A Humble and Modest Search for Clarity

I do not believe that I am the only American who has been put off by hysterical rants about the end of the American way of life.   Almost everything I have come across, from articles in so-called conservative publications to blogposts to conversations with friends strikes me as based on very limited understanding, not just of history but of the basic meaning of words.

For example, when people speak of the Biden-Harris administration as presenting a threat to the Constitution or the Republic, what do they mean?  Surely, everyone who pays the slightest attention to American history must be aware that the Constitution of 1787 was basically nullified by Lincoln's illegal war and the illegally passed abomination known as the 14th Amendment.  And how anyone can think that the American regime of the past 100 years is a "constitutional republic" in anything but form, is a mental aberration I am almost afraid to explore.

But setting aside the peculiarities of American history, perhaps it would be helpful to make a few distinctions.  The first one popped into my head, as I was making fitful and unsuccessful efforts to get to sleep.  What I am hoping to separate out are two aspects of a political system, particularly our own political system, which engender different ways of talking about them.  For the sake of convenience, I am calling the the fundamental constitutional form "the commonwealth", by which  I am translating Greek politeia, the accepted institutions, forms, customs  by which people agree to govern themselves, and distinguishing this from "the regime," by which I mean the means by which actual power is exercised.  If anyone has a better idea for the terms, I am certainly open to suggestions.  (The term commonwealth has odious associations with the Cromwellian tyranny.)

First, a very simple example.  Athens, after the Persian Wars, was a moderate democracy, in which adult male citizens assembled to make important decisions and most, though not all offices were open to all citizens.  The most democratic feature was the selection of the ruling magistrates--the nine Archontes (rulers)--by lot.  Why?  Because Athenians rightly believed that elections could be swayed by money, and excessive reliance on democratic elections would concentrate power in the hands of the rich.  The exceptions--and this is not important for this discussion--included the board of generals who conducted military operations and treasury officials who handled large sums of money.

Real power, according to the constitution of the Athenian polis, resided in the citizens' assembly, the Ekklesia--a word that by a strange evolution is the source of many modern words for Church.  Such was the Athenian commonwealth or politeia, but how did power really operate?  Thucydides says of Athens under the benevolent and kindly influence of Pericles, that they called it "democracy" but everyone knew that it (that is, in my terms, "the Regime") was run by one man.

A number of people--among whom I include Sam Francis and some of his disciples as well as the humble writer of this screed--have suggested that the United States, like republican France--have gone through a number of phases.  For this discussion, the details hardly matter, but in the crudest form, the First Republic was established in 1776 and revised in 1787--it would make sense to distinguish them, but the underlying spirit is much the same--and, although it underwent changes--lasted until perhaps 1861, though one might prefer a somewhat later date.  The Second or Lincolnian Republic lasted down till 1932, and the Third Republic was inaugurated in the Kennedy-Johnson years.

There  is little point in going into details and even less to be gained by engaging in moralizing language about tyranny, injustice, etc.  The leaders of the Second and Third Republics usually invoked the language and concept of the First, and they very well may have believed some of what they were saying, but it should be clear that by the 1990's, at least, the Commonwealth of the USofA was a centralized state,  a mixed state-capitalist/socialist economic system, an oligarchy tempered by democratic elections in which two parties, one oriented toward capitalism and big business and the other oriented toward socialism and the demands of minorities, competed for power and were engaged in an endless process of compromise.  Much of the language came from the First and Second Republics, but it was reinterpreted,  in the Federal Courts, in law schools, in the national legislature, in the media, to mean something quite different, often opposite from what Jefferson and Adams, Hamilton, and Madison had intended.

Even in principle and according to its highest ideals, the Third Republic Commonwealth was nothing to get excited about.  There was, however, considerable affluence among the working classes--from factory workers to brain surgeons; indeed, there was so much wealth that even after trillions were spent on the follies of war-making and  minority-bribing, lower middle class people lived in comfort, security, and--if they wanted it--good health.  The culture was both degraded and degrading, and people of all classes lacked any ideal that would inspire handsome buildings,  beautiful paintings, musical poetry.  It was mass culture for a mass people, fast food takeout for a fastfood nation.

The reality was a bit less comfortable, a country in which nasty party hacks, doing the bidding of their paymasters, bribed, swindled, corrupted, and subjugated the mass electorate into lower and lower levels of degradation.

