Ideas and Their Discontents — A Review

On November 25, 1994, Isaiah Berlin accepted a Doctor of Laws honorary degree at the University of Toronto. His remarks, “A Message to the 21st Century,” were read to the audience. Though he felt sure that the 21st century, “can be only a better time for mankind than my terrible century has been,” we cannot fault him for his misapprehension.

A biographer said that he dictated all his manuscripts. Given this style of composition, what is truly remarkable is his coherent train of thought, especially in longer works. What captured my attention in this essay was the clarity with which he outlined our ongoing problem.

Isaiah Berlin During the Reception of the Erasmus Prize, Oct. 1983 – Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Historical Reference

Berlin’s essay starts with a historical reference point,

Men have for millennia destroyed each other, but the deeds [of the past] pale into insignificance before the Russian Revolution and its aftermath: the oppression, torture, murder which can be laid at the doors of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and the systematic falsification of information which prevented knowledge of these horrors for years—these are unparalleled. They were not natural disasters, but preventable human crimes, and whatever those who believe in historical determinism may think, they could have been averted.

Berlin viewed these crimes as due to a drive toward some singular idea of perfection, not merely due to fear, greed, tribal hatreds, jealousy, love of power, etc., though those played a part.

As an illustration of the power of ideas, he relates an observation by the German poet Heinrich Heine, “[he] told us not to underestimate the quiet philosopher sitting in his study; if Kant had not undone theology, he declared, Robespierre might not have cut off the head of the King of France.”

Berlin goes on to say that Heine predicted that armed disciples of German nationalist philosophers would destroy Europe in a way that would make the French Revolution seem insignificant. He then says,

There are men who will kill and maim with a tranquil conscience under the influence of the words and writings of some of those who are certain that they know perfection can be reached.

Ideas Motivate

Berlin plainly states the following,

…If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise.

Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter.

He says that this is how Lenin reacted after he read Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. Berlin says that if he (Lenin) could create a “just, peaceful, happy, free, virtuous society,” then this singular, perfect end justified absolutely any means to achieve it. And Lenin pursued his goal with conviction.

Berlin points out that the root of such a conviction is the premise that the central questions of life have one true answer; and once discovered, they must be implemented. Those who have found these answers are law givers and must be followed to the end. He says that opposing leaders fought wars over which answer was right, but each was convinced they had the unique answer and only mankind’s sin or ignorance could thwart them.

One True Answer

He states that this “one true answer to life’s questions” is an age-old problem and it is demonstrably false.

Berlin says that humans, at all times and in all places, desire “liberty, security, equality, happiness, justice, knowledge, etc.” However, these universal values cannot be completely realized simultaneously. He offers the following examples,

  • Complete liberty is not compatible with complete equality…
    • If men were wholly free, the “wolves” would be free to eat the “sheep.”
    • Perfect equality means that human liberties must be restrained so that the ablest and the most gifted [do not overtake] those who would…lose if there were competition.
  • Security, and indeed freedoms, cannot be preserved if freedom to subvert them is permitted…
  • Justice has always been a human ideal, but it is not fully compatible with mercy.
  • Creative imagination and spontaneity…cannot be fully reconciled with the need for planning, organization, careful and responsible calculation.
  • Knowledge, the pursuit of truth—the noblest of aims—cannot be fully reconciled with the happiness or the freedom that men desire…

He concludes, “I must always choose between peace and excitement, or knowledge and blissful ignorance.”

Berlin says that he can offer no silver bullet to restrain the “champions” of one or another of these values, “each of whom,” likely referring to the champions, “tends to trample upon the rest.” However, he offers this modest proposal,

…If these ultimate human values by which we live are to be pursued, then compromises, trade-offs, arrangements have to be made if the worst is not to happen. So much liberty for so much equality, so much individual self-expression for so much security, so much justice for so much compassion.

…Some values clash: the ends pursued by human beings are all generated by our common nature, but their pursuit has to be to some degree controlled—liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I repeat, may not be fully compatible with each other, nor are liberty, equality, and fraternity.

He says, “We must weigh and measure, bargain, compromise, and prevent the crushing of one form of life by its rivals.”

Conclusions

Passionately, Berlin adjures his listeners,

…One cannot have everything one wants—not only in practice, but even in theory.

The denial of this, the search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity, invariably leads to coercion.

And then to destruction, blood—eggs are broken, but the omelet is not in sight, there is only an infinite number of eggs, human lives, ready for the breaking.

And in the end the passionate idealists forget the omelet, and just go on breaking eggs.

Along with Berlin, I must urge us to examine our beliefs. Are we pursuing a “single, overarching ideal,” with which all will be well, and without, we will not lift a hand, in the here and now, to improve our fellow citizens’ lot? If that’s a yes, get over yourself; put your hand to the plow, do not look back, and humbly serve your fellow citizens in your community, state, and nation in the ways you are able.

Who Is Karl Marx? September 24, 2018, YouTube, PragerU

The American Way of Life or Tyranny

Over the past three months, we have examined the struggle for our nation’s future. Though you might think the battle is between left versus right, wealthy versus poor, or is some sort of racial conflict, you would be wrong. The battle is between those who serve Man and those who serve God. Consider carefully, though, not everyone who serves is one of the faithful; many, if not most, are indifferent and go along to get along.

Those who would subject others to some human idea of perfection, either by persuasion or by force, worship Man. Their sacrifice consists of other men, women, and children. Those who acknowledge that no human idea is worthy of their service acknowledge, at least to some extent, that the God of the Bible is sovereign and that they live under His rule. God’s sacrifice is His only begotten Son given for you.

Statue of Freedom by Thomas Crawford (22 March 1814 – 10 October 1857) Photo by Architect of the Capitol, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Conservatives, as a whole, have not done the hard work to stem the century long tide that has grown to overwhelming strength. Some claim the Age of Enlightenment is to blame. Many know it started in a garden, likely in the near east.

The following nine links and associated introductory paragraphs document our study in chronological order:

Palliative Liberalism or Economic Nationalism

Daniel McCarthy, writing in First Things, describes our current pollical and economic troubles in the article, “A New Conservative Agenda, A Governing Philosophy for the twenty First Century.” He contends that our bipartisan credentialed class’s plan is to ensure its own privileges while placating the service class with divisive identity politics.

For those who are no longer productive, the elite offer “palliative liberalism;” a package of economic measures that stops just “short of restoring inherent dignity and power to work.” The elite class’s economic and cultural interests are “well-served by a completely atomized America, one in which states have not seceded, but individuals have…” (read more)

The History and Danger of Administrative Law – A Review

Administrative law is thought to be a recent threat to the American republic because it appeared in the last 120 years. Considered essential for decades by our leaders to handle the challenges of a complex and modern civilization, it was supposedly unforeseen by the framers of the U.S. Constitution.

Instead, Philip Hamburger proves that this corruption of our republic is very old. In his article, “The History and Danger of Administrative Law,” he says administrative law is the reinstitution of prerogative or absolute power of kings, now enforced by unelected bureaucrats. Hamburger says, “Rather than a modern necessity, it is a latter-day version of a recurring threat—a threat inherent in human nature and in the temptations of power.” It is potentially the end of representative democracy… (read more)

The Historical Origins Behind the Subversion of the Constitution

In his Claremont Review of Books article, “The Left Side of History,” Allen C. Guelzo reviews Bradley Watson‘s book Progressivism: The Strange History of a Radical Idea. According to Guelzo, “Watson has crafted, not so much a historical genealogy of Progressivism, as its historiography.” However, what I found interesting was Guelzo’s description of the descent of American Thought from colonial idealism into post-civil war despair and twentieth century destruction… (read more)

The Historical Origins Behind the Subversion of the Constitution – Part 2

…Marini observes that Moreno “judges historical and political changes in light of an unchanging standard of the public good, or justice, an idea inherent in the founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”

Summarizing one of our recent posts, Moreno says, “The United States is ruled by an establishment nowhere mentioned in the U.S. Constitution… Once a federal republic, we have become a centralized bureaucracy run by an unelected administrative class [that] combines legislative, executive, and judicial functions that the Constitution separated.” This transformation into a bureaucratic state has undercut federalism and the separation of powers. He also says that the congress, executive, and judicial branches are complicit with the states in the destruction of our constitutional republic… (read more)

How the Ruling Class Subverts the Constitution

John Marini, in his article “Abandoning the Constitution,” compares two views on the United States Constitution and whether your rights as citizens are God given and unalienable or merely granted to you (or withheld) by an unelected and therefore unaccountable bureaucracy. Progressivism’s hand in the latter view is apparent. It intends to mold its clients into whatever History demands as determined by experts. In the former view, you determine your life’s course in partnership with your fellow citizens and God’s providence.

