The Revolutions Were
"There are those who still think they are holding the pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the Night of Depression, singing songs to freedom." -- Garet Garrett, The Revolution Was (1938)There have been a number of revolutions in American history. It began with the American Revolution, which was armed resistance against lawful government. Then came the revolution that was disguised as an act of Republicanism: the Constitutional Convention of 1787. That was a coup d'état. The next major revolution was the Civil War. The south rebelled against lawful authority, and lawful authority wiped out antebellum culture. Then came the Spanish-American war, which launched the American Empire. It was ratified by the ascendancy of Teddy Roosevelt to the White House. Next, there was the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, which took us into World War I. Next, there was the New Deal. Next, there was World War II. Finally, there was Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.
I think it is legitimate to regard all of these famous events as revolutions. Only the American Revolution was a true revolution. The others were revolutions in the way that Garrett described them: revolutions within the form.
There are those who have never ceased to say very earnestly, "Something is going to happen to the American form of government if we don't watch out." These were the innocent disarmers. Their trust was in words. They had forgotten their Aristotle. More than 2,000 years ago he wrote of what can happen within the form, when "one thing takes the place of another, so that the ancient laws will remain, while the power will be in the hands of those who have brought about revolution in the state."Revolutions do not occur overnight. They build up over a long period of time, and they take place very rapidly. This phenomenon applies to many areas of life. The old story that Hemingway wrote about the man who described his bankruptcy went as follows: it went slowly, and then very fast.
With this in mind, I'm going to comment on an article written by an old friend of mine, Angelo Codevilla. I worked with him when I was in Washington in the mid-1970s. He wrote an article for Remnant Review in 1979: "The Danger Is Defeat, Not Destruction," which was sent out as written by Professor X. I pulled the copyright. It was reprinted around the country. I estimate that at least 500,000 of them were sent out.
I regarded him at the time as the smartest theorist in the conservative movement. I have not changed my opinion over the last 40 years.
He has written a remarkable article, "After the Republic."
AFTER THE REPUBLIC
He believes that this election will mark the transition away from the American Republic to something different.
With respect to foreign-policy, I think this happened in 1898. If I were to blame one person for this -- and I do -- it would be Theodore Roosevelt. We can date it: February 25, 1898. On that day, the Secretary of the Navy took a one-day vacation. Roosevelt, as Assistant Secretary, on his own authority telegraphed Admiral Dewey in Hong Kong to sink the Spanish fleet if war broke out. The Secretary did not countermand Roosevelt's order the next day. Dewey sank the fleet on May 1 -- the international day of revolution. America therefore got the Philippines. It took a bloody war from 1900 to 1902 for America to suppress the rebels: 25,000 Filipino rebels killed, plus an estimated 200,000 civilians who died.
Empires take time to develop, and at some point, they drain the financial resources of the nation that launched the empire. There are no exceptions to this process. Empire always produces bankruptcy.
We are not yet at that stage. The Great Default has not taken place yet. But it is going to. And it is likely that Medicare will be the main culprit rather than the empire itself.
The article makes the case that we are at the transition point. It focuses on politics. I always want to look at economics. I want to know how many resources the political order can commandeer from the general public. This is the great restricting force on the development of empire.
He makes a very strong case that over the last 50 years, there's been a fundamental transition in the American political system. He talks about several factors. One of them was the Immigration Act of 1965, which was signed into law in 1968. He thinks that the most important one was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He makes a point that I have never read before, and the moment I read it, I realized that he understands the central point of that piece of legislation: the elevation of the commerce clause of the Constitution is the supreme cause in the Constitution.
What goes by the name "constitutional law" has been eclipsing the U.S. Constitution for a long time. But when the 1964 Civil Rights Act substituted a wholly open-ended mandate to oppose "discrimination" for any and all fundamental rights, it became the little law that ate the Constitution. Now, because the Act pretended that the commerce clause trumps the freedom of persons to associate or not with whomever they wish, and is being taken to mean that it trumps the free exercise of religion as well, bakers and photographers are forced to take part in homosexual weddings. A commission in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts reported that even a church may be forced to operate its bathrooms according to gender self-identification because it "could be seen as a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public." California came very close to mandating that Catholic schools admit homosexual and transgender students or close down. The Justice Department is studying how to prosecute on-line transactions such as vacation home rental site Airbnb, Inc., that fall afoul of its evolving anti-discrimination standards.Then he points to something else which I had never considered: the destructive power of the vote on the annual budget, which in fact never gets voted on; it is always deferred. We get a continuing resolution, not a final vote on the budget. But that is not the key fact. This is the key fact:
No one running for the GOP nomination discussed the greatest violation of popular government's norms--never mind the Constitution--to have occurred in two hundred years, namely, the practice, agreed upon by mainstream Republicans and Democrats, of rolling all of the government's expenditures into a single bill. This eliminates elected officials' responsibility for any of the government's actions, and reduces them either to approving all that the government does without reservation, or the allegedly revolutionary, disloyal act of "shutting down the government."Rather than talk about how to restrain or shrink government, Republican candidates talked about how to do more with government. The Wall Street Journal called that "having a positive agenda." Hence, Republicans by and large joined the Democrats in relegating the U.S. Constitution to history's dustbin.I rarely find an article in which I read two fundamental points that I had never considered before. So, I take the article very seriously.
