The American Spring will be forward, not back

The constitution of hope and a future.

A tweet caught my eye today, and stirred up a need to write about the American situation and where we ought to be heading.  The tweet promoted a Human Events opinion piece by Jane Coleman, which is well worth the time and easy to commend to your perusal.

It’s about CRT as it is manifested in America’s schools, and what parents can do to intercept the use of CRT to indoctrinate children into the iron clamp of resentment, defined and preached – in this case, on the basis of race.  The article is from August of 2021, but remains timely.

What really caught my eye, though, was the sub-title slug:  “How parents and teachers can turn back the clock.”

We tend to think too much in those terms – turning back the clock – and that’s presumably because many of us hold in living memory a time when things weren’t nearly so bad.  Politicized objections to that point are uninteresting; politics will always claim that your memory is narrow, silly, and uninformed, as opposed to the politically defined memory favored by politics, in which people experienced everything through the medium of someone’s particular politics, and nostalgia is just a hallucination for ignorant geriatrics.

The benefit of age is that you already know it’s the politicizing lens that’s actually the hallucination.  Politicizing everything generates a fantasy world no one truly lives in.

CRT as implemented in the schools is just this sort of politicization.  It teaches children before they really start to experience other people that the other people are all something they’re actually not:  based on an ideological view of race that itself is historically ephemeral and contingent.

(Discussing such points, with a genuinely open-ended objective, is one thing – and it’s a thing for adults.  I don’t recommend it, because no one ever learned to be better by focusing on theories about being worse, but if adults want to do it on their own dime, hey, knock yourself out.  The issue with K-12 education is that it’s supposed to be about the empowering basics of learning how to think and how to understand conclusions and solutions, and every aspect of that process makes an indelible impression on our moral and spiritual selves.  Fanning the flames of anti-human resentment by taking them as given premises for thought problems is not and cannot be a neutral exercise.)

And to hack our way directly to the central premise of this article:  we gotta stop doing that stuff.  In the sense of it being a growing trend in America, “we’ve” been doing it, on aspects of our common social life across the board, for much longer than many people realize.  We’ve been making what we used to call “a federal case” out of everything under the sun, running around with it as a political football, and writing “laws” about it designed to impose uniformity of thought, practice, and outcome – as if proper law was even meant for that purpose, or suited to it.

What we’ve been doing became harder to see with the onset of progressivism, which took the “force of law” locus into the precincts of unelected bureaucracy.  That very transition put law in a place it was never supposed to be, investing it with overestimated authority, making regulation and not the magistrate the arbiter of cases under such misconstrued authority, and subjugating everything to the unexamined “benefits” of regulation.

Pixabay

Law isn’t actually functional that way, and that’s aside from the moral point that having that much control over each other is an absolute evil.  Law is about process.  Regulation is about dictated outcomes.  Only evil results when the latter is vaunted over the former.

Many of our most important political battles over the last century, however, have been waged not on the floors of Congress, where law lives out process, but via regulatory notices in the Federal Register, which pit armies of bureaucrats and lobbyists against the long-suffering people, who don’t even realize their future is being fought over.  Political assumptions of tremendous size and import have been dead-dropped into our concept of “law” that way.  (Environmental, workplace, and labor regulations are particularly fruitful categories of example, but not the only ones.)

And where formal regulation can’t quite overcome resistance to it, simple executive fiat has become more and more common.  And not just visible fiat by presidential order; no, a lot of things that affect people’s lives now – sometimes ruining them – have been “instituted” invisibly through what are essentially op-eds from second-tier bureaucrats in federal agencies.  These communications compel the winds and seas because federal dollars for states and institutions depend on locking step with them.

President Obama signs an executive order. White House image

Turn the clock back to what?

This introduction isn’t the meat of the article as it unfolds below.  But it’s an illustration of why it would be a vain exercise to try to turn back the clock on mere specifics, without taking an operational pause for the Republic and rethinking the assumptions about law and government we don’t even realize we have today.  The latter is hard work, as hard as anything the Framers of the Constitution did in Philadelphia from 1787 to 1789.

But unless we do it, we may succeed in rolling back, say, a truly heroic 25% of the badly-premised diktats that have crept in over the last 100 years, but still find ourselves right back where we are today within the next 25.

