For Lack of a Hardier Knickerbocker, the Republic Goes Tilt

Irving’s old Dutch Burghers put me in mind of Albert J. Nock, the old anarch whom William Buckley Senior invited to his Connecticut dining table in order to inform Bill Jr. and his brother James about the stubborn hazards of government. Nock was an avowed anti-collectivist and an early proponent of the idea that we should always be suspicious of the State and its propensity to scapegoat whatever might lie in its clutching path toward unobtainable utopia. Nock saw that the oriental penchant for totalitarianism could easily be transported to our shores and so he spoke forthrightly about it and was vilified as a result. Needless to say, part of this vilification was due to his sharp rebuke of militaristic imperialism. He decried a “universal faith in violence” and his prudent skepticism about the downside of the New Deal and America as International constable has resulted in his relegation to a status as just another crank on the road to a Better State. Nock referred to those that understood the Framers as “Remnants.” These so-called “Remnants” are damned important.

We inhabit a world of caricatured rhetoric now. As much as I deride the concepts of “post-modernism” and Baudrillard’s notion of the “Hyperreal,” I am inexorably drawn to the unfortunate logic of them by default. When dispassionately looking at the current scene, one is seductively drawn to the philosophy of the post-modernist and our sorrowful state embodied in the notion that the “medium is the message.” With each passing year of increasingly bizarre cultural behavior, Baudrillard’s theatrical declarations become more plausible and this should give pause. We deny our Totalitarian drift at distinct peril.

So how does one come to grips with the dilemma at hand? We delve into history, that thing the proud Post-Modernists claimed to have ended.

Susan Dunn, professor of literature at Williams College wrote a book published in 1999 by Faber and Faber entitled Sister Revolutions: French Lightning and American Light. This lovely little volume compares and contrasts the essential nature of the two most enduring revolutionary efforts of our time. The Americans, heir to the Constitutional Monarchy of Great Britain, are the most politically adept, if cautious, of revolutionaries while the French deploy a kind of intellectual arrogance that flirts with hyperbole and the outright fraud which so frequently dogs the realms of ideology. We hardscrabble Americans possessed a Madison while the French possessed their Robespierre. Robespierre, of course, employed the guillotine.

This debate continues today but not in a manner we might expect. This is not now a blithe comparison of the French Revolution vs. the American Revolution. Instead, it is a question of the American Revolution against itself.

The Federal District, at long last, is now awash in French Revolutionary thinking. It is doctrinaire, ideological, frequently savage, dismissive of opposition and entirely too enamored of the feckless ideas embodied in utopia. It venerates itself, talks over any other line of thinking and rewards itself for its connections. Liberte’, Egalite’, and Franternite’ is a cynical cover for entrenched interests who have grown under cover of our imperial ambitions. If the Congress could find it legal to erect a guillotine, I’m quite confident, in the current atmosphere, it would. Perhaps Halliburton would build it and sub-contract skull removal to KBR in a manner consistent with regulations.

Meanwhile, beyond the Beltway, the American people smell a rat. Raised in public schools with a prettified depiction of our revolution, we as a people still retain rudimentary ideas of “Remnant” thinking. The elevation of the importance of the office of the presidency, coupled with a decline in appreciation for the deliberative form of our government, has resulted in a catastrophic erosion of “Remnant” thinking. The rhetoric of the presidential campaign leads one to believe that if you elect any of these lackluster candidates, a switch will be flipped and all will be made right.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The very notion that we need a President to save us should be anathema to anyone who appreciates the power of our historical experiment. The President was equal parts servant and leader, the President executed the resulting will of a Congress that was servant to the will of the people. How charming a conceit. How revolting that “We the people” have abdicated our responsibility.

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