Nothing, No Place, and No One

I am glad that the recent case involving the creative designer in Colorado was decided correctly, as the justices of the Supreme Court determined that a private person operating a business cannot be compelled to lend creative or material support to messages and to deeds he or she believes are odious, in particular, those that violate the person’s religious commitments.

And yet, it is like winning an appeal before an occupying army accustomed to enacting tyrannical laws, often inconsistently and incoherently enacted and enforced at that. Nor is it just a matter of making an appeal directly to the chief judges of the occupiers. It has required a tremendous outlay of money, time, talent, and effort, not to mention the wrangling. Even the victory is bitter, and I fear that the main aim of the conquering army continues to be confirmed, to bend a formerly free people to its will by threatening them with destitution and public shame.

Machiavelli says that a prince who occupies a country accustomed to old and traditional ways should not attempt to alter them when they pose no threat to his power. For the people, says the shrewd Florentine, want mainly to be left to their own devices, and will be grateful to find that the new prince does not do what they feared he might.

That was the usual strategy of the Romans, quite non-ideological in their conquests. They required taxes – quite modest, by our standards; public order; and, for polytheists who might not be expected to care one way or the other, a pinch of incense to the Emperor and the goddess Roma. Given that you had to be governed by somebody or other, to have the Romans in charge was not the worst thing in the world; and you did get roads, bridges, aqueducts, dredged harbors, baths, and other public works into the bargain. The Roman army, when it wasn’t fighting, made for an excellent corps of engineers.

Of course, revolutions in modern times have not been like Roman conquests. They have been totalitarian in character and aim. They have attempted to plant the standard of victory in the very minds of the subject peoples. Wars of old look childlike by comparison.

The English Wars of the Roses, between the houses of Lancaster and York, was a large-scale family squabble among cousins; you could not find a pennyworth of difference between them. The American Civil War was more ideological in character, involving not just the evil of slavery, but incompatible notions of what a central government could legitimately do.

Still, it is hard to tell what the lived difference was, day to day, between a small farmer in North Carolina in 1880, fifteen years after the end of the war, and his counterpart in New Hampshire. Americans were Americans still. We had a generally accepted Christian faith, folk songs that crisscrossed the far-flung regions of the land, a quasi-religious reverence for such documents as the Constitution and for the personages, sometimes august and sometimes raffish, who wrought American independence from Great Britain. We also had something difficult to identify: for both good and bad, and even with marked shades of difference from one part of the country to another, we had distinctly American ways of doing things. Within still living memory, Italians, Germans, and Frenchmen grew accustomed to the American character. Our soldiers were not exactly the same as the soldiers of other nations; sometimes impatient or dismissive of local traditions, but often generous, guileless, and cheerful.

Yet the ongoing revolution aims at nothing less than that there shall be no peoples. Globalism is, like modernism, not a commitment to anything that enlists the heart and inspires it to works of courage, beauty, and social union, but a negative. Modernism, as an ideology or an aesthetics, is a kind of patricide, whereby you pride yourself on your degree of separation from, and contempt for, the father, for the religious and cultural soil wherein you should have taken root. It explains what in human history is otherwise new and bizarre: that people should take pride in the ferocity with which they reject their patrimony.

But there is nothing to replace that patrimony. So the committed modernist, rather than permitting his empty soul to move him to come to his senses, rather than saying, “I shall arise and go to my father’s house,” gives himself over to the Nothing. Since it is unnatural and untenable for man to lack something to believe in, Nothing comes to take the place of God. A good temperament and some residual, incoherent, and unacknowledged faith in God prevents him from falling, always, into the most murderous and appalling forms of Nothing-worship, but that is the drain he is swirling into.

The globalist is in the same position. Nobody can be committed to the globe, as no one can love “the masses,” because it is characteristic of each that there are no characteristics, nothing to hold on to. Thus globalism demands that there shall be no genuine nations anymore. Locales may retain a couple of pseudo-traditions, so long as they mean nothing; such may be useful for fooling or distracting the masses. But otherwise, real local independence and culture must be obliterated.

In this light, consider again the people who brought suit against the Colorado designer. They are, as so often in our time, practitioners of sexual behavior detached from the natural structure of the human body and from the natural foundations of human societies. They could, of course, easily find someone happy to help them celebrate their dysfunction. That is not the point. The point is to humiliate any last person who believes in the reality of good and evil apart from what the mechanisms of mass behavior and mass control determine.

That the state should be enlisted in enforcement and humiliation is not a necessary evil but of the essence. That national and even global attention should be focused on it is also of the essence. You could not, even in Colorado, use ordinary people with their traditional ways to enforce your will.

They might still say, a bit offhand, “Why don’t you just take your business somewhere else? It’s a free country.” Those same inattentive and indifferent people might also begin to wonder why, if this form of behavior is to be shrugged at, the practitioners themselves appear to behave in bad faith, as if somewhere buried in their consciences lay the awareness that they are not as they should be. No: the objector must be ground to powder in the gears of the ideological machine, committed to Nothing and controlled by No One, with his chief ministers the most ambitious, unscrupulous, and humanity-despising people in the world. Imagine someone who wants machines to become self-aware – which will not happen; imagine someone whose hatred of mankind moves him to want a collapsing population, under surveillance at every moment. You are also very likely imagining someone who wants that there should be children psychologically at odds with their own bodies.

Politically, what is at stake here is no less than whether there shall be nations anymore, genuine peoples, as it is natural for man to form and to love. Washington is beginning to appear like a No Place, sucking into its vacuum whatever traces of prior and natural rootedness remain – and permitting religious faith to continue only as a thing of fancy-dress and show, as a No Faith.

The Supreme Court decision brings to a halt one of the arms on a million-armed machine. We need to dismantle that machine. Nothing, No One, and No Place will never do it.

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About Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen is a Distinguished Fellow of the Center for American Greatness, a senior editor for Touchstone Magazine, and a contributing editor for Chronicles. He is the author of well over 1,000 articles and of 28 books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) ; Life under Compulsion (ISI 2015). His verse translation of The Divine Comedy (Random House) is considered the standard edition of Dante. Professor Esolen's most recent books are Defending Manhood: Why Civilization Depends on the Strength of Men (Regnery, 2022); In the Beginning Was the Word (Ignatius, 2021); Sex and the Unreal City (Ignatius, 2020); Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World (Regnery, 2018); and his beautiful book-length sacred poem, The Hundredfold (Ignatius, 2018). He is a Distinguished Professor at Thales College. Click here to subscribe to his substack Word and Song.

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