It Was Radical for Its Time. Probably Still Radical Even in Ours

Increasingly, Americans are rejecting America. Including this:

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.

Instead, we’re moving quickly to another foundational ideal, by another author:

All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others

Or to put it another way, the idea was that if we helped the China get rich, its single-party state would adopt our liberal values. But that’s not what’s happening. We’re adopting their illiberal values.

34 thoughts on “It Was Radical for Its Time. Probably Still Radical Even in Ours”

  1. Jay Nordlinger was promoting David French’s latest book at National Review recently. Nordlinger highlighted with approval French’s proposed solution to our current difficulties, which basically boiled down to uniting around the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Which sounds great, but struck me as hopelessly naïve.

    The problem is that while that would indeed be an excellent thing, there are highly significant portions of both the left and the right that agree that there is no value in the Founding. The whole point of the 1619 Project, published by the “Newspaper of Record”, is that the principles of the Founding were all lies. Instead, the country and all its institutions were founded on white supremacy and remain rooted in white supremacy to this day. On the right, there’s the “post-liberal” movement, which says that whatever good the Founding may have brought, the Enlightenment thinking it was based on has outlived its usefulness. If we have to abandon the Declaration and the Constitution in order to get better results in the here and now, then so be it.

    TL;DR: I agree. The Founding will wither on the vine because it has no constituency. “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Turns out we can’t.

    1. I’m not that pessimistic, but I agree right now we’re not going to unite around that. What French doesn’t understand, and hasn’t understood in all of this, is that it’s down to people who believe in America, and those that don’t. I actually think we have a majority, but it’s going to take some harder times before that becomes apparent.

      1. We have a majority. What we no longer have is a voice or a platform. How long will we keep that majority when the media and education system are controlled by the other side?

      2. And we have a super majority outside the center cities. Get them out of America and we have a shot at restoring the Constitution.

    2. “uniting around the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”

      Just for an analogy, that is like proposing to unite around the principles of the Bible; and how many bloody wars have been fought over the correct interpretation of the Bible? Virtually every Christian sect exists because of differing interpretations.

      “Constitutional” has as many bizarre interpretations as “biblical”, and I am aware of at least one minor political party (ironically, the “Constitution Party”) that maintains that nothing can be constitutional unless it also conforms to “God’s Law.” On a more petty issue, I’m reminded of the “Constitutional Sheriffs” who insist their claimed powers and status come from a document that doesn’t contain the word “sheriff” anywhere, nor any description of anything sounding vaguely like a sheriff.

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I also seem to recall that the “Sovereign Citizen” wackadoodles derive much of their bizzaro doctrine from explanations of what “the constitution really means.”

      So I’m sorry, but “uniting around the principles of the Declaration and the Constitution” would produce a unity that would last about a week.

      1. Yes, that’s a further problem with French’s idea. I’ve read his articles and heard him speak about this in the past, so I know what he has in mind when he talks about those principles. Others will have their own ideas, which is what makes his proposal a non-starter.

        More to the point, however, if there were the idea that what the Founding produced was valuable in the first place, then we could set about negotiating around the different visions arising from that. Since there isn’t agreement even on that point, then we don’t even have a starting point for discussion.

        1. I always need to re-read about subjects in history to brush up, so last night I re-read, for the first time in a long time, Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence. He included a fairly lengthy diatribe against King George III for “encouraging the slave trade”, but his editors deleted it so as not to offend the slave colonies, who enjoyed the international slave trade quite a bit. I think the Carolinas and Georgia were the specific colonies in question.

          My point isn’t anything to do with “hypocrisy”, per se, but that there was barely any solidarity in “principles” displayed in either the Declaration or the constitution. The story about a woman asking Benjamin Franklin “What have you given us, a king or a republic?” illustrates that a monarchy was considered well within the spectrum of what the Founders might have given us.

          Our virtues as a nation evolved almost miraculously over time, though I suppose maintaining our “founding myths” had to contribute to that. But today we want to look back and say, “Oh, we always meant to do that…” Not everybody, not always.

          In the course of my reading, I encountered a contemporary author who observed that a handful of the complaints the Declaration lodged against King George (in particular, “inciting domestic insurrection”) were exactly applicable to Donald Trump. But how many Trump supporters would swear they were the ones preserving the “principles of the Declaration”, and really believe it?

          1. Everyone says that Donald Trump is “inciting domestic insurrection”, but I have yet to see a good case that this is indeed the case.

