Why I am a Member of the Permanent Opposition

by D. W. Sabin on December 16, 2010 · 16 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Politics & Power

spiritof76

Washington, CT. Every now and again, my little petal, The Concept catches me leering with sardonic delight at the television while one or another primped and coiffed “television journalist” summarizes the latest human disaster in a 60 second sound bite. Looking at me with undisguised contempt she usually intones: “Why do you enjoy misery so much, you really are sick.” Having answered her own question, she then sweetly swears as she peremptorily retreats but this is not her fault as it is a malady she picked up from over thirty years with me. Contact Tourette’s is the medical term I believe. Her rightful insult generally elicits a giggle on my part but the reverie is always brief because the nightly broadcast of headlong human decline re-grips me in another confirmation of the rather flexible definition of “progress.” Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, I do not relish human disaster by any means. What appeals to my sense of satire is the cockeyed notion that we must shoehorn global agony and the machinations of the State into a primary place of importance within our life of immediate concerns.

Rest assured, I always take whatever I see on the telly or within our nervous print media with a grain of salt because after all, it is the madcap bulletin board of that simulacrum of easy existence we have come to take for reality in this noisy information age. Real it ain’t. Reality cannot be transmitted across the airwaves and survive intact. The airwaves and distance refract it. The scenes of political confusion, disaster or debauch are certainly real where they occur but somehow, the process of reporting them from afar has grafted a kind of nervous siege mentality upon the loyal viewing audience. As a “people”, an interestingly loaded term to be sure but for lack of a better term, as a people, we now accept that our sphere of proper influence is somewhere 50 degrees of latitude or longitude distant. Nonetheless, one can either be seduced by the show or view it as an ethnologist might ponder some tribe of oddball primitives painting themselves with bear grease and fox droppings before a brisk jaguar dance at the foot of the cargo shrine. The American Spectator likes to watch. It is to the point now of obsession and obsession is just another avenue of distraction. I’d rather watch the spectators. To inform one’s viewing enjoyment of the national spectator, one must be fully conversant in the kabuki of our silly media rituals, its shibboleths and solemnized half-truths.

Chief among these media presumptions is the idea of an unassailable and permanently ascendant goodness of the American Juggernaut. Despite producing a nightly summary of some of the more preposterous insults to human organization in history, the American Media is dutiful in perpetuating a notion of Eternal Progress, a parade of unremitting growth and prosperity, a movable feast of relentless novelty and all of it open for the citizen’s plucking like a fat juicy pomegranate. Recently, economic travails have required a bit of chastening on the part of our toothy prognosticators. They recite the dim statistics but are prone to champion any meek good news, however fleeting, as a major return to the glory days of our consumer paradise. To make it sporting, the media has taken a page from the Roman Coliseum and divided itself into teams of Reds and Blues so that the reclining viewer can easily resist the formerly American urge to doubt in order to slide into the contoured leather seats of Conventional Wisdom. Buckle up, buy the ticket and as Doc Thompson averred, take the ride.

What a ride it is. Lately, we have been treated to a rather crude fight between forces of that shimmering bon mot of “Change” and their dastardly opponents in the dread “Party of No”. Would that there was a measurable distinction between the current teams of the organized spectator sport called American politics. But there isn’t. The teams go back and forth, up and down the field between commercial breaks and the end result is somewhere around $400,000.00 in debt in unfunded liability for every household in the good old U.S.A.. If you don’t know what “unfunded liability” is, just take out your atlas and locate the page depicting the District of Columbia.

Too glib you say? Well, e glibus unum would seem to be the national motto of a system that thinks nothing of accumulating near half a million dollars in debt for every household in the land simply because it can. I rest my case.

In order to keep the natives distracted while the various City States that have Shanghaied the Republic run their age-old scams, the blessed media is now engaged in a charade of analysis and garment renting. The residents of the Skinner Box smell a rat and it is them. This will not do. Accordingly, we dissemble and re-invent and dream and conjure a cavalcade of improvements to a political system that needs far less improvement than it does a simple and disciplined application. The messy instrument handed us by our forebears was a delicate flower bearing a sturdy and full-bodied fruit until we began to consider ourselves immortal. Worse yet, in our perception of immortality, we decided that our role in human life was a controlling one, rather than a prudently supporting one. The citizen became his mythological government and henceforth, he lost his citizenship.

Reading Daniel Okrent’s latest book entitled Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, one can be excused for thinking that the American Constitution was as much a product of drunken reverie as it was a vessel of divine inspiration. Booze, you see, ran like water in the days of yore because the water ran a little tainted. The Framers were a bibulous lot they were. According to Okrent’s research, the average American in our early days drank the equivalent of nearly two fifths of hooch per week. No wonder they became overly optimistic about the essential goodness of a humanity geared toward the pursuit of happiness. I hoist a dram to thank them for their bleary optimism and general skepticism of the historic abuses of European monarchy. Would that they might have left us with the real news that if everyman was going to be a king then everyman was obligated to be their brother’s serf.

