Man, the state, and the error of David Brooks

America 101.

In an opinion piece on Thursday, David Brooks, “conservative” columnist for the New York Times, opened with sentences of such remarkable wrongness that it is imperative to call them out.  (Note: on preparing to post this, I see that Karl has a Green Room post on it as well.  He has chosen a separate line of criticism, so I will forge boldly ahead.)

Brooks’s thesis is that the selfish nature of man, in spite of “checks” placed on democratic government, has created the monstrous public debt in the West.  The wrongness starts with this opening volley:

The people who pioneered democracy in Europe and the United States had a low but pretty accurate view of human nature. They knew that if we get the chance, most of us will try to get something for nothing. They knew that people generally prize short-term goodies over long-term prosperity. So, in centuries past, the democratic pioneers built a series of checks to make sure their nations wouldn’t be ruined by their own frailties.

Unfortunately, the very first words require correction.  We don’t have democracy in either Europe or the United States.  The reasons for that are different in each place, and they matter to the discussion that follows in the Brooks piece.

Democracy and the West

The ancient Greeks endowed us with the word “democracy,” which they pioneered more than 2400 years ago, before the main influences on the modern West had had their day: the Roman Republic and Empire, the rise of Christianity, the ascendancy of Old Testament Law as our common idea of law and the right; the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the rise of the nation-state.

In the period between the Golden Age of Athens and the founding of the United States, the West’s ideas had been refined considerably.  “Democracy” was about participation in government.  Philosophers might debate the proper scope, purpose, methodology, and outcome of government (see Plato and Aristotle), but the ancient Greeks did not have a comprehensive ideology (like socialism) to define and insist on those elements.

Their practical contribution to the Western idea of man and the state was a concept of responsible participation in one’s government.  They were unusually willing (to their peril) to let government’s effects be whatever the participants came up with.  Regarding the nature of man and why he needs government, their legacy to us is theory and debate.  It has been the work of succeeding centuries to institutionalize “answers” on that head.

To call what the Western peoples have today “democracy” is to fatally elide 24 centuries of transformation in our ideas.  Granted, this is done all the time in public dialogue, where “democracy” is used as a shorthand for various other concepts.  But if we’re going to discuss how our perceptions of human nature relate to our arrangements for government, as Brooks does, it is essential to use the right terminology.

The American philosophy of government

Brooks gets it exactly wrong as regards the Framers of the US Constitution.  They didn’t see democracy as desirable, if requiring a check on people’s tendency to vote benefits for themselves.  Using the example of ancient Athens, they argued that democracy was itself the problem: it was a unique accelerator for this evil tendency, and was unsustainable precisely for that reason.

Their priority in any case was liberty; it was not endowing as many of the people as possible with the maximum possible influence over their government.  That’s why the Framers gave us – in the famous words of Benjamin Franklin – a republic: a government that was participatory, but representative and constitutional.

The power they intended to check was the power of government.  The American philosophy of government combines constitutional limitations with separation of powers; checks and balances among the elements of government, including the people as well as the three branches; and the division of government into levels of authority – federal, state, and local.

The kind of republican government the Framers gave us is properly described as limited, constitutional, and federal.  If you remember these three foundational words, you have memorized everything important about the American theory of government.

“Limited” government derives, first and foremost, from the Framers’ idea that our individual rights are endowed by the Creator, that government’s purpose is to respect and secure them, and that government’s scope must not be enlarged to interfere with them.  But the Framers also explicitly saw limited government as government that would not become, in today’s metaphor, a 24-hour ATM for those who like to vote themselves benefits.

The Framers’ precaution against benefits-voting was a limited federal government – government that had no charter to perform the highly corruptible function.  Remember that.  The Framers’ precaution against benefits-voting was limited government.  This concept is the opposite of Brooks’s thesis, so repeat as necessary.

That is why constitutional government is so important.  What the government is not chartered to do, it may not do.  It has to stick to the Constitution.  The Constitution can be amended by the people, but it is intended to be a bulwark against the dangerous enlargement of government’s scope by benefits-voters and other invidious interests.  Our Constitution was written to make it harder to achieve what the Framers called “transient majorities,” which ram things through – like entitlements, ObamaCare, and the EPA – that the nation will come to regret.  The separation of powers and checks and balances are intended to discourage incessant lawmaking, government-enlarging, and benefits-voting.

Federalism is the third and coequal characteristic of American government.  The Framers’ concept was that lawmaking intended to cultivate morality in the people and produce specified social outcomes belonged at the lowest possible level of government.  If the people are going to vote money out of their fellow citizens’ pockets, for things other than national defense and a few federal salaries, they should do face to face with both the beneficiaries and the taxed.  The Framers recognized that government typically ends up doing more than the US federal government is empowered to do by the Constitution; their concept was that state and local governments, with their inherently limited scope, would be the ones doing such things.

Ultimately, the American idea of both man and the state is directly antithetical to Brooks’s formulation.  The Framers’ philosophy was that men and women of character and education would do well with a limited government, which would minimize the temptations of big government for the evil aspects of our nature.  The Framers didn’t despair at all of men’s ability to be responsible and accountable in their lives – they attributed the capacity to having, in the words of John Adams, a “religious and moral” character.  They didn’t frame government to repress a tide of selfish irresponsibility in the people; they framed it to refrain from creating one.

The Framers knew it was a risk to make government as if men could prosper with very little of it – but they regarded it as a lesson of history that more government did not make men or their society better, but typically made them worse.  Contra Brooks, government was seen not as the warden of an incontinent species, but as the servant of a responsible, self-motivating, and self-restraining one.

The European difference

Over in Europe, meanwhile, the Western idea developed along a separate and distinct path.  The very English ideas of restraining government, respecting rights in the people, and dissociating government from apocalypticism were not the main shapers of the continent.  As the Enlightenment began to arm itself and burrow into the culture, divine-right monarchy collided with the rise of comprehensive secular ideologies, from the eerily modern Napoleonic Code to Marxism, communism, Soviet socialism, Fascism, National Socialism (or Nazism), and today’s “democratic socialism.”

Treading a centrist path meant putting new names on old practices.  Where once a king had provided for his people in the name of Jesus Christ, now the modern welfare state provided for the people in the name of enlightened national interest, “fairness,” or “economic justice.”  The governments operating on this premise have run the gamut from Bismarck’s Germany to the Scandinavian monarchies, the French Fifth Republic, and the disaster of present-day socialist Greece.  Europe has fielded parties named “Christian Socialist” as well as “Communist”; the modern continent has governed itself with a mishmash of legacy paternalism and bureaucratic radicalism, an approach that until the past three years was alien to the political consciousness of the United States.

The adjective “democratic” was added to signify that the people were to vote – a refinement adopted partly on the understanding that voting was a way to decide how much would come to a citizen from the state.  It is laughably wrong to suggest, as Brooks does, that modern European governments were set up to restrain the people from voting themselves benefits.  Voting benefits for the people has been the governmental zeitgeist of Europe for the last 150 years.

