Ideology Equals Idolatry

According to the research of a good friend of mine, “Idolatry is the worship (latreuo) of images, including mental ones (i.e., ideas.)” Also, he says, “Ideology is the study (-ology; logos, lego) of ideas that, in man’s arrogance and pride, easily can and often do become the objects of worship.” The classic example is:

…They know not, nor do they discern, for He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of [this cedar log] I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” Isaiah 44: 9 – 20, English Standard Version

As the scriptures say, Man exchanges the truth about God for a lie and worships and serves the created thing rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25) with Whom is help, in the here and now, and salvation, now and into eternity.

Our times are fraught with ideological struggle that we can sense, even if we cannot pin it down. Many false gods contend for the hearts of humanity, only we do not see them anymore. The closest we get to seeing the struggle most days is in the evening news: House and Senate committee meetings, press briefings, editorials, boarded up storefronts, riots, and wars.

This post explores the character of ideology, compares it with its alternative, and outlines its consequences for us. We draw materials from several authors. However, our primary source is Russell Kirk (1918 – 1994,) who captures the essence of ideology and its opposite in Chapter 1, “The Errors of Ideology,” from his book, The Politics of Prudence which is a defense of prudential versus ideological politics.

Destruction from The Course of Empire, Thomas Cole, Public Domain

Ideology’s Character

Russell Kirk writes, in the first chapter of his book, titled, “The Errors of Ideology,”

This small book [The Politics of Prudence (1993)] is a defense of prudential politics, as opposed to ideological politics. The author hopes to persuade the rising generation to set their faces against political fanaticism and utopian schemes, by which the world has been much afflicted since 1914. “Politics is the art of the possible,” the [traditional] conservative says: he thinks of political policies as intended to preserve order, justice, and freedom.

The ideologue, on the contrary, thinks of politics as a revolutionary instrument for transforming society and even transforming human nature. In his march toward Utopia, the ideologue is merciless.

Our previous post, “Revolution Never,” described the horrific extent to which some ideologues have already inflicted upon the world their march toward Utopia (i.e., literally, ‘no place.’)

Kirk points out that the word ‘ideology’ originally applied to a science of ideas, whose proponent, Antoine Destutt de Tracy, was criticized for rejecting religion and metaphysics in favor of, in Kirk’s words, “systematized knowledge derived from sensation [which] could perfect society through ethical and educational methods and by well-organized political direction.” Napoleon, according to Kirk, dismissed this ‘science’ by saying that the world is governed not by abstract ideas, but by imagination. John Adams called it “the science of idiocy.”

He notes that since world war two, the word ideology has meant,

…A dogmatic political theory which is an endeavor to substitute secular goals and doctrines for religious goals and doctrines; and which promises to overthrow present dominations so that the oppressed may be liberated. Ideology’s promises are what Talmon calls “political messianism.” The ideologue promises salvation in this world, hotly declaring that there exists no other realm of being…

Kirk concludes that this “political formula” promises humanity an earthy paradise but has delivered a “series of terrestrial hells.”

He then gives, over the next few pages, a list of ideology’s vices and contrasts them with what he terms their opposite, prudential politics. The following table captures his thoughts.

Ideological PoliticsPrudential Politics
DoctrineIdeology is inverted religion, denying the Christian doctrine of salvation…and substituting collective salvation here on earth through violent revolution. Ideology inherits the fanaticism that sometimes has afflicted religious faith and applies that intolerant belief to secular concerns.Prudential politicians know…that we cannot march to an earthly Zion; that human nature and human institutions are imperfectible; that aggressive “righteousness” in politics ends in slaughter. True religion is a discipline for the soul, not for the state.

