Is the United States dysfunctionally large, and thus destined to go the way of the giant radioactive ants once seen in old sci-fi movies?  That’s the question raised by this video discussion between Kirkpatrick Sale and Donald Livingston.

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. To be a republic in the classical Aristotelian one has to have self-government in what ever form that may be; the rule of law and a demographic and territorial scale in which common traditions, customs and habits can determine the common good as far as culture or social order is concerned.

    Self-government does not mean even representative government in the sense that representatives are elected by any popular means and certainly not democracy. It means that the polity expresses the traditions, customs and habits lived out by real people in a real place, whatever the mechanism of that expression. To govern against the lived out customs and habits in a real place is to be a tyrant, whether one is a dictator or a democratic majority.

    The rule of law does not mean a strict adherence to some “due process” and the statutory laws from which it springs; it rather means that statutory law, however, it is made is in harmony with the prevailing traditions, customs and habits of the social order. Thus, Creon is a tyrant when he refuses to allow Antigone the tradition duty of burying, in her case, Polynices. Anglo-Saxon jury nullification is predicated on an awareness of traditions, customs and habits, embedded and lived out in the people, with which even the king’s law can be nullified.

    There is little chance of there being commonly held traditions, customs and habits which define the common good, the expectations of polity and the rule of law if a given territory is too large or if the population is too large.

    Now, one can can an aardvark an ant; or one can call an abstract corporation with a monopoly on coercion, with the ability to define the limits of its own power and with the impetus of a power will, be that one of a dictator or a democratic majority, ruling a massive territory with millions of people a republic; however, but an ant “ain’t” an aardvark; and a Hobbesian state “ain’t” a republic. At least the old Soviet Union was less disingenuous than Mao’s China. The Soviets at least made a pretense in that they named their Hobbesian state the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics whereas Mao’ named his The People Republic of China.

    We were once, before Lincoln and the Republicans “these United States,” a union of constitutionally federated republics. Today, we are a Hobbesian state, consolidated and centralized. Our President, in a post-election speech spoke of “this colony,” in the singular, gaining its independence from Great Britain. Once there were thirteen colonies and King George, in the 1783 Treaty of Paris, named each of them. He did not make peace with the American people in the aggregate, with the Continental Congress, with the so-called “Founding Fathers” or with some overarching government. He made peace with thirteen unique and sovereign republics.

  2. Doc Sarvis blew out his television for good reason. He might not have been the best of role models but who really is these days?

    The level of ignorance played upon by manipulative disinformation these days is remarkable.

    It really is like shooting fish in a barrel

  3. A great video, except I think Sale is mistaken about the reason for the grandiose scale of cathedrals – which was not to make people feel small, but rather to aspire to the High. One ought not to confuse the proper aspiration for “the final gladness” whose final object is the City of God, and the misplaced aspiration for human self-aggrandizement and pride that animates the City of Man…

  4. I bring my own presuppositions to the words of Mr. Sale, particularly since I have met and talked with him on several occasions. Thereupon based I submit that his reference to cathedrals is made with an understanding that they point to the Transcendent; whereas his reference to “city halls” is a reference to the would-be transcendent, the quest to immanentize the eschaton, which is withershins the classical understanding of the republic and the Christian understanding of subsidiarity.

  5. Something of a different take on this subject. When people say they are English, Norwegian, Scottish, Belgian, Irish – the only thing parallel to that I can say is I’m a Southern New Englander. Even New England is too large and different to be a single nation. Moreover, I cannot say that I love Southern New England. I could get expansive and say I love Southeastern New England, but that south of Boston and west of New London and never more than ten miles from water. Really I simply naturally love the Narragansett Bay environs, cities too. I know it is not as God made it, it is populated with at least its share of yahoos and has been debauched, though here and there tarted up for the tourist trade. It is, however, home, knowable, graspable and lovable. People who say they love America scare me because, though they are not lying, I know it is not true. I feel it is something dangerously close to Fascism and/or idolatry and then violence.

    • Mr. McCullough,

      Nationalism in all of its forms has been the stalking horse of the Hobbesian state: Bismark in Germany; Garibaldi in Italy; and Lincoln with his “propositional” or “creedal” nation which he twisted together with selected quotes from the Declaration of Independence, his Second Inaugural and the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s being the most abstract of the three. This “America” is the one to which we in Pavlovian fashion say the Jacobin pledge, “one and indivisible.” Patriotism is antithetical to nationalism, although nationalism has usurped the word, perhaps beyond reclaiming. A patriot is one who loves the things of his father: kith and kin, home and hearth, God, the Church.

      The best immediate example of patriotism is a ceremony in which I participated about three Saturdays ago. I friend is dying. This dying friend managed to do two important things, things important to him: he got permission to have a cemetery on land which his family has owned in these climes since the 1840’s, land on which his house now sits; and he managed to get a memorial marker for an Confederate ancestor who fell at Vicksburg and who is there buried in some mass grave. There about 11:00 a.m. on that sunny but chill Saturday morning we gathered around a to-be-unveiled memorial marker and next to a grave marker with my friends name and date of birth already on it, awaiting to receive him in his final baptism as a Christian – “buried with Him….: Seated before us were about fourteen cousins of my friend, all direct descendants of the ancestor who fell over 150 years ago. Around the new wrought-iron fence making the little cemetery were about one hundred people – more relatives and friends. Some of us had on suits, some Confederate uniforms, some the vestments of a minister, some casual dress, some jeans and no few in camouflage. Near the fence were my friend’s horses, curious about the goings on. Among us was an old Catahoula Leopard, a sixteen-year-old offspring of one of my hounds. Two pickups had freshly killed field-dressed deer in their beds. An Anglican Catholic Bishop said a prayer; my friend read the eulogy of his fallen ancestor; I read a poem; and some ladies in formal dress unveiled the memorial and placed roses on it. A uniformed honor guard fired a salute. Then we suited ones, jeansed ones, camouflaged ones and the rest walked to the house were we had food and drink, with the main course being venison stew. That is patriotism: loving intimately the things of one’s father, his legacy which he has passed to you as your heritage; and which in my friend’s case, he is about to pass on to his kids and grand kids. We know that we are fallen; but we know that in Christ life is good. We have no desire to overthrow the created order or to immanentize the eschaton. We do not want to “literate” Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan or Iran. We do not want to make the world “safe for democracy.” We are not on a quest for equality or social justice. We are about thirty miles from Texas, but we do not wish to conquer Texas. South Louisiana is an alien culture for us. We don’t really get along with the folks just west of the Red River – they’re too much like Texans; and we find the folks just east of us, across Black Bayou Bottom, to be down right strange.

      I am with you. The people who love this abstract America – which is in its essence not real but in the name of which some very real and evil things are done – scare me. Having said that, Tolkien’s lesson of the “scouring of the shire” is not lost on me. There is evil even in the place which seems most innocent. I hasten to add that we know that we are not innocent; that is precisely why we do not plot to remake the world in our image; we simply practice stewardship in the little niche which has been assigned to us.

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