Classical liberals believing in smaller government and more liberty for the people were always a minority in continental European politics.  There is much to admire and be grateful for in the legacy of Europe, such as the idea of the independent yeoman – a free and responsible actor who has not existed in any other culture – and the idea of government that does not oppress the people, but has an obligation to prioritize their welfare.  The concepts of social mobility, and “capital” that anyone can amass and wield, arose there.  Europe gave the world the enduring model of “middle class man”: man who was neither a serf-lord nor a serf: man who could make of himself what he would, rather than being condemned for life to a single social stratum.

But Europe did not start its modern political run from the same place as the United States.  The essential difference between the continents boils down to the importance to each of dictated outcomes.  The modern, post-Napoleonic European approach to government was social-outcomes-oriented from the beginning and has become steadily more so.  The American mindset is skeptical of government’s efficacy for producing desired social outcomes.  In the distinctively American mindset, the danger of giving government more power to shape and trim the people far outweighs the potential benefit.

It is essential to understand these things.  In America, we still have not bought into the premise of the European welfare-state concept – and the political force of our trademark libertarianism remains powerful.  In his thesis, Brooks posits an ahistorical amalgam of diverse and even opposing political ideas, implying that the US and Europe have been sort of intending and doing the same thing all along – when in fact, that has not been the case.  The reasons matter, and they influence how we vote today.  There is a significant portion of the US voting population that rejects the idea of man and the state on which the welfare state is predicated, and in doing so, traces its roots to America’s unique founding idea.

The American idea and today

Man can govern himself.  He has to do it it carefully and sparingly.  It is outside of the ministrations of government that he develops character and self-discipline.  The less he is governed from without, the better he does in terms of work, saving, providing for himself and his family, using ingenuity, showing compassion to those in distress, and uniting with his fellows in the community to make it better.

Will everyone do exactly this, and in exactly the way each and every one of us would like, if the burden of government is light?  Of course not.  But the great majority of people will perform admirably, and will be free to help those who don’t.  The Framers believed that, and so do I.  And if America’s history demonstrates anything, it is that we are right.

The Framers’ pessimism about human nature was different from that posited by David Brooks.  It affirmed that containing the scope of men’s selfishness is best accomplished with less government, not more.  It did not fear to limit the charter of government on that principle.

The Framers’ solution is the correct one:  have less government.  Walk back from it step by step, if necessary.  Protect the vulnerable who would be hurt if it were done carelessly (e.g., seniors relying on the entitlement programs).  But get it done.  This, right here, is the argument we need to be having.  The answer is right before the noses of the American people.  But we do need “conservatives” who know how to frame the question.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.

56 thoughts on “Man, the state, and the error of David Brooks”

  1. Quis Custodiet Ipso Custodes

    The imaginary republics of the present day are supposedly tasked with engineering the optimum outcome for the “general public”. There is, of course, no such thing. Each individual has his own desires and requirements and is best able to realize them through his own choices and actions. That’s what freedom is really all about. Each elected representative at the national level represents over 600,000 people, far more than most kings in history. They may have once been ordinary folk, but when they take their place behind the marble columns of the capital they become members of an oligarchy whose sole goal is to retain that membership. Every word they utter and thing they do is calculated for that purpose.

    1. Agree as to the individual being best able to realize their desires and requirements through their own choices and actions. Disagree as to the categorical assertion that when someone is elected to office and associates with the political ‘oligarchy’ their sole goal becomes to retain their membership with “Every word they utter and thing they do is calculated for that purpose”.

      Those that do so never had any allegiance to anything beyond their own self-interest. Term limits would lessen the effects of self-interest but would also lessen the depth of experience and maturity.

      1. GB, “Those that do so never had any allegiance to anything beyond their own self-interest.”

        That’s exactly right. Politics has become a profesion, just like Architecture or Business Administration. It’s all about the ‘what’s in it for me’ not about the ‘what’s in it for the country’. I am sure that this is what CM is talking about.

        “Term limits would lessen the effects of self-interest but would also lessen the depth of experience and maturity.”

        And, if their allegiance is to their own self-interest as you say, who cares…? Misplaced or misdirected experience and maturity is actually counter-productive to the well being of the nation. Has that not been proven enough?


        1. Indeed, misplaced or misdirected experience and maturity is even more harmful to the well being of the nation than mere inexperience. Yet throwing out ‘the baby with the bathwater’ is clearly counter productive too.

          Throughout our history there have been Senators and Representatives who placed their country’s needs first.

          Moynahan’s “politics stops at the waters edge” is not dead. Even now there are Congressmen who place country first, Rep. Paul Ryan being a foremost example of such. Term limits would sweep the good as well as the bad out the door.

          IMO what we need is a better system for selecting qualified candidates. As the one we have now is clearly broken. Such improvements have to start with much more rigorous constraints upon journalists and the Media conglomerates. More than any other factor, agenda journalism is responsible for the abysmally poor selection of Congressional candidates. Congress reflects that dynamic.

          1. No argument from me. Just a couple of comments.

            It’s true that the good Congresscritters would be thrown out with the bad with term limits. However, when the ratio of bad to good is about 20 to 1, that might not be a bad thing altogether…Plus, it would only be the bad ones that would mind loosing their power seats.

            Also, if you were to become Emperor of Purges and you decided to curtail the media’s influence in bad electoral presentations, and if I were to be selected your Counsellor of Curtailments I would also recommend to Your Greatness in Sanctions and Curtailments that the scools and universities be equally purged of indoctrinators and propagandists that perhaps damage the nation long term more than the silly little journalist clowns that never were.

            Bowing deeply and walking backwards. 🙂


      2. Nothing wrong with self-interest, self-interest makes the world go ’round. It’s just that your self-interest ain’t the same as my self-interest, by definition. You go pick your peas and I’ll ride my pony.

        It was a real epiphany for me when Bob Dole said, on national television, “The thing that people forget is that the number one job of a US Senator is to remain a US Senator.”

        1. There’s nothing wrong with ethical, fair minded self-interest restrained by respecting the rights of others. My rights stop where yours begin and vice versa.

  2. The missing piece in everything is the functional concept of “who owned the franchise”.

    In both the Greek (Hellenic) city-state member of the polis and the Roman citizen there was something that we don’t much take to anymore; strict limitation. Up until the 19th amendment in the US, and various second decade European legal acts, a very strict limit on just who could vote.

    The US still has constitutional conditional limits to who has the franchise. We ignore those now, for the sake of some concept of total equality, and the 19th added women to the mix, the Civil Rights Acts over the century or so following the Civil War, slowly wore away social norms (some reprehensible like race based discrimination; and some laudable like property and income requirements) largely turned a privilege of full citizenship into an absolute right.

    The franchise (voting privileges) was never a universal right. It is, in fact, a dangerous activity. The framers/founders knew this. They structured our government to grant the franchise to only those who had the greatest stake in strictly limited government. Voting was not a “right”, it was a privilege of responsible citizenship. The “right” was in the concept that the privilege could be achieved by any citizen who worked to earn it. Over the two centuries of this nation, the scope of who could earn the privilege to vote was broadened to include all races and both sexes.

