Despite what has been reported in the formerly mainstream media, the New Resistance in America – the tea parties, the town halls, protests on Capitol Hill and so on – is to be welcomed and not cast aside as “extreme.” The “angry mobs” and “unruly crowds” are actually signs of health, sanity and hope.
What these uppity folk are telling us is that, despite years of miseducation and inattention, millions of ordinary people have not forgotten who they are as Americans. Even more, this resistance suggests that significant numbers of Americans may be on a path to rediscovering something rather exceptional.
By “exceptional” is meant not just who they are in their national identity, but who they are as creatures of resistance, hardwired that way by the Creator himself. And to the degree that this New Resistance succeeds, to that degree prospects are increased for victory in the cultural and political war for human freedom and human dignity.
The New Resistance is here and shows no sign of going away. The following three factors help explain why this is good for America – and the world.
The Precipitating Factor: This first factor consists of the rise of Barack Obama and the decline of the Republican Party. One of the primary reasons Obama won the election of 2008 is that he stepped into a vacuum of power and vision created by the collapse of the Republican Party. He did this by presenting himself 1) as an alternative to any Republican, 2) as a non-threatening “no sudden moves” African-American who could heal the nation, and 3) as a man with a more coherent – and therefore more powerful – vision for America. Generally speaking, a man with a vision beats a man with a resume.
But after coming into office, Obama made several mistakes. For example, he has revealed himself not just as an alternative to “any Republican,” but as an alternative to basic American principle. Not just to George Bush, as it were, but to George Washington. Also, he dropped the “no sudden moves” approach for a “no slow moves” approach: Crisis! Crisis! Crisis! has become his modus operandi. And finally, he has voiced an alien, grating, post-American vision of this country, in favor of a religiously secularist and centralized federal power from which he promises milk and honey, jobs and health-care, and so on.
The Republican collapse began after the Reagan administration. Reagan understood that American liberty is rooted in a particular political philosophy. It’s a vision that declares independence under God instead of dependence under the state. Because Reagan understood there is a vision-for-freedom, he also understood the need to be able to explain and articulate that vision-for-freedom. Unfortunately, then-Vice President George Bush (the elder), despite eight years of seeing Reagan in action, and of seeing that kind of vision win landslide victories at the polls, never seemed to appreciate “the vision thing.”
And so the Reagan vision of Americans knowing the “freedoms that were intended for us by the Founding Fathers” (from “A Time for Choosing”) would be lost. In addition, the rationale and ability to articulate that vision would be lost. More than that, resources to stand up against a contrary vision would be lost – even if that contrary vision is false.
The GOP’s dilemma is that it is double-minded. On one side, some embrace a secular vision that sees the Creator of the founders and of the Declaration as a kind of nice “religious” touch or “values” touch. But also in the GOP are those who show an appreciation of the connection between a real Creator and real freedom in the real world.
What the New Resistance senses is that neither the single-minded secularism of the Democrats nor the double-minded imbalance of the Republicans is an adequate foundation for freedom, whether we are talking about July 1776, March 2010 or 100 years from now.
The Predisposing Factor: Clearly, there is something more at work here than merely a transient response to a recent election. And that “something more” speaks to the fact that the word American actually means something. It is not a mere “value symbol” that we can redefine at will. Its meaning does not shift with polling data, election results or skin color.
What has happened increasingly, and with special impact since the ’60s, is that the historic and liberating meaning of America has been under attack by real extremists. Thus, the culture war. I say “extremists” because the aggressors in the culture war occupy philosophical ground antagonistic to the mainstream of American thought and practice.
Two observations about “the mainstream.” First, there is a “mainstream of today.” This is a socio-political mainstream, and it can vary with time and place. It may be something to embrace – or not.
Second, there is, as it were, a “mainstream forever.” This mainstream is normative across cultures and history. And so, for example, as the Declaration and Constitution show, unalienable rights and limited government under God is the mainstream American position. This enduring American mainstream is alive to freedom, across time and place, precisely because its meaning does not change like the weather.
To the degree that a president or party advocates a vision or policy (such as health care) outside the abiding American mainstream, to that degree a president or party has moved away from the genius of the American experiment. At present, the liberal Democrat Party is outside of – and even against –the enduring American mainstream. Thus its extremism and increasing embrace of tyranny – in the womb, in the marketplace, against speech and so on. The GOP is in a little better shape and may be able to recover. But it faces significant challenge in its divided and fragmented vision. As you may have heard, a “house divided cannot stand.”
