After Independence Day, look to America after the Republic

Summary: As the glow of the Independence Day fireworks fades along with the roar of our applause, let’s look to the future of the Republic – and what comes after it dies.

“Every nation has the government it deserves.”
— Dark words said by Joseph de Maistre (lawyer, diplomat, philosopher) in a letter dated 13 August 1811, published in Lettres et Opuscules.

Angry American Eagle - Dreamstime_126951891
He is angry with us. ID 126951891 © Scooperdigital | Dreamstime.

How we got here: the rise and fall of the Republic

The first American Republic was born on 1 March 1781 following ratification of the Articles of Confederation by the 13 States. The Second Republic came alive on 13 September 1788 with a resolution by Congress following ratification of the Constitution by the States. It assumed its mature form with two events in 1803. First, the Supreme Court’s decision in Marbury v. Madison re-created itself as a co-equal third branch of the government. Second, Jefferson – an advocate for limited government until he became president – re-defined the president’s power more broadly by making the Louisiana Purchase.

The Mark II version of the Second Republic was born in 1931 during the fires of the Great Depression and WWII, when the Regime was re-shaped like Play-Doh into a drastically new form. Since then the government has grown in power and reach.

A Kinsley Gaffe in 2002 by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia unintentionally described our situation when he said that “The Constitution that I interpret and apply is not living, but dead.” Others have also noticed its death, or urge that we euthanize its feeble remnant.

Unfortunately, this is all recognizing the obvious. In chapter 9 of Lewis H. Lapham’s insightful book Waiting for the Barbarians (1997), he discusses The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy by Daniel Lazare (1996). Here is the dark truth. (See a longer except; also see Lazare’s articles in The Nation).

“Lazare traces the fervor of our present constitutional devotions to the complacence that settled on the American mind following WWII …The winning of the war prompted Americans to think that their military and industrial supremacy was proof of their moral and political virtue. …

“The United States in the meantime fell behind every other country in the industrialized world in most of the categories that measure the well-being of a civilized society: the most brutal police force and the most crowded prisons, the harshest system of criminal justice, repressive drug laws, a lazy and sycophantic press. Over the span of the same 50 years our political campaigns have come to resemble nothing so much as games of trivial pursuit, charades reduced to works of performance art in which the candidates smear one another with insults instead of chocolate …

“Theocratic societies tend to have a weak grasp of reality, and toward the end of his book, remarking on the fulminations of the Country party presently holding the majority in Congress, Lazare says ‘All those Republican House freshmen in early 199 sporting copies of the Federalist Papers were not all that different from Iranian mullahs waving copies of the Koran.’

“A historian rather than a political scientist or a first-year congressman, Lazare doesn’t offer a set of instructions for redrafting the Constitution, but he carries his point about our idolatrous worship of the document, depriving us of the courage to imagine a future that doesn’t look like one of the Disney Company’s replicas of the nonexistent American past.

“The framers of the Constitution lived in a world innocent of electricity, jet aircraft, telephones, computers, nuclear weapons, and MTV; if their political mechanism had already become outworn by the middle of the nineteenth century (that is, incapable of resolving the question of slavery), then how can we expect it to address the questions likely to be presented by the twenty-first century?”

What went wrong?

“Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Dr. Franklin ‘What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?’ ‘A republic, if you can keep it’ replied the Doctor.”

— Entry of 18 September 1787 in the Papers of Dr. James McHenry on the Federal Convention of 1887. He signed the Constitution, served as our 3rd Secretary of War. Fort McHenry was named after him.

In a few decades, we’ve become accustomed to the routine outrages of SWAT teams, well documented by Randy Balko of Reason magazine – from assault to murder. Seizure of assets by the government without conviction of a crime {asset forfeiture}. Law enforcement tools intended for narrow use become clubs wielded to pound innocent citizens into plea bargains (e.g., conspiracy, wire fraudRICO). Illegal surveillance by our intelligence agencies. The President signing a Bill of Attainder. ordering the execution of an American citizen without warrant or trial by jury. These are just a few entries on a long list.

