RECLAIMING THE AMERICAN DREAM
Too many Americans have no understanding about ordered liberty. They see political power only as a means to enrich themselves at the expense of others and not as a means of ongoing stewardship over the permanent things. Too many politicians seek to give them what they want rather than protecting our Constitutional principles. Economic decline, social disorder; and cultural and economic decline seem inevitable. Conservatives seeking to retain the American dream have used every tactic available to them, but have been unable to stem the decline. This post calls for a strategic rather than tactical approach focusing on organic ways to persuade more Americans of the lasting value of liberty over security. If we change the “habits of the heart” we will reclaim the nature of our founding political arrangements.
Alexis de Tocqueville, 1840:
Subjection in small affairs manifests itself every day and makes itself felt without distinction by all citizens. It does not make them desperate; but it constantly thwarts them and brings them to renounce the use of their wills. Thus little by little, it extinguishes their spirits and enervates their souls, whereas obedience, which is due only in a few very grave but very rare circumstances, shows servitude only now and then and makes it weigh only on certain men. In vain will you charge these same citizens, whom you have rendered so dependent on the central power, with choosing the representatives of this power from time to time; that use of their free will, so important but so brief and so rare, will not prevent them from losing little by little the faculty of thinking, feeling, and acting by themselves, and thus from gradually falling below the level of humanity.
The social power constantly increases, its prerogatives; it becomes more centralized, more enterprising, more absolute, more extensive. At each instant citizens fall under the control of the public administration; they are brought insensibly and almost without their knowing it to sacrifice new parts of their individual independence to it every day, and the same men who from time to time overturn a throne and ride roughshod over kings bend more and more without resistance to the slightest will of a clerk.
Robert Nisbet, 1988:
Democratic absolutism, chiefly in the manifestation of the thick, heavy bureaucracies we build today, can be as oppressive to the creative instinct, the curiosity itch, and the drive to explore as anything that exists more blatantly in the totalitarian state.
Harvey Mansfield, 2000:
Egalitarian theory will be verified when none but mediocre or pusillanimous intellects remain.
Lew Davies, 2012:
Our Republic creates individuals, and then fails to teach them the importance of personal virtue; we have abandoned these individuals and they have sunk into squalid individualism. And our Republic is collapsing because of it.
FACING THE TRUTH
Sadly it is no longer possible to prevent a tyranny of the majority in the United States. Too many in America are now willing to barter their freedom in exchange for equality of condition funded with property taken from others. Now the tyranny must be overturned. I am ambivalent about whether such an undertaking can succeed; but we owe it to Plato, Aristotle, Adams, Hamilton, Jay, Jefferson, Madison, and brave-hearted people everywhere to try.
Tocqueville’s worst fears about what political and social arrangements in America would become were formalized on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. It has been in process for more than a century; now it’s official. Over those decades our government created an incomprehensible system of elaborate legal, educational, and social structures designed to produce equality of conditions rather than equality of opportunity. In the process we have supplanted liberty. Equality of condition crowds out liberty – the one cannot be had while we also grasp the other. It is a condition of mutual exclusion.
The citizens have been tricked into believing they can have both. They cannot. Security in the absence of liberty is like the little book the angel told John the Revealer to eat; it is sweet as honey in the mouth, bitter as vinegar in the stomach. Once the transaction exchanging freedom for security and equality is completed, individuals are not satisfied because what one remains free to do is no longer sufficient. Mediocrity, drugs, alcohol, vulgar music, pornography, sports, and reality shows eventually turn bitter in the stomach; uniformity and mediocrity no longer satisfy. The people grow frustrated and uneasy, the longing for freedom and achievement begins; and the cycle continues.
Self-sufficiency is work, and most people would prefer to not work. Socialism is the promise that they don’t have to. It is the unattainable seductress; the Siren that focuses the mind on attractive, lusty desire summoning the travelers to the shore while seducing their eyes away from the rocks. Like pornography, socialism promises what she never delivers. It is our duty to warn the travelers that if they listen to that song, their life and the lives of their children will reach a much different shore than the one in their imagination.
