Is America losing the ability to govern itself?

When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup. — Thomas Sowell, “Random Thoughts,” May 1, 2007

When a mainstream conservative like Thomas Sowell says something like this, you know things are getting bad. The entire column—part of his running series of “random thoughts on the passing scene”—suggests a despair about America.

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Fjordman writes:

Regarding your post on America’s ability to govern itself: I have recently started to fear that our democratic system, as it is currently fashioned, cannot survive the 21st century. That’s an awful thing to say, but it may be true. Cynically speaking, there are two basic tasks a government needs to perform in order to claim legitimacy for collecting taxes:

1. Keep criminals off the streets and maintain public order, so citizens can go about their affairs and conduct trade in reasonable safety. If this fails, and if ordinary citizens do not feel a minimum amount of security for their lives and property, trade and investments suffer, and the economy breaks down.

2. Uphold the territorial integrity of the country, and defend its borders and its citizens against external threats.

Right now, governments all over the Western world are performing poorly on the former, and failing abysmally on the latter, while still collecting obscene amounts of taxes. This situation simply isn’t sustainable for much longer, and may soon reach the tipping point for civil wars and military coups in some countries if it isn’t solved. Our nations need to regain control over our own borders. The problem is, we are faced with the most massive migration waves in the history of mankind, at the same time as international law and human rights fundamentalism is crippling our ability to maintain our integrity, and while our political and business elites care less and less about their own people.

Have we reached the end of the Golden Age of governments accountable to the people? I hope not, but we have to make significant changes to the system to make it work, and I must admit that I cannot yet envision how all of these changes will look like, nor how we will go about to get them implemented.

LA replies:
This is one of the most concise statements of the Western crisis I have seen.
Edward writes:

Sowell probably figured that the reasons and justifications should be obvious to most by this time. I have already beaten Sowell myself on this, having told several friends some weeks back that a rebellion by a faction of senior military officers might be the only way to stop this insanity.

Gintas J. writes:

I wouldn’t place any confidence in the military governing America. It might be able to maintain order—and order is a necessity—but the military is not the repository of old American virtues and will not save America from America. If the military takes over it will not be to restore the old America; it will be to prevent a final complete meltdown of order, the old American virtues having been gutted long ago by a despotic democracy as described in Russell Kirk’s essay on Toqueville in The Conservative Mind (and republished in The Essential Russell Kirk and titled “The Prescience of Toqueville”).

Dana A. writes:

I have this running argument with my mother, who believes a dictatorship in the US is inevitable. I can’t agree.

The Jacksonian military and “angry” caste of whites in this country are of the type to secede, not rebel. The US is too big and too ethnically mixed at the coasts, the whites don’t WANT to “take over and govern” the “others”. It’s more likely to me we will break up into maybe 4-5 countries, one of which will be traditionally white and western (the heartland and parts of Midwest) , one of which will be Canadian style socialist, yet white (the Northeast), one of which will be Hispanic or go back to Mexico and the South, unfortunately, which is home to the largest concentration of majority black counties, may go the way of South Africa.

cf. this map of US ancestry from the 2000 census, to see were borderlines may be drawn: Hopefully, Jews haven’t worn out their welcome so much in this country by now that I will be able to go live in the traditionalist country when it emerges.

Rick Darby of the Reflecting Light blog writes:

I agree with Sowell about the necessary conditions for self-government, but there is another: citizens must feel that they have some control over the conditions under which they are ruled. Lacking that, an individual eventually resigns himself cynically to ignoring the political process and concentrating on getting ahead financially or drugging himself with sports and entertainment. That, or figuring ways to game the system on behalf of himself, his family, and whatever group he identifies with. In none of those cases does a love of country or concern for society as a whole find room.

In Britain, which I am most familiar with among European nations, that point has very possibly been reached already. Politics is carried on and reported as usual, but it’s largely irrelevant. Britain has handed over most of its sovereignty to the European Union bureaucracy, with the prime minister and Parliament reduced mainly to squabbling over relative trivia. Even in those areas where Parliament and Whitehall still matter, they increasingly regulate aspects of daily life for citizens to the detriment of local authority. How could it be otherwise in a soft-socialist state, whose basic premise is that people are too ignorant to make good personal decisions, so various bodies of “experts” must tell them how to live?

To one degree or another, the same could probably be said for all the EU countries.

