America is in an existential crisis, and doesn’t realize it

Since the Supreme Court’s decisions in the diversity and sodomy cases two weeks ago, I feel, politically speaking, as though I, and all of us, were suspended in mid-air. Going beyond previous Supreme Court exercises in judicial law-making, these decisions fundamentally alter the nature and identity of United States, and it’s not possible to pretend that this hasn’t happened. It’s not possible to go on as normal, debating the usual mix of political issues the usual way, when the very ground we stand on has been taken away. Where are we now? Who are we now? How can anyone henceforth talk about America as a “moral” country, or appeal to moral principles in public or even private life, when the U.S. Constitution now embodies the libertine belief that people can do whatever they want, so long as they want to do it? How can anyone still appeal to “equality under the law” as a cornerstone of America, when race preferences and anti-white discrimination have now been made constitutional principles? Indeed, how can we claim that we’re a country under the rule of law at all, when the judges of the Supreme Court openly and explicitly re-write the Constitution from the bench, adding fundamentally new principles to the Constitution based on nothing but their own desire that it be so?

What makes it doubly worse, triply worse, is the absence of appropriate outrage from the public, and especially from conservatives. There is an appalling dullness and insensibility among Republican politicians and conservative opinion makers. Yes, many of them have criticized these decisions, but in exactly the same tone in which they would criticize any other liberal Supreme Court decision. There has been almost no recognition that these two cases, taken separately and together, are sui generis, that they change the very meaning of the country.

The survival of our nationhood, of our soul and identity as Americans, of our ability to speak as Americans, depends on the forceful and public rejection of these decisions by a significant number of people. There must be an uprising by Americans saying, “We do not accept this and will never accept it. These decisions have no place in America. These decisions do not represent us.” If there is not such a protest, that will mean that these decisions do represent America, and then the crisis of American identity, the sense of being suspended in mid-air, will become permanent.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 11, 2003 09:41 AM | Send


Mr. Auster is quite right. And the folks at Weekly Standard and National Review will make their ritual criticisms, and then “move on” to drug prescriptions and lower taxes and other matters. Frum may not like these decisions either, but remember, he has taught us that any future American conservatism must be “optimistic”.


Posted by: Wm. Wleklinski on July 11, 2003 10:49 AM

Observant readers may have noticed that in the present article, I am calling for the defense and preservation of America’s principles, and am suggesting that in the absence of such defense, a stable or coherent politics will be impossible, whereas in an earlier entry I seemed to accept that those principles are in fact no longer formally constitutive of our system, and therefore that it’s no longer a matter of preserving them, but of restoring them. I wrote:

“The reality is that we traditionalists are no longer defending what is; we are defending what was, appealing to it as a standard by which to judge the present, and hoping for its restoration.”

I acknowledge the contradiction and admit that I am unable to resolve it at present. In a complex, uncertain, fluid situation like this,— indeed a crisis of the regime, which is what I think we’re undergoing—one is likely to see different aspects of the situation at different times. Indeed, such uncertainty and unresolvability are of the very nature of such a crisis.

Many other conservatives do not face this problem. For a paleoconservative who denies the legitimacy of the American polity as it has been constituted since the 1960s or the 1860s or even the 1780s, or for a neoconservative who has an absolute courtier-like devotion to the existing American regime no matter what it does, the dilemma I’ve described does not exist. But for a conservative like myself, a “meso-conservative” as one wag described my position, the dilemma is acute.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on July 11, 2003 1:12 PM

What would “appropriate outrage” from conservatives, let alone the public, look like? Should we storm the Supreme Court building? Or would simply writing letter after letter to the editors of our local newspapers, which would likely be ignored by the liberal-left editors running these organizations, be appropriate?

The recent sodomy decision has renewed interest by and spurred action from conservative groups and commentators that were otherwise agnostic on the Fedaral Marriage Amendment. Conservatives should be pushing this with utmost urgency in getting it passed, and before the State’s Congresses for action.

With regards to National Review “moving on” from the subject of gay marriage and the sodomy decision, I think this is an unfair characterization. There has been vigirous discussion and debate of the subject at thier ‘blog “The Corner” ever since the Supremes sided with the sodomites. National Review and The Weekly Standard are news magazines, not political action organizations. It is up to others to man the fences of protest and political action.

