Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Republic

First, a quote from Mercy Warren, an Anti-Federalist historian who wrote a melancholy history of the American Revolution:

"[S]uch a people as the Americans cannot suddenly be reduced to a state of slavery; it is the work of time to obliterate old opinions, founded in reason, and fanned by enthusiasm, till they had become a part of the religious creed of a nation. Notwithstanding the apprehensions which have pervaded the minds of many, America will probably long retain a greater share of freedom than can perhaps be found in any other part of the civilized world. This may be more the result of her local situation, than from her superior policy or moderation. From the general equality of fortune which had formerly reigned among them it may be modestly asserted, that most of the inhabitants of America were too proud for monarchy, yet too poor for nobility, and it is to be feared, too selfish and avaricious for a virtuous republic."

It seems to me the question for the day should be: How do we go about preserving a political, economic, and social order that has disintegrated or is disintegrating right in front of us? It is comforting to think that this disintegration can be stemmed by imposing or trying to impose our will on other nations, nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Of course we know it is not our right to do so, but an even more pressing issue is whether we have the capacity to do that. Maybe the surge in Iraq "worked" but maybe not. That has not been determined yet. But an even more troubling question is: Even if we could succeed in imposing our will on other nations, would it remedy what ails us? To take the suggestion of Mercy Warren, if what ails us is that we are "too selfish and avaricious" then it can be said with confidence that even if we could successfully impose our will on other nations this would not remedy what ails us, this would not stop the disintegration of our republic.

Take seriously for a few moments that this analysis is correct, that the republic is disintegrating, politically, socially, and economically, and add to this that our elites know this is happening and have sought to stem this tide if only to preserve their own power and prestige. What have we done to try to stem this tide? We have pursued an activist, interventionist foreign policy which requires a huge defense budget and a militarization of society. Can this preserve the republic? We have incarcerated huge numbers of human beings, which is one way of dealing with an economy that cannot create enough jobs to keep enough people employed and living a decent life. We have built far more prisons than schools over the past few decades, which does not bode well for the republic or even for "the race to the top" that our president likes to talk about. Our economy has been described as one huge Ponzi scheme which means it is not an "economy" at all, to say nothing of its need to feed the selfishness and avariciousness Mercy Warren spoke of. It is not an economy that could function if people live or if government lives within their means. It is an economy that requires profligacy and waste.

Perhaps this is incorrect but perhaps not. But at least it is worth thinking about.

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