    Unfortunately with the good, comes a serious problem. The concept of limiting the franchise to only those people who earned a level of independence from government largess evaporated. Of course calling this a negative consequence brings with it all the hate filled vitriol from “rights” advocates. The monster always protests when its food supply is threatened. Right advocates use voting to promote their agendas of dependence, whether that be racial spoils, quota systems, green con-jobs, or institutional Leftism. They have, by the bully pulpit and social extortion/blackmail, transformed a Republic governed by responsible citizens to a public feeding trough administered by patrons for clients.

    The Roman Republic dissolved into an Empire because of the corrosive effects of patronage, and the introduction of slave labor. The citizens, no longer possessed of any interest in the rational limited governance of a Republic, allowed themselves the luxury of a phony franchise. They received largess from the public trough, and their work was performed by others. They disintegrated into a mass of dependents; entertained by blood sports so lurid and murderous that we scarcely comprehend it anymore. They subsisted on food staples rationed out by whatever mad Emperor who murdered and connived his way to the top, and eventually crumbled in the face of mere barbarians… The Dark Ages followed.

    Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
    Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
    All the kings’ horses and all the kings’ men,
    Couldn’t put Humpty together, again.

    We are about to fail. It is going to happen, and there is no stopping it.


    1. A system starts with great intentions. The proper devices are set up in order to limit the power of the central government. It puts into the hands of the individual and the states all sorts of rights to prevent the central government from acquiring too much power. Great intentions all, to be sure.

      Now, two hundred and fifty years later we see that the central government is more powerful than ever, certainly more powerful than the individual and that the States. It is way more powerful than it was intended to be by ten, one hundred or even one thousand fold. Why?

      Two reasons: Politicians and the democratic process.

      While the Framers of this nation were gentlemen patriots, the current stable of politicians are nothing that even remotely resembles that descriptive. Like somebody more wordy than I said here recently, the principal function of politicians is to remain in power term after term (oh, that we could change the term limits of every politician. But, alas, we would have to depend on the politicians to achieve that goal. So, “Catch 22”…).

      In order to achieve the politician’s goal of remaining in the seat of power, the politicians long ago looked at the mechanics of democracy and determined that they could use the system to their advantage and that, since the Framers were trusting enough to leave all sorts of avenues open to do just that and, since very few if any of the politicians subscribe to that old trusting but naive line of “serving” the country by “serving” the people, they set about to change the system to something more malleable and more to their advantage. From then on it’s all been a game of hide and seek. A proverbial dog and pony show that has no intentions whatsoever to slow down or change directions.

      Enter the Amendment process and the way it has been used throughout our history. The first Ten Amendments, the Bill of Rights, were designed to limit the power of government by the Founders. But, since then, nearly all Amendments passed have been designed to enlarge the power or scope of government either by hook or by crook. It is also quite telling on the subject of where Congress’ heart really is when we take a cold look at all the Amendments that have been proposed but either died in committee or were eventually voted down by Congress. One of those, by the way, was an Amendment limiting Congress’ terms. Predictably, that one didn’t pass…

      If that wasn’t enough, there have been thousands upon thousands of rules, regulations, Bills and departments created by government whose only purpose in life seems to have been to greatly limit and curtail the rights and freedom of individuals as much as possible.

      So, I agree with you; we are headed for the cliff and this system, sadly, lacks the fail safe devise that would put on the brakes before we go over. The American train, if you will, has only one lever and that would be the non-reversing throttle. The original intent has nothing to do with anything anymore.


  3. While I agree with Opticon that all these were the lofty intentions of the Framers, I also know that, these intentions notwithanding, we have moved far away from them in a meticulous and purposeful way.

    “Limited Government” and the endowment by our Creator of our “inalienable” rights have resulted in our Creator being taken out of the political discourse by the new, self-appointed gods-a-la-ancient-rulers. This is, precisely, why we see such a blatant and relentless attack on the Framer’s foundational thinking. Take God out of the discussion and the only element of power left standing is “politician man”.

    “Constitutional Government” is all but non-existing now as far as the major policies of late seem to be going. The lack of easy malleability built into the constitution has been all but bypassed by activist judges, ruthless politicians and, in some cases, by the manipulations of charmers who achieved actual changes in the constitution itself. All this, in spite of the Framers attitudes and plans, has indeed already created transient majorities and created a plethora of entitlements and man-made “rights”. I venture to say that from the tenth Amendment onward, most of the following amendments were designed rather specifically to expand the power and size of government and not the opposite.

    “Federalism” has deteriorated past the point of having the Framers do summersaults in their graves. DC money, pork and regulations have seen to that as well as the imposition, starting with Lincoln, by the way, of rules and interpretations that were or eventually proved to be the antithesis of the original contract and, by default, of the Framer’s original intent.

    I wish I shared Opticon’s optimism, but I don’t. Actually, I disagree that the American people are still ready and/or willing to walk this back and that we are now any different from Europe. Don’t get me wrong, I think that some are. The problem is that “democracy” depends on the majority and we just don’t have that anymore. Fact is that I believe that, instead of walking this train wreck backwards, we are acting and headed in exactly the same direction as Europe and that we have fallen prey to the same temptations that they have fallen to.


  4. Great piece, thank you. The anti-Federalists got it right and the Federalists got it wrong, were we to be honest about our surroundings and how we got here. Fourth Generation forces are winning out over the nation-state and looking at the misbehaviour of the nation-state, why would we try very hard to preserve it? Fed equals endless and eternal war. Fed equals redistribution of income…but up, not down. The free lunch state is already failing. Were social security payments to be made according to how the original legislation was to account for inflation, checks would be twice as large as they are today. We are defaulting on social security right now, today, not by paying my parents fifty cents on the dollar but by paying them dollars that are worth fifty cents. But Progressives control the information stream. Republican or Democrat, they all wish to duck the issue of stealing the Trust Fund and buying votes with it. But since George Lakov,David Axelrod,John Boehner and Eric Cantor frame the questions and control the language, there is no real discussion. Default is the new paid-in-full.The nation-state has failed us. The Constitution is dead. How ’bout that Articles of Confederation thingy?

    1. The only alternatives to the nation state are anarchy and 1984’s totalitarian world government.

      1. That’s certainly untrue. There have been many forms of government even contemporaneous with the nation-state, although anything less than the oppressive nation-state is now regarded as retrograde. Monarchies have had a long history and not all of them were failures by any means, in terms of economic success or personal freedom. In fact many tyrannies and despotisms were less restrictive toward individual freedom than the current US government.

        There seems to be a tendency, perhaps unstated, to regard technological progress and the growth of the nation-state as a
        symbiotic phenomenon. There may be some truth to that view but the two aren’t inextricably linked. There’s no real reason why a massive, resource devouring state should be necessary for the manufacture of automobiles or hear pacemakers. What a highly developed state does have is the ability to subjugate its citizens. We can point out all kinds of federal transgressions vis a vis the constitution but there isn’t much we can do about it. They got bigger guns.