Marini uses Thomas Paine‘s writings as representative of a majority of the founders’ views. Paine wrote in his book The Rights of Man,

A constitution is not a thing in name only, but in fact. It has not an ideal, but a real existence; and wherever it cannot be produced in a visible form, there is none. A constitution is a thing antecedent to a government, and a government is only the [creation] of a constitution. The constitution of a country is not the act of its government, but of the people constituting its government… (read more)

The Meaning of Happiness

Some argue that Happiness, in the context of our Declaration of Independence, means material happiness (e.g., property.) Some argue for emotional happiness. Yet others would argue that the word means more (e.g., free assembly, free speech, free exercise of religion, etc.)

…Today’s post contends that ‘Happiness’ means most of these possibilities. However, it means one more than the others. But we must not exclude any of these at our peril. Along the way, we’ll examine the words: Unalienable, Pursuit, Life, Liberty, and Consent, too.

Our sources are essays written by James R. Rogers and a commencement address given by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Rogers, in a series of essays for Law and Liberty, defines Happiness along with the other important words to renew our understanding of our obligations to this nation and our fellow citizens. Solzhenitsyn, in his Harvard University Commencement Address, praises our nation’s founding principles and decries our fall from them. Let us examine the aforementioned words… (read more)

An Undesirable End Game

Edwin J. Erler, in his essay, “The United States in Crisis,” excerpted from his book, The United States in Crisis: Citizenship, Immigration and the Nation-State, says that the progressive goal for the United States of America is to surrender its national sovereignty and governance to a world government led by unelected administrative experts.

Rather than being American citizens, we would become citizens of the world. As world citizens, we would be governed by experts who know what we need better than we can ourselves. In their administration, these experts would be unhindered by the “consent of the governed.”

Actually, without representation, we would be clients of a vast, impenetrable, worldwide bureaucracy. We would be coerced to surrender our liberty for a numbing equality. We would be subjects of an unremitting tyranny. This is the logical outcome of the progressive project that we have documented in recent posts. Let’s examine Erler’s argument… (read more)

Witness, Endurance, and Suffering

The United States of America may be losing its freedoms faster than we expected. What should those who profess Christ as Lord and Savior do?

G. K. Beale, in his introduction to his book, Revelation – A Shorter Commentary, tells us several important things for the times ahead.

…Whether we “Build Back Better” or “Keep America Great,” God is sovereign and will lead His people through the trials ahead. Our duty is to witness openly and not compromise with the world in the face of suffering. (read more)

The Hard Solution

I could summarize the views of those who urge, in the face of an undesirable end game, a renewed “monasticism” or a headlong rush to embrace administrative rule, but I will not; it is tedious and unfruitful. Instead, I propose we consider something much harder to do even as our liberties slip away. We must build back the institutions that we allowed, over the past century, to be coopted and destroyed by those who hate life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and favor, instead, purported “freedom and equality.”

…Today, we review arguments from several essayists who recognize it is past time for words; now we must act even if we don’t succeed in our lifetime. Matthew J. Peterson considers the crucial influence of our governing institutions upon us. Jeff Giesea urges us to envision what a problem-solving nation and a competent leadership would look like. The Editors at the American Mind give us the pep talk we need, urging us to restore and build the institutions closest to us. Spencer Klavan explains how we’ve failed to hold our future leaders accountable, what remedies we can immediately deploy, and what we must do for the future. Finally, Bruce Frohnen, citing T. S. Eliot, shows us the price to be paid for the destruction of our religion and culture, our very way of life… (read more)

What is at Stake in Defending the American Way of Life, November 16, 2020, YouTube, Claremont Institute

The Hard Solution

I could summarize the views of those who urge, in the face of an undesirable end game, a renewed “monasticism” or a headlong rush to embrace administrative rule, but I will not; it is tedious and unfruitful. Instead, I propose we consider something much harder to do even as our liberties slip away. We must build back the institutions that we allowed, over the past century, to be coopted and destroyed by those who hate life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and favor, instead, purported “freedom and equality.”

Daughter of Niobe bent by terror of Artemis. Uffizi Gallery – Sala della Niobe. Florence, Italy – Photo: Petar Milošević / CC BY-SA 4.0 International license

Today, we review arguments from several essayists who recognize it is past time for words; now we must act even if we don’t succeed in our lifetime. Matthew J. Peterson considers the crucial influence of our governing institutions upon us. Jeff Giesea urges us to envision what a problem solving nation and a competent leadership would look like. The Editors at the American Mind give us the pep talk we need, urging us to restore and build the institutions closest to us. Spencer Klavan explains how we’ve failed to hold our future leaders accountable, what remedies we can immediately deploy, and what we must do for the future. Finally, Bruce Frohnen, citing T. S. Eliot, shows us the price to be paid for the destruction of our religion and culture, our very way of life.

What Is at Stake

In his essay, “We Need New Institutions, Not Arguments,” Matthew J. Peterson says,

It is likely too late in the life cycle of the republic for any argument to matter. Rather, what is needed most these days is active statesmanship in the service of re-formation, renewal, and revitalization.

He rightly emphasizes that too many words have been spilled in a centennial war that requires constructive action. Also, that we find ourselves speaking to those who actively reject our presuppositions so our words can no longer persuade but instead, ineffectively tumble to the floor.

Peterson says our institutions, “the family, the school, the government, the church, and so on,” are in jeopardy. Wisely, he says,

Our institutions—the governing structures of our various kinds of communities—shape the contours of our psyche. The structures of our communities shape our souls…They submerge us in an environment constructed by means of certain principles and toward specific purposes as opposed to others, and this environment shapes the way in which we think and live…They shape us whole, forming our person and our understanding of the world.

This is the classical understanding undergirding conservatism.

When institutions “malform and wound minds and hearts,” as Peterson says, it is time to build new institutions which will form good habits of thought and action in us to correct the course of our society. These institutions are imperative because they shape us in ways unknowable due to their multiple, complex, and subtle influences upon us.

Peterson says,

We must turn of necessity to experience and reality when the dreams that have been implanted in our hearts fail and the ideas in our heads have proven false. It’s all we have left. But this is a hard road, and it limits how far we can travel…

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, refusing to acknowledge the need for new institutions at this point in American life is a form of madness.

He concludes, “What we must do now is show, not tell. It is indeed time to build.”

What Would It Look Like?

Jeff Giesea, in his essay, “America’s Dangerous New Era Demands a New Kind of Greatness,” says,

America is not a failed state. But here’s the thing: we must act like it could become one…Instead of a failed state, some friends now refer to America as a “joke nation.” This is clown world, they say.

The concept of clown world is simple: what our leaders say is the opposite of what happens. Giesea then asks,

…What would it look like to be a serious nation with a serious mission and an inspiring vision? What would it look like to have a competent elite committed to building a bright future for American citizens?

He rightly challenges his peers and us to envision a future that inspires the young to dedicate their lives to its creation and that attracts virtuous people to administer these new institutions. As Giesea says, “It cannot just be about preserving the American way of life, or recovering it, but advancing it.”

The Pep Talk

In their essay, “Against the Blackpill,” the Editors of the American Mind say,

Do not succumb to this icy breath of encroaching despair. #Resist. Buck up, kiddo…Wherever you stand on America, you live within it. This is your country.

And to make it better, the only way out is through. There is no place else to go. Here, we make our stand.

…So, stop retreating into fantasy about the past before our founding, or some utopian future that might occur after it is no more.

Don’t let your favorite -ism deter you from facing reality, rolling up your sleeves, and getting to work. Restore what needs restoration: your families, your churches, your town councils, and all the institutions in which you have influence that constitute our American way of life. Consider which organizations to support based on their contribution for or against our way of life.

The editors say,

The time for complaining…is over. You are a citizen of the United States of America, and it is now in the grip of a regime crisis and in danger of collapse. Be an adult and act—say what needs saying, create what needs creating, and do what needs doing.

They acknowledge we need better leaders in this fight and predict that some of us who act will become those leaders that we need. They conclude,

Despair profits nothing and will fix none of the problems the despairing so exhaustively explain…The time of the “doomer” …is over. The battle for America’s heart, mind, and soul has begun. Join it.

Better Honors, Better Leaders

Spencer Klavan, in his essay, “Honor in a World Gone Mad,” admits,

…American public honors have utterly and perhaps irredeemably ceased to serve their high purpose. With mounting horror, I have come to feel that all the degrees, titles, and positions of rank we bestow on people are at best irrelevant to, and at worst actively deceitful about, the real qualities of those who hold them…It is a serious problem.

