Thomas Ricks, a military history columnist for the New York Times, was shocked and appalled by the election of Donald Trump in 2016. “Before that Tuesday night,” he writes, “I had thought I understood my country. Clearly, many of my fellow citizens had an understanding of our nation profoundly different from mine.” After collecting himself, he tried to grasp how such a disaster could have occurred. “I embarked on an intellectual quest to try to find my way toward answering a question: What is America supposed to be, anyway?” The result of that quest is First Principles: What America’s Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How that Shaped Our Country. In it Ricks attempts, by studying the education and personal formation of America’s founders, to understand more deeply the principles on which they built the country.

Ricks hints early on that Trump and his supporters represent an aberrant perversion of all our founders cherished and held dear. As he writes in the prologue, “one of the two major parties always seems to have offered a home to white supremacists, up to the present day.” Repeated asides about the founders’ moral inadequacy regarding slavery, and disclamations about the politically correct way to refer to Native Americans (“First Peoples,” apparently) make clear that Ricks is a man of the Left. But

Subscribe for access This article is reserved for subscribers.