NegotiationIdeology makes political compromise impossible; the ideologue will accept no deviation from the Absolute Truth of his secular revelation. This narrow vision brings about civil war, extirpation of “reactionaries,” and the destruction of beneficial functioning social institutions.Prudential politicians…[understand] that the primary purpose of the state is to keep the peace…by maintaining a tolerable balance among great interests in society. Parties, interests, and social classes and groups must arrive at [mutual concessions] …Prudential politics strives for conciliation, not extirpation.
HeterodoxyIdeologues vie with one with another in fancied fidelity to their Absolute Truth; and are quick to denounce deviationists or defectors from party orthodoxy…on the principle of brotherhood—or death. The radical reformer, proclaiming omniscience, strikes down every rival, to arrive at the Terrestrial Paradise more swiftly.
Prudential politicians, rejecting the illusion of an Absolute Political Truth before which every citizen must abase himself, understand that political and economic structures are not mere products of theory, to be erected one day and demolished the next; rather, social institutions develop over centuries, almost as if they were organic.
Ideological versus Prudential Politics

Kirk then asks how it can be, when the ruins of ideology are scattered throughout modern history, that it still strongly attracts new adherents? He answers using a quote from Raymond Aron,

When the intellectual feels no longer attached either to the community or the religion of his forebears, he looks to progressive ideology to fill the vacuum. The main difference between the progressivism of the disciple of Harold Laski or Bertrand Russell and the Communism of the disciple of Lenin concerns not so much the content as the style of the ideologies and the allegiance they demand.

Kirk says that ideology, in its many forms, is a sham religion that provides comfort through belonging to a greater cause, a group of fellow travelers, and a movement which takes direct action.

Paraphrasing Hans Barth, he says, “The fundamental reason why we must set our faces against ideology…is that ideology is opposed to truth; it denies the possibility of truth in politics or in anything else, substituting economic motive and class interest for abiding norms,” and, “Ideology even denies human consciousness and power of choice.”

Finally, Kirk passionately sums up his position,

What we need to impart is political prudence, not political belligerence. Ideology is the disease, not the cure. All ideologies, including the ideology of vox populi vox dei, are hostile to enduring order and justice and freedom. For ideology is the politics of passionate unreason.

…Ideology is founded merely upon “ideas”— that is, upon abstractions, fancies, for the most part unrelated to personal and social reality; while conservative views are founded upon custom, convention, the long experience of the human species.

To be “prudent” means to be judicious, cautious, sagacious…Prudence is the first of the virtues. A prudent statesman is one who looks before he leaps; who takes long views; who knows that politics is the art of the possible.

As another friend of mine recently asked, “How long, O Lord?

The Conservative Outlook

Benjamin Lockerd quotes from his introduction to Kirk’s book, Enemies of the Permanent Things, in an essay with the same title,

The necessity of personal morality in a thriving community is denied by the enemies of the permanent things, who do not believe that there are permanent standards of behavior or indeed an unchanging human nature, and who seek to create political systems that will make everyone happy without much effort…

Characterizing Kirk’s outlook, he says, “Where the liberal mind concocts a utopian plan, the conservative mind seeks a principle, “a justified deduction from what we have learnt, over the ages, about men and their commonwealths.””

To many, traditional conservatism means conserving the bad with the good. Kirk’s mentor, T. S. Eliot wrote, “Conservatism is too often conservation of the wrong things; liberalism a relaxation of discipline; revolution a denial of the permanent things.” Lockerd quotes Kirk, “Any healthy society requires an enduring contest between its permanence and its progression. We cannot live without continuity, and we cannot live without prudent change.”

Eliot did not define what he meant by “permanent things.” However, Kirk defined them as norms of our human nature, “A norm means an enduring standard. It is a law of nature, which we ignore at our peril,” and, “Normality is not what the average sensual man ordinarily possesses,” he writes, “it is what he ought to try to possess.” Norms that Kirk names are charity, justice, freedom, duty, temperance, prudence, and fortitude.

Lockerd then contrasts those who abide with or reject these norms,

In a healthy society, individuals will attempt to live by these permanent norms of moral action, and the laws of the land will give support to citizens as they make that attempt. In their revolutionary zeal, the progressives tend to scorn those norms as old-fashioned or even oppressive, and in doing so they become the enemies of the permanent things.

To my shame, I admit to scorning the old norms in my youth.

Following Kirk’s passion for education, he says,

…A fundamental purpose of literature is to teach us the norms of human nature: “The aim of great books is ethical: to teach what it means to be a man.” [It is well expressed by] Sir Philip Sidney, who argues that poetry is superior to moral philosophy in that it not only teaches us what is virtuous but moves us to be virtuous.

