The Thinking 

America, Goodbye

November 19, 2012


IN rejecting the current American order, it is a big mistake to idolize the Founding and seek to return to an earlier point in our political history. As a reader noted in the previous entry and as Lawrence Auster points out, we couldn’t have gotten here unless America was flawed from the start. Mr. Auster writes:

The official documents of the Founding defined America in terms of universal equal freedom (the Declaration of Independence) and neutral government procedures (the Constitution). It did not define America as a religiously, culturally, and racially specific nation. Yes, such culturally specific definitions were a part of the Founding, but were not stated with the same force, explicitness and authority as the equalitarian, procedural aspects. Therefore the takeover of America by pure right-liberalism, the belief in the universal equal rights of individuals, which in turn led automatically to the current take-over of America by left-liberalism, the belief in enforced group equality of outcome (see previous entry), was built into America from the start. Therefore we need to approach the Founding selectively, upholding the good parts and rejecting or modifying the bad parts. Therefore the Founding per se has ceased to be a helpful rallying point for conservatives. The American Nation—or the American Experiment, as neocons love to call it—has decisively failed. Somehow we must start over again.

—- Comments —–

Joe A. writes:

As we approach our annual Day of Thanksgiving, the basic story of my American great-grandfather William Brewster is generally known. He instituted the sacrificial feast as minister of the Mayflower expedition in 1621, almost two centuries before the United States was invented.

Presented below are two other stories from my American family history, otherwise unremarkable, but more typical of the American experience. Both concern the Battle of Saratoga, which happened to be on our farm known locally as “Freeman’s Farm.” This was 1777, long before the Articles of Confederation were adopted, much less the Constitution of the United States.

In 1621 as in 1777, there were no national calls to universal citizenship, no academic discourse on the Lockean roots of “American Liberty” or anything at all resembling an ex post construct of a “propositional nation.”

Mainly, what I learn from my family history, is they were concerned with not dying.

Would they define themselves in terms of a government? Preposterous. They shed and spilled blood to be rid of government’s oppressive grip. Tocqueville nailed it two centuries ago!

America was never a government, at least not until the serfish Huddled Masses demanded a king much as the Israelites of old. Be careful what you wish – for you may get it. Surely FDR was their reward.

Laura writes:

I could not attach the stories you mention because they are too long for this kind of discussion format.

I realize that the laws and federal institutions we now have, and have had for a long time, are nothing like what your ancestors envisioned. Nevertheless, they surely believed in, or came to believe in, the British tradition of constitutional law, which was embraced by America. They did not shed blood in the Revolution to be rid of all government. They shed blood to start a nation distinct from Britain. Did they actively oppose the formation of the American government once the Constitution was written? Did they shed blood in opposition to its founding documents because these did not clearly articulate the nation’s ethnic and religious roots? If they did not, then they were Americans in the sense Mr. Auster is referring to, i.e. they were part of an America that included a sense of nationhood and distinct institutions that embodied it.

Joe A. writes:

Even my hero Pat Buchanan repeats this mistake endlessly and he ought to know better:

The basic problem is confusion of the word “nation” with “state”.  Obviously, the vast bulk of immigration to the U.S. was during the heyday of the European nation-state and the immigrants were identified by their “nationality” – by the name of the sovereign claiming them as state property.  Unfortunately for everyone else, even then it was anachronistic as the nation-states were really multinational/multicultural empires in various conditions.  But by sheer numerical dominance the semantic shift stuck.

America, at least so far as the world envisioned it while dreaming of those streets a-paved with gold, was a people: the American British*.

The American people had a land, British North America.

The American people had a government, of sorts, based on the sovereignty of the people, usually under a Proprietor and always a form of “home rule”.  It was in the English tradition and they thought of themselves as subjects to the Crown as a matter of pride in their motherland and her tradition of Liberty.

The Revolution became necessary not because the American British, one day out of the blue, objected to their English colonial status, but because London exerted never-before-seen control thanks to the expense of yet another war with France – a kindred and ancient nemesis.

The Revolution was not about taxes.  It was about the right of an Englishman to assess taxes on himself, a free man contributing to the cause, not a slave deprived of his labor and property.

The Revolution was not about the removal of monarchy.  George Washington had to forcefully decline the American Crown, thus his enduring legend as American Cincinnatus.

The Revolution was about the American Englishman’s right of self-determination, as applied to  in the tradition of the Protestant Reformation, which at that time was fresh in the collective memory.

