Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Slippery Slopes

I have been very disturbed by two news stories in as many days. The federal government has, as I understand it, decided to convert its bailout money to the banks into stock ownership. This will, in effect, give the government the power to run the nation's largest banks. Also, the EPA has, apparently, consigned to itself the power to regulate (read tax) virtually every aspect of life in America in order to carry out its mandate to protect the environment. That the federal government should nationalize America's banking system, and that an agency of that government should have the power to impose taxes on its own authority in direct violation of the Constitution, is a telling and frightening prospect.

There have been many such examples of this usurpation of Constitutional authority by the government in recent years, forming a pattern of increasing federal control of American institutions, American life and American liberty. The response, on the other hand, has been predictable. The left actively lionizes and promotes this usurpation, given its hysterical confidence in the power of big government to solve individuals' ills, and the right has failed miserably to mount a coherent counterattack based on Constitutional principles. The poet W.B. Yeats might have been describing our current condition when he wrote that 'the best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with a passionate intensity.'

But the truth is that, to the left, the Constitution is merely a quaint artifact of the eighteenth century, for which it is increasingly lacking the shame to express its disdain. Some on the left still pay lip service to the Constitution, but more and more the purveyors of collectivism are making it clear that they never really respected the Constitution to begin with. It was, in their minds, the product of bourgeois, slave-owning male chauvinists who pursued self-interest over liberty and their fortunes over the nation's future.

This point of view is pernicious ideological nonsense, of course, but there are few left in our society, either in politics or in the media, who will say so. And now, with the nation's first mixed-race president in office, any attempt to stem the tide of anti-Constitutional usurpation of power by the Executive can be, and is being, denounced as racist. Indeed, just last night I heard a left-wing spokesperson declaring that the only reason that anyone opposes the federal government's increasing centralization of the nation's economy and its growing regulation of its citizens' behavior is 'because there is a black man in the White House.' (Leave aside her slap at the president's mother, who was white.) This woman might as well have labeled those of us who oppose the Administration's policies as 'filthy Zionists,' or as 'cosmopolitan anti-proletarian agitators.' She would have fit in very well as a hack spokesperson for the fascists or the communists.

In the same broadcast, someone pointed out that in the previous Administration, opponents were called unpatriotic; today, opponents are being called racist. Both positions are misguided and harmful to the national debate. What is needed, in my view, is a return to an understanding that the Constitution is not a mere historical artifact, but a statement of the nature of the nation which was founded upon it. It is a vision, a set of beliefs and principles, which were meant to reflect the yearnings, not of a class of people, but of the human spirit. And this was so because those principles were ascribed not to human will, but to divine will. And whether you believe in god or not, the underlying point is that the nature of the human soul demands, and the nourishing of the human spirit requires, the maximum of personal liberty. This is what the Founders understood, and what they endeavored in brilliant prose and profound political and social terms, to guarantee. But that maximum of personal liberty necessarily implies a minimum of governmental power. And to the extent that the left refuses to accept that principle, and, indeed, stands it on its head, its views and policies are in direct conflict with the Constitution and the spirit in which the nation was created.

If this is so, let them admit it publicly; let the left say that the Founders were wrong, that the historical traditions of this nation are at fault, and that they, and only they, know what sort of a society we should live in. Let them declare that the Constitution is nothing but a blueprint for a structure that should never have been built, and that, having been built, has outlived its usefulness. In short, let them be honest with the American people about their ends and means. And let them tell us exactly what sort of socialist paradise they have in mind for us, rather than try to implement it through extra-Constitutional means, gradually, using courts and bureaucracies which have no accountability to the people. At least then we will know exactly where we stand, rather than having to figure it out by reading between the lines of legislation and court decisions which the people's representatives themselves do not read.

We have, I fear, started down a path from which it will become increasingly difficult to turn back. It is a path that leads to the diminution of individual liberty and the crippling of the human spirit. It is a path away from Constitutional principles and traditions in the name of free health care, free insurance, free what-have-you, none of which, of course is free. At the very least it must be paid for by increasingly onerous taxation, and at the most, by our birthright as a free and self-reliant people.