This is one of those “wait, that can’t be true … but then again that is obviously true” stories: “Only 36% of Americans can name the three branches of government.”
If you have any appreciation for the destruction to our education system wrought by progressivism, particularly by the exlusively-progressive plague of public sector unionism, then you are not likely to be very surprised by this headline. Likewise, if you are sentient and in possession of basic senses, you also are not surprised to learn that a great majority of your fellow citizens are utterly clueless about basic civics. The age of reality television and selfies has clearly seen the chaff of society overshadow the wheat. No future historian will confuse the early period of the 21st century with the Age of Enlightenment.
One would think that by merely existing in an age of ubiquitous information, on-demand content and 24 hour news and internet, at least half the national population would be able to absorb through data osmosis the basic foundations of our republic. With all the inescapable political banter soaring through the ether, surely even the most checked-out or apathetic citizen must know that there exist simple delineations between the President, the Congress and the Supreme Court? This headline would be staggering if it said 50%, but 36%? Almost two-thirds of Americans really have no clue how our government works. I wonder who that benefits, and I wonder if said beneficiaries have incentives to keep it this way.
Woodrow Wilson urged Americans to reject the Founding Fathers and the Constitution in order to bring about a “renewed” America because the left can only thrive with an electorate which holds no first principles. A citizenry that abandons interest in its natural rights and the separation of powers meant to protect those rights is an aimless and rootless citizenry always chasing “progress” down whichever road the winds are blowing. For Wilson and the progressives, strict separation of powers with clearly demarcated responsibilities therein just would not do. These eminent geniuses had it all figured out, and something as trivial as checks and balances was not going to stand in their way. But in 1912, Americans tended to revere notions of natural rights and constitutional liberty, so the cause of disavowing them of their quaint ideals fell to the ultimate elitist, a Princeton President and all-around narcissist, Captain Woodrow. Wilson running against the Founders and Constitution was merely the first step in a long campaign to undermine the values of our republic. The seed of the idea of an omniscient executive had been planted, waiting for Roosevelt to come along and water the shit out of it, which he surely did, starting in 1932.
Since Marxist ideology burst on the scene in the 19th century, leftwing regimes have understood that the path to control of the citizenry is information. The more informed the population, the less likely it is that your socialist utopia is going to fool them into compliance. The 20th century incarnations of Marxism, whether through Hitler’s Nazism or Stalin’s Communism understood this and were thoroughly ruthless in their censorship, propaganda and disinformation outfits. They also correctly identified the fundamental antagonist to the socialist enterprise, capital, and thus set out to shut down stock exchanges whenever they acquired territory. How it is that so many erstwhile sophisticates of the millennial generation find it trendy to wax nostalgic over collectivism and express vague platitudes as to the inherent virtues of socialism will forever escape me when the requisite qualities of any socialist operation typically consist of harsh censorship and restrictions on capital generation. But in order to make the connection between the abysmal failures of socialism – in theory and in practice – and a culture of repression and censorship, you must be educated on actual history and economics. Which brings us back to the issue at hand: education.
If the population is educated and informed, especially regarding the specifics of our constitution and of our history, then it is likely to be a proud and patriotic population. But if the population withers intellectually and ceases to be educated in such matters as remedial civics, then the project of our republic suddenly appears vulnerable. If the citizenry gradually shifts from participatory and engaged to apathetic and indifferent, and in doing so becomes less educated and less concerned with the genetic coding of our complicated federalist system, how easy it would be to take advantage. And that is what the progressives have done.
Whether or not they set out to import the Bismarckian model of education from Germany as a Trojan Horse for bureaucratizing and centralizing our country, the progressives have definitely capitalized on the opportunity and used the national public education monopoly to attain power and to keep the citizenry placid and immobile. The power comes from the pernicious and corrupt relationship between teachers’ unions and Democratic politicians, who court lavish campaign contributions from the union bosses in return for preferential treatment in collective bargaining sessions. They effect to keep the public stagnant by treating public education primarily as a jobs program for adults rather than as an education program for students. National curricula are designed and overseen by a cadre of leftwing academics at the DOE and the College Board. Each and every attempt at reforming the public education cartel is met with furious and unhinged behavior by the unions and the progressive left, which is thankfully becoming more transparent to the parents of low-income and minority students, who see the unions and the leftists standing squarely in the way of their children’s opportunities for advancement, all in the name of protecting cushy pensions and work benefits.
