An Open Letter to Sen. John McCain

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John-McCain

Senator John McCain

I know that the world is complicated, Mr. McCain, and I know that the rest of the world has benefited immensely from American largesse.  And, yes, I know that your generation is deeply invested in the post-war American global legacy – small wonder why you would interpret the anger expressed last November as a harbinger of “half-baked, spurious nationalism.”

But we are 20-plus trillion dollars in debt. Our imperial burden is disproportionately imposed on the most immiserated segment of American society: the working class. And our government has come to resemble that of every other bloated, corrupt empire in world history – the very outcome our Founding Fathers took pains to avoid almost a quarter of a millennium ago.

Yet, there are disadvantages that come with being a global behemoth. A generation or so ago, I had the great privilege of reading most of the writings associated the noninterventionist Old Right. Virtually all of these Old Right sages offered trenchant observations of the  consequences that would follow from America’s spreading its tentacles throughout world as the self-anointed global hegemon.  Indeed, much of what they wrote proved to be prophetic. Many among the New Left dusted off those books and re-read them in the late 1960’s to marshal an effective critique of the American war in Vietnam.

None other than Dwight Eisenhower, one of the principal architects of American globalism, warned of the attendant risks associated with the military-industrial complex. The national security complex that has grown out of the Cold War strikes me as especially unnerving , especially now that there appears to be ample evidence that it increasingly is being used by the political class to monitor and even to silence U.S. citizens.  Equally alarming, this apparatus has apparently, if not inevitably, developed its own interests, some of which appear to run counter to traditional American views on the divisions and limitation of power.

Before I close, I’ll return briefly to Dwight Eisenhower. The second and last volume of his presidential memoirs deals with the wide range of international visits he undertook at the conclusion of his term. The turnout among common people in many of these post-colonial, developing countries was quite astonishing – a million, as I recall, during one visit. Even Eisenhower, an old hand at diplomacy, expressed surprise, if not astonishment, at the levels of enthusiasm he encountered. But should he have been surprised? At the time, America represented the most successful former colonial country in history. Even as the struggle with communism escalated, the United States still enjoyed a lingering reputation of a constitutional republic that not only was anti-colonial but also opposed to imperialism. Recall that our behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts played a significant role in wrenching India free of the British Empire.

Yes, there have been positive achievements associated with Pax Americana – I’ll not deny that – but we have paid a price, – an egregiously heavy price. And considering that noninterventionism and anti-imperialism have been long and revered intellectual traditions, I do consider it a grave injustice that our political class express shock and outrage that millions of Americans are asking probing questions about the legacy of the American globalist undertaking.

I’m not so much affirming Trump as I am the anger and frustration of much of the American working class.  Many of the divisions in this country are inextricably bound up with how one defines nationhood. Many of our Founding Fathers viewed the American nation as an Enlightenment experiment, but all of them to a man conceived the United States as a republic focused first and foremost on its national and economic interests. That is the crux of the American Experiment, and working and middle-class Americans deserve more than its being whittled away through a series of executive orders and agreements carrying, in many cases, the force of treaties.

To express it another way, Mr. McCain, the vast majority of working-class and middle-class Americans still view the American Experiment within the traditional nation-state terms – as a commonwealth. Many of them are weary of being lectured as provincials and even crypto-racists for holding that the nation-state remains the greatest guarantor of their liberties and economic well-being.

Why Is Secession Such a Terrible Word?

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John-Stossel

Libertarian pundit and author John Stossel. Photo: Courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

Libertarian author and pundit John Stossel is mystified by all the smack talk about secession.

“Why do so many people see secession as such a terrible thing?” he asks.

Stossel cites the recent Catalonian push for secession, stressing that the struggle is about Catalans taking charge of their own affairs.  As he stresses, no government is perfect, but local governments, generally speaking, are “more responsive to the needs of constituents.” Moreover, by keeping government closer to home, citizens secure a greater likelihood of keeping their governments under close watch.

So, why all the agonizing over secession? he asks.

Short answer:  because the people in charge of big governments are seldom willing to give up power.

I wholeheartedly agree with Stossel: Why is secession such a terribly unspeakable word among so many of us? As he stresses, secession is by no means alien to the American experience. Indeed, the United States is an outgrowth of a secession struggle against the British Empire.

But I wonder: How many of us are aware that the the post-constitutional United States is a product of secession, too?

Madison once referred to this secession as the “delicate truth” behind the current American union. In effect, 11 states seceded from the union of states founded on the Articles of Confederation to form the present union. Recall that Rhode Island and North Carolina had refused to accede to the new Constitution and were still out of the union when George Washington took the oath as the first president of the United States on March 4, 1789.

