A traditionalist’s credo

Halfway through a long article by Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic about the long-range prospects of George W. Bush’s presidency, I came upon this summary of President Reagan’s views on the Soviet Union that I liked very much, especially in the way the author (or rather the president whom he describes) balances two apparently opposite ideas:

President Reagan horrified realists and internationalists alike by declaring that the Soviet Union was not a legitimate state. He would deal with the Soviet regime but never accept it. He aimed at regime change.

It occurs to me that President Reagan’s approach provides the key to how one should look at the political and cultural regime of post-Grutter, post-Lawrence America. So here is my credo, or rather my statement of resistance:

I declare that this government is no longer a constitutional and moral form of government. I will deal with it, and I will obey its laws, and I will support it when it is defending our country from foreign and domestic enemies. I will vote in its elections and participate in its political debates. But I will never accept it. I aim at a restoration of constitutional and moral order.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 09, 2003 12:47 AM | Send

I have been asking myself again and again, “What would General Washington’s response be to our present situation?” knowing that he would be outraged over the state of things, but also believing that, even so, he would hardly countenance open rebellion or anarchy. And I have been unable to imagine what an informed answer to my own question might be.

I think you’ve just articulated it. Well done, sir.

Posted by: Joel on August 9, 2003 3:55 AM

I believe the problem with our nation to be generational. Because of how they were raised and the impact of the ’60s, baby boomers have gravitated toward squishy liberalism all their lives. They are at the zenith of their power and influence now and their attitudes are hardwired. I anticipate things will continue to go as they are going for at least another 15-20 years until their power begins to wane. As a member of the silent generation I do not anticipate living long enough to see the change, especially since baby boomers are so damn healthy, but America has outlasted such craziness before and I’m optimistic it will do so again.

Posted by: Charles Rostkowski on August 9, 2003 10:25 AM

Would Mr. Rostkowski please tell us what craziness in the past was parallel to what we have today—and even a fraction as powerful?

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on August 9, 2003 10:36 AM

Mr. Rostkowski, I’m afraid, is too glib. The Great Depression/WWII generation capitulated to the defeat of the older America with hardly a struggle. A decentralized republic was replaced by a consolidated state of ramifying powers as if there were no restraints to check its growth. To this day, most members of the “greatest generation,” though they despise many of the turns taken by the consolidated state they help create, will defend the primary architech of it — FDR — to dying breath.

There is some clear generational shifts on social issues, but as to the larger question of what kind of government we will live under, both are in agreement: the state shall have unlimited powers over private enterprise.

Posted by: Paul Cella on August 9, 2003 2:37 PM

I can think of two periods in our past that would qualfy as crazy. The first occurred from the mid 1820’s to the late 1840’s, part of which was known as the Second Great Awakening. During that time some Americans became obsessed with communal experiments (Brook Farm and New Harmony) some of which merged with new, utopian religious sects (Millerites and Mormonism). At that time most of the major intellectuals (eg Hawthorne, Melville and Thoreau) made their literary careers attacking the American idea of progress and the mainstream of American society. Feelings ran so high that, before the Civil War, Americans were killing each other over these ideas. The second period of craziness was in the first half of the 20th century (1915-1940)when many Americans began their burning romance with Marxism. Remember when Whitaker Chambers left the CPUSA in 1938 he fervently believed that the West was doomed because it lacked the commitment to confront Communism. Also most of the Lost Gneration writers and intellectuals, like their transendental forebearers, made their literary careers attacking and satarizing mainstream society and morals. The list of those men and women is endless.

Yet, here we are two generations later, struggling on similar battle lines. The baby boomers are the direct heirs of those earlier generations who drove mainstream American society crazy. Lawrence, I’m on your side and think your comments are on the money; I just believe that as a society we’ve been down this road before, although I also believe that each time we fight this battle the stakes are higher and the opposition is more persistant.

Posted by: Charles Rostkowski on August 9, 2003 3:03 PM

My biggest concern over the current “Generation X,” and what might come after it, is where they’re starting from. When so many of their parents unleashed the Great Rebellion of the Sixties, they at least knew what the moral and religious values were that they were consciously throwing into the trash.

I can’t think of another period in history where such a shaking off of traditional values occured at such lightning speed. And it was a phenomenon that shook the whole Western world.

