What to Read While the Junta Consolidates
A Review of The Army of the Republic
by Karen Kwiatkowski
The clarion call uniting old-time conservatives and modern American liberals is loud and clear: "Main Street, not Wall Street!" Right and left alike broadcast angry references to the fleecing of America by ongoing government cronyism, dictatorial power grabs by unelected officials and the sheer stupidity of the ongoing and proposed bailouts.
The common sense critique of government-complicit Ponzi schemes illustrates the real American class warfare that pits the fleecers against the fleeced.
Who will succeed? Which side will win? What new forms of government will emerge from the ongoing moral and financial crisis? These questions may be answered politically, for example, via Ron Paul's historic press conference rejecting America's single party political system, celebrating the massive yet hidden majority in the country, and calling it to action.
These questions may also be answered individually, as in the Cherokee story of the two wolves that do battle inside each of us.
Where is the true heart of America, and from whence will come real change?
Stuart Archer Cohen, small business owner out of Juneau, Alaska and author of two previous novels, has written a new novel that seeks to answer this question. With its provocative title, The Army of the Republic, and a cover that repeats, like the mad caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, a phrase "You can't silence me. You can't silence me. You can't silence me…," one might assume the book is fast fiction written for wackos and separatists, or both.
Instead, Cohen has captured an America, literarily and artistically, that parallels what the Ron Paul revolution captured politically just this year. An America that is awakening, an America that is a long time coming, and an America that defies the old ways of thinking about change and politics.
Cohen unfolds the story of a quasi-futuristic America from several unique perspectives, starting with the founder of a domestic terrorist group from which the book gets its title. Lando's group seeks the restoration of a republic in this country, and we are treated to some well-researched, fast-paced and fascinating insight into living under the radar of a burgeoning police state. When we consider that just a year ago, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed (using a roll call after suspending debate) the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 criminalizing domestic dissent, some of this description is not only interesting, but practical.
The American republic needs an army, because in the novel, America has become a kleptocratic corporate oligarchy, complete with a parallel mercenary police force run by a company called Whitehall. The futuristic Whitehall, like its real life peer in enforcement of American power abroad today, serves as an emblem of what Will Grigg, among others, has exhaustively documented and observed.
While a key narrator is the likeable Lando, the battles in the novel are only punctuated by violence, in particular, violence aimed directly against the leaders and investments of the governing kleptocracy — which not surprisingly, constantly uses the language and images of freedom, constitutionalism, and peace. The larger battles are non-violent and take place in the arena of democratic action, in the Clauswitzian sense of the people. This we come to understand through the eyes of another storyteller, a democratic organizer. For those who have followed the process, participated in marches, sit-downs, or other protests, or even attended the Republican or Democratic conventions, or the Ron Paul Rally for the Republic, Cohen's fictional accounting of peaceful democratic action will ring frighteningly true.
A theme Cohen develops and emphasizes in The Army of the Republic is the competition between words and pictures. The old joke, "Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?" comes to mind, but it is no joke. The incredible power of image-laden catchphrases cloaked in wealth and brightness versus the painful and never-ending drudgery of logical analysis and criticism is deftly portrayed throughout the novel, through characters that are well-developed and sympathetic. One of the key narrators is in fact, the very likeable billionaire CEO of a company that is moving and selling water, that next big kingmaker industry in the United States and the world.
Stuart Archer Cohen is familiar with other underground struggles for democracy, and republicanism, particularly in Central and South America. His fascination with the human side of political change brings a richness and a relevancy to his novel, particularly to Americans who do not know and will never study political histories south of the border. Too few people have read John Perkins Confessions of an Economic Hitman, and too few people will agonize over how our government and financial system really works — although our current financial crisis will animate some. This novel is for them.
Futurists and optimists who see hope in billionaire T. Boone Pickens self-funded campaign for wind energy, in the idea of left and right joining for public good, will enjoy this novel, and be inspired. Strangely, those who criticize Pickens' grab for tax receipts and eminent domain for wind plantations in order to secure his company's private water rights and transport corridors will also enjoy this novel.
The Army of the Republic is an excellent read — as one of the blurbs on the back cover says, it really is "A white knuckle thrill ride …: Thomas Paine meets Rage Against the Machine." I couldn't put it down, and afterwards, I couldn't stop debating in my own mind various points and prejudices portrayed by the characters.
Because the story is at its heart about how we think rather than how we act, it has a power that distinguishes it from lesser dystopian political novels, and puts it in a category closer to Orwell's 1984 or in some important ways, Rand's We the Living. Cohen has written a solidly grounded book that, while gripping and entertaining, also appeals to a political vision and imagination that was articulated by the founding fathers, and deserves a hearing.
In the real world, we seriously consider the shipwreck of America's corporate state, and the new fascism lapping at our shores. No doubt, Americans of all stripes are worrying a bit about the directions of the country, and maybe even if they can keep their jobs, their homes, their investments. But if you have time to read a novel this year, I highly recommend Stuart Archer Cohen's just published The Army of the Republic.
September 24, 2008
LRC columnist Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, has written on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for MilitaryWeek.com, hosted the call-in radio show American Forum, and blogs occasionally for Huffingtonpost.com and Liberty and Power. To receive automatic announcements of new articles, click here.
Copyright © 2008 Karen Kwiatkowski