Quite a few of our Founding Fathers never lost their enduring affection for small governments. A few of our Founding Fathers even had a hard time envisioning a nation the size of the present-day United States.  Writing to Dr. Joseph Priestly on January 29, 1804, Thomas Jefferson observed:

Whether we remain in one confederacy, or form into Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies, I believe not very important to the happiness of either part. Those of the western confederacy will be as much our children and descendants as those of the eastern, and I feel myself as much identified with that country, in future time, as with this; and did I now foresee a separation at some future day, yet I should feel the duty and the desire to promote the western interests as zealously as the eastern, doing all the good for both portions of our future family which should fall within my power.

I concluded a long time ago that the American Experiment has essentially amounted to a forlorn attempt to force one part of the country to meld culturally and politically into the rest. And it hasn’t happened – not after almost a quarter of a millennium. Yes, I would like to see us soldier on as looser federation sharing common market and defense.  There are legitimate geopolitical threats, after all.  But this business of forcing a nation as geographically and culturally diverse as the United States to march in ideological lockstep is madness, sheer madness.

A Republic of Pluralism

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The Green Mountain Boys flag: The past and future flag of the Vermont Republic?  Photo: Courtesy of Amber Kincaid.

A social media conversation this morning prompted a few thoughts on the egregious lack of pluralism that characterizes America in the 21st century.

One poster observed that the white nationalist provocateur Richard Spencer is attempting another visit to Charlottesville, apparently with the intention of stirring up yet another racial hornets nest.

Yet, as another poster stressed, the University of Virginia, as a public institution that receives substantial federal funds, can’t easily refuse his request to stage another protest.

I’m no legal scholar, but it seems to me that we can ascribe the university’s predicament to the Incorporation Doctrine.  The Bill of Rights originally applied only to the federal government.  It was extended to the states only through  incorporation, which was made possible by passage of the 14th Amendment. (Check me on this, but I believe I stand on solid ground.)

In time, I suspect the courts will formulatr some kind of compelling needs doctrine, which establishes some threshold for requests such as these, where there is the real risk of violence. Indeed, I presume that provisions such as these already are in place.

At this point, I feel compelled to offer a disclaimer: I am a free-speech purist – I think that open, robust speech is not only healthy but also vital to a free, open society.  But I also think that the prospect of federal authority extending its clammy fingers into every facet of American life is a grievous and dangerous thing and one that the Founders – the vast majority of them, at least – would have found abhorrent.

I am also as much a proponent for pluralism as free speech. Our Founders – certainly Jefferson – envisioned a very pluralistic “republic of republics” in which the state republics would conceive their own individual visions of ordered liberty.  While congenial to prevailing notions of liberty, these also would be adapted to local cultural, social and religious realities.

I’ll add a final disclaimer: I am as fervent a proponent as incrementalism as I am free speech and pluralism.   It seems to me that barring an Incorporation Doctrine all of the states in time would have adopted some degree of legal uniformity regarding free speech.  The openness required of federalism and a American common market would have necessitated such uniformity over time.

I know: I come off sounding like a  reactionary and a constitutional fossil – a so-called paleofederalist.  Most Americans would contend that we have moved far past that that quaint, bygone era when states functioned with many of the attributes of nationhood.  But Calexit, Texit, the Second Vermont Republic and other incipient sovereignty movements emerging across the breadth of America may be changing all of this.

The California National Party, which comprises one pillar of the California independence movement, seems to be demanding a new vision of democracy, constitutional law and identity that runs counter to much of the rest of the nation.

Who knows where all of this will lead?  These incipient autonomy movements may be pointing to a return to the original founding vision of American federalism. Maybe we ultimately will return to a constitutional arrangement in which states, at least, some states, will function as genuine sovereign states, with many of the hallmarks of nationhood.

Time will tell.

Why We Should Celebrate Columbus’ Legacy

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columbusWhat I’m going to say may come as a shock to some of you: Columbus discovered America!

He did in a very real sense.

He connected the Western Hemisphere, which, for all intents and purposes, was an isolated cultural backwater, with the comparatively more open and advanced culture of the West.  By doing so, he changed the course of human history.

I tend to relate the course of human progress with the expansion of networks. Westerners are credited – at least, they should be credited – with creating the densest and, consequently, the most generative network in human history.  And many of thes achievements associated with the West stem from the courage and farsightedness of Christopher Columbus.  By connecting the Americas with the West, he ensured that the connections already occurring within the comparatively free and open societies of western Europe would occur at significantly higher volumes and faster rates.

I posted a brief tribute to Columbus on my Facebook page today and a friend pointed out that modern animus towards him reflects a wider hatred for the legacy of the West.  He’s right, of course.

