Tory refugees on their way to Canada, by Howard Pyle. Harper’s Monthly, December 1901.– wikipedia
February 12, 2021
The beginning of the lunar new year is a time to reinforce the resolutions made at the turn of the solar new year. So far, I’ve been able to stick to my resolve never to mention the 45th U.S. president by name again, even though he has been dominating the headlines again.
But I do want to pick up from where I left off with my musings on the events of January 6th: the capitoolstorm, as they’re calling it in my native land.
I called it the Epiphany Mob, but a term that evokes the beeldenstorm — the iconoclastic fury that deranged my forbears 4 ½ centuries ago — suits me even better: We’re talking about riotous impulses that go back even farther than the Boston Tea Party and the destruction of Governor Hutchinson’s house.
My “Loyal She Remains” take on the events of January 6 began with a reminder that the United States of America as a nation state was conceived and born in protest, riot, sedition and armed rebellion. My home and adopted land, Ontario, and the union it is part of, Canada, were not forged in a bloody uprising, so the view from here is different.
I want to make it clear, though, that “different” here means another perspective, not an assertion that our way is the right way, in opposition to the systemic flaws woven into the fabric of the settler republic to the south. Both are pragmatic, ever-evolving, and very human creations. Like all human constructions, the settler dominion in the north has systemic flaws of her own.
I’m not interested in a clash of ideas, especially not anything that can be reduced to an either/or debate. My concern here is how fragments of ideas can come loose, detach from the unfathomable whole, and become toxic, for individual minds, for human associations, and for a body politic.
The idea that motivated the mobs that vandalized the Governor’s mansion and dumped the East India Company’s tea into the ocean — “no taxation without representation” — has been a useful formulation. It is not self-evident; it’s not even a “truth”. It is practical standard, and when cited, it is, in effect, a demand for responsible government and fair taxation, at rates set through deliberation and consent.
The concept can serve as a guide for setting up basic civic practices within an existing order, or from scratch, as settlers in the seceding colonies, now states, had to do..
When this fractional truth is whittled down to “government is the problem”, it becomes unwholesome, and sometimes deadly.
The danger of standing armies, and the role of militias made up of townsfolk and citizens as a check and a balance, is also a useful formulation. The 19th-century Peelite principle that civic police are not soldiers is similar. But the idea of a personal right to bear arms, meaning that every man is, in effect, a militia unto himself is, again, pernicious and lethal.
The Kochist formulation, that every man and whatever he has managed to stake out for himself is, in effect, a landed sovereign republic in his own person, is one of the most debilitating truth slivers ever devised.
These delusions are connected with the 18th century fractional truths that drove New Englanders to the rioting that set off the War for Independence. But this current manifestation — this dangerous combination of truth fragments that has deranged so many minds and souls — emerged out of 20th century concerns.
The syndrome that the Grand Old Party and the U.S. as a whole suffer from didn’t start manifesting itself in this distinct present form until after World War II.
High modern libertarian conservatism was formed in the crucible of the Cold War. It’s purpose, and it’s appeal, was to serve as a counter to Marxist formulations by providing an ideological framework as comprehensive and as consistent as communism. The difference is that now the science of history, society and economics shows that it is unfettered private, for-profit enterprise that will lead humanity towards some kind of stateless utopia, rather than workers of the world casting away their chains and submitting their fate to an ideologically pure vanguard.
This is why there are so many parallels between the two strains of thought. A key difference is their relative success: Soviet and Maoist formulations lost all credibility long ago, while the mindset designed to replace Marxist truths remains a dreadful force.
After the end of the Second World War, a kind of paranoia swept the nation about communists infiltrating governments and institutional structures of all kinds. Such fears were unfounded, and the general sense of the actual power and influence of the people in charge in the Kremlin was greatly exaggerated.
Ironically, counter-Marxism as parsed by neo-con/lib thought leaders has succeeded in all the ways people used to imagine the red menace was undermining liberty: Their formulations are as materialist, as deterministic as those of the enemy. They are as convinced they are in tune with dialectical forces of history; as conspiratorial; as ruthless; as immoral in terms of the means they use to serve their ends; as contemptuous of cultures and traditions; as global, imperial and total in their ambitions, and as ready to make gods out all-too-human personages as any Marxist, Leninist, Trotskyist, Stalinist, Fascist or Maoist true believer.
These thought patterns have infiltrated governments, institutions and minds, not just throughout the U.S., but around the world, especially where English is the main language spoken. What has transpired is almost precisely what so many people imagined was happening during the McCarthy era, but from forces that profess to be the very opposite of the dreaded communist threat.