So far, we haven’t reached that point in the United States, but the handwriting is on the wall. For instance, there is tremendous anger and frustration over el Presidente’s unofficial open-borders policy, but beyond grumbling no one can figure out what to do about it. Even the most activist border enforcement advocates are playing defense and acknowledge that the chances of electing a Congress or president with the will to resist the ethnic and big-business lobbies are slim to zero.

The greatest invention of the country’s Founding Fathers was the concept of federalism, that is, political power with several nuclei: local, state, and federal. It has been a safeguard against too much power concentrated in a central government. That is, until the federal judiciary—appointed, not elected—decided that it was the ultimate authority and able to nullify any laws a majority of it didn’t agree with. Congress has never found the spine to pass a law enabling Supreme Court decisions to be overturned. (If it did, I suspect the court would declare it unconstitutional. But at least then the court’s arrogance would be obvious, and there might be hope for taming it.)

If Americans do ultimately conclude that their wishes and political acts count for naught, self-government will become empty and ceremonial here, too. It looks like that’s on the way.

As the nuclear radiation cloud approaches, the banner in the last shot of the movie On the Beach says: There is still time, brother.

But maybe not as much as we like to think.

Alan Roebuck writes:

A coup by a cabal of officers, even in the unlikely event that it succeeded, would be entirely incapable of properly (i.e., conservatively) running America. Americans are not like third-world peoples, who have no say and little interest in the actions of their government. Unless and until liberalism is overthrown as the unofficial state religion, i.e., the supremely authoritative belief system, no coup would even be contemplated by American military officers (who mostly subscribe to liberalism), and no coup could succeed in doing what needs to be done.

No, my VFR friends, there is only one course of action for those who want to fight evil rather than just complain: Argue, in the arena of public intellectual combat, against the bad ideas of liberalism. Of course, soldiers need to be organized, trained and led, so we need some sort of new conservative movement, led by those who have the time, the talent, the money and the understanding to be leaders. But the disaster of liberalism is not mysterious and uncontrollable, like an earthquake: It occurs because people have certain definite beliefs, and they believe them because other people have taken the time to convince them.

It’s going to be very hard, and success is far from guaranteed, but liberalism can be fought. Let’s roll!

P.S. If you want to know what specifically “rolling” might entail, I’ve got a number of ideas to show you if you ask for them.

LA replies:

Mr. Roebuck is making a profound point. Yet so is Conservative Swede, in his very different comment below. It’s hard to imagine truthful persuasive argument by itself ending liberalism. But without truthful persuasive argument, it cannot be ended.

Dunnyveg writes:

As much as I admire Thomas Sowell, if he’s suggesting in any way that a military coup would be desirable, I disagree. But I do think it’s inevitable if the country’s present course isn’t radically altered or reversed.

When multicultural societies are governable at all, they’re governable as tyrannies (Iraq, Yugoslavia) or as confederacies (the antebellum U.S. and Switzerland). For this reason, I take a contrarian view on the U.S. Constitution. Rather than being a document to guarantee freedom, the Constitution was written to foist as much tyranny and centralization on the American people as the founders thought they could get away with. It was more early free trade pact than Magna Carta; please recall that the Bill of Rights was actually an afterthought without which the Constitution never would have been ratified.

While the definitive ethnic history of the United States remains to be written, “Albion’s Seed” does an excellent job detailing the four major founding groups of this country and how they usually failed to get along. Even a book as light and impressionistic as McCullough’s “1776” shows that next to fighting the British, keeping regional tensions among his troops at bay was a constant struggle for George Washington. Since the founding days, this country has become more ethnically heterogeneous and centralized, with all the attendant hostilities and resentments.

Much of the vaunted Red State-Blue State divide is actually more of an ethnic divide than a political divide. This is because what constitutes good government and rights are culturally specific. An example should suffice to illustrate my point. At Lexington and Concord, the Yankees were fighting for liberty—liberty for their towns to make their own decisions—group liberties. Personal liberty untainted by government intrusion was a cherished Scots-Irish and Cavalier value. Puritans, and many of the Ellis Island immigrants, considered a strong central government to be culturally desirable, while Southerners wanted decentralized government. Among other things, the Civil War effectively nullified opposition to a strong central government.

Since some of the bloodiest wars in history have been between ethnic groups attempting to assert control over other ethnic groups, it’s fair to ask why decentralization isn’t being reconsidered more seriously. It’s also true in this country. If the Republicans were to succeed, say, in passing national laws outlawing abortion, I fear the effect would be just as galvanizing on liberals as Roe v Wade was on conservatives. No, cultural issues should be local issues. Nobody should be imposing their will on others.