If we don’t reject the current premises about the purpose of law and public agencies, we can’t exorcise things like CRT 4 Kids from the schools.  They’ll just keep coming back, in one form or another.

One more illustration may help to frame that point.  Consider the famous list of the king’s offenses in the Declaration of Independence, and a passage many are rediscovering at the moment which reads as follows:

He has erected a multitude of new Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

That’s sure enough bad.  We don’t want the sent-hither swarms and the multitudes of new offices, and we see far too darn many of them around us today.  A lot of them are planning to teach “CRT” to our children in the public schools, among other enterprises we find horrifying and distasteful.  We definitely need to get rid of them.

But merely getting rid of them would be trying to achieve the effect of the American Revolution without doing the genuinely hard work.  That’s the work that was done to produce the deceptive simplicity of the even better known passage that leads off paragraph two of the Declaration (emphasis added):

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

When was the last time you thought about the purpose of government being to secure the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Not to endow the rights.  They come from our Creator.  Not to punish people for disputing the rights.  Not to command catechistic affirmation of the rights, or define and repudiate heresy about them, or patrol the land looking for people who aren’t being made to sacrifice enough so that others may enjoy the rights in a specified manner.

Signing of the Declaration of Independence. John Trumbull, 1819 (via Wikipedia)

No, governments are instituted to secure the rights, meaning to make them secure against the main thing that menaces them, which is the armed force of the state.  That entails things like property laws and basic public order, but explicitly rejects defining public order to mean endlessly reviewable, contingent conditions that perpetuate the opportunity to collect “rent” from the people, and hold the people at risk for infractions they don’t even know they’re committing.

Governments of sent-hither swarms and multitudes of new offices are by definition not doing what they should be doing, and are also doing what they should not.  Instead of securing the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, they are actively attacking and undermining those rights.

The proposition of the Declaration is real and meaningful in every sentence.  Paragraph two wasn’t just happy talk.  It captured a fundamental, affirmative idea of what government is supposed to be for.  It’s the core premise of everything that followed.

But how many Americans understand that today?

Do you really believe that the purpose of government is to secure a very short list of rights, and secure it against the unending human urge to use government to make those rights less secure?

Acting on that premise is how we got the Constitution and the political legacy that even today still lives in the American public spirit, and has yet to be extinguished.  It has done much good for millions of Americans, and in the inevitably spotty career of influence among nations has done good for others as well.

Indeed, one of the reasons America, unlike any other nation in history, fought a war to abolish slavery is that the contrast between rights honored and rights arbitrarily ignored has never been anywhere else as stark, or the parsing of the foundations of of moral government as fearless.

And the basic political problem in 2022 is that we have lost touch with our founding documents’ core premise, not about what government is against – all governments are against crime; in fact, all governments endlessly invent new ones to be against – but what government is for.

Why it isn’t 1787 anymore

Many would ask why we don’t just turn the clock of government’s premise and size back to 1789.  The short answer is that we’re more than two years from 1787, when the Constitutional Convention assembled.

But there’s a longer answer, and again, I think an illustration from history will illuminate it best.  The answer isn’t about technology or adapting our thinking to Marxism, the latter of which defines pretty much everything for us now in terms of politics, society, and economy.  (Notice I didn’t say it rules all our beliefs.  I said it defines our terms.  If you think labor and capital are opposed political entities, you’re thinking as Marx would have you think, and are thus properly prepared to rewrite history, philosophy, and religious precepts as though we are compelled to see the relations of all investors and laborers throughout history in that mold, and apply it to everything from love and family to morality, politics, and justice.)

There is a useful comparison of different historical times that throws my point here into relief.  At the time of the American Revolution and its immediate aftermath, the strongest mental and spiritual memory of societal failure for America’s Founders was the terrible series of religious wars that rent Christendom asunder in the preceding two-odd centuries.  There was a reason the very first words in the Bill of Rights were “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” – and that reason was those religious wars.

