PEOPLE MAKE CULTURES, but cultures make people. In The Character of Nations, Angelo Codevilla shows that over time, the distinctives of a political regime create a particular kind of individual unique to that political arrangement. He offered as contrasting examples the pre-1980’s United States and the Sovet Union of the same period. The character of Americans was in general different from the character of Soviet citizens, and that difference was due largely to the differences between the American constitutional republic and the Soviet communist dictatorship. The politics isn’t just different; the people are. And the politics is the engine driving personal transformation.
THE UNITED STATES AND LIBERTY
THAT THOUGHT WAS IN MY MIND as I observed the citizens of Vancouver, Canada on a recent visit to my son Richard’s ordination to the diaconate there. Though the effects of the Covid virus had grown negligible, 60% of people walking outside were masked, and vaccine passports were required for entrance in most business establishments. Though my visit postdated the “Freedom Convoy” of trucks protesting the mandates, I detected no evidence of protest or even resistance during my visit. Canadians had simply adjusted themselves to political edicts, and there seemed to be no dispute about them, only willing compliance.
This passivity is in stark contrast to the American spirit, which pushed back almost everywhere against the politicized Covid mandates. Obviously there were a multitude of exceptions, particularly in dense urban areas and in deep blue states, since they both reflect a majority of Leftists. Still, the pushback was significant, and recalcitrant, liberty-loving citizens posed a great frustration for Leftist politicians: “Why can’t these deplorables just do as they’re told?”
A hallmark of the United States from its Founding has been liberty — religious, political and economic. This liberty was enshrined in our Founding documents like the Bill of Rights. This was liberty Americans have traditionally insisted on, seen as their national birthright, to be defended to the death (and on occasion has been). The Declaration of Independence reversed the rationale for nations by insisting that governments are instituted to protect individual liberty:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men… (emphasis supplied)
For almost all previous governments in history, man was to find his purpose in the state; man exists for political purposes. This is collectivism, and it was true for ancient tribalism, notorious in Plato’s idealized society, the linchpin of the world empires, and obvious even in much of medieval Europe, despite its unmistakable Christian conviction. The United States’ grand experiment in liberty turned this traditional order on its head. The Founders, rooted in Protestant social theory, knew that individual liberty was so precious that the only rationale for political governments was to defend that liberty. If government doesn’t defend individual liberty, there’s no reason for its existence. The state exists for people; people don’t exist for the state.
Europe preserved the old collectivist ideal, and when the modern empires fell, the new secular non-imperial society simply replaced one collectivism for another. No one would suggest that the French and Russian Revolutions were less collectivist than the regimes they replaced. All to the contrary.
The unofficial European motto has been: “We’re all in this together, and the state makes sure we stay together.” The U. S. has countered with: “Give me liberty or give me death, and if the state doesn’t protect that liberty, it should meet death.”
THE UNITED STATES AND EUROPEAN COLLECTIVISM
BUT FROM THE 30’S ONWARD, and especially since the 60’s, elite Leftists in America have wanted to recreate the U. S. in the collectivist European image. They were devoted to fashioning the New Utopian Society of radical egalitarianism — not only economic but also religious and sexual equality. They were influenced by Cultural Marxism, first developed in Germany, Italy, and Hungary and imported into the U. S. during the mid-30’s by thinkers like John Dewey (see Ralph de Toledano’s Cry Havoc!). This Cultural Marxism wanted to accomplish by peaceful cultural subversion (“the long march through the institutions”) what Lenin in Russia (and later Mao in China) accomplished by military conquest: politically enforced equality.
The problem with the Founding American tenet of individual liberty is that it impedes the elite vision of society creating a new humanity that would willingly share all material resources, affirm all sexual lifestyles, and recognize the commonality of all religions — or, preferably, no religion at all (except their own secular religion, of course).
Liberty is dangerous because people don’t know what’s best for them (a great theme of that early modern collectivist Jean Jacques Rousseau). “We elites know what’s best for citizens, so we must strip them of their liberty to give them what they need.”
LIBERTY MAN TODAY
LIBERTY MAN, THE MAN OF THE U. S .FOUNDING, still survives, but he’s under blinding assault by Leftists wielding the most potent cultural weapons: Hollywood, mainstream media, the public schools and universities and law schools. This assault is hard to resist over decades. In this way, Liberty Man is being gradually supplanted by Collectivist Man. Rugged individualism is demeaned as “toxic masculinity” and blamed for a myriad of cultural evils. Men are feminized and women are masculinized. Hard work and thrift and providence are degraded while leisure and laziness and reliance on state largesse are deemed noble. Christianity is judged a “judgmental” relic of the past hindering The Good Life, defined as maximum individual autonomy free from all constraints — except the state itself.
Collectivist Man is content to be an informal ward of the state, as long as it guarantees him unfettered sex, a monthly stipend, and a risk- and carefree life.
THIS EMERGENCE OF COLLECTIVIST MAN is one dire consequence of the loss of Christian culture, which is necessitates liberty culture. Christian culture stresses God’s sovereign government in the earth. Just below it is man’s self-government under God’s sovereignty. There are God-established institutional governments like the family, the church, schools, and businesses. One government is civil government (politics), perhaps the least important of all. Apart from God’s kingdom government, there is no more important earthly government than the self-government of the virtuous man. Because men have abandoned self-government, they’ve invited intrusive imposed governments, particularly the only government with a monopoly on violence, civil government.
To try to recover the society produced by the U. S. Founding, therefore, is not to grasp at provincial nationalism (“my country right or wrong”), but rather a restoration of the biblical Protestantism that has a God-honoring liberty at its heart. God has blessed America because it was founded on basic biblical truth. The fruits of that Founding have survived the widescale European collectivization project of the Left. But those fruits will eventually be depleted, and if we don’t recover, the U. S. will go the way of the collectivist European societies: politically dictatorial, economically deprived, and religiously desiccated.