        1. A monarchy exists within a nation state. So do republics, democracies, theocracies, dictators, etc.

          I’m not discussing the relative merits of any particular nation state’s system of governance but rather the alternatives to the nation state.

          That discussion is separate from whether “a massive, resource devouring state should be necessary for the manufacture of automobiles or hear pacemakers.” Which of course it is not.

          So again, other than anarchy and 1984′s totalitarian world government, what other “form of government”, what alternative is there to the nation state?

          1. And, yet, to be a strong nation-state it is first indispensable to be, act and feel like a nation. Is rampant and uncheked multiculturalism not the worse formula to achieve the proper cohesion of a nation?


            1. Multiculturalism, which by definition rejects assimilation inevitably leads to the ‘balkanization’ of a region.

          2. There’s no requirement that a monarchy be a “nation/state”, unless any form of organized domination of one group of humans over another qualifies as such in your terms. That would make the term pretty all inclusive. You might be able to call Elizabeth Warren’s Cherokee tribe a nation/state but others would not. And what’s wrong with anarchy, ie. the absence of government?

            1. Anarchy equates to might makes right, the law of the jungle. No civilization nor ethical system can long exist amid anarchy.

              No requirement but with a few rare exceptions, a monarchy rules over a nation state. And, a nation state has definite territorial borders and autonomous sovereignty. Which differentiate it from other organized groups like tribes which may dominate other groups.

  5. The Constitution was framed in the spirit of its times. The strongest threads running through the document are the idea that the executive and legislative powers devolve from a democratic mandate, the liberal rights subsequently enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and, of course, the doctrine of the separation of powers. It is in the latter thread that we are able to see what the Founding Fathers really meant by “limited government”. To suggest that the Founding Fathers permanently “hard-wired” the Constitution to reflect the anti-government ideology espoused by a small contemporary doctrinaire right-wing claque is nonsense. The Supreme Court, the body charged by the Constitution itself to ajudicate on these matters, has never taken such a view.

    The Constitution was framed by a small group of (including) slave-owning, landed, protestant, english-speaking, white men in a largely agrarian society. The wonderful thing is that the document they bequeathed to us proved to be sufficiently flexible and adaptable as to remain up to the task of providing the fundamental legal framework for our present day urban, industrialized, and heterocultural society of more than 300 million human beings.

    But the argument, so laboriously cherry-picked by Dyer, is undone by her own hand at its conclusion when she begs special pleading for seniors programmes. Presumably, such government interventions, like the enormous and instusive military/securocracy, Dyer excludes for no other discernable reason than she approves of them. She neatly flicks her argument into a cocked hat and shows that us that it is merely political prejudice posing as constitutional principle.

    1. The SC has not the role you suggest, which is only the first of your mistakes.

      I would suggest you go back and do some reading, or perhaps re-reading if that would apply, into the motivations of the Founders. Their fears of over 200 years ago would appear quite germane today as they were then.

      They feared the tyranny of the majority and had concern for the ability of the common man to be entrusted with too much power over anyone other than themselves. In fact, the losing “faction” at the constitutional convention felt the final document provided too much power to the govt.

      The Constitution is a document protecting property rights and as such was as much a document on economic freedom as a purely poltical one. As such it is entirely worried about diffusing and checking the application of power. We find today that the founder’s concerns were appropriate given what unbridled democracy – i.e. vote buying – has done in Europe and what it threatens to do here.

      1. I agree with you as far as the intentions of the Founders. but, and let’s be honest about this, was all that protection of private property stuff put down before Eminent Domain and did their concern for economic freedom precede the 16th Amendment?

        I agree with those that felt that the Constitution (mostly the administrative part) and the Bill of Rights (the limiting part) did not go near far enough to limit the power of government. Our history, sadly, proves that point amply.


    2. It takes an especially perverse carelessness or dishonesty to impute a malign inferred motive when she has explicitly stated her motive. Two instances:

      – JED did not ‘beg special pleading for seniors programmes’. She stated her motivation: “Protect the vulnerable who would be hurt if it were done carelessly [that is, the currently dependent who would be injured by a precipitous change in the contractual terms – the reason, for example, that the Ryan plan makes no changes for persons in, or within ten years of, retirement]. But get it done.” IOW, protect the persons while /changing/ the program. How could you miss that?

      – Nowhere does the author espouse an “anti-government ideology”. On the contrary, she has, here and elsewhere, re-phrased the Declaration’s argument /for/ government. It is an argument for government that is /limited/, constitutional and federal – of, by and for citizens who are responsible for themselves. Again: how, in all honesty, could you possibly miss that?

      1. I fear we’re dealing with “teachers pet syndrome” here.

        I think you missed the point (yet again). government intervention is government intervention. Medicare, medicaid, Obamacare, public education, the military etc. etc..

        I happen to agree with Dyer on medicare, but on a different basis (even if I would like to see root and branch reform to win a better deal both for the taxpayer and our senior citizens). What I differ on is that there is any essential difference in the context of this discussion between medicare and, say, Obamacare. There are government programmes which I would abolish because they are useless and wastefull. But that is a separate issue. The issue here is the role of government rather than socioeconomic utility.

        1. It is my habit to defend good ideas against error, especially when the “error” may be motivated by dishonesty. You apparently have a habit of imagining motives for what others say, rather than actually addressing what they say. Is that some kind of anti-intellectual comfort, or just a juvenile debating tactic?

          You erect straw men, found nowhere in the original blog, to burn down – and then, when called on it, address neither of the examples given. Instead you conjure yet another straw man – see a pattern here? – and throw in a couple of diversionary insults for good measure. Someone similarly given to divining motives might wonder if your substitution of insults for ideas might not be a product of intellectual insecurity. For myself, I will give you another chance to address the ideas.

  6. cm — What the nation-state is necessary for is protecting liberty. Technology makes it impossible to preserve liberty against predators without the armed nation-state entity, and human nature means that all imperial entities will repress and corrode liberty.

    Empire is antithetical to the American idea of liberty, which is why we had to revolt against George III. Britain learned much from her empire over the years, and exercised the most benign form of empire the world has ever seen (which, if you know empires, isn’t a ringing endorsement). But ultimately even the British Empire was incompatible with the local preference for self-determination (if not always, in specific colonies, “liberty”), and had to be transformed into the very quiescent “commonwealth” it is today.

    The examples of empire that must teach us are the Persian, the Roman, the Ottoman, and the Soviet. Empire is the enemy of liberty and local self-determination. The nation-state IS what makes it possible to prevent the formation of empire — or stand against it. It is the best geopolitical friend we have: it has been the means of resisting and even bringing down all empires, from the proto-national idea of Greece taking on Persia to the United States and NATO bringing down the Soviet Union.

    If liberty is to survive, the nation-state must.

    1. Something to consider, if I may. Your examples of resistance to empire, were coalitions of states. Seldom in history has one singular state entity have the strength (or luck) to resist or defeat empire. Even the American revolution had some amount of French assistance. The Kingdom of France’s, (soon to be empire’s), assistance, that is. 🙂

      1. Again, and this is my own sincere opinion, what the nation-state is necessary for is NOT for protecting liberty. The nation-state exists to protect the nation-state. That is to say, the culture, the customs, the values and the assets and interests of that nation-state.