He says that it is an “ancient wisdom that every society will produce more of what it honors publicly.” Prudence and frugality, highly honored, made these past societies great. “The converse also follows,” Klavan says, “Societies which award their highest honors to conformity and dishonesty will produce generations of cowards and liars.”

By trading good grades for feigned political views, we have taught generations to lie and cheat and believe nothing is true or of value. Virtues such as Integrity and inventiveness are discouraged by real or perceived social pressures to conform. These are our future leaders. In response, Klavan quotes Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming,”

…Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity…

The product of this infernal process is a status seeking cohort of leaders who constitute a self-serving and corrupt oligarchy. Even though this state of affairs is widely recognized, no one is penalized for their decadence. He concludes that this is a sign of a dying republic. To this Klavan says, “All republics die, and all civilizations go through life cycles of decay and rebirth.”

However, Klavan doesn’t throw in the towel. He says it’s up to us to speed the rebirth of our Republic,

…It is we who have to figure out how to act in—and hopefully help to heal—a world that calls good evil and evil good. In particular it’s on young people, whose job it is to be lustily ambitious for achievement and passionately ready to build things of worth.

He offers two immediate remedies based on a recalibration of who we honor and why we honor them. Those who live up to virtuous ideals must be acknowledged and rewarded. The first, he says, is rewarding homemaking and motherhood. As Klavan says,

[Celebrate] women not for their achievements in masculine spheres but for living the lives of spousal devotion and maternal nurture that they overwhelmingly long for and love…We ought to make sure that we are holding in the highest possible esteem those who make the world spin—namely, stay-at-home moms…She’s building the future of America: show some respect!

Second, those in business and media must support those young journalists who cover difficult news stories, often without any backing, risking life and limb to bring truth and justice to light. He says, “These are the people who have pursued truth and justice despite the fact that hardly any fancy titles or awards are attached to such things anymore.”

Finally, Klavan says that though we’ve been born into a troubling period in American and world history, we must act:

The hour may not be quite so late as we think, and even if it is: so what? We will build our fortresses and assemble our weaponry. If they are swept away by the tidal wave of the age then at least let us not have it said that something we left undone could have stemmed the tide…For our part, we are bound by honor and duty to make our stand.

Our Way of Life

In Bruce Frohnen’s essay, “T.S. Eliot’s Christianity and Culture: the Problem of Establishment,” he says that religion and culture are aspects of the same thing, our way of life. Even those opposed to our nation’s religious and cultural practice or institutions “must engage it from within its cultural framework.”

Adapting Edmund Burke’s (#30) response to the Jacobins in the French Revolution to our times, we could say, “[What we face] is a war between the partisans of the ancient, civil, moral, and political order of [America] against a sect of fanatical and ambitious [progressives] with means to change them all. It [will not be America] extending a foreign empire over other nations: it is a sect aiming at universal empire, beginning with the conquest of [America].”

On this theme, Frohnen quotes T. S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture, p. 200, as writing,

If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully again, and you cannot put on a new culture ready-made. You must wait for the grass to grow to feed the sheep to give the wool out of which your new coat will be made. You must pass through many centuries of barbarism. We should not live to see the new culture, nor would our great-great-great-grandchildren: and if we did, not one of us would be happy in it.

Conclusion

We have given way for over a century.  Now, we must build the soul restoring institutions we need. If God wills that “the pitiless crowbar of events” arrests our slide toward totalitarianism, so much the better.

Tucker: This Is Why America Is Great, November 13, 2020, YouTube, Fox News

Witness, Endurance, and Suffering

The United States of America may be losing its freedoms faster than we expected. What should those who profess Christ as Lord and Savior do?

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. – Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

G. K. Beale, in his introduction to his book, Revelation – A Shorter Commentary, tells us several important things for the times ahead. He says,

John’s readers live in a worldly culture which makes sin seem normal and righteousness appear strange.

The focus of the revelation John received from God is how the church is to conduct itself in the midst of an ungodly world.

Believers are faced with the choice of lining [up] their lives and conduct…with one perspective or the other, and their eternal destiny depends on that choice.

Believers are always facing the threat of compromise in one form or another. They must submit to the message as John has brought it, or face God’s judgment.

As such, the message of the letter is of relevance and value to all believers of all ages, which is why the vision was given to John.

Our way of witness to and suffering for the gospel parallels that of our Lord. Beale explains this truth this way,

The analogy of a chess game is also appropriate. The sacrificial move of Christ at the cross puts the devil in checkmate (deals him a mortal wound); the devil continues to play the game of rebellion, but his defeat is assured.

This is an important theme of John’s vision, which seeks to assure believers going through difficult circumstances that God is with them and will faithfully bring them through to final victory.

The church is identified also with Christ as a priest and now exercises its role as priests by maintaining a faithful witness to the world and willingness to suffer for Christ. It defeats the strategies of the enemy even while suffering apparent defeat, yet still ruling in a kingdom (as Christ did on the cross).

Beale also explains how he understands the book. He says,

In Rev. 1:1, John deliberately uses the language of “signify” from Dan. 2:45 portray that what God has been showing him is likewise symbolic. Most of the things that are about to unfold are not to be taken literally (lions, lambs, beasts, women, etc.), but each refers symbolically to another reality or set of realities….The reader is to expect that the main means of divine revelation in this book is symbolic.

Beale says of his approach to the book of Revelation,

We believe the Redemptive – Historical Idealist view is substantially correct but must be modified in light of the fact that parts of Revelation do definitely refer to future end – time events concerning the return of Christ, His final defeat of the enemy, and the establishment of His heavenly kingdom.

There is great comfort to be had from the book of Revelation. In fact, the book itself says,

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. Revelation 1:3 (English Standard Version)

Another thing to do is to learn from the experience of our brothers and sisters in China’s house churches. Hannah Nation and S. E. Wang’s Grace to the City: Studies in the Gospel from China is a good place to start.

Reading Pastor Wang Yi’s essay titled, “Wang Yi’s 14 Decisions: In the Face of Persecution, What Will I Do?,” posted two months before he was arrested by authorities for preaching the gospel, and other posts on that blog are yet another way to benefit from our brothers’ and sisters’ experience.

In times like these, I go back to this,

O Lord, I have heard the report of you,
    and your work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
    in the midst of the years make it known;
    in wrath remember mercy.

Habakkuk 3:2 (English Standard Version)

Whether we “Build Back Better” or “Keep America Great,” God is sovereign and will lead His people through the trials ahead. Our duty is to witness openly and not compromise with the world in the face of suffering.

If Xi Jinping does not repent he will perish! – Pastor Wang Yi, September 10, 2018, YouTube, Wang Yi Sermon Clips

An Undesirable End Game

Edwin J. Erler, in his essay, “The United States in Crisis,” excerpted from his book, The United States in Crisis: Citizenship, Immigration and the Nation-State, says that the progressive goal for the United States of America is to surrender its national sovereignty and governance to a world government led by unelected administrative experts.

Globalism – Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Rather than being American citizens, we would become citizens of the world. As world citizens, we would be governed by experts who know what we need better than we can ourselves. In their administration, these experts would be unhindered by the “consent of the governed.”

Actually, without representation, we would be clients of a vast, impenetrable, worldwide bureaucracy. We would be coerced to surrender our liberty for a numbing equality. We would be subjects of an unremitting tyranny. This is the logical outcome of the progressive project that we have documented in recent posts. Let’s examine Erler’s argument.

According to Erler, constitutional government and the rule of law has existed and continues to exist only in individual, sovereign nations. Historically, liberal democracies rarely, if ever, go to war with each other. This form of governance is the best to guarantee world peace and freedom. A global state, he maintains, does not offer this guarantee.

Those who want global governance say that nationalism, as Erler states, “breeds extremism and leads inevitably to wars, racism, ethnic animosities, exclusivity, corporate exploitation, and many other evils. The way to defeat these evils is for nations to band together into international organizations of one sort or another as a way to dilute or defeat the consequences of nationalism.”

Michael Anton, in his recent essay, “A Tyranny Perpetual and Universal?” says,

Neoliberalism elevates as a matter of “principle” the international over the national; it rejects the latter as narrow, particular, cramped, even bigoted, and celebrates the former as cosmopolitan and enlightened. Neoliberalism is (for now) forced to tolerate nations and borders as unfortunate and unhelpful obstacles but it looks forward to a time when such nuisances finally are behind mankind forever.

Neoliberalism is Anton’s catch-all term for progressivism. His essay is frightening.

Along these lines, Erler says,

…A “world without borders” will, of course, be a world without sovereign nation-states and, consequently, a world without citizens. The idea of “citizens” of the world is a simple solecism. A world without borders will be the “universal and homogeneous state,” the European Union (EU) on a world scale.