Freedom has dangers too, of course. Chief among them is responsibility. But freedom provides at least the option of starting over; socialism does not. With socialism, tomorrow is yesterday, creativity ceases; boredom sets in, and the human spirit dies. With freedom, tomorrow is what we choose to make it. It is ours to create.
The individual pursuit of happiness under law is universally more rewarding than the passivity of socialism. It just doesn’t look like it when mountebanks are promising the safety and bliss of the Siren – especially when the travelers are in distress. The great lie of socialism is the promise that you can have the seductress on the shore and keep your family, and land safely on the shore; the promise is that you can have your freedom and your security at the same time. This is why liberals seek to create distress. Under distress people lose their ability to think clearly. Shipwreck is the inevitable end.
Last Tuesday a majority of Americans believed the lie and steered our ship toward the rocks. We must regain control of the helm if we are to save them and ourselves as well.
POLITICAL ARRANGEMENTS THAT LEAD TO THE GOOD LIFE
THE CONSERVATIVE PROJECT
The conservative project is to make people free so they can seek happiness through understanding and overcoming their frailty. Conservatives believe people are created in the image of God and are capable of good; but since we are fallen, we are also born with a propensity to evil; to sin. Paul said (Romans 7) we want to do good, but end up doing what we don’t want to do because of this propensity. We serve the good in one part of ourselves, and the bad in another; when one expands, the other contracts.
The conservative project requires personal freedom. Experiencing the agony of failure from poor decisions and the joy of accomplishment from good ones teaches us virtue and makes us fully human. Through this process we are increasingly drawn to the practice of virtue because by its pursuit, and learning the lessons of life we arrive at the good life, and so experience happiness. If we do not have to take responsibility for our poor choices we have no incentive to change them.
For conservatives, having the good life is not an entitlement. Rather, the good life is the consequence of personal heroism in overcoming the temptation to take shortcuts; it is practicing good judgment, and restraint. The good life is the result of succeeding in the internal moral struggle each person has with himself. For conservatives the enemy to overcome is his own personal, well, sin. The good life is the result of winning this personal battle; the struggle each person has with himself.
Conservatives believe that to be fully human we must have the choice, and then pay the price for bad choices; and enjoy the rewards of good ones. For conservatives “the good life” is only accomplished by ensuring that people ALWAYS have to choose among a number of options and live with the consequences of their poor choices and enjoy the benefit of their good ones. Charity is practiced by people who have made good choices, and then finding individuals of good disposition who need help, and privately supporting them. This helps ensure better choices in the future. Sloth is excluded.
THE LIBERAL PROJECT
Liberals believe with Rousseau that men are born free and good, but are everywhere in chains. Corrupt institutions chain them and they are forced to do bad things. Since liberals believe people are born good – but everywhere found to be bad – the liberal project is to use government power to remove corrupt institutions. Freeing people from bad behavior, they think, can only occur when everyone has safety and sufficiency. These qualities, they imagine, will recreate innate goodness because when people are sufficient: envy, pride, and avarice are eliminated. They believe that people are free to make good choices only when they have sufficient income, food, housing, and self-esteem.
For socialists, the good life is an entitlement. The good life prevents want, anxiety, fear, and even crime. Effort, sacrifice, delayed gratification, and personal virtue must not be the deciding factors in attaining the good life. The good life is a moral obligation owed by the society at large to every person in the society regardless of personal worthiness. For socialists, the enemy to overcome is the freedom others have to make judgments that can have a detrimental effect on people who do not pursue virtue. The good life is the result of controlling the choices people make. The good life is the result of winning the economic and social battle against want, anxiety, and fear.
