Many Americans say they are fed up with their government, that “the time is right for a palace revolution.” President Obama’s approval rating has sunk below 40 percent, and the voters are angry not so much with the administration as with all incumbents. But why would anyone pay attention to opinion polls? All polls are to some extent push-polls—that is, they are designed as much to create as to report public opinion. Opinion polls are the end result of the inevitable slide of democracy into demagoguery and tyranny. No one is easier to enslave than the proverbial average guy, if he can be persuaded to think that he has a right to his own opinion. In fact, the average American is incapable of forming his own opinion.
The manipulation, or rather invention, of public opinion is not an exclusively leftist phenomenon. Conservatives have their own talking points and plenty of pretty young talking heads to recite the daily agitprop. Much of what I hear on the radio is a kind of patriotic mythology packaged as American history. If the left demonizes the American past as an age of bigotry and repression, conservative pundits portray it as a golden age of individual liberty. In other words, they take the leftist language of liberation and read it backward, hawking the Constitution as if it were “Hope in a Bottle.” For the radio hustlers, all the Founding Fathers were fine Christians and great men, including the atheist Tom Paine, the Freemason whoremaster Ben Franklin, and the deists Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
Most conservative strategies are mere exercises in nostalgia. If only we could go back to the principles of Ronald Reagan, to the halcyon days of the Greatest Generation, to the glory days of the American founding! Like utopian leftists, they think “we’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden,” before the snake entered into the American Paradise and corrupted it.
For conservatives, perhaps the most popular form of the nostalgia strategy is the cry of the Tea Party demonstrators to defend the Constitution. Waving their tea bags—loose tea is far too messy—they appeal to the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights as if they were Holy Writ. The fundamental flaw is their ignorance even of what a constitution is. A constitution is not a document; it is the fundamental set of legal and political arrangements by which a society is governed. Most constitutions in history were not actually written down in one document, and when they are written down the ink is scarcely dry before powerful men begin amending or reinterpreting them. The very first piece of business in our first Congress was Madison’s proposal of a Bill of Rights, and it was only 14 years later that John Marshall staged his judicial coup d’état in Marbury v. Madison, usurping a power of judicial review that had never been granted by the Constitution. Today, our real Constitution has virtually nothing in common with the system we had in 1890, much less the Constitution of 1787, and nothing short of a victorious rebellion could restore us to the constitutional status quo of 1960.
But all this constitutional nostalgia makes us feel good without requiring any effort, much less any risk. The original Boston Tea Party was a bold move by men who for years had been plotting rebellion against the most powerful empire in the world. At Lexington and Concord, Yankee farmers would stand up to British regulars and fight for their independence. The original Boston Patriots knew what they were fighting for, and it was not a Super Bowl title. No matter how many millions they pay Sarah Palin to read a speech someone has written for her, Tea Partiers, with their symbolic gestures and rhetorical tirades, will accomplish exactly nothing, because they have no clear grasp of fundamental principles and no practical agenda. For those who can read, Rand Paul’s change of heart on the Civil Rights Act was the handwriting on the wall: “the Party’s over.”
Nearly all populist movements in America follow a certain trajectory. A large and identifiable class of people is harmed by the arrogant and corrupt government. Meetings are held, declarations are signed, the two parties are challenged or infiltrated. Once upon a time, populists almost won major elections or at least terrified the establishment—Bryan in 1896, La Follette and Wheeler in 1924, George Wallace in 1968. These were mass movements led by able and patriotic leaders, but they all fizzled, either because good times eliminated the issues that drew together the motley followings, or because the major parties succeeded in demonizing the opposition (Bryan’s fate), or because one or another party stole their thunder. Nixon’s Southern strategy was nothing less than a campaign to steal the Wallace vote.