The left views informed people who are passionate about our founding ideals with suspicion and contempt. The excess vitriol spewed at the Tea Party by progressives was so intense and unhinged precisely because the Tea Party stands above all else for the Constitution. The Constitution is sacred because it is so wary of concentrated power. The most emphasis during all the convention debates and through all the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers centered around the separation of powers. Our Founders were well-read philosophes who agreed comprehensively on one thing: they did not want a king. And so all the energy of the debate focused on how to establish a republic that balanced and separated powers hitherto reserved for a king?
Woodrow Wilson announced that for the modern left, a king is exactly what is desired. Thus the need to undermine the nature of our founding by gradually eroding reverence for it. The left needs a dumb society if they are to be in charge. It needs useful idiots. When only 36% of Americans can identify the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of our government, I’d say that the left is winning.
The level of John McCain and Lindsey Graham agitation over any given foreign policy issue should have an inverse correlation with the general public’s perception of what amounts to a good idea.
In the case of arming the “vetted” Syrian rebels, each successive shrieking bleat for more urgency in the matter of placing sophisticated weaponry in the hands of “moderate Islamist” militants should cause a respective dose of pump the breaks among public opinion. The Free Syrian Army, whose virtues McCain, Graham, Jen Rubin, Bill Kristol and the rest of the neocon amen chorus never tire of extolling, is in fact a Muslim Brotherhood operation. But you wouldn’t know that from the way the political class talk about them. In the eyes of the always-already interventionists, there is always a ready force of Jeffersonian freedom fighters just waiting to be aided by the benevolent American liberators. The reality is more like having a disparate arrangement of angry Sunnis who tilt closer to the jihad than to pluralism or liberty. And they are likelier to view US assistance as reckless and clumsy machinations from the world’s most visible hand. And just as unwelcome meddling by the state corrupts the market, so does muddled policy in a sectarian conflict elicit only resentment and treachery among those we are ostensibly helping.
We cannot possibly know who the “good guys” are in Syria. Some rebel factions are only interested in toppling Assad, while others are committed to fight ISIS. Many are just waiting to see how things shake out and then will fall in with the whoever the victors are. The so-called moderates that inhabit the Free Syrian Army are just as fond of beheadings as ISIS. They possibly sold Steven Sotloff to ISIS, who ultimately decapitated him. Now there are signs they have signed a cease-fire with ISIS so they can concentrate on battling Assad, though they of course deny that. (Not much prospect of getting free US-made RPGs and MANPADS if a pact with ISIS leaks). The clear takeaway is that Syria is riddled with chaos that cannot be easily navigated or solved. The sectarian conflict within Islam has been going on for close to 1500 years, yet our genius foreign policy mandarins in Washington think they can waltz in and fix everything, yet again. We’re only three years into the fallout from the Tunisia and Cairo affairs igniting the Arab Spring, an event that has seen secular autocrats deposed in favor of a toxic vacuum from which only chaos and jihad could ever have sprung. But the neocons can’t bring themselves to admit that there is no amount of top men capable of turning that region of the world into a peaceful democratic redoubt.
Lately I’ve been especially bothered by the conservative hawk tendency to mirror perfectly the follies of progressivism. It’s the fatal conceit applied to foreign policy. Neocons believe they are the only ones equipped to address the problem of radical Islam. Dan Henninger (who I otherwise like in matters not related to foreign policy) went so far as to assert that the world is too dangerous to allow the Democratic Party to be in charge. I would agree wholeheartedly if the brief against allowing progressive reign was to do with their economic agenda; but I can’t rightly get behind a platform that thinks its stewardship of foreign policy under George W. Bush is the beacon from which all future American foreign policy must shine. No thanks. That is not to say the progressives have a better vision or policy regarding America’s place in the world; they absolutely do not. The point is that on matters of state in regions rife with sectarian hatred living under a religion yet to undergo its much awaited Reformation, there simply aren’t any easy answers, if there are answers at all. The worst thing a democratic republic of free people can do is sanction their government’s insistence that they know – this time – they know exactly how to solve impossible problems.
