In a recent article in this journal, I argued that the United States has increasingly abandoned the basic principles upon which our nation was founded. I pointed out three strains around which those principles were organized: political, moral and idealistic. Then I described the components of each. A simple comparison of those components (see below) with the salient trends of modern American society makes it painfully evident that the wheels are coming off – America is morphing into a political/cultural entity radically at odds with the vision laid down by our Founders.
The previous article noted that prior attempts to restore America to its constitutional moorings – under Coolidge and Reagan – met with temporary success, but ultimately were swamped under the tidal wave of leftist malarkey that dominates our national conversation. I attributed those failures to the fact that the counter attacks did not address all three strains, or tracks. I postulated that for any counter attack to succeed, all three tracks must be in the crosshairs, and I promised more details in a forthcoming article. Here they are.
There are two parts to a counter attack: (i) what changes do conservative restorationists want to bring about; and (ii) how to do so. The program for item (i) is simple to state. Basically, conservatives wish to restore the constitutional principles that provided the foundation for our society until the leftists of the Progressive Era and succeeding generations began to undercut them. Here are the fundamental goals – specified in the three tracks:
(a) Political. The Founders established an unprecedented political system that has retained its uniqueness to this day. The Constitution provides for a federal Republic, whose government derives its powers purely from the consent of the people; it is made up of distinct branches with carefully delineated, complementary powers, replete with checks and balances – between the branches and between the national and State governments. The system was designed to establish a national government of VERY limited powers that would maximize individual liberty, establish the rule of law and dispense equal and unbiased justice. Moreover, it was intended to do so in perpetuity. The goal is to abolish the current practice of behemoth government that we have pursued over the last century and return to the vision of government bequeathed us by the Founders.
(b) Moral. By placing the onus for the continued success of the American experiment on the people’s shoulders, not the government’s, the Founders understood that the desired success would depend upon the maintenance of a high moral fabric among the people. The system would only work if the people were generally “good” – meaning that they had a clear understanding of and could distinguish between good and evil, just and unjust, honesty and dishonesty, responsibility and irresponsibility. If the people made the right choices when confronted with moral opposites, the system would work well and the nation would thrive; if not, then corruption, vice and malfeasance would surely follow, with tyranny the ultimate outcome. The people would learn to make the right choices because they were embedded in a society that prized strong families and communities, charity and good works, universal education, a powerful work ethic and the fear of God. The goal is to abandon the moral relativism, multiculturalism and secular humanism that dominate our culture and to restore the moral values and traditional culture that characterized our society in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
(c) Idealistic. The Founders also understood that they were creating something unique and revolutionary. They expected that their descendants would guard it zealously and hold it up as a beacon for the peoples of the world to emulate. In short the Founders were the first believers in American exceptionalism. They saw the American people as the “new Hebrews,” a people chosen by God to provide, by their example, a light unto the nations in regard to how a just and free society should be organized and governed. Without that type of faith and pride to complement their upstanding morals, the Founders feared that it might prove difficult to sustain the experiment in limited government. The goal is to turn away from the shame and apologetics that mark the Obama view of American society and return to the shining city on a hill vision of our Founders, so well articulated by President Reagan.
In fact, the program for the second part – how to actually restore these principles – is also fairly easy to state – albeit, not easy to implement. In order to do so, I shall combine (b) and (c) into one bracket that I will designate as culture. The components that determine a people’s morality and ideals are precisely the contents of their culture. The key point is then to acknowledge the insight of the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci from the Progressive Era: One need only capture the culture. The politics will follow. And that is exactly what the leftists did over the last century. Through an unremitting assault on many fronts, the Left took control of all the opinion-forming organs of American society: the media, educational establishment (lower and higher), the legal profession, foundations and libraries, the government bureaucracy and the unions, the marketing industry and (to a certain extent) the upper echelons of big business. Once the people’s mindset was converted from individual liberty to collective equality, security and order, it was easy to convince them to implement the political changes that enabled the conversion of America from a free society into a statist society.
The cultural assault was broad, sustained, relentless and purposeful. The Right – naively assuming that things would naturally stay the way they always had been – wasn’t even paying attention. A few noticed (e.g., William Buckley), but for the most part, traditionalists and conservatives did not appreciate that the fundamental organs of society that supported and maintained the traditional American culture were being subverted and diverted to something radically different. It is only in recent times that a substantial portion of traditional America has awakened to the radical leftist revolution that has swept the country and which threatens to kill the historic society that America embodied. The issue is how to resuscitate the latter.
Note that I am not proposing a new revolution, but rather a restoration of America’s past political/cultural system. I maintain that conservatives can do so by recapturing the culture. Of course, I am not suggesting that we return to 1811; clearly society cannot ignore two centuries of history and advances in technology. But we can restore the fundamental principles that determined the nature of our society those many years ago. As I said, we do it exactly as we lost it, i.e., by retaking control of the culture, reestablishing the moral/idealistic themes that animated the American soul for more than two centuries. Here are some concrete suggestions:
• Fox News has proven a valuable counterweight to the mainstream news media. We need many more such venues.
• Similarly, conservative newspapers like the Washington Times have provided some balance in the print news media. We need more such conservative newspapers, magazines, periodicals and online journals.
• The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute have arisen to challenge the Ford, Rockefeller and other left-wing foundations and think tanks (which ironically were established by conservative businessmen). The former must be multiplied many-fold.
• In the same vein, Regnery has provided a conservative counter punch in the book publishing industry. More such outlets are required.
• We need to have law schools that champion strict constitutional interpretation of the law; public libraries that display conservative books more prominently than liberal ones; movie producers that explore patriotic themes and other genres that extol the virtues of traditional culture; and highly successful businessmen (unlike Bill Gates, e.g.) who promote conservative ideas and resist the lure of crony capitalism.
• This suggestion is more political than cultural, but the American people must return to the idea (most clearly articulated by the arch leftist, FDR, ironically) that unionization of public sector employees poses a grave threat to the nation. Unions like SEIU must be decommissioned. When that happens we might be able to address our explosive and crippling entitlement programs in a rational way.
• And finally – and most importantly – we must take back our schools. The damage that the Left is doing in our public schools is amply documented in Marybeth Hicks’ recent book, Don’t Let the Kids Drink the Kool-Aid. Whatever the medium – charter schools, vouchers, or something else – we must break the back of the monopoly that the NEA has on the education of American children and enable schools to reinstill traditional American values into our children, and so into our future.
Polls continue to identify America as a “Center-Right” nation. One sees percentages like: 40% Conservative, 20% Liberal, 40% Centrist or Independent. And the polls have reported such figures for a long time. How can that be? How can such a supposedly conservative country have so readily glommed onto the liberal/statist program that has dominated our politics and culture for decades? I think that there are two components to the answer. First, many who identify themselves as conservatives are not really so. For example, consider those who see themselves as patriotic, law-abiding and proud of their country’s history; but who at the same time, also approve of wealth redistribution, same-sex marriage, the United Nations and affirmative action. It does not occur to them that such views constitute proof that they are indeed not really conservative. Second, what exactly does it mean to be Independent? The competing visions for America held by the Left and Right are irreconcilable. It makes no sense to be “in the middle”; it does not reflect a coherent worldview, but rather a non-Solomonic willingness to split the baby. Alas, many in the middle are equally comfortable with the ideas that I attributed above to faux conservatives. Thus many are confused about where they stand in the political spectrum and it is dubious that we truly continue to be a Center-Right nation. But we can be again – if we find a way to implement the steps that I outlined above.
This essay also appeared in The Land of the Free