Cold War formulations, now 30+ years out of date, are the heart of the matter. But there are other poisons that have been leaching into the cauldron, including:
— festering resentment over New Deal innovations;
— Goldwater’s “extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice”;
— “silent majority” appeals to drive decent folk in the continental heartland towards fear and resentment;
— Christians yielding to the temptation to arrogate themselves and their nation state as the right hand of God;
— an anti-federal, states rights, separatist bent that has been persistent since the Second War for Independence, the one that failed, but rooted in the victorious rebellion that led to the birth of the Great Settler Republic;
— an uneasiness with modernity, in this case not peculiarly U.S. American but near universal in its reach, and the accompanying nostalgia for lost values, norms, certainties, glories;
— and, perhaps worst of all because it is so central to late modern Republicanism, Nixon’s cynical “Southern strategy” of exploiting fear and hate, which has been the key to the party’s electoral success ever since.
Together, these and other strains combine to give rise to what can be seen as the latest of the horrors that have cursed human life on this planet since those pivotal 17th century mobs raged.
The syndrome that deranges so many minds, with its neo-con/lib core, belongs in the same category as Napoleon’s ideals-driven militarism; dictatorial presidentialism around the world; late imperial scrambling and plunder; fascist and national socialist delusion, brutalization and genocide; hardcore Soviet social scientific order; Red Army totalitarianism, or any of the many fanatical perversions of Abrahamic faith traditions that have emerged over the last 60+ years.
Extremes meet in all these configurations, especially in the present danger as manifested on January 6. Although these horrors are all part of the chain of events set into motion by the rebellion led by Massachusetts and Virginia and its aftermath, they don’t fall neatly into place on the traditional political spectrum set with those original revolutions as the benchmark.
So it would be a mistake to opt for surgery that involves applying “left wing” correctives to “alt-right” excesses. MAGA populism and Breitbart style gonzo disruption are, again, merely symptoms. The disease is deeper, and more pervasive.
The malaise is also infectious, so it is best not confronted directly. Quarantine — something like the containment that ultimately proved so effective against the Soviet threat — may be the best strategy here.
We’re dealing with slivers of truth — ideas, thought patterns, story lines — so the disease metaphor only goes so far. It’s mainly the patterns, and deliberate efforts to deceive people into falling into them for nefarious purposes, that need to be shunned, exposed, shamed, ridiculed and isolated, not the human element — not the people, individually or in company.
The objective need not be to defeat the Republican Party once and for all, and relegate it to the dustbin of history where the disgraced grandee who inspired the capitoolstormers will certainly remain until the end of time. Even though the party that he used to serve his purposes has been in a diseased state for going on 60 years, the legacy it embodies is greater than what it may appear to be in its pitiful current state. Rescuing the party of Lincoln from its captors, bolstering its immune system, and purging it of all traces of the contagion would lead to the best possible outcome.
The Cold War is over. There is no enemy as readily identifiable as the Soviets or the Nazis at the gates. This means the age of revolution is over too. Even if a case could be made for carrying on with the pattern of disruption, violence, schism, revolution and counter-revolution that was set into motion going on 250 years ago, the world at present is too fragile, too divided, and too heavily armed for such recklessness, such disturbance.
The debacle at the U.S. Capitol shows how vulnerable we are. Think about it: In the very heart of the only global superpower still standing, members of the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, and the vice president himself came close to being killed by a frenzied mob that was somehow convinced that it was the duty of patriots and freedom fighters to stage a coup.
The fact that their leader is so ludicrously incompetent is, to me, an indication that despite all her sins and all her flaws, God is still inclined towards blessing America, and that Satan — the Prince of Lies — is close to being a spent force.
But I wouldn’t count on it. Imagine what would happen if someone actually capable came along to lead the heirs of the Boston Tea Party mob and the Sons of Liberty trashing the governor’s home in another uprising dedicated to restoring the republic to an imagined former glory.
I’m writing from an Ontario, Canada perspective, avowedly in keeping with the remnants of the “Loyal She Remains” tradition, threadbare as it may be. But if we manage to break those patterns of disruption, violence, schism and revolution, there would be no place for the reactionary, counter-revolutionary mindset either, whether in defence of an established order, old-fashioned Tory, “Family Compact” style, or determined to give free way for a new one to emerge, neo-con/lib, Manifest Destiny, deep red U.S. Republican style.
I propose we begin by discarding the traditional left/right political spectrum calibrated to late 18th century developments, and re-setting the compass to the challenges and opportunities we have before us in 2021, especially our relationship with our earthly home, with other life forms, and among ourselves, as peoples, nations, cities, towns, faiths, traditions, orders and companies of every sort.
When we recalibrate the spectrum, the sick republicanism that I’ve been calling out in these musings will fall outside the range of practical civic discourse, along with all the other ideological horrors that have cursed life on this planet for going on 250 years.
Their delusions do not need to be answered. While neo con/lib true believers can continue to blather away through their think tanks, institutes and media outlets, what they say does not warrant any of our precious attention. It’s hard not to loathe their existence, but even contempt is a waste of time, energy and band width. There are more important, and more practical matters to attend to at this critical point in human history.
If, after we set our sights more purposefully, we still find binary, stereoscopic ways of looking at the world useful, it won’t be in oppositional terms, but harmoniously: The left and the right will function like our feet do when we walk, run, bike or skate; like our hands do when we work, wash, swim, love, play; and as the venous and arterial systems do to keep us alive with fresh energy.