Summary: The Republic is dying. The usual reasons given are wrong. The Founders made a mistake, which points to a solution for us. It won’t be easy or quick, but should give us hope.
“The sphere of rights was to be the arena of moral passion in a democracy.”
— From Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom. This was the great mistake at the Founding.
“But this universe consists of paired dualities.”
— From Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (1959).
I have come to believe that the Second Republic (based on the Constitution) probably cannot continue in its current form. Others with the same belief seek structural changes as fixes: new laws, new and complex forms of elections, and even changing the Constitution (e.g., amendments or another Convention). None of these will work because the problem is more fundamental.
The Founders made an error. They wrote the Declaration of Independence as war-time propaganda, but we took it too seriously. The subsequent 244 years have proven that it was a flawed basis for a political regime.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights …”
It was a masterstroke to offer lavish rights under the new regime, with few accompanying duties. This was the political equivalent of offering a job with high pay that requires little work. In his great Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom explains this success.
“Reciprocal recognition of rights needs little training, no philosophy, and abstracts from all differences of national character. Americans were, in effect, told that they could be whatever they wanted to be or happened to be as long as they recognized that the same applied to all other men and they were willing to support and defend the government that guaranteed that dispensation. It is possible to become an American in a day. …
“The notion that man possesses inalienable natural rights, that they belong to him as an individual prior, both in time and in sanctity, to any civil society, and that civil societies exist for and acquire their legitimacy from ensuring those rights, is an invention of modem philosophy. Rights, like the other terms discussed in this chapter, are new in modernity, not a part of the common-sense language of politics or of classical political philosophy. Hobbes initiated the notion of rights, and it was given its greatest respectability by Locke. …
“The spring that makes this social machinery tick is the recognition …that if he agrees to respect the life, liberty and property of others (for which he has no natural respect), they can be induced to reciprocate. This is the foundation of rights, a new kind of morality solidly grounded in self-interest. …It signifies the rules of the game, within which men play peacefully, the necessity of which they see and accept, and the infringement of which arouses moral indignation. It is our only principle of justice. From our knowledge of our rights flows our acceptance of the duties to the community that protects them. …
“Everyone in the world today speaks of rights, even the communists, the heirs of Marx, who ridiculed “bourgeois rights” as a sham and in whose thought there is no place for rights.”
Rights and duties
“But in modem political regimes, where rights precede duties, freedom definitely has primacy over community, family and even nature. …Rights are not the opposite of wrongs, but of duties.”
— From Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom.
The universe requires balance. Yin-Yang. The Law of Equivalent Exchange. Conservation of mass-energy. America has become a people focused on their rights with little awareness of their dutues. Robert Heinlein explains the problem in his 1959 book, Starship Troopers.
“The basis of all morality is duty, a concept with the same relation to group that self-interest has to individual. …The society they were in told them endlessly about their ‘rights.’ The results should have been predictable, since a human being has no natural rights of any nature. …
“Life? What ‘right’ to life has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What ‘right’ to life has a man who must die if he is to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of ‘right’? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man’s right is ‘unalienable’? And is it ‘right’?
“As to liberty, the heroes who signed that great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called ‘natural human rights’ that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.
“The third ‘right’ – the ‘pursuit of happiness’? It is indeed unalienable but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can ‘pursue happiness’ as long as my brain lives. But neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it. …
“Their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of ‘rights’… and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure.”
What comes next?
“Choice. The problem is choice.”
— Neo in The Matrix Reloaded.
What could make us change our political regime so fundamentally? Probably only obvious failure of our political regime. History provides many examples, such as civic unrest, miltiary defeat, or a deep economic depression. The slow decay of our regime makes all of them more likely. What matters in such events is how we respond. Do we blame others for our problems, try to patch the system, or seek to build a stronger new regime?
For More Information
If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about political violence, about civil disobedience, about reforming America: steps to new politics, and especially these …
- Fear the rise of political violence in America. We can still stop it.
- Civil war is coming to America – our latest doomster story!
- More ideas: Inspiration. The missing element that can reform America.
- Where we can find the inspiration to fix America?
- America abandons the ideals that made us great.
- Make a better future. Pick up the War Arrow.
- About the coming civil war (our third).
- Sources of inspiration to survive the coming bad times.
Books about the American Republic
American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony by Samuel P. Huntington (1981).
Shakespeare’s Politics by Allan Bloom. We an learn much from the Master.