What Is to Be Done for a Nation that Secedes from the Principles of Its Founding?
Vladimir Lenin’s pamphlet What Is To Be Done? published in 1902, provided a draft proposal for the Communist revolution of 1905 and the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917. Based on NikolaiChernyshevsky ’s 1863 novel of that title, which argued for the creation of working cooperatives (an early version of the “soviets”) and total dedication to the socialist ideal, Lenin took the message to greater extremes. In order to avert the danger of “diversion from the correct path,” a spearhead of radical fighters and an “educated intelligentsia” were indispensable. Lenin saw his platoon of believers as a cadre of “social democrats,” whose agenda, as it turned out, rested on coercion, deception, violence and mass slaughter. The party, he stated, “will stop at nothing to rid itself of an unworthy member”—for that matter, it would stop at nothing to rid itself of its political opponents and ordinary dissenters, by any means necessary. Sound familiar?
There is something unstable about all democracies, as John Adams and Alexis de Tocqueville knew very well. “Remember, Democracy never lasts long,” Adams wrote in 1814, “It soon wastes exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy Yet, that did not commit suicide.” De Tocqueville realized the dangers of socialism, which restricts the sphere of individual freedom, but he also foresaw the dangers inherent in democracy. As he famously wrote in Democracy in America, “Americans are so enamored of equality, they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom”—the strategy of the Democratic Party. (Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die warns about the democratic temptation to authoritarianism, but falls into topical leftist partisanship and so grossly misconceives where the threat is coming from.)
Political fragility is especially the case with large, complex nations riven with multiple competing agencies and jurisdictions and a congeries of races, ethnicities, cultural enclaves and political constituencies. In The Collapse of Complex Societies, anthropologist Joseph Tainter indicates that complexity grows significantly “just prior to collapse,” that societies collapse “due to mysterious internal processes” as well as many observable factors, including “integrative deficiencies” and a “violation of systemic connections in the economic core.” “Simple societies can lose an established level of complexity” and revert to a more primitive level of organization; the consequences for complex societies are far more devastating. Such nations hang together by the force of custom and historical inertia, but they are always mercurial and prone to regional resentments and disparities, growing corruption among their legislators until it becomes epidemic, and the entrenching of party fiefdoms. The obvious result is the erosion of a once comparatively robust polity.
Recently, philosophy professor and member of the European Parliament Ryszard Legutko in The Demon in Democracy acutely anatomized the temptation in democratic states to adopt a socialist framework for governance: the redistribution of wealth, the rejection of historical precedence, the replacement of religion by a secular theocracy, and the abandonment of individual initiative in favor of collective authority. In both communist and liberal societies—the latter more gradually and less overtly brutal—he writes, “tracking opposition and defending orthodoxy turn[s] out to be so attractive that more and more people fail to resist it.” “In both communism and liberal democracy,” he continues, it becomes natural for liberal democrats as for their communist counterparts to take offense to a “casual remark, or a lack of vigilance, or an improper joke, making the lives of unruly individuals difficult by constantly admonishing and creating further regulations and stricter laws.” In fact, as the power of the Democratic left increases, it does more than make life difficult; for many—responsible earners, entrepreneurs, white men, Jews and Christians, political conservatives, reputable scientists, blue-collar workers, believers in the sanctity of traditional marriage, upholders of the Western heritage—it makes life an obstacle course.
As communism had its targeted foes—individual liberty, free markets, electoral choice, the rule of law—so democracies grounded on precisely these goods gradually develop a similar set of meretricious demons—“patriarchy, white supremacy, racism, [and] a network of speech and cultural habits established over centuries.” The two systems insensibly coalesce, Legutko points out, one operating by direct application of power, the other by incremental steps. The lesson to be taken is that a democracy is not a republic, as the founders knew, the former subject to the whims of men, the latter subject to constitutional laws.
Here is where we come to the evolution of the Democratic Party and its end-point in a totalitarian dispensation. The two-party machine has been legally and politically embedded in the American electoral system since 1796 saw the formation of the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. The Parties changed their names over time until we have the bipartisan nomenclature we are all familiar with. Through a series of political vicissitudes, Americans have arrived at the political and ideological conflict that is wreaking havoc in the nation today. For it should be obvious that the Democratic Party is no longer a democratic party in the common acceptation of the term. The outrageous and fraudulent effort to cashier a sitting president with official and agency collusion and possibly to prefer articles of impeachment against him without the slightest observable warrant differ little in effect from the infamous Soviet show trials. The internal tensions between the Old Guard and the New Radicals do not signal, as some might hope, the splintering of the party but, on the contrary, the solidifying of its nature into a more despotic entity. The Bolsheviks are taking over, the Mensheviks are on the run.
