American and European conservatives share little in common. American conservatives look to the founding of their country for their principles and precepts—to the Declaration of Independence, to the Constitution and our basic political institutions, and to the thinkers, like John Locke, who inspired them. They cherish natural rights, limited government, and individual autonomy—intellectual products of early modern enlightenment thought. Their mission, as George Will observes in The Conservative Sensibility (2019), “is to conserve, by articulating and demonstrating the continuing pertinence of, the Founders’ thinking…. American conservatives are the custodians of the classical liberal tradition.”

Most European conservatives, in contrast, seek to conserve a pre- or counter-Enlightenment tradition. French political philosopher Pierre Manent’s Natural Law and Human Rights is most definitely an instance of European conservatism. For him natural rights are the problem, natural law the solution. His book is an attempt to reestablish and revive the centrality of natural law and to diminish or suppress natural rights—and, even more, human rights.

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Natural Law and Human Rights calls into question most of what we moderns are committed to and believe true about politics and morality.

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