In the comment-thread to our previous post, our resident left-wing gadfly and Obama-administration cheerleader — resplendent as always in saddle shoes, pleated skirt, class sweater and pom-poms — tried to make the case that the resurgent forces of genuine conservatism on the Right had sinned against America by exerting their influence in opposition to current Democratic policies. Conservative members of Congress, he insisted, have a Constitutional obligation to go with the flow. When national policy becomes a runaway train to Perdition, their duty is not to try to halt, reverse, or, if all else fails, derail it, but rather just to tap the brakes lightly every few miles.
That would be reasonable enough, if the state of the nation’s affairs were like a pendulum, swinging one way and then the other, but always returning to an unchanging mean. Instead we see, everywhere we look, movement in one direction only — in, for example, the size and scope of the managerial state, the intrusion of the Federal government into every aspect of our lives, the rising proportion of our laws created by unelected and unaccountable Federal bureaucrats, the displacement of the traditional American population by mass Third-World immigration, the growth of our national debt, the expansion of unfunded liabilities and entitlements, the enfeeblement of Congress relative to both the Court and to an increasingly arrogant Executive, the erosion of social cohesion and public trust, the decay of our inner cities, the dysfunction of the swelling underclass, the dwindling labor-participation rate, the continuous outsourcing of jobs and manufacturing, the slow death of the traditional family, the normalization of sexual decadence and ubiquitous pornography, the displacement of thrift, discipline, and self-reliance by hedonism and dependency, and the coarsening and enstupidation of the American popular culture.
In response to all of this, a conservative bloc in Congress, representing the gathering rage of scores of millions of traditionally minded Americans, has begun to resist — which has caused congestion at the Capitol, and a lot of hand-wringing elsewhere. They are mocked and scorned as “extremists” (despite the fact that the views they represent were, for the most part, ordinary mainstream ideas not long ago), and they are accused of breaching decorum, throwing “sand in the machinery of government”, and generally not behaving like “adults”. Our commenter even suggested, as noted above, that compromise is a Constitutional “responsibility”.
In software development we have a saying: “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature.” The Framers saw that for the nation they were creating to survive at all, there would need to be, at minimum, sufficient commonality among its people for there to be the possibility of consensus. They knew that factional struggles would ensue from time to time, but rather than letting one side, then another, seize the helm, and so drag the nation wildly from course to course, they designed the system so that its default state, when consensus became impossible, was to halt: to maintain the status quo ante until a minimum of comity and agreement could be restored.
This, however, depends in turn upon some vital preconditions, the most important of which is that the nation itself must be, generally speaking, one nation — that is to say, that there must be enough commonality in its people, their culture, their sense of moral virtue, their guiding principles, and their notion of the role and purpose of government itself for the Constitutional system to work at all. This was always kind of a crap-shoot, and the Founders knew it; before even a century had passed, the nation was riven by great factional convulsions, and nearly came apart. But even the America of the first Civil War was far smaller, and far more homogeneous — ethnically, culturally, linguistically, religiously, morally, and philosophically — than the sprawling, multicultural America of the early 21st century.
To borrow another term from software development, it is becoming clearer and clearer that the American constitutional system simply does not “scale well”. An operating system that worked nicely for a nation of a few millions of self-reliant European Christians occupying a sparsely populated parcel of fertile territory is now looking increasingly brittle and “buggy” at continental, polylingual, and pan-ethnic scale.
If we are able to think clearly and dispassionately about this, we should not expect to find a political solution to what is at bottom a mismatch between our operating system and the hardware we’re now trying to run it on. The nation has simply gotten too big, too heterogeneous, too fractured and fissile in every way, for this increasingly centralized Federal government — indeed, perhaps, for any centralized government — to manage. It is no longer a matter of which side wins this or that election; we must understand that the problem is at a deeper level.
What will happen, I think, is that after a period of further strain and deterioration — lasting, perhaps, another decade or two, but possibly much less than that — the nation will begin to disaggregate, to break apart. If, starting now, we were all to begin to think hard about how to ease this passage, and what sort of arrangement we might like to see on the other side of it, we might spare ourselves, and our children, a great deal of suffering.