Traditional American Values Are Dead and Buried?
Who owns America today? … Perhaps the greatest threat to … the tea party is that they appear to be arguing a case that, for all practical purposes, has already been settled for the majority of Americans. The America of the Founding Fathers roots – a modest, decentralized, and agrarian nation – is gone, or is at least being pushed to the demographic margins, inhabiting the great red swath of the country’s middle. Politically, the America of today is as much a product of Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson – of the sprawling government programs of Medicaid and Social Security as much as the Second Amendment and its provision for nongovernment militias. Though he was speaking of … the Civil Rights Act specifically, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s comment Sunday morning on “Fox News Sunday” appears to be broadly relevant to the tea party as a viable political movement: “The philosophy was misplaced in these times,” he said. “The philosophy got in the way of reality.” – Christian Science Monitor
Dominant Social Theme: It’s ovah! The blue states have won. Federal government activism is gloriously ascendant.
Free-Market Analysis: Working closely together, we Bell staffers have developed a most un-libertarian, hive-like mentality. These days, buzzing in our brains are recollections, often, of the compelling Claudius books by Robert Graves. What comes to mind, however, is not so much the pomp and decrepitude that Graves brought to life as the books’ over-riding, semi-tragic perspective that the Republic was gone and could not be brought back.
Indeed, the theme of Roman republicanism-now-lost hangs over these books and in our humble opinion lifts them into the realm of great art. Not only does Graves have an apparently thorough grasp of ancient times, but he is able to bring these times to life and to inhabit them with living, breathing creatures who are often among the most maleficent and fascinating since Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote his great character-driven plays (Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, etc.).
Graves’ insight was to utilize the Roman emperor Claudius as the narrator for these two books (I, Claudius, and Claudius the God). Who was this historical personage? Wikipedia tells us that:
Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (1 August 10 BC – 13 October AD 54; Tiberius Claudius Drusus from birth to AD 4, then Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus until his accession) was the fourth Roman Emperor and a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, ruling from 24 January AD 41 to his death in AD 54. Born in Lugdunum in Gaul (modern-day Lyon, France) to Drusus and Antonia Minor, he was the first Roman emperor to be born outside Italia.
And further …
He was reportedly afflicted with some type of disability, and his family had virtually excluded him from public office until his consulship with his nephew Caligula in AD 37. Claudius’ infirmity may have saved him from the fate of many other Roman nobles during the purges of Tiberius’ and Caligula’s reigns; potential enemies did not see him as a serious threat to them. His very survival led to his being declared emperor (reportedly at the insistence of the Praetorian Guard) after Caligula’s assassination, at which point he was the last adult male of his family. (- Wikipedia)
It was Graves’ great fictional conceit (which in fact has some historical justification) that Claudius was among the most literate, thoughtful and generally best emperors of the generally horrid Roman imperium. Here’s a good Amazon book review by “Mary Whipple” that sums up the matter:
Arguably the greatest fictional biography ever written. December 5, 2006 … In I, Claudius, Robert Graves creates the first person narrative of Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus, known in Roman history as Claudius, and widely regarded as an idiot. Telling the story of his family’s rule from the beginning of the Christian era until his death fifty years later, Claudius relates stories of his grandmother Livia, one of the most treacherous women in history, a woman who manipulated the imperial succession through poisonings, assassinations, marriages, and secret alliances. The reign of her son Tiberius is bloody, murderous, and corrupt. Tiberius’s succession by Caligula, his insane grandson and the protege of Livia, takes Rome into even more terrifying debauchery. Claudius’s ultimate succession to the throne is widely regarded as a joke.
In Claudius, the God, Graves continues the story of Claudius, who is hugely popular when he first becomes Emperor, refusing many of the numerous titles claimed by his predecessors because he believes he has not yet earned them. Gradually, we observe the truism that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” His invasion of Britain, his relationship with his wife Messalina, and his attempts to control the succession to the throne show his attempts to manipulate Roman history and his own legacy. The reader develops enormous sympathy for this man who began his reign with pure motives but who was ultimately powerless to control his own destiny and that of Rome.