Liberals believe that to be fully human people must be insulated from having to learn from their bad choices, and that the whole purpose of a moral society is that together we can all take joy in having prevented every person from having to face responsibility for their own choices. For liberals “the good life” is only accomplished by ensuring that people NEVER have to choose among a number of options because no one should have to live with the consequences of their poor decisions – or get to enjoy the benefit of their good ones. Everyone should enjoy the benefit of the good choices of other people. Charity consists of government coercion confiscating the substance of people who have made good choices, and redistributing it to members of entitled groups regardless of individual habits of the heart. This helps free the members of such groups from anxiety and responsibility of having to make better choices in the future. Charity is excluded.
CONTRASTING CONSERVATIVE AND LIBERAL POLITICAL CONSIDERATIONS
Since the beginning of our Republic, we have survived by spending the moral capital accumulated by those who pursued personal virtue, integrity; and doing the right at great personal risk. It is easier for people to enjoy the benefits of sacrifices made by others than it is to personally make such sacrifices. The goodness of America, the freedoms and opportunities we have offered the world; the judicious use of power to liberate others then leave them secure in their ancestral lands and homes built up – over time – a bank account of virtue. We have increasingly been supporting ourselves on these moral savings, and have not been making new moral investments to keep the account solvent.
Too many have expected that all this goodness occurs magically as a consequence of our simply being America. naturalism, secularism, progressivism, and socialism have debunked any suggestion that morality and virtue should be necessary elements of the lives of Americans – the good will happen anyway. Conservatives challenge that point. The vacuum created by ending the pursuit of virtue has been filled by endless laws and regulations designed to create the good society without requiring personal goodness. This has created a lawyers paradise. If the law tells you what you can do and what you can’t do, personal morality is unnecessary; you just push to the limit and try not to get arrested. If people do not govern themselves from within, they will be governed from without. We have been transformed from a society of virtue and sacrifice in behalf of things more important than ourselves, into a society of endless regulation.
Increasing revelations of moral failure is what we should expect in this new regime. Secret Service officers, top military officials, a recent President, President of the World Bank, the Italian Prime Minister, and many others are no longer considered moral failures; they merely violated protocols. “It’s only sex,” we’re told as if sexual moral failing were entirely unimportant.
Even “the law” is represented by a blindfolded woman holding a scale. We are taught that “the law” is entirely separate from morality. Judgment is to be weighed while blinding ourselves to what is right and wrong. And we call this “justice.” This kind of justice has no relationship with virtue. Regulations have replaced rectitude.
Too many conservatives have believed they could sustain our high social, economic, and legal order by employing the appropriate election campaign tactics, or by supporting candidates who would have the broadest appeal rather than defending and preserving the American project. They no longer expect personal virtue from people, and wouldn’t know how to ask for it. Conservatives have thus participated in compromising the American vision of goodness, exchanging it for political power. That path has failed.
The tactics of socialistic policy are seductive and soothing. They appeal to all the basic sins – pride, envy, jealousy, covetousness, greed, sloth, and lust; free lunches, safety, and security without cost. Sex sans children or VD; school without having to learn, jobs without qualifications…We cannot match the socialists for sheer emotional appeal when we make the public argument about conservative tactics in response to current conditions. And if elections are determined by tactics, conservatives will lose.
The tactics of conservative policy appear difficult and painful. People should have to pay their own way, nobody should be able to sponge off the labor of others; people ought to be able to keep what they have accumulated, immigrants should have to stand in line, and so on.
In order to compete for the disposition of the hearts of all Americans, conservatives must fight the public battle on the high ground antecedent to policy. We must defend the ground of virtue; of prudence, justice, temperance, charity, patience, kindness, humility, self-sufficiency, hard work, the risk of failure, having to learn from one’s mistakes, starting over, and becoming mature; of human dignity and heroism: these are the conservative emotions. These virtuous habits of the heart exist in all people; but that bad part of us – when seconded as actually virtuous by socialists – overwhelms the good intentions; drowns out their still, small voice. The winning appeal for people to elect conservatives as leaders must be to what Lincoln called in his first inaugural, “the better angels of their nature.” This appeal is to a condition of the heart. That condition exists prior to mental decisions about policy; and it determines which policies we approve.
