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,