Characters are complex, fully developed humans, instead of cardboard, costumed ancients, and their machinations, though extremely bloody, show the conflicts that occur when absolute rule and republican sentiments contend for dominance, a conflict in which Graves says he saw parallels to World War I and its aftermath. Taken together, these two novels of Claudius constitute what is arguably the greatest fictional biography ever written. Precise historical detail creates a rich tapestry of life in the period, while, at the same time, Graves’s keen awareness of psychology leads to vibrant and believable characters behaving badly. The values (and lack of them) in the period are presented in dramatic scenes of violence and excess, and the fickleness of the masses (whom Claudius calls “the frog pool”) is both realistic and sadly universal.
Graves apparently had the ramifications of World War One and the decline and fall of the British Empire in mind when he wrote these books. In looking at the startling unwinding of what is left of American exceptionalism, especially, we find ourselves reminded over and over of Claudius’ dilemma as related by Graves – the yearning for a bygone republic (the Roman republic) that Claudius shared (as Graves’ relates it) with other academics and romantics of his day.
While many items, anecdotal and otherwise, remind us of Graves’ great work, this CS Monitor article, excerpted above, is among the most startling. At least Graves didn’t CELEBRATE the demise of the Roman republic. No, for him and his protagonist, the expansion of empire can be perhaps justified or at least comprehended but never truly endorsed. Both books, but especially the first, show in great detail just what the establishment of an empire entails, with all its murder, moral, spiritual and economic degradation and degeneration.
In fact, we had to read the article in question twice to fully absorb what we consider to be its wrongheadedness. Are we supposed to be relieved, or at least satisfied that, “The America of the Founding Fathers roots – a modest, decentralized, and agrarian nation – is gone, or is at least being pushed to the demographic margins, inhabiting the great red swath of the country’s middle?”
Here’s some more from the article, which is actually built around Kentucky conservative/libertarian senatorial candidate Rand Paul’s recent “controversial” remarks regarding the constitutionality and appropriateness of the nation’s far-reaching Civil Rights Act of the early 1960s. (The general gist of his remarks was that from a philosophical standpoint, anyway, the federal government might have been seen as over-reaching.)
What the tea party wants … While Paul’s comments are political gaffes, they do not appear to be too far afield from tea party doctrine – to the degree that such a thing exists. The battle flag of the tea parties has been the Revolutionary War “Don’t Tread on Me” banner. But the enemy to liberty, in this instance, is not the British, but the overbearing American government itself. The tea parties’ 10-point Contract From America includes “restore fiscal responsibility and constitutionally limited government in Washington.” As if to underscore the point, it also includes: “demand a balanced budget” and “end runaway government spending.”
Paul has been anointed to carry this gospel to Washington, and in each instance, Paul’s comments last week spoke to the desire to lessen the grip of the American government on its people – in this case, business. In theory, almost all Republicans have this aim. The difference between Paul and more mainstream Republicans, however, has been his apparent willingness (or inability not to) speak the pure doctrine of Barry Goldwater libertarianism – regardless of the political costs.
Paul is burrowing deep into political theory. The fundamental question he is raising is: Who should be in charge of changing the United States – the government or the American people themselves? Tea party principle, as interpreted by Paul, suggests that the American people must be free to evolve on their own. In other words, business-owners should have the right to discriminate – even though Paul says he “abhors” racism – because the alternative is a slippery slope of government interference, leading to tyranny.
For people like Paul, the hope is problems such as racism will be increasingly exposed as abhorrent, and society will gradually change on its own without government interference. Yet on race in particular, one prominent conservative abandoned this philosophy. The late William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the National Review, originally opposed the Civil rights Act. “I once believed we could evolve our way up from Jim Crow,” Mr. Buckley said in 2004, according to The New York Times. “I was wrong: federal intervention was necessary.”
