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First Principles

Twilight of the Founders

In our arrogance, we imagine that it is we who are disdainfully rejecting America’s Founders. They would want nothing to do with us.

You can tell about the soul of a people by looking at who they honor. It used to be that America, more or less universally, admired its founders. But Americans today increasingly fancy themselves more evolved than George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. We imagine that these founders have been “found out.” Their great secret—their hypocrisy and “racism”—enables us, indeed requires us, to tear them down. It’s time to leave them in the past now, and find new heroes.

But where is this rage of pride leading? No sane, healthy society would elevate a person like George Floyd, and yet it would be difficult to name a person more revered in the country today. 

While many Americans are still unable to have funerals, Floyd received a send-off fit for a statesman. And that was just the start of his strange apotheosis. Having first become an angel, he has taken on more godlike proportions. In cities across the South, his colossal, digitized visage lights up the sky.

While it’s bad form to speak ill of the dead, we may make exceptions when the departed are wrongly beatified. This perverse exaltation reflects a timidity and self-loathing that increasingly defines the American soul, qualities revealed by months of acquiescence before unprecedented attacks on the freedom and dignity of the American people. 

These attacks are part and parcel of a radical effort to transform the country politically, historically, psychologically, and culturally. No less than Barack Obama expressed the necessity of starting over again, calling John Lewis a “founding father” of “that fuller, fairer, better America” that could very well take “centuries” to build.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, few men have a better claim to inclusion in the pantheon of this new America, whatever that entails, than George Floyd.Floyd, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, is an omnipresent figure who has played a corresponding role in ushering our creepy, despotic “new normal.” Arguably the most powerful doctor in human history, it is heresy to question Fauci’s mere utterances. Despite obvious evidence of his political motivations, he receives the unyielding adulation of millions of Americans. He is benevolent, unfireable. Even his mistakes are somehow proof of his perfection.

These new founders aren’t necessarily good founders, but they are the founders we deserve. An America with more confidence, self-respect, and jealousy of its liberty would not have lifted them to such prominence.

The original American Founders appealed to “manly firmness.” What would they make of Americans today?

Over the last few months, Americans have faced an unrelenting barrage of commands and insults. We have been ordered to give up work, business, and religion—to suspend human relationships under penalty of law. We have been ordered to hate ourselves, to celebrate the erasure of our heritage, and welcome whatever price America’s “guilt” requires. We have seen Americans denied the basic protections of law. 

To be sure, many protest these things, although many are too afraid to do so publicly. Others may be just credulous. But countless others have been active, willing participants in their own disenfranchisement. For many Americans, it seems, the highest virtue is to be perceived as obedient to unelected bureaucrats and their elected intermediaries, or else appropriately sensitive to the call of “social justice” and its advocates. No matter how arbitrary, absurd, or humiliating, the orders of these two classes of rulers must be followed, and with zeal.

A pandemic of self-righteousness and fear has turned many into willing subjects of the elite. For these, no activity, no matter how “essential” or sacred, that has not received the sanction of “experts” can be countenanced. What’s most remarkable is how many Americans have accepted living under these conditions indefinitely. There is no command too degrading or irrational for them to accept, and some go even further than is demanded. 

Perhaps you have seen people walking around in face shields lately. Eager to obey, they are just as eager to inflict punishment—gratuitous punishment—on those who contradict the superstitious authority of “science.” A deep distrust in the ability of ordinary people to use common sense, to think for themselves and direct their own lives, has led to a large part of the public identifying with an aristocracy of scientists, embodied in the august figure of Anthony Fauci. At bottom is a terror at the thought of risk and of the responsibilities of citizenship, which are readily abdicated to bureaucrats.

The whole spectacle is obscene and un-American, but it does not begin to capture the full extent of America’s abasement. Enjoined to honor as some kind of martyr a career criminal who pointed a pistol at a pregnant woman’s abdomen, many Americans have obliged that command as well. 

The deification of Floyd is a remarkable achievement of the politics of ritual humiliation and a spectacular victory for the new cultural revolution. With stunning rapidity, Americans over the last few months have been led to reject their heritage and accept Black Lives Matter as the nation’s conscience. 

The country has descended into ecstasies of self-flagellation that only intensify, with no sign of stopping. Americans kneel in penance for their skin color, while elected officials surrender entire cities to mobs of racial extortionists. America is condemned, its history rewritten, almost without opposition. An entire race has been judged as essentially evil. Some have been prosecuted for defending their property while white. None of these incursions have found any kind of organized response. Rather, they are advancing. Americans now support kneeling to protest the national anthem.

So what is this new America that we are all being told to welcome and celebrate like? It combines the worst features of unaccountable aristocracy with mob tyranny. In it, people with lots of letters after their name, and the so-called protected classes (sometimes both), tell everyone else what to do. Anyone who disagrees with them is a bad person who must be destroyed. 

What about the countless people in the middle: people who don’t have Ph.D.s and can’t claim victimhood under the rules of the new game? Simple: they have no part in our politics today, except perhaps to foot the bill. 

Whatever you’d like to call this, it isn’t freedom.

America’s proper founders understood that republics, no less than any other form of government, are not built to last forever. They require people to be patriotic, brave, and guarded of their liberty. But for decades, Americans have lost confidence in America and in their own ability to govern themselves. Self-rule was exported to a class of “experts,” while generations of schoolchildren were taught to hate America and its past. 

Finally, Americans have lost their courage and their esteem for their own capacity to be self-governing. Many seem eager to lighten the burdens of self-governance and follow orders. Others seem, strangely, to enjoy being told how racist and awful they are.

In our arrogance, we imagine that it is we who are disdainfully rejecting America’s Founders. They would want nothing to do with us.

First Principles

How to Avoid the Life Cycle and Death Spiral of a Republic

A wise Jerusalem is better than an innocent Eden.

To understand the extraordinary events in America today, it is helpful to look at the ancient wisdom of Greece and Rome. And as the wise historian Thucydides said, “If we forget the errors of the past, we are doomed to repeat them.” The classical Greek authors Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, as well as the Romans Cicero and St. Augustine, explain much of what we are experiencing in politics today. A certain textbook, The History of Political Theory: Ancient Greece to Modern America, may also be helpful in this endeavor.

The ancient Greco-Roman historian Polybius (200-118 B.C.) developed a theory of the “lifecycle” of a republic. Like a human being, a republic is born, is young, matures, grows old, and dies. The United States was born in 1776 (our Declaration of Independence) and 1789 (the ratification of our Constitution); was a youth in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; you might say was adolescent in the mid-1800’s (during our Civil War) and matured in the industrial age of late 19th and early 20th centuries. But, by the mid-20th century, especially after World War II, our country grew old, and beginning in the 1960s, frail, sickly, and mentally-impaired.

Like human beings, elderly republics become weak and sickly, sad and demented before they die completely: into anarchy and lawlessness, or tyranny and dictatorship. A society shows its old age in moral weakness, political corruption, decadence, and depravity. 

