CATHEY: American exceptionalism and the heresy of America

"Everything Sucks" photo by Tim Pierce (licensed CC-BY-2.0)

WASHINGTON, April 30, 2014 — Increasingly, the differences between the two major political parties in the United States appear blurred.

Much of the real differentiation comes in degrees of practicality, with Republicans arguing that change should be gradual and slower, but not actually rejecting that many basic goals proposed by the Left. Despite their vaunted opposition to such things as Obamacare and their lower tax template, on questions like same sex marriage, the advances of feminism, and legalizing illegal immigrants, Republican opposition to such once-radical propositions has become so “nuanced” that one is at pains to distinguish between GOP positions and those advanced by their opponents. Even GOP pledges to oppose raising taxes and the debt ceiling have proven illusory. The Leftist “idea of Progress” seems to sweep all before it.

Since the 1964 presidential election, the older Republican Party of Barry Goldwater — the party of strict constitutionalism, wariness of foreign involvements, and staunch opposition to Federal involvement in everything from education to public accommodations — has been subsumed by a Republican establishment that has accepted the intellectual apparatus and outlook of political and cultural Neoconservatism.

Today, Republican Party leaders, like those over in the Democratic Party, endorse what they call “equality” and believe generally in imposing “liberal democracy” around the world. Recall leading Neoconservative writer Allan Bloom’s dictum that he famously penned a few years back, which serves as motto for most in the current Republican leadership: “And when we Americans speak seriously about politics, we mean that our principles of freedom and equality and the rights based on them are rational and everywhere applicable. World War II was really an educational experiment undertaken to force those who do not accept these principles to do so.” [emphasis added]

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A primary example of this currently is the emphasis by Neoconservative publicists and most Republicans on American “weakness” in foreign affairs, and in particular, in the face of “Russian aggression” in Ukraine. Thus, in foreign policy there is a major effort by Republicans and Neocons to sharpen the view that states we live in what is now a “unipolar” world where America is the only superpower, and where it is the sacred duty of the United States to condemn anti-democratic forces and corruption globally, and in particular, in a “backward” and “reactionary” Russia.

Neoconservative and GOP congressional leaders –“the chattering class,” to use Russell Kirk’s term — rise up on their hind legs prating with feigned hurt and superior morality about how undemocratic and corrupt Russia under Vladimir Putin is. But do we really want to compare the corporate, oligarchic control of the American political system, our own brand of political and business corruption and abject dishonesty, with post-Communist Russia? Does anyone believe today that our votes really count when tens of millions of illiterate and welfare “voters” are literally bought and paid for by the Obama regime (and increasingly by the national GOP and its leading candidates who make their pilgrimage to Sheldon Adelson to receive his blessing–and dollars)? Does anyone seriously think that the billionaire super-capitalists on Wall Street, whose loyalty is not to the traditional USA, but to global capitalism and the control of international finance, represent good old fashioned “free enterprise”?

I am even more incredulous when I hear Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and others talk on and on about the glories of American “exceptionalism.” Of course, all nations have special characteristics which distinguish them from other countries, be they ethnic, cultural, religious, or historic. The United States has a unique history and culture, inherited mostly from Europe, but so do Australia, or Thailand, or Russia.  The controversial guest editorial that Vladimir Putin wrote for The New York Times last year had it right: every nation has the right to be proud of its “exceptional” inheritance, but it should not become a weapon of hubris, of overweening pride, to demean other countries.

But for many of our talking heads “American exceptionalism” implies that America was founded based on an “idea,” and that idea is equality and its hybrid sister, liberal democracy. The problem is that such a retroactive theory of American history lacks a substantial historical base, except perhaps for some of the Puritan zealots in Massachusetts, and certainly they did not believe in or practice what we today call “equality.” Most colonists who came to these shores came with their families to create a better life and to establish freeholds. Ideology was the furthest thing in their thinking.

Let me offer some examples of what was widespread in the colonial period. On both sides of my family–a family that has been on the American side of the Atlantic, my mother’s side since the mid-17th century, and my father’s, since the early 1700s–the paramount desire was for a better life in the colonies. That better life included land for farming, bountiful crops and livestock, and small trades industry. It involved in many cases the entire transplanting of a traditional community from the old country to the new world, including extended families, church communities, and with all the customs and traditions that those ancestors held sacred and important and that they had inherited, in many cases, over a period of hundreds of years.

Thus, along with thousands of Scots, who had lived for a generation or two in Ulster, my father’s family came, first, to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and then down the Great Shenandoah Wagon Road to Piedmont North Carolina. They brought with them their families, their traditions, and their faith. They did not seek to found “a shining city on a Hill” or a “New Eden.” They were not possessed of egalitarian fervor or an ideological desire to establish “democracy” throughout the land.

