The first question that comes to mind regarding the Minutemen movement is: “What do these people imagine they’re actually doing, sitting camped out down there on lawn chairs on the Southwest border?”

The second is: “What do they mean to accomplish by doing it?”

I imagine a representative Minuteman’s answer to the first question would be something like this: “Helping to repel the invasion of our country.”

And his answer to the second: “The preservation of the security, identity, integrity, and future of the USA as we know it.”

The first response is utterly straightforward, of course, but the second seems vague and ambivalent. What, for example, does a native-born American today understand by the phrase “our country”? The answer, naturally, is contingent on what he considers her “identity” to be. Both are determined by what region of America he inhabits, what city or town, his class and ethnic origins, family history, and so forth. Continental America, as my late friend the historian Francis Russell used to say, is really an empire by herself and has been for most of her history, including that time when America was herself part of another empire.

As we glean from news reports, the Minutemen have been drawn to the Southwest border (and, since last fall, the Northern one as well) from all over the United States. Socially and ethnically, they are much less diverse. Judging from photos and interviews, most of them are White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, retired, gray-haired, paunchy, more often male than female, but often men with their wives along for support and company; a substantial proportion of them are ex-law-enforcement and ex-military people.

Security and integrity are certainly unambiguous concepts for anyone facing hundreds of desperate savages trampling the mesquite and cholla desert every night on their illegal stampede into the United States. But country and identity are much more subjective, even for patriots drawn from a socially homogeneous population. How would they be likely to answer if asked to explain what they mean by these terms?

My guess is that it would be the rare Minuteman who had an answer at all. The few who did would probably not cite the preservation of a “shared community” or “national community” as a concern. For one thing, community, a buzzword in intellectual and academic circles, is a term foreign to ordinary people, except in the context of “community blood drive” or “community college.” For another, community, as a matter of fact, no longer exists in the United States today.

Community is shared character, and character is a coherent face wearing a coherent expression. About the closest a Minuteman could likely come to expressing such a thing is in racial and ethnic terms—which everyone, including Minutemen, has been browbeaten and threatened against doing, including by a hostile media waiting for an excuse to demand that the National Guard be hauled back from the Syria-Iraqi border to secure the U.S. border against the Minutemen. In any case, race, a notoriously inexact and mercurial concept, is hardly the defining consideration here—even though, broadly categorized, it is the fundamental one.

Rather, community is a function of size and of isolation, both cultural and spatial, related to the wider world by connections—or the lack of them—that emphasize and assure its discreteness and independence. Communities can be either larger or smaller, by comparison with other communities from which they wish to remain discrete. For instance, a small town might decide to preserve its identity through separation from an encroaching suburb; or a borough, such as Staten Island, might wish to secede from New York City. Similarly, a superpower, such as the United States, may decide to resist fusionist tendencies with a lesser nation, such as Mexico—just as Mexico, historically, has resisted cultural and political imperialism on the part of the United States. The problem is that, in an age of mass communication, mass culture, political centralization, and globalization, the spatial and cultural isolation that makes community possible is itself nearly impossible. One way or another, it is unlikely that the average Minuteman has any true idea of community, for the simple reason that he has never been given the chance to experience it. For him, community would denote ethnicity, first of all, and, secondly, what he might call “our American system of government,” or what intellectuals call nationalism. There is nothing amiss, to my way of thinking, in resistance by European-Americans to being overrun by tides of Indio invaders from the south, nor in preferring to retain the American political tradition in preference to its cruelly savage, violent, and corrupt Mexican counterpart. All the same, we need to bear in mind that George Bush’s and Dick Cheney’s (or even, for that matter, Teddy Roosevelt’s) nationalism is profoundly anti-community—and, therefore, anti-civilization and antihuman.

If community no longer exists in America, it is because it cannot exist; the conditions necessary to its existence have been destroyed. Jeffrey Hart, writing in the New Criterion, claims that only one country, the United States, has ever produced a conservative movement. Be that as it may, it is certain that Bill Buckley and his editors, from the start, intended National Review to serve as both the creator and the center of a new conservative community in America. We have all seen how that hope turned out. And not, primarily, because the evil neoconservatives stole conservatism away from Buckley and his gang, but because National Review chose to be the center of a political movement and not of a true community. A political movement, as such, can never be a community, as a political system can never be a civilization. Buckley, at the start of his career, understood that politics is not an end in itself but a means toward sustaining civilization, with all its intellectual and artistic achievements. Unfortunately, he lost sight of that maxim, and what can be said of Buckley goes in spades for the conservative movement as it developed from—or rather, away from—National Review.

It is unfair, of course, to single out conservatives solely for blame: American liberals are just as bad. During a trip to Rome last fall, I could not help reflecting on how, despite the Italians’ congenital inability to act politically, Italian civilization has always remained magisterially unaffected by political and social turmoil. In Italy, civilization, now as ever, absorbs politics. In contrast to Italy, we have America, where politics, almost from the beginning of the Republic, has swallowed civilization. In America, unlike in Italy, the Marxist slogan “Everything is political!” has been wholly realized. Not even an Italian communist really believes that! But, adopted first by the American left, and more recently by the American right, that slogan has become the governing maxim of the modern American consciousness.

