The role of the Common Man in the constitutional scheme is obviously a theme we strive to keep out front here. I think it’s a good thing from time to time to review a few facts about the Common Man and Woman.
The Constitution was written for the common man, the C-student, not the A-student. Period. Its entire existence is to enable and empower the C-Student, not the A-student. Period. The Founders always knew the A-student could manage on his own, even under the most authoritarian of situations.
True, it was written by A+ students, and that's the miracle of it, but they recognized that their main purpose was to hold open all the doors to liberty so that ordinary people could “pursue Life, Liberty and happiness” (Jefferson’s words) without governmental impediment. These truths were “self-evident” (also Jefferson’s words) which meant that even D-students, the Homer Simpson’s of the world, much less C-students, could figure it all out…again, without the help or approval of the government…or their betters.
Moses Sands (a wise old sage, quoted here often) said pretty much the same thing when he stated that the purpose of the Constitution was to provide Man “…the ability to build and own his own House, and to be able to pass it on to his children and to be able to create reciprocal relationships (the Rule of Law) with his neighbor in order to protect that process…” Moses stated that this is the deepest, most universal desire among men in the world…even today.
It is therefore the one desire men who would manage other men’s lives (the Enemy) most want to suppress.
Let me anthropomorphize the Constitution for illustration, for there are some unwritten assumptions in its creation, amounting to a social contract between itself, its elites (the A-students) and the masses (the C-students), which ought to be writ large from time to time.
In 1790, the Constitution assumed the Common Man already knew how to build his own House, which he did, living in an agrarian based economy, and continued to prove he could all the way into the 1950s, through wave after wave of immigration, civil war, two world wars, and the rise into a industrialized urban-based society. About the only thing the Constitution required of him was that he acquire some knowledge of citizenship, learn to speak the common tongue, and in time, forget all the bad habits of government he brought from the Old Country. Everything else, including health care, was provided by the sweat of his brow, the keenness of his intellect and local (reciprocal) private economies.
Of course, the process of acculturation into becoming a constitutional citizen was uneven and time-consuming (Moses says it takes three generations to become American) driving politicians and social engineers (as well as Fabians, progressives and eugenicists) into a near frenzy, for at any given time there was over a quarter of the population with less than three generations under its belt in America, kicking up quite a dust. For artists looking for patrons among the patricians, with those special eyes and ears, their panorama made for all sorts of dark and grisly landscapes in every corner of America, brushed and penned depictions of pain, ugliness, unfairness…while America’s C-students took delight in Kathryn Forbes’ Mama. (I highly recommend the film, Irene Dunne one of my favorites.)
We also know that many citizens were arbitrarily left out entirely in this giant gold rush, many constitutional doors locked to them by local decree...and the 10th Amendment. (Most of those doors are still blocked, only now by federal decree.) But the fact that we knew all this, and in due course tried our dead level best to fix it, but for those federal decrees, has said more about liberty in America in two hundred years than all history can say about France in a thousand.
The Founders did not assume "conservatism" as we know it today. But it knew the "game" as we know it today. The Constitution assumed two (2) elites who would protect it in its reciprocal relationship with the Common Man and liberty. First were (are) the persons the people selected to represent them (a spiritual and cultural process Libertarians still don’t seem to understand or like, thus having joined with other elitists to undermine it).
But in a similar capacity the Founders themselves played, the Constitution also assumed a second body of elites, citizens who by education (relative), wealth (sometimes) and achievement (experience) would turn their lives over to public service and the common weal, in various capacities as varied as their experiences. These make up the bulk of the conservative movement today. Volunteer guardians of the gate, (Moses Sands called them “Protectors”), they led by example, taught, wrote, and generally took on the enemies of the Constitution, of which there have always been many. But most importantly, perhaps, and neglected of late, they provided the old reach-around, the handshake. Having made it to the top, they reached back down the hill to provide a guiding hand up for those just beginning the climb. This is the essential constitutional handshake between conservative elites and the common man.
The Common Man
The Constitution assumed the Common Man would do his part simply by building and managing his House, and to do that successfully would require a whole list of other commons, from common sense to common ground to common purpose. If this were done successfully, and in sufficient quantity (a vast majority) among the citizenry, almost everything else would fix itself, as all politics at every level would be based on keeping this most elementary of exercises in good health. (There’s a mathematical equation in there, if you look for it.)