          1. Your tablets…? Forget that. I’m contemplating seppuku in order to save what little is left of my honor, never mind my sanity, after that public affirmation by you…


        1. “What the nation-state is necessary for is NOT for protecting liberty. The nation-state exists to protect the nation-state.”

          Not so. With all due respect, the nation state exists to protect the individual’s liberty from the incursions of a hostile power, typically another nation state. The nation state exists to provide necessary interstate infrastructure and to settle disputes between the states and protect its citizens from organized factions which attempt to violate the Constitution.

          Our nation state was formed in order to, “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”

          Arguably, the people of every nation state wish the same from the leadership of their nation state.

          When a ship of state ‘strays from its course’, that change of course does not invalidate its original purpose nor render its original destination valueless.

          1. And, I am guessing from your post, you don’t believe that we have staryed from our course.

            Cool. You must be a very happy man.


          2. To GB.

            By the way, I forgot to mention, I agree that it does not invalidate its original intent. It does however, invalidate the destiny that the original intent had in mind.

            If that makes you sleep better at night, then so be it.


          3. “Our nation state was formed in order to, “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”

            Doesn’t even mention the word “individual”, does it? And it wouldn’t matter if it did, the results speak for themselves. As an example, there’s the matter of civil forfeiture. An agency of the state can confiscate the property of a citizen without arrest, without indictment, without trial, without conviction. And never be required to return it. That’s theft, no matter how you cut it. Under the aegis of the state. The offended citizen is powerless. In another age, the king might like your dog so much that he would want if for his own but chances are he would buy it from you. To simply steal it would be not only recognized as a sin by everyone but a step toward eventual beheading. Today the majority accepts civil forfeiture just as they do all the other impositions of the state, as a necessity for the preservation of the state itself, certainly not for the preservation of freedom.

            During the tense years of Mutual Assured Destruction there were always operational procedures for the evacuation of federal officials to Hitleresque bunkers in the event of a possible nuclear showdown. These plans are still extant. You might think that the American nomenclatura are just using the resources of the country as a perk to save their own skin. It’s more than that. The survival of the state is more important than the survival of its subjects. That’s what it’s come down to.

    2. Again and again we fall back on the same feel-good thoughts and descriptive that we have been taught from birth to accept without question. Not surprisingly, if you look at all other forms of government, their citizens were also taught to follow that particular system which demanded loyalties based on their own set of slogans and which, for the most part, were quite successful at presenting themselves as the end-all system of governance.

      The nation-state concept was present in all great systems as well. It was the social and political conformation of each of those so called nation-states that varied. Russia is a nation-state, Greece is a nation-state and the US is a nation-state. It is not the nation-state that protects liberty; it is the nation-state that protects the nation-state. It’s worthyness to any of us deopends on what type of nation-state it is. And there are good reason for that. Cultural, social, philosophical and more, but, in the end, what each of them do is design/choose and try to perfect a system that would protect all those things that went into that choice.

      My problem is not in going through or doing all that, my problem is with the built in blindness that follows a final conclusion about any of these final systems and the fact that these conclusions are often based on lies, misrepresentations and the refined copywriting by expert manipulators and propagandists. That and the fact that often these conclusions are based on hopes not realities.

      For instance, there is no real “liberty” in any form of strong and competitive societal cohabitation. The comforts of the many have to overrule the personal comforts of the individual or what would result is chaos and anarchy. To join any of these alternatively developed systems, all with their own nuances and tricks, one has to look for a best fit with one’s own aspirations and expectations. There are no tailor-made suits here and to expect that is to live a very unhappy and unfulfilled life in pursuit of something that is for all intent and purpose unattainable.

      Slogans, talking points and prefab concepts are the enemy of logical thinking and/or wise choices.

      The suit that best fits me is the Republic because in a Republic you have the choice of geography and, to a certain extent, the guarantee that an overbearing central government, particularly one that does not share in my cultural background, will never be able to overpower my philosophies.

      But, wait, did I say “never”. Ha! Now I’m the one doing it. “Never”, well, it never happens… We are living proof of that. Our Republic is being taken down piece by piece. That is being achieved and done by the exercise of what you guys call “self-determination” which is just another way of presenting the democratic political system and is not self-anything. Ironically, self-determination is only seen as real self-determination by those that agree with the results. For instance, I certainly did not self-determine that Obama would be president. My self-determination was quite different from that. Actually, come to think of it, I also did not self-determine that John McCain was the best representation or a viable alternative to Obama. Yet…there they both were and, surprise, there he is.

      Even what we love to see as our nation-state is being eroded. The blind acceptance of multi-culturalism, urged by the contrived risk of being termed a racist if you complain against it, the pervasive insistence by our leaders that these cultures don’t really have to follow any rules of integration and, recently, even of legalization is doing very bad things to the “nation” part of what we see as our nation-state. Come to think of it, it is precisely the current weakening of the nation that the multiculturalists are seeking. Probably in preparation for a one world political order which, by necessity, should cancel or supercede out all cultural differences.

      But, even in full view of these negative developments, we cling to and remain steadfast in our idea – come hope – that our CURRENT social democratic system, the one our republic has morphed into, will be enough to get us frogs out of the boiling water before we are well done and ready for serving.

      All of this is being done in the name of democracy, which is the other more common short name for self-determination. And we still march lock step behind that hollow promise and exclude all other possible options even though some of them have been much more successful in protecting the culture, customs and values from which they came from.


  7. I’m not entirely sure that liberty is dependant on the nation-state. The citizens of nation-states like Zimbabwe and North Korea might disagree – particularly ethnic minorities. On the other hand, citizens of several former Soviet Bloc nations, and now EU member-States, are quite happy that their (not too willing) governments were forced by the EU to incorporate the European Convention of Human Rights and its enforcement mechanisms into their national law. I’m particularly thinking of Hungary here. Empires, not being ethnically defined entities, have often been more protective of the rights of individuals belonging to ethnic minorities than what has followed. Almost everyone in the world these days lives in a “nation-state”, including many of the very least free. Liberty is something that happens when a polity develops a consensus to observe the “rule of law” within the framework of limited government which we know as the separation of powers. We in the US are lucky that we in the US have enjoyed these conditions longer than most. But we should always be aware that liberty depends on eternal vigilance, and that in light of the ongoing militarization of our nation, the puritanical tendency to control the private lives of others, and in those nasty periodical outbursts against Blacks, Catholics, Jews, Japanese-Americans, and latterly, American Moslems, our liberties should never be taken for granted.

    (Many of us in the United States live under the delusion that we uniquely live in the “Land of the Free”, and that the citizens of other, less fortunate nations, can only envy our good fortune. In recent years we have played host to students from Australia, France, and Ireland. Nearly all have remarked on how aggressively intrusive our police (and policing) are. They also note with some surprise the myriad of petty ordinances that seek to control almost every aspect of public conduct – and often private behaviour as well. Not being able to stand peacefully in the street outside a bar with your drink without risking arrest comes as a shock to the Irish and French in particular! The very overt militarization of our Republic is also a matter of comment. On the other hand, they admire the greater economic opportunity, the generosity of Americans, and the sheer diversity and tolerance of our society (We don’t live in the Bible-Belt!)).

