A republic, if you can keep it

It is hardly possible to be a sentient being in the United States without observing that we are engaged an a great struggle for power. Politics always involves such wrangling, and of course our system of government was designed with that in mind, but in these last decades several trends, moving in one direction only, have brought us into a state of smoldering civil war.

First, the size, scope, and influence of the Federal government have increased steadily as power has flowed from the States to Washington. (There is perhaps no better chronicle and analysis of how this has happened, and why, than Robert Higgs’s Crisis and Leviathan, which I recommend to you all.)

Second, political and cultural commonality between the nation’s two great factions has almost entirely vanished, and with it all hope of comity and compromise. The political fissure has deepened to the point that it has become a moral conflict — and if I’m right about present-day liberalism being in fact a secular cryptoreligion, then it is a religious conflict as well, no different in essence from all the other wars of religion that have darkened the pages of history. Moral and religious conflicts are stubbornly resistant to conciliation or compromise, just as we see in America today. Who should be willing to compromise with evil?

Third, the arrival of the Internet, and the resulting decline of mainstream media’s monopoly on the dissemination of ideas and opinions, has done two things: it has brought everyone and everything into immediate contact with everything else, and has dissolved the distinctions between news, opinion, and propaganda. (I remarked at length on some of these effects several years ago, here.) Everything now collides with everything else with zero latency: unfiltered, unvetted, unmediated, and unreflected-upon. This new environment, in combination with universally enfranchised democracy, is the perfect Petri dish for cultivating hasty opinions, emotional responses, mass hysteria, and angry mobs — and those who pull the wires can be counted on to keep their own interests foremost.

Fourth, enormous waves of immigration from alien and incompatible cultures (together with a prevailing ideology in media and the academy that combines identitarian multiculturalism with grievance-mongering against the traditional American nation) has broken down what has always made immigration work in the past — an eagerness to assimilate, to blend into the mainstream national culture. These dislocated immigrants are cultivated as beneficiaries of government largesse, and their votes are counted on to support the growth of the federal Leviathan that nurtures them. Cultural traditionalists in America perceive this as an assault on what they have inherited and hope to preserve. (That they should feel this way about it is, to those on the other side of the Great Fissure, evidence of complete moral dereliction, justifying political and social severities up to and including physical intimidation.)

Finally, technology has made available unprecedented tools for supervision, surveillance, and subversion. These make it possible for the powerful to extend their eyes, ears, and arms in ways that even the most authoritarian tyrants of old could never have dreamt of.

Look at our situation. The media sorts itself into warring camps, jeering and mocking each other and insisting that everything the other side says is a lie. Free speech, and free inquiry, is all but extinct on our campuses; those who question the dogma of our new religion are shouted down and driven off, sometimes violently. Congress is bitterly, implacably divided; legislation proposed by one side is denounced as evil by the other, and is passed only by slim, party-line votes and parliamentary rule-hacking. Elections are bitterly contested, and their results defied; agents of the State itself conspire to rig and overturn them.

The reason we fight so bitterly over Federal power is simple: there’s so much of it that its possession becomes a glittering, and in some ways an existentially necessary, prize.

But — imagine an alternate United States, in which power is distributed in a sort of pyramid, with its base in local governments, and most of the administrative affairs that affect our lives are conducted by our townships, cities, and states. At the apex of this pyramid of power would be a small capstone, located in Washington, concerning itself only with those remote and universal things that involved the union and coordination of the States.

Can you imagine such a thing? The Framers did. They foresaw with a terrible apprehension exactly what befalls us now, and tried to the fullest extent of their genius to bequeath to us a system that would forestall it for as long as possible. But they knew even then that it was beyond hope without comity, commonality, and civic virtue, all of which are now scattered in the whirlwind.


  1. JK says

    The opening words Malcolm in your paragraphs 6 & 8 even if the New York Times cannot recognize its’ own prophecy are key.


    In former Ages islands could exact tribute but, it seems to me, no longer.

    “Siege Warfare” in reverse it looks to me.

    Posted February 5, 2018 at 8:15 pm | Permalink
  2. JK says


    Posted February 5, 2018 at 9:27 pm | Permalink
  3. Jimmy says

    I agree that we are in a religious inquisition. The religion is poz, the transcendent belief is in human egalitarianism. The original sin is whites betraying this transcendent ideal. College is a monastery. Abortion, divorce and sexual pervsion are holy sacraments. The redemption is through multiculturalism, acknowledgement of white privilege and open borders. The originating myth is WWII. Hitler is Satan and MLK is the holy prophet.

    The scary question is what is fighting this religion? You don’t win a religious war with dispassionate analysis. You win it with a better (ie. fitter for religious conquest) religion.

    Even if the alternate was Christianity, it is in name only. Just ask Joel Osteen.

    It’s not a war if only one side is on the battlefield.

    Thoughts like these make me wonder if the present backlash to the forced conversion of the populace is but a blip on an otherwise one way trajectory.

    Posted February 6, 2018 at 6:42 am | Permalink
  4. Magus says

    Obligatory libertarian quote: if the Constitution/US political framework set up by founders was unable to prevent the current state of affairs it was either complicit in it or failed to stop it.

    Either way, it was faulty.

    Posted February 6, 2018 at 7:35 am | Permalink
  5. Jason says

    It’s an interesting City Journal essay, JK. I’ll have to bring it up to my stepfather, a thoughtful liberal, who hails from western Oregon.

    Posted February 6, 2018 at 7:52 am | Permalink
  6. Jason says

    I enjoy your book recommendations Malcolm. That work by Higgs sounds interesting. I feel I should also get to that book about progressive Christianity during the same era, which I’ve read a positive review of by John Lukacs. Only so many hours in the day for reading, alas.

    Posted February 6, 2018 at 8:10 am | Permalink
  7. Susan says

    Will the URL stay the same?

    Posted February 6, 2018 at 9:49 am | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says


    Yes, the change is already made.

    Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:08 am | Permalink
  9. is the title a reference to Nick Land?

    Posted February 6, 2018 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  10. Malcolm says


    Nick Land? No. (Why, if I may ask, did you think so? Am I missing something?)

    It’s a quote from Benjamin Franklin, on being asked, at the end of the Constitutional Convention, what the Framers had created.

    Posted February 6, 2018 at 2:17 pm | Permalink
  11. I wasn’t aware of the Franklin quote (which is kind of stupid from my part), but I was referring to this text by Land:


    Posted February 8, 2018 at 8:02 am | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says


    Thank you for linking to that excellent piece by Nick Land. I hadn’t read it before (though I was familiar with the Gödel story), and it is very sharp.

    Posted February 8, 2018 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

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