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.
What Is at Stake
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.
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.
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
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
…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.
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.