Drunk or not the inspired generation of the Framers, granted an ample playing field and a proper distance from the seat of power, they took stock of the frailties of human progress and devised a system of checks and balances that had the durability of a first class mule. This political beast of burden was specifically designed not for heedless progress but instead, it was devised for the deliberative advancement of a rather presumptuous idea of human liberty. Somehow over the years, we’ve abandoned the hard slog of deliberation for the frilly attractions of heedless and inchoate progress. We’ve come to take ourselves too seriously and to regard ourselves as some kind of empyrean denouement. Meanwhile, the emperor’s new clothes cover a body gone ridiculous, nervous, distracted and unrequited. Life is not enough for we bearers of the banner of happiness, we want to live forever and do so within a utopian society. Heaven is the 51st State.

Funny, but living forever would not seem to be so sweet a sinecure if all it meant was more debt. That, and of course a little more war to project the idea that we still knew what the American Way really was.

There is an old hardscrabble anthem of Yankee self-reliance that is still remembered in my land of homely, if now vestigial Town Meetings: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Sure, this idea might have sprung from an end of day discussion over a few draughts of Apple Jack but there is a certain sturdy clarity to it.

“IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON”T FIX IT”.

We’ve been fixing this hobbled Republic for so long we’ve really gone and broke it. We’ve confused the idea of progress with unconstrained and debt-financed change. We’ve surrendered our native skepticism and hardy self-reliance for an idea that Fiat by Washington Decree is different than Fiat by Oriental or Occidental Despot.

All the solutions to a renewal of the American Dream lay quietly and cast-off asleep before us. A bountiful continent, an agreeable if bumptious people, a love of that marvelous thing called life and above all, a remarkable political vehicle to carry it out….. not in perfection but in optimistic and deliberative imperfection. The key to it all is to stop our foolish notion of legislating better laws to be executed by a benevolent bureaucracy and get back to the original notion of less is more. The checks and balances of the Framer’s creation gave us the vehicle to insure that our idle notions of heedless improvement were delayed and debated long enough to insure that we recognized the good fortune we already possessed. The checks and balances of our original system further required that if we were to have the big citizens of a free Republic then we needed the small government of a properly chastened political system. A civil society was to be a society that knew the best government was the least government. Life, after all, is not a checklist of universal standards, why make it so? A bureaucracy, in the end is only really good for extending the impoverishments of the few to the remorse of the many.

Our originally productive and durable system is now missing in action. We are no less top-down than any of the most voracious Oriental Despotisms. Instead of “change,”  we need to simply recall….. we need to remember what really works, recall so that we might move forward instead of plunging more deeply backward.

Washington D.C., paranoid by a toxic War on Terror, in a fit of Imperial dishabille over its WikiLeak travails, preoccupied by the blandishments of our age of Global City States, addicted to Military exploit, it has become the World’s biggest unfunded liability and loves to run a non-stop five card Monte game of change as progress. Meanwhile, the only thing that changes is the rising sum on the national debt clock or the death toll abroad. Gutted of jobs and meaningful employment by the City State embrace of globalism, we are all now wards of the missionary-state and so uniquely primed to fall for the seductions of a perceived noble monarch or some other malignant personality. We are now happy to be told what to think.

Recent research points to the unsettling fact that the youngest generation of Americans of voting age is firmly in the camp of an activist and increasingly dominant government. This, despite their coming assumption of one of the most staggering debts passed on to future generations in our history. Small government partisans will soon be gone and buried. Debt is the authoritarian’s sturdy insurance policy.

This cockeyed homily is not a populist call for a return to national greatness via mass political crusade. The maladroit failures of the Politics of Prohibition remain a clear demonstration of the deleterious effects of unintended consequences championed by populist crusaders. What this is, in the end, is a call for a return to that most conservative thing called a national memory. This memory, to be productive, must celebrate the good and the bad while we roll our sleeves up and begin the hard task of rebuilding something we have too easily forsaken. However, we do not so much need to build as we need to demolish, demolish all the presumptions that have released the obligations of the citizen and replaced them with a sense of entitlement financed by free-booting debt and its covalent destruction of our diverse countryside. The tools of American success Tocqueville so ably cataloged in our infancy remain today. We need to wrest them from their kidnapping by the hucksters of our current political system and recognize that their utopia is a classic dystopia of enervating bureaucracy.

Big Citizens and Small Government, it works and at least the various cheerful hustlers of our media still see that truth when they tell us that what America needs most is jobs.  The difference between their prescriptions and the hard reality of life is that durable jobs are never given from on high, they spring from an immediate necessity, the kinds of necessity that only occur between neighbors living within a community of common purpose that is spiced piquantly with diverse sensibilities. America, at its best is a nation of people at work, a dynamic and freely interacting nation of jobs whose sovereign is self-determination. Washington D.C. is nutty enough to think that the local can be forsaken on the road to a glorious global techno-utopian glee. Somehow, divorced from reality as they are, they think modernity will make the global something approximate to the local. The people seem to be leaning in this direction too given their blithe indifference to an accelerating national deterioration for all but a select and rarefied few. Though the formidable attributes of this age of electronic intercourse are many, one can only find fresh air in the open ground of our hand-shaking encounters. This internet venue is powerful but we have not yet fully discovered its limitations and these limitations are being steadily assaulted by our crass commercial impulses and deracinating nation state impositions. At present, conventional wisdom favors the elite and this favor is extended to the fields of our electronic intercourse.

