Angelo Codevilla asks the vital if perplexing question of how to restore a republic when a sizable portion of its members has no desire to govern itself.
In one of his many astute formulations, Codevilla notes that, although the “bipartisan ruling class that controls nearly all our institutions” constitutes a tiny minority of the populace, its success rests on the fact that a large “part of the U.S population are that oligarchy’s eager subjects, either uninterested in or opposed to any kind of restoration” of natural and constitutional liberties.
Codevilla offers no simple solution, because there is none. He does identify several lessons republicans must learn if we are to have any hope of success.
To begin with, the good professor stresses that our response must be unabashedly political. He is well aware of the resistance this point will elicit, on various grounds.
To those who protest that politics is divisive, when what we need is unity, Codevilla points out that a) the issues now dividing us make proximate unity impossible, b) politics is divisive precisely because it is the only means by which social unity can be achieved.
Since human beings are political animals, the question is not whether we will have politics, but rather whose politics we will have. If lovers of liberty agree to stay out of the fray for fear of being labelled political, we will simply (continue to) enable the enemies of freedom to impose their falsely so-called unity on us.
To my mind, Codevilla’s easy dismissal of tactful and farseeing resistance goes one step too far. From Socrates and Christ to Thomas More and Václav Havel, history’s greatest leaders have been those who laid the foundations for future generations to follow the paths of truth and justice, under the suspicious noses of seemingly unshakable despots.
This “underground” politics can and must proceed at all times, especially when current rulers are at their most corrupt.
At the same time, Codevilla is correct to note that actual republican government demands something more: it depends upon the willingness of all citizens—from the greatest to the most humble among us—to make the requisite sacrifices required to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, as far as it lies within our power to do so.
Looking to the heights, Codevilla rightly stresses that every political movement needs leadership, and that a leader capable of achieving the lofty goals he envisions must possess a character worthy of such goals—which is to say, he must act in the name of a cause and a power higher than himself, rather than reducing the movement to an extension of his own ego.
With equal wisdom, Codevilla argues that any practical solution to our present political problems will require a radical revival of the principle of subsidiarity, according to which men ought to govern themselves as much as possible on a face-to-face basis.
Given that our present divisions run through every state, county, and town in the nation, the only logistical basis on which a truce will be possible is a system in which each locality is permitted to govern itself in accordance with “red” or “blue” principles, and those who disagree are free to move to the nearest place controlled by their confreres.
In the long run, we shall see whose principles produce greater prosperity, and attract more willing participants.
Of course, to the extent that the blue banner stands for an ever-greater concentration of power in pseudo-enlightened hands, its followers will never go for this approach. It lies with the proponents of republican liberty to ensure that they are made to see this compromise as better than any alternative we are willing to leave them.
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