The Common Man himself would be political only to the extent that politics had a bearing on his House, mostly about taxes, a few local issues, and throw in a paved road from time to time. (Tip O’Neill observed the obvious when he said that all politics is local.) It was assumed the Common Man would build his House and train his children for the day it would be passed onto them. As a small businessman, farmer, simple clerk or factory floor worker, he would always arrange the financial matters and moral affairs with his House, its future and its security, foremost in mind. He and his wife would instruct their children in all the skills and virtues necessary to achieve these things. (Chesterton noted that inasmuch as the rich don’t really need democracy or morality, as a survival tool, a nation’s virtue comes from the common man and woman.) Since each generation felt a duty to try to pass on a better house and better prospects to the next generation, they often rendered up, sometimes, a Sir John Kerry and Lady Naomi Campbell in their future...who would then promptly bury their common forebears neatly away somewhere down there in the basement and try to act as if they'd never existed...thus sending that House back down the hill. (Risen apes, every one of us. Robert Ardrey said that.) Moses described this descent back down the hill, usually in three-four generations...but look how long the Buckleys stayed up there, as well as the Jonah Smith family, whose family farmed the same 300 acres along Green River in central Kentucky, since 1831...as beginning when one lose sight of those shoulders they stood on.
The miracle of America is (was) that for every Kerry House suddenly lurching south, there were a dozen new Houses, named O'Bradovich, Spagnola, or Rodriguez starting out on that upward climb. A vacuum? No problem, new blood. Always new blood. This the Constitution relied on.
Most importantly, at least to Moses Sands, the citizen knew, almost without being taught or reminded (until only recently) that his position in the world as an American was unique and wonderful, a thing to be cherished, up to even dropping to one knee from time to time. So one pillar of his House was gratitude, first for the suffering of his forebears who came here with nothing (we all did, you know) but also for the suffering of so many he could never count or name who had laid down that “last full measure” (both Abe Lincoln and Jesus, John 15:13, said that) so that this unique place could endure. Whether he prayed or not, he did from time to time pause and reflect. We even set aside special days for the purpose, which now involve a long weekend at the beach.
The Constitution also assumed, long before Boss Tweed, that there would be opportunistic politicians who would strive to misguide these communities of struggling houses for personal gain, and it even presumed, before Karl Marx was born, that some would always look upon this democratic experiment with disdain and fear, if not for some purported social concern (the theft of labor), then from a baser level, i.e., the divine right of elites wishing to preserve the old social order that had always existed between the common man and their betters. In fact, those three elements, 1) the con-artist fleecing the flock (“If God had not intended them to be sheared, He would not have made them sheep.” (Calvera the bandit said that), 2) the social engineer seeking a perfectly managed society, and 3) a wannabe nobility seeking a justified birthright, the Bill Sol Estes, German and French models all have merged with Hollywood narcissism to define the modern American politics of the Left. I give you Al Gore...of which Barack Obama is but a variation...on a theme.
To the Constitution, it didn’t really matter from which direction they came. They were all the same, Enemies who would take away the Common Man’s power over the building and management of his House. The Constitution never knew a left or a right, it only knew you were either “fer it, or agin’ it.” It foresaw them all, and it provided the tools to deal with them all. What it did not foresee was that so many Houses, once near the top of the hill, would fall for the old bait-and-switch of the altruism-with-another-man’s-wallet scam, or that so many C-students would so easily surrender (actually swap) their House to the state for free coupons to Food Lion. And it didn’t really predict that its A-student elected guardians would begin to look upon the C-student in much the same way the Enemy did, as drones at best, coarse animals at worst. Sadly, they seem to have done just that.
I leave it to you to decide when it all began to change. At this point in American history I’m uninterested in yet one more thousand-footnote work detailing the threat of an even more sinister strain of viral statism. It seems, in fact, part of the problem with modern conservatives is that many have made millions of dollars telling each other, along with a fairly sizable base of followers just these things, in so many new and exciting ways….which is how I opened this essay, noting the absence of any mention of the reasons why the whole damned thing was put together in the first place. The common man and liberty.
Perhaps you can blame the old ethnic ward-politics of the cities, from Irish, Polish and Italian to African-American, or maybe the growth of the labor unions, and certainly everyone will point at least one finger at the rise of academic progressivism, or the New Deal and the insidious ways it managed to get a foot in the down-and-out man’s House with a relief check…and then, refuse to leave. The oldest trick in the book. The mafia still uses it in Russia. Always read the fine print, we're told, only down-and-outers never read the fine print. We all know this, too. And the the Constitution assumed it.
But it also assumed someone else would, in their behalf.
Actually they did, only today, as it was in 1936, the assumption had always been that the battleground between the Constitutional "guardians" and the Enemy would be in the Congress, the legislatures, the courthouse steps, the editorial sections of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, and magazines and journals of opinion. Well, the Enemy knew better. These were all sideshows, or at least the final act in a show that has been playing off-Beltway for years. Guardians of the Constitution (elected officials) could hold their own in all the usual places, even after it should have been clear that liberals weren't really liberals anymore, and were no longer fighting over noble things, but playing a far darker game. Since 1945, at least, it’s been a battle over the Constitution and human liberty itself, and we’re all in debt to the likes of Bill Buckley for making those stakes clear early on, and keeping the objectives of the Enemy out front. Where Buckley, even Reagan failed, was in reminding professing conservatives that the Common Man was the object of the struggle.