But in this “world state” there will be no citizens; rather, there will be clients who are ruled by unelected bureaucrats or administrative experts, much like the European Union is run today. These experts exercise rule without the inconvenience of having to consult or rely on the consent of the people because in this new world, administrative expertise has replaced politics and political choice.

Erler remarks that these “scientific” administrators know better than the people what is good and necessary. Thereby, they make freedom to choose outmoded, deemed to be a dangerous delusion dispelled by their expertise. They believe individual choice leads to bad decisions, so choice must be eliminated. Welfare replaces freedom in this global empire.

Erler summarizes his argument this way,

In other words, it will be a tyranny where the decisions of the experts can be translated directly into practice without the intermediary of the consent of the people. Tyranny will not be alleviated by the fact that it is based on progressive science and administered for the good of humanity. This universal tyranny will be no different—no less severe, no less degrading—than tyrannies of the past.

In fact, this universal tyranny will bring a new kind of terror and violence to its rule; it will be more efficient and more pervasive because it will be backed by all the innovations of science and justified by the advancement of the human estate, the professed goal of modern science from its very beginning. Its protestations of a benign purpose will be a thin disguise for its brutal and psychologically devastating reality.

Clients of the homogeneous state [will belong to] the community of the “free and equal.” [They] will be forced to accept equality as indistinguishable from freedom even if some retain the consciousness of the difference but are afraid to point it out or refer to it.

We need look no further than to the People’s Republic of China for what this looks like.

The American President, in his remarks to the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly gave a powerful rebuttal to the progressive project. This is his argument in his own words,

…The essential divide that runs all around the world and throughout history is once again thrown into stark relief.  It is the divide between those whose thirst for control deludes them into thinking they are destined to rule over others and those people and nations who want only to rule themselves.

…Looking around and all over this large, magnificent planet, the truth is plain to see: If you want freedom, take pride in your country.  If you want democracy, hold on to your sovereignty.  And if you want peace, love your nation.  Wise leaders always put the good of their own people and their own country first.

The future does not belong to globalists.  The future belongs to patriots.  The future belongs to sovereign and independent nations who protect their citizens, respect their neighbors, and honor the differences that make each country special and unique.

…Freedom and democracy must be constantly guarded and protected, both abroad and from within.  We must always be skeptical of those who want conformity and control.  Even in free nations, we see alarming signs and new challenges to liberty.

…The core rights and values [that] America defends today were inscribed in America’s founding documents.  Our nation’s Founders understood that there will always be those who believe they are entitled to wield power and control over others. Tyranny advances under many names and many theories, but it always comes down to the desire for domination.  It protects not the interests of many, but the privilege of few.

Our Founders gave us a system designed to restrain this dangerous impulse.  They chose to entrust American power to those most invested in the fate of our nation: a proud and fiercely independent people.

The true good of a nation can only be pursued by those who love it: by citizens who are rooted in its history, who are nourished by its culture, committed to its values, attached to its people, and who know that its future is theirs to build or theirs to lose.  Patriots see a nation and its destiny in ways no one else can.

Liberty is only preserved, sovereignty is only secured, democracy is only sustained, greatness is only realized, by the will and devotion of patriots.  In their spirit is found the strength to resist oppression, the inspiration to forge legacy, the goodwill to seek friendship, and the bravery to reach for peace.  Love of our nations makes the world better for all nations.

The progressive project has been in the works for more than a century. Those who love America understand what we are losing. Those who do not, think they are winning. This has happened many times before. By God’s power, it will end, for it is already finished.

A Man vs. A Movement, October 1, 2020, YouTube, American Greatness

The Meaning of Happiness

You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means,”

Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride

Some argue that Happiness, in the context of our Declaration of Independence, means material happiness (e.g., property.) Some argue for emotional happiness. Yet others would argue that the word means more (e.g., free assembly, free speech, free exercise of religion, etc.)

Declaration of Independence

Declaration Preamble, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, via Wikimedia Commons (cropped)  

All of us may be familiar with the following words, but let’s review them anyway:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness

Today’s post contends that ‘Happiness’ means most of these possibilities. However, it means one more than the others. But we must not exclude any of these at our peril. Along the way, we’ll examine the words: Unalienable, Pursuit, Life, Liberty, and Consent, too.

Our sources are essays written by James R. Rogers and a commencement address given by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Rogers, in a series of essays for Law and Liberty, defines Happiness along with the other important words to renew our understanding of our obligations to this nation and our fellow citizens. Solzhenitsyn, in his Harvard University Commencement Address, praises our nation’s founding principles and decries our fall from them. Let us examine the aforementioned words.

Unalienable or Inalienable

In his essay, “What Americans Miss about the Declaration of Independence,” Rodgers states that the Declaration’s inalienable rights are pre-political rights that we receive from our Creator. Governments are instituted to protect these rights. In the United States of America, we have the privilege to have instituted our government as a representative republic.

The essence of our rights’ inalienability, Rogers maintains, is not that our rights can’t be taken away, they can, but that we cannot give them away. They are not ours to give, we have been given them by our Creator. Rogers offers the example,

…People cannot justly commit suicide because humans do not own themselves, rather God owns them. Because our lives belong to God, and so are his to dispose rather than ours, the right we have to life is “inalienable.” We cannot give away our lives.

Because of the principle of inalienability, any government that recognizes a “right to die” has become a despotism. If the right that was taken away was alienable, then the details of the transaction dictate whether the taking is just or unjust. However, when any inalienable right is taken away, that taking is always unjust. It does not matter whether it is an individual or a governmental body doing the taking, it is unjust.

Pursuit

Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr., in his essay, “The Lost Meaning of ‘The Pursuit of Happiness,’” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Jul., 1964), pp. 325-327, said that, in colonial times, “pursuit” meant vocation, occupation, or practice, as in ‘pursuit of medicine,’ or ‘pursuit of law.’

Happiness

Rogers, in his essays, “Liberty, Licentiousness, and the Pursuit of Happiness” and “The Meaning of “The Pursuit of Happiness,” develops the meaning of happiness from 18th century sources.

Today, the unalienable right to the “pursuit of happiness” is understood as “a right to chase after whatever makes one subjectively happy.” This is mistaken. The Declaration’s claim is also misunderstood to mean only the right to pursue what makes you happy but not to obtain happiness. Digging deeper, the fifth and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution imply that happiness is merely a synonym for property. Though acquiring property necessary to life is part of the pursuit of happiness, it isn’t the whole story.

In the eighteenth century, the political use of happiness meant something more. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 says,

As the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community, but by the institution of the public worship of God, and of public instructions in piety, religion and morality.

Additionally, Article 3 of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 says,

Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

From these examples and, according to Rogers, many more of the period, “happiness” in the Declaration means “something more akin to eudemonia, meaning felicity or well-being broadly understood. Critically, it commonly included an ethical or religious dimension…This certainly includes a right to material things, but it goes beyond that to include humanity’s spiritual and moral condition.”

Since this right is inalienable, we do not have the right NOT to pursue happiness, that is, not to practice moral and spiritual well-being. Restating it again, we may not alienate ourselves from the objective moral order. Further, the Declaration says governments are established to protect this right and the others and can be replaced when they become destructive of those rights. The right to pursue happiness, understood correctly, is in direct opposition to progressivism, especially the libertarian streak within it.

Life

In his essay, “God Talk and Americans’ Belief in Inalienable Rights,” Rogers asks, “Why would anyone in his or her right mind give away the right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness?” He points out that debate about assisted suicide and the “right to die” is the same as the debate about whether life is an alienable or inalienable right. As we have seen above, we are not our own, God owns us. So, disposing of one’s own or others’ lives infringes on God’s rights.

Further, Rogers explains,

So, too, we cannot become slaves to another because we are already, as it were, God’s slaves. The irony is that the more abased humanity is before God the greater the dignity humans must accord to each other; liberty, as well as life and the pursuit of happiness, are all the more protected because of rights humans don’t and can’t have over themselves. They are “unalienable.”

However, because we are no longer a religious people, our skepticism undermines our ability to affirm the inalienability of our right to life. This leaves us in a bad place. To this, Rogers asks,

What [are] the implications…if Americans as a people are today ill-suited for the Declaration’s argument, and what the implications are if the Declaration’s argument is ill-suited for America.

Liberty

In the same essay in which Rogers discusses inalienability, “What Americans Miss about the Declaration of Independence,” he examines modern and colonial attitudes toward liberty. He says,

In modern America we think laws necessarily restrict liberty. And they can and often do. But the colonists took the idea of “consent” seriously. A contract between two people restricts future actions once entered. But freely entering into a contract that binds future choices is the epitome of liberty.