Ironically, the virtues of an early republic—hard work, honesty, courage, frugality, morality—lead to the great wealth and power which then contribute to its decline. Like a gifted actor or athlete, whose celebrity and sudden fame and wealth goes to his head and destroys him with drugs, depravity, and madness, a rich, worldly Republic can become a powerful, decadent empire. 

Imperial regimes become proud and arrogant, depraved, foolish, self-indulgent, and unethical. Sound familiar? Much of the revolutionary rhetoric in 18th century American pamphlets and sermons identified the British Empire as rich and corrupt, evil and decadent. Bribery, lying, and hypocrisy became common. If the colonies had not separated from imperial England, we could not have preserved liberty, democracy, and Christianity.

The solution for a dying republic is the same as for an aging individual: return to the vigor, strength, values, and goodness of a healthy youth. All the classical philosophers prescribe returning to the principles of the American Founding: civic virtue, a strong work ethic, honesty, family loyalty, patriotism, military honor, law and order, personal morality, and religion. The revival of these early republican values provides the anti-aging remedy to restore the health, vigor, and goodness of an earlier society.

As the aging corpse of the American body politic restores the qualities of its youthful innocence (and we may hope, now with a more mature judgement) it may avoid the painful and disgraceful collapse and ruin of the Athenian, Roman, and European empires. Having gone through the painful loss of close, loving families, honest, hard-working businesses, clean and dedicated government service, and safe and happy communities to arrive at the sad and disgusting consequences of filthy, violent cities—crime, mental illness, corruption and hypocrisy in government, decline of decency and happiness,—a restored republic, like a repentant sinner, is wiser about the temptations of power and wealth, and stronger in keeping them within a moral and healthy setting. 

A wise and chastened mature person or society, knowledgeable of consequences of evil, is much safer than an innocent youth (or young republic) who is easily corrupted. A wise Jerusalem is better than an innocent Eden.

First Principles

The Strength of Strength and the Strength of Weakness

Many people claim to be fighting to create the world they would like to live in, but an astonishing number appear content to win on a technicality or disqualification rather than in a fair fight.

In the small Southwestern Pennsylvania coal-mining town where I grew up, the locals kept to themselves and were notoriously tight-lipped when it came to praising anyone for anything. The elderly residents—mostly descendants of Slovak and Croatian immigrants who came to the town to work the mine—were pessimistic people, distrustful of the Democratic politicians they voted for and resentful of the pretensions of the younger folks who had moved away to bigger cities, such as the 20,000-person county seat 30 minutes east on Interstate 70.

But men like my maternal grandfather did have one particular compliment they doled out as sparingly as the chipped ham or sardines they arranged on slices of white bread: they would note with approval when someone could “handle himself.” This person, usually a taciturn mine worker reminiscent of the cart-horse from Orwell’s Animal Farm or a stout widow who kept her tiny company house in immaculate condition for decades after her spouse’s demise, demonstrated considerable strength in the face of the decay and decline of their dwindling piece of the world.

They matched their personal force, such as it was, against the impersonal force of socioeconomic change. And whether this was right or not, seemingly able-bodied people who complained or even asked for assistance may have received it but were despised for their weakness.

Walter Stechly, the author’s grandfather, in 1942.

Walter Stechly, the author’s grandfather, in 1942.

I spent many summers with my grandfather. My half-brother, older than me by a decade, helped him lay bricks, insulate walls, wire and then test electrical circuits, and replace outdated lead plumbing pipes with PVC. I, by contrast, was given the simpler task of smashing aluminum cans with a rubber mallet. Since he drank 20 or 30 “lite” beers a day—Stoney’s was his preferred brand—the supply of cans never diminished regardless of my efforts.

After I had smashed several hundred cans, he took them to an aluminum recycling facility in exchange for a small sum of money, which he shared with me in proportion to the quality of my efforts. He rarely approved of the way I smashed the cans because the results were usually asymmetrical. He preferred an even crush as he could do himself merely by placing his massive hands on the top and bottom of the can and exerting pressure. “Look at your brother out there shoveling like he has a steam engine,” he’d tell me, proud of the hulking adolescent laborer who wasn’t even his blood relative. “He’s OK. Your brother can handle himself.”

Handling Oneself in Strength

All through my youth, I approached problems and challenges through this lens. Could I “handle myself” against peers, siblings, and abusive parents? The point, as I understood it, was to bear up under the unbearable—not to invite this pain out of some misguided lust for martyrdom, but to endure it for as long as necessary to escape.

For my grandfather, who had served as a medic during World War II and witnessed considerable carnage during the invasion of Italy, there were no victims in life, only survivors. Surviving, by extension, conferred only a limited right to continued existence: you lived to fight another day, for what that was worth. “Still sucking wind,” in his words.

I went on to endure my own hardships, absurd, and avoidable difficulties precipitated by my parents’ criminal behavior, and I tried to overcome them with ceaseless exertion. Strength, I reasoned, had to be met by strength. As I listened to lectures on early Christianity during college—a period when I worked 40 hours a week to pay my way—I contemplated those rich Romans who, upon discovering the religion in the wake of blood-soaked contributions made by its original martyrs, had sought to acquire their patinas of saintly suffering in the marketplace of public religiosity.

I puzzled over those patricians who gave away or sold their luxurious country villas and accompanying latifundia to journey to Asia Minor and set up residence in a cave or atop a high pillar, punishing themselves in various ways to resist what they perceived as their basest animal urges. Their decisions to openly embrace weakness, as contrasted with those humbler martyrs and hermits who had no choice but to suffer for their faith, gave them a special status during a time of imperial decline: they were “athletes for Christ,” experiencing intense privations to showcase their spiritual mettle even as their civilization declined in power due to plague, warfare, and bureaucratic mismanagement.

I recount all of this backstory because, at least in this case, the shortest way home—meaning to that home described in my first few paragraphs—happens to be the long way round. There, the distinction was made between those members of the community who could “handle themselves,” often in spite of insurmountable odds, and those who begged for assistance even when presumed capable of standing on their own. Help was always given to the latter by relatives, grudgingly of course, with the assumption that those in tight spots eventually wouldn’t be.

In other words, these “victims” of life itself were thought to occupy a temporary position. They might have fallen short, but the belief was that they could regroup, redeem themselves, and restore their lives to whatever status quo ante was in place before their troubles. That didn’t always work out in practice back in the 1980s, and with the town’s population in 2020 half of what it was then while opiate intake is probably many orders of magnitude greater, it likely works out even less often now.

Nevertheless, “handling myself” was the mental construct that carried me through a significant stretch of poverty and mental anguish. I wasn’t absorbing blows for the sake of absorbing blows, like a flagellant in a medieval procession or wrestler Cactus Jack in a blood-soaked hardcore wrestling match, but rather to reach the other side, wherever that was.

I would meet strength with strength, whether competing at a powerlifting event, arguing my case in a moot court tournament, or debating with peers in a graduate seminar. I harbored no delusions of grandeur but intended to hold my own. If I received criticism, I would address those issues and improve my performance. Much of my early adolescence, lost in a fog of ill-considered Child Protective Services actions, amounted to one loss after another, but that simply afforded me a deep foundation from which to rebuild.

