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A Foundation... Or Empire?

By Samuel Francis
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #18, 1997.

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Samuel Francis


When historians look back on the decade of the 1990s, they may describe it as the period when Americans began to take back their country and its institutions. One of the characteristics of this decade is that all over the country, average citizens are beginning to rebel, quietly and legally, against the giant organizations that have come to dominate our national life. The homeschooling movement is one of the main features of this rebellion, but there are several others. Grassroots activism for immigration control, against affirmative action, in support of traditional regional and cultural symbols like the Confederate Flag, and for several other causes have all blossomed in the last few years. Even the citizens' militias, which mobilize citizens in support of their constitutional right to keep and bear arms, are part of this trend, and at the national level candidates like Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader and Howard Phillips, have challenged the dominance of our political system by the two mainstream parties that increasingly resemble each other and leave average citizens with little real political choice.

These trends are strongly in keeping with the way of life and the political ethos of the United States from its founding. Active and continuous participation in public life is the essence of a republic, the foundational form of government that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution intended us to have; and throughout this century, that form of government has been all but obliterated by the rise of massive and anonymous organizations in the state, the economy, and the culture that prevent participation of the average citizen in the way they operate and in the direction that they push the country.

The New Bureaucratic Empire

These organizations - schools and universities, governments at both the state and local as well as the federal level, the courts, mass labor unions and gigantic corporations, and media empires that distort news and public opinion and spew out fashions and ideas that are often repellent to the religious and moral beliefs of most Americans - are profoundly incompatible with the way a free people should and must govern itself. Controlled by professional bureaucracies, often funded or granted legal privileges by the state, unresponsive to the market or popular political control, and irrelevant or actually hostile to the beliefs, interests, and preferences of most of the people whose lives and futures they influence, such organizations in effect have pulled off a revolution against the original form of our government and subverted much of the institutional and moral basis of American life. The fact that an increasing number of Americans now see through what these organizations and their elites have done and are rebelling against them is an encouraging trend and one of the strongest signs of health in our society.

The clearest indication of what has happened to our foundational republican way of life and the ideal of self-government (not just in the political but also in the personal, moral sense) comes from government itself. At the beginning of this century, wrote the late sociologist Robert A. Nisbet, the only regular contact that the average American had with the federal government came at the post office. Beginning with the administration of Woodrow Wilson and continuing through those of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, however, the federal government initiated a course of enlargement so that it has now become an empire that wraps itself around and winds itself into virtually every aspect of our lives. Taxation is the most obvious means by which the federal state enlarges itself and extends its control of its citizens and the economy, but so is the Federal Reserve System, which determines what our money is worth and manipulates its values at will, without restraint or influence even by elected officials, let alone by the citizens.

The regulation of business by the federal state is now familiar to every small businessman, and historians have shown that the first to beat the drum for more regulation, for mandatory labor unions, and for more control have been not the open socialists but Big Business itself. Big Business knows that nationally uniform regulations make its own operations easier, because it doesn't have to alter its products or the ways they are made and marketed to accommodate local variations in regulation. It also knows that it can pass the increased costs of regulation on to the consumer, while its small business competitors lack the margin to do so and must absorb the costs themselves. It's hardly surprising, therefore, that such leaders of Big Business as General Electric's Gerard Swope were in the forefront of New Deal regulation of business and that Big Business lobby organizations like the Business Roundtable and the Business Council have consistently pushed for more active federal intervention in the economy.

Today, just as Big Business used to push for national regulation of the economy by the state, it now pushes for "globalization" of the economy through support of international trade agreements like NAFTA and the World Trade Organization and the construction of transnational authorities like that of the European Union. The transnational corporate elite has increasingly disengaged itself and the corporations it runs from the underlying nation-state and the national culture and no longer feels any loyalty to or identity with the very people who work for its companies, invest in them, and depend on them for their economic futures. The executives of many corporations now boast that they no longer consider their companies to be American companies at all but "global" corporations, and that they regard national sovereignty as an impediment to their profits.

