We observe many confounding and often confusing reactions and attitudes in America in 2020. Perhaps the most alarming is an abandonment of what our Union and form of government were originally conceived to be, at least the view held some of those that took part in the debate and framing between the mid-1700s and 1800. We assume, with reasonable confidence, that the attitudes and desires of the anti-federalists were the predominant views of the ordinary man. These may have been influenced by The Federalist and other writings and speeches to dissuade fears of an overarching and all-powerful central state, those letters were a fabulous piece of propaganda. The mere fact that the Federalists themselves had to go to such lengths, to explain away fears that soon materialized as fact, soon after ratification, is sufficient proof that most people in most of the states wanted nothing to do with anything central, powerful, pervasive, or invasive.
The argument ensued until the mid-19th century, it ceased being a rational or reasonable debate after 1850 and progressed to war in 1861. By 1867, the entire nature of the Federal government was changed. As George Fletcher argued, to a form of “organic nationhood, equality of all persons, and popular democracy” concepts different and opposed to those of our first constitution which promulgated “peoplehood as a voluntary association, individual freedom, and republicanism”.
Over the years we have highlighted Calhoun’s various words that warned of the dangers and ramifications of ‘popular democracy’ and the tyranny of the majority. He warned, before popular fiction writers a few decades after him, that tyranny and dystopia must surely result from unbridled centralized power. We have reached back to the foundational ideas that many of the ‘founders’ shared, specifically Blackstone. Our position, which is essentially a distilled elder Calhoun position, is that we inherited traditions and institutions, these were influenced by ideas from the enlightenment, but not driven by them. Our original conception of rights, freedoms, and duties was that of an Englishman’s rights and freedom, our law developed over centuries of accidents, trials a tribulation. To most Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries we were not a product of an ideological experiment, but rather the continuation of improvements in ancient ways; carried out in a new and exciting way on this continent.
We lost that somewhere along the way. Place and tradition were replaced with passions and ideas, community with society, ancient rights with codified, and modifiable, civil law. The responsibility and duty of the individual to his community was replaced, over time, with a nebulous notion of ‘equality’, and ubiquitous belonging to a central state. From this all manner of -isms have taken hold, nationalism, progressivism and now, a sort of nihilism that differs only from the textbook definition in that individuals and groups have come to see that life and rights only matter insofar as they and their preferred group matter.
In 2020, Calhoun has been stripped from the public square and the academy. If he is mentioned at all it is to take a few words of his out of context, dispensing with the body of his work that gives those words meaning and clarity. He is not alone; we have systematically purged ourselves of all manner of ‘dead guys’ this year. At what cost, we cannot yet reckon. We suspect the cleansing of ideas, of history, of facts, and of truth itself has just gotten underway; it will get worse.
We see now that the inheritors of the tradition of the Federalists, of Webster and ultimately of Lincoln now openly boast that ‘conservatism’ will realign after this much as the Whig party did in 1837. The West Coast Straussians would be pleased to see the dominant ‘conservative’ party cleansed of what they collectively call ‘small government libertarians’. It seems they have so thoroughly routed paleoconservatives they no longer even acknowledged this diminished group exists. “Out with the small-government, originalists” is their battle cry, all of this progressivism is our fault it seems. Just ask them they are happy to repeat this tale. One hundred and seventy years after Calhoun’s passing his ghost still haunts them it seems, it is evident by their current journal submissions. We and all that hold to a notion that bigger is not better, and is perhaps just as repugnant as the solution offered by the Marxist in our midst are persona non grata.
We warned in 2018 that America was more divided than at any point since 1850, and two sides were vying to ‘solve’ all of our problems with their vision of more government. In the middle is a populist administration, opposed by the marxist and often influenced by the Federalists. We have been proven correct in 2020. The worrisome fact is one side appears to have a military wing and they are not constrained by any moral scruples in letting that element burn and loot.
What should a person that holds to a traditional view of what America is and was supposed to be to do? The intelligentsia of the Straussians wants nothing to do with us. The most radical of the Marxists, somewhere deep in their minds, would not be upset if we were lined up against a wall and shot – some have openly said as much. Men of principles and ideas that we have come to revere have been banished. The populists do not understand us and we have few outlets to communicate with them. All of the subsidiary institutions that are supposed to play a role in defending permanent things (academia, the media, organized Christianity) have utterly failed this year or worse, gone over to openly support radical change.
There are no easy answers. Debates, arguments, academic papers, op-eds, books, none of those fine efforts, over the course of the last several decades have had a large effect. In times like these, men of principles, conscience, and fall back to the defense of the most basic permanent things, home, hearth, clan and family, our communities, and the future – our children.
The following is merely my opinion, not necessarily the view of the Calhoun Institute. The ideologies of the world, the great divide of worldview and unbridled passions, detached from right reason, are very dangerous. We have entered perhaps the most dangerous time in U.S. history since the Cuban Missile crisis. Many of the institutions we previously trusted have utterly failed this year. Reasonable men, looking at the danger, the divisiveness, and the divide should take practical steps to protect their families and small communities (I have written elsewhere on this topic). Vote, for the party that is not Marxist, and hope we can deal with the Statist-Centralists later, pray and prepare.