Dan’s Note: The following article is adapted from an interview by Hugh Hewitt for the Hugh Hewitt Radio Show conducted on the day after the election November 7th, 2012. It could just as easily apply to rent control, inspections, evictions and other unfair laws that the Progressives (American Socialists) are currently using to punish housing providers and garner the votes of renters who have yet to sacrifice enough to provide housing for others.
Hugh Hewitt: My guest isLarry Arnn, the president ofHillsdaleCollege. Awhile back, when I was at Hillsdale, Dr. Arnn warned me that the election might well go badly for the cause of constitutional conservatism. I wanted to review the results of the election with him today on the radio show. Larry, welcome.
Larry P. Arnn: Thank you, Hugh, good to be with you – and it did indeed turn out to be a terrible election from the standpoint of constitutionalism. Its results will bring about hardships and set back the time frame for reviving the kind of government our Founders bequeathed to us. I do agree with that. But I very much disagree with the idea that this election marks a decisive event in our politics, or a point of no return.
HH: That’s what I want to discuss, because there are a lot of people who are close saying “game over,” who are tempted not to retreat from politics to go do missionary work, for instance and give up on the republic. But you have made your life’s work the studying of leaders who have refused to do that.
We are obviously a house divided right now and I think it’s safe to say that conditions are going to get significantly worse before they get better.
LPA: That’s right. And the reason you can’t do that, by the way – the reason you can’t retreat into private life and give up on politics is that the cost of doing it is overwhelming. If you don’t live under good laws, life becomes truncated and less happy, injustice becomes customary and civilization is compromised. And one cannot acquiesce in that – one has to be involved. And since politics is natural to us, man is essentially political, as Aristotle says, and since we do live in the greatest modern country (founded that way, at least) we owe it a lot. And many of the people who have seen the republic through to where we are today have gone through things that are worse than this. So first of all, it’s a duty not to give up. But second, there are good reasons to know that the game isn’t over.
HH: What are the reasons?
LPA: One of them is that the election is shot through with contradictions. The obvious contradiction is that we have a divided government. The presidency and the Senate are in the hands of one party, and the House of Representatives and most governorships are in the hands of the other.
A second contradiction is that a large majority of people continued to say in the exit polls that they were against raising taxes in order to cut the deficit. One might be cynical and put that down to an irresponsible refusal to pay for existing benefits – to get more and more “free stuff.” But for a long time now, opinion polls have pointed towards the existence of a broad majority of Americans who favor smaller government. This obviously contradicts the re-election of the president and the Democratic gains in the senate. The country is still a house divided against itself, and that’s dangerous. But it doesn’t mean that there’s been a resolution. It means in fact, the opposite; there is not a resolution. That resolution still has to be made and the making of it lies ahead of us, not behind us.
HH: Reminding us of the words from scripture that a house divided against itself cannot stand reminds us also ofLincoln. What is the applicability ofLincoln’s situation to our own?
LPA: Lincoln’s argument was that either slavery is right or freedom is right and that the country couldn’t long stand if it was divided on which was so. There was an argument that slavery should be allowed to spread and be protected as a good thing, and there was an argument that slavery violatedAmerica’s principles and should be kept from spreading. There’s almost an exact parallel today, because the people who founded our country believed and wrote – and established a Constitution to provide – that there must never be unlimited rule by any man or group of men over other men. And our government is getting to a place where it threatens to become limitless.
Not only that, but government itself has become a strong force in elections – much of the money funding the party of big government comes from inside the government through public employee unions – not to mention corporations, so many of which receive a form of welfare from the government. This new development represents a dangerous corruption of the election process – and elections are the only means left to Americans to limit government. It’s a real problem.
President Obama in this first two years, pushed through Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, which are significant. They will do a lot of damage and we are stuck with them for now because of the election.
HH: Another new form of corruption is what I call the media-industrial complex. We seem to be in uncharted waters now. The Framers of the Constitution were geniuses, but we will see if their wisdom is up to these new challenges.