How can we so quickly lose liberties painfully acquired over many centuries? Dead trees fall more easily than live ones. We came to rely on the system erected by the Constitution – Congress, Courts, attorneys, laws – as if they had a life, of their own. As though we could live our lives in their shade, without sacrifice or effort (other than voting and jury duty) to keep the Republic’s engines running. We believed the Republic was A Machine That Would Go of Itself (as explained in Michael Kammen’s 1986 book). We could be consumers of the government instead of citizens. We could abdicate our responsibility to rule. We did.

How the 1% see America

Our leaders have a different perspective on the new America they are building on the ruins of the old. It was best expressed by Calvera, the bandit leader in The Magnificent Seven (1960): “If God didn’t want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.”

Our plutocrats will probably govern well. Of course, they will make decisions in their best interest, not ours. In exchange, we’ll have the freedom to complain about the result, so long as we do so quietly. Our ever-growing internal security agencies will handle unruly dissenters.

The key: responsibility

America’s political institutions worked only so long as the Constitution lived in our hearts. When our love of self-government – and willingness to bear that heavy load – died,  these institutions glided until they began to crash, toppling like dominoes.

The responsibility for the Republic’s fall is ours. Where else could it rest? If we cannot assume responsibility for ourselves, how can we hope to govern ourselves? That this remains controversial shows our decay, our loss of will and strength. The burden of self-government became too great for the people of Rome to bear, as has it has for us (more about that here).

What comes next?

What follows the death of the Constitution? The miracle of revival is inherent in each of us. Every generation offers a fresh start. But just in case events develope not necessarily to our advantage, we should devise a plan B for what comes after the Second Republic.

The end of the Constitution will be like a singularity in astrophysics.  We cannot see beyond it, because we do not see or understand the choices that will determine our fate – let alone how we will choose. It also resembles a singularity in that what lies on the other side is unimportant until we survive the passage through it.

Political regimes are born, live, and die. The Constitution has brought incredible freedom and prosperity to America, but that does not make it eternal. As Queen Gertrude says to Hamlet (Act I, scene 2).

Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
Do not for ever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust:
Thou know’st ’tis common;
all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.

This was said more succinctly in The Matrix: “All that lives must die.” But the American will remain, and will either govern ourselves or be ruled by others.

Conclusions

There is no need to panic; there’s time to think and plan, but there’s no time to waste. How should you respond to this milestone in history?  My recommendation: anger and resolution.  When enough of us are angry, then we can consider next steps. We can learn from the failure of the Second Republic and build a Third Republic better than the Second.

This is a follow-up to my July 4th post:
On this Independence Day, See The Future of America.

For more information

This post changed everything: A new, dark picture of America’s future.

Ideas! See my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the constitution, about reforming America: steps to political change, and especially these…

  1. ImportantA 4th of July reminder that America is ours to keep – or to lose!
  2. What comes after the Constitution? Can we see the outline of a “Mark 3” version of the USA?
  3. The Coming of a New American Republic – by James V. DeLong.
  4. A third American regime will arise from the ashes of the present one.
  5. Origins of what may become the 3rd American Republic (a plutocracy).
  6. We’ve worked through all 5 stages of grief for the Republic. Now, on to The New America!
  7. Our institutions are hollow because we don’t love them.
  8. We have forgotten who we are. Let’s remember, and win.

Inspirational reading for Independence Days today and in the future

The Founders looked to the Roman Republic for ideas and inspiration. In this time of peril, we too can do so. See two books about the people who were the poles of the forces that could have saved the Republic, but instead destroyed it.

Caesar – a biography by Christian Meier.,

Rome’s Last Citizen by Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni – The life and legacy of Cato, the mortal enemy of Caesar.

"Caesar" by Christian Meier
Available at Amazon.
Rome's Last Citizen
Available at Amazon.

20 thoughts on “After Independence Day, look to America after the Republic

  1. “Internal contradictions (positivisms expressed with negatives)” and “bloated self-confidence (‘it’s easy’)”

      1. Larry,

        It’s a quote from author and critic Tim Riley out of Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_You_Need_Is_Love

        When I read your article the first thing that came to mind was the Beatles song and the thought “easier sung than done.”

        The political turmoil of today is similar to 1967 and the Vietnam war. At least to me, being 66 vs. 16. Nothing really changes except the date and less hair, I wore it long back then.

