Friday, July 22, 2016

Independence Day 2016

Note: I posted this on my Facebook page on July 4, 2016. I neglected to post it here, but I would like to give this message a greater permanence than a passing comment on social media. Here was my message:

I AM TAKING THIS MOMENT to remember and honor what too many have forgotten: the idea that makes America unique in the history of the world. That idea -- embedded in our founding documents and defended with the blood of countless patriots -- is individualism. It is the moral principle that the individual is an end in himself, and not a sacrificial pawn of kings, dictators, legislative bodies, "majorities," or collective Society itself. And as a moral end -- not a mere means to the ends of others -- the individual has inviolate rights to his own life, and to the liberty to peacefully pursue his own happiness. Our Declaration of Independence celebrated not just an independence of colonies from another faraway country, but something far more profound: the independence of the individual from the forcible interference of others, no matter how great their number or "need."

That was the revolutionary idea underlying the American Revolution. Never before in the history of the world had that principle been recognized by any other nation or group -- which is why the history of the world is one of chronic, blood-soaked barbarism of man against man. The American conception of individual rights created the original "safe space": a moral barrier around each individual, a barrier against the force, fraud, and coercion of his fellow man. It declared him to be sovereign within that safe space, as long as he, in turn, did not use force, fraud, or coercion against others.

This idea -- even grasped and implemented imperfectly -- led to the creation of the greatest, most prosperous, most progressive (and I mean that word in its literal sense) society and economy in the history of the world. It created more opportunities for more people, higher living standards, and -- yes -- greater happiness than any society anywhere, at any time. America became a beacon of freedom and hope that beckoned to millions around the world, millions who uprooted themselves, crossed vast oceans, and came here with nothing in their pockets -- just for the chance to "make something of themselves."

America was the home of the self-made individual. It was a place where anyone could literally make and remake himself, becoming whatever he wished, without interference. All because of the principle upon which the nation was established: that the individual was a moral end in himself.

Barbaric tribalism is the default position of humanity. It is what happens quite automatically when the sovereignty of individuals is not respected and enshrined into law. Gang warfare is what happens when the social barrier to mutual exploitation -- the principle of individual rights -- is obliterated.

If we are now seeing a horrific, headlong reversion to barbarism -- abroad and here -- it's because generations of "intellectuals," chafing against legal limitations on their power over unruly individuals, have declared all-out war on the philosophy of individualism at the heart of the American project. They have looked at the achievements of individuals and proclaimed "You didn't build that!" and that "It takes a village," instead. They have glorified dictatorial philosophies and praised the thugs that imposed them on their societies. They have enabled, ignored, and rationalized inhuman savagery against millions of individuals. They have obliterated the idea that the individual is a moral end, in order to reduce him to a helpless means to their ends.

On this Independence Day, as we have fun with our friends, eat our hot dogs, and enjoy our fireworks, can we please pause to remember (if we were ever taught it) the true nature of the "independence" bequeathed to us by our ancestors? Can we grasp, if only for a single fleeting, quiet moment, the moral principle that made America distinctive, and then great? Can we soberly re-dedicate ourselves to that principle, and -- following the example of those who spilt blood for it -- vow to weave it anew into the fabric of our society and laws?

If you lack the self-esteem to do that for yourself, then do it for your spouse, or your kids. Or in memory of those heroes before us, who gave their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor so that their ungrateful children could enjoy lives better than their own.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

In the Wake of the 2016 GOP Convention

The Republican Convention is over and, as a force representing a viable philosophic alternative to the Democrats, so is the Republican Party. Hence the double-entendre meaning of "wake" in the title. Let me add this post-mortem to my previous posted commentary about the 2016 election.

What has evolved most for me during this past year is my understanding of supposed allies on the political right: which of them are truly individualists who grasp and are committed to the basic principles undergirding America, and which are simply cultural tribalists waging war against their perceived cultural enemies.

The common core I see in those social conservatives who don't just reluctantly tolerate Donald Trump, but wildly enthuse about him, is their undisguised, gleeful tribalism. For them, the values of individualism, and their expression in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are, at best, the empty fluff of Fourth of July speechifying and talk-show blather. Such principles are not their basic value-priority or core commitment.

The real question dividing the right today -- and all along, actually -- has been: Which is absolutely foundational for you: your commitment to your tribal-cultural affiliations, or your commitment to the basic principles of America as outlined in those founding  documents?

For a long time, I had been snookered by many who masqueraded as the latter kind of "constitutional conservatives." Right-wing radio talkers (with Mark Levin and a precious few others being admirable exceptions), the Fox News evening lineup, the Drudge and Breitbart websites, et al., have postured for years, even decades, as principled defenders of the Constitution and free markets. But the emergence of Donald Trump has exposed these long-closeted tribalists for what they really are.

They have thrown every one of their alleged principles overboard in order to support this crude national statist, among them: their sanctimonious claims to champion Christian virtues in one's personal life, to stand for property rights against eminent domain overreach, to support free trade and free markets, to oppose crony corporatism, to uphold constitutional limits on government power, to back without reservations the Second Amendment, to repeal (not "renegotiate") ObamaCare, to repeal (not "renegotiate") the Iran nuke giveaway, to stand up against Vladimir Putin in Eastern Europe, and on and on.

Only one election cycle ago, these same "conservatives" were railing mercilessly against those Republican candidates, including Mitt Romney, who failed to pass muster on even a handful of these "litmus test" issues. Such candidates were the hated RINOs, the spineless compromisers, the "sell-outs of our constitutional principles" who "negotiate" and "cut deals" with the liberal Democrats, for their own aggrandizement.

But that was four whole years ago. Things change, right? Now Trump comes along, and what is his, and their, defining issue?

Tribalism -- specifically, all those horrible foreigners coming here to infect our Traditional American Culture and "take away American jobs."

Overnight, "American Greatness" became equated not with the individualist ideals of our nation's founding, but with preserving the demographic composition of the American national tribe. It is now Us against Them -- and all principles be damned. After all, they argue, who can afford the "luxury" of fuzzy abstractions when American Culture is under assault?

Thus the stampede of the tribal right into the open arms of Trump -- and the shocking revelations of the big-name conservatives who are members of that tribalist gang. We watched them, dumbfounded, as they did an about-face on issue after issue, on principle after principle -- and then turned against a host of Trump's GOP rivals who, just four years before, they had extolled as conservative heroes. But not anymore. Instead, they undercut and bad-mouthed these candidates at every turn, handing the keys to their media platforms, 24/7, to a sordid creature much farther to the left than Dole, McCain, Romney, McConnell, and Boehner ever were at their worst.

And in the convention's aftermath, they are unleashing their greatest wrath upon Ted Cruz -- the solitary political figure who dared to take on, from the inside and without hesitation, the very Establishment that these "movement conservatives" so long pretended to oppose. His mortal sin? His refusal, on principle, to join the rest of the tribe, bow, and then kiss the corrupt billionaire's gaudy ring.

Donald Trump's candidacy has at last enticed these fakes to venture forth from their closets, cast off their faux-individualist garb, and stand nakedly exposed as the cultural collectivists they've been all along.

It has been a sobering revelation to me just how many of these fair-weather "constitutional conservatives" and "free enterprisers" are out there -- just how far our nation has degenerated -- and just how great a distance we must travel to win it back.

Any political revolution, however, must be preceded by a cultural revolution. And so I now return to doing the what I can on that front: crafting fictional narratives that offer my own vision of the kind of values and virtues a new culture will require.