Is that isolationist? Of course not. For starters, isolationism implies a reluctance to trade with the world as well as an ignorant suspicion of global markets and free movement of capital around the planet. Neither is it a call for doing nothing. By all means, work with allies, build a coalition, get consent and authorization from Congress and then hit ISIS where they can be hit from the sky. The special ops ground forces will undoubtedly be asked yet again to perform heroic acts while undermanned, but that is the unfortunate yield from last decade’s wars of occupation and incompetence: a thorough “No Mas!” from the citizenry back home regarding the insertion of whole new brigades into Iraq. And in Syria, the situation is far more confusing, dangerous, and not worth our investment, especially if infantrymen are going to be asked to clear corners and go door-to-door in urba warfare as they did in Fallujah, as they would no doubt have to in Aleppo and Raqaa. It can’t be done, at least not as efficiently and smoothly as the hawks so offensively suggest.
The sardonic hilarity that one can glean from this whole episode is this: due to unbridled hubris on the part of Dick Cheney and the neocons, we have spent eleven years poking our big stick in the world’s biggest pile of fire ants, and arguing over the welts on our ankles as we stand idly in the ant hill, clumsily and futilely swinging the stick where and when it suits us. But we continue to be bit. And is there a more stark manifestation of this parable than in our Air Force now having to launch airstrikes against our own vehicles and weaponry, stolen by ISIS from the Iraqi Army that we spent a decade equipping and training?
Let’s not arm the Syrian rebels, because we’re just as likely to have to face our own weaponry at some point in the future.
If prudence and reason prevail, Scotland will vote “no” on Thursday in its referendum on independence from the United Kingdom. The “yes” vote has the momentum and has been surging in the polls, causing the Better Together campaign to dispatch the leaders of the three main British parties (Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrats) north last week to make the case for preserving the proud union that dates to 1707. The last-ditch efforts at staving off an irreversible separation seem to have stopped the bleeding and the smart money has returned to the bet that Scots will decide in the end to remain a part of Great Britain.
The most intriguing aspect of this independence debate is the degree to which Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond is telling the truth to his enthusiastic would-be William Wallaces. The Westminster political class have moved quickly from elitist nonchalance to panicked desperation as the polls have shifted and the prospect of Scotland leaving the UK has become a potential reality. As a result, the Bank of England has warned that Scotland would not be allowed to remain with the British pound, that divorce proceedings over assets such as North Sea oil will not be easy or appealing to Scots, and that basic legal and commercial contract disputes will drive the bureaucracies of London and Edinburgh to (more) drink. UK Defense voices have suggested that Scottish and English national security would suffer were the union to dissolve. All of these warnings are met with cheery brush offs and cocky dismissals by Alex Salmond, a tactic Daniel Hannan believes is working to the SNP’s advantage:
The SNP has grasped that elections are generally won by the more optimistic side – a truth its leaders apparently learned during a session with an American political consultant, who handed out bags of pennies, and made them put one on the table every time they said something negative. Alex Salmond has, since that session, been relentlessly upbeat, both about the prospects of a “Yes” vote and about the prospects of an independent Scotland. Any problems – currency, disinvestment, EU membership, funding shortfalls – are swallowed up in a supernova of cheeriness.
Salmond has taken all the warnings of dire economic, security and logistical consequences and essentially said “so what?” He has successfully leveraged the quite socialist Scottish youth, which is more aptly described as a belligerent anti-English (and anti-American for that matter) mob, and cultivated an environment where anything coming out of England is received by Scottish nationalists as just “more Tory lies.” The “yes” voters don’t believe anything the English say because Salmond has stoked the sentiment from the beginning.