    1. What “ongoing militarization of our nation”? We have a volunteer force. Reagan and George Bush’s build ups of our military did so in reaction to the severe reductions in our military that Carter and Clinton engineered. Reductions conducted while the nation faced a clear and present danger from regimes inimical to US interests. Substantiate the charge of the “very overt militarization of our Republic” you make.

      What “puritanical tendency to control the private lives of others”? What Republican President engaged in attempts to control our private lives and how did they do so? And what about the ongoing and incessant attempts by liberals to control the private lives of others solely justified by political correctness?

      Those “nasty periodical outbursts against Blacks, Catholics, Jews and Japanese-Americans” happened generations ago. Time to join the 22nd century. Today, overt antisemitism is entirely practiced by liberals and the left. In 1941, racism was endemic worldwide certainly the Japanese were unapologetic about their racism.

      American Moslems are not being persecuted, despite their passivity and silence in condemning Islamic terrorism.

      1. GB,

        This might be a rhetorical comment, but I think Mr. Nasty was referring to the tendency for Liberals and some libertarians to favor a government that refuses to enforce rules in regard to common decency, social limits and comportment.

        Libs tend to equate buggery, drug use, wild irresponsible fornication, various forms of chemical neutering and infanticide (pre and post natal) with liberty. They are wrong, but given their moral deafness I don’t expect them to hear that fact, either.

        Some folks come from the Culture of Death, and Narcissism. I hardly expect them to understand a growing Life culture that realizes that the next generations are the true wealth of any culture. That sort of stuff just doesn’t register with Lefties. They value nothing except their own self-image and interest.

        As to Nation-States. It is a difficult subject, the concept is not particularly new, but on this scale it is a relatively novel and basically pretty recent. I am speaking of the Westphalian Model of entreated agreed upon physical boundaries defining particular areas for a population to develop the more human and ethereal sovereign government.

        Up until the end of the 100 years war, nation-states occupied only as much territory as they could defend. Likewise they only existed successfully within territory that they could successfully conquer and control.

        Too little and there was no population and no power. Too much and the primitive nature of pre-industrial communications and transportation made it impossible to maintain sovereign authority.

        We see this in play in the Middle East. Afghanistan is a Westphalian imposition on a tribal-national social ethos. The result is less than satisfactory since two nations cannot occupy the same territory at the same time without conflict, and more than one quarrelsome tribe exists in that impoverished geographic location.

        The “Stans” are all failed constructs of generalized territories where mobile tribal areas ebbed and flowed across the south west Asian steppes and mountains. Cities cropped up where it was necessary to establish some form of trading post and administrative anchor, nothing more. Modern attempts at establishing the Westphalian model have always failed.

        Tribalism might very well be the mark of Cain. Eternally restive people, unwilling and unable to move beyond the demands and desires of the tribe.

        Something to consider… As to Paulite… I really don’t consider him all that much. He’s like inviting the homeless guy to dinner… he brings flies, unkempt appeance. He then insults the quality of the food, and disparages the host.

        Typical liberal…


        1. I know the Treaty of Westphalia ended the first 30 Years War. But the Hundred Years War, set the stage for territorial limits in Europe. There was still more fighting to be done. Never let the Renaissance go to sleep without a little warfare to make all the rebirth interesting.

          But France and Great Britain established the concept of the comprehensive treaty that designated sovereign boundaries.

          We have been trying to make it work since then… most times it just doesn’t work out like we had hoped.

          Hope and Change, Change and Hope, Change, Hope… yup… they took the money and left you change… and the hoped that you were too stupid to notice.

        2. There is a hierarchy of human relationships that begins with the individual. Next is the family. Groups of families form tribes and clans. The larger conglomerates, fiefdoms, haciendas, duchies, principalities, monarchies and nation/states are constructs that don’t necessarily involve genetic relationships. It is of primary importance for the survival of these constructs to transfer as much personal allegiance to themselves as possible. The nation/state regards the tribe as a competitor for the loyalty of its subjects and does as much as possible to neuter tribal affiliation. It’s harder to achieve ascendancy over the family itself, because its the basis of society but the nation/state tries just the same. As an example, the mother of a moonshiner is guilty of a crime for not turning in her wayward offspring. In the ’50s and ’60s Americans jeered at the Soviets for putting their women to work and their toddlers in daycare. Of course, we do exactly that now and there can be little doubt that this has had an effect on the individual and changing his relationship with the family and the state. The state, a transient abstraction, places itself above blood relationships, the very core of society. This is insanity to anyone but a modernist.

          While the draconian nature of the western state has managed to neutralize true tribal affinities over time, it’s been impossible for it to eradicate it in its entirety. People still want to belong to affinity groups, even if they’re contrived and artificial. The outstanding example in the US is professional sports teams. These commercial enterprises are the focal point for unorganized groups that wear team uniforms on the street and track the performance of athletes that come from all over and move from one team to another. Harley owners, NRA members and even political party members are other examples.

          The government educational system, not surprisingly, regards tribal affiliation and loyalty as primitive and nativist and has generally been successful in making that viewpoint the norm, except in its artificial form. Worse, otherwise respected liberal philosophers like Karl Popper have fallen for that concept as well.

          While few in the US ever have the opportunity, there are many people throughout the world who, when faced with a problem, seek out an unelected leader whose own prestige and position is based upon his ability to come up with a solution, not the result of focus groups, party politics and campaign rhetoric. The state is a poor substitute for this really individualistic phenomenon and must fight it to maintain its manufactured superiority.

  8. rafa, Above you lament that a term limits bill in Congress is regrettably all but impossible as the acquiescence of the very politicians you want to limit is needed. I actually think that there a pretty easy way around this. Just grandfather in all current members of Congress. It’s certainly not an ideal solution as it would permit some reprehensible current members of Congress a virtual lifetime appointment. However, they’ll eventually be gone. And along the way, the number of those politicians would continue to diminish.

    I’m a little surprised that such a bill hasn’t been passed yet. I have a hard time seeing current politicians caring enough about whether their successors have term limits to make a stand against such a bill. And I believe a term limits bill would have pretty wide public support. Moreover, the top post in the land already has term limits built in, so the road is paved.

    My preference would be a limit to 6 years (3 terms) in the House and 6 years (1 term) in the Senate. If a politician wants to do both, then so be it. But a maximum of 12 years in Congress should be plenty. And we could rid ourselves almost entirely of lifetime professional politicians – at least on the national stage.

    1. RE — sorry, your comment was delayed as you used a different name. Welcome back! The grandfathering of current members is an interesting issue — California keeps trying it, in our own special way, for the ones in the statehouse. Every two years the voters are presented with yet another ballot measure seeking to impose term limits that would unequally favor current members: that is, allow them to extend their time in office longer than the newly elected. The voters have rejected this twice, but danged if it isn’t being proposed again this year. Looks like it will be on the November ballot.

