Saturday, September 06, 2008

In Selflessness and Democracy They Trust

The World Forum on the Future of Democracy at Colonial Williamsburg and the College of William and Mary, the subject of extensive commentary by this site's host ("Colonial Williamsburg's Summit of Scrambled Egg-Heads," September 5), ended on September 18 [2007] on a flat note. Only one session of the three-day event was open to the public. The other sessions were "private" events at Colonial Williamsburg's Williamsburg Lodge, so it cannot be determined if these secret deliberations ended on a high note. Perhaps The New York Times columnist David Brooks, one of the Forum participants, will wax poetic on those private sessions in the near future and let the world know what transpired in them.
That is what I wrote a year ago when flocks of One-Worlders, Global-Governmentalists, do-gooders and altruists of all shades of pinkish stripes, racial, gender, cultural and differently challenged egalitarians, humanity managers, and charter members of Club Clueless descended on Williamsburg to discuss "democracy." Williamsburg, they all believed, was the cradle of democracy.

Of course, the untruth of that notion has never been questioned. It is propagated and repeated with utter disregard for the truth, from either ignorance or ulterior motives. Indeed, Colonial Williamsburg itself, in its various educational and visitor programs, harps constantly on "democracy." The Founders, one hears, created a "democracy." This is not the only way the Foundation has dispensed with facts and adulterated history at the behest of political correctness and craven pragmatism (and for a few federal grants), but it is a significant departure from its mantra that the "future may learn from the past."

I discovered a Foundation site,, that raises questions about "democracy," and I have posted a pair of commentaries whose purpose is to disabuse other contributors of the fallacy, danger, and futility of democracy. I stress that what the Founders created was a republic. These men abhorred democracies of any size, for they were astute students of history and saw that always and inevitably, democracy sired tyranny. The members of the Constitutional Convention went to great lengths to ensure that it did not happen in the United States.

The Foundation site poses a series of questions about democracy, but does not question the validity of the premiss that "democracy" is what it is all about, and presumes that no one who visits the site will disagree with or dispute the premiss. Most visitors to the site do not disagree with or dispute it, and so in their own remarks add confusion to a discussion that has already been diverted in the wrong direction. It is like watching a dog chasing its own tail.

The most recent question - "Do party divisions hurt democracy?" - employs a quotation from Thomas Jefferson's letter to John Dickinson in 1801:

"The greatest good we can do our country is to heal its party divisions and make them one people."
With some editing, here is my first contribution to the discussion, in which I define the terms by which I would engage in this Socratic dialogue:

What astonishes me about this and other discussions in answer to the questions about "democracy," is that no one has questioned the use of the term "democracy." When Benjamin Franklin, after the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, was asked what kind of government the convention had created, he did not answer, "A democracy, if you can keep it," but rather, "A republic, if you can keep it." The most fundamental distinction between a democracy and a republican form of government is that the former means mob rule - catering to the mob's or majority's prejudices or appetites, at the expense of a minority - while a republic, as the Founders conceived of one, would protect an individual's right to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. "Party divisions," under the first form of government, simply means struggles between warring factions for power and the growth of government over the lives of the citizens; under a republican form of government, party divisions would be defined by non-essentials and not propound wholesale violations of individual rights or encroach on the sanctity of the Bill of Rights.
Shortly after posting that, a visitor asked me to clarify "party divisions defined by non-essentials." I answered:

By "party divisions defined by non-essentials," I meant that two political parties, such as the Republicans and Democrats, would agree on the fundamental sanctity of individual rights, but differ on how to implement legitimate government functions without suborning constitutional principles. For example, two or more parties in Congress might disagree on term limits, or on the correct amount of compensation that senators and representatives might have a right to claim from the general budget, or on purely administrative details concerning the legislative or judicial branches of government.
In short, the parties would be Jefferson's "one people," in agreement on fundamentals, such as the inviolate right of an individual to his own life - that is, the core fact that he owns his own life and that it is not for disposal by the government or a majority, not even for "Country First" - but at odds over how to ensure that right and perpetuate it in the political process. Briefly, nothing that would be grounds for a civil war or the usurpation of individual rights or the reign of political anarchy. It was the non-specificity of the Constitution on limitations of power that moved anti-Federalists like Patrick Henry to insist that a Bill of Rights be appended to the Constitution delimiting government powers and establishing their boundaries.

