Do we have a “way of life” in the United States? What does it mean to have a “way of life”? If there is no common “way of life” in the United States, why do so many people, including conservatives, talk about defending our “way of life”? Has the constitution constituted a common “way of life”?
Let’s consider the last question first. Let’s start out by interrogating the notion that the constitution as such actually constitutes a common way of life.
First of all, there are many opponents of the constitution in this country and there always have been. Many of us, if not most of us, are now in agreement that the constitution has been marginalized. Lincoln proved that the constitution could be ignored by an aggressive administrative branch without consequence. In fact, the Lincoln administration taught all subsequent administrations that ignoring the constitution was a route to glory. Since then, there has been much less political danger for politicians and bureaucrats declaring the moral glory of flouting of the constitution. Representative John Glenn said that if congress paid attention to the constitution it would not, could not, pass many of its laws and programs. In effect, he supported the abandonment of the constitution, suggesting that the “law of the land” was an evil inhibition of reason and justice.
A true “way of life” is something very difficult to extirpate. But Glenn expressed just how superficial the constitution is as a supposed “way of life.” The unconstitutional usurpation of power by the elites has only increased since this demonstration of constitutional apathy by Glenn and his colleagues.
There is constant controversy over the practical meaning of the constitution. Whenever there is more political risk in overtly defying the constitution than in reinterpreting it (playing a whole different language game in order to achieve the same goal), the goal at hand is positioned as being compatible with a reasonable, progressive interpretation of the constitution. The goal is described as being consistent with the spirit of the constitution. This is quite literally a metaphysical claim and cannot be falsified. Neither, of course, can it be verified. In order to verify the claim, one would have to identify the spirit of the constitution with the content of universal reason and point to some correspondence between this content and the political act in question. But there is hardly any agreement about the content of “universal reason.”
History has proven that even explicit and publicly recognized defiance of the constitution can be declared compatible with it. When a historian claims that Lincoln had to defy the constitution in order to preserve it, he is making a very odd claim about the rule of law. He is claiming that some historical actors, based on universal moral reason, must act outside of the law in order to preserve the law as an otherwise imperfect, and inadequately equipped expression of universal reason and universal morality, which the wise man of power is now reforming. The claim is that because the law is just an inadequate, and necessarily evolving expression of universal reason, every rational and moral action we engage in outside of the law, outside of the whole body of the legal tradition, is actually compatible with it. It must be. The law is supposed to be universally rational and moral. So no matter what a president or bureaucrat does, if it is rational and moral, it is lawful. This is an appeal to natural law which is dangerous in the modern nation state, giving it unlimited license, and not so dangerous in what I call a “traditional country.” In a traditional country, via the tradition, reason is the creature of the tradition, not a destructive myth about traditional transcendence, about going beyond the law in order to preserve it.
If you consider the apology for Lincoln’s arbitrary assumption of power, the first American tyrant among many, you will see the damage done by historians who are not also competent philosophers. They fail to execute what philosophers call a “transcendental critique.” A transcendental critique asks what an event, or condition, or proposition presupposes by way of necessary and sufficient structure – the premises and/or conditions required to justify it or explain its occurrence. If we think it is true that Lincoln’s defiance of the constitution was really the preservation of the constitution, then what kind of Reality are we proposing? When we expose what some claim or condition or event presupposes, we often see very questionable premises and/or very odd and contingent preconditions which most people readily doubt or reject. We expose the sheer will to power in the event, in the implicit or explicit truth claim. The notion that it is a good thing when men of power ignore the law, ignore the constitution, and proceed with reform, presupposes, once again, that there is such a thing as universal reason encompassing universal morality, and that there is an elite group which is hyper-rational compared to the common man. This idea is the heart and soul of the modern nation state. The idea in summary is:
(P1) The modern nation state is an evolutionary instantiation of universal reason and justice, transcending all tradition, unifying the world, and necessarily guided by those who are more rational and therefore more just.
You may recognize (P1) as a fair summary of western liberalism which proposes the modern nation state as the stepping stone to world government. It is also a very fair summary of Platonism and much of western “conservatism” which could never figure out if it was elitist or not. It is also a fair summary of the Marxist program. Are you shocked by this common ground? It is all rationalism — a religious commitment to reason as if it is universal, like God. Every human movement which turns human reason into God is bound to fail as it induces tyranny and horrific disorder. We cannot make human reason into God without making men into gods.
The problem with post Enlightenment conservatism is that it is committed to universal reason, instead of simply basing itself on orthodox Christianity as God’s revealed truth. “Neopopulism,” as described by myself and Erick Kaardal, reforms contemporary conservatism by making it an explicit commitment to orthodox Christianity on the grounds that this commitment to the truth will make the right wing much more successful. We divorce conservativism from rationalism by starting our political movement with an explicit commitment to Christianity. We completely reject the notion that rational politics can be separated from religion, from a real tradition, a real way of life which is equipped to defend itself as such.
Now you may think that the founding fathers agreed with this. But then they failed to institutionalize this truth. Either the United States will decide that it really is a traditional Christian country (not a modern liberal nation state) or it will die.
In the liberal tradition, any competing tradition is an irrational limit on reason. This is because liberals, until lately, have assumed that their tradition is not just another competing tradition, but the absolute truth, transcending all tradition. Liberalism therefore must attempt to give scientific theories a moral implication. This is very hard to do. It is so difficult that liberalism leads to moral chaos.
The ultimate downfall of liberalism is the notion that even in the long run the wool can be pulled over the eyes of the common man. Lincoln, by the way, may have never denied this claim. The famous quote attributed to him about this, may be another American myth. If he did say that the common man could not be fooled in the long run, then it was just like his religious rhetoric – nothing but a political tactic.
