At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Thursday, Hillsdale College Associate Vice President Matthew Spalding argued that a rejection of God and transcendence in moral reasoning naturally leads to tyranny.
“When we read the Declaration of Independence and the idea that ‘all men are created equal’ and this is grounded in nature which is the source of our rights, we talk about liberty and rights a lot,” Spalding said. “So does the Left. The fundamental question here is what’s the source of the rights. What’s behind that?”
The Hillsdale College VP argued that “the beauty of the Declaration” involves the idea of moral transcendence.
“You can’t understand liberty as [the founders] understood it — and as we as conservatives understand it — without an idea there is transcendence,” Spalding argued. “Any time you deny that — which is to say you recognize the possibility that man could be God — whether you’re George III and you’re a divine monarch or Mao [Zedong] in China, it leads to what? Tyranny.”
Spalding said there is a “higher justice” that transcends human law and enables restraints on government that foster liberty.
He warned that it is vitally important to “understand liberty as not merely being us, but there’s something beyond us that is greater than us, that is a higher justice, that we cannot here create, that moderates our politics and allows all this to be possible.”
“If you lose that understanding, that foundation of what liberty means, you’re going to start going down that road towards a reshaping of man, like the communists or the socialists want to do, or a decadent decline of the culture that has no meaning,” the Hillsdale VP warned. “People are looking for it and it’s not there anymore.”
Hillsdale College teaches Western and American heritage as a continuum, from the Bible to John Locke to the Declaration of Independence and onward. The ideas of limited government established in the Bible carried massive weight for the Founding Fathers, especially for Thomas Paine in his work Common Sense.
While the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are not explicitly Christian, the Declaration mentions God four separate times and grounds liberty and human rights in “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” Although many of the Founding Fathers were arguably somewhat deistic, they still believed in a transcendent moral order that fosters liberty and limited government.
Hillsdale College does not take any federal funding in order to preserve its academic independence from the federal government. Conservatives like Dennis Prager and Rush Limbaugh have praised and supported the school, advertising it on their programs. The school focuses on liberal arts more than political activism, but many conservatives rightly see it as a bastion for conservative values.
As a graduate of Hillsdale College, I welcome its political prominence and emphasize the fact that I learned more how to think than what to think at the school. Hillsdale College fosters independent thought and a right appreciation of America’s heritage, equipping students to address the often anti-Western and anti-American approaches of other colleges and universities. That said, both liberal and conservative students are welcome, and no one is exempt from tough intellectual questioning.
Hillsdale was founded in 1844 as a Baptist college, and it recently returned to its Christian roots.
Matt Spalding leads Hillsdale’s efforts in Washington, D.C., at the Allen P. Kirby Center. The college’s outreach in D.C. is partially controversial among students and alumni, as many fear that it will lead the college to become more political than academic.Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.