      2. Ron,

        “The political turmoil of today is similar to 1967 and the Vietnam war.”

        Today’s political turmoil is trivial compared to that of the 1965-1975 period. Then America’s inner cities burned each summer, and many were occupied by the National Guard. There were massive anti-draft riots (pretending to be anti-war protests), culminating in the deaths of 4 students at Kent State. There were frequent bombings done by Leftists for various reasons.

      3. Larry,

        Maybe political “climate” would have been a better word. IMO, this country is as divided now as much as it was back then. I’m well aware of the past turmoils you speak of.
        All you need is love.

      4. Ron,

        “this country is as divided now as much as it was back then.”

        Not remotely true. As seen by the most obvious and telling manner: back then people’s polarization was expressed in action – even violence. Now it’s expressed in op-eds and chatting. Perhaps we’re just at an early step, and widespread action just has not yet appeared. I’m skeptical and will await actual evidence.

        “All you need is love.”

        Color me a skeptic. I believe that’s quite daft, suitable for poetry and Hallmark greeting cards.

      5. Larry,

        “back then people’s polarization was expressed in action – even violence”

        Perhaps people are more “civilized” now and the police so well armed, they don’t need to call National Guard; however, you still have Antifa, and if you include more “detached” movements, also the Anarchists…

        Love?: “Color me a skeptic. I believe that’s quite daft…”

        Back some time, there were these workshops about “self-improvement.” With the mass exodus of Jesus, Yahweh, Buddha and such, psychologists recognize a need for — you guessed it: “Love!” One should practice it on flowers or other plants (as these don’t p!$$ on the carpets or scratch your furniture) — funny part was the claim that after some practice, one could feel a reciprocal reaction from the plants (providing they were not Triffids ;-)

      6. Jako,

        (1) “the police so well armed, they don’t need to call National Guard”

        Perhaps you are, as usual, just making stuff up about things you know little about. Read about the 1960s race riots. Their size and violence is beyond what any police force could handle, even today. Two mention a few –

        Riots began in Detroit on 23 July 1967. Thousands of Army troops and National Guardsmen were called to the city. At the end, 43 people were dead and millions of dollars in property destroyed.

        Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on 4 April 1968, and riots erupted across the nation. Fourteen thousand troops were deployed on the streets of Washington DC. Nine died in the Chicago riots on the first night of rioting, nine people, all black, were killed. Thousands of troops were deployed. When the fires died out, 162 buildings had been destroyed, 12 people killed and 3,000 arrested.

      7. I accidentally hit the send button —

        (2) “Perhaps people are more “civilized” now”

        Those were unusual events in our history, but not extraordinary – on the extreme end political activism in a nation of politically active people.

        Now we sit on our butts and whine, while powerful interests run the nation in their own interests. Your excuse is typical: we’re more “civilized.” In that sense, dogs and sheep are extremely civilized.

  2. I look at this a little differently. It starts with the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. In part it says “we hold these truths to be self evident”. I see this as immutable. Neglect, which is your core issue, does not invalidate it. If we never said it again it would always be self evident that all men are created equal etc.

    It is a weapon we can use when a certain cohort of the population fixes government just to better their own prospects etc. I see a welfare state arise as a direct result of the second paragraph. So the constitution is not failing, we are.

    1. John,

      It helps if you reply to quotes.

      “It starts with the second paragraph …”

      What is this “it” you refer to? You mention this “it” six times.

      “So the constitution is not failing, we are.”

      The Constitution is a piece of paper, just words, a “paper bullet of the mind”. It is not alive. It’s not even a machine. It cannot “fail.”

  3. Sadly, your ignorance of what the Constitution supports, inhibits, prevents and encourages leads you to believe it is not modern. Some truths are timeless and universal. Electricity is not a factor. The Koran and the Federalist Papers are worlds and centuries apart. The mere mention in the same sentence is repulsive.
    This country works and constantly adapts and improves. At times it regresses. But, the trajectory is positive.

    Douglas C Rapé

    1. Douglas,

      Your comment makes no obvious sense. Replying to quotes would help.