Let's just stop here and ask, what can the Biden-Harris administration actually do to change such a Commonwealth?  Would it not be safe to say that they can harden the Regime against its opponents, steal perhaps at a grander level, accelerate American degradation with the willing compliance of perhaps a majority of the American electorate?  Taxes will probably go up, and inflation--partly as a result of four years of Trumpery and COVID bailouts--rot out the value of savings, which will require further bailouts of more Americans in order to stave off a challenge to the Regime--but these are just the later symptoms of disease, like people in a late stage of COVID losing their sense of taste.

What does an American need with his sense of taste, anyway?  He eats and drinks garbage, whether he eats at McDonalds or at some of our more expensive restaurants.  Feed him Soylent Green, and he won't care, especially if it is made from aborted fetuses.  What if other symptoms included loss of the ability to be inspired by Bach and Dante? He'd trade all of Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Brahms, all Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Marcel Proust for one free Happy Meal washed down by a Keystone "beer."

I can imagine a market opening up, with Mr. Navrozov coming to Rockford, in full mask regalia of course, holding a fistful of euros and shouting out, "I'll give fifty euros for your ability to distinguish Prokofiev from Tiompkin.  What am I bid, What am I bid?  25 for the poetry taste that prefers Pasternak to Charles Olson.  Step right up, ladies and gentleman, what am I bid--200 euros for a fine sense of the wines of Bourgogne.  Come come, down't be shy:

Come walk up and purchase with avidity

Overcome your diffidence and natural timidity

Tickets for the raffle must be purchased with avidity....

Such a judge of blue and white and other kinds of pottery

From early Oriental down to modern terracottery...

Such an opportunity may not occur again.

If we set all fooling aside and look at the recent election, it should be quite clear that, while the outcome may have aggravated the the injuries that the Regime can and will inflict, it will probably leave the basic Commonwealth untouched, and if the Commonwealth under Nixon and Regan, the Bushes and Clinton was tolerable--then you have to be prepared to pay the price for a lifetime of acquiescence.  You must forgive the complacent laughter of those happy few who decades ago rejected the Commonwealth along with the Regime and pay no attention to the faint "I tried to tell you so, so long ago, so long ago..." that echoes down the vacant streets and empty minds of deserted American cities,


Avatar photo

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

27 Responses

  1. Jacob Johnson says:

    I can say for myself that whittling down the vast array of contradictory and confused information about American history out there into something of a reasonably non-ridiculous outline took many years. If Thomas Paine wrote all that spiffy stuff about self-determination why did he turn around and go to France and write all that commie stuff? That doesn’t seem to add up. It is a very long and not very interesting story. The big Albion’s seed book by Fischer was like the curtain being drawn in this regard, very helpful. Many of the true believer Trump fans are very new to politics and really only think they want to have their frozen pizza and six-pack of beer in peace, but at least a certain portion of them are apt to learn, however slowly. It is nice to have Joe Biden to help illustrate the absurdity that is the popular idea(s) of the USA.

  2. Jacob Johnson says:

    For many people, since the Time-Life coffee table book has the nice picture of the farm in the sun set which reminds them of grandpa next to the dumb Walter Cronkite quote, they buy the mythology. Learning the true origin of the things in one’s life which one knows by instinct are good is the key.

  3. theAlabamian says:

    Well put Dr Fleming and entertaining. People express their support of Trump as if that is where the culture war really is to be fought or as if they are really doing something. I try to get people to understand that what they like and support socially, they enpower.
    You can’t say you want Secession and states rights, conservative government if you support sending mercenaries overseas, creating wards of the federal government (who want pensions more than secession), and encourage ppl to keep joining for no good reason other than money and career. Then people move in from other places taking federal jobs and before you know it you are northern Virginia.
    Southerners enjoy being Yankees too much to fight for our culture. They socially empower the things and people destroying our culture. We tell blacks they should look in the mirror instead of blaming others, for good reason, however, white Southerners need to look in the mirror. We blame democrats, blacks, but do more to hurt ourselves than anyone.

  4. theAlabamian says:

    The universities, sports, military…we are feeding the machine and then complaining.

  5. Ben says:

    Don’t be ridiculous: Mr. Navrozov doesn’t gamble anymore.

  6. Joe Porreca says:

    I agree that a Biden administration would not differ much from previous administrations. The unelected bureaucracy which ran the previous administrations will continue its work. The unelected bureaucrats, unhindered by any checks and balances for which our “republic” prides itself, will continue to impose regulations on us at a far greater rate than our elected “representatives.” And, because they are so damned smart and have such a great record of success, especially in military interventions in the Middle East, the bureaucrats will dominate policy making in the Biden administration just as they did in the previous administrations, including the Trump administration. Meanwhile, our elected “representatives” will pass laws that are thousands of pages long without reading them, basing their decisions on how to vote on … what? Donors? Lobbyists?