Posted by: Daniel on July 11, 2003 1:31 PM

When Lawrence Auster writes “[t]here is an appalling dullness and insensibility among the conservative opinion makers,” as regards recent Supreme Court decisions, I fear he is much too optimistic. A few of them actually think they won, while the majority are happy to see such “divisive” cultural issues “settled” so they can move on to the only things that really matter to them: tax cuts, tax credits, “free” trade, and more tax cuts.

Part of the problem certainly is the neo-conservative take over of old line conservative institutions, which is so often discussed on this website. But I would also like to see Mr. Auster address another issue, even more devestating to the conservative cause: namely, the intellectual culture that produces the quality of thought rendered by these opinion makers—even when they agree with a true conservative position. Most of these people are petty party apparatchiks, excuse-makers concerned only with maintaining the Bush presidency. Mr. Auster has taken to task people such as Cal Thomas and Charles Krauthammer, and he has criticized Phyllis Schlafly for her silence. But that group reads like King Lear when compared to the crude half-thoughts of more popular conservative faces. How can conservatism thrive with the likes of George Will, Tucker Carlson, Joe Scarborough, Sean Hannity, William Kristol, and Fred Barnes as the “authorities” most people see, hear, and read? Some members of the George Will-led front don’t even know they are neo-conservatives. Compared to them, Rush Limbaugh stands like another Edmund Burke. And this, more than anything, says just who is winning the war of ideas in conservative journals and foundations.

Posted by: Paul on July 11, 2003 1:31 PM

Paul makes excellent points. I smile at his comparison of Rush Limbaugh to Burke. While I don’t listen to talk radio myself anymore, based on what I hear from others, it’s true that Rush is genuinely, deeply upset about all this, though naturally he curbs his sense of outrage so as not to attack President Bush directly.

I would say that some conservatives are as Paul describes, i.e., not dull and insensible but rather aparatchniks or courtiers of the current regime; but other conservatives are dull and insensible, that is, they are bothered by what’s happened, yet they fail to see the full truth of it and to respond accordingly.

As for Daniel, his suggestion that I am calling for such dismissible options as violent attacks on the Supreme Court building or letter writing campaigns indicates an enervated political imagination. I’m calling, first of all, for intellectual and moral leadership. I’m talking about influential politicians and writers and intellectuals saying: “This is wrong. This is not America. This does not represent us. We will never accept this. This is a grievous wound to our country and we will not rest until it has been healed.”

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on July 11, 2003 1:50 PM

I may certainly lack the political imagination to work effectively in pushing a traditional conservative agenda in the public square. Others are much better suited to that work than I may be. However, if Mr. Auster is looking for writers and intellectuals to say that the Supreme’s decisions are wrong and damaging to America, then I’ve found what he is looking for.

Just a few moments searching at I discovered 5 different writers commenting on the Supreme Court’s infamous decisions:

By Armstrong Williams 7/11/03:
Texas sodomy and the marriage amendment

By Herbert London 7/11/03:
Where is this country going?

By Bill Murchison 7/10/03:
The Supreme Court divides America

By Pat Buchanan 7/6/03:
The Supreme Court is not supreme

By Jeff Jacoby (various dates):
Gay marriage would change society’s ideal
Second of two columns: ONE WAY to approach the same-sex marriage debate is to think about something else entirely. So let’s talk about welfare.
The threat from gay marriage
First of two columns: THIS IS THE LULL before the same-sex marriage storm.
A shameless decision that promotes bias
LAST WEEK’S Supreme Court rulings in the University of Michigan cases set a modern record for shamelessness.

I’m afraid I just don’t see the dearth of commentary that Mr. Auster sees. Granted not all commentators may be writing in the strident tones he may desire. However, the outrage is out there. We simply need to turn that outrage into actual effective political action, such as pushing and passing the FMA.

P.S. I’ve heard paleo-, neo- but never meso-conservative. Please elaborate.

Posted by: Daniel on July 11, 2003 2:16 PM

I agree with Daniel that there have been decent articles criticizing the decisions. But I have searched many web sites and have found precious few articles addressing the decisions with the due seriousness, which Daniel calls “stridency,” i.e, not just as another “problem” among many other problems, but as an outrage against our system, as a crisis of the regime. Instead, everyone just rolls along with the usual menu of topics as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Herb London’s column which Daniel cites is an exception and I’ve congratulated him on it. (In fact, this current article of mine is an expansion of the e-mail I wrote to Mr. London last night.) However, I will read each of the articles Daniel has cited and if I find what I am looking for, will modify my views.