If we are to win, we must focus on the strategy of conservative political arrangements. This is the appeal of the opportunity to be fully human, of heroic strength, of noble resistance against evil. This is the appeal for individuals to stand up and be real; to matter, to be persons of consequence; authentic men and women. This is the appeal of duty and faithful persistence in the defense of ideas more noble than ourselves. It is humility in the presence of success; of generous charity of the heart. It is the appeal of gentle patience and charity with people less gifted; and of knowing that to whom much is given much is required. It is the humility that results from knowing that we will all have to give account for our lives before the Great Judge. These virtues are approved by everyone regardless of ethnic background, and everyone wants to be seen as a person who possess them. Conservative strategy for political arrangements are, in fact, cool; and they will appeal to most people. Unfortunately conservatives haven’t tried it for a long time.
If we focus on these things, tactical policy decisions will naturally be congruent with the prior commitment to conservatism in the heart.
Focusing on temporary political conquest and using temporary political tactics have ruined the conservative public argument. It lies in ashes. In the absence of a compelling, more basic strategic argument for the virtues listed above, why would anyone listen to us rather than the soothing lies of the liberal socialists? Insisting that we are for a lower tax rate and fewer government benefits for people in pain will not win elections.
Conservative tactics of political arrangements must occur subsequent to the strategy of what political arrangements are supposed to do. On this ground we will win. Big. We conservatives must return to the transcending, astonishing, world-changing ideas about the strategic purposes of government that were used and discussed by the Founders that gave birth to America. When the strategy is understood, the tactics become self-evident, and the people choose wisely.
We must answer two crucial questions:
1. What is the strategy we propose for political, social, and economic arrangements?
2. What is the strategy socialists propose for our political, social, and economic arrangements?
If we force the debate to be on the strategy of political arrangements we will win.
By dealing with the universal of strategy will we be able to make our points about the particular of tactics. Any particular tactical proposal can sound reasonable in the absence of the strategic universal because it is loosed from moral content, and is designed to deal with a passing concern. That is why socialists consistently do it. Focusing on temporary, tactical, short-term solutions responding to temporary distress has turned the country into a national, rambling Winchester house of policies with doors that don’t open, staircases that lead nowhere; a fractured and divided citizenry marching furiously in all different directions, working toward antithetical goals; a tax system that is completely incoherent; an interminable bureaucracy with innumerable regulators whose purpose is to harass us and eat out our substance – and of whom King George III would die in envy. The Americans who dethroned tyrants, and ran roughshod over kings now submit without resistance to the slightest will of a clerk.
Tactics have brought us to this place; strategy alone will get us out of it. Conservatives must force a national debate on the strategy of American political arrangements – the STRATEGY OF AMERICA ITSELF.
The Strategy of America itself is the most compelling story we can tell. The process of doing this will persuade many default liberals to support conservatism because it offers what they really want, but are afraid somebody else may not want. Having been taught that all cultures are equally moral and right, they think it socially unattractive to suggest a better way to people with other cultural ideas; might hurt their feelings. But they know what they personally want, and what they want is what we have to offer – the Strategy of America. I have interviewed many of these people, lawyers, authors, politicians, many intellectuals – and they all live conservative lives – they just shrink back from telling anyone else they should live the same kind of life. We can win many converts if we present the American strategy to them winsomely.
We see a great darkness rising over the plain, and we seek to avoid a long nightmare ending in shared poverty, the squalor of uniformity, the desperation of the human longing for freedom; and finally revolution. We have seen it coming for a long time and hoped that if we controlled the government we could prevent it, but that isn’t working. We have seen it occur at other times and in other places in history; and we ask, “What can we do to prevent it?” Can we ever regain that pinnacle of public rectitude, of personal virtue and creative genius we had at the beginning? Can we restore the jewel of a self-correcting political system that produced for a brief time the highest economic, moral, and social order in history? Can we once again turn on the lights in the city on the hill? How can we regain it? Is it possible to go home again?
