“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” (Sun Tzu, “The Art of War,” Chapter 6)
“Once the principles of government are corrupted, the best laws become bad and turn against the State; as long as the principles are sound, bad laws have the effect of good ones; the force of principle entrains all.” (Montesquieu, “On the Spirit of the Laws,” Book 8, Chapter 11)
The tactics now being used to conquer and overthrow America’s constitutional republican form of government involve attacks against a broad array of ideas and institutions that contribute to America’s material strength. Malicious economic and fiscal policies are depleting America’s productive assets and destroying the nation’s good credit and credibility. Malicious legislative and administrative policies are weakening our people’s confidence in the constitutional offices, processes and institutions that are supposed to represent them. Malicious abuses of the government’s law enforcement powers are assailing the self-respect, confidence and courage of individuals. One after another the constitutional provisions that, with due respect for our unalienable rights, affirm the nature, extent and limits of government’s just powers, are being gutted or cast aside.
In war, a good general can use a properly deployed pattern of attacks to scatter and disorganize the enemy’s forces. This is especially useful for camouflaging his paramount strategic objective, and inducing the enemy to leave it more exposed to decisive attack. In just this way, the various attacks against the components of republican liberty are scattering and disorganizing its proponents. Given this circumstance, the key to successfully defending liberty may be found by suitably converting Sun Tzu’s famous dictum (quoted at the beginning of this column), to wit: All men belatedly perceive the tactics whereby their enemy is defeating them, but those who perceive the enemy’s key strategic intention, and act decisively to thwart it, may unexpectedly pluck victory from his grasp.
In our battle to preserve and perpetuate America’s republican, constitutional self-government, what is the enemy’s key strategic objective? America’s founders successfully established a republic in the United States. Defying the whole tenor of mankind’s prior experience, the republic they established became the basis for the most successful nation in human history. What if, to defend the republic, we must act on the same basis as America’s founders? As they laid the foundations for its unprecedented success they read and applied Montesquieu’s profoundly comprehensive analysis of the different forms of government and the principles that actuate them. His insight into the critical importance of those principles (epitomized by the second quote above) suggests what must be the key objective of the enemies of liberty: To corrupt the principles of republican self-government. Accordingly, we should look for them to do everything in their power to prevent us from recognizing, or dealing with, matters that confuse, obscure and poison our understanding of those principles and/or our allegiance to them.
At its root, the word principle refers to what comes first. With respect to America’s political institutions, the events that came first in our history were actuated by a certain understanding of right and justice. Americans imbued with this understanding were moved to recognize and react against the first inroads against their liberty, rather than belatedly to react to the more extreme oppression produced by its demise. Most essential to that understanding was the logic of God-endowed unalienable right, logic that followed from the recognition of human equality, and that made sense of what would otherwise be an assertion plainly contrary to fact.
After all, is there any material sense in which all human beings are equal? To be sure, at birth we are all equally vulnerable to imminent death. But by and large the natural disposition of our parents compensates for that vulnerability. Of course, different parents are willing and able to react to this natural disposition to a greater or less degree, and to that extent the accident of birth immediately introduces a degree of inequality into the material conditions and circumstances of individual human lives. From thence forward, material inequality characterizes every aspect of human life, so that there is no material aspect of the human condition unaffected by it in some way.
But the natural disposition that, by and large, leads parents to do right by their children points to a human capacity that is equally available to all. This is the capacity to choose to do right, as God gives us to see the right (i.e., in light of natural conscience). Regardless of their circumstances, every human being worthy of the name can be willing to do what is right. Though possessing neither words nor the capacity to move their lips or limbs, a self-conscious individual can still pray that good may come. The choice for good or evil is a matter of the heart, and the heart has a way of making its choices known, even without words or speech or almost any other capacity for action.
In this respect, all men are indeed created equal. Inseparable from the nature of their humanity is the capacity to conform their will to the knowledge of right with which they are endowed by their Creator, in the very substance of the special being they exemplify on account of His goodwill. Because they have the capacity to choose right, they are responsible for choosing rightly. When and if they choose rightly, they exercise (carry out) this responsibility and so may claim, on the highest authority, the right to act as they do.
This is the claim of right that, according to America’s principles, commands respect from each and every human authority. The limits and constraints which that respect imposes are the boundaries that determine the just powers of human governments. In effect, such powers derive their force from the conjoined wills of those who consent to do right, according to the will of the Creator. The strength of any government thus empowered obviously depends on the righteousness of the governed. Paralyze or pervert that will, and every other measure which purports to restore the nation’s strength and prosperity will, as Montesquieu foresaw, turn self-government toward self-destruction.