But modern Guardians and Protectors alike were out of their element in all the places the Enemy’s trolls were mining. After years of stuffing ballot boxes, organizing strikes and generally thumping the heads of anyone who got in their way, the Left did have a much better lay of the terrain where the common man lived and could negotiate the back alleys and side streets of his heart, mind and neighborhood much better than the GOP guardians. Moreover, they were not averse to rolling up their sleeves and wrestling around in the muck to get and keep their quarry. If you think of the two political parties as competing religious sects, consider the Left to be the more evangelical of the two, for while Republicans seem content to try to get out the vote among their base, the Left is out holding tent meetings, stealing that base…by making avarice and gluttony more appetizing than the straight and narrow. The Devil's highways is indeed wide. How many times you heard that?
And it’s been working little by little since FDR, but don’t ask me why Republicans have largely ignored the empty pews (they didn’t even try to keep Reagan democrats). The downward spiral of the popular culture which accompanies this trend is met largely with moans within the GOP, but that only because the outcry of their red-headed country cousins requires at least some commiseration. It doesn't effect their world (they think), just the masses'. Moses Sands said that the Guardians and Protectors had neglected their non-com’s. I’m not sure if conservatives just missed entirely what was going on at street-level (it wasn’t their neighborhood, after all), or maybe felt the common man's House could fend for itself, or looking back to their original charter with the Constitution could find no clause that required them to get their hands dirty. I can’t say, but most things come in threes (Moses said that), so I suspect it’s one of those.
Of course, what occurred in our elite's locker room was two-fold. As the state, its bureaucrats, and select private sector elements insinuated themselves into the Common Man’s House, the nature of that first group of Constitutional protectors, the elected representatives, changed as well.
The change has been dramatic. By constitutional design, the common man would vote the interests of his House, relying on his selected representatives to know what legal lines were to be drawn (the Rule of Law) so that his neighbor could not have unfair advantage over him…or him his neighbor. But here’s a rub that leaves a cancerous open sore even today, he would never turn one down, if offered. (Why was it the Left always knew this, but the GOP never did? If a thousand monkeys banging on typewriters could come up with a Marlowe play, you’d think at least one Republican, between his driver and nine-iron on the 12th hole could have thought that maybe citizens would take advantage of one another if the state would encourage them to do so.)
This marks the point where the Constitution began losing many of its legislative Guardians. It’s simple really, considering that politicians are practitioners of the world’s second oldest profession. The Founders even understood this. It stands to reason that once bribery has become the name of the game, and it has been for at least forty years, there is very little reward, or congressional security, in merely reminding the Common Man of the failing condition of his House. Better to provide inducements so that we (the GOP) could replace, rather than evict, those usurpers around his stable…so at least, the meal won’t cost as much., and will be a better cut of horsemeat. Thus I describe the demise of the original Reagan revolution…perfectly good A-students, with all sorts of good intentions, turned into mercenaries.
Amidst all this, that second group of Protectors, even now, still sees the cure through the political process. Just give us one more election cycle. If we can just clean up Congress, reduce the size of government, reduce taxes, cut spending, cut entitlements…then things will fix themselves. Maybe a new book will help.
No they won’t, for most things in the popular culture will move apace. The Left’s guerrilla war machine is cunning and large, and committed….and we seem to have no soldiers in that theatre of combat at all (except here at RedState, it seems.)
Our Protectors assumed for much too long that the other side had pure motives when nothing of the sort has been true for fifty years, at least. The destruction of the Constitution was always the Enemy's target, to be replaced by something else. Its bedrock foundations, the House, the Free Market, the Rule of Law and universal moral precepts, were becoming easier and easier portals of entry with each passing decade. Let them fight away in Congress. Win some, lose some. But chip away at those foundation, and believe it or not, the natural greed of the private sector will eventually “sell the rope” by which it will finally be hanged. That's happening now.
(And yes, this is more fascist than Marxist in near-term outcome, and will remain so for approximately fifty-sixty years, until there are no longer any surviving memories of just what a Sleep Comfort mattress feels like. Then the ruling elites will regress to a Motel 6-type of existence which only the Soviet system survived long enough to show us how it all plays out. When I travel to east Europe or Russia I always stay at the old Party Hotel, just to be reminded that Gorkiy in its hey-day was just a cut above the A-1 Motor Lodge along old Route 52 in Minot…in 1946. For dark art, it’s actually a beautiful thing, imagining Al Gore’s great grandchildren sleeping in the fashion of my grandfather, only in the somnambulant bliss of knowing this is as good as it gets.)
What to do? What to Do?