The crucial issue is that America currently has only one legitimate party, the Republicans, despite the RINO tergiversators, shadow Democrats, members of the Beltway country club, and intramural adversaries of the president. In a recent campaign rally in Green Bay, President Trump correctly referred to the Democrats as the party "of high taxes, high crime, open borders, late-term abortion, hoaxes and delusions" in contrast to the Republican Party, “the party for all Americans and common sense.” There is considerable truth to that. The Democrats, however, can no longer be considered a legitimate political party, but a revolutionary organization bent on destroying and remaking the nation into a simulacrum of centralized totalitarian regimes. It understands only one thing and that is the ideology of power and centralized control. The economy, national unity, military might and international influence and reputation can be sacrificed, without a second thought, to the success of their agenda. In a devastating article for American Greatness, Karin McQuillan makes no bones about the fact that the Democrats have declared war on the president and, by extension, on the United States itself. “The Democrats [sic] real derangement,” she writes, “is that they no longer believe in American individualism and freedom of thought, speech and enterprise.” They form a political movement that “is anti-American at its core.”
How is it possible to deal with a tyrannical entity under the terms of an established liberal democracy, to hold commerce with a party that no longer recognizes the Constitution under which the nation was founded, and wishes to abrogate fundamental amendments of which it disapproves. It is, so to speak, no longer business as usual, the readiness for philosophical debate, the emblematic gesture of “reaching across the aisle,” of decency and respect. The lack of civility is appalling, but that is the least of it. The Democratic Party should now be understood as a foreign organism inserted into the body politic. The application of democratic means and principles in treating with a party that is no longer democratic seems neither logical nor feasible.
One thinks of the last time America was in the throes of dissolution, the Civil War of 1861-66 in which the survival of the nation was at stake and whose repercussions are still being felt. The issue to be addressed is whether the situation in which America now finds itself is equally parlous. Many commentators and observers believe that the nation is now embroiled in a second, undeclared civil war, manifestly unlike the first, yet no less calamitous. Is the country’s historic lease on a democratic future—“democratic” in the non-pejorative sense—about to expire? The Democratic Party, in league with Deep State operatives and their scandalous machinations, a decadent academy and K-12 ecosystem gone full “social justice,” a compliant media in the service of the progressivist swindle, and a high-tech social media conglomerate practicing censorship against conservative and patriotic voices have together shattered the structural joists and philosophical premises of a constitutional republic. If this conspiracy is not decisively checked, America will have been transformed into a socialist caricature of its original founding.
In today’s far-left environment, the initial question needs to be asked again—but from a profoundly different, indeed antithetical, perspective. What is to be done? Do we still have the courage and foresight even to contemplate preventive measures commensurate with the insidious plotting of the domestic enemies of the republic and the possible collapse of history’s greatest experiment in republican government? Perhaps this is the moment when executive orders issued by a fearless and loyal president become necessary. Perhaps this is the time when the Posse Comitatus Act, the Insurrection Act or in particular Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution, which provides grounds for the prosecution of treasonous acts against the Republic, need to be invoked. Abraham Lincoln did not hesitate to suspend habeas corpus and to act without immediate congressional authority in a time of secession and war.
Of course, it is obvious that any sort of bellicose intervention will instantly be decried by the fellow-traveling media as proof that the president is a “far-right” demagogue and a fascist tyrant in the image of Ceaușescu, Mussolini or Hitler—a canard that would, for example, turn Lincoln into a proto-Nazi. But there are times when a nation must act to protect itself against revolutionary upheaval despite the slurs and condemnations launched by the real demagogues. Especially today, when the menace emerges once more from the unscrupulous Left which, to cite Lenin again, “will stop at nothing” to realize its insurgency—not lies and slander, not violence, not fake “investigations,” not collusion with its enemies (a Democratic initiative), not electoral tampering, not planning a political putsch, not, in a word, “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Is the historical paradigm still relevant, then? Or are legal and legislative means adequate to countering the second gravest crisis the nation has faced in the course of its historical run? Can such means sap the strength of the parasitical classes—the “social justice” warriors, the radical feminists, the Deep State sycophants, the professionally “oppressed,” the vociferous mob of minority claimants, the crustacean order of non-taxpaying supplicants, a circuit judiciary clinging to remunerative chauvinism—all profiting at the nation’s expense? Can Trump now turn the tables on his soiled antagonists, from the lowest party hack to the highest malefactor, and introduce a series of indictments with teeth? Are the government agencies and state apparatus sufficiently reliable to act at the behest of the president in the interests of the nation or have they been irremediably corrupted by the previous Democratic administration so as to render them untrustworthy and a de facto domestic foe? Can the results of the next election in favor of the incumbent significantly repair the damage that has been done? Will a lazy and therapeutic culture realign itself if the head of the snake is cut off? Or will a future Democratic regime seal the nation’s fate?
