Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

As Russell Kirk suggests in his classic, The Conservative Mind, there is no one among America’s Founding Fathers that provides as articulate and discerning a vision of genuinely conservative thought as John Adams.

Adams was a man of great learning and genius.  He also is among the most prolific political authors that the United States ever produced.  Kirk says that his “body of political thought exceeds, both in bulk and in penetration, any other work on government by an American.” Yet uniting his voluminous writings are certain characteristically conservative themes.

Regarding the egalitarian’s dream regarding “the natural equality” of all human beings, Adams is dismissive.  In a letter to his friend, turned adversary, turned friend again, Thomas Jefferson, Adams is blunt: “Jus cuique, the golden rule, is all the equality that can be supported or defended by reason or common sense [.]”

In his correspondence with John Taylor, Adams writes: “That all men are born to equal rights is clear.  Every being has a right to his own, as moral, as sacred, as any other has. This,” he says, “is as indubitable as a moral government in the universe.”  However, as for the egalitarian fiction that was taking his world by storm, “for honor’s sake,” and “for truth and virtue’s sake, let American philosophers and politicians despise it.”

Adams remarks: “But to teach that all men are born with equal powers and faculties, to equal influence in society, to equal property and advantages through life, is as gross a fraud, as glaring an imposition on the credulity of the people, as ever was practiced by monks, by Druids, by Brahmins, by priests of the immortal Lama, or by the self-styled philosophers of the French Revolution.”

The egalitarianism of his contemporaries is an “ideology.”  For Adams, this meant that it is “the science of Idiocy.” Moreover, it is “a very profound, abstruse, and mysterious science” that yields no “discoveries” and “no bottom.”  The ideology of egalitarianism is “the bathos, the theory, the art, the skill of diving and sinking in government.”  It is what’s “taught in the school of folly,” “the academy” of which, along with several prominent French thinkers, such notable defenders of the American Revolution as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine “were the great masters [.]”

Adams warns his American and French contemporaries that “amid all their exultations,” these utopians would be well served to recognize that “the perfectibility of man is only human and terrestrial perfectibility.” Their best efforts will never change the fact that “cold will still freeze and fire will never cease to burn; disease and vice will continue to disorder, and death to terrify mankind.”  Human beings are motivated by “self-preservation” and “emulation.” Adams adds that only “the balance of a well-ordered government will…be able to prevent” the latter “from degenerating into dangerous ambition, irregular rivalries, destructive factions, wasting seditions, and bloody wars.”

However, even if the human perfectibility of the egalitarian dreamers was possible, it wouldn’t be desirable.  “Grief drives men into habits of serious reflection, sharpens the understanding, and softens the heart; it compels them to rouse their reason, to assert its empire over their passions, propensities, and prejudices, to elevate them to a superiority over all human events [.]”  Adams concludes that “in short,” grief makes human beings into “stoics and Christians.”

Particularly in our day, when it has become second nature for Americans, including self-described “conservatives,” to turn to their government to satisfy their material needs and desires, Adams’ individuality is a tough pill to swallow.  But it is true.  Just as importantly, he knew that grief, in conjunction with “the balance of a well-ordered government”—a government comprised of “a balance of power,” as Adam described it—is necessary for the preservation of liberty.

“The numbers of men in all ages have preferred ease, slumber, and good cheer to liberty, when they have been in competition.  We must not then depend alone upon the love of liberty in the soul of man for its preservation.”  The love for liberty is no “more rational, generous, or social, in one” man than in another “until in man it is enlightened by experience, reflection, education, and civil and political institutions [.]”

Liberty is not an abstraction, Adams knew, but a culturally-specific good dependent upon institutional arrangements and moral tradition.

This Independence Day, let us recall the largely lost wisdom of the man who probably is the most conservative of the Founding Fathers.

 

 

Nearly 30 years ago, when she was but an obscure employee at a bank, Paula Deen was robbed at gunpoint by a black man who she had previously tried to help procure a loan.  While relaying her harrowing tale to her husband, Deen used “the N-word” in connection with her assailant.

Because of this, the celebrity chef has been crucified by the agents of the Racism-Industrial-Complex (RIC), the “anti-racists” whose every waking moment, supposedly, is devoted to eradicating “racism” from the land.

Of course, the usual suspects who have been tireless in their hand wringing over Deen aren’t in the least bit concerned with “racism.”  In fact, they aren’t even concerned much with Deen.  Rather, the latter—a white, Southern, Christian, heterosexual, and remarkably successful “capitalist”—is a proxy for the very America that leftists have been determined to “fundamentally transform,” as Barack Obama has said, for close to a century.

The “anti-racists” want to humiliate Deen not for who she is, but for what she represents: an America that they’ve longed to relegate to the dustbin of history.

