From Jonah Goldberg’s excellent new book, Suicide of the West

One of my favorite illustrations of how this is as much a cultural disagreement as a philosophical one can be found in the differences between French and English gardens. For instance, the French gardens at Versailles, with their ornate, geometric, nature-defying designs, illustrate how the gardener imposes his vision on nature. Nature is brought to heel by reason. The classic English garden, on the other hand, was intended to let nature take its course, to let each bush, tree, and vegetable achieve its own ideal nature. The role of the English gardener was to protect his garden by weeding it, maintaining fences, and being ever watchful for predators and poachers. The American founders were gardeners, not engineers. The government of the Founders’ Constitution is more than merely a “night watchman state,” but not very much more. It creates the rules of the garden and the gardeners and little more. This does not mean the government cannot intervene in the society or the economy. It means that, when it does so, it should be to protect liberty, which Madison defined in Federalist No. 10 as “the first object of government.” 34

As that quintessential Scottish Enlightenment thinker, Adam Smith, wrote in 1755:

Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought by the natural course of things. All governments which thwart this natural course, which force things into another channel or which endeavor to arrest the progress of society at a particular point, are unnatural, and to support themselves are obliged to be oppressive and tyrannical. 35

I think the garden metaphor works better than the watchmaker image, because so many of the Founders were active participants in the unfolding American experiment, as George Washington called it. From Shays’ Rebellion to the First Bank of the United States, the Louisiana Purchase, and the War of 1812, the Founders were attentive gardeners in this new nation, creating the conditions for prosperity, fending off predators, and even expanding the garden itself.


Goldberg, Jonah. Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy (Kindle Locations 2840-2848). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.