    So there probably will be business as usual. However, there does seem to have been a much greater than usual number of irregularities and anomalies in the last election – more votes than voters, dead people voting, double voting, unqualified voters, etc. For all I know Trump was the beneficiary of most of these irregularities. Regardless, I don’t think we should be complacent about this. That they won’t do proper audits of voter rolls and signature checks on the mail-in ballots is, I think, good reason for suspicion that the people who ran the election have something to hide and that there was far greater than usual fraud in the last election. Of course, if we would imitate the ancient Greeks and choose our politicians by lot, we wouldn’t have to worry about this.

  7. Clyde Wilson says:

    “they can harden the Regime against its opponents..” This seems to me to be the important question. A great many people have already lost their jobs or been attacked by the govt. mobs. or jailed for defending themselves while the attacking thugs have been set free. Should anybody who has opposed the Regime feel secure? Keep your powder dry.

  8. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I bad a college friend, a tough guy who was fond of zany projects and hare-brained schemes. When someone would point out difficult details or obstacles, he invariably replied, “I don’ sweat the small stuff, baby.” In so far as this little screed is concerned, that is my view of the irregularities of the election and the oppressions contemplated by Biden. The simple point is that if you accept the system and have endured the Regime, there is no reason to panic, though one should naturally do the best to look out for one’s own interest.

  9. Allen Wilson says:

    I wonder what the chances are that we are entering a new phase of the degenerate empire, perhaps a new bolshevist style phase that perhaps Biden himself has not even contemplated (and here I admit that the words “contemplate” and “Biden” are so alien to one another that they really don’t belong in the same sentence)?

  10. Clyde Wilson says:

    Systematic persecution of “reactionaries” is standard Communist procedure. Is there any reason to think it won’t happen here?

  11. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    No reason to think it won’t except one: The great success of American leftism, since the 1920’s, has been the use of seduction and bribery of the “citizens” into accepting, for example, an educational system that proclaimed its intention of revolutionizing the children, New Deal Marxist/Fascist policies, welfare state programs–so long as “there’s something in it for me.” If they have any sense whatsoever, they should learn from their uninterrupted record of success and simply accelerate the degradation of the American people into soulless robots. Between BLM and Antifa, the corruption of the election, the unconcealed contempt for ordinary Americans shown by the leadership of both parties, working in tandem with the media and Hollywood, they have managed to arouse more resistance than any time since the 1960’s. Although persecution would be extremely unpleasant for many of us–you and I are perhaps too old to be targets or experience much of the pain–it might be a tonic.

  12. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    This is an interesting and valuable discussion, but I would also like to hear some response to the central thesis set forward. It is very crude at this point and would benefit from a critical response. For example, there are many unwritten aspects to the American “constitution,” for example, the principle that no professing atheist can be elected President: Is that principle part of the Commonwealth or the Regime, and is it still in force? I offer that as simply one little item.

  13. Robert Geraci says:

    At the risk of being misunderstood as I have in the past about this issue, let me attempt this. In one respect there can be no argument that what is happening today is on par with what has always happened, especially given the fact that we have one ruling class comprised of Republicans and Democrats who are different in only a gradient sort of way from one another as opposed to being diametrically philosophically and ultimately in practice, opposed to one another. My suggestion is that this is not really or just about about Trump as savior and Biden as ruination, but rather that something might be afoot, that a significant number of Americans have had enough of all the nonsense that has been building for a very long time. Covid – the way it is being managed which in effect is destroying small businesses and clearly reducing people to citizens who obey orders or do what they are told to do (which makes historical and some current Americans bristle) – and an election that seems to have been crudely stolen by rather shoddy and shady characters together with a level of unmasked mean spiritedness by the Democrats and blacks under the mantle of BLM for whites and middle American, seems to have lit a fire that wasn’t there before. The mere fact that these kinds of thoughts are being bantered about when they weren’t before, suggests that some folks have reached a breaking point. Whatever abysmal governmental state we had reached by the mid Twentieth Century compared to how we started in 1776, I submit that neighbors didn’t hate neighbors as they do now. For the most part there was a levelheadedness and general agreement in the perspective all had about this country. Not so anymore and that I submit is the change. What next happens I haven’t a clue. Maybe nothing, but we aren’t likely to return to contentment however fake it might have been, anytime soon

  14. Allen Wilson says:

    “Unwritten aspects to the American constitution”? That’s a rather deep question. I hadn’t really thought about that before now. Thought is was much discussed and debated in earlier times, perhaps States’ Rights is one of those unwritten aspects? After all, it’s not mentioned directly in the constitution, though the constitution is shot through with it, and of course it goes back to Jefferson’s resolutions, and so on.