The Strength of Woke Weakness

But this intellectual beau monde for which I had rebuilt myself, with books and barbells and 12 years in graduate school, is not one that prizes the ability to “handle oneself.” No, this brave new marketplace of ideas is monopolized by those who exhibit the strength of weakness, a strength of weakness that might be somewhat familiar to those late imperial Romans who were thinking of selling the estate and riding off into the high desert to drop some denarii on the salvation of their immortal souls. I write somewhat for a variety of reasons, most notably that a Roman circa 400 A.D. was still convinced that his soul would transmigrate somewhere after death, whereas today’s aggrieved peddlers in this “wokeconomy” propelled by the tail-winds of outrage are very much concerned with their life in this world.

I had not anticipated the development of a world in which status in some agreed-upon, academy-determined category of victimhood would prove sufficient to foreclose discussion of a particular subject. I failed to realize that mere reference to weakness, in particular to having and showcasing the most unimpeachable and immutable weaknesses, would confer such profound discursive advantages. The classic appeal of the late 18th- and early 19th-century abolitionists—“am I not a man and a brother?”—was how my father, who in spite of his myriad other faults had always embraced his own interracial family, explained human relations to me. Anthony Hopkins’ classic line from David Mamet’s script for the 1997 movie “The Edge” stuck with both of us, too: “What one man can do, another can do.” And Jacques Rancière’s emphasis on “the equality of intelligence” in his book The Ignorant Schoolmaster had carried me through my later years, fueling me with the conviction that anyone can teach anyone else anything, provided both parties are sufficiently motivated and open-minded.

Moreover, much of this boasted-about weakness was feigned. The truly disadvantaged—the invisible or less visible poor, disabled, “BIPOC,” what have you—had no stall or kiosk in which to sell their wares in the marketplace of ideas.

Their actual weakness, in many cases, had been assumed by well-educated spokespeople, who claimed to “do the work” on their behalf. Much of this “work,” insofar as I could understand it at all, consisted of accusing other people of not doing the work, not “organizing” (organizing what?), not “doing the reading” (reading what?), not educating themselves (you weren’t “paying them to educate you,” and believe me, I wouldn’t have). Such peremptory statements were meant to function as the end, not the beginning, of a conversation.

In fact, most conversations with others, even others ostensibly allied under the same political “big tent” who conceivably might support a project such as Medicare for All, were no longer possible at all. Only the divisions, which multiplied alongside the contradictions, mattered.

Social media in general and Twitter in particular are not reflections of life itself, the real life in which most good people live and die, but they do provide a cracked-mirror image of the life of the mind. And the life of the mind, insofar as it exists on Twitter, is enfeebled. You might even say that Twitter serves as the life support of the mind. “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind, or not to have a mind is being very wasteful . . . how true that is,” former Vice President Dan Quayle told the United Negro College Fund three decades ago, though these incoherent remarks would certainly have more salience if applied to the ad hominem tweets exchanged between two journalists attempting to “do the work” of getting each other fired from the same legacy media publication.

I don’t believe these people, enraptured by the power afforded them through frequent resort to the strength of weakness, are engaged in “grifting” any more than I believe that some Roman senator who elected the life of an ascetic was some kind of secret atheist looking to score social brownie points for his sacrifice. When they call each other “grifters”—an overused term I used to think applied solely to the kind of schemes depicted in Jim Thompson pulp novels—that is vulgar projection on their parts; it is weakness talking to weakness, insecurity at its most profound. They are enraptured by the strength of weakness, but this over-reliance on that form of power has shaken their belief in even the “woke” morality they profess so cheap and hold so dear, and thus they end up pretending to believe in the amorality of everyone else. It is a mug’s game, turtles all the way down.

Not Handling Themselves

The larger problem is that the strength of weakness, regardless of its merits as a tool for advancing up the intellectual or bureaucratic ladder, is profoundly destructive. It turns its adherents into parasites, after a fashion: their weakness draws power from and is only relative to the strength of others, which must, in turn, be leveled. Everything high must be laid low.

The strength of weakness can topple any social structures in its path, which is perfect for austerity-obsessed bureaucrats and politicians looking to outsource the running of the country to Amazon, but it cannot build them anew. Rome preserved and enriched the inheritance of primitive charismatic Christianity, but as a polity, it eventually became Greek in the East and fractured into a thousand pieces in the West. The “boy who cried wolf,” as shop-worn a fable as they get, allowed the boy to draw the villagers’ attention to his phony plight up until the moment he couldn’t, the moment when an actual wolf attacked his flock.

Of course, this state of affairs, like any other, cannot last forever. The country faces a wholesale financial collapse, with foreclosures, evictions, and a wave of small business closures looming as summer turns to fall, events likely to forever alter the American economy. Out of so much uncreative destruction, precipitated by incoherent and frankly schizophrenic policy-making related to pandemics and protests, we may have the opportunity to rebuild the razed country from its deepest foundation.

Such work cannot be done by those who “do the work” of purporting to speak for the weak, yet in actuality cannot afford for the weak to become strong lest they lose their hard-earned roles as their mouthpieces (“Pity would be no more, if we did not make somebody poor,” wrote poet William Blake, “and Mercy no more could be, if all were as happy as we”).

No, this is hard labor for hard people—people who can shoulder the load and carry the weight, who would even the playing field by strengthening the weak instead of weakening the strong. It is all we can do, those of us who believe we are all men and brothers and strong in both body and spirit, because we must.

First Principles

Party, Propaganda, and Revolutionary Silence

It is time to speak the truth about the reality of what the country is experiencing.

The American people are enduring a withering bombardment of propaganda from a corporate-owned media that is beholden to financial interests, including interests that benefit from legacy trade policies with Communist China.

Propaganda is a weapon of warfare abroad, and propaganda is a weapon of tyranny at home. 

Propaganda works. 

The tactics used and the target selection determines its overall level of effectiveness. Today, propaganda tactics are ubiquitous in the 24/7 social media-fueled frenzy. Today’s target is the American people. Fear amplification and false expectations are the messages. Divide and conquer is the ethos.

Propaganda tactics and methods have so saturated the national discourse that it is difficult to discern reality from falsehood, truth from fiction, or deceit from honesty. 

The situation is exacerbated by the lack of critical thinking skills among the younger segment of the population. Subjects like logic—and hence logical fallacies—argumentation, metacognition, etc. aren’t required course work at any level of public schooling.

This makes our entire population—our children and young adults in particular—easy marks for propaganda.

As a corollary to the propaganda, the broad censorship across the media and social media platforms serves to further the confusion by eliminating honest debate or exposure to alternative viewpoints. America once prided herself on free speech and open and honest debate. 

Today, we have a news media that publicly applauds censorship historically associated with states like China, North Korea, and the former Soviet Union.

As a result, a general state of induced confusion and fear affects our citizens and officials alike. 

In the Soviet Union, the residents used to joke, “in the news there is not truth, and in the truth, there is no news.” How the mighty United States of America has fallen.

The principle goal of information warfare is confusing your adversary and concealing your intentions. This is achieved by controlling your target’s perception of reality. The American people’s perception of reality has been under assault for decades and this has only intensified since Donald Trump dared to challenge the myriad interests hollowing out America for profit.