            The most that people have is “refusal to accept election results” — but if President Trump is indeed guilty of that, then so are Democrats.

            Having said that, I have noticed that several of the things that are identified in the Declaration of Independence have been problems with our government for decades. It’s a pity that we aren’t better at letting other people know of these problems, but then, part of that is the Media’s complicity in the Bureaucratic States.

            Let’s stop pretending that President Trump is the cause of these problems. As has been observed elsewhere, he’s a symptom, not a cause.

            1. “President Trump…a symptom, not a cause.”

              Sometimes “symptoms” are actually tools.

              1. Perhaps. And perhaps President Trump was merely an asprin to treat the headache we’ve been having for months now, when what we really need is for someone to remove the brain tumor.

                Many people have observed that one of the services that President Trump has provided is showing how corrupt Washington DC really is; in other words, he’s the MRI scan that exposed the tumor.

                No one in Washington, however, is willing to address how to remove the tumor. Of course, this is where the analogy breaks down, because the reason that no one in Washington is willing to address the tumor, is because they are a part of that tumor, and benefit from that tumor being in place.

                I do not know what we can do to fix that, either. Increasingly, I’m convinced we can’t fix it, and I do not like the implications of where this will ultimately lead — nor do I like the feeling of powerlessness I have to stop it.

  2. Absolutely was radical back then, and since then it has slowly lost its power.

    Its time for this:

    But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

    Time to split into two (or more) Americas.

    1. This is something that in theory, I favor, but in practice, fear will be difficult to do.

      The biggest problem is that the two philosophies of governance are well-intermingled together. Even in “blue” and “red” strongholds, there’s still a sizable minority of the “other” there.

      Of course, the best way to do this would be for the Federal Government to significantly walk back its governance, and let States do what they will do (within reason — the Bill of Rights, etc, still need to apply), and in individual States, Cities need to scale back their governance on the other Counties.

      It is an open question on how we get back to this standard, though.

    2. Originally, the United States was conceived as a country with a relatively minimal federal government. If we can’t even agree to that, there’s no way you’re going to work out a separation. That’s not actually an easy thing to do. It was hard for Russia, and the Soviet Union wasn’t very much of a union to begin with.

      1. Hard, yes. Impossible, no. Especially since the alternatives are surrender or a bloodbath. Even the Soviet Union managed without widespread violence (except in the Caucasus which is always that way). Consider the amount of violence necessary to establish and maintain the Soviet Union with the amount of violence needed to abolish it.

        1. If we could agree to weak federalism, we wouldn’t be in this mess. But we can’t agree to that, so separation is not happening without a bloody and awful civil war. And if we’re going to make that kind of sacrifice, why go for separation as an end result and not just total defeat of our political opponents?

          1. “If we could agree to weak federalism, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

            Just to introduce the thought: Maybe some of the mess we’re in is directly traceable to the times “weak federalism” utterly failed, resulting in a “strong federalism” response. FDR was elected because Hoover’s hands-off policy was perceived to be failing.

            I’d suggest visualizing WWII fought independently by the 48 states, or with a couple of them allied with the Axis. If that is too extreme to visualize, we can turn to the pandemic shitshow of the past year, performed in the absence of any federalism at all.

            I’m saying that, aware that I may eat my words when we see how strong federalism is applied to the pandemic example by Biden et al. But that circles back to my suggestion that too-strong federalism is often a response to the failures of too-weak or absent federalism.

            1. Our system puts the federal government pretty firmly in control of national defense. Even in the old military system prior to the Dick Act, we fought wars with federalized armies.

              Our system also gives the federal government a strong role in protecting civil rights against state predations, even though for most of its history it’s abrogated that responsibility.

              1. My point wasn’t the facts-on-the-ground of any issue (e.g. my strained “WWII” example), but just to introduce the idea that “federal overreach” can be inspired by failures of “weak federalism.” Throw in that “strong” and “weak” federalism are relative terms that will always be in the eye of the beholder.

                I do observe however, that the Dick Act established more federal control of the states’ National Guard units, and could be construed as a “stronger federalism” response to weaknesses and lack of uniformity proven to exist in those units during the Spanish-American War. Some “states rights” issues were raised in opposing it, since National Guard units from the Jim Crow southern states did not want to serve alongside black units from the north. But the point is that it can be construed as a “strong federalism” response to a problem growing out of “weak federalism.”

