The end of empires is all the same, “Cry havoc, and let loose the dogs of war.” The maintenance of the American empire has cost us the people of other countries inordinate amounts of blood shed and lost treasure. Havoc, that is the death spasms of empires, are not limited to foreign affairs and entanglements, they are internal as well. Americans no longer view those with whom they disagree as mistaken, instead they are evil. To be sure the, list of historical injustices, fatally flawed ideas, and disastrous public policies mixed in with generous helpings of actual and original sin played their role in breaking the ground for the planting of the seeds of social and cultural disintegration. The politics of “gimmee,” be it played by the charter members of the military industrial complex, the lords of finance, or the commissars of intersectionality is degenerating into a feeding on the corpse of the body politic by a vulture class intent on securing its portion of carrion before decomposition has done its work. They will have to work fast. The population of the United States is aging, wealth creation is limited to the well connected few, the toll of unfunded liabilities is coming due for ever higher payments as the ability of future generations to pay is a bleak prospect at best.
The material and cultural decay of society is in large part the life’s work of the Jacobins among us. In Revolutionary France, the Jacobin clubs produced a political class intent on the destruction of the ancien regime and the violent propagation of the ideas of the French Revolution throughout Europe. The Jacobins split into two factions, the Girondins and Montagnards. The only real difference between the two was that the Girondins were theorists of political violence, a militaristic foreign policy, and the use of state terror while the Montagnards were enthusiastic practitioners of both. The rhymes and echoes of these revolutionaries are very much with us. The true American political experiment, the revival of the imperium in imperio was dealt its mortal wound at Appomattox. American history since then has been one long episode of the consolidation of political power, the erosion of state and local governance, an aggressive militarized foreign policy, and the entrenchment of a national surveillance state that would make both Robespierre and Joseph Fouché proud.
The American Girondins, both Democrat and Republican, both support and praise the consolidate leviathan that gives them both their livelihood and their purpose in life. The American Montagnard are less sure. Best represented by the young turks of the Democratic party, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez being the most prominent but by no means singular example, they both promise and threaten action. The youngsters on the staff of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign have called for riots and burning of cities if their man loses, gulag of re-education camps for their candidate’s opponents if Mr. Sanders is triumphant. Those who are shocked by this ought not be. Left and Right, conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat have all in their way allowed the Jacobin fox into the hen house. The Jacobin teaches our children from the pre-kindergarten years through graduate school. The Jacobin has been elevated to high positions in the military, government, schools and universities, corporations, and entertainment. The Jacobin exerts enormous control over the information and communication platforms of our day. The Jacobin is intent on changing every aspect of society: the thoughts we may think, the words we may speak, the faith we may profess. There is no end to this. The Jacobin is committed to process, the revolution never ends, but it does eventually devour its own. The old guard of the Democratic Party has been pushed by its Jacobin wing into one imprudence after another, risking serious defeat in November’s election and possible permanent damage to the party’s future electoral fortunes. This is not surprising. There are Democrats who believe the impeachment of President Trump is ill-advised, that modern monetary theory is quackery, and demonizing your opponent may only get you so far down the electoral row. They are cowed into silence and submission by the Montagnards.
Liberalism has always had its self-destructive tendencies, it’s supposed championing of individual liberty is, historically speaking, always and everywhere transformed into subtle but vicious forms of statism. In more recent times the same liberals who championed free speech in the 1960s now champion speech codes, safe spaces, and harsh penalties for so-called “microaggressions,” all in the name of the freedom not to be offended. Due process, presumption of innocence, these are not for those with whom you disagree. Those who disagree with you are evil, prima facie.
