America faces many threats around the world, but we are far more likely to destroy ourselves from within than ever be defeated by an external power. That process has been underway for decades. It’s an essential part of the left’s progressive agenda. In an unintentionally honest moment, President Obama said as much when he spoke of “fundamentally transforming” this country.
There was a potential tipping point with the 2016 election which Michael Anton, who later served as a senior national security official in the Trump administration, noted in his seminal essay “The Flight 93 Election.” Had Trump lost, multiple liberal justices in the mold of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan added to the Supreme Court would have had the effect of rendering the words and meaning of the Constitution subject to the outcomes needed to achieve that fundamental transformation, among other dangerous outcomes. Anton returns now with a look at where we stand two years later with a short book, “After the Flight 93 Election: The Vote That Saved America and What We Still Have To Lose.”
The slow, inexorable process of sliding our cultural and political center to the left continues, but we dodged a bullet in that election by refusing to countenance Hillary Clinton. We may have actually begun the path to renewal by electing Donald Trump.
This may seem like a counter-intuitive observation, considering how contentious his presidency has been, but to some extent we can never come together until we have more fully broken apart. It is a time for deciding, and Trump serves as a perfect catalyst. For those of the left, he forces them to rip the masks of civility and moderation off to let their true colors show: the bloody red of socialism.
The left has now brilliantly illuminated what must be opposed. But what about those of us who want to stand for something, not simply athwart a sinking ship yelling stop? As Anton observes:
What follows is not a philosophical treatise; it is a political argument. My aim is to outline the essences of conservatism, Americanism, and Western civilization, and to review the main threats to their survival.
Mighty bold talk for a four-eyed, slim man in a bespoke suit. But, again, he admits he is not out to rewrite the big old dusty books in the back of the library, expounding on the lineage of the West or even simply conservatism. He aims to give us a look at what those things mean now and what we must do to save them from self-extinction:
But human beings are always forced to act in the here and now. Acting well requires a basis for evaluating options. In the political realm, that basis for evaluation is more properly termed a theory of justice. The Left, as I will try to demonstrate, has such a theory. The Right, as I tried to explain in both ‘The Flight 93 Election’ and the ‘Restatement on Flight 93,’ thinks it does but does not.
But of course those of us on the right have a raison d’etre, right? We stand for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Yet simply stating we represent all the good things the Founders said so many years ago is not sufficient. Too many people misunderstand conservatism as simply resistance to change. No, it is resistance to change for the sake of change or for bad reasons.
The left has plenty of reasons they want to fundamentally transform America and they are not universally bad, but they are absolutely misguided, dangerous, and counter-productive to the well-being of a country that respects individual liberty. What should the animating concept of justice be for those of us on the right, and how should we judge it? Anton answers:
Philosophic controversies aside, justice in the real world takes form in actual countries, through governments and laws. These should be judged according to how effectively they protect their citizens’ lives, liberties, and property, and by how well they enable or facilitate the fulfillment of each individual’s natural ends. In other words, by how effectively they protect their people’s safety and promote their happiness.
That seems eminently pragmatic. And it stands as a good differentiator between right and left, as the various Franken-socialisms the left put into play have failed in every earthly incarnation. The left is forced to say time and time again, “But that wasn’t true socialism.” There are too many flaws to cover in their efforts to invent a perfectly egalitarian implementation of communal government. But, in the end, all of them run into the fatal one noted by Immanuel Kant, “From the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”
Humans are a mess. Pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth will lay to waste every attempt to build a utopia reliant on the goodness of its citizenry. And the soul-crushing statist mechanisms necessary to overcome these human faults suck the life out of any attempt to make socialism function.
The modern leftist substitute that will lead to the promised land of a socialism-that-will-not-be-named is progressivism. The name itself implies its constant tension with conservatism. Worse, it claims the simple passage of time and accumulation of more information is inherently positive and a guide to be followed:
Progressivism further holds that present knowledge is superior to the thought of the past not only in quantity but in quality. Contemporary thought is sounder and more rigorous – in a word, truer – because it rests on empirical science and its methodology, in contrast to the inherent imprecision of philosophy, which as a consequence of that imprecision never rises above the level of opinion. Progressivism insists that it can apply the methodology of the natural sciences to the human things and come to conclusions superior to those of philosophy and equal in precision to those of natural science.
But some truths remain self-evident, some rights remain unalienable, and all the “progress” in the world cannot change that. The left remains hard at work trying even though they end up like David Byrne of the Talking Heads with the Sisyphean task described in the song “Once in a Lifetime”:
Water dissolving and water removing
There is water at the bottom of the ocean
Under the water, carry the water
Remove the water at the bottom of the ocean!
Yet in the end, he laments, “Same as it ever was.” What, then, is the relevant modern alternative, grounded in our foundational liberties but up to the challenge of our modern world?:
It should now be beyond obvious that what we have known as ‘conservatism’ has failed at the task encapsulated in its very name. Its task going forward – for those remaining conservative intellectuals who have not formally or functionally defected to the Left—is to relearn, or learn for the first time, what to conserve, why it is worth conserving, and how to conserve it.
There is the trick. It was right there in front of us the whole time. But we have been distracted from the crystal purity of this insight. For the younger among us, Liberty, in its pure and unadulterated form, has never even been taught to them. We have let the left fully insinuate itself into our culture. As Andrew Breitbart sagely noted, “Politics is downstream from culture,” so we get people who actually believe the founding documents are outdated.
As Anton notes, we can all use a fresh look at who we are, what we stand for, and why we should be willing to fight for it. His Flight 93 collection is a good manual for those who would operate the controls of this still functional, albeit greatly debilitated, experiment in human freedom.