Rogers thereby indicates that the Declaration limits individual autonomy with respect to liberty. However, the colonists viewed this binding as also establishing liberty. Rogers says, “Like individuals agreeing to be bound by the terms of a contract…legislation could instantiate their liberty rather than merely restrict it.”

In his essay, “Liberty, Licentiousness, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” Rogers notes of ‘Liberty,’

It simply cannot mean autonomy. [If liberty is inalienable, then its meaning] harkens to the old distinction between liberty and license…There can be no right to licentious behavior, and there cannot be any such right regardless of whether that behavior implicates other people or not.

Needless to say, such an affirmation flies in the face of most educated sentiment in the U.S. today. Indeed, much modern American opinion and, more pointedly, modern judicial opinion, makes it a point to reject precisely that conception of liberty.

Consent of the Governed

Rogers contends, in his essay, “Americans No Longer Believe in the “Consent of the Governed”,”

During the Founding era, the consent of one’s representatives were taken as equivalent of one’s own consent.

…Whether it can be defended philosophically, as a practical matter, most Americans have already jettisoned belief in the proposition. Americans now almost universally reject one of the most-fundamental claims in their Founding document. Something those early Americans believed in strongly enough to fight and die for. That’s a pretty big change.

…What does it mean for the country when most of its people no longer believe one of the Declaration’s fundamental commitments?

In the founding era, Rogers says, “Americans took seriously the idea of the “consent of the governed.”” They exercised this consent collectively through popular votes or through their elected representatives. This consent extended to both the creation of government through the Constitution and to specific policies through law at all governmental levels.

Before the War of Independence, as an example, taxes were considered gifts of the people through their representatives to the British government for just administration of the colonies. Rogers gives the following explanatory illustration,

…A modest tax without consent was objectionable; a high tax with consent was fine. The moral significance of this is difficult to understate if this consent is real: A government with extremely high taxes under the consent theory is no more objectionable than, say, a person having high car payments to pay because that person chose to buy an expensive car.

Turmoil after the war lead Madison and Hamilton to deliberate over the new U.S. Constitution’s power to quell the power of “faction” both at the state and national levels. That is, for example, how to prevent industrial interests from dominating agricultural interests, or for the executive branch to withstand the legislative branch’s greater power. And in each case, how both parties could formulate a compromise to which both would give consent.

These thoughts were captured in Federalist No. 10 and No. 51. The Federalist Papers were meant to convince the nation to affirm our new Republic. Though the Constitution was ratified, Rogers says this is the period when our ‘consent’ started to flag.

We’ve examined the progression from the founding to where we are now in previous posts. Unfortunately, we’ve let those who would overturn the original U.S. Constitution for something else prevail in government, industry, media, and academia. This, I think, is why we, as a nation, no longer give our consent willingly. We no longer agree on the foundation of governance, so how can we agree on decisions within it.

Solzhenitsyn’s Viewpoint

In his speech at the 1978 Harvard Commencement, titled “A World Split Apart,” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn assessed the world’s condition, both in the East and the West. His message was not well accepted. About America’s founding and the West’s decline, he said,

…Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic.

The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades, the legalistically selfish aspect of Western approach and thinking has reached its final dimension and the world wound up in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse.

And commenting on America’s media influence, he said,

Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day.

…This gives birth to strong mass prejudices, blindness, which is most dangerous in our dynamic era. There is, for instance, a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation. It works as a sort of petrified armor around people’s minds. Human voices from 17 countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it. It will only be broken by the pitiless crowbar of events.

This assessment still pertains to our own situation, even thirty years after the fall of the USSR.

Conclusion

So, what new insights do we gain about our Declaration of Independence? I, for one, never appreciated the depth of it. As Rogers said,

Liberty, as well as life and the pursuit of happiness, are all the more protected because of rights humans don’t and can’t have over themselves. They are “unalienable” [because they are God given.]

We also have to consider that the Declaration, viewed as a contract, is binding on a people who freely affirm the Creator and we no longer do. In fact, this is the very root of our divide in this country. The Progressives and their coreligionists worship Man. Those who adhere to the Declaration and the Constitution, understood in their original meaning, affirm God, the Creator.

What the 2020 Election is All About: Preserving the American Way of Life, October 13, 2020, YouTube, Claremont Institute

How the Ruling Class Subverts the Constitution

John Marini, in his article “Abandoning the Constitution,” compares two views on the United States Constitution and whether your rights as citizens are God given and unalienable or merely granted to you (or withheld) by an unelected and therefore unaccountable bureaucracy. Progressivism’s hand in the latter view is apparent. It intends to mold its clients into whatever History demands as determined by experts. In the former view, you determine your life’s course in partnership with your fellow citizens and God’s providence.

Marini uses Thomas Paine‘s writings as representative of a majority of the founders’ views. Paine wrote in his book The Rights of Man,

A constitution is not a thing in name only, but in fact. It has not an ideal, but a real existence; and wherever it cannot be produced in a visible form, there is none. A constitution is a thing antecedent to a government, and a government is only the [creation] of a constitution. The constitution of a country is not the act of its government, but of the people constituting its government.

[A constitution] is the body of elements, to which you can refer, and quote article by article; and which contains the principles on which the government shall be established, the manner in which it shall be organized, the powers it shall have, the mode of elections, the duration of Parliaments, or by what other name such bodies may be called; the powers which the executive part of the government shall have; and in [summary], everything that relates to the complete organization of a civil government, and the principles on which it shall act, and by which it shall be bound.

A constitution, therefore, is to a government what the laws made afterwards by that government are to a [judiciary court]. The [judiciary court] does not make the laws, neither can it alter them; it only acts in conformity to the laws made: and the government is in like manner governed by the constitution.

It is on this basis, therefore, that the Declaration of Independence says, 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

And the U.S. Constitution says,

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Marini, summarizing Paine, says, “[These are not binding agreements] of government with the people. It is the people who assign government its role, which is the protection of [the people’s] individual rights; when it fails to do so, it must be altered or abolished…It is the people who established a constitution. It was the Constitution, or the [binding agreement] of the people, which instituted and limited the power of government, by subordinating governmental institutions to the authority of a written constitution (and separating the powers of the branches of government).”

Alternatively, and in keeping with Watson’s five principles of progressivism:

There are no fixed or eternal principles that govern,

The state and its component parts are organic [and] involved in a struggle for never-ending growth,

Democratic openness and experimentalism…are the fertilizer of the organic state,

The state and its components exist only in History,

Some individuals stand outside this process…an elite class, possessed of intelligence as a method,

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his September 1932 “Commonwealth Club Address,” portrayed the U.S. Constitution as a ‘living’ document with no permanent principles of governance and exchanged the sovereignty of the people for that of the government. He wrote:

The Declaration of Independence discusses the problem of Government in terms of a contract. Government is a relation of give and take, a contract, perforce, if we would follow the thinking out of which it grew.

Under such a contract, rulers were accorded power, and the people consented to that power on consideration that they be accorded certain rights.

The task of statesmanship has always been the re-definition of these rights in terms of a changing and growing social order. New conditions impose new requirements upon Government and those who conduct Government.

This subtle sleight of hand was not well received at the time, but never-the-less discloses the illogic foisted upon the American people. Roosevelt proclaims government sovereignty over that of the people and puts government, and its agents, in charge of the people’s economic and societal wellbeing without limits. Roosevelt insisted:

The issue of government has always been whether individual men and women will have to serve some system of government or economics, or whether a system of government and economics exists to serve individual men and women.

Marini rejoinders Roosevelt thusly,

Understood in this way, the economic (and social) system must come under the control of government before it can serve the people. And government must, of necessity, become the arbiter of rights, both economic and political. The will of the people must be established by government before it can be put into effect by the technical expertise of its bureaucracy. At that point, politics must give way to administration.

Roosevelt’s progressive “bargain” does away with God’s provision of the people’s rights and replaces it with the administrative state as the source and defender of their rights.

After illuminating the bifurcation between conservative and progressive understandings of government as represented by Paine’s and Roosevelt’s writings, respectively, Marini goes deeper. He says the progressive view and its embodiment, the administrative state, prevail in America’s governance.

Progressivism does not subject itself to natural or rational limits nor is it understood in terms of immutable truths as the foundation of rights and happiness. An evolving concept of freedom establishes the intellectual and moral foundation of each historical epoch. Society’s problem becomes reconciliation of conflicting individuals’ wills in all life’s activities to achieve equality of freedom of will.

In this regime, society’s principles are knowable through empirical measurement and analysis. This is known as positivist social science. It discovers epochal principles which are encoded in evolving law. The government is constituted in these mutable laws.