When Ben Franklin wryly quipped “you have a Republic, if you can keep it,” he was giving vent to the all-important skepticism that has prudently checked our human impulses toward excess. Neither fully democratic nor monarchic, the Framers set our sights upon the polestar of liberty and gave us a set of messy checks and balances that would, if followed properly, insure that we would not lose sight of the abiding limitations of self-government. Liberty was the reward for widespread free agency. Liberty was an economic generator of unparalleled productivity. Liberty required a robust blend of self-reliance and common purpose. Simply put, Liberty required a commitment to deliberative inquiry. The fact that we are now living in a society that increasingly thinks self-reliance and intellectual deliberation are a quirky pejorative means that common purpose is something we will take for granted while surrendering its malleable definition to a governmental elite.

A more enlightened and benevolent monarch will not improve the unfunded liability on the banks of the muddy Potomac. Making this bloated government function better is a vain hope. But then, a people who have surrendered their local sovereignty and vitality for a disingenuous promise of National Greatness will always find it difficult to recognize their own complicity in their reduced circumstances. They will wait, dutifully for word from on high to tell them what to do and think.  They will begin to elevate the office of the Presidency until it is a de-facto Monarch. They will surrender their civil liberties and then wonder why they no longer have a country worthy of or conducive to liberty. Needless to say, without liberty, even your own front porch is little more than a prison farm of steadily declining fortunes on the back of increasing debt. The local ain’t worth a plug nickel without liberty.

We can re-engineer the idea of a monarch in our time of peril and look for the best and the brightest to relocate our boot straps for us or we can start reclaiming the original forms of the Republic and applying them to the evolving challenges of the times we inhabit. Our Government, isolated from the true welfare of the great majority of towns and counties supporting it, the Foggy Bottom Imperium is caught in a kind of perpetually westering imperialism . It has only long distance vision and has become short-sighted as a result. It favors a preoccupation with the fate of the Hindu Kush over the welfare of citizens in Butte or Beaufort. It tells us that our main streets will not be safe unless we are bombing main streets somewhere on the other side of the world. It thinks prosperity can come by exporting jobs and minting credit cards backed up by Federal Printing Presses.

I am a member of the permanent opposition because I believe the abandonment of monarchy was a damned fine idea. I believe it is prudent to reach for your knife when some sharp-dressing member of the Neo-Nomenklatura tells me they want to tax me more for my own good but distract me with impenetrable laws when an accounting comes due.  I oppose these nitwits in charge because they seem to think cutting taxes and increasing spending is a prudent course of action. I think it is fighting words when somebody who tells me they are my leader imprisons and tortures someone without due process.  Anyone, dammit. I think those who accuse me of isolationism are isolationists themselves because I am impertinent enough to suggest that a town on the banks of the Ohio River might be just as important as Baghdad. I am a member of the permanent opposition because I both hate and love my country and am always searching for ways to make me love it ever more. She is sturdier than I am after all and if one thing is certain, this American Beauty is best when handled roughly. Most importantly, I find myself loving this North American benediction most for its very human imperfections. Perhaps imperfections are hard to manage and take a lot of work to overcome but in the end, they would seem to be a nobler challenge than crusading for perfection on the counterfeit promises of debt. Indeed, there are times when one’s imperfections are one’s best features.

Long live the King, somewhere damned else.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jordan Smith December 16, 2010 at 8:44 pm

[Deafening Applause]

avatar Artie December 16, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Good piece, Mr. Sabin. I think of lot of us long for small government the way a sedentary sixty-something longs for the days when he could slip into his 28 inch waist Levis. Dang, our ass looked good then. Trouble is, there’s so much more of us now, all 310 million and growing, and aging, bulges on adipose tissue that require the generous backside room of a Chinese-made Sans-a-belt to accommodate our poor derrieres as they spread despite regular applications of golf and Dan-active.

And even if I could lose that 25, or so, pounds and fit into all those old Levis, what would I do with all those new clothes?

avatar John Médaille December 17, 2010 at 2:50 am

The practical problem with opposition reduced to an ideology, a “permanent opposition,” is that it opposes everything: the status quo and any changes to the status quo. Hence it affirms the status quo and resents any real structural change.

As you say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But it is broke, and getting broker, with unrepayable debts, unwinnable wars, unworkable politics, financing that refuses to finance anything productive, trade that is just putting purchases “on the tab,” (that is, not really “trade” at all); the infrastructure is crumbling and the population aging and the resources to deal with all of it are evaporating. A mystical belief in the resilience of the people (see Jason Peters on their current educational level) is no substitute for fundamental reform. But if you are not allowed to think about reform, if that becomes politically incorrect, well, there are some who are thinking very hard about it, and we might not like what they come up with.

