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To Defend The Present, We Must Understand The Past

February 13, 2021 Frontpage No Comments

By CHRISTOPHER MANION

In tumultuous times, the endless flurry of events can distract us from the fundamentals of life. And some folks want it that way.
It’s no secret that malevolent forces rely on disorder, even chaos, as cover for their destructive schemes. When those forces find allies among the broader population, even enjoying the support of willing cooperators from the cultural elites, a nation’s bedrock principles can no longer be taken for granted. They must be defended at all costs — which means that they must first be understood.
It often seems that America’s enemies understand those principles better than her defenders do. “Know the enemy,” said Sun Tzu. Leftists at home and abroad recognize well how America’s faith and our constitutional government are the twin targets that must be destroyed for tyranny to succeed. So destroy they must.
We have often remarked the contempt that Karl Marx had for philosophy. Philosophy has only interpreted the world, he wrote — “the point is, to change it” (Theses on Feuerbach, XI).
Since Marx was a materialist, he targeted reality — all of it — for destruction. Truth, beauty, virtue, liberty — everything good must be destroyed.
That goal has been embraced by the Left ever since.
Curiously, Adolf Hitler resonated Marx’s demand for destruction. In Mein Kampf, Hitler demanded a “declaration of war against the existing order, the existing reality, the existing worldview” (Mein Kampf, volume II, chapter 5).
That’s why the Left glories in calling Donald Trump “another Hitler”; the epithet has been carefully defined as irrefutable by generations of leftists who don’t want you to know that “Nazi” means “National Socialism.”
How did “Stalin” escape a similar fate? Oh, he was FDR’s good buddy, and that’s not part of what Stan Evans called “the liberal history lesson.”
Down the memory hole he goes.
And what about Joe Biden? Does his rule by decree make him “another Stalin”? It’s hardly worth the effort. Maybe “Dr. Jill” is “another Elena Ceausescu, but her name’s probably too hard to pronounce, and she was shot on Christmas Day so the taunt would probably be “hate speech” anyway. No room for Elena in the Left’s cozy curriculum.
For the budding totalitarian, Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler are sound guides. They recognized that military victory alone does not deliver undisputed power. The entire social reality — its faith, its freedoms, its institutions — must be destroyed before they can be replaced by the revolutionary model.
Today’s leftists bent on destroying the United States understand that. That’s why they target for destruction our constitutional protections of liberty — the Electoral College, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the Bill of Rights, our churches, and our borders, to name just a few. Those of us who defend our liberties must be “cancelled” — that is, deprived of our right to work, to speak the truth, to protect our families, neighbors, and communities
Indeed, our very language must be destroyed.
But that’s not enough. In order to destroy us completely, the Left must destroy our history as well. That’s why they’re so bent on replacing our narrative of freedom — the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of 1776, and the Constitutional Convention of 1787 — with their own version, taken right off the walls of Big Brother’s Ministry of Truth: “Freedom is Slavery.”
America was founded in slavery, insists The New York Times — so we must tear down those Jefferson statues, rename Washington Boulevard and John Adams High School.
Oppose us and you’re a White Supremacist!
Never mind that, once they win, they’ll enslave us all.
So what if two generations of students haven’t learned any history at all? They must be indoctrinated nonetheless, because George Orwell was right: “He who controls the present controls the past. And he who controls the past controls the future.”
And these folks want to control the future, very much.

A Vibrant Defense Of America

In recent weeks much of what has come to pass in what we may loosely call “politics” is a farce. We can team up Hamlet and Liza Doolittle to deliver the verdict — “words, words, words.” While the poor players strut and fret their hour upon the stage, ’tis better that we turn our attention to our homework. We have to sink our intellectual teeth into real meat, remember our roots, and dig into “the origin of certain truths without which the American founding would have been inconceivable.”
That’s how Robert Reilly puts it. And dig he does. Reilly is known to many Wanderer readers as an occasional contributor to these pages, as well as the author of groundbreaking books on Islam, music, and what I call America’s Sodomite Syndicate. He masterfully answers the call to duty in his latest work, America On Trial: A Defense of the Founding (Ignatius Press; $27.95).
With vigor and clarity, Reilly traces “the lineage of the ideas that made the United States possible.” His work was inspired by the classic “We Hold These Truths,” in which John Courtney Murray, SJ, writes that our founders “thought the life of man and society under government is founded on truths, on a certain body of objective truth, universal in its import, accessible to the reason of man, definable, defensible. If this assertion is denied, the American proposition is, I think, eviscerated at one stroke.”
But where did these truths come from? “The story begins in classical philosophy and continues through history as the defense of nature, the good, and reason against the constant attacks of will, especially the will to power,” Reilly responds. The persuasive charm of his prose flows so easily that the reader might forget that she is reading a brilliant work of intellectual history, and more: a defense of that history against both those who would destroy it and those who consider it as an inadequate foundation, given the current pains suffered by our constitutional republic.
This accounts for Reilly’s extensive review of the historical sources of our liberties. He finds these in Israel, in Athens, and in Rome, and follows their development through the centuries, taking note of their defenders and their deformers. His treatment explains how the founding didn’t take place in a vacuum but within a rich and fascinating history inspired by God.
Our founding was based not on a couple of abstract documents, but on millennia of historical realities that inform and articulate every word, every phrase, every concept so dearly defended by our founders. All of them rest on the firm foundation of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” without which our independence and our liberties would have no defense at all.
Whence arose these truths? John Adams called them “the general Principles of Christianity” and “the general Principles of English and American Liberty.” Faith and freedom united to form the foundations of the unique American constitutional republic, and Reilly ably identifies the source of those principles that culminated in the founding of America the Beautiful.
Today’s scions of secularism will tremble at Reilly’s recounting of the principles of the Magna Carta of 1215 that flowed from centuries of Catholic Church canon law and practice. Augustine’s City of God proclaimed for all time the limits of political power, a truth that flourished in Christendom and nowhere else.
To put it simply, without God, there is no freedom. Ask any tyrant.
Like Marx and Hitler, today’s enemies of freedom recognize the Catholic Church and its timeless teachings as the ultimate enemy that must be destroyed. Augustine identified for all time the enemies of the City of God as those who love power — unlimited power — for its own sake.
Reading Reilly, one appreciates all the more why we must defeat them.

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