Harry V. Jaffa examined this regime in “Judicial Conscience and Natural Rights: A Reply to Professor Ledewitz” 11 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 219 (1988),

For what is most important about left- and right-wing jurisprudence today is not that they are of the right or of the left, but that they are “result oriented.” Their so-called principles are not in their premises, but in their conclusions.

They differ in the particulars of their “value judgments,” but not in the subjectivity of that which they propose as the ground of constitutional law. Calling their subjective preferences “traditional morality” [or original intent] on the one hand, or “human dignity” on the other, does not make their preferences any more than “value judgments,” or less subjective. If the basis of law is believed to be subjective, however, then the basis of law is believed to be will, not reason.

The goal or perfection of the law, according to the whole tradition of western civilization, is that it should be, in Aristotle’s words, “reason unaffected by desire.” This is what law means according to the natural rights and natural law teaching of the Declaration of Independence. But law that rests upon nothing but “value judgments” is desire unaffected by reason.

Roscoe Pound, who became Harvard Law School dean in 1916, insisted that “the science of law is a science of social engineering having to do with that part of the whole field which may be achieved by the ordering of human relations through the action of politically organized society.”

To Jaffa and Pound, Marini says,

In denying the authority of reason, law itself, in the service of will, came to be understood in terms of social reconstruction. When coupled with the method of positive science, the State and its government provide the possibility of the ongoing transformation of society and man.

Social sciences and positivist law replaced theology and reason as the foundation for expertise to carry out the will of the people. Marini concludes, “But for this to work, the people and their representatives would have to give up their reason so as to enable the social scientists to carry out their will. In short, they must give up the right to rule themselves.”

The administrative state consolidated itself after Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. The congress gave up legislation born of deliberation for oversight of the executive branch administrative agencies it creates. The Judiciary then determines policy resulting from executive branch agency controversies. The people no longer find representation within the unelected administrative bureaucracy.

As Charles Kesler wrote in the Claremont Review of Books (“The Tea Party Spirit,” Winter 2009/10):

When our founders thought about law, they often thought along the lines of John Locke, who described law as a community’s “settled standing rules, indifferent, and the same to all parties,” emphasizing that to be legitimate a statute must be “received and allowed by common consent to be the standard of right and wrong, and the common measure to decide all controversies” between citizens.

Speaking of the rules that the administrative state encrusts upon modern congressional directives, Kesler says,

They operate not by setting up fences to protect each man’s liberty. They start not from equal rights but from equal (and often unequal) privileges, the favors or benefits that government may bestow on or withhold from its clients. The whole point is to empower government officials, usually unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats, to bless or curse your petitions as they see fit, guided, of course, by their expertness in a law so vast, so intricate, and so capricious that it could justify a hundred different outcomes in the same case.

Discussing the ramifications, Kesler says,

Faster than one might think, a government of equal laws turns into a regime of arbitrary privilege. A “privilege” is literally a private law. When law ceases to be a common “standard of right and wrong” and a “common measure to decide all controversies,” then the rule of law ceases to be republican and becomes despotic. Freedom itself ceases to be a right and becomes a gift, or the fruit of a corrupt bargain, because in such degraded regimes those who are close to and connected with the ruling class have special privileges.

Thus, Kesler reveals the sordid underbody of progressive administration.

Summing up, the administrative state exercises the science of law, i.e., “value judgments” or desire unaffected by reason, to social engineer the populace. The people must give up their reason to enable social scientists to carry out their will. That is, they must give up the right to rule themselves. Freedom itself ceases to be a right and becomes a gift, the fruit of a corrupt bargain, because only those who are close to and/or connected with the ruling class have special privileges.

To these things, Marini says,

In these ways, [the administrative state] subverts the aspiration for the fundamental ideal of government, that which makes human community possible, the desire for justice. As James Madison noted, “Justice is the [goal] of government. It is the [goal] of civil society. It ever has been, and ever will be pursued, until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.” When justice ceases to be the [goal] of government, the natural rights guaranteed by the Constitution, and liberty itself, become ever more precarious.

Nonetheless, all is not well within the administrative state. It seems that all modern bureaucratic governments are faced with the paradox of being less able to govern, the more completely they try to administer the social and economic details of life in society.

Justice, in its broadest sense, is the principle that people receive that which they deserve.

Myron Magnet, in his recent Claremont Review of Books review of Amity Shlaes Great Society: A New History, titled “Poverty Won,” says:

As Amity Shlaes shows in her cautionary Great Society: A New History, those trillions [of dollars expended by the 1964 War on Poverty] only made matters worse. As the clamor swells to compound LBJ’s mistake, Shlaes provides a sobering postmortem, dissecting how and why, when government presumes to reshape society, the result is likely to be gory.

This is the regime we are living in now. It seems that the progressives wish to level American society via, among other means, mostly peaceful protests (and the violence that is implied by this euphemism.) Do not let them. Vote for your children’s liberty and self-governance. Vote early if you can reliably.

Which America Do You Choose? | The Heritage Foundation, October 12, 2020, YouTube, The Heritage Foundation

The Historical Origins Behind the Subversion of the Constitution – Part 2

In John Marini’s review of The Bureaucrat Kings: The Origins and Underpinnings of America’s Bureaucratic State by Paul Moreno, Marini picks up where Guelzo, in “The Historical Origins Behind the Subversion of the Constitution – Part 1,” left off. Marini also identifies a thinker who predicted the administrative state’s inevitability and cites an obvious historical source of our predicament that we often neglect.

Marini observes that Moreno “judges historical and political changes in light of an unchanging standard of the public good, or justice, an idea inherent in the founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”

Summarizing one of our recent posts, Moreno says, “The United States is ruled by an establishment nowhere mentioned in the U.S. Constitution… Once a federal republic, we have become a centralized bureaucracy run by an unelected administrative class [that] combines legislative, executive, and judicial functions that the Constitution separated.” This transformation into a bureaucratic state has undercut federalism and the separation of powers. He also says that the congress, executive, and judicial branches are complicit with the states in the destruction of our constitutional republic.

Marini describes Moreno’s short account of the “four waves of the administrative state” this way,

The first (1900–1930), on behalf of an expansive national public sector, was spearheaded by activist presidential leadership within both parties. In the second (1930–1945), the New Deal established “the state as an entitlement-provider rather than a rights-protector.” The third wave (1945–1975), the “Great Society and the New Social Regulation” led “by a resurgent judiciary,” centralized administrative power on behalf of civil rights and the national regulation of social and economic problems. Finally, the fourth wave (1975–2010) revealed that the constitutional branches and political parties were unable to limit administrative rule…

The almost unbroken ascendancy of the administrative state in the last half of the 20th century undermined the political dynamic that made the separation of powers work… [and] it had become clear by the end of the century that administration had become the heart of modern government, almost impervious to political control.

It is undeniable that government requires administration. However, centralized bureaucracy consolidates legislative, executive, and judicial power counter to our constitution and establishes prerogative, absolute power. As Marini recounts, this bureaucracy is a manifestation of Hegel’s “rational state,” and Max Weber’s “final form of rule, an expression of the last Western value, ‘rationality.’

Max Weber argued that, “the fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, the ‘disenchantment of the world.’” Disenchantment is the shift from authority based on reason and revelation to a rationalized, rules-based authority which, in Weber’s words, leads to “the polar night of icy darkness and hardness”   resulting in an “iron cage” of rational control.

Weber believed that, “Joined to the dead machine, [bureaucratic organization] is at work to erect the shell of that future bondage to which one day men will perhaps be forced to submit in impotence… Rational bureaucratic administration and maintenance is the last and only value which is to decide on the manner in which their affairs are directedbecause the bureaucracy does this incomparably much better than any other structure of domination.”

In the Introduction to the book, Weber: Political Writings, the editor suggests that Weber believed that not only would we be subject to a bureaucratic “benevolent feudalism,” but to a stagnant ‘socialist’ society led by an elite interested only in rent seeking.

According to Marini, Weber wondered in despair, “what have we to set against this machinery, in order to preserve a remnant of humanity from this parceling-out of the soul, from this exclusive rule of bureaucratic life ideals?”

Progressivism champions centralized bureaucracy. From a previous post, Guelzo, quoting Watson, says,

The progressive idea, simply put, is that the principled American constitutionalism of fixed natural rights and limited and dispersed powers must be overturned and replaced by an organic, evolutionary model of the Constitution that facilitates the authority of experts dedicated to the expansion of the public sphere and political control, especially at the national level.

The notion of organic change derives from Darwin. However, why are fixed principles overturned in the first place?

It was Machiavelli who established innovation (i.e., introducing change to laws and institutions) as a rule for governance.