After a decades-long effort to control language and to censor speech, it is not surprising that many inside the Trump Administration struggle to frame accurately the violence plaguing the country. To be artificially limited to describing reality using only acceptable words is like tying your shoes with boxing gloves. In matters pertaining to national security, an inability to define reality is lethal.

For example, in Attorney General William Barr’s recent House Judiciary testimony, he stated that the attacks on courthouses and federal facilities are attacks on the U.S. government. Barr stopped short, however, of naming these attacks as part of the wider Marxist Revolutionary insurrection. This artificial constraint in language complicates and inhibits the deployment of needed personnel and capabilities to quell the violence. These constraints remain self-enforced on the part of many American officials, even when faced with affirmative confirmation and facts. 

Until our senior-most political leaders are willing to name the threat and accurately depict reality with their language, their political underlings and constituents, many of whom know that something is wrong, will remain afraid, confused, and disenfranchised.  

Former Secretary of State John Kerry and the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Joe Biden, both recently called for “revolution.” Believe them. Bombs, assaults, fires, and riots occur daily. Believe those, too.

The elements of revolutionary insurrection are clear for all to see. Cadres on the street, deceptive narratives in the media, and a shadow government choosing de facto presidential candidates under the rubric of a vice-presidential selection process.

It is not enough simply to point out the lawless tactics or the inaction of local leaders. The Democratic Party leaders, public officials, and their media allies are fomenting revolutionary insurrection, with clearly stated goals including the dissolution of the U.S. government and the elimination of the America First agenda and its proponents. 

The steps taken to end the violence thus far have been measured and halting. While politically comfortable, these steps fall far short of what is necessary to prevent the collapse of society. To address these issues reactively through the prism of racial inequality or police brutality is to yield to the Marxists’ narrative. This forces Americans to defend America with the weapons and fighting positions chosen by their adversaries.

Government officials sworn to protect and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic, but beholden to the Marxist narrative, fight with rules of engagement defined by our enemy at the time and place of the enemy’s choosing. This is a catastrophic error. 

A brief look at the history of the 20th century exposes this folly. This is a key indicator of how bad the surrender to the narrative is—FBI agents kneeling, in uniform, to Marxist rioters during the Washington, D.C. riots. Whether they were told to by someone in authority or chose to do so on their own is not relevant. What is relevant is that it happened. A mighty citadel of anti-communism—the FBI—has fallen. They are not the only pillar of our defenses to have collapsed.

Marxism and its progeny are the single greatest threat to humanity that exists. Democrat leaders are fomenting revolutionary insurrection. This is clear, not only from their words and actions, but also through their inaction. 

The propaganda and purposeful violence will continue through the election, of this there is little doubt. To put a point on it: if nothing else, it serves as a tool of voter suppression. Threats of violence at the polls will keep many from voting. If they aren’t already, the Justice Department (and the Department of Defense for that matter) should be planning for an explosion of violent protests to “spontaneously erupt” around November 1 that will last through the election. We must be prepared to ensure that everyone can safely vote without fear of violence, intimidation, or retribution.

This propaganda, violence, and destruction done by the Marxist revolutionary insurrectionists belongs to the Democratic Party. Not one Democrat has denounced the violence to date. Not one Democrat has gone on camera and denounced Antifa or Black Lives Matter for their Marxist beliefs. And not one reporter has even asked them to do so. 

The mainstream journalists’ complicity allows and enables the devolution of the social contract by not holding the Democrats accountable for empowering and excusing political violence and domestic terrorism. The institutions charged with preventing this violence have proven inadequate to the task. 

It is past time to develop a “get well” plan for our institutions. It is time to speak the truth about the reality of what the country is experiencing. It is time for the American people to demand that our elected leaders fight back at the federal, state, and local levels. It is past time for the Trump Administration and all our elected leaders to prepare for a possible escalation.

First Principles

I’m Not Descended From Jefferson. Keep His Memorial

The American Left’s attempt to erase history is an egregious form of tyranny over the mind, and just like Jefferson, we must fight it with all our might.

Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped.” When George Orwell wrote those prophetic words in 1984, he couldn’t have imagined how quickly they’d be implemented in America.

The latest salvo in the Marxist Left’s attempt to destroy our history is a New York Times article titled: “I’m a Direct Descendant of Thomas Jefferson. Take Down His Memorial.” Written by Lucian K. Truscott, the case is completely unoriginal and intellectually dishonest and only serves to rehash the tired “let’s-erase-the-Founders-because-they-owned-slaves” argument.

Though the Left’s war on the Founders is an abomination, it serves as a good example of a classic leftist tactic: the appeal to emotion. 

Truscott’s article brings nothing new to the table, but because it’s written by a descendant of Jefferson’s, the reader is supposed to take a step back and say “Wow, if even a descendant of Jefferson favors destroying his memorial, I guess there’s some point to it.” It offers little in the way of reason.

The hypocritical thing about these appeals to emotion is that the Left only accepts them if they further their own policy goals. Does anyone think for a moment that the New York Times or Washington Post would publish an article titled: “My family was murdered by an illegal alien. Here’s why we should stop illegal immigration”? Maybe ask Kate Steinle’s family about that.

Truscott claims that Jefferson doesn’t need a memorial in D.C. and argues Monticello is enough because its exhibits on slavery reveal him “with his moral failings in full, an imperfect man, a flawed founder.” It’s ironic that Truscott cites Monticello as a good memorial, considering Jefferson’s former estate does the exactly the opposite of what Truscott claims. Monticello’s exhibits don’t simplistically characterize Jefferson as an evil, irredeemable slaveholder—much to CNN’s chagrin, I’m sure— but as a complex individual with both positive and negative traits; a man renowned for his genius, inventiveness, and rhetorical skills.

Despite Truscott’s reprehensible effort to poison his ancestor’s legacy, Thomas Jefferson deserves to be memorialized for his vital service to our nation. He wrote the Declaration of Independence, which in itself would have been enough to earn him a proud and much-deserved place in the history of our nation. But he also wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which guaranteed freedom of religion in Virginia and was the inspiration for the First Amendment (another thing the Left is now busily trying to dismantle). Among his other accomplishments, he established West Point as America’s military academy, doubled the size of our nation with the Louisiana Purchase, fought a successful war with the Barbary Pirates, and—inconveniently for Truscott and other detractors—Jefferson also abolished the slave trade.  

America As Uniquely Evil in the World

The last point is especially vital because Truscott insists that, though Jefferson wrote in the Declaration that “all men are created equal,” he “never did much to make those words come true.” This is a disgusting lie. 

Yes, slavery continued to exist until Abraham Lincoln (who, coincidentally, is also on the Left’s hit list) issued the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment was ratified. But the fact that Jefferson ended the importation of slaves to American shores from overseas was a huge gain for the anti-slavery forces and certainly directed momentum toward the eventual eradication of slavery.

In establishing our nation, Jefferson and the other Founders also put slavery on a course to ultimate extinction. They could not have insisted on its abolition when drafting the Constitution, because they knew the slave-holding southern states would never agree, and the nascent nation would have been destroyed before it was even born. Yet they ensured that a future generation would have the ideas it needed to fight to abolish the evil of slavery and—at the cost of over half a million American lives—eventually, it did.