There is a “gotcha” aspect to all this that we have noted before in other American mainstream-media references to the apparent demise of Thomas Jefferson’s vision of an agrarian republican nation-state. The article’s implications are obvious: In the modern world, freedom is not free and the US federal behemoth – soon to redistribute up to 40 percent of this bleeding nation’s wealth – is both inevitable and apparently necessary.
At least Robert Graves had the decency not to celebrate the demise of the republic. In fact the Claudius books are nothing if not a cautionary tale as to what happens to a society that degenerates as Rome did. As for William F. Buckley, the libertarian movement in America reflects (and correctly in our opinion) an increasing Rothbardian repugnance toward this legendary intellectual. In fact, Buckley, a walking, talking mechanism of cognitive dissonance, spent his adult life celebrating free-markets while seemingly endorsing (or at least ignoring) the gamut of military-industrial activities undertaken by the Pentagon and America’s spying agencies.
We’ve stayed away from commenting on Rand Paul’s remarks directly, for the issue has blown up into a national controversy and plenty of publications have covered it. What we are fascinated with is the approach that the CS Monitor has taken to the subject by implying (regardless of the appropriateness of Rand Paul’s remarks) that he is likely standing – futilely – athwart the path of history and shouting “stop!”
Now we can recognize a dominant social theme when we see one (the Bell is supposed to sniff them out, after all). We are sufficiently cynical to suggest that one reason for Graves’ continued success and celebration by the powers-that-be (other than the greatness of the work itself) is that it delivers the message that empire is implacable and irreversible. And that is what this article is implying – heck, stating!
We have a meme of our own to suggest. We regularly offer up the idea that the Internet is the second, modern communications’ revolution of the past 500 years, and is putting “the hurt” on power-elite fear-based promotions. The first one (initiated by the Gutenberg press) eventually resulted, one way or another, in the Renaissance, the Reformation, “these united States” and a host of other far-reaching changes. These happened despite ongoing wars and an apparent determination by the powers-that-be to roll back the transformative aspects of Gutenberg’s book-printing invention.
There are similarities between then and now in terms of the elite’s increasing dysfunction. The elite is fairly obviously applying 20th century damage-control techniques to a 21st century problem. In the 20th century, when a fear-based promotion was in danger of unraveling, the elite could bring to bear all the academic, media and governance forces at its disposal to make sure that the problem was snuffed out and credibility restored. In the 21st century, the elite has seemingly lost control of various portions of its command-and-control apparatus. The Internet is an evolving emergency, not amenable to one-time fixes.
Most damagingly, the elite’s mainstream media is not fully in control of fear-based messaging any more – and thus problems that might have been quickly alleviated, linger and drastically erode the believability of what has been painstakingly created with tremendous cost and clout. Not only that, but each erosion subtly effects the rest. The ongoing degeneration of the global warming theme has eroded the ability of the elite to justify other power grabs and even to create additional promotional spin-offs as planned.
A most successful dominant social theme for the power elite in the 20th century was the whole promotion of regulatory democracy as the only logical and inevitable methodology of governance. Today, we would argue, this meme is increasingly under siege along with central banking, so-called international trade agreements and, in fact, the entire superstructure of global government.
Rand Paul’s Kentucky nomination in the US, the Tea-Party movement itself, along with the destabilization of the euro and the EU itself are signs from our perspective that the inevitability of regulatory democracy is finally being questioned by the West’s long-suffering citizens at a fundamental level. We reject the meme as enunciated (smugly) by the CS Monitor (and even by Graves himself, regretfully) that empire is irreversible and that what is once done, no matter how bad, cannot be undone, or at least rectified.
Conclusion: Since we are in a naming mood, we will call this dominant social theme (the inevitability of regulatory democracy and the expansion of the Anglo-American empire) the “I Claudius meme.” If we are correct, the insanity of current Western governance with its endless warring, destructive taxation and phony money printing will eventually go the way of Rome itself – falling silent as something else evolves.