In a 2013 Wall Street Journal review, Harvey C. Mansfield said,

The prince, [Machiavelli] said, must act “according to the times,” but in such a way as to change those times. To be successful a prince must be a new prince, one who doesn’t accept the status quo.

Even an established prince must take account of his rivals and enemies and not wait for them to displace him but move ahead of them “proactively,” as we would say, virtuously, as [Machiavelli] said. The new prince must strive to set the trend and make everyone else depend on him, so that he doesn’t merely follow the trend.

Is this piece of Machiavelli’s mind beginning to feel familiar to our modern eye and ear? Here, in the constant need for novelty and acquisition—our freedom in combat with our necessity—we have the germ of our modern politics, our business, our intellectuals, our arts, our morals.

Marini then observes, “If it has become impossible to preserve tradition of any kind, “rational” rule is modern man’s fate…It would appear that bureaucracy is the inevitable but also the inhuman result of revolutionary modernity.”

What set apart the American revolution from all others, but especially the French revolution, was its maintenance of continuity with England’s moral, religious, and intellectual heritage. The American revolution was a renewal of proven institutions, a re-constitution of government. The Constitution’s authors, our nation’s Founders, enshrined principles derived from reason, nature, and revelation in our founding documents.

These documents acknowledge that the people are created equal and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. These same people entrusted government with a portion of their rights in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity.

Abandonment of these principles for a leveling idée fixe which reduces all Americans to servants of a self-elect class of leaders, is, unfortunately, what is in-process now. To this situation, Marini says, “the long-term political success of administrative rule would require delegitimizing the founding’s principles in order to establish the legitimacy of the administrative, née rational, state. That has yet to occur.”

Finally, John Marini concludes his review with this concern,

The verdict on America is not yet in, but as long as democracy includes the capacity to choose new leaders and transform political institutions, the rule by bureaucrat kings, however well organized and intended, remains precarious. If, on the other hand, the path of least resistance is to enjoy the benefits of rational rule rather than reestablish political rule, then only “the pitiless crowbar of events,” in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s words, can reawaken the desire for freedom and self-government.

Echoing Marini’s concern, consider whether we will succumb to “bread and circuses” or obey the commandment:

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” Leviticus 19:17-18 ESV

and restore representative government through our ballot. You decide.

The Constitution vs. The Administrative State: John Marini on The American Mind, February 13, 2020, YouTube, The American Mind

The Historical Origins Behind the Subversion of the Constitution

In his Claremont Review of Books article, “The Left Side of History,” Allen C. Guelzo reviews Bradley Watson‘s book Progressivism: The Strange History of a Radical Idea. According to Guelzo, “Watson has crafted, not so much a historical genealogy of Progressivism, as its historiography .” However, what I found interesting was Guelzo’s description of the descent of American Thought from colonial idealism into post-civil war despair and twentieth century destruction.

Guelzo opens his review with the following passage,

Progressivism, in its original 19th-century form, was the offspring of pessimism. Part of that pessimism was a revulsion at what the Civil War had done and, more to the point, failed to do. It had taken an America whose driving intellectual forces were enthusiastically religious, artistically naïve, and absolute in their moral self-confidence, and plunged it into a four-year bloodbath led by incompetent generals, pockmarked by genocidal massacres (as at Fort Pillow and the Crater), and frothing with stupidity, greed, and fraud.

Overall, approximately one out of every ten white American males of military age in 1860 was dead by 1865 from some war-related cause. Even after the war, the federal government would be paying pensions to nearly one million Union veterans or their dependents, at a total cost (by 1900) of almost 22% of all federal expenditures.

And for what? Emancipation, yes. Union, yes. But the promise that emancipation would produce an egalitarian, biracial society was cruelly smashed by the failures of Reconstruction, and reunion only resulted by the 1880s in a revival of the same old alliance of corrupt Northern Democrats and white-hooded Southern Democrats that had brought the country to the brink of war in the first place.

…The sheer volume of destruction, human and economic, unhinged something in the American mind

Into this ‘slough of despond’ fell Charles Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. Wikipedia notes that Darwin did not mean, by the term ‘races,’ our narrow definition; but, instead, species groups such as honeybee nests and human tribes. The book was first released in Great Britain in 1859 and grew in influence in America.

Guelzo says of Darwin’s Origin of Species, “…The book portrayed physical existence itself as a pointless, directionless evolution, by means of “natural selection,” from nothing in particular to nothing in particular. …In the new Darwinian universe, ideas were biological mechanisms. They did not convey truth; they were tools to assist one’s adaptation to the relentless organic processes of natural selection.”

This nihilistic idea struck a chord with late nineteenth century philosophers. Charles S. Peirce wrote in his 1878 article, “How to Make Our Ideas Clear”,

And what, then, is belief? It is the demi-cadence which closes a musical phrase in the symphony of our intellectual life. We have seen that it has just three properties: First, it is something that we are aware of; second, it appeases the irritation of doubt; and, third, it involves the establishment in our nature of a rule of action, or, say for short, a habit. As it appeases the irritation of doubt, which is the motive for thinking, thought relaxes, and comes to rest for a moment when belief is reached.

But, since belief is a rule for action, the application of which involves further doubt and further thought, at the same time that it is a stopping-place, it is also a new starting-place for thought. That is why I have permitted myself to call it thought at rest, although thought is essentially an action. The final upshot of thinking is the exercise of volition, and of this thought no longer forms a part; but belief is only a stadium of mental action, an effect upon our nature due to thought, which will influence future thinking.

And, as Guelzo says, William James defined pragmatism with greater clarity in his book Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, 1907,

Pragmatism, on the other hand, asks its usual question. “Grant an idea or belief to be true,” it says, “what concrete difference will its being true make in anyone’s actual life? How will the truth be realized? What experiences will be different from those which would obtain if the belief were false? What, in short, is the truth’s cash-value in experiential terms?”

The moment pragmatism asks this question, it sees the answer: True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate, and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot. That is the practical difference it makes to us to have true ideas; that, therefore, is the meaning of truth, for it is all that truth is known-as.

This thesis is what I have to defend. The truth of an idea is not a stagnant property inherent in it. Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events. Its verity is in fact an event, a process: the process namely of its verifying itself, its veri-fication. Its validity is the process of its validation.

As Isaiah Berlin has said,

…Philosophical concepts nurtured in the stillness of a professor’s study could destroy a civilization… Our philosophers seem oddly unaware of these devastating effects of their activities.

Guelzo says that the descent from disillusionment with Natural Law to Evolution’s purposelessness resulting in a philosophy of “what works,” pointed “toward the creation of a new American society, a society which had the chastened flexibility of a Darwinian organism rather than the rigidity of abstract truths. Creating that society was what Progressivism promised to do.”

Guelzo notes that this same influence pervaded the institution of professional historians which developed “virtually parallel to pragmatism and Progressivism.” Guelzo, quoting Watson says, “[P]rofessional American historians were, in various ways, thoroughly progressive from the get-go.” Guelzo says that this was “largely because the historians shared the infatuation with “[t]he ever-shifting interactions between organism and environment” that characterized Darwin’s evolution—and that became so vital a component of Progressive politics.”

Therefore, Guelzo says that Samuel Johnson’s assessment (Rambler 156, 14 September 1751) no longer applies, “Every government…is perpetually degenerating towards corruption, from which it must be rescued at certain periods by the resuscitation of its first principles, and the re-establishment of its original constitution.”

Progressivism saw (and sees) History as an evolving organism served by humans. Even the Founders’ Constitution, based on Natural Law, was merely an emanation of History’s development, no more valid or foundational as any other historical gyre.

In 1893, progressive historian Frederick Jackson Turner postulated that the process of the moving frontier line and its cleansing effect upon the pioneers resulted in American democracy, egalitarianism, rejection of high culture, and violence. As Turner put it, “American democracy was born of no theorist’s dream; it was not carried in the Susan Constant to Virginia, nor in the Mayflower to Plymouth. It came out of the American forest, and it gained new strength each time it touched a new frontier.” Ironically, Turner’s frontier thesis is cited in arguments for American Exceptionalism.

Progressive historian Charles A. Beard, in his 1913 book, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States contends that the Constitution of the United States was formulated to preserve the Founding Fathers’ financial interests. Beard asserted that the Constitution was written by a unified elite to protect its personal property, loans to the nascent government, and economic status. The authors of The Federalist Papers merely represented this interest group.

However, Beard denied he directly proposed this thesis in his 1935 Introduction. He claimed to have only hinted at it, “The only point considered here is: Did they [the Constitutional Convention members] represent distinct groups whose economic interests they understood and felt in concrete, definite form through their own personal experience with identical property rights, or were they working merely under the guidance of abstract principles of political science?” His text then examines the financial interests of numerous convention attendees.