But with this seemingly wholesale repudiation of values which had at least been known and understood, where does this leave their children? Those growing up today would hardly recognize the America of just 40 or 50 years ago. It would be like a foreign country. They don’t have the luxury of the same grounding in the old ways that their parents had, and rejected, supported by the culture around them.

So where do they go from here? Without even knowing from what they might be said to ‘rebel?’

It would be wonderful to think that they would recognize the error of the Worst Generation and reclaim lost values. But this is not the most likely scenario. These values were forged over millenia, and depended on a continuous fostering by the larger society, which to a large extent is hardly there today. The continued embrace of these morals and values requires a successful transmission from each generation to the next. Can this realistically be said to be happening today on a scale sufficient to maintain them?

Posted by: Joel on August 9, 2003 5:13 PM

Mr. Rostkowski, you say we’ve been down this road before, with the implication being that somehow we started down this road in the past and then at some later date came to our senses and backtracked, resuming once again (more or less) our original position. But that isn’t so. Our history has been one of continuous “progress” down the road of consolidation and statism. While it has occurred at different rates at different times, the movement has always been in the one direction only. Consequently, to suggest that the current lunacy is all something we will or may recover from in time, as we have in the past, is to suggest something with no historical basis in fact. We *might* recover from it, true, but judging by our history, there’s no reason whatsoever to expect it.

History aside, though, we are not afflicted with some temporary “craziness” that can be recovered from anyway. What is occurring is a fundamental shift in, and rewriting of, our primary principles of law. True, most of it is the long-overdue logical consequence of earlier decisions and amendments, but it is occurring at a rapid pace now and it is fundamental. There will be no going back via legislative action. That strategy has been preemptively ruled out as “unconstitutional.” The Courts are now our masters. Our only recourse from here on in is resistance and/or violent (presumably violent, anyway) revolution.

Posted by: Bubba on August 9, 2003 5:14 PM

I second Joel’s (5:13 p.m.) and Bubba’s (5:14 p.m.) analyses and should like to add another level to them: the literary-cultural. When we read an English or American novel written in the nineteenth century we find the characters’ conversations filled with allusions to and quotations from the KJV, Shakespeare, Milton, Aesop’s Fables, etc. They didn’t have to be identified, because all literate people shared a common culture and had read those works in school. That this is no longer possible is the worst of the many indictments that must be brought against the educationist establishment.

The inevitable question, then, is: once the common culture is gone (and note that that’s the case with native-born white Americans), what will be the end-point? There has never been a cultureless society. What is it that we’re headed for?

Posted by: frieda on August 10, 2003 9:33 AM

Frieda’s question shows how inadequate is the notion that “we’ve been here before, it’s just a generational thing, this too will pass.” The reality is that what is now called the West has become the dissolver and destroyer of everything the West has been. We are in a crisis unlike anything in the history of our civilization.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on August 10, 2003 9:45 AM

Whatever the differences between so-called “paleocons” and “tradcons” (might as well burden you all with a silly name, too), I wonder whether we can’t or don’t all agree about this:

[from Joseph Sobran’s ‘Washington Watch’ column in The Wanderer]

“After reading James K. Fitzpatrick’s typically thoughtful reflections on conservatism in these pages last week, I wonder if ‘conservatism’ hasn’t also become a misleading euphemism. What, after all, is conservatism trying to conserve? As Mr. Fitzpatrick says, ‘Not as easy a question to answer as it used to be.’ I doubt that most self-described conservatives today could answer it very helpfully.

But let me venture a simple intuitive answer: We are, or were, and should be, trying to conserve Christian civilization. What we used to call Christendom is now so decadent that the task now is less of conservation than of regeneration and restoration. It is far beyond easy repair; it needs evangelization and reconversion more than, say, “limited government” (though that is also part of our Christian and Catholic heritage, and well worth defending).

There are no merely political solutions to the death of a great civilization, and conservatives who think there are such solutions are as deluded as the liberals and Communists who used to believe in ‘building a new society.’ Their ‘new society’ is here, but it’s not something that was ‘built’; it’s the tragic residue of what they have destroyed.

Republicans persist in thinking they can make the liberal system ‘work.’ But what can it mean to speak of ‘education’ as a ‘civil right,’ in a society that slaughters many of its children long before they set foot in a school?”

Indeed. The liberals’ new society is here, but it’s not something that was built. It’s merely the tragic residue of what they’ve destroyed. I can’t for the life of me think of a better way of putting it than that.

Posted by: Bubba on August 10, 2003 9:12 PM
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