In his 2004 Lincoln’s Constitution, U.C. Berkeley law professor Daniel Farber furnished a trenchant analysis of the problems surrounding the presidency in a time of state secession and civil war. Lincoln, Farber asserts, was “America’s first modern president [whose] use of executive authority was extraordinary in its breadth.” “Throughout our history,” he continues, “we have struggled to reconcile national authority and civil rights” and to determine to what extent “presidential authority [can] interpret and execute the laws independent of the judiciary without imperiling the rule of law.”
The problem is that the rule of law has already—and massively—been imperiled by Obama in numberless instances to advance his campaign against the integrity of the Union, as Matt Margolis and Mark Noonan have incontestably shown in their must-read The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. In no sense did Obama labor to promote the national interest, racial harmony, economic justice, foreign policy robustness, beneficial trade agreements, congressional probity, military preparedness or inter-agency rectitude. Quite the contrary. His purpose was to tarnish, corrupt and enfeeble a great nation, to render it “unexceptional,” a project in which he was largely successful.
Can such a program be regarded as secessionary in the larger sense? The catalyst of the Civil War was the issue of secession, but the internecine conflict in which the nation is currently engaged, while not technically involving the threat of secession, is equally monumental. The relation of secession to a situation in which no state is formally enacting it, but in which the very fabric of the federal union is in the process of unraveling, can be interpreted as the nation’s secession from itself, from its Constitution, its political traditions and its actual history. Lincoln understood that secession was unconstitutional, but the effort to undermine and gut the Constitution—to regard it euphemistically as a “living document” subject to capricious change—is by that very reasoning also unconstitutional, a form of auto-secession. Are not acts intended to dismantle the nation and sever it from its traditions, usages, and institutions also forms of secession in everything but name, if not of sedition or even treason?
Does the Democratic insurrection or attempted coup to displace a sitting president, to open the nation’s borders to a tidal wave of millions of illegal migrants, to empower sanctuary cities, to redistribute the income of its earning class, to transform the universities and public schools into indoctrination centers, to abolish the Second Amendment and enfeeble the first, to spy on its citizens, to prefer false charges against its leaders, to engage in illicit “vote harvesting,” and to expand a list of imaginary rights exponentially—“free” education, state-mandated health care, free birth control, unlimited abortion, guaranteed income, subprime housing, etc., which as de Tocqueville says, “aren’t rights, these are the rations of slavery”—does this not comprise a violation of civic order, vitality, enterprise and political freedom? Does it not envision the sacrifice of the national interest in the service of a failed ideology? Is the nation, as I suggested, not, in fact, seceding from the principles of its founding, its nature and its very existence?
This is where we should acknowledge the contemporary relevance of Lincoln’s presidency. As Farber argues, “The president’s independent power to pursue the national interest” is differentially paramount in times of crisis. Although the issue is and will likely remain interpretively vexed, Farber concludes that, owing to the unprecedented nature of the crisis the fledgling nation faced, Lincoln did not exceed his authority under Article II of the Constitution. As Lincoln recognized, in a time when an internal war deploying all the instruments at its disposal is being waged against a legitimate government and seditious acts that threaten to destabilize the nation or radically alter its character proliferate, defending the nation is clearly synonymous with the president’s institutional role. The same reasoning seems equally pertinent today.
What is to be done? Is the current president up to the task? “It was as much dumb luck as anything else that placed Lincoln in the White House at a critical time,” Farber summarizes. “To expect another Lincoln would be foolish.” These are unnerving words. For, if something is not done to resolve the current predicament, whether through forceful, legislative or juridical means, we can expect not another Lincoln but another Lenin.