…For the political battles are first fought in the minds and hearts of the populace, and if the people are badly educated, their minds filled with images and ideas created by modern materialists, they will easily be drawn to political movements that deny all permanent truths in favor of utopian schemes.

Lockerd says that Kirk spoke often of, “order in the soul and order in the commonwealth.”

He says that Kirk labeled these perfect [and perfecting] systems “ideology.” Kirk insisted that instead of applying the label to any system of ideas or beliefs, as many do today, the label should only apply to, “the belief that this world of ours may be converted into the Terrestrial Paradise through the operation of positive law and positive planning.” Kirk taught that ideology is a secular substitute for religion that requires fervent assent to its doctrines, disciplines, and duties.

Recent ideologies, such as Communism and Fascism, promise freedom, but, as anyone can see, they result in servitude. Kirk said that the milder, progressive and liberal ideologies lead to the same extremes because they, too, throw off moral restraints.

Perhaps these milder ideologies slide more slowly into the extremes because they rely on individual piety to retard their descent into tyranny. As James McHenry first reported of Benjamin Franklin’s famous remarks to Elizabeth Powel, “A lady asked Dr. Franklin, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” – “A republic,” replied the Doctor, “if you can keep it.” [italics are mine.]

Quoting Kirk, Lockerd characterizes a conservative (i.e., prudent) government, “A prudent government is no artificial contrivance, no invention of coffeehouse intellectuals, got up abstractly to suit the intellectual whim of an hour,” and, “Not abstractions, but prudence, prescription, custom, tradition, and constitution have governed the American people,” Kirk writes, “We have been saved from ideology by political tradition.”

I must add, Enemies of the Permanent Things, was first published in 1969 and Lockerd wrote the introduction for the 2016 edition, so it may be premature to say whether political tradition will continue to save the American Republic.

Next, Lockerd puts a bow on the essence of ideology and ideologues,

Ideologues put their faith not in God but in their own reason and in science…Kirk spends a good deal of time in this book exposing the prejudices hidden in the supposedly rational and scientific thinking of the modern ideologues. Here he allies himself with Eric Voegelin, who gave the ancient name of “Gnosticism” to these modern ideologies. For like the Gnostics of old, these more recent thinkers believe that we can be saved by gnosis, rational knowledge. One fundamental problem with these rationalistic ideologies is that they are ultimately materialistic, so they hold out no ideal goal for humanity.

Realizing heaven on earth is the modus operandi for modern gnostic ideologies, i.e., immanentizing the eschaton.

Finally, in contradistinction, Lockerd says, “there will always be much that [conservatives] do not know and much that is finally mysterious, not knowable by human reason at all. But if we achieve this partial understanding of life, our existence will be “tolerable”—not completely happy, not blissful, not perfect, not even close to any of these.”

But it will be enough.

Ideology’s Inroads

Bradley J. Birzer, in his essay, “Conservatism is Not an Ideology,” says,

…As modernity, and now post-modernity, continue to make inroads, ravenously mocking and devouring history, tradition, and religion, more and more persons become prey for the seductiveness of false absolutes and easy answers. They crave something greater than themselves but have missed the opportunity to embrace true religion and right reason. They latch onto the first thing that presents itself as truth.

Birzer observes, “ideologies do not politely contain themselves within revolutionary tyrannies; they have slowly infected all of the West, especially its literature and politics.”

He reiterates that Kirk saw conservative thought as the opposite of ideology because it supports tradition, religion, and history as vital guides to future thought, words, and actions.

Birzer then quotes Cicero when defending his premise that Twenty-first Century man has forgotten how to balance the universal with the particular:

True law is right reason in agreement with Nature…it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions.

Ideology’s inroads stem from the adage, “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Solzhenitsyn related this to his audience during his Templeton Address as an explanation, offered by the old in his youth, for the great disasters that had befallen Russia as a result of the revolution. This speech, advocating the need for divine guidance, began his reputation’s decline among intellectuals in America.

Philosophical Rebellion

While accepting an honorary degree, Isaiah Berlin related an observation by the German poet Heinrich Heine as an illustration of the power of ideas, “[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.”