The article goes back to Garrett's original point, the revolution within the form. It does not cite Garrett's article, but it makes the same point:
Because Republicans largely agree with Democrats that they need not take seriously the founders' Constitution, today's American regime is now what Max Weber had called the Tsarist regime on the eve of the Revolution: "fake constitutionalism." Because such fakery is self-discrediting and removes anyone's obligation to restrain his passions, it is a harbinger of revolution and of imperial power.The phrase "fake constitutionalism" is simply another way of stating revolution within the form.
MANNERS OF THE NETWORK
Then he makes another point: the centrality of manners.
All ruling classes are what Shakespeare called the "makers of manners." Plato, in The Republic, and Aristotle, in his Politics, teach that polities reflect the persons who rise to prominence within them, whose habits the people imitate, and who set the tone of life in them. Thus a polity can change as thoroughly as a chorus changes from comedy to tragedy depending on the lyrics and music. Obviously, the standards and tone of life that came from Abraham Lincoln's Oval Office is quite opposite from what came from the same place when Bill Clinton used it. Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm was arguably the world's most polite society. Under Hitler, it became the most murderous.In today's America, a network of executive, judicial, bureaucratic, and social kinship channels bypasses the sovereignty of citizens. Our imperial regime, already in force, works on a simple principle: the president and the cronies who populate these channels may do whatever they like so long as the bureaucracy obeys and one third plus one of the Senate protects him from impeachment. If you are on the right side of that network, you can make up the rules as you go along, ignore or violate any number of laws, obfuscate or commit perjury about what you are doing (in the unlikely case they put you under oath), and be certain of your peers' support. These cronies' shared social and intellectual identity stems from the uniform education they have received in the universities. Because disdain for ordinary Americans is this ruling class's chief feature, its members can be equally certain that all will join in celebrating each, and in demonizing their respective opponents.He uses the correct noun: network. It is the American version of Britain's old boy network. This network has been dominant since at least 1933. It is an extension of Britain's old boy network, which developed in 1919, when Milner's Royal Institute of Economic Affairs created its American subsidiary, the Council on Foreign Relations.
He mention's Kennedy's reform, failing to remind readers that it was newly elected Senator Teddy Kennedy: the Immigration Act of 1965.
Moreover, since the Kennedy reform of 1965, and with greater speed since 2009, the ruling class's immigration policy has changed the regime by introducing some 60 million people--roughly a fifth of our population--from countries and traditions different from, if not hostile, to ours. Whereas earlier immigrants earned their way to prosperity, a disproportionate percentage of post-1965 arrivals have been encouraged to become dependents of the state. Equally important, the ruling class chose to reverse America's historic practice of assimilating immigrants, emphasizing instead what divides them from other Americans. Whereas Lincoln spoke of binding immigrants by "the electric cord" of the founders' principles, our ruling class treats these principles as hypocrisy. All this without votes or law; just power.I do not deny that this took place. But let us be reasonable: it has seriously affected only one state, California. New Mexico was Hispanic from the beginning. We stole it from Mexico in 1848. Arizona is still Republican. Texas is still Republican. This may not be true in 20 years, but for the moment it is. In any case, the Mexicans who came here after 1965, along with other Latinos, came here mainly to get jobs, not to get into the welfare system.
The great corrupter of Latinos has been the American public school system, not local welfare programs as such. The American public schools are the most insidious of all the welfare programs, for they are specifically designed to shape the thinking of the voters of the future. Blame the public schools more than immigration.
