Salvo 06.22.2021 20 minutes

To Rescue a Nation

Horatius Cocles defending the Tiber-bridge against the Etruscans (507 BC)

Restoring America requires dedicated citizens to re-found our Republic.

Peoples become nations by following those who lead them to worship the same God or idols, and to act habitually as they do. The Greeks called these habits “ethics.” These change for good and ill as prominent persons change, or develop new ways of life, or foreign influences impose themselves. The general population tends to follow. Plato and Aristotle led subsequent generations to note that peoples tend to take on their leaders’ character.

Some see such changes as betrayal. If these alienate a large enough proportion of people, the body politic itself loses the capacity to act as a whole. Enough disarticulation, and the body politic ceases to exist for practical purposes. Serious changes, regardless of their sources, lead some to want a resetting the country on what they regard as its proper basis—or outright resuscitation.

Machiavelli wrote that doing that amounts to re-founding a nation, and that this is considerably more difficult than founding one in the first place.

What does it take to re-found a nation? The question is lively for twenty-first century Americans because the changes that have taken place in the bipartisan ruling class that controls nearly all our institutions have explicitly denied and denigrated what had made America itself. Today’s ruling class leads and even forces Americans to act, speak, and think as if all that they had thought good were bad, and vice versa. Almost as if a vengeful power had conquered the country. At least half the country yearns for some kind of rescue.

Though history does not lack examples of nations rescued and refounded, most rescues involve overthrowing the dominion of foreigners rather than of mutated ruling classes. But as the Book of Exodus shows, the removal of foreign influence is almost always much less than half the battle. Reference to foreign oppression is often a necessary, but always an insufficient factor.  Charles de Gaulle’s success against the Germans was not enough to overcome resistance to his efforts to restore France’s corrupt body politic. Without a foreign focus however, refounding can only be a civil war of variable temperatures. Abraham Lincoln’s failure to avoid the Civil War is as clear an example as there is.

Machiavelli’s near equation of reform with re-founding mostly abstracts from the fact that, for nations and regimes founded on and tailored for the people’s characteristics, repeating something like the founding is not possible once these have changed. Peoples are far less malleable than regimes.

On the one hand, successive generations of Romans were able to re-set Rome more or less on the basis on which Romulus had set it by killing his brother, Remus, who had trespassed on what became the Urbe’s fundamental law: war against outsiders. Successive Fathers of the Fatherland reaffirmed that law. And when Cleomenes judged that Sparta’s ephors had violated Lycurgus’s constitution, he deftly re-established it by killing the ephors and their followers. The Soviet regime’s fundamental law was the Communist General Secretary’s murderous discipline of the Party, which suffused society with fearful uncertainty. When Mikhail Gorbachev tried to rescue tyranny from the feudalism into which it had fallen under Brezhnev, he might well have succeeded had he been willing to kill as Lenin and Stalin had done.

Doubtless, rescuing disrespected constitutions has always required and will always require undoing any number of enemies.

But there is little historical evidence that peoples who had constituted themselves nations on the basis of freedom can convert that nationhood’s lively memory into rebirth.

Self-government ever reflects self, and lost civic virtue is almost as unrecoverable as lost virginity.

Divisive leadership

The political conflict in which we are engaged pits some Americans who revere the legacy and memory of the Republic founded in 1776-1789 against those who despise it and have corrupted the Republic’s institutions into an oligarchy.

The concentration of corruptions in the ruling class does not minimize the reality that a part of the U.S population are that oligarchy’s eager subjects, either uninterested in or opposed to any kind of restoration. We who resent that our ruling class’s corruption deprives us of self-government are another part. Hence governing ourselves again, resetting America on the bases on which it was founded is necessarily by, of, and for only we who want it.

In short, America has changed so much from what it had been just a half century ago that any restoration implies some sort of mutual alienation, separation, or secession, whether as a substitute for civil war or as a result of it. What kind of conflict might it take to rescue ourselves from what we regard as contemporary America’s corruptions?