  9. We had to destroy the village in order to save it.

    We’ll have to dispense with freedom in order to keep it.

    How did “empire” get into the conversation? And if it’s antithetical to the American idea of liberty, why do we have troops all over the world? Wouldn’t a lot of non-Americans look at the US as kind of an imperial power? Your general point in the past has been that US military hegemony is the guarantee, above all, of free passage over the seas and freedom of trade, a benefit for the entire world, not just the US. Of course an individual can’t import a Hereford cow from Hereford or get a solar panel from China without paying a tariff, or walk across the border into Agua Prieta with $10,001 in cash in his pocket. So the ostensible objective seems to be out of reach, at least so far.

    While the nation/state as we presently know it seems to be the only defense against other nation/states, as you point out, it appears that smaller, differently organized groups are able to deal with imperial behavior without nuclear explosions and without immense bureaucracies. The events of 9-11 seem to have shown that a small, determined group operating in basically a tribal format can wreak all kinds of havoc. There has been much concentration on the religious aspect of this event, which overlooks the tribal dimension. Living as we do in a nation/state that’s been around for over 200 years, we find it difficult to fathom that others can live fairly sophisticated lives in a form of society that we dispensed with centuries ago. Those people are not necessarily uneducated and they’re definitely not stupid. Their societies predate our own and exist to this day. They see no reason to surrender to a modernity they despise.

    Perhaps it’s a matter of definitions. Maybe Germany in 1871 or 1939 wasn’t a nation/state. But then, when one nation/state slugs it out with another it’s on mutual terms, tanks against tanks, bombers against interceptors. Somebody wins and somebody loses. And we really don’t have to worry about Al Queda taking over our school system and making us all speak Arabic.

    1. “Living as we do in a nation/state that’s been around for over 200 years, we find it difficult to fathom that others can live fairly sophisticated lives in a form of society that we dispensed with centuries ago. Those people are not necessarily uneducated and they’re definitely not stupid. Their societies predate our own and exist to this day. They see no reason to surrender to a modernity they despise.”

      Well, I’m sure as shooting not going to surrender to them. “Uneducated” and “stupid” aren’t the terms in which to discuss our differences anyway. The right terms are things that mean more than that, such as what our respective definitions of peace, freedom, and the good life are.

      The definitions of modern Islamism — in its varying forms — are different from ours, as were the definitions of Pan-Arabist Marxism, Baathism, and Ottoman Islamic rule. This has been the case since at least the Reconquista, when the civilizational divergence of the West and Islam really took off and never looked back. The two civilizations have bumped along on a number of modi vivendi over the centuries, at war with each other as often as not. We can’t — won’t — live their way; they adopt some of our cultural tools, but the leaders who keep scrambling to the top in their cultures don’t propose to live ours.

      That’s fine, but not when it menaces the tradeways, the stability of the entire Eastern hemisphere, and even the very population of the United States. We had a taste of just how small the world has become on 9-11. We can’t leave the Eastern hemisphere to its own devices. We haven’t been able to since 1917. Its stability is a national security issue for the United Staes.

      Does that mean we always make good decisions about what to do in the Eastern hemisphere? Of course not. We’ve done some really dumb things, like our prosecution of the Vietnam War during the Johnson years. But we need a relatively stable Eastern hemisphere, sandwiched between great oceans over which we exert the overwhelming naval influence, for our own security and interests. The combination of autocratic government in Russia and China, and the instability bubbling up with Islamism and the “Arab Spring,” mean that disengagement is not an option for the US.

      If you want the US to be less relatively powerful and less able to promote stability AND prosperity abroad, I think you’re going to get your wish in the coming years (whether Obama or Romney raises his right hand in January). It’s not going to be pretty.

      Things were likely to change, and change can’t be stopped, nor should we necessarily want it to be. But the world is not a nice place. What is going to erupt from it is a whole lot of ugliness that has been kept in check by America being the biggest dog for so long. There is no such fantasyland as the one in which the other nations would be happy, play nice, and leave us alone if we’d just pull our extremities in like a turtle.

      If we exist as the nation we were intended to be, there will always be hatred for us among ideologues elsewhere — but there is also the simple but valid principle that nothing stays the same, and we can’t keep it all the same by trying to sit inside a shrinking security circle. We’re missing big opportunities, none of them military in nature, with the current president, and I hope that if Romney is elected, he will see the importance of reasserting a distinctively American influence with everyone from Latin America to our Far Eastern allies, the Arab Spring nations, and NATO.

      1. There’s more than one dimension to this. While we should be disgusted and appalled that the nation/state has become so powerful as to be able to command the resources to cause the deaths of millions and conceivably the extinction of life on earth, at least in the case of the United States the primary role of that mechanism is to protect its citizens, as it should be with all governments. Disagreements with US foreign policy from within the country are something that we can chew over.

        But that’s not what it’s about. The 5-Year Plans and Great Leaps Forward and New Economic Policies have killed millions of the subjects of nation/states, deaths on a scale unknown in history for their own citizens. And while that has yet to happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we are seeing the
        metasization of national government to the extent that all other things are secondary, family, religion, wealth, everything. This may well have been the case from the very beginning, but it’s certainly more obvious now. If the feds want to drop some bombs on Iran, that’s one thing, if they want control the US energy industry, that’s another.

      2. With a few name-changes this load of nonsense could have been written by some Colonel Blimp or British Empire apologist in the mid nineteenth century.

        We became involved in the Middle east as successors in title to the European empires – and specifically to protect assets our corporations had acquired under the auspices of those empires. Our presence there has nothing to do with the welfare of the people who live there. We have subverted and replaced their governments. We have maintained torturers and monsters in power to protect our assets – and when they overreached we have bombed their unfortunate subjects from 8 miles high and killed and killed and killed again. We have done this, not just on a bright and sunny morning, but repeatedly over decades. When they revolt (as we did in much less trying circumstances) they are branded terrorists and their religion is portrayed as a pathology.
        Now, I don’t hold much with Islam, particularly of the fundamentalist kind. Nor, to be honest, with fundamentalist Jeudaism, or Christianity – or any other group that claims to take its orders directly from God, but I do know one thing: there’s no chance whatsoever that normal societies will develop in the Middle East as long as long as they’re under this sustained attack by the West and its surrogates. The “catch 22” in this is that these are groups in my own country who have a vested interest in keeping the Middle East unstable so they can point to the people there and say “look at those violent untermenschen – we cannot possibly negotiate with them” so we have the excuse to run the place our way, in our interest.
        We need to get the hell out of the Middle East. It is the business of the people there as to how they run and evolve their own societies, free from foreign interference – just like we demand for ourselves.

        And as for your idea of freedom. As has been pointed out elsewhere, one of the strongest threads running through our Constitution and political culture is the inviolability of private property save in very special circumstances, and within the rule of law. These special circumstances don’t include belonging to the “wrong” religion or ethnicity”. This thread runs through the constitutions and political culture of all Western democracies. The US is not an exception in this regard. However, you don’t seem to accept private property rights as a principle.