Glenn Tinder, in his essay, “Augustine’s World and Ours,” quotes Sartre when he said, through a character in his novel Nausea, that “anything can happen, anything.” Tinder goes on to say,

The modern mood is one of radical insecurity; nothing is so senseless or catastrophic that we can assume it will not befall us. As God has lost historical sovereignty in modern eyes, He has lost the power to call forth human love.

He says that if God is dethroned, not only do we no longer have the security of His sovereignty over events, but we lose the influence of His sacrificial love, both for salvation and as a pattern for life.

However, illustrating Dostoevsky’s dictum that “man must bow down to something,” this vacuum is filled by lesser gods, idols, which are finite and manipulable. No longer made of wood, these idols, Tinder offers, are often government systems composed of their leading proponents, instigators, leaders, and bureaucrats. Government, he says, offers the illusion of invincibility and eternality.

Further, he says that by eliminating God, we eliminate revelation as a check on human reason, even on human pride. As Tinder says,

…The power and significance of reason derive from the fact that there is an ordered reality outside the mind…Separated from other sources of insight such as tradition and revelation, reason became autonomous, even sovereign…It soon [seemed] that the very structures which reason had supposedly been bringing to light were nothing more than forms which reason itself had imposed on the underlying chaos of reality.

He says that Camus was horrified by this “metaphysical rebellion.” Morality and science lose their foundations. Objective norms and values disappear; in Dostoevsky’s words, “Everything is permissible.” Tinder says, “We are speaking, of course, of nihilism—the annihilation of all limits and standards.” He goes on and says,

A less obvious, if hardly less serious, danger inherent in the crumbling of foundations is the disappearance of the independent self…again and again in present-day social and political writing we are told that individualism is altogether false, and that all genuine human life takes place in society.

Reflecting on my years of reading in philosophy, I have found no better summary of philosophy’s collapse as those of Tinder’s words in this essay. However, I do not hold to all his conclusions.

Can We Find Our Way Back?

Bradley J. Birzer, in his essay, “Russell Kirk’s Unfinished Justice,” writes,

…If we, a people living in the midst of an ideological age, might find our way back to the origin of one of the most important words in our language and in civilization, [justice,] we might very well be able to restore its original meaning and, equally important, begin to debate how best to implement it in this fallen world.

He says that Kirk learned from his grandfather, Frank Pierce, that, “The just man defends vigorously whatever is entrusted to his charge and sets his face against the lawless,” and that Kirk said, “Frank Pierce gave every man his due, without fear or favor.” Birzer notes that Kirk used the Socratic definition of justice, “to give each person his due.” To this he adds,

As Kirk—and every conservative before and after—understood, “to give each person his due” is not to make all men one, but rather to acknowledge the unique gifts and talents bestowed upon every person by God.

The only equality men share, Birzer notes, is our rebellion against a Holy God and our need for a Savior.

Was Any of This Foreseen?

Alberto R. Coll, in his essay, “Burckhardt’s Pessimistic Conservatism,” says,

[Jacob Burckhardt (May 25, 1818 – August 8, 1897,) cultural historian and art critic,] noted that the most significant historical developments at the end of the eighteenth century were the advent of mass politics and the belief that every man’s opinion was of equal worth. The long-term results of this would be the destruction of every vestige of traditional authority, the cheapening of culture, the enthronement of mediocrity at all levels of public life, and the eventual rise of “terribles simplificateurs,” the ruthless demagogues who would ride the waves of mass politics and culture to set up a tyranny armed with all the instruments provided by large-scale industrial capitalism, science, and technology.

Sadly, the essay’s author, Coll, was a victim of cancel culture before cancellation was fashionable.

Media’s Influence

As we have seen overtly in recent months, media is not neutral in the conflict.

Martin Gurri, in his essay “Slouching Toward Post-Journalism,” says that our post-journalism media no longer presents reality to inform the public; its goal is to produce angry citizens who are harnessed to current ideological trends. Unfortunately, this happens across the political spectrum.

Brian Riedl, in his essay, “The “Facts” We take on Faith,” asks,

How do we know our political convictions are based in reality?

…How do we know that the providers of our information don’t have their own agenda, slant, or warped way of reading the world?