The process of rescue necessarily consists of republican Americans’ would-be leaders convincing their followers to ignore, to disdain, to resist, the directions from society’s commanding heights in favor of what they believe is more consistent with what America had been and should be again. It is essentially a revolutionary (or counter-revolutionary) process that requires equal doses of negation and affirmation.

Silent secession by alienated individuals is inevitable and deadly. In 1967, hippie songster Arlo Guthrie invited those who wanted to drop out of the America they despised to mock its authorities by singing them the meaningless “you can get anything that you want at Alice’s restaurant.” Millions of East Germans said to themselves “ohne mich,” without me, as they pretended to go along. Many more Soviet subjects also kept their heads down as they spat out official lies with ever more evident mockery. Live not by lies, said Solzhenitsyn. In the long run turning one’s back, tacit hemorrhage of legitimacy, dooms regimes. But it reforms and refounds nothing.

Because nations consist of collective affirmation, founding, refounding, and mere repair require leadership that embodies, personifies, and secures the good to which individuals are invited to adhere. Statesmanship—that is, constitutive politics—consists of attracting the many to feel, and to lead them to act, as one. This means leadership must consist of identifying with a cause common and attractive to the people.

But to meld the assertion of collective authority on behalf of a prospect at odds with the dominant power of the day, to affirm a better future while leading collective rejection of the present, to say “Don’t listen to them, listen to me and follow me, though it may cost you to do so,” may be the most difficult of messages to formulate and deliver successfully. Because it inevitably foments strife, it must be part and parcel of reasonable plans to safeguard the people through that strife to the desired goal.

Singular leadership

The larger the enterprise, the more diverse the people engaged in it, the more important is it that it be focused on one person, whose own vision and character defines its substance and cohesion. The American Revolution happened through the efforts of differently motivated people in scarce contact with one another. But it would not have succeeded, and certainly not in the same way, had it not been for George Washington. In the 1860s, countless Americans pushed and pulled the country around. Lincoln provided such coherence, focus, definition, as America needed to get through its trial. His loss showed how important these had been.

A defining leader’s presence is essential for the members of the enterprise to recognize themselves as part of something that is alive. Leadership provides a living intelligence and will in which they can place their confidence on safety and success. To lead, someone must prove he knows what he is doing, that he cares, and that he is going to make the whole thing work. At all times and in all places, persons personify enterprises.

The greater the enterprise to be personified, the wider and more diverse the interests and passions to be focused on it, the more essential it is that whoever does try to do it meld himself into it. Charge of big things naturally tempts would be leaders to think of themselves in large terms, to seek commitment to themselves. There is no greater pitfall. Effective espousal of a cause means that the leader dissolves into the cause.

A serious attempt to rescue Americans from an alien regime at war with our way of life awaits the rise of a person to embody their sentiments, focus and lead them to act successfully in their own interest.

Leadership and identity

Though it seems obvious that trying to lead, or even to take part, in such an enterprise requires outsized self-confidence, historical examples show that the authority by which some have rallied peoples behind flags picked from the dirt flowed more from the flags themselves—from the enterprise itself—than from any attempt by the leader to project himself onto them. Presuming to lead something far greater than one’s self on the basis of that self is likeliest to prove mere conceit. In fact, those who have effectively placed themselves at the head of nations became great by becoming one with causes that daunted them, as they should have.

Moses first rejected his comfortable place in Egyptian life by protecting an Israelite. But when the call came from the Burning Bush, Moses begged off. Not me. “I am slow of speech.” But the voice from the fire told him that rescuing Israel was not about Moses. It was what I Am wanted done. He would tell Moses what to say and give what help was needed. Moses’ insufficiencies mattered less than the cause.

Thus did Moses remind his people that they were the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, bound not to the Egyptians, but by covenant to serve the one true God; and that this God was in the process of rescuing them. At every point in the Exodus, Moses pointed to the signs of the Lord’s sustaining power. Moses organized them for survival and war. His successes rallied the people behind his leadership, and enabled him to lead them into a new covenant on the basis of the Decalogue. This re-founding arguably was as significant as Abraham’s original.

