Thomas West has a new book out on the ideological makeup of the American Founding. The issue has been tackled before by many scholars, including Michael Zuckert whom West challenges. This is Dr. West's new book. Larry Arnhart discusses the book in among other posts here.
This is from Arnhart:
Thomas West recognizes that his account of the American founding as based on the theory of natural rights resembles Michael Zuckert's interpretation of the founding as establishing a "natural rights republic" (Zuckert 1996). And yet West insists that he rejects Zuckert's "amalgam thesis"--the idea that while the theory of natural rights is the primary element in the political thought of the founding, the tradition of natural rights thinking is combined with other traditions--such as civic republicanism, Protestant Christianity, British constitutionalism, and perhaps others--that are in tension with the tradition of natural rights.
In recent decades, West observes, this idea of the political thought of the founding as mixture of different and sometimes conflicting intellectual traditions has become the predominant scholarly consensus, which Zuckert shares with scholars like William Galston, Thomas Pangle, and Paul Rahe. But West complains that this makes the founders appear to be confused or incoherent in their thinking. Against this, he proposes to explain the natural rights theory of the founders as a theoretically coherent understanding of politics without any tension or contradictions.This is an original quote from Zuckert:
". . . what made America was the way these four elements--Old Whig constitutionalism, political religion, republicanism, and the natural rights philosophy--come together. The amalgamation that occurred in America was unique in the world, and led America to a unique path of political development and to a particularly tense existence as these four different and, in some dimensions, incompatible elements fell in and out of harmony with each other. In that amalgam, however, the four elements did not all enjoy an equal status; the natural rights philosophy remains America's deepest and so far most abiding commitment, and the others could enter the amalgam only so far as they were compatible, or could be made so, with natural rights. The truly remarkable thing is the demonstrated capacity of the natural rights philosophy to assimilate the other three and hold them all together in a coherent if not always easily subsisting whole" (Zuckert 1996, 95).I'm sympathetic to Zuckert's thesis. Though from what I am familiar with about his work, he may, as per custom for East Coast Straussians, overstate the "esoteric Locke" thesis.