      “to believe it is not modern”

      What does “modern” mean in this sense? It was written in 1787, so it is not modern in the usual sense of “of the present time, contemporary.”

      “Some truths are timeless and universal.”

      The Constitution describes a set of political machinery, starting with its intent. For example, all States – large and small – will have the same representation in the Senate. It isn’t a statement of “truths”. You should re-read the excerpt from Lazare’s book, as you don’t appear to even understand what the Constitution is.

      “Electricity is not a factor. ”

      I suggest you re-read the passage. You don’t appear to understand what Lazare is saying.

      “The mere mention in the same sentence is repulsive.”

      Thank you for sharing your opinion, however bigoted. Again, you don’t appear to grasp what Lazare is saying. My guess (guess) is that you have thick ideological blinkers.

      “This country works and constantly adapts and improves.”

      There is a great deal of evidence, summarized in this post, that the current political structure of the US bears little resemblance to that intended by the Founders, does not work well, and is decaying fast. Waving you hands does not dismiss this evidence.

  4. Nit picking time, LK: “does not work well” should read: does not work well except for our rulers (the 1%) as articulated above.

    Good morning. I can just fell the editorial juices running late this morning. I may have fallen into the op-ed pit on my way to the computer. Got woken up at 04:00 by my twin granddaughters. Of course, YMMV.

  5. Violence on the street, not much yet, but it is coming, as Jordan Peterson says the feminisation/ repression of voice especially for men makes them easier to flip towards the strong man, left or right, and there are many who would like that role.

    Conservatives find it hard everywhere to say they are conservative, they only have the ballet box and too many Conservative candidates would sit better on the other side of the parliament in reality (ie are really left wingers).

    I teach part time, if I were to discuss my politics in leftie education, I would be ostracised full stop. Trump I think has done some plain speaking, some too plain, but far from all, the man makes a lot of sense on trade, that would see me have my hours cut or shifted into the worse classes. All my lesson plan reviewed for any small errors, then re-training and so on pushing me out of the job.

    Education would have us sing a song “like Trump bad, diversity good and Uncle Joe for President with in Labour in Australia for harmony”.I don’t want to sing that song and there comes a point, when resentment becomes action, but what action.

    1. Just a Guy,

      “Violence on the street, not much yet, but it is coming”

      Sad but true. As I have been saying for several years, we are experiencing slowly increasing cycles of political violence. But remember, The Right began the current cycle of political violence in America.

      “Conservatives find it hard everywhere to say they are conservative”

      That’s not remotely true. I led many Boy Scout treks in rural areas of the southwest; it wasn’t true there. Now I live in Iowa; it’s not true here. I just visited my sister-in-law in Mississippi; it’s not true there.

      Polls show that roughly 1/3 of America is liberal-left. One-third is conservative-right. One third is in the middle. Which is why the coming political conflict might be so fierce.

      1. I work in education, which is very left wing now, especially the University sector. When I first worked in University the Economics Departments were mainly to the right and free market, but over the last ten years Keynesianism has come to be dominate with a very left wing bias.
        I left University to take employment in a College as the contract was permanent, but even here where I work as a Maths teacher in the Trades, it is quite markedly left.
        This is of course the situation in Australia.

        The Trade people / students are more often conservatives, but not the teachers. I work in an area where the 1/3 left dominate and yes they are aggressively anti Trump. I suppose I feel like Jordan Peterson must have done in Academia, just I was casual and far less published, so found it very difficult to not be forced into going with the flow, but I was one of the few Tutors who gave the free market view as well as the Keynesian, which have not seen favourably by many.

  6. Excellent issues to consider and be mindful about as usual.

    Minor point with this statement, “The end of the Constitution will be like a singularity in astrophysics.”

    Also, “It also resembles a singularity in that what lies on the other side is unimportant until we survive the passage through it.”

    I suggest using a different analogy than a singularity, for, if I understand your point, those situations would be more analogous to event horizons.

    Nitpicking, yes, but just saying. Keep up the great work.

    1. Chad,

      Thanks for checking this usage! Your point is, of course, correct. The event horizon “covers” the singularity in a black hole, and can be created in other even more exotic phenomena. But that level of precision is beyond the knowledge of most readers here.

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