When France’s entire ruling class dissolved, delivering the country to Hitler, Brigadier Charles de Gaulle, stranded in London, begged that class’s better parts to take up France’s cause. All refused. He resisted instinctively the prospect of doing it himself, comparing it to “trying to cross the ocean by swimming.” But then, when nobody showed up to shoulder the impossible burden, he put his personal insignificance aside and told his radio audience that “some voice must be raised” against the collaborationists’ outrages, and that “tonight, that voice will be mine.” There was no other.

History affords few examples of a nation as thoroughly abandoned by its ruling class as France was in 1940, and of the re-construction of an alternate ruling elite—piece by piece, individual by individual—as Charles de Gaulle accomplished between July 1940 and July 1945. His circumstances were special, as all are. But what de Gaulle accomplished was nothing less than to re-infuse life into a mostly dead body politic, or to re-articulate a paralyzed one. He re-connected the French people with one another for collective action on their own behalf.

Founders and re-founders turn peoples’ resentments and hopes into action by asking them to think of themselves as together—as being in the same boat, as it were—and jointly dedicated to a nation greater than themselves; and hence to stand together, first in small, and then in ever greater ways. Inevitably, this means joining to overcome resistance. It means fighting and prevailing together in the name of their nation. Their successes counterbalance the inconveniences and burdens involved.

Moses secured the Israelites’ coherence and adherence to the Decalogue and the rest of the Law because he fed them, defeated the Amalekites, and put violent dissenters to the edge of the sword, in the name of the Lord. In the name of France, de Gaulle asked the people to regard occupiers and collaborators as future “prisoners or corpses,” and to act only as commanded by “la résistance” that he organized. But that encouragement was meaningful only because his troops, fighting alongside the Allies, delivered inspiring victories, such as at Bir Hakeim. That, and deft maneuvering against rivals, made possible the effective, triumphant, re-founding of the French nation on the Champs Elysees, August 26, 1945.

But la résistance was always about France, not about de Gaulle, just as the Exodus was never about Moses, but about the Israelites as God’s people. Not least of the reasons why this century’s American revolt against the ruling class only led to strengthening its grip is that it was too much about Donald Trump.

What would it take here?

The oligarchy that annihilated or perverted the American Republic’s institutions rules not simply to secure privileged access to wealth. It is equally, if not principally preoccupied with crushing the way of life of whoever are not its members or clients—of ourselves. That is why it rules as a hostile occupying power. Having replaced the distinction between public and private with that between ins and outs, our oligarchy, like all others, exercises power through all manner of connected corporations and individuals—in business, education, the media, etc.

Each and every part of this oligarchy oppresses us and stands in the way of our re-establishing the republican way of life among those who wish to live it. Each and every part is our enemy. Treating each and every one, and their leading individuals, as the enemies they are, shielding ourselves from their power as we re-establish self-rule, is what rescuing and refounding America is about.

Like any other way of life based on self-rule, ours can be re-founded only by the people themselves. Today there is no shortage of will to defy the oligarchy at every point at which it impinges. Americans know that resistance and affirmation are effective in proportion to the numbers that practice it jointly. Throughout this diverse country, the spirit of resistance ferments, and manifests itself in small scale spontaneous actions, lawsuits, and in state legislatures. Some governors, notably Florida’s DeSantis, have protected their people to some extent and above all have proved that opposition to the oligarchs is neither lonely, looney, nor hopeless.

But because the oligarchy poses problems nationwide and can bring its whole force to bear against challenges at any point, fighting it effectively requires marshaling the bulk of republicans, nationwide, for common action. That marshaling must begin by making clear that the battle is not about competing visions of the common good but about under whose regime we republicans will live. Though many if not most of the actions by which republicans can fend off the oligarchs will affect only parts of the people and perhaps only one of the oligarchy’s parts, the marshaling will surely be most effective as part of a single national movement. Though many persons must be prominent within such a movement, human experience seems to dictate that it must recognize itself in one leader.

Having checked the oligarchy’s pressures, such leadership is even more essential for drawing the lines of demarcation behind which peoples who now belong to different regimes and even civilizations may peacefully live side by side.

This is not the place to discuss what role, if any, Donald Trump might play in rescuing republican America. Suffice it to say, about him as about all others who would lead on the national level, that leadership worthy of its name consists of actually organizing successful acts of resistance and affirmation.