To see that “racism” has nothing to do with this, one need only consider the brouhaha over Deen in light of the deafening silence with which these very same “anti-racists” greet the shocking degree and nature of black-on-white violence.

An especially grisly tale from Knoxville, Tennessee supplies one particularly instructive illustration of this phenomenon.

University of Tennessee student Channon Christian and her boyfriend, Christopher Newsom, couldn’t have envisioned the horror that would define their last night alive when they set out together on January 7, 2007.  That night, the young white couple would be carjacked, abducted, repeatedly raped, beaten, tortured, and eventually murdered by four blacks from East Knoxville:  George “Detroit” Thomas, Lemaricus “Slim” Davidson, Letalvis “Rome” Cobbins, and Vanessa Coleman.

Quoting Assistant U.S. Attorney David Jennings, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Christian and Newsom were forced to “endure one of the most horrendous, hellacious days anyone could ever endure [.]”

Knox County Acting Medical Examiner Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan “told jurors that Newsom was repeatedly raped and then blindfolded, gagged, arms and feet bound and his head covered.  Barefoot, he was either led or dragged outside the house to a set of nearby railroad tracks, where a gun was placed to the back of his head and fired.  He was shot twice more, once in the neck and once in the back.  His body was then set on fire [.]”

As for Christian, she “suffered horrific injuries to her vagina, anus and mouth” as a result of being both raped and “savaged with ‘an object’ [.]”  She was also “beaten in the head” and had a chemical agent forced down her throat and scrubbed all over her body, “including her bleeding and battered genital area”—and “all while she was alive [.]”

Yet Christian’s ordeal wasn’t over.

Later, she was “‘hog tied’ with curtains and strips of bedding, her face covered tightly with a small white trash bag and her body stashed inside five large trash bags before being placed inside a large trash can and covered with sheets [.]”

The medical examiner concluded that “Christian died slowly, suffocating [.]”

This past May, George Thomas was found guilty—again.  And yet to judge from the national press, none of this had ever happened.

Good chances are, very few readers are familiar with this story.  But this is the point: had the races of the perpetrators and victims in Knoxville been reversed, there isn’t a person in America—and probably beyond—who wouldn’t know about it.  It would inspire books, television shows, films, and college seminars.  It’s all that the “anti-racists” would talk about.

In the real world, however, they only have Paula Deen to fuss over.

To reiterate, the “anti-racists” are most definitely not concerned with combating “racism.”

Among the huge issues with which our nation has to grapple, that of immigration is as huge as any of them.  Yet this has become an increasingly difficult task as fiction has eclipsed fact. So as to make some headway on this score, I seek here to sort out the myths from the truths.

Fiction #1: Immigration is a normative concept.  The assumption seems to be that all things being equal, immigration is a moral good, something that we ought to promote and that only a reprobate could reject.  It is this assumption that accounts for why “conservative” critics of amnesty invariably insist that they are all in favor of legal immigration.  And it is this assumption that underlies the oft-repeated slogan that America is “a nation of immigrants.”

Fact: Of course, the truth of the matter is that immigration is as morally-neutral a concept as are the concepts of bleeding and moving.  Bleeding and moving, taken by themselves, are neither morally good nor morally bad.  The same is the case with immigration.  It is circumstances, context, that invest these activities with moral worth.

Fiction #2: America is “a nation of immigrants.”

Fact: Those who created America were not “immigrants”; they were settlers.  There is as much of a difference between a settler of a land and those who emigrate to it as there is a difference between one who founds a company and those who invest in it once the founder takes his company public.

Just as, say, there was no Microsoft to invest in until after Bill Gates founded it, there was no America for anyone to emigrate to until after the English colonists settled it.

Fact: But let’s suppose that it is correct that America is a so-called nation of immigrants.  So what?  That America has always been a certain way in the past does not mean that it should continue upon that course in the future.  Unsurprisingly, in other contexts everyone seems to grasp this principle.

For example, no amnesty enthusiast would endorse the argument that we ought to insure that white Christians remain the dominant demographic group in America because America has always been “a nation of (mostly) white Christians.” And no one would contend that because America was originally a nation of lots of white slaveholders that we should see to it that it become so once again.

Fiction #3: Since most of us wouldn’t be in America if not for the fact that our ancestors came here, it is incumbent upon us to support immigration now.  This reasoning takes the form: “I am the product of immigration.  Therefore, I support immigration.”  People like talk radio and Fox News host Sean Hannity never tire of making this argument.

Fact: To see what a terrible argument it is, consider it in light of another: “I am the product of a one night sexual encounter between two intoxicated strangers.  Therefore, I support one night stands between drunken strangers.”  Even more illustrative of the silliness of this reasoning is this piece of illogic: “I am the product of rape. Hence, I support rape.”