But it is on the basic question of independence that Salmond has told the real lie. The SNP’s platform is to break away from the UK in order to join the EU. Which would be like California seceding from the United States to become a satellite state of China. If Scotland joined the EU as an independent nation (a big “if” if ever there was one: Spain, for one, would be mightily opposed to Scottish membership lest it lend encouragement to the Basque separatists of Catalonia), it would have to adopt the euro. The euro sucks, and everybody knows it. It especially sucks if you’re a smaller nation with socialist passion and are intent on maintaining your giant welfare state while having no say on your currency or monetary policy. Membership in the EU further weds you to the European Court of Human Rights as well as primacy of Brussels law over your own. Border sovereignty and foreign policy are immediately forfeit to the larger plans of the mandarins at the European Commission. Whatever discontents currently exist in Scotland concerning the House of Commons in Westminster, joining the EU would quickly cause the people to yearn for those bygone days once they’re forced into complying with the maze of law and regulation emanating from Brussels.
The principle of self-determination is not to be downplayed, however. If Scotland votes for independence, the vote should be respected and the Scots should be praised for believing in themselves and their ability for self-government. But leaving the UK to join the EU is not a vote for self-government, but a vote for being absorbed into a plainly anti-democratic political union on a stagnant continent where you will have less say over local affairs going forward, not more.
For a whole host of reasons, I hope Scotland stays. The union that has lasted for over three hundred years has been one of the most successful and prosperous political integrations in history. Anyone who has seen Braveheart knows that these peoples haven’t always seen eye to eye, but the marriage into Great Britain has allowed some of humanity’s great achievements to flow from the British Isles, as once they were united, we had the Scottish Enlightenment and historic names such as Adam Smith and David Hume introduced to the world. Scottish soldiers proudly fought and died for English, Welsh, and Northern Irish brethren in the 20th century. A great bit of nostalgia for the union jack and the Kingdom as a whole persists today. Deep down, a large majority of Britons really aren’t in favor of seeing Scotland leave.
Another part of me hopes it will happen. And I’m just some Yank with no skin in the game. There are many sentimental “no” voters in England who agree with me and are frankly fed up with Scotland and its dead-weight welfare statism which, under the SNP, has morphed into a more virulent form of activist socialism and militant anti-nuclear crusading. Much of Scotland’s younger generations believe they are more kin to Scandinavia than to the English. They find it beyond the pale that Great Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine docks in Scottish waters. They curse that they haven’t been granted “devo max,” a near-total devolution of powers from Westminster back to Edinburgh in the event of the union staying together. Never mind that the Scottish parliament and “home rule,” two things they had to give up in 1707 to join the UK, have been incrementally restored and are poised for even more devolution now that the English are essentially grovelling for Scotland to stay.
But many English wonder why they should beg Scotland to stay. England subsidizes Scotland’s welfare state, of which more than 50% of the population is on some form of government benefit. Scotland is represented in the House of Commons (59 MPs) while the rest of the UK is not represented in the Scottish Parliament. There is only one Tory MP from Scotland, meaning that if the “yes” vote wins, English Labour will be in a sudden bind politically, as they currently reap a good deal of Labour votes and money from Scotland. There’s also Margaret Thatcher’s timeless truth about socialists and other people’s money. It might be a fun and enlightening experiment (if painful for the Scots) to see a newly independent Scotland have its socialist dreams shattered within a couple years. No lesson learned like a lesson lived.
I wish the best for Scotland, and in that vein I hope they vote “no” in two days. But if they do vote “yes” I will not be entirely chagrined to witness the inevitable comeuppance for Alex Salmond and the SNP, and especially for his army of militant millennial supporters who make America’s progressives look almost like free market libertarians by comparison. I also wish the best for the United Kingdom and hope for a “no” vote all the same. Yes, the cynical political calculations of a “yes” vote would mean a neutered Labour Party in England as well as a forced economic correction in Scotland once they were hit in the face by reality. But Great Britain is bigger than short term ephemeral politics; it is our ancestor, our patrimony, our sacred lineage. The British and American peoples share a genetic coding for how to do statehood: the citizen above the state, not the other way around.
Scotland may be flirting with rebellion, adolescent contempt for the hand that feeds, and nationalistic confusion about the practical meaning of independence all at the same time, but that still should not be enough for those of us who value their vital contributions to human freedom to abandon them now. There will be no shortage of scoffing and vitriol and also plain indifference among the English if this divorce does happen, but at the end of the day there are definitely many more English (and Welsh and Northern Irish) who want Scotland to stay than to see it go.
Let’s just hope the same is still true in Scotland.