This year will mark the 240th anniversary of the First Continental Congress. Granted, it’s not the 250th anniversary, but it’s still important to commemorate. As I have no idea if God will give me another decade of life (no worries at present—just don’t know God’s will about these things), I don’t want to miss the opportunity to discuss and explore this institution and its importance. 240 seems a good number for an anamnesis and some serious play.
Next year will be even more important—the 240th anniversary of the momentous Battle of Lexington and Concord. Roughly a week and a half from now, I’ll have the great privilege of telling the gut-wrenching story of April 19, 1775. I begin my upper-level course with this, as I believe it, at least symbolically, best captures the most important elements of the War for Independence.
Rebellion is not necessarily secessionist in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, and secession is not always revolution. These are hard things to teach, and, for us very modern and post-modern Americans, equally hard for us to understand.
To a young man in Lexington, April 1775, however, a display of arms on the village green meant both a defense of Christian manhood and of republican virtue and not a hatred of the English way of life. Indeed, to those men who stood on the green, they represented the very highest ideals of Protestant English life and culture.
Each of these events—the meeting of the First Continental Congress in the fall of 1774 and the battles the following April—and all of those associated with the various aspects, ideas, and personalities of the founding of the United States should cause us to pause, to consider, and to reconsider who we are as a people.
In particular, I hope most fervently that such a remembrance will instill us with pride. We have every right to be proud of these events. Not because we’re Americans (and I’m sure many readers of The Imaginative Conservative live outside of the borders of the U.S), but because we’re human. We should, I think, embrace our patriotism in opposition to potential and real jingoism.
In his Jefferson Lecture of 1988, Robert Nisbet effectively argued that the Founding Fathers would find our present military strength and interventions across the world the most shocking aspect of our current world.
New World Order
Imagine! This was 1988. The four men who have served as presidents since Nisbet delivered this lecture make Reagan seem like an isolationist. Remember his 1976 plea at the Republican National Convention to end the problems of nuclear war or his suggestion to the Soviet premier in 1986 in Iceland that Americans and Soviets simply eradicate all nuclear weapons? I don’t mean to suggest that the last four presidential administrations have embraced indiscriminate nuclear warfare, though we have employed nuclear tipped missiles repeatedly in the Near East, but we have involved ourselves militarily and ideologically around the world in ways unimaginable even a short quarter century years ago.
In 1991, Nisbet’s close friend and ally, Russell Kirk, feared that George H.W. Bush and his neo-conservative allies would build a New World Order based on the indiscriminate use of military force, the reckless imposition of democratic forms of government (a form of religion, Kirk argued), and a substitution of a Soviet empire with an American one.
At the time, some defenders of the first post-Reagan presidency lamented that “New World Order” had been chosen poorly by Bush. In hindsight, it seems the perfect title. We have done nothing less than create a New World Order, a religion of democracy, and a slightly friendlier version of the Soviet empire.
In 2014, how could we see Kirk’s worries as anything less than prophetic? As of 2014, the United States has troops deployed in 150 of the 196 nations of the world. Most tellingly, American bases in Afghanistan sit on top (quite truly) of former Soviet bases.
And, to what purpose? It could be argued that more groups in the world hate us than at any other time of our history. How could they not, as we impose a dreary conformity upon the world? It’s not enough that we sell Coca Cola in the most remote parts of the globe and plant our Golden Arches and icons of Colonel Sanders everywhere. At least these were spread by private enterprise and in a decentralized (if rather efficient) fashion. But now we blow the stuffing out of wedding celebrations and civilians. No worries, though, as drone service is appearing in these here United States as well.
We also find ourselves in the very precarious position of being potentially involved in every minor skirmish, the world over. At what point does the regional conflict become global, not because it deserves to be, but simply because a superpower (or two) has its focus on that spot, ready to exaggerate the importance of what is happening there? Is it that far-fetched to imagine another World War I style conflict emerging from a local assassination or coup? On this, the hundredth anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by an obscure terrorist organization, ominously named the Black Hand, should we not struggle to remember what happened, why it happened, and how things escalated so quickly? Empires fell, kingdoms fell, nations fell, and ideological regimes arose.
From a practical standpoint, we must also recognize that we Americans have spread ourselves very thinly, denying ourselves the very ability to be prudent in the world and in our foreign policy. Our Constitution has much to say about the role and place of the military as well as of our foreign policy. Importantly, the constitution serves to restrict powers, not enhance or encourage them. These are restraints, at least attempted ones.
Our president has the duty of being “Commander-in-Chief” when the Congress has called the army into action, but the army, or any aspect of it, can only exist for two years at a time. Every single aspect of the army must be renegotiated and affirmed after 2 years. The navy has no such restrictions. Additionally, though the president has the duty of negotiating a treaty, the Senate has the equal duty of approving or denying it.
We toy with these balances only at great risk to ourselves and the world.
A Prudent Foreign Policy
Regardless, wouldn’t it be better to employ a prudent foreign policy rather than an imperial or an isolationist one? A prudent foreign policy might not, in the short run, respond as swiftly as the current expansionist one, but it might be more effective, from a practical stand point, over time.
After all, it is quite possible that we might need as many forces at the Suez, Panama, Gibraltar, Crimea, or in the China South Sea in ways far more important than we do in the mountains of Afghanistan. By spreading our forces so thin, we lose the very ability to concentrate and demonstrate resolve. That is, if we have to have deployments, might it not be better to deploy in ten strategic spots than in 150 spots? Prudence would dictate selectivity and focus.
Or, rather than calling it “prudent,” we could just call it constitutional, knowing that any deployment of troops outside of U.S. borders is probably much more than the founders envisioned at the time of the founding.
Equally important, at what point does the federal government itself began to act as a god, demanding the sacrifices of its priests and its parishioners, in the name of the state and empire itself? When do we cross the line of rendering unto Caesar not only what is God’s, but by making a false god out of Caesar?
We garrison the world at the risk of our integrity and our longevity.
Think about the men of Lexington or the members of the First Continental Congress. Did they deliberate, did they shed blood, did they sacrifice so that our government—the first major republic in almost 2,000 years—could devolve in the same fashion, only much faster, than the last major republic?
Our founders looked to Rome, to be sure. But, they looked to Cicero, not to Commodus.
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