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Rather, they searched for new, arable lands where they could raise their families, enjoy their inheritance, practice their faith, and live their lives in relative liberty. As the late Southern author and academic, Richard M. Weaver, observed, these American settlers practiced a form of “communitarian individualism.” That is, they believed in observing and implementing practical liberties, but within the framework of communities, many of which included neighbors and relations that had not basically changed since the time they lived in the British Isles. And despite the importance of “liberty,” these communities also exhibited a “public orthodoxy” (to use the late Frederick Wilhelmsen’s term), that is, a body of generally shared beliefs and standards that dictated rules for all the members of the community.

Reading the Founders, not just during the debates over the Constitution (cf. Elliott’s Debates), but in their other writings, this lived and expressed traditionalism, a mixture of individualism, localism, and communitarianism, is strikingly apparent. With very few exceptions, ideology and certainly appeals to egalitarianism and across-the-board democracy just aren’t there. The traditional family, itself, lent its support to hierarchy and not democracy.

The belief propounded by the Neconservatives that the United States was founded on an “idea” was abhorrent to John Dickinson, Madison, Jay, Washington, and those who created our Constitution. Thus, Abraham Lincoln’s reference to the Declaration of Independence as our “founding document” in his beautifully crafted but completely disingenuous “Gettysburg Address,” implicitly acknowledges that egalitarian doctrine cannot be founded in the Constitution. Rather, he situates the Founding in a propaganda document, aimed specifically at the English government, and agreed upon as a non-legislative war measure by thirteen independent colonies that were thirteen years away from becoming a nation! Lincoln even misunderstands (perhaps misrepresents on purpose) the colonial period meaning associated with the phrase “all men are created equal” (meaning, pace Jefferson, “all white men, with property and of a certain age and reputation”).

Rush, Hannity, and the Fox News “talking heads” (most particularly Dr. Krauthammer),plus other Neocon writers (e.g, Rich Lowry at the National Review, Bill Kristol at The Weekly Standard, Bill O’Reilly, and all the writers at The Wall Street Journal) now locate Lincoln in a philosophical line stretching forward to FDR, and such newly-christened “conservatives” as Harry Truman and John Kennedy, but most especially to Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi (cf. William Bennett). In the process, America’s “racist” heritage must be condemned and totally expunged….and that includes a wide swath and much of the history we learned and revered when we were young.

These new “heroes” have replaced older heroes and older intellectual lights in the pantheon of conservative thinking. My mentor, Russell Kirk, is recognized as the “founder” of American Conservatism, in the early 1950s. In his seminal volume, THE CONSERVATIVE MIND, he locates Edmund Burke, John Adams, James Madison, John Randolph, Alexis de Tocqueville and a series of (sadly) unknown political, cultural, and literary authors and leaders, as real conservatives—individuals who knew the real dangers of egalitarianism and who opposed its implementation—individuals who realized that across-the-board liberal democracy, “one man, one vote,” actually spelled the end of any real participation by citizens in the government of the commonwealth.

The infamous “conservative wars” of the 1970s-1990s ended with a mostly Neocon victory, and a takeover of older conservative journals, foundations, and think tanks by these new egalitarians (whose basic premises are shared by the Left). And, so now, we are informed that we must model and base our conservatism on such great “conservatives” as Martin Luther King and the Communist revolutionary, Nelson Mandela, who, we are told, are the modern-day inheritors of Abraham Lincoln and his chiliastic vision of a “new birth of freedom.”

Is it any wonder, then, that in the past twenty years our benighted American republic has been spiraling downward in decline? When the so-called “leaders” of the “conservative movement” and its satraps over in the establishment GOP share the same basic philosophical premises as the Left (about the absolute necessity for equality and global democracy), what does one expect? Are not the endorsement of gay rights and same sex marriage, implicitly or explicitly, by a Jonah Goldberg, Senator Rob Portman, and the Bush and Cheney women, not indicative of this inexorable and ongoing process, this “trahison des clercs”—treason of our intellectual class?

That most of our Republican candidates and office holders act like lemmings and mouth the slogans manufactured by the Neocon intelligentsia is not a reason for confidence or consolation. Until something occurs, perhaps a real economic collapse or a political revolution domestically, this situation probably isn’t going to change, and in the meantime, the irrepressible slide to the cultural and political Left, abetted increasingly by the pusillanimous GOP and the intellectually traitorous Neocons, will continue.

My last question, then, is this: will there be anything left of this nation when—or if—its citizens wake up? Or will it be simply too late? As a friend of mine who was forced to flee with his family from Rhodesia to South Africa when Mugabe’s Marxist African thugs seized his property, and then forced to flee again to the United States when South African thugs burned him out again–as this friend asked me recently: “where do you citizens who built this nation plan to flee when the growing mob of angry minorities and welfare dependents finally seize complete control, under the management of the Leftist elites who already own most of your media, news, education, and entertainment?”

I did not have an answer to his question.

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