by Vincent McCaffrey
In the faith of nations is their life and their undoing, much as it is with individuals. We may survive on the faith of others, but we cannot flourish any more than a child would when attempting to live out the dreams of his parents without making them his own. Faith is an intangible. The artificial intelligence of a computer might precisely calculate the chance of a success but it has no clue as to the value of failure. Faith can absorb both and then some.
Young men and women, if they have the courage to leave home, the amniotic sac of college and strike out on their own, will almost inevitably meet with a series of failures that lead them to a loss of faith. Many do not survive the loss and have succumbed to dire fates. Others seek refuge in marriage, or the family business, or a return to college, and the fear of failing again keeps them there. And so it is with nations.
The turn of fortune that preoccupied Britain, the most powerful nation on earth in 1812, and allowed a gangly youth of a republic, the United States, to escape and overcome its initial hubris rather than fall apart, was not inevitable. The national faith of America at the time had the tinny ring of adolescent bravado. The math of the moment was against us. But already, in those first decades, a single mind had formed.
When the United States faced its first great crises, in the Civil War, success was difficult to imagine. This was not just a matter of the North defeating the South. The very foundation had been cracked, and one portion had disavowed the other. How could this rending be healed? (How does a person give up the security of a good job to follow a different drummer?) A reaffirmation of principles was the key, and that success in the years to follow was resounding.
It may be argued that the crisis was never resolved, because force could not make right what was wrong. The blasphemy of slavery was ended, but not by persuasion. The constitutional principle of human equality was made manifest, but at too great a cost in the means used. And the subtextual life lesson to the nation was that coercion works. The ghost of that is with us yet.
Our faith has been in a democracy of public will. But it has often been tainted by the poison of power and the use of force. In the past, we have been generally satisfied with allowing the constitutional system to operate, but now, if the outcome does not bend in the way we want, we are willing to use coercion. This was done in 1861, and again in 1913 with the creation of the Federal Reserve and the Income Tax Act as a means of financing government excursions; and 1917 with an army draft in order to go to war for purely political purposes (do we hear echoes?), and again 1932 with Herbert Hoover’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation and Revenue Act and the beginning of the Roosevelt era of “public works;” and again in 1941, with our belated entry into World War II; and now, as if by habit, almost daily. Meanwhile, part of the electorate still clings to a belief in the old republic, while another advances a brave new world of metrical perfection.
And in the meantime, the laws of human nature have not been repealed. Elections are bought, as sure as the politicians who exercise the power. The electorate assumes the corruption and acts accordingly. The nation has reached a fattened middle age and there are too many who believe in “getting along.” You’ve got yours; I’ve got mine; to hell with anyone else. I don’t care what happens after I’m dead.
But we are still the same species of human beings we were 200 ago—even if lacking in the basic knowledge necessary to survive. We will freeze to death without fire. There can be no future in that. We will starve to death without food, though most of us can no longer grow our own. The culture that made our republic possible has been dismissed in favor of a progressive agenda designed by a self-avowed elite incapable of imagining consequences, or else determined to carry out its globalist agenda no matter the cost. What need is there of a republic now?
The falling birthrate is very much a part of this picture. The future is the inheritance we leave. Who wants children if their own concerns are so self-centered that they cannot imagine the consequences of what they do? It is the idealism of youth that fills the army in times of national peril. What does it say when recruits are difficult to find?
The faith that we once knew has failed us. It has failed us before, and we survived, but at great cost. Imagining our survival now as anything resembling the republic we once were is very difficult, but we have been to that brink before.
Reaffirming our principles once again is the best (perhaps only) step toward reinvigorating our nation. If we dig in during this crisis of faith, as President Reagan once averred, we might still find a pony beneath the offal. Our choices are few. Perfection is not to be had. Madison had it right from the start: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
Of those who are electable, elect those who are most likely to oppose authoritarian government. And do it again. And again. No promises accepted. Actions will tell the tale. Find ways to protect your vote from the authoritarians. Insinuate yourself into the process to see this done. Disagree! But do so both publicly and peacefully! An honest disagreement with someone who would otherwise be your friend can lead to enlightenment for you both.
Youth may be “wasted on the wrong people,” as an old man on a porch once said to George Bailey, but it is the only means of practical learning, and having made our mistakes, it is the only way back to the future we once thought was ours. Make it a matter of faith.
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Vincent McCaffrey is a novelist and bookseller. Visit his website at www.vincentmccaffrey.com.
Photo “Church” by Francesco Ungaro.