Guelzo, quoting Watson, says, “[t]he progressive idea, simply put, is that the principled American constitutionalism of fixed natural rights and limited and dispersed powers must be overturned and replaced by an organic, evolutionary model of the Constitution that facilitates the authority of experts dedicated to the expansion of the public sphere and political control, especially at the national level.”

Watson defines five principles of Progressivism:

There are no fixed or eternal principles that govern.

The state and its component parts are organic [and] involved in a struggle for never-ending growth.

Democratic openness and experimentalism…are the fertilizer of the organic state.

The state and its components exist only in History.

Some individuals stand outside this process…an elite class, possessed of intelligence as a method.

The elite class leads the masses into promised utopias through any means necessary, exempting themselves from strictures which lead to hardship or any responsibility for failure.

Watson says that the American constitutional order stands on “permanent principles of political right derivable from a proper understanding of [fallen] human nature,” whereas, “Rejecting any account of an unchangeable human nature, the Progressives went deep to attack the heart of American constitutionalism.”

Finally, Guelzo urges us to understand the forces that prevailed over the post-Civil War American society,

Before the Civil War, only about 7% of American manufacturing was organized in corporations; by 1900, corporations accounted for 69% of all American manufacturing. Between 1897 and 1905 alone, 5,300 small-scale firms were consolidated and reorganized into just 318 corporations, and 26 super-corporations (or “trusts”) controlled 80% of major American industrial output.

Americans were facing an economy organized on very different principles than the one the founders knew.

The founders had dreaded power as the great threat to liberty, but they had conceived of political power as the form it was most likely to take. After 1865, it was economic power which emerged as the greatest challenge to liberty, and if one can say anything in defense of the Progressives, it should be that they saw this shift all too clearly, even if they mistook the best means for dealing with it.

…On the other hand, it would be less than candid not to admit that historians have been too much the ideological allies of Progressivism to permit themselves to see its rejection of natural rights constitutionalism as Progressivism’s master flaw.

Progressivism has evolved over the years; yet its allegiance to History and ascent to human perfectibility apart from God’s unmerited favor remains. In this uncertain period, Steven F. Haywood, in his editorial for City Journal, “Pouring on the Gasoline,” admonishes,

But that’s where we are right now, with large numbers of Americans utterly alienated from many of their fellow citizens. The causes and responsibility for this can be debated another day. [To this situation,] Harry Jaffa [wrote]: “In a republic, the sobriety of the citizens replaces the force of authority as the principal source of order.” If we do have a train-wreck election, it will be the sobriety of Americans that saves us. 

Let us therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded.

“Our Embattled Constitution” – Harry V. Jaffa, February 25, 2015, YouTube, Hillsdale College

The History and Danger of Administrative Law – A Review

Administrative law is thought to be a recent threat to the American republic because it appeared in the last 120 years. Considered essential for decades by our leaders to handle the challenges of a complex and modern civilization, it was supposedly unforeseen by the framers of the U.S. Constitution.

Instead, Philip Hamburger proves that this corruption of our republic is very old. In his article, “The History and Danger of Administrative Law,” he says administrative law is the reinstitution of prerogative or absolute power of kings, now enforced by unelected bureaucrats. Hamburger says, “Rather than a modern necessity, it is a latter-day version of a recurring threat—a threat inherent in human nature and in the temptations of power.” It is potentially the end of representative democracy.

As many of us know, the U.S. Constitution authorizes three government powers—legislative power entrusted to Congress, executive power entrusted to the president and his subordinates, and judicial power entrusted to the courts.

Acts of administrative law or administrative power are binding or constraining edicts by the executive branch that replace Congress’s binding legislative power and the Judiciary’s legal adjudications.

Prerogative power

Hamburger uses England’s history to exhibit the prerogative power of kings. English kings were expected to govern through the laws of Parliament and rulings of law courts. However, those same kings acted on their own when they wanted to evade those laws and rulings. Such evasions were the exercise of prerogative power. The following table compares these two means of rule.

Rule Through Law Prerogative Power
Kings constrained their subjects through statutes passed by Parliament They constrained subjects through proclamations or decrees—similar to our rules or regulations
Kings repealed old statutes by obtaining new statutes They issued dispensations and suspensions— similar to our waivers
Kings enforced the law through the law courts They enforced their commands through their prerogative courts (e.g., King’s Council, Star Chamber, High Commission) — similar to our administrative courts
English judges used their independent judgment to resolve legal disputes Kings expected judges to defer to their own decrees and to the holdings and interpretations of their extra-legal prerogative courts
Parliament had the power to make laws, the law courts had the power to adjudicate, and the king had the power to exercise force Kings or their prerogative courts exercised all government powers, overriding these divisions (e.g., the Star Chamber issued regulations, and prosecuted and adjudicated infractions.)

Defenders of England’s prerogative power boldly described it as absolute power. Necessity, a king’s justification for prerogative power, was said to be not bound by law.

Never-the-less, prerogative power was opposed. In 1215, England’s barons codified in the Magna Carta that no free man could be summoned or imprisoned extralegally, the King must use processes of law as then defined.

In 1354 and 1368, Parliament enacted due process statutes to protect men from arbitrary questioning by the king’s council.

In 1610, judges opined that royal proclamations were unlawful and void when King James made law via proclamations. When the king demanded judicial deference to his interpretations of law, these judges refused.

In 1641, Parliament abolished the king’s Star Chamber and High Commission which engaged in extra-legal lawmaking and adjudication.

As English constitutional law developed, it prohibited extra-legal (i.e., outside the law,) supra-legal (i.e., above the law,) or consolidated (i.e., joint legislative, executive, and judicial) power.

These attributes are compared as exercised in England and America in the table below.

Absolutism Comes to America

Early Americans had experienced England’s prerogative power that sidestepped law and overruled legal rights. The framers barred absolute power by making the U.S. Constitution the source of all government power. Notwithstanding, absolute power has reasserted itself in liberal democracies including America.

While England and America defeated absolute power early-on, it found fertile ground in 17th and 18th century Prussia where it grew as bureaucratic administrative power. In the 19th century, Prussia vaunted their efficient bureaucracy that evaded constitutional law and rights.

American intellectuals flocked to Germany to study this new governmental innovation. During this time, American Progressives, disappointed with elected, deliberative legislatures poor speed and quality of results sought to impose administrative power as a matter of pragmatism and necessity.

In the 1920s, Progressives openly acknowledged the similarity between regulations issued by American administrative officers and binding proclamations issued by pre-modern English kings. However, they suppressed this discussion because it undermined their claims about administrative power’s modernity and lawfulness.

Thus, America reestablished absolute power in contravention of the Constitution. This matured over the past 120 years into what we see today.

Definition England America
Extra-legal power is exercised outside the law It bound the public through edicts and proclamations, not laws and statues Binds not through statutes but through regulations and not through court decisions but through agency adjudications
Supra-legal power is exercised above the law Kings expected judges to defer to it instead of exercising their own independent judgment. Judges defer to administrative power instead of employing independent judgment
Consolidated power joins legislative, executive, and judicial power Kings or their prerogative courts operated this way Administrative agencies consolidate power without due process rights

In conclusion, Hamburger states,

…The United States Constitution expressly bars the delegation of legislative power. The Constitution’s very first substantive words are, “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” The word “all” was not placed there by accident. The Framers understood that delegation had been a problem in English constitutional history, and the word “all” was placed there precisely to bar it.

Administrative adjudication evades almost all of the procedural rights guaranteed under the Constitution. It subjects Americans to adjudication without real judges, without juries, without grand juries, without full protection against self-incrimination, and so forth. Like the old prerogative courts, administrative courts substitute inquisitorial process for the due process of law…  Administrative adjudication thus becomes an open avenue for evasion of the Bill of Rights.

Every alphabet executive agency exercises administrative power. Though agency bureaucrats are unelected, and therefore, unaccountable to the American people, some are unaccountable to the Congress and the President (e.g., Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).)

Congress, having abdicated their constitutional deliberative and legislative responsibilities, now exercises “executive oversight” through establishment of, appropriation for, and investigation of these agencies. The constitutional Judiciary has abdicated its responsibility to interpret the law and now defers to agency decisions (e.g., Chevron deference.) offering little or no relief to the American people as the agencies exercise consolidated power.

We, as a nation, stand on the precipice of a dictatorship initiated 120 years ago. Its establishment will be our “Augustus” moment, when Romans realized that their republic had been transformed into a dictatorship.

I urge you to vote for the candidate who has cut regulations, reduced administrative power, and promises to do more for the benefit of the American people than any candidate in many decades.

Who Are the Most Powerful People in America? December 10, 2018, YouTube, PragerU