Not one American institution radically altered its form after Independence was declared.  Even the Anglican church maintained its polity, merely replacing prayers for the monarch with prayers for America’s new office of presidency.  And that change did not happen until 1789, a full decade after Independence was as a matter of fact.

Now for the record:  not all inhabitants of British North America were British.  Many were acquired with the capitulation of New Amsterdam and New Sweden, for example.  But those persons individually agreed to swear loyalty to the Crown and voluntarily sided with their American British.

If a nation is defined by its blood, its history and its destiny, then by asserting their right to self-determination, the American British severed their destiny from that of Great Britain and did form a “new nation” in that sense.

But make no mistake about it – never for one moment did the Americans believe they were doing anything but claiming and demanding their ancient rights as Englishmen as secured at Runnymede and Yorktown.

* “British” to be inclusive of the Scots-Irish and Welsh living here at the time who were not English but came and benefitted from the same tradition.

Laura writes:

But make no mistake about it – never for one moment did the Americans believe they were doing anything but claiming and demanding their ancient rights as Englishmen as secured at Runnymede and Yorktown.

They did not make that explicit in the government they established. They did not create a nation that permanently barred the non-British from obtaining citizenship or establish a caste system. Many non-British Europeans have subsequently claimed an American identity and it is not unreasonable that they consider themselves Americans too.  They have participated in the same political society, inhabited the same land and upheld many of the same values.

Jesse Powell writes:

The generalized ideals of the American Founding, universal equal freedom and neutral government procedures, were not a mistake. For a society to work a lot more is needed than these basic ideas but these basic ideas are not in themselves harmful. The basis for criticizing the founding principles seems to be that the ideal of “equality” inevitably leads to the radical notion of anything goes and the abolishment of distinctions between right and wrong. No, equality does not mean that good and bad are equal; it means that citizens should be treated equally under the law according to the law and that citizens should be granted certain rights such as the freedom to worship as they choose and the right to engage in political activity. To say that people are equal in some ways is not to say that all behavior is equal or that everything is permitted. It is not even to say that all classes of people need to be treated in the same way.

It is a mistake to say that the specific political system or social values of the American Founding led to the particular problems of today simply because the American Founding happened before the particular problems of today. Just because certain political systems and social values preceded certain other political systems and social values that came after does not mean that the prior existing situation caused the latter existing situation. It needs to be kept in mind that family breakdown is a global phenomenon; it is not only the United States and it is not only the Western world. All political systems and all social customs and all religions “led to” family breakdown after economic development and urbanization and new technologies impacted their societies. To look specifically at the United States and say that our particular set of political and social values have failed us and therefore must have been wrong at their origins is to ignore any number of other possible explanations for “what went wrong” and is ignoring the fact that all the other possible societal models that actually existed in other places in the past failed as well when faced with the onslaught of economic development.

I will re-emphasize that it is the culture that is wrong in America today, not the political system. There are minority religious populations that are doing quite well on a number of social indicators in America today. There are already higher numbers of white women having four or more children in their lifetimes than was the case in the past (compared to 1995). Localized areas seeing higher fertility and higher Married Parents Ratios than was the case before are widespread (comparing the 2000 and 2010 Census by Census Tract in particular places such as counties and cities). There are good things happening in America today on the cultural front even though on a national level the culture is moving in a negative direction.

It is premature to start trashing the basic foundations of America’s history when good is already happening under the current system and where if the good becomes more than half of the society overall at some point in the future political support for a virtuous social order will then be within reach without any radical changes being necessary to how society works.

Laura writes:

A few points in response:

Mr. Auster is not saying that the entire political framework of America was ill-fated and poorly conceived. He is not saying that the notion of substantive equality, wherein all human beings are considered creatures of God and are accorded the same basic civil rights, is wrong. He is saying that this was not enough, as articulated in America’s founding documents, to restrain radical egalitarianism.

Now you are absolutely right that politics do not determine the whole of life and that what Tocqueville called countervailing principles are important. However, we are dealing with a federal government of extensive power that denies freedom of action for those principles. Yes, it is true that there are segments of our society that are flourishing. Even under Soviet Communism, some people maintained positive values. However, they faced serious obstacles and, in America, Christians are now in the position of being conscientious objectors to the federal government. Also, those areas that are doing well are statistically overwhelmed by those that are not. That’s why we see overall sub-replacement level fertility and high family breakdown. It is very difficult for the cultural revival you envision to take place when all the vast resources of a federal behemoth are pitted against it. The nature of socialism is such that it creates financial dependency and tends to end in economic collapse, not in the gradual awakening that you have in mind. Nevertheless, that’s not the most important issue here. The most important issue is the depravity of the current government and its suicidal course, which will affect us all.

