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americaWe live in insane times. Yes, I know, most times in the history of this world of sorrows are a bit insane, but our post-modern insanity tests the limits.

We imaginative conservatives crave to know where it all went wrong. It’s one of our greatest strengths. We’re either lamenting the loss of the golden age or anticipating it. Whatever faults we possess, we’re excellent critics and analysts.

With Voegelin, we might trace it to the radical Franciscans. With Weaver, we might identify it with the medieval nominalists. With Kirk, we might identify it with Machiavelli. With Jaffa, we might identify it with Hegel. With Eliot, we might identify it with the election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency. With Lewis, we might identify it with the death of Jane Austen. With Bradford, we might identify it with the election of Abraham Lincoln. With Chambers, we might identify it with the assassination of Alexander II. With Godkin, we might identify it with the Republican party’s refusal to protest the nullifications of the 15th Amendment. With Hayek, we might just resign ourselves to having the misfortune of living in a period of stagnation and decline.

Regardless, whatever the source of chaos, we do live in insane times right now. At home, hundreds if not thousands of agencies watch us closely and intimately in the name of our personal security. Not surprisingly, our tax officials politicize their collections. Even after the revelation of scandals and the targeting of groups deemed unfriendly to the advancement of Leviathan, they continue.

We allow—indeed, watch—uniformed bureaucrats to grope our daughters in airport lines. We warehouse the untried in prisons under the NDAA, and our president moves our military around the globe as though a poor candidate for the high school chess club.

Even our police—the once trusted guardians of our communities—have militarized to the point of absurdity, complete with armored vehicles and assault weaponry. “Warrants? We don’t need no stinkin’ warrants!” Paramilitary forces invade homes of Americans selling unpasteurized milk.

Our economy hobbles along, doing just a little better than it did in 2008. We have stimulated our corporations and banks in the most obscene ways, but the “trickle down” effects seems to have become a mere tremor. Our only accomplishment, the transfer of billions of dollars from those who worked hard and earned it to the already wealthy who have simply grown wealthier, impoverishes us all.

Globally, of course, the world is in a mess. “Springs,” revolutions, saber rattling, and nuclear weapon proliferation abound, though with an uncertainty not seen since just prior to the second world war.

Raising six children, I would be the last to say the world isn’t unsafe. It’s very unsafe, and it’s getting more so by the moment. But, let’s step back from the situation for a bit and consider how best to protect ourselves.

Of course, Americans do a number of things well. Sometimes, very well. I’ll note—with a certain agenda—two things here.

First, we form communities beautifully. We love our individualism, but we love sharing our individualism, defining it, discovering it, and testing its mettle in our communities. At least traditionally we have. Soccer matches have diminished this somewhat, but Americans still love to compete, and we do so in communities. Whether we stand with the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock or the emigrants somewhere near Chimney Rock, Nebraska, we do very well in community.

Second, we know how to defend our communities. Communities—such as those of Lexington, Massachusetts—formed America, and communities—such as those of Lexington, Massachusetts—waged war with some communities against other communities in the American Civil War.

Therefore, without being facetious or absurd, let’s imagine how the U.S. Government might respond to a true crisis such as the hijacking of airplanes and slamming them into massive skyscrapers with two possibilities, both interventionist. That is, in my thought experiment, I’m not suggesting or positing what I would like—the government to leave me alone—but how a republic might respond in a real world.

Possibility 1. The U.S. government, under a strong executive, panics. In his panic, he calls up demagogic language, proclaims our way of life an aspiration for all peoples everywhere, and begins to see weapons of mass destruction everywhere, the world over. He orders a no flight zone over the entire country; he encourages the passage of a “Patriot Act” that allows for the tax dollars taken from the population to begin to monitor that same population; he creates a new cabinet level department, Homeland Security, and puts into place a huge swarm of officers to presume our guilt as we board planes. The latter has the power to presume a lack of innocence, to touch any person of any age in the most intimate manner. The same president encourages war in several countries, advocates a “war on terror” with no endgame or end goal, detains those deemed anti-American in foreign prisons, and convinces his own citizens to cower before The Law, because, “buddy, the Constitution doesn’t mean the same thing anymore.” It’s a post 9/11 world.