I added:

From another standpoint, a staunchly principled party devoted to the strict adherence to the Bill of Rights and other Constitutional assertions, would always be in opposition to any party advocating socialism, fascism, or any other collectivist form of government. Such an opposition, then, would certainly be defined and governed by essentials and the fundamentals of Constitutional law.
Of course, a party that advocated the slavery and theft (such as "duty," selflessness, and "giving back") necessary under socialism, fascism, and other collectivist, individual rights-negating theories or policies would not gain enough popular support to win seats in Congress. Such a party would never become a danger or a peril. Ideally, such an American populace would be educated and smart enough to know that these theories or policies entailed enslavement of themselves or others, and selfish enough to deny their advocates any place in government. No "healing of party divisions" would be imperative or required, because no injury would have ever occurred.

Again, of course, this is not the situation today. The two major parties, as can be plainly seen in the run-up to the November elections this year, do not occupy the same political or moral universe that the Founders inhabited. The Republicans and Democrats differ only over the aims of policies geared to create "one people": the Republicans want to lasso everyone into a kind of nationalism fueled by a willingness to "serve" and "sacrifice"; the Democrats want to draft everyone to "serve" and "sacrifice" on the road to full-scale, America-destroying socialism. And both candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, have touted the virtue of selflessness as a principal means to accomplish their end of creating "one people."

I must add here that neither Jefferson, Washington, Henry, Madison, nor John Adams, nor any of the other Founders could imagine or foretell the puerile, anti-conceptual state of political dialogue today. To a man, they would warn: Unless you grasp fundamentals, you are doomed to downfall and even extinction.

John McCain's acceptance speech of September 4th in Minneapolis was themed on selflessness. Obama's acceptance speech in Denver was themed on selflessness. Selflessness, they both claim, is the "greatest good" that can create jobs, national security, a workable health care system, and a clean environment.

McCain's political philosophy is a variation of John Donne's "no man is an island," coupled with the warning that if you think you are an island, he will guarantee that your life is made miserable. Obama's political philosophy can be seen in his statement during his appearance with McCain at an evangelical church in California in August:

"He sought to atone for youthful indiscretions, saying he had been guilty of 'fundamental selfishness' at times, notably in his experimentation with drugs...."
A person who experiments with drugs is someone on a quest for selflessness, to escape from a self he does not much respect or care for. Which makes Obama just as much an enemy of individual rights and American freedom as McCain. As with McCain, selflessness is his password to virtue. The one wishes you to sacrifice and serve for the people, while the other wishes you to sacrifice and serve for God. 'Stand up and fight!" proclaimed McCain last Thursday night with clenched fists and glassy eyes and to a cheering chapter of Club Clueless. "Stand up and fight!" - for a cause greater than yourself.

And God help you if you are not "one with the people." God help you if you reply that without a self, there is no cause.


Anonymous said...

I consider myself a fledgling capitalist, so let me preface this comment with that. I've discovered two (so far) articles by you, Mr. Cline, that are critical of Colonial Williamsburg and its portrayal of history. In your post on the World Forum on the Future of Democracy on I found related links to your book series. I actually purchased your first book and had it signed, by you, in the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center. Doesn't this in some way call into question the strength of your convictions?

Nicholas Provenzo said...

Your view seems to intonate that because Edward Cline signs his books at the CW bookstore, his integrity is somehow compromised. On the contrary; I think Cline's sublime understanding of the American founding and his knowledge of CW's mission allows him to serve as a thought-provoking critic of CW's fallings when such criticism is deserved.

The reality is that CW is an important guardian and broadcaster of the founders' legacy and they should be ashamed of some of some of the recent trends that they have embraced. To link America to "democracy" as CW most recently has is patently inaccurate and in my view, worthy of condemnation. The Founders did not pave the way for the mob to do things like put Socrates to death for the crime of corrupting the youth; instead, the founders were far more revolutionary, enshrining the right of men to life and liberty under the law. Their achievement laid the political cornerstone for American individualism, and not American democracy.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: No, while seconding Nick's comments above, I'll just say that booksigning at CW no more compromises my convictions than perhaps signing them in the Pentagon or the steps of the U.S. Capitol. However, I've watched CW, over a period of 16 years, lose its perspective and commitment to the truth in relation to history and how CW presents it. This was happening even before it began applying for and accepting federal grants, but the latter has merely accelerated decay of the Foundation. Instead of being an organization dedicated to promoting knowledge of the country's founding and the importance of the ideas behind the Revolution, it has become a bureaucracy interested only in sustaining its existence at any price. I may be one of the last "patriots" to appear there, and I can't say for how much longer I will continue to sign my books there. It is falling apart rapidly.

