Today's Politicos vs The Words and Deeds of The Founders
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Reflections on Readings

Having just finished David Mamet’s The Secret Knowledge, I found I had a lot to think about, in fact much more than could be covered adequately within the scope of a review. It’s book that deserves a close reading and consideration within the scope of its subject — the dismantling of America’s culture. As a teenager, becoming politically aware during the age of Carter and Reagan, I remember wondering about all the ruckus about culture wars from the likes of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and fusty folk like Anita Bryant.  I didn’t really get it. Even then, in spite of my parents’ best efforts, and going to Christian school, I couldn’t help being influenced by popular culture.

Years later, after taking the time to dig into why I believed what I did, did I realize the uniqueness of the American system of government.  Actually, that’s not quite right either.  There have been republics in history and many democracies.  In fact, according to Francis Fukuyama in this interview  with Charles Kesler, governments that are ostensibly democracies are now among the most common. No, what sets the United States apart from any other country in the world is the assumptions on which the system was founded.

James Madison is credited with being the father of the Constitution, a title he modestly rejected.  Regardless, he did as much, if not more than any other founder to formulate the Constitution.  He pored over dozens of tomes on ancient republics and democracies, asking Jefferson, then in France, to send him everything he could lay hands upon.  Whether from histories of ancient Greece, Rome or the theories of Montesquieu, Madison tried to assemble the most bulletproof system he could, employing the natural tensions for power that he could foresee between the states and the Federal government, between the branches of government, and even between the two houses of Congress.  Nor did he neglect to consider the practical experience gleaned by about two centuries of self-rule in the colonies. The book, Madison’s Metronome, reviewed here, lays this out clearly and elegantly.

But, even Madison, when all was said and done, knew that no matter how carefully he layed things out, he could not escape from relying upon the virtue of the people.

A mere demarcation on parchment of the constitutional limits of the several departments, is not a sufficient guard against those encroachments which lead to a tyrannical concentration of all the powers of government in the same hands. — James Madison

Benjamin Franklin came to the same realization.

[O]nly a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.

This is why those quaint sounding pleas (to my then adolescent ears)  for maintaining culture and virtue are actually so important.  Character really does count, in fact, it is essential.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights, stated among its resolutions of “the basis and foundation of government” was:

That no free Government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles. Article 15

For our system of government to function, it has to be self perpetuating, in a sense. It should seek to be a place where immigrants want to assimilate. Schools should reinforce the values and pride in virtue that the Founders recognized.

The sleepy child of my youth said a Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of school, and then was done with it. This was a ritual acknowledgement that we lived in a good land, an in a good society, and that our elders wished us to continue it. How different from the constant insistence on the “celebration of differences” which one finds in today’s schools.  David Mamet The Secret Knowledge

When we hear talk of family values, we should recognize that the Left is correct when it points out that social mores change and that what is valued by one generation is not necessarily cherished by the next. How could it be so, unless the source of those values is virtue. Charles Kesler explains this in a recent article comparing the Reagan and Obama revolutions.

Values are what the people value; virtues and principles are what they should value. And they should value them because the principles are true and the virtues are good, not only for Americans but for human beings as such.

President Reagan realized this, in this bittersweet statement at the close of his second term.

Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn’t get these things from your family you got them from the neighborhood….Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture…. But now we’re about to enter the nineties, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven’t re-institutionalized it. 


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