Monday, December 1, 2008

A US Weimar Rep? Red Flags (II): Our Republic

Continued from "A US Weimar Republic? Red Flags (I): Introduction"

From the desk of Dr Sam C. Holliday, director of the Armiger Cromwell Center


Our Republic
Today there is the gulf between the self-reliant, practical, hard working, self-disciplined, freedom loving ‘traditional Americans’ and two other groups: (1) intellectuals and youth with extreme postmodern values and attitudes, and (2) entitlement factions which expect government to give them what they want.

This is the genesis of the cultural struggle in our country between modernism, which built our country, and a paradigm shift to postmodernism. The advocates of this change refer to themselves as progressives and to this shift as progress. Initially this struggle resulted in the deconstruction of traditional values and attitudes in our schools and universities. Then it spread to our media, our legal system, and finally to ordinary citizens. It is not about logic or reason; it is all about emotions.

The presidential election of 2008 revealed some psychological and philosophical trends, which indicate how far our country has changed from being a united, organic meritocracy. The election was an expression of black pride and white guilt. It was a victory for the Populares: electoral masses and the disadvantaged proletariat. The challenge we now face is how to cope with whatever might confront us in the future.

Our Founders were very concerned about universal suffrage. They were afraid of what today is called ‘one person, one vote.’ In 1815 John Adams was to call it “the most ignoble, unjust and detestable form of government” which “ wastes, exhausts and murders itself.” (Agar, p. 40)

They created a federal republic, and wrote the Constitution of the United States, based on the tenets of classical republicanism, which is dependent on sovereignty being held by citizens themselves. The Founders shared a fear of tyranny, either by dictators or Caesars, and sought ways to protect freedom; their solutions were decentralization and checks and balances. It was a remarkable compromise designed as a safe guard against mass emotionalism.

Our Founders knew from history that republics couldn’t survive without civic virtue, i.e. citizens placing the good of the republic ahead of their self-interests. Therefore, they limited the right to vote to property owners. They wanted to avoid the possibility that the ‘have nots’ would vote to themselves the wealth of the ‘haves.’ As Washington said “mankind, when left to themselves, are unfit for their own government.” (Agar, p.22)

However, since 1789 rulings of the Supreme Court, universal suffrage and mass emotionalism have eroded the views of our Founders. Although our Constitution is a most remarkable document it relies on abstract principles—the rule of law. The Founders should have known that this would encourage, not prevent, the centralization of power, for it had been attempted two thousand years before.

As Cicero said: “Cato used to say that our state excelled all others in its constitution; in them, for the most part, an individual had established his own form of state by his laws and institutions… our state, on the contrary, was the result, not of one man’s genius but of many men, not of one man’s life but of several centuries and periods … actual experience stretching over the ages is needed” (Barrow, p. 43)

However, abstract principles are unable to match the emotional appeals of charismatic personalities who skillfully exploit the rootlessness, hardship, distress, skepticism, cynicism and desires of the time. Convincing rhetoric that offers the hope of some Utopia always wins. Abraham Lincoln noted this in a speech at the Springfield Men’s Lyceum when he warned of the danger of demagogues destroying any republic.

Over a hundred years ago Alex de Tocqueville described how different American culture was from that of Europe. What he had observed was American exceptionalism based on a tradition of constitutionality, limited government, separation of powers and free-market capitalism. He saw Americans as optimistic, self-reliant, freedom loving people who had low expectations for government.

In the 1930s Jose Orozco recorded, in frescoes at Dartmouth College, the differences he saw in Latin American and Anglo American cultures. He saw the people in the USA as cohesive, dedicated and disciplined without the oppression, self-indulgence, and corruption of centralized government in many other countries.

Since the 1930s there have been many changes, both good and bad, but the critical questions are: Do the red flags we can now see indicate that American culture has fundamentally changed? Have civic virtues been lost? Have the republican institutions placed in our Constitution been replaced by postmodern thought and socialistic collective ideas? Has the gradual evolution toward social equality eliminated the meritocracy our Founders visualized? Should we seek a society of excellence with individuals judged on merit and accomplishment, or a society of equals? Has equality of outcomes replaced equality of opportunity, equality before the law, and equality before God? Should citizenship be a privilege to be earned, rather than a right?

To be continued in Part III, "The lessons" ... "Of course there are many differences in the USA today and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. Germany had been severely damaged by World War I and the Versailles Treaty ..."

Copyright © 2008 Armiger Cromwell Center, Atlanta, GA 30319-1322. 404-201-7374. Permission is granted to forward this article by e-mail to friends or colleagues on a fair use basis. For reprint permission, contact Armiger Cromwell Center at

A printable version of the integral text of the essay "Red Flags", a parallel between Weimar Germany and Postmodern USA

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