Both are very good questions. Reidl admits that when it comes to understanding government, we favor our trusted sources. He goes on to say that it is time consuming and complicated to verify their claims so many believe whatever we are told. His solution is skepticism which should drive us to compare news reports across the political spectrum.

However, this becomes tiresome for everyone and only works if there is a spectrum to compare.

Conclusion

Some say this ideological rebellion against God began in the late middle ages, some say it started with the Reformation, still others say it started in earnest with the French Revolution. Personally, I believe its origin to be in a garden many millennia ago. This is a worthy subject for another post.

However, in his Letters on a Regicide Peace, specifically, in the second letter, Edmund Burke, a founder of traditional conservative thought, wrote of the French Revolution,

…This new system of robbery in France, cannot be rendered safe by any art; that it must be destroyed, or that it will destroy all Europe; that to destroy that enemy, by some means or other, the force opposed to it should be made to bear some analogy and resemblance to the force and spirit which that system exerts; that war ought to be made against it in its vulnerable parts. These are my inferences. In one word, with this Republic nothing independent can co-exist.

Prudential politics yields mutual benefits only among prudent politicians. Prudence must either war with or succumb to idolatrous politics. There is no compromise with idolatry. If prudent politics fails to defeat idolatry, to “rid the high places of their idols,” then the prudent must continue to choose the way of the Cross, which is both a defeat and, ironically, an ultimate victory (Is. 57: 1-2, 20-21).

Americanos – Farah Jimenez, November 24, 2020, YouTube, PragerU

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

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.”

By the end of the Cold War in the early nineties, America’s rationale for a global economic order evaporated. Instead of promoting American workers’ economic interests, the leaders of both parties dedicated themselves to spreading ‘democracy’ across the world. Instead of recognizing “post–Cold War China as a rising rival, America’s elites saw the remaining communist superpower as a land of opportunity for themselves.”

In his article, McCarthy defines America’s political-economic problem, how the nation got into this situation, the elite’s abdication of their responsibilities to the rest of the nation, and, finally, how economic nationalism can revitalize the nation’s families through reoriented trade and immigration policies.

America’s political-economic problem stems from our leaders’ refusal to change how they operate under new economic and political circumstances since they stand to benefit while the rest of the country suffers increasing loss. Quoting McCarthy,

…The class compact that came out of the Great Depression and World War II stabilized many of the social tensions dating back to the very beginnings of industrialization. It has broken down. The welfare state is heading toward bankruptcy. Americans are increasingly working as contractors rather than salaried employees, with fewer benefits and less security. Industrial jobs are vanishing.

A family wage, lifelong work, retirement guarantees, and brighter prospects for one’s children and grandchildren are not part of the bargain anymore. Economic growth is concentrated in cities and college towns, leaving everyplace else to wither. If the country continues on its present course, all of this will get worse.

…The American economy has changed in ways that require a new choice about the kind of country we are… Up to now, the choice has been made by default. Leaders in both parties, in corporate America and in the academy and media, have assumed that what worked twenty or thirty years ago will continue to work today. [All that is needed is fine tuning.]

He goes on to detail how America’s successful class compact, struck after World War II, became strained in the seventies. Through conservatives’ initiative during the nineteen seventies and eighties, the nation’s economy was reinvigorated. This was done partly to contain the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early nineties, our leaders did not reconsider their globalist agenda but went on to make the world safe for ‘democracy’ through color revolutions. All the while, the elite were making American workers unneeded by offshoring their jobs to China (and other Greater Asian countries) in the name of economic efficiency. McCarthy says,

But the America of the twentieth century was a country in several ways profoundly different from the one we inhabit today. It had strong community ties supplied by religious and ethnic groups. It had a powerful private-sector labor movement. Its economy was localized, not globalized, where an industry was located mattered. America exported goods to the world—enjoying a trade surplus as late as 1975—and manufacturing was at the heart of the economy… In …America, the welfare state was secondary. More important was the reigning political economy’s promise of a vigorous private sector that would provide prosperity and continuous flourishing for all.

By the late 1970s, the postwar economic order was under obvious strain. Stagflation was one symptom; lagging American competitiveness against the allies we had rebuilt was another. The liberalization of the economy that started with conservatives in Congress under President Carter and expanded under President Reagan was necessary to restore the postwar promise. And it worked, in part by unleashing technological innovation that would be more creative than destructive over the next decade.