Confederation, where local folks handle local issues, is the only way to avoid tyranny, and always has been. Because I see our nation headed in a diametrically opposite direction, Thomas Sowell is probably right on a military coup.

LA replies:

Dunnyveg is voicing the usual paleoconservative and paleo-libertarian rejection and delegitimization of the United States of America in favor of a purely regional idea. I disagree, but I’ve stated my disagreements with this view so many times in the past that I will not reply here in detail.

Conservative Swede writes:

Even when people express the idea that a military coup might be the only way, they express discomfort over it. This is probably because they have not fully let go of their Wilsonian utopian ideas. The Golden Age of government accountability is long gone in the West. There’s nothing to save or defend there. While military coups are uncertain business (strong leaders are not necessarily good leaders), it is a wonderful opportunity to lay a new ground for government accountability. It’s not an end, it’s a beginning. And in European civilization the strong and good leaders have always won in the long run. So why the discomfort about it?

Let me remind you all of the military coup in Chile 1973. Government accountability—in the 20th century, democracy was considered the model for this—was ended by Allende, but then saved by Pinochet. Pinochet get the blame, from leftists and liberals, for having ended democracy in Chile. While in fact democracy in Chile had already been ended by Allende, by overrunning the constitution, ignoring the majority in the parliament, by ruling by decree, and by socialist mob rule in the streets and factories. And according to the interview with Gustavo Leigh in Clarin, Pinochet was not even involved in the actual coup. This is of lesser importance though, but indicates what world of medial fantasies we live in.

Pinochet was, however, responsible for the decision not to throw Chile back into chaos, by reintroducing democracy only after six months, as the irresponsible democratist dreamers among the other generals and the non-socialist countries wanted. Be sure to note the time when he reintroduced democracy in Chile. In the end of the ’80s. Same time as South Africa let go of apartheid. The common factor being that the Soviet Union was falling apart. It was the responsible time to do it.

Pinochet didn’t bring anything down, he built something up. He didn’t mean an end, he was the beginning of something new and good.

The responsible action of Pinochet by honouring the two basic tasks of a government—as expressed by Fjordman: (1) Keeping criminals off the streets and maintain public order, and (2) Upholding the territorial integrity of the country—granted stability and prosperity. So that Chile is now not only the freest and most prosperous country in Latin America, but freer and more prosperous than any European country I can think of. (Of course, liberalism is again bringing down Chile.) Fjordman writes about “governments accountable to the people.” But this was exactly how the Golden Age was brought to an end, in the first place. It doesn’t take long for “governments accountable to the people” to end up as government not accountable at all. But governments must be accountable: to those who create wealth in the country, to those upholding the territorial integrity of the country—in both cases to the degree that they contribute to that task—and to an educated political elite who understands politics. How could the government be accountable to the people, when the people will never understand politics? But according to European political tradition—the tradition of meaningful elections, real checks and balances, responsible leaders, a tradition of freedom and prosperity all forgotten today—the government must have the consent of the people. Something that our governments do not have today.

Something that was bound to happen with the system of modern (Wilsonian) democracy.

And when the government no longer has the consent of the people, when the government no longer performs its basics tasks of protecting people, there will be a revolt against the sovereign, as described by Hobbes.

And this is also what bound to happen in the West. The sooner the better. Why not through a military coup? Less blood and chaos than civil wars or popular revolutions. As I have said before: real political power is represented by the greatest means to apply violence. In a chaotic and hopeless situation as ours, a military coup is probably the best way to rebuild a civilized political tradition on this real basis.

LA replies:

I agree with Conservative Swede’s praise of Pinochet.

LA writes:

To give an idea of the intellectual level of the liberal bloggers whose interest in me has been spurred by David Mill’s attacks, here’s a blogger who says of the current blog entry:

Still Crazy

Lawrence Auster thinks it’s time for a military junta.
Posted by Frasor at 11:24 AM

Larry G. writes:

I’ve long thought that a military coup might be a solution to our problems, but your commenters are disabusing me of that notion. If the officer corps has gone liberal on us—and I can point to gays in the military, Muslims in the military, and unwed mothers on Navy ships as evidence—then a military government could well start enforcing PC on the population at gunpoint. Not exactly what we had in mind. Besides, hoping the military swoops in and saves us from ourselves is like hoping that moderate Muslims will save us from Islamists. Alan Roebuck is right: We have to fight for ourselves with the only weapons we have: words.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 14, 2007 06:43 AM | Send

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