On “meso-conservative,” a label I found amusing and interesting but demurred from, here is the article on that:

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on July 11, 2003 2:40 PM

I would add, with regards to political leadership, Mr Auster is dead-on target. So-called conservative politicians display the worst kind of spinelessness when it comes to standing up to attacks on America’s traditional moral foundation. We are in a cultural war with very clear sides; sadly politicians on the Right seem to think that by shutting their eyes and plugging their ears this war will simply go away, while politicians on the Left advance an agenda that will destroy America.

Posted by: Daniel on July 11, 2003 3:05 PM

The Supreme Court’s recent dictates are unsurprising to me. Roe v. Wade is a major factor. Perhaps other citizens sense this. Roe v. Wade is an abyss, an immeasurable black hole. It is rational to perceive Roe v. Wade as kin to unspeakable historical horrors, to the abyss. We can’t comprehend an abyss or similar things such as geologic time or the vastness of space. Once in the abyss, it is impossible to perceive passage from one level to another.

There could be other factors that have caused citizens to perceive an abyss. For many centuries (and to this day), the Catholic Church and some other Christian faiths taught divorce is unacceptable. Still, divorce in the Christian community has been common since Henry VIII, a dictator with power over things the Supreme Court now supposedly has power over. (If only the President would, as EXPLICITLY allowed by the Constitution, introduce legislation depriving the Court of jurisdiction over sodomy and affirmative action and would ignore the current Court’s inevitable and manifestly invalid protestations.)

Posted by: P Murgos on July 12, 2003 12:36 AM

Thanks to Mr. Auster, who gives us his talent and energy.

Posted by: P Murgos on July 12, 2003 1:09 AM

Thanks, Mr. Murgos.

By the way, what I say in this article about an existential crisis obviously does not refer to the existence of the U.S. as a political society, but to the substance of its identity. The political society will continue, but in an an ever-more ambiguous and incoherent state, as it continues to morph more and more into something utterly unlike its historical self, even while keeping the same name and the same general governmental structure.

Given the continued existence of the United States as a political society and the fact that life seems to be continuing as normal, it’s easy for people to dismiss statements such as “our culture has been destroyed.” But, as a friend once said to me, “The fact that life goes on doesn’t mean that our culture hasn’t been destroyed.”

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on July 12, 2003 1:17 PM

Some people are willing to fight against heavy odds. For example, there are now 65 members in the House Immigration Caucus, which includes a few Democrats. Included recently was my Congressman after several requests by me. If traditionalists merely wrote their Congressmen and Congresswomen, much could be done. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

On another thread, I suggested it was possible for a small group to accomplish much. The key though is once power is obtained, it must be used. If traditionalists ever do get a president elected, the president must use his or her power. For example, the Supreme Court could be reined in if the President invited the Courts members to lunch and reminded them politely that the Federal Marshals work for the President, not the Supreme Court.

Posted by: P Murgos on July 17, 2003 8:35 PM

The President could explain that he believes in giving the Court all the equality it can take. He could explain that it is only fair, after about 210 years of presuming to tell Presidents what to do, the future Presidents are entitled to 210 years of telling the Court what to do. “After all,” the President could reason, “the three branches of government are supposed to be co-equal (shouldn’t it be tri-equal?). It’s a whole good-for-the-goose-good-for-the-gander thing.” He could then escort them to the new town of Miranda, where all Supreme Court justices are now expected to live out their lives. The President might say, “this will be a town where all criminals set free by you are going to live under your wise and equal tutelage.” “Of course,” the President would add, “I promise to remain compassionate and sensitive to the concept of equality and won’t dare allow Congress to give Miranda one penny more of federal funds than any other town of similar size. What’s fair is fair.”

Posted by: P Murgos on July 17, 2003 9:11 PM

The President might continue: “You know, I feel kinda guilty. Your favorite newspapers are giving me all the credit for these changes, when it was all your idea. I kept thinking about all that ‘spirit’ and all those ‘penumbras’ you all were seeing in the Constitution. I used to turn my copy of the Constitution every which way, but I just couldn’t see all that stuff. It was like trying to see the image hidden in one of those 3-D pictures. It was not until your dear sodomy decision that I started to really believe in all that stuff. So I began to kinda look away from and not focus on the words, on the obvious. And then there it all was. To celebrate, I am going to ensure that sodomy will be legal in your residences in Miranda. I know your fellow citizens will want to stop by and thank you.”

Posted by: P Murgos on July 17, 2003 10:04 PM
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