    If there are unwritten aspects of the fake constitution of the third republic, three of them are, as you have suggested in the article, capitalist oligarchy, socialism, and minority greed. Two unwritten aspects of the second republic were capitalist oligarchy and imperialism.

    Perhaps the changes which happened to the Venetian republic over time would be helpful in understanding the changes which have occurred in our own, but of course that may be too far outside the scope of the discussion.

  15. Allen Wilson says:

    I agree with Mr Geraci. Yugoslavia at the end of the 80’s really does come to mind.

  16. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Robert, I thank you for your thoughtful response. I don’t much disagree with your assessment of the dismal details, but, as I have already suggested, you may be over-reacting like the flushed quail. As a side issue, you say you have been misinterpreted. This means either that you have been misunderstood by a dullard or misrepresented by a liar. Surely you understand you have an obligation to say which it is and to state your case.

    On your present point, you may well be right that Americans–by which you mean Americans whom we agree with–are fed up, but they have been fed up repeatedly and it has amounted to nothing better than the election of Nixon and Reagan, who did nothing to change even the superficial ugliness of the regime, and they never intended to effect change in the basic structure. It goes without saying that we are going through one of our perennial crises, but popular disgust, while it may be a significant factor in mobilizing public unrest, is hardly a proof of a dramatic ratcheting up of the Revolution.

    The trouble is, as I explained earlier in a response to a well-intentioned friend, is that too few people have the slightest idea of the depth, breadth, and longevity of the revolutionary movement whose phases they have accepted down to recent years. As the stepmother says in the fairy tale, “He who says A must say B,” and he who has been comfortable with the American regime from FDR to GW Bush should simply grit his teeth and accept the consequences. If Leave it To Beaver and Andy Williams were an acceptable cultural norm, then it is so short a step to the Kardashians and the Bidens it is hardly worth the effort to shrink back from the final abyss. Since the late 1970’s I have been preaching this message to deaf ears, and I go on, like some mad dervish, heedless of the spectators who admire his stylistic flourishes without heeding his appeal to a higher principle

  17. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Dr. Fleming – you are not preaching to deaf ears. You are preaching to a small choir. Your message is just a “spit into the ocean.” You and your message do not reach many people. Our resistance is futile. Things will only get worse until there is an uprising. Meanwhile I am reading Graham Green and Michael Oakeschott, and playing computer chess.

  18. Tim Newman says:

    From an outsider’s perspective (outside of America that is), what seems to me to be happening is people are becoming increasingly aware of the ugliness of the regime and the contempt it holds towards ordinary American citizens – even if they do not fully understand how long this has been going on for.

    While a Biden presidency represents a continuation of “business as usual” following on from the likes of Obama, Bush, and Clinton et al, Trump’s election in 2016 and the subsequent efforts of the regime to destroy and discredit him has been eye-opening for many people.

    Perhaps the phenomena we are witnessing is people who genuinely believed the country was still operating on its founding principles, beginning to coming to grips with the reality of what it actually is. Even if that understanding is limited or muddled, to me that seems to be a significant change – is there a comparable time in recent history when such a large proportion of the American population were this disillusioned with the political system?

  19. Clyde Wilson says:

    It seems to me we have entered Reconstruction again. That means violence as well as other forms of repression. It may be the Regime has released more than it bargained for from its manipulation of the Thugs, and created a problem for itself. The only thing good about this Reconstruction is that the Yankees are getting a taste of what the Republican Party did after the War between the States.

    BTW, Tom, what do you think of the Italians allowing Chinese police onto their sovereign territory to “protect the tourists.” Many of us would like to know more about the apparent special relationship between Italy and China that has been revealed by the WuFlu.

  20. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Chinese business interests are very strong in Milan and Northern Italy in general, and there is a constant stream of their business reps coming and going in the very region where the Wuhan Flu was strongest. Many Italians, not of the conspiratorial mindset, believe that they were not only the source of the plague but also that the Italian government kept everything on the QT as a favor. I have not looked into this very closely, but I can poll some of my Italian friends to see what they think.

