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Twenty Years Of The Long Hard Slog

September 14, 2021 Featured Today No Comments

By CHRISTOPHER MANION

“Socrates understood…that a reform cannot be achieved by a well-intentioned leader who recruits his followers from the very people whose moral confusion is the cause of the disorder”— Eric Voegelin, Plato and Aristotle.
In the years since September 11, 2001, it’s been hard to tell whether there were any conservatives left in the GOP.
And what do I mean by “conservative”?
I’m still going by the description that I first learned in March 1960. During spring vacation, our family was at the kitchen table proofreading the galleys of Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative. My father published the groundbreaking book later that spring.
“The turn will come when we entrust the conduct of our affairs to the men who understand that their first duty as public officials is to divest themselves of the power that they have been given,” Goldwater wrote.
“Conscience” became one of the best-selling political books of the twentieth century. And conservatism became the most compelling and enlivening vision in the electorate. The term “liberal” became so toxic that the leftist elites quietly dropped the label, dragging “progressives” from the shallow grave they had quickly dumped it in after the horrors of Woodrow Wilson’s catastrophes.
For Goldwater conservatives, it all came down to limits. The very notion of limited power is unique to Christendom. Christian faith and tradition form the foundation of America’s founding documents. And twenty years ago, George W. Bush was a limited-government conservative who advocated a “humble” foreign policy. But suddenly, after September 11th and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, we found our country pleasantly ambling towards world domination, sending the taxpayer another bill for another trillion dollars every time the wars entered a new time zone.
At the time, it was impolite to mention the constitutional requirement of a Congressional Declaration of War against all of those enemies — after all, how does one declare war on “terror,” we were told.
Bringing to mind, again, Goldwater in 1960: The turn “will come when Americans, in hundreds of communities throughout the nation, decide to put the man in office who is pledged to enforce the Constitution and restore the Republic.”
The “turn” never came. No leader emerged to echo Goldwater’s challenge: “I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them.”
“There you go again!” Goldwater keeps harping about the darned Constitution: “I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is ‘needed’ before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible.”
One of my Democrat father’s favorite Republicans was Cong. Robert Fleming Rich of Pennsylvania. Mr. Rich, who served in the years before World War II, became famous — and wildly popular — during the New Deal for one question, which he insisted on asking on the floor of the House of Representatives every time a new spending bill was taken up: “Where are we going to get the money,” he would roar.
It was such a constant refrain that the other Members of the House would often join in like a chorus with his refrain — alas, only in jest: They knew where they would get the money: They would print it.
And they have — especially in the years since 9-11. And America got “Big Government Conservatism,” with the GOP in the lead.

Enter Confucius

“When words lose their meaning, people will lose their liberty”— Friedrich Hayek.
Hayek is summarizing the passage in the Analects, in which Confucius observes that, to restore order in society, the first step is to call things by their right name.
Orwell’s Ministry of Truth knew this all too well. That’s why Big Brother’s Newspeak dictionary aimed to destroy language altogether: to destroy order, to maximize power.
In days of old, it was Democrats who pushed into Europe’s wars. Woodrow Wilson — with the indispensable support of James Cardinal Gibbons — wanted to “make the world safe for democracy.” Instead, World War One ushered in European tyrannies and another European War.
We recall Wilson’s 1916 campaign slogan: “He Kept Us Out of War.” That was FDR’s mantra in 1940 as well. Both had the support of a majority of the public at the time. Like Americans in 2000, they wanted a “humble foreign policy.”
But the ancient temptation arose again. Another wise man of the ages, Augustine of Hippo, identified it in the first page of the Civitas Dei: the libido dominandi, the lust for power.
The Left constantly convicts conservatives of “greed,” yet we never hear them condemn the lust for power. That’s because, alas, the lust for power prospers these days. Sir John Harrington comes to mind:
“Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason? Why if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”
Ditto the libido dominandi. The Founders of our republic were profoundly aware of the danger of superbia vitae — the lusting after glory and fame (1 John 2:16). How many pols have you seen sweat over that one lately?
To counter Imperial Rome and its “virtue” of pride, Augustine, on that same page with libido dominandi, praises humilitas, that virtue that is so Christian, and so un-imperial.
But today, “humble yourself, the greater you are” (Sirach 3:18) has been overtaken by events.

The Restoration Project

Stan Evans once famously observed that, while the Democrats race toward the abyss, the more prudent Republicans insist on obeying the speed limit. But even if we are only coasting, the only way you can coast is downhill. We are careening into oblivion, and no Republican leader has emerged who is willing to apply the brakes. Nineteen Republican senators joined the unanimous Democrats and America’s bishops to support the trillion-dollar “infrastructure bill,” and some six to eight trillion dollars that we don’t have might still be in the pipeline.
Goldwater’s goal to “enforce the Constitution and restore the Republic” still abides in the American conservative subconscious. Yet we know that our current direction will bankrupt the Republic, rather than restore it.
The years have wrought havoc across the American political spectrum and political discourse. Democrats, increasingly left-wing, have abandoned the toxic term “liberal” and become “progressives.” Meanwhile, the tripod that forms the traditional Republican base collapsed long ago. “Economic conservatives” have been betrayed by huge hikes in federal spending and regulation spawned during the Bush Administration and perpetuated since. Meanwhile, Big Business has firmly signed up with the oligarch elites.
The second leg of the tripod — social conservatives, especially the pro-life movement — had to survive the Obama years and the savagery that his henchmen and henchwomen wrought on religious freedom. And the third leg, a strong defense, has been corrupted beyond repair.
Barry Goldwater predicted a restoration of the Republic when “Americans, in hundreds of communities throughout the nation, decide to put the man in office who is pledged to enforce the Constitution and restore the Republic.”
Americans have been locked down, hectored, harassed, canceled, lied to, and more. Our communities have been threatened, intimidated, and targeted for more swaggering bureaucrats to boss us around.
We are ready. Now we’re waiting for the man “who is pledged to enforce the Constitution and restore the Republic.”
Who will lead us?

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