Make no mistake: We will get a monarchy, and before this decade is out. The only question is whether it will be a tyranny or a polity. It will do us no harm to think about the question in advance. It will do us no harm to think about whether the founders ever intended the “pure” democracy we have become, which always becomes a pure oligarchy. The founders understood a polity, a combination of the democratic, aristocratic, and monarchical forces, was the best way to form a government. What we have will only get us to where we are, and if we merely oppose any change, we won’t get any further than this; this is the best we can do, and it’s downhill from here.

Democracy is already a sham, a mere legitimating cover for the ruling oligarchy. And even that wouldn’t be so bad if the oligarchy wasn’t so incompetent. An intelligent oligarchy tries to spread enough general prosperity so as to keep the public happy and their own position secure. But this group is so wrapped in greed, and hence so stupid, that they couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were on the bottom. But they could seize the gov’t outright, so maybe they’re not so stupid after all.

avatar Jordan Smith December 17, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Despite my appreciation for Sabin’s prose, this is a fantastic response. Of course my own view is that sin and corruption have taken too deep a root and the only thing to be done is unfold a deck chair and enjoy the view on the way down.

avatar D.W. Sabin December 18, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Medaille,
You’re going soft Medaille, I was looking forward to something altogether more pungent in response, a couple of rolls of dimes filling the velvet glove smacking my distended snout. Your noblesse oblige is noted. Nonetheless, I do have to take issue with a few of your assertions , beyond your characterization of my “mystical belief in the resilience of the people”. There is no mysticism to it at all, my belief in the hardy wisdom of the sans-coulotte is based upon ample history. This decrepit republic used to believe in the little guy because the little guy was not a mystical apparition, he was the reflection in the mirror. Though the big shots have always exercised their controlling interests, it is the working man in America that did the heavy lifting, but another one of the Checks and Balances I refer to in my essay. The People are resilient and they proved it during the Panics of the 19th century and into the Panics re-named “Recession” and “Depression” of this century because “Depression” seemed more warm and comfy than “Panic”(as chronicled in Morris Dickstein’s wonderful book on the Depression entitled “Dancing in the Dark, a Cultural History of the Great Depression”) .

While we could both trade criticisms of the current depauperate state of the nation and so find much to agree upon in a thourough-going assessment of the ongoing perversions , you mistake my prescriptive aims , like most utopians, reformers and progressivists do by tarring the historicist skeptic as a mere obstructionist mugwump. I hardly resist change, reform or re-organization. I specifically advise a bit of demolition work, bordering on a little professional Berserker Action. However, I am not so quick to abandon the productive traditions which got us here to this point of plump dismay. I am distinctly chary of an ideological pursuit of some kind of political mongrelization and the increasingly power-centric centralization embodied in loose talk of a noble monarch. Like “If it aint broke, don’t fix it”, I am an adherent of the chaste avenue of “Back to Basics”. Perching a monarch upon the teetering foundations of a rotten ruin is a waste of time. Though it might be picturesque and productive in a literary manner, it will not solve the problem we are confronted with, namely this Skinner Box confusion of the ridiculously named “global village”. One is best advised to check the foundations and then build , or re-build up from there.

If we are to have a “monarchy before the decade is out”, the kingly sorts best get cracking, 2011 dawns in a few days.You are advised to retrieve your silken pantaloons and leopard skin mantles quickly. To think that the failures of the current system might be worked out in a re-embrace of monarchy beggars the imagination. Despotism of one sort or another, surely this is possible , manifested in the ongoing work of the many Sunbeams for the Unitary Executive on Fox News but a Monarchy? I’d assert we’d see anarchy sooner than we’d see monarchy, given the general dyspeptic petulance afoot.

We are hardly a “pure democracy”, though the general handlers and crypto-handlers of democracy, the oligarchs certainly are at work , fat, happy and self-aggrandizing. It would be entertaining to watch the oligarchy “seize the government outright”, they would be seizing their own pig in a poke, a self-bucketing as it were. In abandoning the earlier traditions of the American form of government , you abandon the people who, despite their current lassitude have created some remarkable history. I think you abandon them too quickly and far too rashly and place your hopes in some kind of false promise of a noble and virtuous monarch because you seem to think the oligarchy might be put into the yoke of a more productive avenue as a second tier nobility under the auspices of a better cheer leader, an anointed supreme leader, a leader who might be satisfied putting the idle wishes of an unrepentant oligarchy into action. Yee hah.

Democracy, Mr. Medaille, is never a sham, it is a goal, unattainable it would seem but far better informed by the rather noisome input of the hoi-palloi than you give it credit for.