LPA: Well, just think of what our Constitution is doing right now – the protection it is providing. In 1946 inEngland, following Churchill’s ouster as prime minister, the Labor government got its first outright majority and within a year it had nationalized 15 or so major industries. It was able to do that all at once. Compare that to what occurred here. President Obama only had that kind of united power for two years, because our Constitution divides power. He did, in this first two years, push through Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, which are significant. They will do a lot of damage and we are stuck with them for now because of the election. But despite the election, one part of the government remains in the hands of the opposition. That means that no big new legislation is going to go through. So the Constitution is working, despite the uncharted waters you mention.
HH: In his introduction to The City and Man, Leo Strauss wrote this: However much the power of the West may have declined, however great the dangers to the West may be, that decline, that danger, nay, the defeat, even the destruction of the West could not necessarily prove that the West is in a crisis; the West could go down in honor, certain of it’s purpose. The crisis of the West consists in the West’s having become uncertain of its purpose. Is that applicable to what we see in our politics today?
LPA: It is certainly true that the vast majority of our nation’s elites today – those who welcome the results of [the election] – are creatures of modern historicist thought , which explicitly rejects the kind of objective principles – equality under God, inalienable rights – on which American was founded. According to modern historicism, the only objective truth is that one can’t know an objective truth. President Obama embraces this view in no uncertain terms in his book, The Audacity of Hope: “Implicit … in the very idea of ordered liberty,” he writes, is “a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or ‘ism’, any tyrannical consistency that might lock future generations into a single unalterable course…” – so much for individual rights and limited government.
This view, which drives modern liberalism or Progressivism, has been on the ascendant. But remember when you quote Strauss that his works were intended to constitute a revival of the West. The West is heavily besieged from within, but it’s not dead. We are obviously a house divided right now and I think it’s safe to say that conditions are going to get significantly worse before they get better. But we need to remember why Churchill thought that Hitler could be defeated even when the British had ten or twelve divisions and the Germans had 200, plus three times the air force, and the British stood alone.
For one thing, Churchill though free men were morally obliged to believe it, in order to do down fighting if necessary. But beyond that, he calculated what the advantages were. And there was a fundamental advantage that is especially important for us to recall today; Churchill believed that Hitler’s kind of government could not work, and thus that it would not work. In other words, he looked at Hitler and he saw weakness – despite Hitler’s great military advantage.
Similarly, Churchill and Ronald Reagan are the two statesmen I know who regarded theSoviet Unionas weak, even at the height of its power, because it was building on self-contradictory propositions and its system lead to obvious and repeated injustices. Churchill believed that also of the socialist government to which he lost in 1946.
HH: NowLarry, I’ve got to break in here because I know the media-industrial complex and someone will go and get the transcription of this and say that you are comparing Obama to Hitler, which you are not doing. What you are talking about is a relative advantage of political forces today, comparing that to the relative advantage in military forces of Hitler vis-à-vis Churchill. You aren’t comparing our government today to the Third Reich.
LPA: No, and I don’t mean that. What I mean is that the principles of Progressivism that animate our government today, which are antithetical to the principles of the American Founding, lead to policies that cannot work, will not work, and result in obvious injustices. That is its weakness, and that provides cause for hope. But by the way, there is a parallel with the great twentieth century tyrannies; the modern bureaucratic form of government cannot remain accountable to the people, so in the fullness of time, it will become despotic. That’s not the intention of anybody who runs it today, or at least not very many people. But that is its direction.
[P.S. An “American Socialist”, also known as a political “Progressive” is one who has abandoned our American Economic System of Free Enterprise by believing in using force to distribute the wealth of others who have sacrificed and worked to financially rise above the average worker.]
Larry P. Arnn, was the twelfth president of Hillsdale College. From 1985 until his appointment as president of Hillsdale College in 2000, he was president of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy. He is the author of Liberty and Learning: The Evolution of American Education and the Founder’s Key: The Divine and Natural Connection Between the Declaration and the Constitution and What We Risk by Losing It. Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.