                I can remember the election of 1964 in an almost adult way, shaped of course by the culture around me at the time. I wasn’t old enough to vote then, when the voting age was 21, but I remember much of the campaign debate at the time. It was in the heat of the Civil Rights Era, and Barry Goldwater — who lost in a landslide — hurt himself badly by coming out strongly for “states’ rights”. He won only six states, his home state of Arizona and all of the core states of the Deep South.

                Many northerners and most non-whites had been shocked to learn that whatever else “states’ rights” meant, it meant southern juries refusing to convict KKK and other murderers, even when they had been proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, in smoking-gun cases, without any recourse to less parochial “justice.” That was the motivation for subsequent federal “Civil Rights” legislation that enabled federal intervention in some of those cases, that you can still sometimes find criticized as “violations of states’ rights.”

                Part of the result of the states’ rights arguments of the era was that the federal government began to use economic coercion to enforce federal mandates that could not be constitutionally enforced by direct legislation. The example I remember from the early 1980s was when the federal government directed that Pennsylvania (and every other state) would have automobile emissions inspection. That was dictated by the threat of withholding federal transportation funds. The reason I recall it is that the dictates in Pennsylvania went as far directing what the fines for non-compliance would be. It was and is “state law” but was dictated in considerable detail by federal regulation.

            2. This is one of the annoying things about perception vs. reality. The reality was that Hoover’s “hands-off policy” was nothing but hands-off, and we would have been better off if he had followed Coolidge’s lead a decade earlier and actually had been hands-off; FDR’s hands-on policy (which, for all practical purposes, was Hoover’s policies, but doubled-down) which gave us 10 years of depression.

              It’s further annoying that, after decades of hands-on Federal policy, everyone thinks the problems are “lack of the right people in charge”, and no one seems willing to step back and say, “Hey, maybe what we are witnessing is a failure of strong federalism“.

              But then, this is a pattern I’ve noticed in looking over history: someone wanting power will notice a “problem” with the free market (or what’s left of it) and demands a solution. Sometimes the problem is minor, sometimes it’s imagined, sometimes it’s not even a problem with the “free” market, but a direct result of previous government meddling. A “solution” is crafted and implemented, and it makes things worse. The “free” market is blamed, and a new “solution” is proffered. Thus, we have a ratchet that pretty much only goes one way: an increase in power of government over our lives.

              1. “…we would have been better off if he had followed Coolidge’s lead a decade earlier and actually had been hands-off”

                One of the enigmas of the era is, that it seems to be generally agreed that “only the advent of WWII brought an end to the Great Depression.” But, WWII was probably the biggest federal spending and make-work program of the first half of the 20th century, which would imply that earlier programs, in the 1930s, had not gone far enough.

                I know I have seen counters to that argument, long ago, but I don’t think I found them very compelling at the time, and I haven’t been able to find them recently.

                1. That’s what I learned in High School; like you, I have encountered arguments that this isn’t what really happened, but it’s been a while since I have seen those arguments, so I can’t discuss them at the moment either. One of the funny things about the role of government vs the role of economy is that there are a lot of variables. Two major confounding variables, of course, are how the War disrupted not just the economy, but the Government’s efforts to regulate it, and how at the end of the War, we had a different administration who had their own ideas of what should and shouldn’t be regulated.

                  1. “Two major confounding variables, of course, are how the War disrupted not just the economy, but the Government’s efforts to regulate it…”

                    Really? I consider wage and prices controls considerable regulation.

                    But I think the picture is also muddled by, that at least some of the apparent make-work efforts of the pre-war FDR administration were clearly preparations for WWII. E.g., my father’s brother joined the CCC, learned to love camp life and regimentation, and went almost straight into the Army after his CCC hitch — just in time to be captured at Corregidor. My father worked WPA building “roads to nowhere” that were later key to the war effort.

                    Reinstatement of the draft in 1940, was not only preparation for entering WWII, but also made participation in “make work” mandatory, while removing men from the civilian labor market.

                    Most (many?) sources credit moderation of the Depression in European countries (including Germany) in the late 1930s to governments spending in preparation for the war they all knew was coming.

                    In any case, the boundary between the Great Depression and WWII for the United States is not as clear as Pearl Harbor would suggest. Pearl Harbor just threw open the floodgates for government spending that wouldn’t/couldn’t be criticized by anyone.

          2. Not so pessimistic as you about separation. If the Soviet Union could do it with a blood bath, why can’t we. Czechoslovakia was even better. Of course, India and Yugoslavia were nightmares. And I will respond to the crush the commies people, what if we try and lose.

