Note: My dear readers, this is an unhinged ramblerant pulled directly from the pages of my personal journal, posted publicly only for reference to send around to friends and colleagues. It should not be interpreted as anything other than the delusions of one man’s mind. You will note that the prose style is dense, florid, didactic, and otherwise not fit for general consumption; that is how I write to myself. Again, this is a personal memo I share only for general interest, and not an attempt at polemic or persuasion, nor a statement of policy. -LNP
My practical political ideology—that is, my regime loyalty and my understanding of the principles of that regime, and some caveats of political theory on the mechanics of that regime and of politics in general—as it exists today, might be stated as follows:
The American union, which is in some ways a creed and in some ways a confederation and in all the crucial ways a nation, and must be preserved as such, is the greatest political project in history, and it is uniquely ours.
The most essential principles of that union can be discerned in the historic continuity between the system of government codified by the U.S. Constitution and articulated in The Federalist Papers, the two-party system and practice of multifactional democracy established over time, and the systems of mass-movement representation, technical management, and countervailing power established in the economic and social practice of the New Deal Era.
This living tradition is contiguous with the entire American political tradition, for good and for ill, and its primary promise is, that it does not strive to expunge, but instead to tolerate and sometimes to integrate, those parts of the American tradition with which it is in tension. These have included top-down technocracy and plutocracy, natural-rights libertyisms of all stripes, messianic republicanisms and populisms of all stripes, and all the rest.
Anything resembling coordinative “national” life is only possible inasmuch as it pays deference to this pluralism.
Anything resembling independent “localist” life is only possible inasmuch as it pays deference to and plays ball with this pluralism, for this pluralism channels and tames the rapacities which always are out to destroy the small.
All lower institutions and components of this union are precisely as indicative and valuable as its higher components and institutions, and the nobility of democracy lies in access to these by Americans of any background, and the mutual respect between those leading any of these institutions for each other and for each other’s wards, high or low, local or national, prominent or obscure.
The sophisticated and essentially non-rational and unprincipled, even unsolvable, matrix of national life over time and across space, is a glorious thing worth preserving and defending for its own sake; whatever unalloyed virtues or principles or ideals it might appear to manifest, are not themselves conditions of the union’s worth.
The essence of freedom in union, to the degree it is an independent virtue, is primarily in non-destruction; the value of things not having to make sense, of not having to be fit into higher ordering principles for the sake of some vision of higher good. The tradition of compromising, collaborating, temporary-consensus-building union as American political practice, is far more amenable to the preservation of this freedom of every component part to be itself, than any first-principles-based ideology of order or justice or natural right imaginable. The maintenance of social and institutional pluralism naturally maintains the lived basis of this freedom in American life.
There is no intrinsic “virtue” that presupposes legitimacy, dignity, and sovereignty, to be found anywhere, among any class of people, in any institution, or in any set of ideas, save in the union itself. All people, institutions, and ideas in the union are fallible, corruptible, dignifiable, and prospective, capable in equal measure of nobility and barbarity, decadence and grandeur. They possess civic virtue by no natural right, but only inasmuch as they practice virtues and habits of utility to the union and thus of magnanimity to their fellow inhabitants thereof. It need not be said, that civic virtue is not the only goodness.
Those who would be leaders in the union, in the republic, and in the nation, must practice these true virtues for their own sake; and if they practice the falser virtues, they must be encouraged or compelled to pay outward obeisance to the grander virtues. American political culture can only be healthy and vigorous if such virtues are recalled, cultivated, lauded, practiced, and practiced at great cost, among those who command and staff American institutions.
Such a practice of virtue in culture is best ensured by, first, a countervailing power in social balance, political balance, and economic balance generally prevailing upon American life and threatening the haughty, and second, by the aforementioned virtuous leadership working to maintain it, whether for self-interest or out of self-restraint.
The conditions of the 21st Century conspire such that greatness in American leadership now would seem to be attainable, not merely in elected office and leadership in American legislative and executive office, but in appointive office and nongovernmental leadership across civil society associations, and including in the discourse-shaping institutions of public life. The ancient role of the counselor, the minister, the lieutenant to the great, has a long pedigree in the American political tradition, and one with a perpetually uncertain place in American democratic constitutionalism, to be reimagined and reforged in every age. Under current circumstances, the opportunities would appear to be ripe for new endeavors on this open stage, with Hamilton, Hay, Pinchot, Hopkins, and Moynihan as a few potential models for consideration.