No populist movement has ever managed to keep the match and the dynamite together long enough to cause a serious explosion, the match being a coherent set of principles and the dynamite being the outrage of the disenfranchised taxpaying citizens. You can always tell that a movement is not serious when it concentrates its efforts on declarations and symbolic gestures. The Continental Congress had already resolved on revolution when it set up a committee to draft a Declaration of Independence designed to appeal to English and European liberals. Today, our rebels start with a declaration and end with a fundraising appeal. Religious conservatives have passed a meaningless Manhattan Declaration, arthritic Reaganites have their Mount Vernon Statement, and the irrepressible Newt Gingrich is ready to take out another contract. But all these charters and contracts, declarations and tea parties are at best a distraction.
We are in a struggle for the soul of our country, and we cannot win if we do not fight, and we cannot fight successfully if we do not know what we are fighting for or who the enemy is, and we cannot know who the enemy is or what we should fight for unless we know who we are. If there is an American nation, it is not a mere set of geographical boundaries or a paper constitution that is turned on its head by the president and the federal courts. America is a people with shared experiences that stretch back to our British and European ancestors, to the philosophers and poets of ancient Greece and to the soldiers and lawmakers of Rome and to the prophets of ancient Israel. It is only by recovering our heritage that we can know fully who we are and transmit that self-knowledge to our friends and children. And knowing who we are, we can understand that our enemies are those who hate our religion, our traditions, our history, our morals, our culture.
Our future, the future of our children and their children and their children’s children, is not in the hands of unassimilated aliens like Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi is a third-generation Italian-American, but she is completely devoid of the virtues of her rugged Abruzzese ancestors and filled with hate for any of the virtues and traditions that made our country possible. No, our future is in our hands, and it takes a period of crisis such as the one we are experiencing to shake us out of our lethargy and shatter our stupid faith in the failed institutions that have betrayed us: the Republican Party, mainline churches, public education, the media elite, Hollywood, and the so-called conservative movement that in the past 50 years has accomplished exactly nothing—or less than nothing—and now serves as the echo chamber that gives legitimacy to every stupid leftist project launched by our enemies.
Of course it makes some difference which set of crooks we send to the state capital or to Washington, but no politician is going to make our lives better. That is up to us and to our friends and neighbors. Americans have always been a people who knew how to take care of themselves. They grew their own gardens and shot their own meat; they got together to raise barns and make quilts, to play music and organize dances. On the frontier they often had to make their own justice. If we once decide to ignore the latest schemes promoted by talk-radio shills like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, if we work within our homes and parishes and with private and religious schools, we cannot fix the country as a whole, but we can rear decent children, enjoy life, and preserve our little corners of American civilization.
This is already happening, all over the country, and groups like Chronicles and The Rockford Institute serve both to help these little communities to educate themselves and to bring them together into networks in which they can help each other. There is too much to do for us to waste any more time worrying about the Democrats or the liberals. We can morally secede from the Marxist mainstream. If we do not like what they teach in public schools, then by all means let us vote to defund them and either send our children to private schools or keep them at home. If you do not approve of the filth shown on TV and in the movies, why waste time on protests when you can either turn off all electronic media or learn to use them? Our television now only works as a movie screen on which we watch operas, plays, and old movies. Paradoxically, technological innovations, while a very mixed blessing, provide us with valuable tools we can use to secure some bit of independence from the anti-Christian media. We can now order the films and books we want, and we can even download classics we may not yet be able to afford to buy. There are dangers in all these media: Too many films, even if they are the best films ever made, distract us from things we can do ourselves, just as listening to too much recorded music can interfere with our progress in mastering an instrument. The internet, while it gives us access to books and information, is also dominated by lies, filth, and inconsequential chatter.
Italian communists have a saying: “Tanto peggio, tango meglio,” meaning the worse it gets, the better it is for the revolution. Acting on their slogan, they did evil in the expectation of good results. Partisans killed German soldiers knowing that the German response would create sympathy for the resistance. This was an entirely cynical and immoral strategy, but the truth is that it is during periods of crisis and dissolution that a significant number of men and women wake up from the slumbers into which they have been lulled by greed and cowardice. As I suggested a few months ago, a Dark Age is what you make of it. If this be treason, then let us make the most of it.