I clearly recall, as a Form One student at the Trinity School in New York City, the intense indignation I felt on hearing the English teacher explain how Carol Kennicott, escaping from Gopher Prairie to Washington, D.C., discovers that Washing- ton and Gopher Prairie are really only one and the same place. Surely that was not what Sinclair Lewis meant to say! Forty-five years later, I am able to recognize—from the perspective of a reversed cultural sympathy—that Laramie, Wyoming, if not the same place as Washington, is part at least of the same civilization, so-called, as Washington. It took me many years to discover this appalling fact—perhaps because, in the quarter-century since I moved West, the culture of the rural West has come more and more to resemble that of the suburban East. Westerners, after all, watch the same TV shows, rent the same movies, read—or don’t read—many of the same books and magazines as Easterners do. The Western public and political class models itself, by and large, on the Eastern one, whose materialist-progressive philosophy it shares and to which it aspires. The Vice President of the United States, who is also one of the architects of the Iraq war, though born in Nebraska, grew up in Cheyenne. Twenty years ago, I ran into Dick Cheney on the steps of Luigi’s Supper Club in Diamondville, Wyoming, and had the honor of shaking the congressman’s flabby hand. I can assure you, the Virginian or George Scarborough, Mr. Cheney is not.

After 25 years in Wyoming, I cannot say I have found “community” here. I no longer take much interest in state and local government, where, it seems to me, the issues are just as false and trivial and overall progressive as they are at the federal level and where the ranching community is well satisfied by George W. Bush’s land and agricultural policies, which have taken the wind out of the Sagebrush Rebellion’s sails. I love the West essentially for the land itself, not for its people, who seem to me no better, though certainly no worse, than Americans living anywhere, and of whom the best I can say is that, by comparison with Missourians or Ohioans, there are a lot fewer of them. The mass man is spread all around America, in more or less equal proportions.

I am glad Tom Tancredo is fighting immigration in the House, tooth and nail, and I wish we had more like him in politics. He is fighting a fight that we must fight, if only for the sake of honorable resistance. But he—and the Minutemen—are not fighting for the most important thing: the real, the true, the lost America. If they were fighting for that thing, then it would mean we already had it, and the immigration wars would have been won, and the immigration question, settled—on our terms—a full generation or two ago.

I suppose you could say that Chronicles readers are a community, of a sort. If so, we are an awfully small one, bound together by an essentially mental connection. On the other hand, it may be that communities of mind—including, most importantly, those of faith—are the only community available to us, in a world in which, as Claude Polin wrote in Chronicles recently, the sole bond between citizens is the commercial nexus. And if they seem, to an extent, to be fausses communautés, they may also be the start of something bigger, more developed, more realized, more complex, that in time will be real communities and not false ones at all.

I have often thought that the most realized community in the United States is the secular-progressive public class, including all secular-progressive-utopians from Hillary Clinton to the public librarian in Alliance, Nebraska. These people do have community, or at least we can say theirs is a virtual community with a certain dimensionality to it. The same might be said of the conservative movement, were it not so tiny, relatively speaking, as well as being a career, as opposed to a social, community. Also, if it had any interest in the world beyond party politics—and politics inside the Beltway, at that!

One of the most depressing phenomena of modern times is the scorn and impatience conservatives have for the arts, for learning, for philosophic thought—apparently on the grounds that, in what Bob Tyrrell calls “the continuing crisis,” serious conservatives have no time to waste in the appreciation, let alone the creation, of literature, music, the fine arts, philosophy. They are too busy making the world safe for democratic capitalism! Of course, this is putting the cart before the horse. If civilization is to be sacrificed to conservative politics while the conservative movement fights its puny and mostly futile battles, then what civilization remains for the conservative movement to conserve?

I am wondering, at this point, whether I have succeeded in adding anything at all to Albert Jay Nock’s concept of “the remnant,” by which he meant the sum total of those individuals who, being “educable” in the sense of having the “ability to see things as they are,” are, for that reason, superfluous to a culture dedicated exclusively to production, commerce, and economism. But Nock seems not to have imagined these scattered individuals as a community in any sense of the word. Nor does he appear to have discerned among them that communion of which A.D. Sertillanges speaks in his beautiful book, The Intellectual Life, when he writes:

The unanimity which bears fruit consists not so much in being together in one place, or belonging to a group with a label, as in this: That each one should labour with the feeling that the others also are labouring, that each one in his place should concentrate on the work while others also are concentrating: so that one task be accomplished, that one principle of life and activity be its guiding spirit; and that the parts of the watch, to each of which a home worker devotes his exclusive attention, be put together by God.

Certainly, Nock had no notion of the remnant consisting of people actively and regularly in touch, observing and com- menting to one another on the catastrophic events engulfing their world, biding their time, and planning to make their move at the favorable moment.

No such thing, naturally, would or could have occurred to a man who refused to follow the newspapers for the reason that he had foreseen the present train of disasters decades ahead of the actual events, and had no reason, therefore, to waste his time in revisiting them as they unfolded under his nose. But the John Randolph Club, Chronicles readers, and other elements of our own remnant differ, in one way at least, from Nock and his. Even in Laramie, Wyoming, we do read the newspapers.