To several such national-level defensive actions we turn our attention.

Defensive battles

Defending Americans against censorship by the tech giants and the rest of the media on the behalf of the oligarchy must begin with making clear that these are republican Americans’ enemies, which lie to us, build profiles on us that corporate partners use to sell us things, and that the Democratic Party uses to target and demean us. Once millions of Americans grasp this, Google’s and the lesser giants’ influence ends but for their own partisans. Then legislation becomes possible that makes them liable for perceived harm to individuals, to be adjudicated by juries.

Organizing collective opposition is key to defending against being fired or otherwise disadvantaged for transgressing the Woke requirements that corporations and government agencies are imposing on employees and even on persons who deal with them. Just as individuals are effectively powerless against such acts, so the institutions and agencies become powerless when the bulk of their employees and customers oppose them jointly as part of a nationwide movement that aims politically at the corporations’ effective partnership with the oligarchy’s political arm, the Democratic Party. Such a national movement can augment the protestors’ cohesiveness and force through class action lawsuits.

Such joint refusals and lawsuits are also the obvious basis on which to organize republicans to stop the Democratic Party and its corporate partners from requiring proof of vaccination for traveling on public transportation, going to school, or even going into public places. National leadership must reject the lie that this has anything to do with public health and leave no doubt that such passports—necessarily digital—inevitably would carry information that amounts to what the Chinese call “social credit.” States that prohibit them within their borders thereby de-legitimize them and make them impracticable nationwide. But only national-level leadership can make sure that the American people treat this power grab as part of the oligarchy’s war on republican America.

Universities and colleges, largely financed through government, having been the fountainhead of the oligarchy’s intellectual/moral character, nothing would reduce that fountain’s pressure on republican America like curtailing that financing. Republican America’s would be leaders could campaign to make individual institutions liable for unpaid student debts incurred there and make them into lending institutions. The Democrats’ objections notwithstanding, that cause would prevail, sober the educational establishment in countless ways, and lower tuition costs. National-level involvement in K-12 education also having been a source of inflation and all manner of corruption, and attempts to use the Department of Education to remedy the harm it has caused having miscarried, today’s leaders should, like Ronald Reagan, promise to abolish that Department. And then do it, reminding parents that if they do not educate their own children, the government is sure to mis-educate them.

The oligarchy’s perversion of American law, its partisan seizure of the justice system, of the intelligence agencies, and of the military, is the deadliest weapon in the war of annihilation it wages against our Republic. Led and largely staffed by partisan Democrats, scarcely distinguishable from the private corporations and institutions it oversees, the bureaucracy legislates and administers against the rest of us. The Constitution? “Are you kidding?” asked Nancy Pelosi. The oligarchy lets rapists and robbers walk, and punishes only demonstrations against its regime. The only crimes are political. The intelligence agencies know—only pretend to know—the evils of republicans. The armed forces’ leadership purges them as the enemy within. The oligarchy having seized our Constitutional system’s control, only a presidential election can take this weapon from them.

But wise leadership can circumscribe its effects as it prepares such an election. Depriving these perversions and seizures of any shadow of legitimacy is key. Any argument we make against bureaucratic, prosecutorial, or power-agency actions as if these actions were errors within our republican system only give credence to a falsehood, a lie. In fact, the bureaucracy’s, the intelligence agencies’, the armed forces’ actions against republicans are not errors. They are the oligarchic regime’s acts of war. As the majority of Americans grasp that reality, they deprive the regime’s powers of the legitimacy that gives them force.

Since the persons who actually wield these powers have careers that transcend electoral cycles, whoever would lead the republican nation can limit the harm they do by forcefully warning them that, sooner or later, a president will take office who, as the American republic’s vigorous partisan and unlike predecessors, will work terrible vengeance upon any and all persons who have served the oligarchy. Such leaders can show their seriousness by using whatever powers they may have to block funding for parts of the justice system, for the FBI and CIA, for certain of the armed forces’ activities, and especially for contractors whom they judge to be excessively tied to the oligarchy.