For the Founders, the memory of states misusing religion to impose on the people – to demand special taxes of them, to enforce teaching on their children, to burn them at the stake and out of their homes, to steal their wealth and set conditions for their jobs, to shoot at them and conscript their sons into military service, to topple peaceful governments and institute intrusive ones – was the strongest impression they had of government gone awry.  They were determined to prevent such contamination of the nascent American polity.  And that’s why they addressed it specifically – addressed it before anything else – in the founding amendments to the Constitution.

Burning a heretic in 17th century Spain. Public domain image

The Founders thought across history, as far back as ancient Athens and even the Law of Moses and ancient Israel.  That’s what made them simplify the Constitution and make it a user’s manual, not an aspirational meditation.  Where they’ve been called a “genius cluster,” that’s one of the key reasons.  They shaved off and sharpened the purposes of government, not for theory so much as in light of the lessons of history.

Since 1789, we’ve had a few more lessons from history.

The ones we should take into account, in our operational pause for the Republic, are the ones that show with the greatest clarity and urgency why and how we should be vigilant about shaping government to avert bad outcomes.

And in 2022, the one that is most like the misuse of government for religious carnage is the dual, interlinked societal threat of collectivist schemes and progressivist managerialism. The first posits that all people must be subject to the same theoretical (invariably ideological) measure of “success.”  “Subject” to here means literally, compulsorily subjected to; there’s an assumed “greater good,” and individual choice goes out the window.

Progressivist managerialism puts all the definitions for administering collectivist schemes in the hands of a small group of people, whose power is not consented to but imposed.  A hundred years ago, the charming illusion that these people would be experts or technocrats was still popular.  Today, a century on, it’s clear that it will always be politically motivated ideologues who make and implement the actual decisions.

Much of the premise for this depends on the acceptance of a “greater good,” which humans can not only unerringly define but unerringly bring about, and without costs we shouldn’t be paying.  Indeed, even the cost of human lives isn’t too great to pay – with no vote, no accountability, no transparency as to motive and thought process – if the “good” is “greater” enough.

Images of the Holodomor famine – engineered by Stalin – in which up to 6 million people are estimated to have perished in Ukraine in 1932-33.

A lot of people will readily imagine the campaign about “climate change” here, to take one obvious example.  But if you think there should be federal agencies ordering millions of Americans to get rid of drop-sided cribs, you’ve subscribed to the very same bug.

In fact, it’s the cumulative years of subscribing to things like those seemingly minor safety alarms – especially with “remedies” ordered at the federal level – that have conditioned us to resist recognizing overweening, life-altering, jackbooted collectivism when it’s coming at us from just over the horizon.  After all, sending drop-sided cribs to the county landfill at the orders of some 30-year-old regulation writer doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

The ‘religious wars’ legacy of 2022

The last century of collectivism and progressivism, implemented and written in our hearts, has exacted a terrible toll in blood since the aftermath of World War I.  The brutal installation of collectivist tyrannies, attacking poorly defended peasants cold, is mostly responsible for that.  But progressivism is coming at this very moment into its own, as unelected ideologues, who wield the levers of centrally-managed control in the modern economy and infosphere, use the tools we have accepted as being “good” and trustworthy to systematically undermine the whole infrastructure we depend on now for survival.

Whether you think it’s deliberate or not, the more fundamental point is that it’s even possible because we have let our view of what law and government should do, and can do with good outcomes, be transformed in ways our Framers didn’t envision.

Once more, an illustration.  Consider the use and administration of land.  America’s founding occurred before collectivist visions of administering “ecosystems,” on a scale far exceeding any previous idea, had become a design feature of our mental furniture as a society.

The Founders certainly had their own vision for what they would have thought of as husbanding or being good stewards of the land.  It involved things like surveying land in ways as modern as possible, and ensuring that property ownership was structured, protected, and came with obligations for the landowner as well as the government that recorded deeds, and with thought for the landless and their aspirations to own and husband land.

But the Founders in 1787 or 1789 didn’t suffer from the modern delusion that humans can actually control huge arrays of outcomes over vast tracts of territory, including species survival, the interactions of species, the weather, and the temper over time of the climate.

In the Founders’ view, humans had it in them to control human actions, and commensurate human purposes.  Nature’s outcomes from chains of effects set up by human actions were less certain, and much less susceptible to intentional control.  Human purposes needed to take that into account.

