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[Note to readers: This column is the third in a series I began this week about the challenge to liberty in 2012 and the electoral strategy true republicans (note the small “r”) can follow to meet it. The first two columns, “No Nation without Representation” and “Demagoguery vs. Representation,” can be read at my blog, Loyal to Liberty. I will post the fourth and final article there this weekend.]
Viewed as individuals, in any given moment the people of the United States surely have many different priorities. And in any given moment those priorities may or may not result from a deliberate choice on their part. Individuals are bound by necessity, buffeted about by appetite, by love, fear, hate and countless other passions, which oftentimes they feel helpless to control. Yet even in the throes of this maelstrom of passion, there by and large remains, as the background for all their activities, an unquestioned sense of their own worth. It is the eye of the storm, this quiet assumption that their existence is valuable. It consistently validates what they do first to preserve and then to enhance and perpetuate their lives. But it is also the eye of the mind, perceiving the standard toward which that quiet assumption inclines the heart. Eventually the mind’s eye makes out that standard in more and more explicit form until it emerges as the boundary that defines the nature of man’s existence. As it becomes more articulate, it speaks with the still, small voice of conscience to announce the distinctions that constitute right and wrong.
In light of those distinctions, people must choose to go one way or the other, with right or with wrong. The voice of conscience says, “I have set before you life and good, and death and evil; … I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live: …” (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19) In the preamble to the United States Constitution, the American people state their choice. They say unequivocally that the ultimate goal of the government they ordain and establish is “to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Acknowledging the moral choice that determines the nature of their liberty, they choose the blessing, not the curse, for themselves and for their seed.
In a formal sense this constitutional choice reigns over every generation of Americans. It is the fundamental election of conscience that represents the permanent will of the American people. It reflects their determination to implement the understanding of justice they laid down in the Declaration of Independence as the foundation of their life as an independent nation: Government exists to secure the exercise of rights, not wrongs. Those rights are endowed by the Creator, not by human whim and passion, but according to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.”
The Constitution thus reflects the core identity of the American people as a whole. Yet in any given moment we still exist as individuals cast about by our passionate whims; confused, therefore, and often without conscious regard for the commitment of conscience that constitutes our liberty as a people. Yet the moral sense of it remains as the background of our individual confusions and preoccupations. It may be little more than the yawning peevishness that asks of every satisfied passion “Is this it? Is this all there is?” Or it may be the burning anger and resentment that demands of every sharply perceived injustice “What do you take me for? Is this all that you think I am?”
In the throes of this confusion, the demagogue approaches. He, too, has little conscious regard for conscience, but he is subject to a ruling passion, a restless ambition that makes his priorities deliberately clear. For the sake of that ambition he shrewdly manipulates the confusion of individuals which, in any given moment, obscures from their view the moral understanding they all have in common. By word and deed he seeks to make himself the unifying focal point of their passionate confusion, a lighthouse near at hand, restoring the sense of direction they may have lost in the storms of passion, be they pointlessly sated or pointedly dissatisfied.
Thanks to the ascendancy of the elitist faction, we Americans are now enduring an era of predominantly demagogic politics. Just as in any given moment an individual’s identity may be confused and torn apart in the whirlwind of querulous passions, so in this era the sense of our identity as a people is being torn apart in the whirlwind of factional demagoguery that has overwhelmed the politics of representation consistent with our constitutional liberty. Like Odysseus and his crew rowing between Scylla and Charybdis, the American people are in dangerous straits, plying the treacherous waters between the GOP and the Democrats; alternately devoured by the openly socialist power grabs of the Obama Democrats or sucked in by the covertly socialist deceptions of the Romney (so-called) Republicans.
Unlike Odysseus, however, the American people have not committed their goods to a vessel framed with sole regard for human understanding. We have tied our fate to the standard of the Creator, “the Supreme Judge of the world,” and it is proof against the siren songs of human will and passion. But the proof is valid only if we remain faithful to the standard: faithful to the just intention it represents; faithful to the right reasoning it requires; and faithful in the actions that correspond to it.
It has been commonplace until now for Americans to see in the self-evident truth of the Declaration of Independence a statement of this American creed. Many Americans still do so. Yet and still they stubbornly, vainly rely upon a partisan political sham that has effectively abandoned all allegiance to it. The creed is still acknowledged in their minds. It still commands, in feeling, the allegiance of their hearts. But it is no longer represented in the policies and actions of their country’s government. Their constitutional government hovers on the brink of irretrievable dissolution. So in fact does their entire way of life. Yet and still they refuse to see or else admit that we cannot hold on to the blessings of liberty and representative government as long as we continue to tolerate the politics of socialist tyranny and elitist demagoguery.
Acknowledging that all this is true, some say that we need better leaders; others that we need a “third party”; still others that, regardless of party, we must “hold their feet to the fire.” But if the fire is not rekindled, what heat will it generate? And what difference will a third party make if it mimics the elitist, God-rejecting approach to politics that has now thoroughly corrupted the others? Where shall we find folks to represent us if we are unwilling or unable to become people whose actions uphold the better understanding of right; the better principles of government; the better priorities of human action and aspiration that as a people, as a nation, we are supposed to represent?
The ironic truth is that we will not find the leaders we seek, or the parties we seek, or the representatives our life in liberty requires until we prove ourselves willing to be the people our creed of liberty supposes us to be. That is a people that define right as an endowment by God; that see justice as respect for right; and government as the instrument which secures it. But can we be such a people without a politics that reflects and expresses our commitment to take upon ourselves the responsibilities and obligations that secure the blessings of liberty and eschew the curse of unbridled freedom? We cannot answer that question by saying something. We can only answer it by what we do or fail to do. Some things are not proved until they are proven in action. Some rights cannot be claimed until they are claimed in fact. The right of self-government is among them.
In the fourth and last part of this series (which I will post this weekend at Loyal to Liberty), I will outline a course of action by which I think Americans who still hold to the American creed could prove their allegiance to it and in the process prove to themselves that they are still people capable of self-government. It is a course the wisdom of the world will not approve. The time is short. The odds are long against it. People will have to take on powers-that-be supplied with far superior material strength – better equipped in money, media and every other material advantage. On their side faithful Americans will have only their determination to be free as God intended; to do right as God gives them to see the right; and to restore the government of by and for the people that by their choice of right they may secure to themselves and their posterity.
This is all they shall have. Many will be tempted (or induced?) to say so and despair. But some perhaps will be inspired to remember that this is all the founders had when they declared the independence of the United States. Except, of course, for their reliance upon divine Providence, which thereafter rewarded the nation their faithful courage began with blessings beyond even their wildest dreams. Faced with such proof of God’s superintendence, what reason have we to despair of such beginnings?