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Honoring Walter Berns

7:35 AM, Sep 17, 2013 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Timed to coincide with the annual Walter Berns lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, which is in turn timed to coincide with Constitution Day (September 17), there's a new website honoring Walter Berns: walterberns.org.

It's a fitting honor: a complete, curated guide to Berns's work, presented in a catalogued, searchable format, enabling students of all ages to learn from this remarkable student of the American Constitution and the American republic. As Jeremy Rabkin explains in his introduction to the website:

Walter Berns was a student of Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago in the early 1950s. Like a number of Strauss students of that era—notably, Martin Diamond, Harry Jaffa, and Herbert Storing—his work sought to apply the perspective of classical political philosophy to the study of American government and politics....

Much of his writing reflects the classical view that democracy depends on the character of the citizens, so their opinions and beliefs, their personal habits and degree of self-discipline—in a word, their virtues—will matter to the prospects of democratic government.

But Berns also acknowledged—indeed, often emphasized—that early modern thinkers (notably Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Adam Smith) had tried to place politics on a new foundation and the American Founders largely embraced the new approach, with its promise of reducing religious conflict and enlarging opportunities for the creation of wealth.  With his primary focus on constitutional law, Berns emphasized the challenge of limited government in an era that had become impatient with limits and confused about their purposes.

Through all his writings, Berns defended a kind of civic prudence, honoring the aims and concerns of the good citizen in modern democracies, while addressing the real threats and challenges faced by democratic societies, from dangerous tendencies within and hostile powers outside....First and last, Walter Berns has sought to defend American constitutional arrangements as reasonable accommodations to the enduring human challenges."

So go to the website, and discover the work of Walter Berns. For those of you already familiar with Berns, discover writings you weren't aware of or didn't have access to, or scholarly commentary on his work you weren't familiar with. There couldn't be a better way to honor Constitution Day. And of course, in our constitutional republic, every day is in a sense Constitution Day.

The website is a project of the Foundation for Constitutional Government, in conjunction with AEI's Program on American Citizenship. It joins previous websites produced by the Foundation dedicated to the work of Harvey Mansfield and the late James Q. Wilson. And there are more to come.

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