“There are those who still think they are holding the pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the Night of Depression, singing songs to freedom.” — Garet Garrett, The Revolution Was (1938)
There have been a number of revolutions in American history. It began with the American Revolution, which was armed resistance against the lawful government. Then came the revolution that was disguised as an act of Republicanism: the Constitutional Convention of 1787. That was a coup d’état. The next major revolution was the Civil War. The south rebelled against lawful authority, and lawful authority wiped out antebellum culture. Then came the Spanish-American war, which launched the American Empire. It was ratified by the ascendancy of Teddy Roosevelt to the White House. Next, there was the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, which took us into World War I. Next, there was the New Deal. Next, there was World War II. Finally, there was Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
I think is legitimate to regard all of these famous events as revolutions. Only the American Revolution was a true revolution. The others were revolutions in the way that Garrett described them: revolutions within the form.
There are those who have never ceased to say very earnestly, “Something is going to happen to the American form of government if we don’t watch out.” These were the innocent disarmers. Their trust was in words. They had forgotten their Aristotle. More than 2,000 years ago he wrote of what can happen within the form, when “one thing takes the place of another, so that the ancient laws will remain, while the power will be in the hands of those who have brought about revolution in the state.”
Revolutions do not occur overnight. They build up over a long period of time, and they take place very rapidly. This phenomenon applies to many areas of life. The old story that Hemingway wrote about the man who described his bankruptcy went as follows: it went slowly, and then very fast.
With this in mind, I’m going to comment on an article written by an old friend of mine, Angelo Codevilla. I worked with him when I was in Washington in the mid-1970s. He wrote an article for Remnant Review in 1979: “The Danger Is Defeat, Not Destruction,” which was sent out as written by Professor X. I pulled the copyright. It was reprinted around the country. I estimate that at least 500,000 of them were sent out.
I regarded him at the time as the smartest theorist in the conservative movement. I have not changed my opinion over the last 40 years.
He has written a remarkable article, “After the Republic.”
AFTER THE REPUBLIC
He believes that this election will mark the transition away from the American Republic to something different.
With respect to foreign policy, I think this happened in 1898. If I were to blame one person for this — and I do — it would be Theodore Roosevelt. We can date it: February 25, 1898. On that day, the Secretary of the Navy took a one-day vacation. Roosevelt, as Assistant Secretary, on his own authority telegraphed Admiral Dewey in Hong Kong to sink the Spanish fleet if war broke out. The Secretary did not countermand Roosevelt’s order the next day. Dewey sank the fleet on May 1 — the international day of revolution. America, therefore, got the Philippines. It took a bloody war from 1900 to 1902 for America to suppress the rebels: 25,000 Filipino rebels killed, plus an estimated 200,000 civilians who died.
Empires take the time to develop, and at some point, they drain the financial resources of the nation that launched the empire. There are no exceptions to this process. Empire always produces bankruptcy.
We are not yet at that stage. The Great Default has not taken place yet. But it is going to. And it is likely that Medicare will be the main culprit rather than the empire itself.
The article makes the case that we are at the transition point. It focuses on politics. I always want to look at economics. I want to know how many resources the political order can commandeer from the general public. This is the great restricting force on the development of the empire.
He makes a very strong case that over the last 50 years, there’s been a fundamental transition in the American political system. He talks about several factors. One of them was the Immigration Act of 1965, which was signed into law in 1968. He thinks that the most important one was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He makes a point that I have never read before, and the moment I read it, I realized that he understands the central point of that piece of legislation: the elevation of the commerce clause of the Constitution as the supreme cause in the Constitution.
What goes by the name “constitutional law” has been eclipsing the U.S. Constitution for a long time. But when the 1964 Civil Rights Act substituted a wholly open-ended mandate to oppose “discrimination” for any and all fundamental rights, it became the little law that ate the Constitution. Now, because the Act pretended that the commerce clause trumps the freedom of persons to associate or not with whomever they wish, and is being taken to mean that it trumps the free exercise of religion as well, bakers and photographers are forced to take part in homosexual weddings. A commission in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts reported that even a church may be forced to operate its bathrooms according to gender self-identification because it “could be seen as a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public.” California came very close to mandating that Catholic schools admit homosexual and transgender students or close down. The Justice Department is studying how to prosecute on-line transactions such as vacation home rental site Airbnb, Inc., that fall afoul of its evolving anti-discrimination standards.
Then he points to something else which I had never considered: the destructive power of the vote on the annual budget, which in fact never gets voted on; it is always deferred. We get a continuing resolution, not a final vote on the budget. But that is not the key fact. This is the key fact:
No one running for the GOP nomination discussed the greatest violation of popular government’s norms–never mind the Constitution–to have occurred in two hundred years, namely, the practice, agreed upon by mainstream Republicans and Democrats, of rolling all of the government’s expenditures into a single bill. This eliminates elected officials’ responsibility for any of the government’s actions, and reduces them either to approving all that the government does without reservation, or the allegedly revolutionary, disloyal act of “shutting down the government.”Rather than talk about how to restrain or shrink government, Republican candidates talked about how to do more with government. The Wall Street Journal called that “having a positive agenda.” Hence, Republicans by and large joined the Democrats in relegating the U.S. Constitution to history’s dustbin.
I rarely find an article in which I read two fundamental points that I had never considered before. So, I take the article very seriously.