The hope of America is that the “mainstream of today” embraces the “mainstream that endures.” This is what the New Resistance wants: to reconnect with the liberating identity of who we are as Americans.
The Philosophic Factor: It is crucial that we are not estranged from our identity as Americans. That itself is a national crisis. But there is a factor even more basic to understanding the New Resistance.
This people’s rebellion is opening a door, and to walk through that door is to begin rediscovering something exceptional about human beings – namely, that resistance is an essential part of who we are. That we are great and noble creatures of resistance, “hardwired” that way as “living souls” by the Creator himself. This is the “Philosophic Factor,” and we will examine it in the following areas:
The Creator. First, a philosophy of freedom respects the Creator who is the center of gravity of freedom. “All men are created equal . . . they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Neither atheism, nature, class, nor group is at the center. Nor is “diversity” at the center. We have a Declaration of Independence under God, not a Declaration of Independence under diversity.
The Creature. Second in a philosophy of freedom, there is a great and noble creature called Man. So grand is this creature that by his own choice he can become a sinner and yet not become a zero. There is a difference between moral brokenness and ontological oblivion. Human beings would be zeros if they were merely chance products of a meaningless universe that itself popped into existence out of nothingness. In that kind of universe, instead of the “Heavens [declaring] the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1), the impersonal particles declare the meaninglessness of man.
But in a philosophy of freedom, the individual is great. The “lowliest” person on the social or economic totem poll is magnificent. “There are no little people,” as the great thinker Francis Schaeffer put it. Why? Because of where we came from. Because human beings have their ultimate origin in a final reality that is of infinite worth – the Creator himself.
Unalienable Rights. Third is that human beings, by virtue of having been created in the image of God, as human beings are bearers of “unalienable rights.” What makes these rights “unalienable”? They have their origin in the Creator. They are not “endowed” by the state, 51 percent of the vote, by 100 percent of the vote, or even by the agitations of activists claiming victimhood. “Unalienable rights” concern that which the Creator has joined together in the essence of the human being. And what the Creator has joined together, let no man separate. Not even government.
Objectivity of Truth. Fourth is the objectivity of truth, as opposed to mere “value.” “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” says the Declaration. Unfortunately, “values,” “religion” and “faith” today are regarded as private expressions of “whatever makes me happy” or helps me cope. Freedom, however, is objectively there as an ethically desirable fact of life, even if no one in the power structure “values” it. Real “freedom” is no mere “value”; it is an objective ethical fact.
Creatures of Resistance. Fifth in a philosophy of freedom is that human beings are creatures of resistance. There is a sense in which we are hardwired to rebel – not against good, but against evil. Not against life in community with our Creator and our neighbor, but against that which, if not resisted, alienates us from the good, the true and the beautiful – including freedom. So of course a creature destined for freedom is a creature of resistance against tyranny. And so the founders in the Declaration affirm the “right” and “duty” to “throw off” a government that has as its “direct object … the establishment of an absolute Tyranny.”
How can the New Resistance win the culture war? First, do not allow a demonizing name-calling to slow you down. Second, stand up, proudly, as citizens of resistance. And third, stand up, magnificently, as human beings – as creatures of resistance “blessed” that way by the Creator to say “no!” to tyranny and “yes!” to freedom.
One final thought. Authoritarians at home and abroad, elected or otherwise, may not be pleased, but future generations and the nations of this world – even now, across the globe – have reason to rejoice. Why? Because the same Creator of the founders, and the same liberating information he has given, is available to them as well. They, too, are created in his image. And so the door is open. People all across the world can be exceptional in resistance and freedom.
Or you can put it like this: What’s most exceptional about American exceptionalism is that it’s not exceptional to America.
J. Richard Pearcey is editor and publisher of The Pearcey Report, and he blogs at Pro-Existence. He is formerly managing editor of Human Events and associate editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report. As a book editor, his projects include “Persecution” (by David Limbaugh), “Story Craft” (by John Erickson) and “Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity” (by Nancy Pearcey). This article is based on a presentation Pearcey gave near Charleston, S.C., at Awakening 2010 in January of this year, edited for publication here.