The 1970s and ’80s also saw the creation or expansion of international institutions that were viewed at the time (if not always explicitly acknowledged) as instruments of Cold War policy. Everything from the acceptance of China into the American-led world economy to the construction of a European union was part of a strategy aimed at constraining the Soviet Union in the long run. Only “the long run” proved to be much shorter than anyone expected. By 1992 the strategic environment was totally transformed.

Yet America’s leaders did not think through the implications. Free trade agreements that made sense as a component of Cold War strategy took on a logic of their own, with plenty of support from academic economists who dreamed of nothing but global efficiency. Instead of viewing post–Cold War China as a rising rival, America’s elites saw the remaining communist superpower as a land of opportunity for themselves.

The original rationale for America to pursue a global economic order had vanished. Yet instead of once again focusing on the economic interests of America’s workers, the country’s leaders committed themselves to universal liberalism. The result was a political backlash, …[but] the backlash was undercut by a decade’s worth of technology-driven prosperity, and rather than conceding that the critics had a point, the consensus in Washington pushed ever further ahead. That led to a plunge in American industrial employment after 2000, as China was fully welcomed into the world economy.

America’s elite, nostalgic for the early, carefree days of globalization, has abandoned their responsibilities to the rest of America,

Members of the credentialed class like to depict Trump’s voters as “nostalgic” for an America that is never coming back. If anything, it is our leadership that is nostalgic—for the 1990s—and deep in denial. Globalization was relatively pain-free during the 1990s because going into that decade Americans did not know what would happen next. The class compact of the past defined the public’s outlook and expectations more than the unknown future.

Now the future without a class compact is clear to everyone, even if many in the leadership class are reluctant to describe it in frank terms. It means an America broken into three relatively immobile classes: a credentialed and knowledge-based elite, a large service class that prepares the first’s food and tends to its children (also the class of the urban Uber driver and suburban Amazon warehouse worker), and a vast economically unneeded population in what used to be the commercial and industrial heartland…

As a sop to those robbed of their means for living, the elite offers a process of “creative destruction” leading to an efficient allocation of labor and return on investment in line with the arc of history,

…The bipartisan elite’s policy program for the near future amounts to shoring up its own privileges with respect to intellectual property and bureaucratic know-how, while fragmenting and buying off the urban service class with identity politics. For the unproductives, the elite prescribes what might be called “palliative liberalism,” involving wage subsidies, tax credits, and other measures short of restoring inherent dignity and power to work.

Palliative liberalism is not the same thing as the old welfare liberalism. The welfare state of the twentieth century was, at least in America, meant to be only an adjunct to a productive private economy in which almost all could participate. Palliative liberalism, on the other hand, aims not to repair labor-capital relations but to euthanize, as humanely as possible, millions of economically unneeded and politically retrograde Americans.

The justice of this euthanasia is said to be found in the laws of nature and the arc of history. The only nature that the prescribers of palliative liberalism recognize is the natural order of economics, whereby creative destruction applies not only to firms but to families, nations, and individuals. For the good of all, the inefficient must give way to the more productive.

[They maintain that] only selfishness and ignorance can account for the resistance of privileged (or formerly privileged) working-class or middle-class Americans to this “natural” process. They, unlike the entrepreneurial worthies of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, are not deserving of their status. They don’t “create value” and should in effect trade places with the poor of the developing world. This is what being on the right side of history requires. The injustices of Christopher Columbus and Jim Crow will be repaid by the desolation of America’s “red” counties.

Rather than changing course, or even managing discontent, the credentialed class has pursued a divide and conquer strategy of “atomization.” McCarthy warns that this approach may lead to violent revolution if not corrected,

During the earlier class-war phase of the modern economy in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, religion moderated the harshness of the struggle, as did extended family and, to some degree, national sentiment. The rich felt obliged to be locally charitable, not just abstractly “philanthropic,” and civil society provided means for self-help.

The irony is that the success of the twentieth century’s grand bargain—the welfare state and the middle-class growth economy—weakened family and religion, providing individuals unprecedented freedoms that, with the collapse of the bargain, have turned into unprecedented loneliness. The relief that church and family once provided is now supplied by fentanyl—another low-priced consumer product from China.