The Founders also had fewer illusions about the power or necessity of prophylaxis, understanding that much of social life would include adjudicating disputes over nature’s outcomes in court, rather than imagining we could shape or avert them all with prior regulation.  This mindset, in particular, led to using rigorously and repeatedly demonstrated effects as a guide to law about land and the environment, as opposed to untested theories and models.

Lords of all we survey. Credit: Pixabay

Collectivism is a different mindset.  It posits that man has as much power to successfully control nature as he has to successfully reshape humanity through imposing involuntary sacrifices on millions of people.  Therefore, in this collectivist mindset, why shouldn’t mankind do these things?  Why should an idea of what law is for restrain the arm of government, if a regiment of activists is certain of its modern technological powers?

This form of thinking was bound to start eroding property rights, and indeed the whole basis of a vibrant, free-market economy.  To date, the impact in America has steamrolled most noticeably over rural, agricultural landowners.  But it’s coming soon enough to the suburbs.

What’s now called “large landscape management” is explicitly expected to do away with property rights as we have known them – and to have that effect, it is being administered through the very government constituted in 1789 to protect the natural rights of men.  It’s by letting governments regulate more and more aspects of our lives that we have come to subsist in government’s iron grip, subject at any time to being regulated off our land and out of our livelihoods, whether we decorate cakes or raise cattle or grow wheat or grapes.

We can’t simply leave this regulatory mindset in place and expect repealing a few laws to correct the political thinking of five or six generations, as it has been increasingly corrupted over time. 

I believe that, just as the Founders understood a need to affirmatively repudiate the recent European legacy of religious wars, so Americans taking an operational pause for the Republic in the 21st century must understand the need to affirmatively repudiate the previous century of collectivist ideology and bureaucratic-ideological tyranny.

I don’t necessarily foresee the elegant, simple ways to cover that requirement, while refraining from doubling the size of the Constitution.  But it would be along the lines of the first 16 words of the First Amendment.  It would be about what the U.S. government shall not do.

There are multiple categories of collectivist, progressivist visions to be addressed, and no doubt some of them overlap.  I’ll defer meditating on the particulars to another article.  For a flavor of the kinds of issues I have in mind, here is a piece I wrote in 2015, closely related to this topic.  (In general, also, see a series called “Liberty 101” from 2013 at TOC, of which this was the inaugural post.)

Establishment and liberty

I’ll close this by coming full circle, back to the title of the article at the top.  In taking an operational pause for the Republic, we would do best to recognize that the essential need is not to turn the clock back, but to repair its operation and set it to the right time going forward.

That’s what the Founders did.  As much as they took into account historical influences like ancient Athens and the weakness of democracy, the abuse of government power in Europe’s religious wars, the example of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the relatively recent philosophical writings of Locke and Montesquieu, they were not trying to roll anything back.  They were writing a reset to go forward with.

They understood something of paramount importance, which I’ve also written about before – because of their resonant legacy – and that’s the reality that there is a good purpose for government, and it’s to establish liberty.

Most fundamentally of all, liberty has to be established.

Pixabay

Liberty is a natural desire of all humankind, but – hold up there; I know – we don’t all desire it by the same definition or under the same conditions, and there is no such thing as liberty merely happening.  The encroachment of tyranny is natural, recurrent, and inevitable.  The mighty blessings of liberty are not.  They have to be pursued, defined, instituted, and kept under vigilant protection.

It’s OK that that’s the case.  If the Founders had been daunted about liberty by the fact that you have to establish it, the course of the entire world would have been very different over the last 250 years – and not in a good way.

I realize that I haven’t laid out the mechanics of how to take an operational pause for the Republic.  Don’t imagine I’ve missed that point.  I don’t have a plan to give you, nor do I think it’s a good idea to set up as a target for everyone with a different idea.

But I do promise you this:  if there is no vision for the ultimate goal, the “pause” opportunity, however we might structure it – as a convention of states, a constitutional convention; who knows, as the necessary next step after a great catastrophe – will perish.  If there is a set of ideas for people to coalesce around, that’s when opportunities will become apparent.  Without a positive vision, discontent and discouragement only paralyze.  The vision must come first.