Truscott specifically, and leftists in general, don’t really care about the individual legacies of the Founders. Not even the greatest Founder, George Washington, is exempt from their fury, even though he freed his slaves in his will, guaranteeing that the sick and the old would be taken care of by his estate, and ensuring that orphaned slaves would be taught “reading, writing, and a useful trade.” But instead, Washington is also on the chopping block along with Jefferson, with more and more leftists calling for his blacklisting from our history.

What underpins all of the Left’s historical assumptions is the idea that America is uniquely evil; they ignore the evils perpetrated by almost every other society throughout history. 

They never discuss how the Ottoman Empire abducted Christian children from their crying parents, enslaved them, forcibly converted them to Islam, and then sent them as Janissary troops to massacre their own people. They don’t mention that the Aztecs sacrificed 80,000 human lives to dedicate the Great Temple at Tenochtitlan, killing 14 victims a minute. Neither do we hear much about the Mongols, who murdered millions of innocents in horrific fashion and destroyed flourishing cultures

In the Left’s view, none of these crimes against humanity matter—only the West is guilty, with America being the worst among a band of criminal nations. 

This is the great irony in the neo-Marxist worldview; they fully embrace moral relativism but only when it suits them. They insist that there’s no black and white, only gray. They ignore the crimes of liberal icons like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who placed 120,000 Japanese-Americans in internment camps and openly admired Joseph Stalin, one of the worst butchers in human history. They idolize Che Guevara, ignoring his crimes and his calls to nuke the United States. They praise Communist Cuba, which has a horrendous track record in human rights and subjects its citizens to grinding poverty.

Communist crimes are downplayed, and any atrocities are justified as necessary for “the greater good,” the justification of all blood-soaked psychopaths in every period of history. Is it any surprise that the Left today justifies rioters’ destruction of minority neighborhoods by declaring that “property can be replaced”? It’s all for the greater good! 

The Left’s Power Play

The Left’s war on history was never about righting historical wrongs, otherwise the Marxists wouldn’t currently be destroying statues of Lincoln, the Great Emancipator who ended slavery; of Ulysses Grant, who fought tooth and nail throughout his life against both the Confederacy and the Ku Klux Klan; and, most absurdly, of Frederick Douglass, an ex-slave and one of the most influential abolitionists in our history.

Rewriting history is all about gaining power. If the Founders were evil, then surely the fruits of their labors—the Declaration, the Constitution, freedom of speech, freedom of religion—are all tainted by association. Surely we should give power to our new benevolent dictators to erase everything that came before, and remake our nation in their own image. If this sounds like too much of a slippery slope argument, stop and think: could anyone have imagined only four years ago that increasing numbers of leftists would want to destroy the legacy of George Washington, the father of his country?

The Jefferson Memorial lists several of Jefferson’s quotes on its walls, but the one most appropriate for this moment is the quote directly under the dome: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Marxists’ attempt to erase history is an egregious form of tyranny over the mind, and just like Jefferson, we must fight it with all our might. The Left may succeed in tearing down the Memorial, but Jefferson’s words are eternal.  

First Principles

Dare To Be a Daniel

The remedy for this state of affairs comes from people once again taking charge of their own lives.

There is an old Puritan hymn (based on the apocalyptic Old Testament book of Daniel for the less-than-biblically literate) we grew up singing. Perhaps you recall it: 

Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone;
Dare to have a purpose firm,
Dare to make it known. 

In a famous essay written just after World War II, George Orwell, in one of his great punchlines, suggested, “to bring this hymn up to date one would have to add a ‘Don’t’ at the beginning of each line.”

He was talking about the timidity of modern people, thinkers and doers alike, in relatively safe circumstances, to be quiet about dishonesty. Doesn’t intelligence require truth-telling? But then in the first sentence of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell himself wrote satirically: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” 

In our present-day Chinese-induced viral pandemic, which started with colossal lies from the East, perhaps it is time to get to the essential truth. 

Our brilliant global elites over a number of decades made a dangerous Faustian bargain with the Communist Party of Beijing. The deal was supposed to bring them into the capitalist fold and yield greater international order. 

Instead, it has led to this tragedy. We were told untold economic benefits would make them “good democrats,” as we outsourced our jobs to them. Clearly, they are not, and the Communist deception continues unabated. 

In a word, we were conned.

Isn’t it time to pull ourselves from the swamp of political correctness, the lies of advertising, and a near-total bureaucracy that has consumed so many secular people, especially academics and media pundits? 

Global poverty, we were likewise told, is the greatest challenge of our time. Many still believe investments in education to be an essential part of the solution to this grand challenge. Despite spending $2.3 trillion on development assistance over the past 50 years, as William Easterly reminded us in, White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, failure abounds. 

Easterly writes: 

In foreign aid, Planners announce good intentions but don’t motivate anyone to carry them out; searchers find things that work and get some reward . . . . Planners apply global blueprints; searchers adapt to local conditions. Planners at the top lack knowledge of the bottom, while searchers find out what the reality is at the bottom. Planners never hear whether the planned got what it needed; searchers find out whether the customer is satisfied.

So, we ask as searchers, might it be time for leaders, for philanthropists, for business executives, for politicians of all stripes and locales, and for the citizenry at large, to lead where others fear to tread? Donald Trump has been willing to go there. Why not follow his lead? Dare. 

To rethink ways forward, not in some new plan or phony U.N. “millennium goals” but merely by utilizing the magic of the market and the well-known reward of good old American entrepreneurship and innovation? 

Toward a New Economy of Thrift

If we ask those questions in the light of the considerations raised in this present corona crisis, then we are surely guided to thrift, as a much-needed virtue and as an illustration of the true meaning of spiritual capital, of our American aspirational can-do-ism. Thrift, in its Old Norse origin, meant literally “to thrive.” 

How can we thrive again?

I have tried to show the place of thrift and thriving in a theological worldview as well as its effects in generating an economy of stewardship rather than of consumption. Thrift serves as a link between spiritual investment and material reward. And the reward is not merely an increase in productivity and delayed gratification but care for others, for the environment, and for future generations. 

An economy of thrift is one that bears the imprint of the legacy from which it springs. It is one that answers both to the demand that we conserve the earth’s resources, and to the demands of philanthropists, that we care for the poor. It is an economy that shows the effect of reinvesting capital, namely, and perhaps most importantly, to conserve the permanent things.

In place of that economy, however, we have seen the emergence of the economy of transient and consumable things, too many of which were made cheaply and by slave labor in China. I would side with those critics of the consumer society who have seen the fragmentation of the family, the loss of commitment, and the growth of short-term pleasure-seeking as its most evident effects. 

I agree with them that, even if in some attenuated economic theory, the consumer society is capable of self-perpetuation in a continual orgy of stale delights, it will provide only an impoverished life to its members. It will be a life without (the pursuit of) happiness, because without solid virtues, a life in which the old ideas of duty, sacrifice, and responsibility have no place, love is dethroned from its place in the center of things.  