In reality, most of us are the offspring of, not immigrants, but Americans.  Hannity’s grandparents were immigrants, as were my great grandparents.  But his parents, like mine, were born and bred in America.

Fiction #4: Since the vast majority of contemporary immigrants are Hispanic, opposition to contemporary immigration policy stems from “racism” toward Hispanics.

Fact: This isn’t true, but even if it was, we are once again left asking: And…?  The citizenry of a sovereign nation has the right to select for itself that immigration policy that it believes best serves the interests of its country.   This policy in turn may be a policy of no immigration, or it may be a policy of massive immigration.  It may permit only immigrants from Sweden, or only those from Africa.  Americans don’t owe anyone who isn’t already a citizen the rights and duties of American citizenship.

Fact: Current levels of immigration would be just as undesirable as they presently are even if all of our immigrants hailed from Sweden: there are simply too many people that have come to America legally and illegally.  However, in truth, most of our immigrants are low skilled workers who hail from largely dysfunctional third world countries.

The out-of-wedlock birthrate among Hispanics exceeds that of American whites and blacks.  High school drop-out and gang membership rates are also higher among Hispanics than among whites and blacks.

This judgment isn’t rooted in “racism.” It is rooted in reality.

If we are going to have a productive immigration policy, we need first to speak honestly about immigration.

“War is hell.”

Daniel Somers and his family didn’t need Sherman to tell them this.

Somers was a distinguished Iraq War veteran who killed himself on June 10.  The hundreds of combat missions and other action of which he partook left Somers with a legacy of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, brain injuries, and an assortment of war-induced injuries that rendered every moment of daily existence intolerable.

Shortly before taking his life, he wrote a letter bidding farewell to his loved ones.  The latter has since given Gawker permission to publish it.

Upon informing his family that it was his love for them that managed to keep him alive this long, Somers goes on to describe his body as “a cage, a source of pain and constant problems,” and his mind as “a wasteland, filled with visions of incredible horror, unceasing depression, and crippling anxiety [.]”  Somers writes that he is incapable of laughing and crying, incapable of deriving pleasure from any activity, save sleep.  Thus, “to sleep forever seems to be the most merciful thing.”

He assures his loved ones that it is not they who brought him to this point, but the government that forced him “to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe.”  During his first deployment in Iraq, Somers states, he and his comrades-in-arms were made to perpetrate “war crimes, crimes against humanity.”

Though he insists that he made his “best effort to stop these events,” he is equally insistent that they were too horrible in nature from which to bounce back.  Only “a sociopath” could achieve this feat, Somers asserts.

Yet for as unspeakable as these “crimes against humanity” were, it was covering them up that further fueled Somers’ despondency.  “To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing coverup [sic] is more than any government has the right to demand.”

While taking shots at Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney, Somers accuses his government of abandoning, not just himself, but just those veterans who it consigned to the hell of war, including and especially the approximately two dozen veterans who commit suicide each and every day.

Somers’ plight, like that of far too many veterans of the post-9/11 era, is, at best, tragic.  At worst, it is scandalous, an outrage.  In any event, though, its significance lies in the light that it sheds on our politics, particularly the politics of the Republican Party.

War is the one circumstance under which the government conducting it becomes an activist government, i.e. a Big Government. It is the one time, more so than any other, when it is expected that the government will enlist the daily activities of civil society in the service of fulfilling its purposes.  That war is the emblem of Big Government explains why those who wish to see America’s federal government assume this activist role on the domestic scene not infrequently invoke the imagery of war (“The War on Drugs” and “The War on Poverty” are just two examples that come to mind).

But as real conservatives have always known, individual liberty and Big Government are mutually incompatible.  Real conservatives have also known that it is not uncommon for the best laid plans of men—particularly when they are men holding political office—to go awry.  And under no conditions is this more likely to occur than the unconditioned chaos of war.

In spite of this, most of today’s Republicans who insist upon calling themselves “conservatives” maintain that we are at war with an enemy that, because it has none of the distinctness of those governments that we’ve gone to war with in the past, promises to be intractable. Our war is a war without end.

However, a war without end requires a big military without end.

And a big military without end is Big Government without end.

To put it directly, the Republican Party is either self-delusional or deceptive, for its rhetoric of “limited government” and “individual liberty” is radically at odds with its enthusiasm for growing the military ad infinitum.   A smaller, decentralized, truly federal government most definitely is compatible with liberty.  In fact, the latter can’t exist without the former.  Calls for Big Government, though, are nothing less than calls for a drastic diminution of liberty and, as in the case of Somers, ever greater individual suffering.

These Republican “conservatives” should bear in mind what no true conservative would ever need to be told: as long as they get their wish, the Daniel Somers of the world will only multiply.