Possibility 2. The U.S. government, righteously ticked off at an attack on domestic soil, retaliates against the culprits. It might take years to hunt them down, and the American population recognizes this.  Using the post-World War II Israeli Nazi hunters as a model, U.S. agents and foreign allies begin the long campaign to find and try those responsible. After proper and just trials of those believed responsible, it might actually allow the survivors and victims to help in the execution of those it found—through due process of law—guilty of crimes against American civilians. The president, believing that Americans have become too lax in their understanding of American security, calls on Americans to own as many guns as possible. Akin to the citizens of Switzerland, huge segments of Americans begin to train as to feel comfortable with personal weapons while learning small team tactics and personal defense. When boarding airplanes, each citizen of a certain age is handed a gun with rubber bullets. Should a terrorist ever attempt anything on a plane again, Americans agree to rush at the offender with cries of “Remember Todd Beamer,” “Long live the spirit of Tom Burnett,” “Remember Flight 93,” or “Death to All Who Would Harm Civilians.” The terrorist, all agree, might or might not find his life forfeited in the counterattack.

Most peoples in the world (in history and now) would choose Possibility 1. Certainly, our politicians chose it for us in 2001 and after, and we’ve done nothing to resist. As a population, we’ve acquiesced. And, we’ve habituated their small tyrannies and indecencies.

Possibility 2 would upset many modern Americans, their sensitivities acute and their virtue numbed. But, it is the American response. It is the republican response. At least it was.

Here’s the Reverend Jonas Clarke, 1765: “And it is a truth, which the history of the ages and the common experiences of mankind have fully confirmed, that a people can never be divested of those invaluable rights and liberties which are necessary to the happiness of individuals, to the well-being of communities or to a well-regulated state, but by their own negligence, imprudence, timidity or rashness. They are seldom lost, but when foolishly or tamely resigned.”

Under his direction and encouragement, forty-two citizens of Lexington paraded their arms and stood against 600 advanced British soldiers, en route to steal the arms of the community of Concord. It was across the street from Clarke’s house that a shot rang out and reasserted the republican spirit of liberty, order, manhood, and virtue.

The counter is also true. Should we forsake our own inheritance, we no longer deserve our liberty. And, in so forsaking, we spit on every sacrifice of every good woman and man who struggled to give us what we have.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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4 replies to this post
  1. Some conservatives are good at something else, they know how to flatter.

    Certainly our government has picked both option 1 & 2. But there is something we should consider that I use to teach my one religion class when we discussed the Middle East. Gov’ts have the right and duty to defend their people. But that right to self-defense must be used as a bolt cutter to free them from the shackles of other moral responsibilities. Gov’ts that are employing self-defense have moral responsibilities to the world in terms of how they respond in self-defense. In addition, Gov’ts have moral responsibilities to their people in terms of how they carry out option #1. And with these moral responsibilities must come transparency in order to enable accountability. And neither Presidents Bush nor Obama have allowed for that transparency.

    But let’s recognize something else. With the changes in our country and gov’t, there are a growing number of concerns shared by both the Left and the Right, not sure about Liberals because they tend to be blowing in the wind. For example, as Birzer talks about the effects of the NDAA, it was Leftists like Ellsberg, Chomsky, and Hedges, amongst others, who litigating against certain provisions of the NDAA. I believe their case is still on appeal. In addition, part of what Occupy Wall Street opposed are the actions of our corporations and financial institutions and Leftists have opposed the militarization of the police. Those on us on the Left don’t have the same approaches to these concerns that those on the Right do, but what we have in common justifies dialog and perhaps even some joint ventures.

  2. These thought experiments, being anathema to the ideological Left and ideological Right, tend to remind us of something we should never forget. As Mister Day suggests, there are many concerns both “sides” have in common, with surprisingly similar solutions. Unfortunately, since those solutions involve divesting the Patricians of their power, and some of their wealth, and certainly of their privilege, they will be drowned in the drooling invective which blasts hot and fierce from public mouthpieces who have no imagination.

    As Robert Heinlein once reminded us, “Most people would rather die than think, and most do.”

  3. I liked this essay but with one caveat. Few thinkers, writing on the events of 9/11, rarely point out that our real enemy is a religion, Islam. Until we address that fact “homeland” security is something of a joke.

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