…Palliative liberalism and the rest of the political program of today’s leadership class hold little promise of keeping the country together. Whatever else it tries to do; an elite has to manage discontent. The rise of socialism and nationalism in American politics shows that already the effort is failing. The best-case scenario for the liberal elite is daunting to contemplate.

Their interests, economic and cultural, are well-served by a completely atomized America, one in which states have not seceded, but individuals have. A heap of loose economic actors who have lost their cultural bearings allows itself to be managed benignly, if contemptibly, by the wealthy and educated. The more likely scenarios, however, involve upheaval in the name of socialism or something like military-imposed order. Look to Latin America for the past as preview.

McCarthy, instead, offers an honorable and effective program, a better way to reconcile the credentialed, service, and displaced classes,

…The most effective and honorable way out of the dilemma we face is to embrace something like nationalism as an economic program… Economic nationalism is not just about tariffs. It is less about “economic” than it is about “nationalism”—that is, it takes account of the different needs of different walks of life and regions of the country, serving the whole by serving its parts and drawing them together. …All of this is for the sake not just of prosperity, in raw dollar terms, but of a national economy that provides the basis for a healthy culture in which citizens and their families can flourish…

This program restores American production and export and employs smart trade practices to protect the American worker,

[The nationalist approach rejects] propaganda about the end of the export economy. World population is still growing, and growing wealthier, which means there are more people around the world increasingly capable of buying goods made in America. …Now [is] the time …to compete to the utmost, at once politically and economically, with our rivals, above all China.

That means driving bargains to open markets for our goods while permitting access to our markets—still the most desirable in the world—on terms favorable to our citizens in full, in their capacity as producers, not just as consumers. …We ought to minimize the loss of employment due to every factor not technologically inevitable, such as ill-conceived trade deals. Tariffs are not an end in themselves, of course: They are a defensive measure and a source of leverage.

McCarthy’s program also reforms immigration to support existing and new American families and enhance the elite’s patriotism,

…Immigration …[needs] reform that puts citizens first, with emphasis on supporting higher wages for workers. Less low-skill immigration puts upward pressure on wages. And what if there just aren’t enough American workers to fill all the jobs? That’s good, too, because other things being equal, it encourages larger family size.

…Shifting policy preference from low-skill immigration to high-skill immigration [provides not only] …more economic value per immigrant but also [puts] competitive pressure on the professional elite. The more the elite feels the same pressures as the working class—from technology and immigration—the more its attitude toward patriotism may improve.

Naturalization of high-skilled immigrants is preferable to the present H-1B visa program, which favors employers over native and immigrant workers alike by putting downward wage pressure on natives and making temporary immigrants effectively indentured to their employers.

Summing up his argument for economic nationalism, McCarthy says,

…The idea that economic nationalism is not compatible with free-market economics is absurd. …Its virtue is that it is good for labor and political stability as well. From growth, a contented middle class, and moderate political culture flow a strong country and stronger families and citizens. In the early decades of the twenty-first century, when nations and supranational institutions are in turmoil, those benefits are of existential significance.

…We need to accept the responsibilities of leadership… The way forward requires refocusing on the American citizen as the basic unit of the economy. This is the essence of a nationalist political economy, which we very much need if our country’s tradition of personal independence and limited government is to endure, a tradition in which government’s primary economic role is not to provide welfare but to safeguard the conditions that make productive work possible.

McCarthy’s thesis demands careful consideration. It rings true to the facts on the ground and explains, in stark terms, our current strife and our remaining choices. Though McCarthy doesn’t make explicit the ruling elite’s reasoning for such a heartless enterprise as “palliative liberalism,” we will see in subsequent posts that the reason is, as Solzhenitsyn quoted his countrymen in regard to Russia’s catastrophic experiment with ideology, “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” In keeping with this post’s theme, though not its conclusions, I offer a relevant clip from a contemporary allegory.

Independence Day (3/5) Movie CLIP – Nuke ‘Em (1996) , TW: Salty Language and Alien Violence, July 10, 2015, YouTube, Movieclips