Terry Morris writes:

I’m confused by this entry. Mr. Auster is basically saying that we’ve got to form a perfect union? Nah, I get it. He’s saying that we need to form a more perfect union than the more perfect union that the Founders created. I highly doubt that that is achievable, noble a goal as it may well be.

As for myself, I would gladly return to the original constitutional framework – the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights – with one change: I would not leave it to chance that the Bill of Rights should ever be enforced by the central government upon the state and local governments. I would make it explicit that the provisions contained in the Bill of Rights merely serve as restrictions on federal power exclusively; that they have no bearing whatsoever on state and local governments. And that any judge that ever ruled to the contrary would receive summary execution for his trouble.

The reason we can’t control immigration, abortion, rampant sexual deviancy, religious equality, and economic inflation, all goes back to the incorporation of the Bill of Rights. Try, for instance, to eliminate, within your state, the Department of Human Services. I guarantee you that within minutes of your doing so, all kinds of federal lawsuits would be filed to prevent it, and that the federal courts would ultimately rule that Departments of Human Services, and all of their sub-divisions, are essential government entities guaranteed under the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment. Never mind that such agencies are in no way guaranteed by the Constitution, the problem is that we’ve allowed the federal government to usurp state and local authority with barely any resistance to it. Under any system of governmment that we could put forth, the people under its rule would still have to maintain it in purity and vigor.

It isn’t that the Constitution is flawed. It is that people are flawed.

Laura writes:

If the Constitution had permanently restricted the franchise to white, male, married property holders, the flaws of the people would be less decisive. But even then, those who could vote could change the limited franchise through amendments. And there is always an incentive for politicians to expand the franchise.

Will G. writes:

Thank you for facilitating this magnificent site full of great commentary. I just discovered it a few months ago. You’re going to get me fired! It is so encouraging to know these things are on other people’s minds. Although I sometimes scratch my head over UFO posts and I do not accept evolution, your insight on so many areas of our civilization have bought you miles of good will with me. Your posts on mixed race couples have really made me think. I am not sure where I land on that yet.

I would hope that a Constitution for a restored republic would have anyone who works for the government or receives any entitlements or welfare to forfeit their voting rights.

 Laura writes:

Thank you for writing. I truly hope you don’t get fired. : – )

Yes, it is obscene that those who are employed by the government and those who live on government entitlements, including Social Security, can vote. If that isn’t a conflict of interest, I don’t know what is.

By the way, speaking of evolution, I do not accept Darwinian evolution as anything but a philosophical theory, and it is a theory which I reject. When I have referred to evolution, I have tried to note that I distinguish between Darwinian evolution and adaptation of species over time to their environment.

Joe A. continues:

It’s very simple.  One must never confuse “the United States” with “America”.

America is a family of people, related by blood.  Yes, yes, adoption is possible for the select – and highly motivated – few.

United States citizenship is an arbitrary legal technicality granted or revoked at the whim of a bureaucrat.  Moreover, it makes you a United States citizen not an American.

Ultimately, it took the robber baron’s “Come one, come all!” call to Ellis Island, with its millions upon millions of imported peasant-serf laborers, to confuse these terms to the muddled mess we have today.

Furthermore, those peasant-serfs knew only imperial power and their place in it: at the bottom.  They looked at America and saw another empire.  Being good serfs, their loyalty was rendered to their new sovereign, mistaking the U.S. president for their king.  (Many still grovel and scrape before the office of “Mr President!” while Washington spins in his grave.)

If you want to recover historic America, it would be useful to identify who and what America is and what it is not.

If you want to recover the United States you embark on a Sisyphean task.  The biomass of U.S. persons is not the least bit interested in America and you cannot have a United States of America without an America to sustain it.

Mr.  Morris writes:

Will G. wrote: “I would hope that a Constitution for a restored Republic would have anyone who works for the government or receives any entitlements or welfare to forfeit their voting rights.”

To borrow a favorite movie line, “D*mn right! That’s smart! You must have been in the first World War!”

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