We tend to think of them as a monolithic force. “The Founding Fathers” we say, “would have wanted this.” We say that “they” would have been opposed to that. With fire in our eyes, we declare that “they” must be rolling over in their graves.
In the United States, we speak of them so often that it has become a sort of shorthand for a particular worldview. One might call it American conservatism, or conversely, classical liberalism. One could call it libertarian, or republican, or democratic. Like so many terms in the modern political discourse – thought police, social justice, neoliberalism, even capitalism ‒ we use the Founding Fathers to signify many different things depending on our aim. All at once, the phrase means everything and nothing. This imprecision of language, whether applied to this or other terms, is understandable. It’s easier to use buzz words that evoke “the kind of thing we’re getting at” than to state precisely the political or philosophical argument we’re trying to make. (more…)