Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Posts Tagged ‘re-founding’

To Rescue a Nation – The American Mind

Posted by M. C. on June 24, 2021

We can be sure however that radical de-centralization at home can only reduce the matters with which U.S. foreign policy deals, and hence increase the likelihood that they be dealt with soberly.

Angelo Codevilla

Peoples become nations by following those who lead them to worship the same God or idols, and to act habitually as they do. The Greeks called these habits “ethics.” These change for good and ill as prominent persons change, or develop new ways of life, or foreign influences impose themselves. The general population tends to follow. Plato and Aristotle led subsequent generations to note that peoples tend to take on their leaders’ character.

Some see such changes as betrayal. If these alienate a large enough proportion of people, the body politic itself loses the capacity to act as a whole. Enough disarticulation, and the body politic ceases to exist for practical purposes. Serious changes, regardless of their sources, lead some to want a resetting the country on what they regard as its proper basis—or outright resuscitation.

Machiavelli wrote that doing that amounts to re-founding a nation, and that this is considerably more difficult than founding one in the first place.

What does it take to re-found a nation? The question is lively for twenty-first century Americans because the changes that have taken place in the bipartisan ruling class that controls nearly all our institutions have explicitly denied and denigrated what had made America itself. Today’s ruling class leads and even forces Americans to act, speak, and think as if all that they had thought good were bad, and vice versa. Almost as if a vengeful power had conquered the country. At least half the country yearns for some kind of rescue.

Though history does not lack examples of nations rescued and refounded, most rescues involve overthrowing the dominion of foreigners rather than of mutated ruling classes. But as the Book of Exodus shows, the removal of foreign influence is almost always much less than half the battle. Reference to foreign oppression is often a necessary, but always an insufficient factor.  Charles de Gaulle’s success against the Germans was not enough to overcome resistance to his efforts to restore France’s corrupt body politic. Without a foreign focus however, refounding can only be a civil war of variable temperatures. Abraham Lincoln’s failure to avoid the Civil War is as clear an example as there is.

Machiavelli’s near equation of reform with re-founding mostly abstracts from the fact that, for nations and regimes founded on and tailored for the people’s characteristics, repeating something like the founding is not possible once these have changed. Peoples are far less malleable than regimes.

On the one hand, successive generations of Romans were able to re-set Rome more or less on the basis on which Romulus had set it by killing his brother, Remus, who had trespassed on what became the Urbe’s fundamental law: war against outsiders. Successive Fathers of the Fatherland reaffirmed that law. And when Cleomenes judged that Sparta’s ephors had violated Lycurgus’s constitution, he deftly re-established it by killing the ephors and their followers. The Soviet regime’s fundamental law was the Communist General Secretary’s murderous discipline of the Party, which suffused society with fearful uncertainty. When Mikhail Gorbachev tried to rescue tyranny from the feudalism into which it had fallen under Brezhnev, he might well have succeeded had he been willing to kill as Lenin and Stalin had done.

Doubtless, rescuing disrespected constitutions has always required and will always require undoing any number of enemies.

But there is little historical evidence that peoples who had constituted themselves nations on the basis of freedom can convert that nationhood’s lively memory into rebirth.

Self-government ever reflects self, and lost civic virtue is almost as unrecoverable as lost virginity.

Divisive leadership

The political conflict in which we are engaged pits some Americans who revere the legacy and memory of the Republic founded in 1776-1789 against those who despise it and have corrupted the Republic’s institutions into an oligarchy.

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Angelo Codevilla is a Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute and professor emeritus of International Relations at Boston University.

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