Republicans too are infected with the Jacobin spirit. Those who claim the Right as home and who embrace the notion of America as a propositional nation are no better than their counterparts on the Left. Libertrairans and paleoconservatives who questioned America the proposition, whether the proposition was “Equality,” the “indispensable nation,” or the curiously, quasi-jihadist “redeemer nation” were read out of the movement (Should conservatives even have movements?), Dreyfus-like with drums rolling, medals and symbols of rank torn away, and saber broken. Very often these right wing Girondists disagree among themselves as to the propositions that make up the American ideal. One thing they do agree on is that the South and her traditions have no role to play in this conversation. Slavery, being the one and only original sin of America and a uniquely Southern sin at that, forever marks the Southerner suspect. If perchance one must trot George Washington, or James Madison, and this is becoming more rare, or be truly daring and trot out Thomas Jefferson as a conservative icon, they are usually scrubbed clean of their Southern heritage and identity. The American Montagnard finds the whole operation futile, purge the dead white males and be done with it. The American Girondin scrubs hard, but in the process he often washes away such things as limited government, respect for local tradition and custom, hatred of offensive war, and tenderness for the liberties of the citizen.
Meanwhile, Our dear Republican and Democrat Girondins, gave us such policies as forever war, forever debt, and the Patriot Act. Both parties have aided and abetted the establishment of an unaccountable Pentagon and its black budget operations, as well as rogue law enforcement and intelligence agencies that make a mockery of the Bill of Rights. Indeed, I wonder what exactly the American Girondins, at least those who consider themselves conservatives, believe they are conserving? The American Montagnard is more coherent in their beliefs, they support the everlasting revolution. There is always a reactionary, racist, homophobe, transphobe, somewhere who needs rooting out, and there is nothing quite like enhanced and expanded state powers to get the job done.
What has made our politics so vicious, so partisan, and God forbid but I fear it to be so, soon to be violent is politics is no longer a contest of principles. Politics in the United States is a contest for raw, nekkid, power. The rabid and almost deranged opposition to President Trump suggests this is so. Mr. Trump is no ideologue; he is pragmatic, albeit in a too often rude, vulgar, and flamboyant style. Democrats from a different time would have seen in him someone with whom they could do business on some issues such as infrastructure and criminal justice reform. No more. Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is an affront to the revolutionaries, Montagnards and Girondin Never Trumpers in both parties, and his promise to “drain the swamp” is viewed by the political class as a real threat. Never mind the damage that is being done by the political circus known as impeachment, our Girondins do not even care that the impeachment process has exposed their lies, hypocrisy, and self-serving agendas. They are playing for high stakes: power and the destruction of a dangerous political opponent.
The single-minded pursuit of the politics of destruction has deadly ramifications. It comes dangerously close to rationalizing, if not legitimizing, the use of violence against one’s political foes. Fault lines in our society are widening and deepening. What is lacking in our political culture is an effective conservative counterweight to the radicalism of both parties. The Republicans, most of whom pay lip service to conservative ideas, have enthusiastically entangled us in foreign alliances, wars, and misadventures. Our universities are in the hands of the most radical and destructive elements in society, yet not even in “conservative" states is move made to rectify the situation. Time and again conservatives have refused to do what conservatives are supposed to do, cry “Stop, no further.” The Southern political tradition knew how to do this and did it effectively, more so than any conservative group in America. But today the South and its culture is vilified and for the reason that it championed the ideas of prudence, restraint, precision in thought, and opposition to innovation. “Change is not reform,” John Randolph of Roanoke once declaimed; he is correct, true reform is a return to first principles.
Our times are dangerous because our public servants are lacking in prudence and restraint, let alone the theological virtues and cardinal virtues. Our times are dangerous because we allow tenured radicals, cultural marxists, and the enemies of civil society to indoctrinate our children. Our times are dangerous because too many reject what is true, good, and beautiful and embrace the passing moral decay and destructive group think of the day. We forsake the old verities: love of peace, hatred of offensive war, loathing of public debt, taxes, and excises, states’ rights, local governance, and tenderness for the liberty of the citizen. We eschew true tolerance, kindness, and consideration for those with whom we disagree. Thus, we choose to sow the wind and we may well reap the whirlwind.