The biggest problem we see with the American House today, as the Greatest generation is passing into memory, is that with each succeeding generation there seems to be a declining number of people who even know the blueprints of the House the Constitution had in mind…much less how to build it and pass it on. Such things are not genetically transmitted. hey have to be taught...and learned. Parent to child is best. At some point American House-builders may find themselves living in that metaphorical Motel-6 never knowing a better blueprint ever existed. “How can you fix something if you don’t even know it’s broke?” (Moses said that.)
I agree that the greatest way to extend the handshake on the trek up the hill is by example and leadership, both of which are much better than seminars with handouts, and certainly government programs. But at every turn the Left seems to have preempted us, for in handshakes body language is everything and John Kerry would not be my choice for passing one out to struggling hill climbers. Nor Lady Disdain. But they do seem to represent the condescending attitudes about the Common Man being turned out by colleges these days. Where do we find leadership that understands who this fight is for? How do we excite them, and enable them? It takes more than the laissez-faire conservatism of the past, I’m afraid.
It’s our purpose at the Sands Institute to do just that, to find ways to reacquaint the average citizen with his House as well as find ways to re-create an army of non-com’s at street level to help show the way up the hill. Most are private sector solutions, and all are as local as Peter Drucker said economic decision are....one house at a time. Small victories show up in the tiniest of ways, from a drop in condom sales to a rise in Jane Austen or Dickens being read. But wouldn’t it be nice to see a movie star get less than a million for a flop, or a .225 shortstop make only $85,000 again? These are the kinds of things that just sort of happen once a man and woman take back their House, though expect to see 3-cent postage.
We need to set our jaws the next forty years to restoring the blueprints of American House to the working stiff, including (maybe especially) the Houses of the morally-indifferent “don’t-give-a-damn’s” who we think (at least) are key to the political revival of conservatism. Conservatives need to become evangelical again.
But there are things politically that can be done, as well. Among political action our two most important issues: One, take back the schools, and require a core curriculum of material that will enable the student to go out into the world and contribute, and add to the House he inherits. American history and government should be taught with enthusiasm (so as to remind them of gratitude, which like charity, begins at home). Restrict the offering of non-essential courses except on a pay-as-you-go basis. (Arts and music are essential in our view, as are traditional sports and physical education.) Most state-funded universities offer entire degree programs that have absolutely no market value in the private square, nor any hope of adding value to scholarship. These class offerings cost millions of dollars and are for the exclusive use of narcissists. Make them pay or dump ‘em. There are dozens of ways, by the way, and the more painful the better, to show a haughty professor of Sadomasochism in Art at UCLA the door.
Make teachers answer directly to local parental groups, especially at contract renewal time. Encourage qualified local volunteers to teach. Bring back old fashioned discipline, and on-the-spot correction of bad grammar, bad manners, and “ain’t”. Let guidance counselors handle the tough jobs, not the easy ones. If parents complain give them the address of the local Catholic schools, where maybe Sidney’s life will be easier. We believe if home schooling has to be an option in American education, it should be the spoiled, over-indulged, and rude who should be home getting taught by Mom. Not good kids.
Two, bring truth back to politics. Demand it. Punish the lying politician just like you would your child. We like the idea of recalls, and recommend every state have laws that provide for them. Recalling Chesterton’s comment, above, it’s the Common Man’s House that cannot survive without truth, and without him, society and democracy both fail.
Restore this one thing, a regard for truth in the American House, and at least half the sellers and their advertisers will be shown the front door post haste, requiring no special acts of Congress, nor any intervention by conservatives. They will simply be gone…and only Wall Street and China will weep.
To me, the saddest thing is that philosophical conservatism is finally, oh so very close to finally understanding the full breadth of liberation provided by the Constitution (it’s sort of like being saved, in the Pentecostal sense, the film finally lifted from the eyes, the Truth revealed…Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about!). But at the same time, always half-a-step ahead, the Enemy has figured out how to destroy the foundations of the House from within. This is a true war to the death because they declared it when your grandparents were still children.
I’ve seen the way great-grandmothers in the Balkans try to teach children the basics of church worship, because neither their parents nor grandparents had ever been to a religious service, and I wonder how long it will take for that region just to get back to the same level of moral awareness it had in 1940. We need to realize how close to collapse the American House is when we now see a youngster entering the new “House” market today, with a parent (as often as not only one, Mom) and a grandparent (also possibly only one) who haven’t a clue about the blueprints of that new House they are about to start building. Who will tell him there’s a better design? Who will give him a peep into the next forty years, when that house passes yet one more time? If he is in the majority of house-builders, as he now stands to be…no one.
This is not a general observation. I deliver this message to the so-called Protectors of the Constitution: If the three-generation rule is valid, we are nearly there. Get a vision, and get a plan.