            1. One of the major reasons why the Soviet Union was able to be dissolved so easily was because it consisted of a bunch of regions that were forced to join in the first place by bloodshed. When the enforcer (in this case, Russia) decided to end the enforcement, it was easy for the others to drift off.

              In the United States, we have a bunch of regions that willingly joined together under an entity that may or may not be willing to willingly let them go. The problem is that States will want to be let go when the Federal Government wants them to do something that they don’t particularly want to do — which will mean that the Feds will already be in a position to want to resort to force ….

              1. Which is a pretty good description of 1861. Virginia, NC and Tennessee didn’t initially secede but when Lincoln called for troops and assigned them a quota, the were out of here.

        2. Ok. Let’s say we give separation a go. Big issues:

          1 CA, OR, WA, HI are in Progressive States of America,, cutting off our access to the Pacific Ocean. They refuse to maintain a navy large enough to defend the Panama Canal. What do you do if you’re the Conservative States of America.

          2. Who keeps the nuclear weapons? Even if we agree on that, one part of the triad is in PSA. So is a lot of research. CSA had missiles. How do we handle command and control? Maybe the PSA disavows nukes. Seems possible. But what if they shut down 2/3rds of the triad and junk all the research? Maybe CSA gets some of the scientists. What if PSA collaborated with their Chinese friends?

          1. “What if PSA collaborated with their Chinese friends?”

            While the CSA throws in with their Russian friends?

            Sorry, I forget: “Conservatives” are way too sophisticated to be taken in by something like that. COUGH/Butina/Torshin/NRA…

            1. Didn’t Sebastian link to an article that discussed how Butina wasn’t the Russian spy she was made out to be? That she was a scapegoat in an effort to paint President Trump a Russian asset?

              Meanwhile, who is banning fracking, closing the XL pipeline, and otherwise making it easier for Russian to get back into the oil business?

              If Conservatives are friends of Russia, and Democrats their enemies, they have a funny way of going about showing it.

              1. “Didn’t Sebastian link to an article that discussed how Butina wasn’t the Russian spy she was made out to be?”

                I had to check which article that may have been, and if you are referring to the one that passed through “Instapundit” on its way to “The Spectator”, I did not give it much credibility.

                For one thing I would take note of its semantics, that things suggested Butina was not a spy. I’d submit that nobody gets very far in Russia if they’re not, and Butina’s backstory was just a bit too precious.

                Also, if you pursue a little checking on the author of that article, Michael Tracey, he practically makes shtick out of writing apologia for the Russians, whatever issue he is writing about. He is one of those odd ducks who moves back and forth between writing for left- and right-wing outlets, with his roots arguably on the left. (He was with “The Young Turks” for awhile.) I would suggest there are common themes in his articles for both the left and the right, of which defending the Russians is only one.

                “Meanwhile, who is banning fracking, closing the XL pipeline, and otherwise making it easier for Russian to get back into the oil business?”

                Now that’s an interesting argument, worth pursuing. For the moment I can only argue that those things involve classical left-wing positions on their top-level issues. Most people would stop right there, but I’ll keep my eyes and ears open.


          2. That reminds me though: What’s the explanation for Steve Bannon being best buds with Guo Wengui, the Chinese billionaire oligarch whose yacht Bannon was on when he was arrested? Any chance Bannon is a Stealth Democrat?

            Inquiring minds…

          3. Let’s reestablish the Kingdom of Hawaii. On the condition, of course, that we get a perpetual lease on the military facilities there. Seriously, though if we get into those negotiations, every thing is on the table. Anyway we could do a deal with Vietnam about Cam Rahn Bay or with whoever owns Truk these days. And quit doing states, it’s counties. As for nukes, see again the Soviet Union.

  3. “the Bill of Rights, etc, still need to apply”

    Isn’t it necessary for the entire constitution to apply? If not, how far back do we go to judge an amendment as valid and adhering to founding principles? Stop at the 13th? 14th?

    I’ll apologize for being an argumentative PITA, but I was a huge proponent of secession until, first the Tea Party era, melding into the Trump era, awakened me to that not all rebels are square-jawed heroes with consistent, mutually shared and recognized ethics as portrayed in our founding mythologies. As elementary as that may sound, it is a profound epiphany once achieved. Quite simply I realized my former fantasies had been delusional.

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