Fifty years ago, prayer in the schools was near universal, but no one was punished for not praying. Nowadays, countless people are arrested or fired for praying on school property. West Point's commanding general reprimanded the football coach for his team's thanksgiving prayer. Fifty years ago, bringing sexually explicit stuff into schools was treated as a crime, as was "procuring abortion." Nowadays, schools contract with Planned Parenthood to teach sex, and will not tell parents when they take girls to PP facilities for abortions. Back then, many schools worked with the National Rifle Association to teach gun handling and marksmanship. Now students are arrested and expelled merely for pointing their finger and saying "bang." In those benighted times, boys who ventured into the girls' bathroom were expelled as perverts. Now, girls are suspended for objecting to boys coming into the girls' room under pretense of transgenderism.All true, but the central problems were the coercion, the secularism, and the tax-funding of the schools from 1837 onward. What has happened since 1965 is simply a mopping up operation. It was implicit in Horace Mann's agenda in 1837. On this point, read the chapter on Mann in Rushdoony's Messianic Character of American Education (1963).
Ever since the middle of the 20th century our ruling class, pursuing hazy concepts of world order without declarations of war, has sacrificed American lives: first in Korea, then in Vietnam, and now throughout the Muslim world. By denigrating Americans who call for peace, or for wars unto victory over America's enemies; by excusing or glorifying those who take our enemies' side or who disrespect the American flag; our rulers have drawn down the American regime's credit and eroded the people's patriotism.The public went along with all of these wars. Opponents were written off as anti-American. The wars do not stop for a reason: voters sanction them every time.
As the ruling class destroyed its own authority, it wrecked the republic's as well. This is no longer the "land where our fathers died," nor even the country that won World War II. It would be surprising if any society, its identity altered and its most fundamental institutions diminished, had continued to function as before. Ours sure does not, and it is difficult to imagine how it can do so ever again. We can be sure only that the revolution underway among us, like all others, will run its unpredictable course.But if it is really unpredictable, then all is not lost.
He fears the Democrats.
The consequences of empowering today's Democratic Party are crystal clear. The Democratic Party--regardless of its standard bearer--would use its victory to drive the transformations that it has already wrought on America to quantitative and qualitative levels that not even its members can imagine. We can be sure of that because what it has done and is doing is rooted in a logic that has animated the ruling class for a century, and because that logic has shaped the minds and hearts of millions of this class's members, supporters, and wannabes.But, as he says, these are extensions of what happened a century ago in the Progressive era.
That logic's essence, expressed variously by Herbert Croly and Woodrow Wilson, FDR's brains trust, intellectuals of both the old and the new Left, choked back and blurted out by progressive politicians, is this: America's constitutional republic had given the American people too much latitude to be who they are, that is: religiously and socially reactionary, ignorant, even pathological, barriers to Progress. Thankfully, an enlightened minority exists with the expertise and the duty to disperse the religious obscurantism, the hypocritical talk of piety, freedom, and equality, which excuses Americans' racism, sexism, greed, and rape of the environment. As we progressives take up our proper responsibilities, Americans will no longer live politically according to their prejudices; they will be ruled administratively according to scientific knowledge.Progressivism's programs have changed over time. But its disdain for how other Americans live and think has remained fundamental. More than any commitment to principles, programs, or way of life, this is its paramount feature. The media reacted to Hillary Clinton's remark that "half of Trump's supporters could be put into a 'basket of deplorables'" as if these sentiments were novel and peculiar to her. In fact, these are unremarkable restatements of our ruling class's perennial creed.The Republicans did it first: Teddy Roosevelt and Taft (1901-1913). Woodrow Wilson was simply the Democrats' Progressive. It was Roosevelt's election of 1904 that ended the Old Democracy: the defeat of the never-discussed Alton Parker, the last of the followers of Grover Cleveland.
The revolution was.
Under our ruling class, "truth" has morphed from the reflection of objective reality to whatever has "normative pull"--i.e., to what furthers the ruling class's agenda, whatever that might be at any given time. That is the meaning of the term "political correctness," as opposed to factual correctness.But truth still has effects. Those who ignore it will suffer the consequences.
LIMITS ON POLITICS
He sees no limit on politics.
How far will our rulers go? Because their network is mutually supporting, they will go as far as they want. Already, there is pressure from ruling class constituencies, as well as academic arguments, for morphing the concept of "hate crime" into the criminalization of "hate speech"--which means whatever these loving folks hate. Of course this is contrary to the First Amendment, and a wholesale negation of freedom. But it is no more so than the negation of freedom of association that is already eclipsing religious freedom in the name anti-discrimination. It is difficult to imagine a Democratic president, Congress, and Supreme Court standing in the way.I see economic limits on politics. I return always to this chart: the ratio between federal revenues collected and GDP. It does not change: under 20%.
The Declaration of Independence says that all men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights" among which are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." These rights--codified in the Constitution's Bill of Rights--are not civil rights that governments may define.I believe this, but James Madison did not. There is no trace of natural law theory in the Constitution. There is none in the Federalist Papers. Jefferson invoked natural rights, but the Declaration never had any legal standing.