The article goes back to Garrett’s original point, the revolution within the form. It does not cite Garrett’s article, but it makes the same point:
Because Republicans largely agree with Democrats that they need not take seriously the founders’ Constitution, today’s American regime is now what Max Weber had called the Tsarist regime on the eve of the Revolution: “fake constitutionalism.” Because such fakery is self-discrediting and removes anyone’s obligation to restrain his passions, it is a harbinger of revolution and of imperial power.
The phrase “fake constitutionalism” is simply another way of stating revolution within the form.
MANNERS OF THE NETWORK
Then he makes another point: the centrality of manners.
All ruling classes are what Shakespeare called the “makers of manners.” Plato, in The Republic, and Aristotle, in his Politics, teach that polities reflect the persons who rise to prominence within them, whose habits the people imitate, and who set the tone of life in them. Thus a polity can change as thoroughly as a chorus changes from comedy to tragedy depending on the lyrics and music. Obviously, the standards and tone of life that came from Abraham Lincoln’s Oval Office is quite opposite from what came from the same place when Bill Clinton used it. Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm was arguably the world’s most polite society. Under Hitler, it became the most murderous.In today’s America, a network of executive, judicial, bureaucratic, and social kinship channels bypasses the sovereignty of citizens. Our imperial regime, already in force, works on a simple principle: the president and the cronies who populate these channels may do whatever they like so long as the bureaucracy obeys and one third plus one of the Senate protects him from impeachment. If you are on the right side of that network, you can make up the rules as you go along, ignore or violate any number of laws, obfuscate or commit perjury about what you are doing (in the unlikely case they put you under oath), and be certain of your peers’ support. These cronies’ shared social and intellectual identity stems from the uniform education they have received in the universities. Because disdain for ordinary Americans is this ruling class’s chief feature, its members can be equally certain that all will join in celebrating each, and in demonizing their respective opponents.
He uses the correct noun: network. It is the American version of Britain’s old boy network. This network has been dominant since at least 1933. It is an extension of Britain’s old boy network, which developed in 1919 when Milner’s Royal Institute of Economic Affairs created its American subsidiary, the Council on Foreign Relations.
He mention’s Kennedy’s reform, failing to remind readers that it was newly elected Senator Teddy Kennedy: the Immigration Act of 1965.
Moreover, since the Kennedy reform of 1965, and with greater speed since 2009, the ruling class’s immigration policy has changed the regime by introducing some 60 million people–roughly a fifth of our population–from countries and traditions different from, if not hostile, to ours. Whereas earlier immigrants earned their way to prosperity, a disproportionate percentage of post-1965 arrivals have been encouraged to become dependents of the state. Equally important, the ruling class chose to reverse America’s historic practice of assimilating immigrants, emphasizing instead what divides them from other Americans. Whereas Lincoln spoke of binding immigrants by “the electric cord” of the founders’ principles, our ruling class treats these principles as hypocrisy. All this without votes or law; just power.
I do not deny that this took place. But let us be reasonable: it has seriously affected only one state, California. New Mexico was Hispanic from the beginning. We stole it from Mexico in 1848. Arizona is still Republican. Texas is still Republican. This may not be true in 20 years, but for the moment it is. In any case, the Mexicans who came here after 1965, along with other Latinos, came here mainly to get jobs, not to get into the welfare system.
The great corrupter of Latinos has been the American public school system, not local welfare programs as such. The American public schools are the most insidious of all the welfare programs, for they are specifically designed to shape the thinking of the voters of the future. Blame the public schools more than immigration.
Fifty years ago, prayer in the schools was near universal, but no one was punished for not praying. Nowadays, countless people are arrested or fired for praying on school property. West Point’s commanding general reprimanded the football coach for his team’s thanksgiving prayer. Fifty years ago, bringing sexually explicit stuff into schools was treated as a crime, as was “procuring abortion.” Nowadays, schools contract with Planned Parenthood to teach sex, and will not tell parents when they take girls to PP facilities for abortions. Back then, many schools worked with the National Rifle Association to teach gun handling and marksmanship. Now students are arrested and expelled merely for pointing their finger and saying “bang.” In those benighted times, boys who ventured into the girls’ bathroom were expelled as perverts. Now, girls are suspended for objecting to boys coming into the girls’ room under pretense of transgenderism.
All true, but the central problems were the coercion, the secularism, and the tax-funding of the schools from 1837 onward. What has happened since 1965 is simply a mopping up operation. It was implicit in Horace Mann’s agenda in 1837. On this point, read the chapter on Mann in Rushdoony’s Messianic Character of American Education (1963).
Ever since the middle of the 20th century our ruling class, pursuing hazy concepts of world order without declarations of war, has sacrificed American lives: first in Korea, then in Vietnam, and now throughout the Muslim world. By denigrating Americans who call for peace, or for wars unto victory over America’s enemies; by excusing or glorifying those who take our enemies’ side or who disrespect the American flag; our rulers have drawn down the American regime’s credit and eroded the people’s patriotism.
The public went along with all of these wars. Opponents were written off as anti-American. The wars do not stop for a reason: voters sanction them every time.
As the ruling class destroyed its own authority, it wrecked the republic’s as well. This is no longer the “land where our fathers died,” nor even the country that won World War II. It would be surprising if any society, its identity altered and its most fundamental institutions diminished, had continued to function as before. Ours sure does not, and it is difficult to imagine how it can do so ever again. We can be sure only that the revolution underway among us, like all others, will run its unpredictable course.
But if it is really unpredictable, then all is not lost.