Ed Cline

Anonymous said...

While I do not necessarily disagree with Mr. Cline's comments on Colonial Williamsburg, the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon are public structures owned by the people. Colonial Williamsburg is a private institution, whose generosity has allowed him to profit through the purchase of his books and the granting of book signing opportunities. While I think it is in CW's very best interest to promote Mr. Cline, I question whether it is in his best interests to continue his relationship with the company given his misgivings, not only in a philosophical sense, but also in a rational business sense.

Nicholas Provenzo said...

This has happened to me now several times: I'll be engaged in a conversation with someone about Ed Cline's Sparrowhawk series, singing its many praises and I'll mention parenthetically that Ed often signs his books in front of the CW bookstore. If the person has been to CW in the past few years, they will suddenly remember Ed, such the "experience" he has become.

In this regard, I think Cline's presence is a great virtue and CW does well for itself to "allow" it. If a visitor buys Sparrowhawk and reads it, they will discover the spiritual meaning of American independence dramatized with the power of a master's pen. Furthermore, as Cline's books have been long-standing top-sellers at the bookstore (and since bookstores typically earn a significant portion of your average museum's revenue) I see no reason to break this dynamic.

The reality is that Cline is in a unique position regarding CW. He knows it like few others, yet he is not directly a part of it. If this venerable institution values rational criticism, its leaders would do well to head what Cline has to say about it.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: Again, seconding Nick's answer to you, here are some observations of my own: CW is the ideal venue to promote the likes of Sparrowhawk. I can't remember the number of times I've warned visitors that they'll get a truer tour of Colonial Williamsburg in my novels than they will in the historic area.

The series is very popular with the military. Whole sets are aboard U.S. aircraft carriers, submarines, in numerous service libraries. Just last weekend, an Army Master Sergeant bought two sets of the hardcovers: one for himself and one for his C.O. If I were able to get a booksigning gig in the Pentagon, the series would sell better than hotcakes. And, I think I have more right to be on the steps of the Capitol building than most of the people who do "business" in it. I'm not selling out the country; they are.

The series is very popular with teachers (in private and public schools) and home-schooling parents.

One of my purposes for writing the series -- but by no means the primary one -- was to reach minds still willing to think and that suspect that they've been cheated of a true and glorious depiction of what caused the Revolution. Sparrowhawk has more than satisfied such curiosity, more than I had a right to expect. If Barack Obama or John McCain showed interest in the series, I wouldn't hesitate to autograph a book for either of them. (But, that's not bloody likely!)

It is irrelevant that I might be making a corrupted organization money through sales of my novels. Much more important is that I'm satisfying a literary hunger in Americans (and in many Europeans, especially Brits, Aussies and the like), and also that I've woken up many people to just how much has been surrendered and how much must be won back. My ends are not the same as CW's, not any more.

Long live Lady Liberty -- wherever she may stand. CW is a unique sales venue for the spread of reason, rational ideas, and the value of America. If CW doesn't appreciate that, it's not my problem.

Ed Cline

Anonymous said...

I am not disputing the value of the Sparrowhawk book series, nor CW's obvious benefits in promoting Mr. Cline's novel. Perhaps it is irrelevant that CW benefits from selling the novels, but that's not the point I was trying to make. I don't consider it irrelevant that HE profits from this "corrupt" organization. There's a reason Ayn Rand didn't have Hank Rearden hawking Rearden Metal in the lobby of his competitors. Could not CW be considered a competitor to Mr. Cline's version of truth?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: All I can say to your latest objection is that perhaps I should also feel guilty or compromised for using the roads and highways that my taxes pay for, or any other venue whose status I have no control of.

And, if I profit somehow because I'm selling my books in a compromised venue, well, what other venues are there? I mean, look at the latest government action: seizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two "quangos" (quasi-non-governmental organizations) created by the feds to guarantee home mortgages. Tell me where private property, private investments and stockholder protection and the like havne't been compromised by the rise of statism. I'd really like to know. I'm out here fighting battles with one hand tied behind my back.

Ed Cline