Success in battles to protect republicans will make it possible to work out some arrangement whereby peoples who now belong to two incompatible civilizations and who look for leadership to two hostile regimes may live in peace though intermingled with one another.

Working out such an arrangement is what rescuing America today means.

Federalism as never before

The more fine-grained the maps of the American people’s electoral choices, as well as of their opinions about the most important things, the clearer it is that its “blue”—Democrat, Woke, etc. —parts are concentrated not simply in California, New York, Illinois, etc., or even in the 16.7 percent of U.S. counties the Democratic Party carried in the 2020 election. Within those states, counties, and even within their cities (e.g., Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Austin) there are substantial parts the residents of which vote for and prefer differently. By the same token there are parts, even of Wyoming, as Woke as Venice, California.

This intermingling is more fraught with horrid consequences than the 19th century division between Northerners and Southerners. Both of those sides, Lincoln reminded them, “prayed to the same God.” Their family lives, their personal habits and preferences, were identical. All revered America’s founders, albeit somewhat differently. None doubted the others’ probity. Today, by contrast, America’s Woke side regards worship of the God of the Bible as the source of the White man’s rapacity, racism, and oppression. It regards the very words male and female, mother and father as poisonous, and rejects reason itself as the arbiter of argument in favor of identity. Through education, it enforces relativism regarding mathematics—never mind sexuality—and wholly denigrates anything that America has been other than the enabler of themselves.

America’s founders did not intend for the U.S. government to have the power to enforce unanimity of mores among a diverse population. The very notion of peaceful self-government has ever implied small units within which virtual unanimity about the most important things would reign. The Civil War happened when the South sought to spread its peculiar institution nationwide. The Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision seconded that nationalization and turbocharged Northern abolitionism. The ensuing war abolished slavery in the most divisive of ways and fed a perpetual escalating contest about whose mores shall be imposed on whom. The Supreme Court’s nationalization of abortion in its Roe v. Wade decision did to America roughly what Dred Scott had done and was followed by others that further fired the strife. Now every national election, every judicial nomination, is about who shall kill whom under what circumstances, who shall go into whose bathroom, who are the heroes and who the villains, and which children shall and shall not be filled with alien hormones.

The good news is that the U.S government has less credit, and hence less real power to decide such matters than ever before. Alas, it also has lost the capacity to prevent opposite sides of these bellicose questions from taking their preferences into their own hands. The United States of America is coming apart. The only question is whether it finishes doing so to avoid violence, or as a result thereof.

Republican Americans’ success in the aforementioned defensive battles should convince the oligarchy to limit its absolute power to the people who want to live under it. The persons whom the republicans choose in successive elections will have substantial power to define the terms by which America’s tribes relate to one another. Maximum latitude for each and minimum interference with the other should be the guidelines. Affording maximum autonomy to each is essential to ensure peace among people who identify with civilizations at odds with each other.

The U.S. Constitution’s letter gives nearly all powers of government to the states, and reserves unmentioned ones “to the people.” Surely that includes powers over bathrooms, marriages, who competes with whom in sports, etc. It certainly includes power over elections. Customarily, we have regarded counties and cities purely as legal creatures of the states, enjoying only such autonomy as the states may concede. Though a federal statute granting broad autonomy over such matters to the states’ constituted sub-units and giving enough likeminded people the power to form units that enjoy such autonomy would run against more than a century of court decisions, it finds no barrier in the Constitution’s letter. Congress and the president can do this.

The alternative is already unfolding: people on all sides have learned that “stop me if you can” is today’s operative constitutional law. Pretty soon, everywhere will be a sanctuary for something. The willful and well-organized obey what they will and disobey what they dare. Better for all if the separation follows the law of logic rather than force.

What then?

Geographically, republican America will reign from shore to shore, from Canada to Mexico. Its birth rate, its educational system’s products, its economic vigor, its social stability, its degree of happiness will reflect how fit today’s republicans are for self-government. We cannot foresee and should not speculate how their successes and failures might affect Woke America. We can be sure however that radical de-centralization at home can only reduce the matters with which U.S. foreign policy deals, and hence increase the likelihood that they be dealt with soberly.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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