When the transcendental critique of liberalism penetrates the common man’s mind we deconstruct the modern nation state. The common man does not accept what is presupposed by liberalism and, therefore, by the modern nation state. In fact he recognizes that it is nothing but a will to power given his more common understanding of Reality. In both Europe and America liberals are racing to consolidate the modern nation state (to fundamentally transform Europe and America) as the instantiation of the myth of universal reason before it all falls apart; before it is deconstructed by our postmodern rejection of the premises of the whole project; before the common man decides that it is all a crock.
The question, “How do we limit government?” in the modern, post Enlightenment age, is morally and logically identical with the question “How do we limit the western myth about reason?” Notice that no one, indoctrinated in the modern tradition in our government schools, is inclined to propose that there are any legitimate limits on reason whatsoever. Whatever is rational, is good. The experts must take control. Contemporary conservatives will not propose what it takes to dismantle rule by expert — namely the democratic overthrow of Reason.
Both Libertarians and Conservatives have not been able to hold off tyranny with their acquiescence to western mythology about reason, embracing rationalist (Platonic) premises themselves and attempting to wield this double edged sword. It is time for them to admit that only Christianity can provide survivable liberty; not the hopeless worship of reason and The Constitution. Christianity becomes the stable experiential basis of an entire society when we separate the modern nation state from all education, turning it into a traditional country. In other words, Christianity is the natural interpretation of human life, not liberalism. The irony here is that we must separate the state from all education in order to sustain a tradition. The government must not be allowed to coopt the tradition for its own purposes by owning religious education. A new constitution must make Christianity the recognized tradition of the country, without empowering the state to take over that tradition. Christianity is the democratic overthrow of rationalism. It is the natural dominance of the people over government as rationalist pretense. And it is an aggressive stand against totalitarian traditions like Islam. In a nutshell, western liberals must surrender to Christian culture, starting in Europe, or die at the hands of the eastern tyrants. They will not have to pay a cent to any official church. But they will have to live with the complete control of the people over their culture and their country.
There is no American “way of life.” There is an orthodox Christian remnant which is reasserting itself and there are liberal progressives. Then there are a few of this and that. Despite their small numbers it is the Muslims who promise to be the third significant rival tradition. The Liberals deny themselves any clear personal, moral identity by trying to live in between and above all traditions as the strangest traditional process ever invented by man. The modern western liberals who founded the United States aborted any American way of life, anything clear to assimilate to, by embracing John Locke, as well as Christianity. We are light years beyond and below the America described by Tocqueville.
This Enlightenment secularism is part of what led to the War of Northern Aggression. The north refused to tolerate southern states which operated as separate countries, grounded primarily in their non-Unitarian Christian tradition. This intolerance would have survived any unilateral southern abolition of slavery. Instead of objecting to the transformation of western territories into slave states the relatively liberal north would have objected to the south transforming territories into largely independent and non-liberal Christian countries, increasing its power to dominate the north economically and politically.
In Neopopulist thought, there is no need to tax people for an official state church, but there is a need for explicitly creating a country as the instantiation of a real tradition, which, therefore, has a clear understanding of not just its physical borders, but much more importantly, its traditional borders. Only the latter can clarify and enforce the former.
The constitution is too abstract and easily manipulated to constitute a way of life. Its liberal purpose was to protect competing ways of life.
In the meantime universal reason is not real enough to specify any way of life.
The Islamic threat, enhanced by increasing moral disorder, and even economic disorder, is proving that the modern western nation state, built on the myth of universal reason as the patron and protector of competing ways of life, cannot defend a particular way of life; it cannot preserve the modern nation state itself. The modern nation state has no clear traditional identity and since there is no such thing as universal reason it has no clear rational identity. It is shifting sand. Its weakness is an invitation to geopolitical predators. The European Union is the destruction of the European country. It is the irony of weakness through unity. As the European Union attempts to transform Europe into one large nation state, it strips its members of traditional identity and strength. This is why the people of Europe are in rebellion. Many Frenchmen now know that western myths about reason (its universality, its moral relevance), and the modern nation state built upon those myths, cannot save their way of life. It is the chief weapon of the destruction of their way of life. Marine LePen embodies the revolution.
Only the Christian revelation has made reason and authority something historically objective — in Christ, in His Church. Without the Church, without doctrine, there is no clear way of life and no defense against a real way of life, no matter how evil it is. Western liberalism was never equipped to deal with Islam. In the end, it cannot describe a rival way of life that is worth living and dying for. It has no moral force.
The US Constitution, if it constitutes a way of life in the first place, has been overwhelmed by western liberalism and its myths about reason. It has been defeated by a ninety pound weakling. The United States is a modern liberal nation state grounded in the idea that multi-culturalism is possible because everyone who is made able to do so by the state will also recognize the claims of reason. This has turned out to be nonsense. The United States will not survive as a modern nation state. Its survival, by degree, will demonstrate that it is turning away from the myth of the modern nation state and taking on the traditional identity of a country, with clear traditional and physical borders, and the wherewithal to fight for itself, knowing what it is fighting for. In the long run, this lesson will result in a constitution which explicitly recognizes Christianity as the tradition of the country, while realizing that part of this tradition is to keep the Church separated from the government as its chief competitor and disciplinarian.
Above all else, what the Church requires of the state is the recognition that all reason, all natural law, is an extension of the tradition. In this case, natural law is not the tool with which the traditional country is torn apart, but is part and parcel of its survival.