  21. Vince Cornell says:

    I preface by saying the mild to general discomfort I’ve endured as a part of this election was entirely due to by belief it will harden the regime against its opponents, and that while Mr. Trump did not hate me or my family or my beliefs or my heritage, Mr. Biden and his incensed ilk do hate me and will take actions to disrupt my life in stupid or aggravating ways (i.e. potential restrictions to homeschooling, requirements to pledge allegiance to diversity lies to maintain employment, potential restrictions on public worship of God which I cannot depend upon my bishop to oppose, and #%$@#%# mask mandates . . .etc.) In this regard, if Trump didn’t have a plan to kill the bear, it would have been better had we all just let it keep sleeping. However, I’ve no illusions about the “Republic” or its demise.
    Parsing through the hysteria I hear from various quarters, there is a large portion of folks, young and old, reacting in shock from having the truth about their country told to their face. I perhaps have more sympathy for them than I should because most have been raised on the lies since birth and have not had the good fortune to have been exposed to the works of folks like Dr. Fleming and Dr. Wilson and esteemed others. I know I would be in their lot had it not been for a friend who tossed a magazine at me long ago and said, “You should read what this guy writes.” Those folks are agitated because they both fear the incoming Regime as well as lament what they feel is a complete destruction of the Commonwealth. That they did not take umbrage against the Commonwealth before now is to blame the sheep for the failure of bad shepherds. At least when the wolf shows up and bares its fangs, the sheep know enough to panic. The shepherds still appear to be twiddling their thumbs.
    However, I believe there are some who are less hysterical who believe we have reached the end of the so-called Third Republic and have moved into a new substantial form of the Commonwealth. The “Unwritten Rule” of the Third Republic seems to have been “So long as you pretend we political elites are serving the country while we are getting filthy rich via corrupt collaboration with corporations, foreign nations, and the military industrial complex, we’ll leave you folks mostly alone in your own homes and lives so long as you don’t get too uppity and cause a scene.” I think this began to change with Obama, but in this age of COVID and the rise of “Build Back Better Biden” the transformation is nearing completion. It is an open-throat rejection of that rule and a very serious command that “We the political elites demand you debase yourself to everything we say on pain of permanent unemployment and litigious persecution unto the ends of the earth.” There seems to be an open movement to try to control all capital (I do not fully understand the intricacies, not being a financial wizard, but have listened to various commentators who have voiced serious concerns about the new all-digital currency being pushed by the Federal Reserve and others), to push for an actual Socialist/Communist style of government ownership of all things, and to demand the proletariat pledge allegiance to every decree of the Dear Leaders.
    I understand this was the direction the Third Republic was heading, but like a prisoner on a bus heading to the penitentiary, there is a jolt of nausea and fear that can strike upon arriving at the final destination. I believe that is the basis for the unease of many. The Regime no longer feels like it needs to use the velvet gloves anymore, and the Commonwealth doesn’t feel the need to pretend like it cares about the “Will of the People.” Folks have noticed.

  22. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    In a nutshell: Exactly.

  23. Robert Reavis says:

    One good piece of news is that the professional sports franchises like the NBA and NFL are suffering decline in ratings. It would be a good thing if they would go out of business. They are a instrumental part of the deep state in promoting unnecessary wars to the masses, cultural decadence and a false communal pride not to mention sloth and a waste of family time and expense in subsidizing the constant distraction of bread and circuses. So I hope more Americans will assist in breaking their vice like grip on popular culture and ignore them along with the entertainment news that supports them.

  24. Raymond Olson says:

    Judge Reavis: Amen!

    Dr, Fleming: You give me the spine-tingling feeling that I have been among the happy few you mention in your posting for a very long time.

  25. Robert Reavis says:

    Happy New Year, Mr.Olson. I still wish you would compare and critique the older version of the movie,True Grit, to the more recent version. I don’t know the art as well as you but trust your understanding of moving picture shows and would certainly welcome and enjoy your comments. Judge Charles Parker’s court in Fort Smith and the old Indian territory is of course a hobby of mine and I am sure other readers would enjoy your review as well.

  26. Vince Cornell says:

    I also wish you a Happy New Year, Mr. Olson. We just watched “Remember the Night” with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck (I found it based on your review on ClassicFlix – alas, now joining the Dakota Dave Hull Show on the list of things I will sorely miss). What a wonderful little Christmas movie! With ClassicFlix going under, perhaps you could copy some of your reviews over to the Foundation? I found them invaluable!

  27. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I urge Ray to follow up, and as a down-payment, I shall be posting in a matter of minutes some of his history of film. We could set up a film section, put his history and old reviews, new reviews., dialogues….