Republicans and the Language of Citizenship

By James Matthew Wilson for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC

Berwyn, PA.  I add my voice to the FPR symposium on the presidential election in this morning’s edition of Crisis Magazine, where I assess the way in which President Obama capitalized on an attractive but empty vision of citizenship that Governor Romney never even attempted to counter.  What we need above all is to relearn the proper terrain of self-government, to relearn the arts of citizenship that make us proportionately responsible for home, neighborhood and townland; for cultivating our own virtues and those of our neighbors through the one authentic form of friendship, i.e. to be directed to a common good.

Obama’s vision of the citizen is inspiring rhetorically, but works to undermine the conditions that make authentic friendship and authentic citizenship possible.  For, on his view, one has fulfilled one’s political role as soon as one turns over all authority to the technocrats of the Obama administration and gotten back to one’s private licentiousness.  In contrast, I opine,

Conservatives—and even Republicans—could speak the language of citizenship with far more integrity than does the President.  They could legitimately propose that it is just those rich networks of institutions and relationships that arise from strong families, settled communities, and faithful churches that they wish to see flourish by getting the Leviathan state out of the way.  They could reasonably suggest that free and decentralized political institutions provide more access to more people, making it possible for most of us to live out our political natures in an authentic form of citizenship.  They can rightly propose that private property and free markets, when protected from both continuous state manipulation and the depredations of large—and ever larger—corporate monopolies, make it possible for us to be citizens of communities rather than clients of the state, and to be free actors cultivating good works, rather than mere contributors of votes and taxes to those “great national projects” directed from on high.

Indeed, conservatives do speak that language.  Prior to his nomination for Vice President, Paul Ryan sometimes did.  Even Glenn Beck—whom most liberals and conservatives alike deride for his hysterical bombast of paranoia—has held up this vision of citizenship with persuasive elegance.  Above all, Pat Buchanan has spent his career pleading for Americans to take back their republic—not from immigrants, as his purblind and suicidal critics on the left love to prate, but—from a mammoth imperial state that has long since ceased to honor the interests of American citizens, and which promises them nothing but the thin gruel of welfare and the specter of patriotism as it barters away the prosperity of a once dynamic and independent national culture.

You can read the rest here.


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