But today’s debates have less to do with what America used to be than with what it should be in the future. At the national conservatism conference, Mr. Hazony warned: “You throw out Christianity, you throw out the Torah, you throw out God, and within two generations people can’t tell the difference between a man and a woman. They can’t tell the difference between a foreigner and a citizen.” “The only way to save this country,” he added, “to bring it back to cohesion,” is going “to be to restore those traditions.”
It is far from clear how these traditions could be restored on the national level. Consider education. Since the 1990s, efforts to establish a common curriculum have foundered on public opposition — even without a controversial emphasis on religion. Rather than uniting a fractured people, such an effort seems more likely to divide us.
And the political implications of the Bible are not straightforward. Nationalist conservatives emphasize sexual morality and strong borders. During the revolution, by contrast, the central issue was the danger of monarchy. Not only Paine and Franklin but also more orthodox writers contended that the Hebrew Bible promotes skepticism toward charismatic rulers and the centralization of authority. With the growth of executive power since World War II, this lesson remains essential.