The remedy for this state of affairs is not more state action, more welfare programs, yet another congressional bailout, and more interference and regulation from above in the workings of the market. The remedy comes from below, in the reinvestment of all forms of capital. It comes from people once again taking charge of their own lives, seeking to live as those Calvinist Scots of the 17th century lived, in a state of responsible stewardship over all resources within their control, saving for the future, spending on others in need, and living a life of goodwill and piety, according to the law of God, not some left-wing “Green New Deal” or WHO political edict. 

Restoring Republican Virtues

Perhaps today, together and by leveraging our minds, we can achieve a new revolution in ethical thinking and doing. That’s if we, as the prophets of old suggested, dare to be Daniels. Thrift and its sister virtues, if truly embraced and followed, if fueled and lived, if tied to all the other moral virtues, would, without doubt, lead to greater human flourishing. 

In fact, as the American Founders intended, Benjamin Franklin especially, those virtues would supply us with unprecedented benevolence. The disposition to do well would emanate from an inclination to be charitable and, in the end, would be a gift from generosity. All of this would occur if the virtues became less forgotten and, instead, found new favor and life among us all. 

That is the opportunity of this hour. And there is abundant evidence that Americans everywhere are stepping up, lending a hand, volunteering, and contributing, as they always have.

Their renewal would perhaps be best activated if we in this unusual period of respite and solitude, like the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, simply took time and came to appreciate again what he called, the “dappled things”: 

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-fire coal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings. . . . 

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him. 

First Principles

The Land of the ‘Free’ and the Home of Shelter-in-Place Orders

Americans should not be complacent, nor should they allow panic or fear to lead them to acquiesce to unreasonable restrictions on constitutionally guaranteed liberties.

In mid-March, governors across the country began issuing broad shelter-in-place orders in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The orders contain sweeping restrictions on individuals’ freedom of movement and activity in every sphere of life. They preclude people from going to work, running their businesses, convening to worship, visiting their own properties, taking a drive, attending school, and visiting with family or friends.

The orders are based on the belief that the coronavirus poses a dire threat to the health and safety of the populace. Drawing on the expertise of epidemiologists and other public health officials, as well as the statistical projections of various models on which those officials have relied, governors issued their orders under the belief that “social distancing” will slow the spread of the disease and spare the healthcare system from being overwhelmed.

Most people initially accepted the premise for the orders and complied with them. But as more and more data have become available, it is clear that the models the public health experts relied on for their projections were wrong.

Moreover, as the shelter-in-place orders continue with no end in sight, public-health officials seem to have moved the goalposts to suggest the orders should remain in effect until there are “no new cases, no deaths.”

Meanwhile, the economy is crumbling. As a result, Americans have begun questioning the scope and duration of the shelter-in-place orders, resulting in various protests and rallies.

Beyond Reasonable Necessity

Even as President Trump has created an advisory council and implementation plan in an effort to reopen the country, state governors insist they have plenary authority to make decisions about the scope of their shelter-in-place orders within their states, and continue to extend them, in some cases to extremes that strain credulity.

Police in California arrested a paddle boarder in the Pacific Ocean who was nowhere near any other individual. A man in Philadelphia was forcibly dragged off a bus for not wearing a mask. Numerous states have banned or restricted fishing. In San Diego police cited people for watching the sunset from inside their cars. In Colorado a man was arrested for playing t-ball alone in a field with his daughter. In Michigan, the governor’s order precludes the sale of seeds and gardening supplies.

Police in some locales are directly interfering with people’s exercise of enumerated First Amendment rights. In Kentucky people were issued “quarantine notices” and their license plate numbers were recorded after they drove to a parking lot to attend an Easter service from inside their cars. In North Carolina police arrested a woman for assembling to protest the shelter-in-place order. Apparently forgetting about those pesky fundamental rights, the police then tweeted, “Protesting is not an essential activity.”

These actions are well beyond what is reasonably necessary to address the risks of the virus. But what is the source of authority for state shelter-in-place orders, and what are the limits on that authority? People increasingly are raising these questions, and now would seem an opportune time to review the long history of legal rulings that address them.

The U.S. Supreme Court held in Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts that the police power of a state embraces “reasonable regulations established directly by legislative enactment as will protect the public health and the public safety.” In Jacobson, the court upheld the conviction of a man who refused to comply with the state’s mandatory smallpox vaccination. The court concluded that the state retained control under the 10th Amendment of “all laws that relate to matters completely within its territory and which do not by their necessary operation affect the people of other states.”

However, Jacobson recognized constitutional limits on a state’s right to enact health and safety regulations, noting,

A local enactment or regulation, even if based on the acknowledged police powers of a state, must always yield in case of conflict with the exercise by the general government of any power it possesses under the Constitution, or with any right which that instrument gives or secures.

Jacobson affirmed that even in the case of health laws designed to protect the public from communicable disease, a state may not interfere beyond what is “absolutely necessary for its self-protection.”

Thus, as Jacobson and other cases have recognized, the Constitution provides a backstop, such that the state’s authority ends where the Constitution’s authority begins. Health and safety laws are no exception.

Limits on State Police Powers

One constitutional limit to state authority over health and safety laws is the Commerce Clause contained in Article I, Section 8, which authorizes Congress “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with Indian Tribes.”

In an 1824 case called Gibbons v. Ogden, the Supreme Court affirmed that the Constitution confers upon Congress the exclusive power to regulate interstate commerce. Even if a state law is designed to affect only economic activity within its state, Gibbons concluded that the Commerce Clause gives Congress authority where the activity regulated has some commercial connection with another state. Notably, the Court in Gibbons noted that quarantine laws are not merely health or police laws, but “they are also laws of commerce.”

Another limit to a state’s ability to enact health and safety regulations is found where a law infringes upon fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution. The 14th Amendment guarantees no state may “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This protection ensures substantive liberty rights, not just process.

The most familiar of the liberties protected by the 14th Amendment are in the Bill of Rights. They include, of course, the First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion, free speech, and the right peaceably to assemble; they also include the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. In addition, the Supreme Court has held that the liberty interests secured by the Constitution exceed these enumerated rights and includes “a rational continuum which, broadly speaking, includes a freedom from all substantial arbitrary impositions and purposeless restraints.”

Where a state imposes a substantial burden on a fundamental right, the state has the burden of showing that it has a compelling state interest and that the state is taking the least restrictive means toward achieving that compelling interest. This test, known as the “strict scrutiny” standard, has its roots in a case called Skinner v. State of Okl. ex rel. Williamson (1942). In that case, the Supreme Court invalidated a broad Oklahoma law that required the forced sterilization of people with multiple convictions for crimes of “moral turpitude.” The strict scrutiny test ensures that a state’s power to enact laws in the name of health and safety will not become an unreasonable pretext for overriding liberty interests secured under the Constitution.

Various state courts have explicitly recognized that states’ authority to protect against epidemic does not justify such arbitrary and unreasonable state action.

A California case (In re Shepard) from 1924 is instructive. In that case, a woman was arrested on a prostitution complaint and was ordered isolated and quarantined based on the suspicion that she was “infected with a contagious, infectious, and communicable disease.” In vacating the quarantine order the court held that the constitutional guarantees of the right to personal liberty and personal security override “mere suspicion” that someone must be isolated due to disease.