        Your political prejudices seem to have you completely confused as to the role of the Constitution. You are perfectly entitled to your peculiar views, as are more mainstream voices. But the Constitution has a wide and evolving embrace. It is a living document. It easily embraces the policies of Republicans and Democrats alike. It would even be capable of embracing most of your own (But not your views on property rights)

  10. Rafa, shipmate, I didn’t say the nation-state exists to protect liberty. I said it’s the thing that does protect liberty. The nation-state arose before the post-Reformation idea of liberty became a factor. The reasons it was necessary — as opposed to merely desirable — related to two things: avoiding forcible absorption into empires, and fighting off “barbarian” invaders. These requirements mattered to kings and princes long before there were republics with genuine suffrage arrangements.

    Amazingly (i.e., “NOT”), those two necessities still matter today. Avoiding absorption into a global government is only possible for a nation-state. Many nation-states will make bad choices about that, but the entity is still the only means we have for making the good choice of insisting on sovereignty in the face of globalism.

    Likewise, when barbarians propose to sap our will by blowing our families and neighbors up on bright sunny days, out of the blue, it takes the resources of a nation-state to deter and suppress their nihilistic raiding activities. That doesn’t mean that every policy decision made is easy or even wise; what it does mean is that if we didn’t have the nation-state to harness tremendous resources and act with a single will, our lives would be much less worth living. There is no useful response to ideological terrorism below the level of the nation-state. The nation-state may misguidedly fail to take the most effective measures — but it is the only entity that can do so.

    Your points about culture, customs, and interests are of course valid, but they’re not in conflict with my point. I think our emphasis is different. The US took the concept of the nation-state, which had been developed in Europe for various purposes, and used it to proclaim and foster an idea of man, the state, and liberty. In the absence of the nation-state concept, that would never have happened.

    If the nation-state doesn’t survive, neither will liberty, or any of the remarkable hope and equality that Americans take for granted. But nothing outside of ourselves condemns us to a hopeless future.

    1. “I didn’t say the nation-state exists to protect liberty. I said it’s the thing that does protect liberty.”

      That would depend on what your definition of “liberty” is. If liberty to you is being able to vote and, therefore, to feel that you do indeed have a say in the way by which the nation-state is administered and governed then, sure, your “liberty”, at least in that limited form, could be seen as being protected by the nation-state.

      But, if “liberty” is more dependent on, for instance, sincerely believing that the nation-state should be busy and fully committed to protecting our individual rights above and beyond the collective’s greed and insatiable hunger for more and more of our hard-earned cash, then, I’m not so sure that the nation-state is protecting our “liberty” all that well.

      Again, it seems to me that it all hinges around our own personal perspective and definition of that ethereal and lofty term “LIBERTY”.

      But, then, I hasten to add, liberty is much more complex than the simple act of voting every two or four years. Liberty, in the more traditional way of thinking, is about running our own life as we see fit, keeping the fruits of our own labor, honoring our own moral and religious values and following our own ethical and natural law rules.

      Liberty is NOT being told what we can and cannot do with our own property. Liberty is NOT having some black-hearted politician stick his hand in our pocket so that he/she can afford to set out to blatantly buy more votes. Liberty is NOT the increasingly dumb exercise of spitting against a windstorm, which is what our elections are fast becoming. Liberty is NOT watching our kids being indoctrinated by activist teachers, by activist movie producers and actors or fooled into accepting the constant stream of lies and falsehoods offered up by activist journalists.

      You know I agree with you on most things and that I respect your views greatly. So, with that respect front and foremost and begging your pardon for disagreeing on this point yet again, I will insist once more that the nation-state is the very antithesis of individual liberty.

      Furthermore, the nation-state will eventually turn on the individual because, being an imperfect human construct, it will not be able to withstand the constant temptation of gaining more and more power for itself over all things.

      Here at home our own nation-state is even attempting to substitute and replace natural law, parental authority, the family unit, our personal conscience and even God Himself. And that, my dear lady, is not the picture of “Liberty” that I have in my head or in my heart.

      With respect,


      1. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are… endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights… — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …”

        That proposition, rather than ethnicity or centuries of shared history, is what defines the American nation. Government which is instituted by that nation, for its purposes, necessarily is exercised over a territorially bounded state. The American nation-state is thus defined (uniquely in the world) for the purpose of defending liberty.

        Without the nation-state, though, how would that end be achieved? We need only think to the founding to realize that the nation-state was a necessary instrument to break the colonial yoke, just as today it is a necessary instrument to fend off the encroachments of petty tyrants banded together in the name of equality among United Nations.

        But you are right to observe that the nation-state is not a sufficient instrument. Petty tyrants are not excluded by state borders. Assuring that the American nation-state serves its founding purpose means assuring that the American nation continually affirms that founding proposition. That, I hope, is what we are all about.

        1. “Assuring that the American nation-state serves its founding purpose means assuring that the American nation continually affirms that founding proposition. That, I hope, is what we are all about.”

          Sure. Of course. As do I. But…my intention in responding to Opticon was not to critizise or even discuss the validity of the founding purpose of this nation. My intention was to shine a small light on the cockroaches that are scurrying about in the dark corners of an otherwise beautiful building. So, all lofty terms and intentions aside, if we look at it closely and honestly and if we project what we are witnessing, the only possible conclusion is that it is very unlikely that the original intent will be present for too much longer. Like the Republic that we were meant to be it is being pounded into oblivion. And, without those lovely concepts, intentions and purpose actually working on our behalf, what will remain of whatever small modicum of liberty we still have?

          A federal socialist democracy, what we have been turned into already or are fast becomming, is like a voracious snake that, ever hungry for more control over every aspect of life, eats itself by the tail. Sadly, individual liberty is the least of its goals.


  11. As the Enlightenment began to arm itself and burrow into the culture, divine-right monarchy collided with the rise of comprehensive secular ideologies, from the eerily modern Napoleonic Code to Marxism, communism, Soviet socialism, Fascism, National Socialism (or Nazism), and today’s “democratic socialism.”

    Hehe. That litany alone is one of the reasons we love OC but the whole thing is one her masterpieces. A cursory perusal of the comments seems to indicate the sort erudition and cogent argument one typically encounters here and will no doubt reward further scrutiny. As for the maine post, OC performs a valuable service here by putting the work of one of our most “thoughtful” and “informed” “conservative” columnists into proper perspective.

  12. Occasionally I say on my blog “What he said”, usually referring to comments made by the likes of Victor Davis Hanson. What I mean by this is that there is nothing else to be said because the author simply captures the idea so well.

    I’m adding that comment of respect to this post. With a “wow” added. It should be read word for word in every school classroom across the nation. There is a HUGE difference between Europe and the U.S., although there has been and continues to be a drive to close that gap by the elites here.

    Well said.

    1. Thanks, archer52, and welcome. My apologies for the delay in your comment posting. There’s a one-time “approval” for new posters. You’re through the wicket now, so please feel free to join in.

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