Frankly, I find these stubborn defenses of monarchy to be a vestige of those now predictable perversions of our Judeo-Christian heritage. They linger from a time when those who held the reigns of power used the smoky diversions of hellfire and brimstone to bring their subjects into line and then plunder their pockets “for their own good”.

In the end, much of the progressivist agenda is more revanchist than the most hidebound controlling despot. It deigns to assert that it knows what is best and will always exalt power. It is a usurper. It is but another Bait and Switch for a public that is ripe for the plucking.

Any surefire King in the year 2020 deserves their poverty-stricken sinecure. You start at the top Mr. Medaille, building castles in the air. I prefer the dank odors of the foundation, a place where sturdy buildings emerge at the hands of people who think labor is both a benediction and a penance, all wrapped into one. This is why America flowered as it has since the “world was turned upside down” near Yorktown.

Let us resolve to leave capitulation to the high-born because they never really know what the hell they are giving up anyway. Bottoms-up John, never top down.

avatar rex December 19, 2010 at 8:10 pm

“Visit either you like: they’re both mad.”
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat.
“We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

avatar Samuel December 20, 2010 at 1:17 pm

I don’t know Mr. Smith. Recalling your own advice, perhaps before we place our tushes down on the porch we could toil a while in the garden, fostering as we do some appropriate diversity, some fitting predatorials, and have some faith that the roots of sin and corruption have not yet fully covered their own tushes, certainly not with the flaccid, mis-placed abstractions through which they’ve asserted their victory. Then I’d be happy to rest on the porch and partake of the fruit. To hell, perhaps, with what is doing at Constantinople in the mean-time.

avatar John Médaille December 21, 2010 at 5:04 am

I should take it as a compliment that Mr. Sabin writes at greater length, some would say interminable, and amidst his trenchant critique of pantaloons and leopard skins, urges me to have more faith in the “resilience of the people.” Let me declare candidly and forthrightly that I have no faith whatsoever in the resilience of the people for the simple fact that I have never meet them. Mr. Sabin, affable as he is, may have a wider acquaintance with this creature, and hence can give personal testimony. I cannot. In fact, I find most invocations of “the people” tend to mean, “the people who agree with me,” all others being of a different tribe and perhaps of a different species. Such dissenters, one must realize, are not really a part of “the” people.

That being said, I do have a great faith in the resilience of neighborhoods, families, small farmers, independent businessmen, communities, congregations, and the panoply of local organizations devoted to advancing the normal business of life and family. But these are precisely the institutions which modern democracy seeks to destroy, and their survival, vestigial as it might be, is proof of their resilience.

Mr. Sabin urges me, quite rightly, to build from the bottom up. But how is that possible in a national democracy of 300 million people that claims absolute sovereignty, and so crushes any competing institution under its democratic heel?

Mr. Sabin, in support of the “resilience” of the people points to their survival in times of panic, and this is true. But after each panic, the power of the state increased. Indeed, after the economic and social turmoil of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we got the Federal Reserve, the income tax, the popular election of senators, and World War I. And after the next great upheaval (which wasn’t even as great as the previous one) we got, after another world war and the universalization of the welfare state, in either its communist or capitalist form. Does Mr. Sabin think that history will be different this time? That for once, there will be a marvelous, some might say miraculous, reversal of history? Will this national security state we are rapidly building go away with just a bit more “democracy?” Or will this crisis be democracy’s last?

The entry barriers to competing in the political marketplace, when that place is so large and is everything and everywhere, exclude the small, the local, the limited, even freedom itself. Or rather, freedom itself becomes a commodity to be purchased like any other, and purchasing power becomes equivalent to political power. The things we value on the Porch can be insured only by competing sovereignties, that which in Catholic thought is called “subsidiarity” and in Calvinst thought “sphere sovereignty.” But sovereignties must be institutionalized if they are to have any real existence, and a national democracy in such a large country is always and of necessity a sham, a cover for oligarchy.

It is on this point specifically that Mr. Sabin takes issue. He says, “Democracy, Mr. Medaille, is never a sham, it is a goal, unattainable it would seem but far better informed by the rather noisome input of the hoi-palloi (sic) than you give it credit for.” Aside from the rather mystical quality of this statement, it can only mean that what we have is what the people want, and hence there can be no valid complaints. But I don’t think this is what the people want; I think it is what the oligarchs want, and on this point we must agree to disagree.

The traditional monarchical and aristocratic elements of the Constitution have withered in the face of a pure democracy, but Mr. Sabin finds that “We are hardly a ‘pure democracy’…” Well, how much “purer” would we like it? Should we have even more elections for more officers? Should we have a slew of direct plebiscites on constitutional and statutory amendments? Should we have budgets approved by three-quarters vote of the legislature? Congratulations. That’s California. As Ms. Palin might say, “How’s that working out for ya?”

I have insisted that a thing is known by its proper limits, and the limit on democracy is not more democracy, but complimentary institutions of an aristocratic and monarchical nature, just as democratic and local institutions serve as a check on the monarchy. Far from being apart from our traditions, this polity was part and parcel of the founders’ thinking and reflected in the Constitution which they produced, a Constitution that has been made, democratically, a dead letter. But only with such competing and complementary sovereignities can the small and local survive.

