The End of an Era

Leviathan 101

What an amazing moment in history!  I am quite certain those of you who read my blog, Washington Rebel, must assume that I’m hopelessly pessismistic.  Actually, that’s not true.   I would say, instead, that I’m hopelessly realistic.  I don’t nurse pipe dreams.

The one topic that has stolen my attention for at least 20 years is, ‘What is a principled character’?  Here is another way of phrasing the question: What is a conservative?

In an email correspondence with Pamela Geller a hundred years ago, she stated: “Conservatives know the difference between right and wrong.”  That is a brilliant summation, of course; as is Belvedere’s, Conservatives believe in Original Sin.  The problem is, it doesn’t address why that is so, or what to do about it.  Harold Bloom’s diagnosis of the American Psyche has not resulted in any course of treatment beyond imposing an ever-greater bureaucracy on the educational system.   Americans are blissfully clueless about the nature of their unhappiness: for conservatives and libertarians, the cause is usually the dreaded State; for most Democrats (and quite a few Libertarians) the cause is usually Republicans — those vile, racist (authoritarian) creatures!  I have to laugh at the theological handwringing that goes on about “purity of doctrine.”  Really, who has time for this?  Those kinds of maniacal, pointless discussions are interesting at college, but won’t win a lawsuit or a woman’s hand in marriage — not to mention national elections.  I don’t mean to be cruel, but it needs to be said: the United States is not (yet) run by ideology, nor, in fact, is genuine conservatism an ideology.  The folks who try to make these things ideological are not necessarily friends of America.  Late night caffeinated harangues?  Sure. Churchmen declaring who is conservative and who is not? Are you kidding me?

I saw the problem raising its head at least 30 years ago.  I maintain it is not a battle between ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’, neither is it a problem about which the average ‘libertarian’ has even a clue.  The problem is more systemic than political affiliation or educational philosophy.  It is, indeed, a crisis of the American soul.   Ironically for us ‘sophisticated moderns’, the nature of the problem was addressed quite thoroughly by none other than John Locke in his Second Treatise on Government.  I would encourage anyone who reads this post to spend the next several weeks digesting portions of that wise man’s insights.  He invented the American state as much as our Founders.

The Big Solution for America is not obvious.  While persons like me are inclined to say, ‘restore the Great Books to education’, there are aspects of the Great Books philosophy that clash with genuine educational goals.  See Peter Lawler’s Great Books? and the discussion thereafter.  (I wrote a lesser post in response to Lawler’s great post.)  It is clear that a traditional Great Books education is, as Mortimer Adler once opined on Firing Line, designed for people in the second half of their lives, not for young persons.

America’s Founders very much believed in state-sponsored public schools as a necessary prerequisite to republican citizenship; they also believed states had a right — even a duty — to encourage religious education.  See Cleon Skousen’s The 5,000-Year Leap.  This of course clashes with contemporary notions about the proper role of the state.  Part of the problem is, as Skousen points out, that most of us misapprehend their notion of religion: they believed that there were certain generic principles about which all religions agreed; and, so long as the state did not favor one religion over another, there was no problem with making religion a part of public life.  Jefferson’s ‘wall between church and state’ applied to the Fed Gov, not the states.  That would be a tough sell in today’s culture!  I suspect things will come back full circle — just not in my lifetime.  Still, it needs to be acknowledged that the folks who wrote the Constitution very much believed that Public Virtue was a vital component of this Republic’s success.   I have to confess enjoying the rancor this statement inspires in certain persons.  It’s a symptom of the times that grown men don’t know this about their own history — which makes it all the more important for the adults in the room to point that out to them.

Valley of the Dolls.  Another obvious thing that needs to be said: since Americans accepted an anything-goes attitude toward drugs, sex, immigration, lawful conduct, education, et cetera, our problems began to multiply exponentially.  (For a candid discussion of some of the problems, see Daniel Patrick Moynihan and the Phenomenom of “Writing White.”)  The only flaw in Bill Cosby’s NAACP speech is that it didn’t identify white folks — let’s just say, Americans — as equally guilty.  What has decimated the black communities in America is not doing the rest of us any favors either.  When the Big Crisis hits, entire sectors of America will have those tell-tale Yugoslav-Somalian social conditions.  Bats and Guns will replace order.  It is actually a testament to our law enforcement capabilities that things are as peaceful as they are.  Many of America’s “citizens” have no intention of being good citizens.  Why bother?  I daresay many of those who are alarmed at alleged “authortarianism” do not understand the actual state of things — but will, as events unfold, and discover their own cluelessness as they piss into their boots.

Unlike many Republicans and Libertarians, I do not repeat that mantra that all capitalism results in good.  I prefer capitalism to any other system, but I must acknowledge the wickedness — more so, the slovenliness — of human nature.  A big part of America’s spiritual crisis is due to its economic success: Americanus Suburbanus is a stranger to his community, his country, his heritage.  He lives in a bi-polar bubble wherein political bumper stickers are the equivalent of genuine, engaged morality.  It is a sight to watch.

And none too pretty.