All of this animus towards Columbus strikes me as nonsensical and even comedic.  But for the efforts of Columbus and the comparative openness of the culture out of which he sprang, there would be very few prosperous and literate people around to critique the explorer’s legacy.

So, Happy Columbus Day, folks.

What Cancer?

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In the aftermath of this horrible tragedy in Las Vegas, New York Times columnist Timothy Egan has characterized the Second Amendment as the “cancer in the Constitution,” essentially no different than the “three-fifths” compromise in the constitution that enabled slaveholding states to count a portion of their slave population toward congressional seat apportionment.

“We tried to fix that (the three-fifths provision) through our bloodiest war and a series of amendments that followed,” Egan contends.

The “cancer in the Constitution?” Two truly remarkable facets of the Constitution are the Second and Tenth amendments, which were conceived to underscore to those who governed on our behalf that there were barriers over which they could not step. Far from cancers, they have served, along with other constitutional provisions, as safeguards that have kept tyranny at bay for almost a quarter of a millennium. I often wonder: What will be left of liberty when the left is finished with us? Of course, they will never finish because perpetual revolution defines the very nature of the left.

Calhoun’s Spirit Alive and Well in California

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Elites are apparently having a hard time coping with the phenomenon of “identity awakening.”

In a recent column, Ramón Luis Valcárcel, vice-president of the European Parliament, follows a predictable path: Catalonian nationalists are “undemocratic” – they even evince authoritarian traits – and threaten the peace of Europe (even though they aspire to be a part of the European Union). Indeed, he goes so far to contend that secession doesn’t even constitute a legitimate undertaking in a state that meets all of the hallmarks of a democratic one (Spain, in this case). And, of course, add to that the suspicion of Russian collusion – the secessionists are “aided by pro-Russian bots of the stature of Julian Assange.”

I was also a bit taken aback by the use of “deplorable” early in the text.

Finally, the writer conveniently forgets that the vaunted Spanish experience, while purportedly democratic now, carries the painful memories of Francoism, during which Spanish national identity was rammed down Catalan throats.

Yet, I suppose we can derive some solace from what has just transpired in blue-state California, where Gov. Jerry Brown just signed a bill into law establishing California as a sanctuary state.

It appears that decentralist tailwinds are sweeping all over the world.

The greatest of all national centralizers,  Old Abe Lincoln,  must be rolling in his grave. With the signing of this bill, America seems to have come full circle to the spirit of Jefferson, Madison, and yes, perish the thought, John C. Calhoun, the ultimate red-state deplorable and the philosopher of nullification doctrine.

But that’s okay.  Old habits die hard, and despite all the best efforts and fervent wishing of the European and American ruling classes, the basic human passion for local affinity and identity invariably trumps – no pun intended –  centralism.

As a close friend of mine brilliantly observed, sooner or later everyone eventually embraces his or her inner Calhoun.

 

 

America’s Coming “Identity Awakening”

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A Demonstration of Catalan Nationalists.  Photo: Courtesy of Sergil.

Identity Awakening.  I like that term.

It’s a term that geopolitical analysts and commentators have improvised to account for how globalization has produced a sort of paradoxical effect.

“Everywhere we see regionalism, nationalism as well as religious devotion growing in intensity, sometimes morphing into intolerance. It’s the great paradox of globalization: Far from erasing the peoples’ identitarian and cultural claims, it reinforces them,” writes Li Figaro’s Renaud Giraud.

Technology in the form of digitalization has played a role, too. This takes me back to the writings of the recently deceased Alvin Toffler, a futurist who wrote extensively about the the implications of digital technology, especially in terms of how it would transform society, culture, politics and the economy.

Toffler perceived demassification as one very palpable effect of digital technology.  Mass media would no longer be, well, a mass phenomenon.  There would be no more news anchormen of the stature, not to mention, with the temerity, of Walter Cronkite ending newscasts with the hyper-confident pronouncement:  “That’s the way it is…”

As bandwidth expanded, Toffler predicted that media would scale down to accommodate smaller, more defined audiences.

Remarkably, though, this demassification is not only affecting media but also entire nations.

Demassification seems to have played a major role in the “identity awakenings” occurring throughout the world, particularly in Europe.  It even appears that identity awakenings soon will be playing out in America.  Judging from what’s occurring in California, Texas, Vermont,and Cascadia, they already are.

And why shouldn’t they?  If the Toffler’s musings drove home one realization to me, it’s that national identities based on strong, highly centralized governments are a relic associated with 20th century industrialism, just as mass media are – were.

While I am a great sympathizer with and proponent of identity awakenings, I’m no rigid ideologue.  We are urgently in need of decentrism in America, but  we also depend on a common American market and a common defense, much as Europeans require a common continental market and defense apparatus. But to demand that continents as culturally diverse as America and Europe march in cultural and even political lockstep? It’s madness, as more and more people are coming to realize.