In the end, I think, Mr. Sabin can only treat the term “king” as a four-letter word, one that lingers, he tells us, “from a time when those who held the reigns of power used the smoky diversions of hellfire and brimstone to bring their subjects into line and then plunder their pockets ‘for their own good’.” But I can recall few kings who could plunder their peoples’ pockets as successfully as our presidents and legislatures plunder ours. George of Hanover was not half so successful in this as was George of Texas or Barack of Illinois.

We look at the same history and come to different conclusions. I see increasing state power, and Mr. Sabin sees… I’m not sure what. “Resilience,” I think. A little more such resilience and we are undone. But I rather suspect that if you want to see into the future of the United States in the 20-teens, look at the history of Europe in the 1920′s and 30′s. Of course, as Americans, we believe in our own exceptionalism, which means we think that we are exempt from history; it can’t happen here. History is something that happens to Europeans. Europe is the place we go to see castles and fight wars, but we leave all that behind when we stand in the “U.S. Passports Only” line. Perhaps, but I think we are about to produce (as Saki said of the Balkans) “more history than [we] can consume locally.”

In those bad days, strong men could arise in Europe because all of the institutions which could have opposed them had collapsed. They were monarchs, of the wrong sort, and with no other sources of authority to keep them in check they went mad, and took their nations with them into madness. In our country, we have 15 million unemployed, by the most optimistic estimate, and 200,000 new workers coming on stream each month. I see no source of that many jobs, even looking out over 10 years. A country would have to be very resilient indeed to put up with this for much longer. As conditions for more and more people deteriorate, the possibility of getting our own “strong man” increases. You can be sure that he will first praise the resilience of the people, because you must flatter them before you swindle them.

This is a grim vision, and I take no pleasure in giving such warnings. I have too much invested in the current system, and I have children and grandchildren who will have to bear the brunt of this. No one hopes I am wrong as much as I do. Nevertheless, I think we have to give serious consideration to some rather grim possibilities.

I have critiqued democracy as an alternative religion with its own code, creed, and cult, a cult we are more than willing to spread by the sword, even as democracy diminishes at home, becoming a mere cover for oligarchy. I do not think that this critique is properly answered by a yet more mystical belief in democracy, a belief in spite of the evidence and accepted sola fide.

avatar D.W. Sabin December 21, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Thank you John, for your lengthy criticism of my prolixity. Ho ho ho. And so how, Mr. Medaille, would a Monarchy, a centralized edifice of absolutist, frequently arbitrary and capricious power be any kind of improvement over the current centralized power? More particularly, what would its charms be that might induce a polity to render itself up to it?

The World was “turned upside down” by Americans once, it could happen again although you know I am not fundamentally any more optimistic than you are based upon historical precedence and the current sideshow. You very well know however, through past debate that I am not an advocate of “pure democracy” and your insinuation that it is what I desire is nothing more than ruse and obfuscation. Both Monarchists and Oligarchs are experts at fabricating Strawmen.

As to my invocation of the conventional phrase of the “people” as meaning that I only wish to engage with people “who are like me”, well, that is precisely the kind of breezy, dismissive imprecation I expect from you. Monarchists possess such a stirling record of tolerance for those who do not engage in abject levels of obedient sycophancy. I am consistent in support of the deliberative and frequently messy form of government left us originally, not a democracy but a democratic Republic that is properly Federalist and respectful of the welfare of the freeholder, rather than in its increasingly insulated and crypto-Monarchist form today.

So, pardon the mysticism you accuse me of for not believing for a minute that some kind of Better-Planned Monarch will encourage the “neighborhoods, families, small farmers, independent businessmen, communities, congregations and other local organizations” you prudently support to flourish any better than they might do so now. As to Kings who are less prone to have their fingers in the pockets of the citizenry than our current politicians, you may be right but only because the King and his kleptomaniac assigns would have never allowed the serf to accumulate anything inside their pocket in the first place. No, I think your support of a Monarchy is a natural evolution of the deleterious forces underway today. Not in the form you rosily paint however. The form it may take is simple despotism.

We both possess a rather grim vision and they don’t infrequently disagree but my sympathies toward a better way favor the return to and use of the Constitution, that thing you write off as a “dead letter”. This should be undertaken via the deliberative machinery of a democratic Republic with properly scaled….make that a chaste Federalist operation. This means elevating debate rather than obliterating it under a Monarch. You, however, seek to replace one form of tyranny with another, subsidiarist pretensions notwithstanding. Pardon my “mystical” resentments of your tendentious absolutism. I may be an interminable romantic but one of my romantic conceits is that a monarchy is hardly the route to follow when two of the last remaining ones consist of Saudi Arabia and Swaziland.

avatar John Médaille December 22, 2010 at 8:59 pm

I don’t understand your comments. You seemed to be saying that ours wasn’t a “pure democracy” in the sense of not being ‘pure enough’; if that is not what you meant, fine. But if democracy shouldn’t be pure, then obviously it must have some components of other kinds of gov’t, and the choices are limited: aristocracy, oligarchy, monarchy. Which of these do you want? If not monarchical components, that leaves aristocracy and oligarchy, but I never figured you for a supporter of either. So what is it that you want?

