declaration of Independence, and these ideas supplythe defining meaning of our collective identity, the single cordthat binds the nation together. Not an ethnos, not even a patchworkof peoples wedded together by a common history and by thecords of affection that come from generations of reciprocity, theUnited States is an idea.