Sooner or later, our institutions will reflect that new reality.  Let’s hope that this occurs as a result of peaceful evolution.

No Other Pathology but White Pathology

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Who doesn’t grow weary of the hypocrisy of CNN an other Establishment agit/prop media organs?

This morning a good and thoughtful friend of mine raised what I consider to be a valid point about CNN and one that I think would apply to most other mainstream media. Its reporting consistently characterizes obstreperous or violent behavior involving white white people as a pathology, even as it painstakingly avoids any such characterization of other racial or ethnic groups, such as the high rates of black homicide in inner cities.

Has CNN ever characterized any social problem as a black or Hispanic pathology? Of course, the answer is no, because those topics are considered off limits – beyond the pale of respectable discourse. Honestly, a network that bewails the hollow underpinnings of white national identity, sure seems to obsess a lot about white pathology.

And people wonder why there is such much anger and so many wrenching divisions in this country.

 

Jeff Sessions and the Stool of Everlasting Southern Repentance

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jeff-sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions

I’ve said before that as a proud Southerner, I struggle sometimes with being an American – and the brouhaha over Attorney General Jeff Sessions is one of many reasons why.

I really wonder how much of the Senate and Establishment media opposition to Sessions occurred simply because he was a conservative Alabamian and a Southerner. For as long as the left reigns culturally in this country, white Southerners with conservative leanings, which, frankly, represent the vast majority of these Southerners, will be expected to remain on their stools of everlasting repentance, it seems.

And as I have argued before, this really is a disgrace, especially considering the disproportionate role Southerners, particularly working-class Southerners, serve in protecting this country’s national security interests all over the world.

I think that it’s also worth pointing out that with the exception of Justice Thomas, who spent most of his life outside the South, no other Southerner sits on the Supreme Court and hasn’t for generations. Throughout most of the history of the United States, there was an attempt to maintain at least the semblance of geographical diversity on the Supreme Court.  But since 2014, the Court is composed of a majority from the Northeastern United States, with seven justices coming from states to the north and east of Washington, D.C.

The last white Southerner to serve in the U.S. Supreme Court was Justice Hugo Black of Alabama.

Shortly after Black’s passing, President Richard Nixon opens a cultural hornet’s nest when he attempted to nominate two Southerners to the Court, Clement Haynesworth of South Carolina, and G. Harrold Carswell of Georgia.

The Elite Media’s Qualified View of Secession

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catalonian-independence

Photo: Courtesy of Dzlinker

Once again, I’m fascinated with The New York Times’ growing emphasis on federalism, regionalism, and – perish the thought, secession!

Carme Forcadell, president of the Catalan Parliament, writes a about judicial efforts by the Spanish government to impede the the open discussion of debate of Catalan independence within Parliament.

Forcadell relates that the Spanish government’s special prosecutor filed a complaint charging her with contempt of court and neglect of duty for allowing separatist debate to occur. It is one of many judicial methods the Madrid government has employed to stifle debate over independence.  Some 400 municipal officials have also been charged with involvement in discussions advancing Catalan independence.

Forcadell extols the open and unimpeded discussion and debate about Scottish independence that has ensued for years in Holyrood, the Scottish Parliament as well as the acquiescence  of the British government, which even acceded to the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum – a sharp contrast to Spain’s obstructionist attitude vis-a-vis the Catalans.

Despite the referendum’s unsuccessful outcome, “democracy was the winner,” Focadell affirms.

But Forcadell draws a sharp distinction between Catalan and Scottish independence struggles and others unfolding in Europe. She apparently regards sovereignty and independence movements as acceptable only if they are progressive in nature. Brexit and other Eurosceptic and “right-wing populist” movements don’t count as legitimate independence movements.

And, of course, this explains the Establishment media’s fascination with California’s growing separatist sentiment. California has legitimate grievances because these are pro-statist and progressive in nature.

And, conversely, this accounts for why the Texas Independence Movement has barely rated as a blip on the Establishment media’s news radar, except, of course, when the intention is to underscore the specter of right-wing extremism in America.

If Hillary were the 45th president instead of Trump and Texas were the state making the most noise about independence, I am virtually certain that federalism, sovereignty and secession would receive little, if any, positive mention in the hallowed pages of the New York Times or any Establishment agit/prop organ.

No, secession gets favorable mention only if it takes on a progressive hue.

But all of us red state hoi polloi  should take heart that Trump’s upset victory has galvanized “respectable” secessionist discourse in at least one blue state. That, at least, will ensure that the wider topic of secession will become a more frequent and mainstream topic of discourse over the next few years.