All those aspiring thisaways will in time discern that there is no essential unity of the virtues, and that a series of dialectics between incompatible and equally binding things—thought vs. action, principle vs. pragmatism, honesty vs. responsibility, private conscience vs. public duty, etc.—chain down all who would serve, think, act, or otherwise engage. The standard American penchant towards “practical idealism,” that messianic hustling which is the normal sidestepping attempt at escape from dichotomies, is as false a hope as any. Political character, like political order and like all things human, is not fundamentally resolvable, and all attempts to finally resolve it, rather than pay deference to its stubborn unsolvability, shall result in sputtering catastrophe. The true glories of political character are to be found in the temporal, limited, and creative ways individuals in multitudes of circumstances address these dialectics, respecting the competing moral claims of different standards of virtue and succumbing to the totalism of none. It encourages a tragic outlook, at best.
Civic virtue on the part of choice spirits and dedicated aristocrats of the soul, cannot be counted upon or expected to exist at any given moment. It can be expected to rise anywhere, from anyone of any background; but it should not be relied upon to preserve the integrity and operation of American government. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. They will not usually be there either. The union must be able to preserve itself in their absence; government must remain vigorous and intrepid for the public good, in their absence. The problem cannot be solved; and no one should expect it can be. We must make do as best we can, and American special providence will do what it shall.
The surest preserve of civic and social virtue, however, in accordance with the best and most ennobling American traditions across time, can be found and encouraged through social practices of vigor, strenuosity, and multitalented preparedness among all willing Americans of any background. Preparedness, for any old thing; Resilience, in the face of all disasters social, natural, political, and otherwise; general familiarity with historical and natural heritage dispersed among the citizenry, in ways that cannot be quite reduced to “education” alone, and institutionalized practices of commemoration whereby the torch of stewardship might be maintained; and a social norm of volunteer leadership in egalitarian local and national organizations, the famed “art of association” applied especially to causes of action, and not only causes of discourse. These are good things in themselves, under any political circumstances and in any regime. They are not in themselves qualifiers for leadership in the present circumstances. But they are a surer reserve of the sorts of grit and virtue our political institutions require, than those institutions are themselves. Anyone pining for their return must walk the walk.
The modes and orders which at any time might solidify and be crafted and tended by great lawgivers to bring order to the storm and speak the whirlwinds into stillness, will inevitably wither in time, either as geniuses pass the stage and cease management of their creations, or far more often, as the dykes and levees of one age are rendered moot by new technological and economic revolutions, new social and cultural great awakenings, new party systems and constellations of government, new geographies and geopoliticses of order. The rush of modernity and the whiplash of stagnation, and the natural seeds of war and greed and lust etc. sown thickly in the human breast, render this perpetual; and the constitution, party system, and order of countervailing power, provide a stunningly timeless framework for preserving the union amid the unceasing storms.
The union thus always has its place among the nations of the earth, neither separate from them nor lord over them; and the tasks of statecraft in the homeland, and statecraft upon the world stage, are far more like than might commonly be understood, in specific notions of forbearance and prudence.
They who ascertain any of this, who would be patriots for the union across the decades and orders, must resign themselves to their own obscurity, for their fellow Americans will rarely understand these principles of American government, far less the older principles of free government itself. The patriot must be prepared never to be understood nor appreciated nor thanked, but must strive on to serve anyway, in all capacities amenable to his or her talents and attainable by his or her labors. They are an American, and must not lord themselves over their fellow Americans, for it would be wrong, and their fellow citizens would not take it anyway. But they must cherish their times in the wildernesses of society and soul, to see the things Americans forget, to better serve when they walk amongst them. Whatever greater political and social and moral goals they fight and live and die for, they must do it for the glory of the ages, not of their own age, and live for their countrymen and country, and not their own power or esteem or fame. The balance is subtle; but at the end of the day, while they might talk with the ancients and a few modern greats, they must always answer to God, and worse, themselves.