The revolution was.
The free exercise of religion, freedom of speech and assembly, keeping and bearing arms, freedom from warrantless searches, protection against double jeopardy and self-incrimination, trial by jury of one's peers, etc., are natural rights that pertain to human beings as such. Securing them for Americans is what the United States is all about.By tradition, this is true. But natural law/rights theory was undermined by David Hume and Immanuel Kant before Jefferson became President. The corrosive power of modern philosophy, accelerated by Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection, has taken two centuries to manifest itself, but it was there from the beginning.
The revolution was.
But today's U.S. Civil Rights Commission advocates truncating the foremost of these rights because, as it stated in a recent report, "Religious exemptions to the protections of civil rights based upon classifications such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon those civil rights." The report explains why the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights should not be permissible: "The phrases 'religious liberty' and 'religious freedom' will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy, or any form of intolerance."Yet the fact remains, the majority of Americans do not agree with the Civil Rights Commission. They go along because they see no alternative.
When the Great Default comes, as it will, there will be a great rethinking of the authority of the federal government. When Washington's checks bounce, all bets are off.
Never before has such a large percentage of Americans expressed alienation from their leaders, resentment, even fear. Some two-thirds of Americans believe that elected and appointed officials--plus the courts, the justice system, business leaders, educators--are leading the country in the wrong direction: that they are corrupt, do more harm than good, make us poorer, get us into wars and lose them. Because this majority sees no one in the political mainstream who shares their concerns, because it lacks confidence that the system can be fixed, it is eager to empower whoever might flush the system and its denizens with something like an ungentle enema.This is good news. We really are at a turning point.
The problem is the age-old problem in politics: you can't beat something with nothing.
Yet the persons who express such revolutionary sentiments are not a majority ready to support a coherent imperial program to reverse the course of America's past half-century. Temperamentally conservative, these constituencies had been most attached to the Constitution and been counted as the bedrock of stability. They are not yet wholly convinced that there is little left to conserve. What they want, beyond an end to the ruling class's outrages, has never been clear. This is not surprising, given that the candidates who appeal to their concerns do so with mere sound bites. Hence they chose as the presidential candidate of the nominal opposition party the man who combined the most provocative anti-establishment sounds with reassurance that it won't take much to bring back good old America: Donald Trump. But bringing back good old America would take an awful lot. What could he do to satisfy them?The following has never happened before in American history: two consecutive terms of a Democrat, followed by two consecutive terms of a Republican, followed by two consecutive terms of a Democrat. The electorate is divided. The electorate cannot make up its mind what the right direction is. Because of the gridlocked electorate, the federal bureaucracy gets its way. The Great Default has not yet de-funded the federal bureaucracy. But it will.
What would it take to make America great again--or indeed to make any of the changes that Trump's voters demand? Replacing the current ruling class would be only the beginning.This is easier said than done. The current ruling class was not born yesterday. It goes back to 1921, and it came into undisputed power in 1933.
The revolution was.
We have stepped over the threshold of a revolution. It is difficult to imagine how we might step back, and futile to speculate where it will end. Our ruling class's malfeasance, combined with insult, brought it about. Donald Trump did not cause it and is by no means its ultimate manifestation. Regardless of who wins in 2016, this revolution's sentiments will grow in volume and intensity, and are sure to empower politicians likely to make Americans nostalgic for Donald Trump's moderation.CONCLUSIONS
We have indeed stepped over the threshold of revolution. But there have been multiple revolutions in American history, and the country is still flourishing. It is the third most populous nation on earth, and in terms of per capita income, it is the largest rich nation in history. This is unlikely to change over the next generation.
There will be an enormous redistribution of wealth when the federal government finally runs out of cheap loans to support the existing welfare-warfare state. That is when the rubber will meet the road. That will be the day of reckoning. That will be when we find out which way this nation is headed. Until then, the present ruling class will continue to get its way.
But all this is peripheral. Codevilla in one sentence mentioned the most important threat to the American republic: the administrative state.
Over the past half-century, presidents have ruled not by enforcing laws but increasingly through agencies that write their own rules, interpret them, and punish unaccountably--the administrative state.This is not a uniquely American problem. It is the central issue facing the Western legal tradition. Harold Berman wrote about this in an incomparable essay, his Introduction to Law and Revolution (1983). This will not be solved by the mere replacement of the ruling elite in the United States. It is endemic to the West. It is the surrender of law to bureaucracy. Compared to this, the election of 2016 is a side show. "See the man with the orange hair!" "See the amazing coughing woman with the rolling eyes!"