FIRST, we must admit what we fear is true. We have reached the point where there is a majority of people in the United States who want to receive benefits provided by the earnings and wealth of a minority. We have refused to look at this squarely for so long, that not only do we not see it; we are losing our capacity to see at all and some of our compatriots are going politically blind.
SECOND, we must consider the influences that have brought us to this place. We will look at immigration and radicalism below and suggest remedies for each of them.
THIRD, if we are to lead, we must act like leaders and rise above depression and hand-wringing. We must analyze the real situation, and resurrect the Strategy of America to overcome the tragedy we are seeing across our country. We must give people the information they need to save themselves – and our Republic.
CHANGING THE POLITICAL DISPOSITION
Richard Weaver wrote, “Sentiment is anterior to reason. If the disposition is wrong, reason increases malfeasence; if it is right, reason orders and furthers the good.” Presently a majority of voters in the U.S. are responding to the wrong disposition regarding the purpose of political arrangements. Their inclination is to gain political power in the pursuit of economic hegemony because they believe that is the purpose of government. Why do they believe that? Because that’s what they have been taught. They hold this disposition in their heart, and then they use their reason to justify it – “everyone does it,” “that’s how people get rich,” “the game is rigged…” As a consequence, their language and manner of thinking is shaped by the foul disposition. Their inclination is not to preserve personal liberty, economic liberty, personal accountability, personal virtues, and the like. Instead it is anger and frustration at their station in life; bitterness driven by selfishness, envy, and greed; and so they seek political power to make things even.
Radicals in our bosom have long promoted an intellectual, lawyer-driven, court-determined American coup to dismantle the Republic our Framers created. They take this approach because they think people are mostly stupid, driven only by self-interest. So they hate the democratic impulse. Aside from undermining the engines of American society, mores, and law; they also have labored to permit millions of people who share their socialist disposition into our country. Together they are busy changing it.
Following the recent elections, much has been said about America’s changing demography. But demography is not destiny – political disposition is destiny. “The heart has reasons which reason knows nothing of,” (Pascal) and the reasons of the heart determine what policies people support, and the policies determine which candidate.
The conservative losses in the recent election are not related to demography except in an oblique way. Hispanics don’t vote for socialism because they are Hispanics; blacks don’t vote for socialism because they are black. They vote this way because they have become comfortable receiving largesse seeing it as the embodiment of the good life. Wealth taken from others, laundered through government (to avoid the appearance of theft before being and transferred to them) is thought to be what they deserve. They been told endlessly that this approach is right and just. But they have been lied to; denied strategic information essential for them to make an informed decision as to whether they will pursue socialism or conservatism. If they fill their pockets today and the country falls tomorrow how are they profited?
Some conservatives – like Pat Buchanan – who insist on focusing on the racial, demographic component of voting patterns rather than on their political disposition do a great disservice to the Strategy of America itself. I have interviewed Mr. Buchanan in the past, and he is insistent on this point and will not be moved. We have to make our argument about the American Strategy so clear that arguments like Buchanan’s are ignored. We must get past the tactics of repatriating immigrants, dividing their families, giving them a “path” to citizenship, or blanket amnesty. We must get past the whining of some black Americans about slavery – people who have never been enslaved, and who have been given every opportunity to succeed, but who insist on listening to mountebanks who prey on the conscience of people more moral than they. We must get past those who confuse syncopated talking with singing and blather that women are all whores and bitches; who extol the virtue of murdering cops and white devils; the glory of alcohol, using and selling drugs, wearing bling; and still others who celebrate miseducation. We must force the discussion to focus on strategy and not these poisonous and destructive diversions. When we do, we can convert them, change the habits of their heart; create in them a love for the permanent things we seek to conserve.