How Many Liberties Are We Willing to Cede?

Americans should be questioning whether the coronavirus presents an “immediate, imminent, and impending” threat that justifies the suspension of civil liberties and the decimation of the national economy. Whatever benefit of the doubt states had a month ago has dissipated as we have learned that the data and models the states relied on as authority for their restrictions were wrong. The states’ arguments of a compelling interest were based on dire predictions of 2 million dead Americans. Those models were wrong, and Americans should scrutinize just how “compelling” the states’ interests remain. And when governors are banning people from buying gardening supplies or citing them for watching a sunset, Americans should scrutinize whether states are employing the least restrictive means.

Over the past several months, Americans have witnessed—and in many cases accepted—a not-isolated series of infringements on their civil liberties. At the same time we continue to learn of civil rights abuses by the FBI through the use of federal court orders put in place under the USA Patriot Act after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on our nation. While two decades apart, the situations are not dissimilar and are equally troubling.

As a nation we should understand that fear has a way of driving us to do things we later will regret—things like blatantly trampling on people’s constitutional rights, or, worse, simply surrendering those rights.

Americans should not be complacent, nor should they allow panic or fear to lead them to acquiesce to unreasonable restrictions on constitutionally guaranteed liberties. Instead, Americans must insist that states display a compelling interest and that the restrictions they impose are the least restrictive means necessary to address that interest. The Constitution requires nothing less.

First Principles

Millennials and Zoomers: Socialism Will Ruin Your Life

The reality is that there are a few, extremely powerful people, set to benefit, who want to dismantle a civilization that is the culmination of millennia of the world’s best minds—a distillation of the heights of human glory and wisdom.

Hello Americans 35-and-under. As a fellow Millennial, I’m talking to you. 

Socialism, and its close cousin, Communism, is descending on North America with a vengeance. And the main reason it might soon succeed is that you’ve been lied to and indoctrinated your entire lives through the media, the school system, and institutions of higher education. 

We are particularly vulnerable in this time of pandemic national crisis, as we are seeing brazen attempts at unrelated government overreach in both Canada and the United States in recent days. This should be a warning.

At first blush, many of the tenets proposed by these philosophies and political approaches seem common sense and attractive. Who doesn’t want everyone to have enough money to live? Or to have access to top-notch health care? Or expect respect for the equal dignity of both sexes and all races and classes?

But the way socialism and communism propose to address these needs is rooted in a false conception of economics and human nature, an ethos of unbridled envy and thirst for power.

These systems will empower an elite of the few and take everything that is precious to you, just so you can, theoretically, have your ration of bread and toilet paper and equally share misery—that is, until the bread and toilet supplies simply run out. 

We have had a test run with this reality in recent weeks with the coronavirus crisis. But at least it is temporary—for now.

I already know it’s likely I’ll be accused of “fear-mongering” or exaggeration, so let me beat the naysayers to the punchline. Until you’ve read The Gulag Archipelago, can regurgitate the actual stats of torture and killing in Mao’s China and the Cambodian genocide, and have internalized the very real application of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals to the radical Left’s approach to politics these days, your accusations simply don’t carry weight.

I have read these. More than that, I personally know people affected to this day by these corrupt regimes—regimes our young and, unfortunately, coddled generation has no context for understanding. The gruesome stories are beyond belief, but they are real. The relevant words: mass starvation; betrayal; cannibalism; torture; existential distrust of family, your lover, your child. 

I met an older Polish man on my way to Krakow a few years ago who told me grimly that at the age of eight, his father was taken from their home one night, with no reason given, and he never saw him again.

We horrifically dishonor the suffering of millions by buying into the idea that the fragile stability, freedom, and economic access we have enjoyed is something that we deserve and with which we nonchalantly may tamper. Our pride and entitlement are sickening. Perhaps the more proximate case study of Venezuela would do us some good—10 years flat from the implementation of socialist government, and Venezuela’s world economic position plummeted

Some argue this devastating economic plummet wasn’t due to socialism, but that rebuttal doesn’t hold water. True socialism has never once confirmed a different result. The Scandinavian countries, often pointed to as socialist success stories, in fact, veered away from full socialism, foreseeing the havoc that system would wreak on their countries. In nearly direct proportion to the extent of socialism’s implementation do we see its horrific destruction.

In his university years during the 1970s, my dad, with strong idealist and socialist sensibilities, traveled to Romania—a country still self-proclaimed as socialist, though not communist—to visit family, right in the center of the region behind the Iron Curtain. After being ruthlessly searched at the border, and hearing the personal stories of his family, he came back to Canada a sworn enemy of the evils of creeping communism and socialism in the West. One need only smell the bitterness to know the poison. If only more could smell.

The reality is that there are a few, extremely powerful people set to benefit from the system who want to dismantle a civilization that is the culmination of millennia of the world’s best minds—a distillation of the heights of human glory and wisdom. They have been working single-mindedly and with dedication toward achieving this goal for more than a century, which is why it’s the air you breathe now—that is, the principles you’re being constantly fed and are so familiar to you now—don’t seem all that threatening. We didn’t drink the Kool-Aid; it spiked our amniotic fluid.

The main issue, and the most temptingly deceptive, is that the socialist and communist principles compare us to an invisible ideal—one which has never happened and, as any sane person can admit, will never happen. Human nature is flawed and corrupt and stubborn. Our systems, imperfect as they are, are among the best ever created to curtail the worst of this corruption and power-obsession. 

To have a justice system that isn’t mob rule is novel. To have even a concept of “human rights” is novel. To be able brazenly, condescendingly, and obliviously to speak “truth to power,” regardless of the worth of your opinion, without any real consequence, is an utterly Western ideal, fought for with blood. Do you know this? Can you picture a world without these underpinnings?

Minorities: where would we rather live than here and now? Truly—where? And when? Name it and own that, and then we can have a conversation. Might you be someone whom the world has treated unfairly? Absolutely. And any decent person of goodwill wants to remedy that as much as possible. That is the constant, unfailing work of a truly civil society. But we are insane if we do not see what we have. We are disastrously, grotesquely ungrateful.

I have hesitated to speak or write thus far because, being a sensitive person and someone who cares about individual humanity and truly heartbreaking stories, I know we can proliferate nuance to the sky with the difficulties of very real humans in every strata of society. As a songwriter, I tell these stories without agenda, and I consider it one of my greatest honors. There will always be people falling through the cracks in a flawed world, and we will always have a serious moral responsibility to see, love, and help our suffering neighbors. 

Thus, the likelihood of this message being hijacked by the particulars, as a smokescreen to the pulsing seriousness of this immense leviathan undercurrent, is high. (Refer back to Rules for Radicals, please.)

But it is time for us to realize we are on a sinking ship, and without putting up a fight, we will soon all be under waves of horror most of us have never thought possible. All of the victim narratives, the railing against patriarchies, the spoiled brat tantrums on the world stage, will become utterly irrelevant as we all crumble under the tragic weight of the great collapse of everything we have ever held dear.