That’s the problem I pointed out with being a member of a ‘permanent opposition’: it opposes just to oppose, but doesn’t seem to want anything different. In this case, you appear to oppose pure democracy, and oppose anything that would modify a pure democracy. Is there any hint in your posts that I missed about what should modify a democracy?

You get huffy that I objected to invocations of “the people,” but too many of us are familiar with that kind of rhetoric to trust it too much. Especially when linked to vague comments about the “resilience” of the afore-mentioned people.

You seem to equate the presence of a king with the presence of serfs, but this is ahistorical; there were kings who had serfs (although, that is more associated with aristocracies and oligarchies) and democracies built on slavery. I did cover, in some detail I thought, the problems of a pure monarchy, or a pure anything; “pure” systems tend to double back on themselves to become their own negation. I thought that was clear in all three essays.

You start by asking a question which leads me to question whether you actually read the essays, or just the headlines. Your question is “And so how, Mr. Medaille, would a Monarchy, a centralized edifice of absolutist, frequently arbitrary and capricious power be any kind of improvement over the current centralized power?” But the essays explicitly rejected the notion of centralization in favor of a wide variety of sovereignities and authorities combined with the principle of subsidiarity or sphere sovereignty. I just don’t think any reasonable person could have read the essays and not concluded that I wanted make-weights against a purely royal authority. So now I ask, did you just get your Republican dander up reading the title, and not bother with actually reading the essays?

avatar D.W. Sabin December 23, 2010 at 12:16 am

John,
“Huffy”….now I’m really going to get irritated. Given my fatwa on emoticons, I’ll simply qualify that by saying “wink wink” . I could accuse you of the same kind of grazing and presumptions that you accuse me of as I clearly stated my preference for a democratic republic, hardly a pure democracy but instead …a representative government with a separation of powers, scaled responsibilities (Federal to State and Town Subsidiarity) and the checks and balances that directly promote the types of sovereignties you support. It was once the tradition of the nation, as you rightly endorse tradition in your essays. The fact that I might dispute your claim that we now possess a “pure democracy” should not indicate that I might endorse one, that was your assumption, not my professed preference……. as in quoting Franklin’s wry comment about keeping a Republic, “if you can”, among other statements. Personally, I would second Mencken’s quip that if the public wants more democracy, they “should get it good and hard”. While I might enjoy the role of the curmudgeon, I do not “oppose simply for the sake of opposing” …”A Member of the Permanent Opposition” was a turn of phrase endorsing a counterbalancing sovereignty to the very centralized excesses of the times we inhabit.

I did read your extensive essays and enjoyed several of your characterizations of the “Dogma”, “Sacrament” and “Liturgy” of democracy. I noted your distinctions between “Regalism” and “Monarchy” as you see them. I saw your professed aversion to purity and your developed concepts of counter-balancing sovereignties yet I still come away distrusting that it can actually work any better than the current top-heavy lapsed-republic we now possess, despite best laid plans and intentions. After all, you yourself suggest the Monarch as something like, as I recall, an “ultimate arbiter”, something we are , as you acknowledged, flirting with …in an improper manner with the current notions of the Unitary Executive. Given man’s striving nature, I believe it would be a rare, if not impossible thing to consistently produce a noble monarch of the type you suggest.

Suffice to say that while me might converge in positive opinions of subsidiarity as well as in profound resentments of the current sideshow, our prescriptions diverge considerably because the excesses of monarchy in both current and past practice are lengthy and well documented in my smoke-filled mind. We certainly do need to significantly “fix” some of the current perversions of original intent but reverting to monarchy and abandoning our American Traditions would seem to me to be ill-advised and largely based upon the kinds of vagaries you accuse me of.

Perhaps Rex said it best by quoting “Alice in Wonderland” because we are a bit mad. But, as ole Ed Abbey said “only the half-mad are wholly alive.”

Huffily speaking anyway.

avatar John Médaille December 23, 2010 at 12:38 am

In none of the essays, Mr. Sabin, did I suggest a “noble monarch,” which seems to form the linchpin of your critique; it is a phrase you repeat and which I did not use. In fact, I specifically noted that monarchs are “but men and women in regal robes, and greed rages in their hearts no less in than in the hearts of the commons, and a king no less than a commoner is likely to be ruled by unruly passions. So just as a democracy needs a monarchical limit, the monarchy needs aristocratic and democratic limits.”

I still do not see why you think that what we have got will give us anything but what we have. It has gone the way it has because there were no real countervailing institutions. The Constitution says little of the states, and the 10th amendment, the most ignored passage in the document, has more or less been nullified by the 14th, 16th, and 17th amendments. The issue of whether the federal gov’t or the states was supreme was settled in 1865.

