A professor of history at Harvard has written an 800-page history of the United States using this type of language at the end: “[C]onservatives. . .make bonfires of rage: they. . . courted the popular will by demolishing the idea of truth itself. . .[they] gained power by telling fables about the greatness of the past.”
Goodness. Miss Constitution is stunned that a scholar would venture into modern political commentary under the guise of history. By doing so, how can the reader be confident that facts in the book are accurate? One cannot. What came to Miss Constitution’s mind when finishing this very long and interesting work is that its size is meant to legitimize its politics. Let’s look at the author’s three conclusions:
“Conservatives gained power by telling fables about the greatness of the past.”
America’s past reflects the nature of humanity. It is full of the decent, the wicked, the clueless, the tyrant, the patriot, the sweet, the mean, the corrupt, and the sincere – just like all societies. Human beings had been seen in earlier times as self-centered and depraved. An iron fist was needed to keep them in line. Life is short, nasty, and brutish, according to British philosopher Thomas Hobbs. Most Europeans lived and worked as serfs on someone else’s land. What tiny bit of worldly prosperity one achieved, if not born into the aristocracy, was taken as taxes. Escape, while living, from this drudgery might come through the Church or the military, but that was about it.
The American experience changed this centuries-old paradigm. If one could survive the journey to America – and many did not – one might have an opportunity to have one’s own land. European serfdom ended in colonial America. Most came to the “new world” as indentured servants, serving seven or more years as apprentices to the earliest settlers. At the end of their service, they were given fifty or so acres of uncultivated land, a few seeds and tools, and wished the best of luck.
This was true not just for Europeans, but for those from the West Indies and other places. Slavery was not introduced to America by the British until the mid-1600s when Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan, became head of England, and emigration to the United States, with its huge labor needs, was diminished as unnecessary. Many blacks in early America, served out their apprenticeships, obtained land, and were their own masters of fate against what everyone faced at that time – a harsh and merciless frontier.
The American experience brought the notion of descent and conveyance to the average person who was brave enough to try and survive in difficult circumstances. What this means is that ownership, not tenancy or use, is passed down to future generations through the concept of written and recorded Wills, with the hope that future generations would improve the original ownership. This is how American progress was made for those who, at one time, had no prospect in life but living and then dying, leaving little to their heirs. The end of serfdom is no fable.
“Conservatives courted the popular will by demolishing the idea of truth itself.”
The author writes that America was founded on the following “truths”: equality, the rule of law, individual rights, democratic government, open borders, and free markets, and that the struggle to make good on these truths, since the Civil War, has caused the nation to rent asunder.
What the author lists as truths are really aspects of our system, not founding truths. Equality is not a founding truth of our system, as equality between individuals is impossible. The phrase from the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” means that all Americans are born the same, with no American having a birthright title of nobility. In fact, titles of nobility are expressly forbidden in Article I, sections 9 and 10, of the US Constitution.
Open borders, as well, are not a founding truth of our system. Early in our history, anyone could come to North America as an explorer or settler from anywhere in the world without qualification. By 1787 we created rules for who may legally come to the United States and who may not. Even though Congress changed the rationale for immigration through the Hart-Celler Act of 1965, Title 8, United States Code, section 1182, details who is not allowed in America. The current open-border policy of the Executive Branch is in violation of their Oaths of Office. We have representative, not democratic government.
The actual truths upon which America was founded are universal and ageless:
- that a God exists to whom we owe a duty and from whom we receive unalienable human rights
- that America is about the development of virtue in the individual
- that Liberty, with attendant duty to the four bundles of our Rule of Law, is our highest national value
- that personal honor is a necessary quality in all servants of the people
- that human beings respond to the nearest authority, not the farthest away
These truths are objective, not relative. They represent a goal to reach – a beacon to follow. In writing about the American experience, in exposing both the good and the evil, it must not be lost that the American experiment in individual development is just that – an experiment. That is why we honor persons, not groups. It is the flawed person who has risen to great virtue that we use to teach future generations about their own journey. Opposition to founding truths is the attempt to demolish them.
“Conservatives make bonfires of rage.”
Miss Constitution has no idea what this means. The Constitution of the United States protects individuals and groups who wish to express their bitterness or their support or their rage regarding any issue of public policy as long as this expression meets certain restrictions. Bonfires of rage might be made about police brutality, sexually grooming children in public schools, past racial or religious discrimination, or current misogyny. They are not restricted to conservatives.
The American story is about the endless battle both an individual and a society has in dealing with the flaws in human nature. This battle is mostly uphill but does include, as well, the very sweet. Mary Antin, emigrating to America with her siblings in 1912, writes about her first day at school:
“A little girl from across the alley came and offered to conduct us to school. . . The smallest child could show us the way. . . so it was with a heart full of longing that my father led us to school on that first day. . .with a broken word of his hopes for us that his swelling heart could no longer contain.”
This is America – a complex history to be studied, understood, and learned from. Never again will the chance be taken to create a society where the nation patiently waits for an individual to mature into goodness and service. Unfortunately, there will be no bonfires of rage at the loss of the notion of individual Liberty. Its flame will simply quietly expire as a worthy experiment come to an end.