Thirty-five-and-under, I’m talking to you: how much are you prepared to lose?

2016 Election • America • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Defense of the West • Donald Trump

Freedom in the Absence of Virtue

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Conservatives fret rightly about the state of popular culture, education, declining civility, and the effects these things combined have on Americans’ capacity to govern themselves. As these things decline, so too does our fitness for freedom. As George Washington said in his Farewell Address:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labour to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.

Washington’s  whole Farewell Address could be read as one long description of the conditions upon which the freedom of the American people must forever rest. It is not enough to know that freedom is your right and to be willing to die for it. The things that gradually chip away at it are usually a lot more subtle than Redcoats.

But political wisdom requires that we examine the threats to liberty with a subtlety equal, at least, to the threats. And understanding that it is impossible to fight them all with equal intensity at all times, we need to form judgments about which threats are most acute.

The Conditions of Freedom

“Without a concept of authority and salvation, no less than of freedom,” wrote Harry V. Jaffa in the title essay of Conditions of Freedom,“human life is intolerable.”

What prompted Jaffa’s reflection?

In 1972 (!) a young woman who was then to be the assistant director in student health services at Harvard offered some reflections about her new position: a job that, according to the Harvard Bulletin, could be described roughly as “sex czar.” Thus, more than four decades ago, Harvard—always on the cutting edge of new educational trends—was already advancing the ethos of our new politically correct culture on sex. It is an ethos that takes interest in sex primarily as a health, safety, and contractual question. It is one that has destroyed all notions of real morality and (even more sadly) eros, reducing sex to a matter of securing permission slips and safety gear for naked gymnastics.

Jaffa’s point was that the idea of sexual freedom this woman and others like her were selling was counterfeit and, moreover, purchased with a lot of hidden and troubling binding clauses. In escaping the old masters of God and morality, adherents to the new “sexual freedom” would now find themselves subject to a new and even more oppressive master. And this young woman, or “czarina,” with her severe notions about seduction and romance seemed a bit less forgiving, in the end, than the God of the Bible. Not to mention that the “sex” she championed seems a whole lot less satisfying.

Too Precious to Fight

This brings me to the current political moment and to the allegations that Donald Trump is, in today’s culture, somehow unfit for the presidency because of the things he said in that “Access Hollywood” video and because of some unsubstantiated allegations of lewd behavior from women who, heretofore (and for whatever reason), had chosen to remain silent.

For me, one of the most disheartening things about this election continues to be the degree to which so many intelligent and moral thinkerspeople who have been allies and friends in previous campaignshave marched into this battle forgetting their shields. Or maybe they are deliberately leaving them behind. At any rate, they appear to have no intention of coming back either with their shields, or on them.

Instead, they seem to glory in the prospect of lying opened up with their entrails on the field for the privilege of calling themselves martyrs in the service of a god who, in the course of these particular events, has never even been called into question. These self-styled martyrs seem willing to sacrifice themselves on behalf of a lost war. They give us an answer to a question no one is even asking.

Is this election really about the culture wars? Newsflash! You already lost that one.

While it would be wrong to disparage people just because they lack the stomach for the uglier battles of real world politics, one could wish that such people had more modesty about their judgments of those battles. For those who imagine their rehearsing of Donald Trump’s private moral failings is anything but counter-productive in our current struggle to re-establish the conditions for a future healthy moral orderone that can better support the freedom that is our rightmystify me. Yet I do not wish them ill.

Good and gentle souls who can identify and provide good arguments about what constitute moral wrongs have an important public role in a thriving republic.  In an unhealthy republic like ours, that role is different (and necessarily less public) though no less important. Prudence requires judgment about what may advance versus what may cause the retreat of virtue at different times and circumstances in our history.

We are now engaged in a life and death struggle for the survival of our republic. In the midst of that, too much heavenly-mindedness is of little earthly good.

And we know that the opposition to Trump from the friends of virtue who “just can’t stomach him” occasionally doubts itself because every so often we are dutifully reminded that Hillary is really terrible, too. That’s right. No current choice is worthy of them. Duly noted. But it remains that the choice to do nothing is a choice to abandon the field.

Thomas Mores They are Not

Yet even as they stipulate the horrors of a Clinton presidency, many of these Don Quixotes like best to talk about preserving their own personal integrity; in the manner, they suppose, of Sir Thomas More. Mind you, don’t question their willingness to rise to martyrdom. They are quite sure that they have worked out the calculus to a sufficient degree of intellectual satisfaction.

But have they?

In the first place, More made a martyr of himself; he did not “offer up” his country.

More to the point, Sir Thomas More would not acknowledge Anne Boleyn as Henry’s rightful wife before God; but he did not refuse to acknowledge that she was England’s queen. The distinction is important. It acknowledges a separation between one’s personal moral conscience and what is required in accepting political reality. More was willing to die to uphold what was actually true before God; he would not be complicit in blasphemy.

But More didn’t insist upon that standard as a guide to the possible in the political realm. More’s real and public objection to Henry was not so much his private sin as it was his public demand not just for acceptance of his unlawful marriage, but also for More’s and every other citizen’s approval of it. It was not enough for More or the English to “draw a curtain” around that embarrassing chapter of Henry’s historyas More gladly would have done for the sake of country. Henry demanded that More endorse what he took to be a wrong as a positive good. The comparison here with today’s validation demanding leftists is unmistakable. But these NeverTrump would-be Mores want to tear open the curtains, exposing the the sins of allies and enemies alike (as if the calling out of personal sins were the object of politics), even as they know that in so doing only allies will be asked to expose our necks to the hooded executioner.

Morality is a Condition of Freedom, But Not the Only One

Jaffa notes in his essay how in our vast republic (and, indeed, in all republics) there are certain conditions required before freedom can flourish. A very important and prerequisite condition is not only knowing what politics is but also knowing the limits of politics.

Another hugely important condition of freedom is the ability to perpetuate its institutions. “If the political institutions are the best,” Jaffa writes, “to perpetuate them is not only the most difficult, but also the greatest, of all the tasks of the statesman.”

In addition to being the highest task of a statesman, perpetuating the political institutions that sustain freedom is also a task that requires good judgment and prudence. There is no absolute or unchanging formula for this work. But when the opposition is actively engaged in the creation of false flag operations to undermine the work of a major religion in the country, the media is more or less the public relations arm of their campaign, and debate moderators are supplying her with questions ahead of the debate, perhaps it is time to consider that there are bigger fish for fellow fish eaters to fry?

The Federalist acknowledged that “enlightened statesmen would not always be at the helm.” While it is true that a virtuous people who select virtuous and enlightened statesmen are two very important conditions for the maintenance of freedom, they are but two. They are not the only two.

Wisdom is knowing that the limits of politics and of any people, however virtuous, are such that we cannot fight for all  of the conditions of freedom equally at all times. That requires a political judgment as to where to train our sights. Or, to mix metaphors, we must triage. Those conservatives who have trained their sights on Trump’s sexual mores have both completely misjudged the battlefield and poorly staffed the field hospital. They are so far from engaging where it now matters that they are off in their own world, still fighting in a lost war.