Nor do I see anything but pure democracy, or rather countervailing democracies, in your preferences. Separation powers is not really the same as contending sovereignties. From the beginning, there were internal conflicts that made the federal power supreme. All it lacked was a funding source, and when it got that, the rest was inevitable. Democracy cannot serve as a check on democracy.

avatar D.W. Sabin December 23, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Implicit in the idea of an “ultimate arbiter”, your Monarch….. who is voluntarily subject to the input of both an aristocracy and the democratic commons…. is a strong sense of nobility. Without it, Monarchs will be Monarchs. There will always be a kind of depraved lust toward authoritarian abuses (as you readily acknowledge). Needless to say, the Monarch, as ultimate arbiter, will be assiduously courted by the aristocracy …and vice versa, as has been the M.O. throughout history. This shall leave the interests of the commoner standing on the sidelines. True to formula, they shall be plucked clean and provide the tag-team of the Monarch and his sycophantic aristocracy with a kind of entertainment, as the commoner’s keening requests are met with a pat on the head and some proper diversion, generally a foreign war or some other bread and circus burlesque.
This will not be so different than the current dog and pony show.

You may be right that the 16th amendment and the death knell to a prudent expression of States Rights that was delivered during Reconstruction may have cast the die. Add the general interpretations of the Commerce Clause to the mix and the power of the purse reaches monarchic levels.

I do not expect that “what we have now will give us anything beyond what we have”. It will likely do worse, as it has been doing for decades. Odds are that the current Bunko Federalism Project, the charming little Cosa Nostra of bureaucratic box-checking and K Street Corsairs will consume and destroy itself, and the lackluster voter along with it. All bets are off over whether or not a Kingfish-type braggart will use populism to re-instate the Regime or if the flummoxed citizen might be afforded the combination of leadership and initiative to recall the intent of the Framers in a manner that might be both equitable and modern. Just as you assert that “Democracy cannot serve as a check on democracy”, one form of Centralized Authoritarianism cannot better another form of it. Neither the Separation of Powers nor competing sovereignties can adequately check an overly centralized, powerful regime.

“We the People”, that “creature” you assert that “you haver never met” are the lynch pin in the discussion. How might they construct vigorous complimentary and competing sovereignties within a deteriorating atmosphere of a nationalized vicarious agora? This is the more important question, rather than contemptuously giving up on the citizen and offering them a new King, same as the old King.

But, we’ve beaten this Hall of Mirrors to death my friend. Perhaps Jordan is closest to the most prudent course to follow. One can be sure the coming vaudeville will be entertaining and so one is advised to assemble the deck chairs and watch the lines quoted by rex delivered in stentorian tones by the actors in the Federal Carnival.

Merry Christmas to you, the kids and grandkiddies….the best sovereignty one can be aligned with.

avatar John Médaille December 23, 2010 at 6:40 pm

It seems to me that you are not critiquing anything I have actually said; you just make up a straw man and critique that. And it is ahistorical to claim that monarchies can’t be limited; they generally are. You concede that what we have gets us to where we are, but don’t want any discussion of a way out. A constitutional monarchy might not be that way out, but whatever it is, it will have to account for the realities of political that have been understood since Aristotle. All I see from you is wishful thinking that things will get better when we both know they won’t.

That’s the problem with a permanent opposition: it negates what is, but negates the negation to become an affirmation of the status quo. It is a permanent “throw the bums out” which is equivalent to keep the bums in, just change the names.

avatar D.W. Sabin December 24, 2010 at 3:12 pm

You really are relentless Medaille, a first rate berserker. No John, all you have seen from me is a bit of remnant thinking, a loyal support of limited government embodied within a circumspect democratic form chastened by Republican checks and balances. In other words, a loyalty to the United States of America as it once was and could be again. The nation has proceeded along an increasingly centralized trajectory for many years but it has also corrected for periods when circumstances made it apparent that things were not going well. Unfortunately, these corrections have been brief and a bit inchoate. We are rapidly approaching , if not viewing in the rear view mirror, a point at which we will have no choice but to re-examine the trajectory and review what is a better approach to the governance of a large polyglot nation in a more crowded world. I favor a tune-up, I suppose you’d like to buy an import.

You have also seen a steadfast opposition to wooly wishful thinking about some form of monarchy free from the licentious effects of regality, one that will replace one mode of top-heavy centralization with another, despite optimistic talk of constraining sovereignties.

Now, cripes, can you lighten up a little and have a Merry Christmas?

avatar Back Bencher January 10, 2011 at 1:17 am

Alas and alack. Whatever that means! I have busied myself in the Garden of Enchanted Democracy for quite some time! Maybe as more of us retire, but not retreat to the porch of observation and reflection we will be enabled if not Enlightened to help those who follow us chronologically to stop, smell the roses, pick a few weeds, and abjure the realm.

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