Part of establishing liberty will have to be identifying, for 2022 and beyond, what we are pushing off against.  As with the Founders and the European religious wars, we will have to consider what a legacy of bad mindsets and bad policies will keep tempting people to, as our patterns of tribal thinking try to remain in their old ruts.  After a 20th century of colossal wars and the great ocean of blood shed for collectivist ideas, we can’t dispense with this exercise.  We have to identify, in the fresh light of modern history, what we don’t want government to do.

But let us first start with the Founders’ most important statement, the one that still sounds as a ringing clarion across history.  They didn’t write merely to restrain government.  They wrote first to constrain it.  They led with what they did want government to do.  They wanted it – they said its very purpose is – to establish liberty.

Thinking at that level won’t even let us just turn the clock back.  It will compel us to act on a vision for hope and a future.  It will compel us, as our 16th president said, to highly resolve that our dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Feature image: Lady Liberty at dawn. YouTube, Jim Wyler.

3 thoughts on “The American Spring will be forward, not back”

  1. [Insert Enthusiastic Standing Applause Icon]

    Humans are the only single species of mammal that exhibits all three social behavior patterns within that particular animal kingdom: Solitary, Pack, and Herd. Certain cetaceans can exhibit them, but rarely does a single species all three layered together.

    Humans exhibit all three, and those behavioral spheres overlap and cross paths – even from within each other… solitary and pack behavior existing within the greater level of herd behavior, etc.

    We have reached a population density where the herd is dominating the pattern, and within that set of species survival traits conformity and ruthless disregard for non-conforming individuals becomes the norm. The weak and infirm are pushed to the edge of the herd and sacrificed for the greater survival of the healthy. This is done without any sort of conscious effort or thought. It’s just done and accepted. Therefore, the core traits of the herd both physical and behavioral are reinforced over generations.

    The Founders operated in a rising society of limited resources and the ultimate need to innovate, where every member was necessary and performed some valuable function within the group. The nation was formed under the Pack behavior pattern and expanded as the Solitary behavior minded individuals pushed the boundaries of the pack. Pack behavior can be many things at once, but it is always a threat to the herd.

    The new normal is Conformist. Even in “non-conformity” there is an evolutionary change where the non-conformity becomes its own standard of conformity. What is conforming to the herd is always determined by the leaders of the herd, and those functions drift as the standards of the competition for leadership of the herd change. We saw this conformity evolve beginning in the post WWII era, solidifying its “standards” in the generation following, and then ruthlessly and steadily removing the old standards to be replaced by the demands for that new conformity. The impulse is actually destructive in that instead of pure instinct, the human mammal has a degree of self-agency that the dolphin, elephant, wolf, antelope, or bovine… does not possess.

    When those standards drift beyond basic survival and reproductive success… and park into some radical ideological fugue state where basic biological and behavioral norms are cast aside the herd commits suicide. It dies off en masse… like a stampede being driven into a deep box canyon for the entire group to die in a pile of broken individuals.

    How does one turn the stampede from the cliff? The answer to that is the salvation of Western civilization.

    -OAB

  2. I guess you assume a constitutional convention would result in more restrained government. Sadly about all it would do is enshrine the tyranny more completely. Woke ideology is rapidly destroying this country. There is a war on oil and a demand to use EV for which we don’t have and likely never will green energy to power. These idiots believe man is warming the planet when in reality heat is escaping the core of the earth at great depth increasing ocean currents in the process. Stupid rules. Biden’s team were appointed due to equity and I’ve never seen a dumber group running and destroying everything in this country. At least more progressives have taken the mRNA death jabs than conservatives so hopfully that thins the herd of so many ideologs.

  3. Our system of government is designed to be continually improved by “We the People” (top management) in pursuit of “a more perfect Union.” The missing piece is the “method.” Variation is a natural part of creation. It represents the difference between the ideal and the actual situation. The quality profession through the Taguchi Loss Function has validated that the closer a product/service (including government services) gets to the ideal or target by reducing variation, the higher the quality and the lower the cost to the individual and society. The strategy of the progressives is to increase variation. I have an outline of a “way ahead” at my website: https://successthroughquality.com/

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