Our task, as I see it, is to change the political disposition of people who have been lied to and led astray. If we permit them to continue to believe the socialist, social justice, economic justice lie, how dare we consider ourselves responsible, upright, and moral? We have a critical historic task, and we cannot shrink from it. If we love them, we dare not fail them.
Recall C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man regarding our system of education: “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour (sic) and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
Yes, we do. We avoid any discussion regarding the soul of man – the heart, the disposition. We have avoided it like the plague in our public intercourse; and then we stand bewildered at the nightmare that the American dream has become. We keep thinking that the citizens will suddenly start listening to the message of lower taxes and a bigger military; better control of our border, and the value of purchasing our own health insurance. It’s not happening; it’s not going to happen. It is foolish to think it will happen. Our task, if we have the courage to accept it, is to morally re-educate all those men without chests; to expect virtue and enterprise from them, to take honor seriously; to convert those who don’t understand that the American strategy is required if one is to possess the American dream.
People make tragic and stupid choices when they have insufficient information on which to make good ones. People have been propagandized for nearly a century to believe the progressive, socialist lie; and if we don’t help them they will be damned. Who would promote such lies to them? The utopians are those who see themselves as saviors of the world – Rousseau, Marx, Darwin, Hitler, Dewey, Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, John Rawls; and now Barack Obama. Among the institutions supporting the truncation of freedom and the expansion of government power are most of our public schools, most universities, most broadcast and print media; and all manner of think tanks, law firms, and assorted “empowerment groups” all of which enrich themselves by pouring gasoline on racial resentments, economic disparity; and lighting matches. These men are perfectly willing to impose their will on individuals. They are sufficiently arrogant to believe they are Nietzsche’s Supermen – the Supermen that evolution has created to impose their will on all other humans.
Conservatives don’t think like that. We believe people must be free to choose because without choice full humanity cannot be achieved and we become something less than human – we become proletarians. Liberals, socialists, progressives and assorted radicals have the antecedent belief that the people are largely stupid and incapable of full humanity without the Supermen intervening, and then all policy is based in that belief. They will be free to manipulate the people only if we permit it to happen. For these reasons, our effort must – in the main – be an educational effort. Rousseau said that people must be forced to be free; conservatives say that people must be informed if they are to be truly free; and it is our task to inform them. Our spokespersons must not need to stop and think about what the conservative point of view is or how to answer a question conservatively. Conservatism must the language of their heart, not a second language they have learned for the duration of an election season.
ONE MORE POINT
We cannot wait for an election year, or for candidates for public office to offer themselves to begin this task. We must take the long view. The heat of the campaigns, the partial truths, the misdirection, the intent to deceive during election campaigns so polarize people that they lose their capacity to think, and tend to respond only to fear of “that other guy.”
During election campaigns people are being seduced with offers of money, leisure, self-esteem, faux compassion, and other baubles. Present political campaigns are reminiscent of the antebellum slave auctions held on streets in Washington DC and elsewhere with a few rich people in control bidding against each other in order to purchase the people they want. Slavery is a mortal sin, but at least the plantation owners purchased slaves with their own money; today’s socialist Simon Legrees purchase their workers with other people’s money. We cannot make our case in the middle of this emotional vortex; we need access to hearts undistracted, and ready to listen.
Changing “habits of the heart” takes time. The effort must subtle, it must be organic, and it must be constant. It has to be an ongoing part of conservative stewardship over the fragile principles that created the concepts of individual freedom. These principles began more than 3,000 years ago in a desert on Mt. Sinai, were debated in Athens, made flesh in Bethlehem, taught in Judea, incubated in Monasteries in Middle Ages; and articulated by Locke, Jefferson, Monroe, Adams, Franklin, Lincoln; and conservatives today who study them. These are the principles that gave birth to the United States; and that that can only exist in the company of limited government, personal freedom, and personal virtue. If we would keep our freedom, we must forever learn, preserve, and teach the lessons of history. I have some ideas about how we might accomplish this and am looking for connections to people who are in the position to implement them.
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