What Kenneth Boulding called the "organizational revolution" and James Burnham the "managerial revolution" - the process by which giant, bureaucratic organizations like the modern federal state and the giant corporation displace the limited government and small, owner-operated family businesses and farms of the old republic - is not confined to government and the economy, however. One of the most important methods by which this revolution has gained power and for many years was able to gull the American people into believing that it was perfectly normal was through the court system. Throughout this century, the courts - the Supreme Court especially but also the federal courts in general - have systematically invented false interpretations of the Constitution and twisted its meaning in favor of enlarged, centralized government and business. Thus, the courts have concocted what is known as the "Incorporation Doctrine" - the claim that the 14th Amendment somehow "incorporates" the Bill of Rights and thus applies limitations to the states that the framers of the Constitution intended to apply only to the federal government - to justify striking down virtually any local or state law that displeases them. Under this doctrine, which cannot bear scrutiny as a serious interpretation of the original meaning or intent of the Constitution, constitutional provisions such as the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, intended to protect states' rights, have virtually vanished from constitutional law and political discussion. States' rights, however, are the very soul of self-government and of republicanism, because they ensure that most governmental functions are established and carried out at the local and state level, where average citizens can learn about them, debate them, and approve or reject them. Once all government functions are transferred to Washington, only elites can have the time or specialized training necessary to pay attention to them, and only elites will be able to decide what government does and in whose interest it does it. Under the Incorporation Doctrine, the courts have forced busing on the schools; legalized pornography by striking down state and local censorship laws; dictated to states and cities how they must be governed; taken over entire school systems, local jails, and mental hospitals; ordered local authorities to turn loose convicted criminals; limited the methods of law enforcement used by local police; and excluded prayer and any vestige of religious expression from public education as well as from other public institutions. Yet most Americans to this day know nothing about the Incorporation Doctrine and believe that what the courts have imposed is perfectly consistent with the principles of constitutional government.

The Cultural Battle

Even more striking is the evolution of the modern culture of America. The term "popular culture" used to refer to cultural activities and beliefs that were produced by the people themselves - one thinks of songs and music, community holidays, sports and games, public religious observances, and artistic and intellectual life. Today, of course, "popular culture" means culture that is produced by elites for the people. Television sit-coms tell us when we're supposed to laugh or feel sad by the canned laughter and limp violin music played to elicit the appropriate emotional responses. On live programs, tele-prompters feed the hosts their scripts, while messages ordering the audience to applaud are flashed when approval is needed for the tasteless jokes and politically slanted monologues of the hosts. News broadcasts use wording as well as pictures to convey the attitudes that those who listen or watch them are supposed to feel.

The sewers of sexuality and violence that Hollywood now regularly cranks out are in fact only the tip of the mass cultural iceberg; they would not be possible had the American audience for films not been long habituated to accepting everything the movies told them to accept - trivia about the luxurious and glamorous lives of the mediocrities and sociopaths who become stars, the improbable (and increasingly fantastic) plots and characters that are now routine in every production, the depiction of an entire fake society utterly devoid of morals, religion, tradition, history, and character.

Not only is our "popular culture" now in the firm control of elites of screenwriters, directors, and producers that no one outside the industry recognizes but also it has been imposed uniformly throughout the nation and indeed the planet. Go to any middle-sized town or city in the United States and visit the bookstores. There you will find the same books and magazines as were being offered in whatever place you just left. You will see the same movies at the local theaters and of course the same television programs on the idiot box. Fast-food chains now offer exactly the same food in exactly the same restaurants all over the country, regardless of regional tastes, styles, and cuisine. Don't expect Texas barbecue at the McDonald's in Houston or fried clams at the Wendy's in Providence. The same uniformity is clear even in the newspapers as media chains buy up local papers, replace their staffs of local reporters and editors who have known their communities all their lives, and serve up wire stories and canned editorials and opinion pieces written in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington. News stories are kept shorter to retain the attention of the virtually illiterate readers, and unconventional opinions and ideas that don't fit the editorial and mass marketing formulas are discouraged.

The revolution by which a self-governing, decentralized, diversified, and participatory republic (such as the one that the U.S. Constitution and its drafters originally founded) is replaced by an elite-ruled, centralized, uniform state, economy, and mass cultural empire - this is exactly what Americans now involved in grassroots protests are rebelling against. They may not have yet grasped the full scope of what they and their fellow citizens have lost and stand to lose, but in the areas with which they are particularly concerned they are beginning to see that something is seriously wrong, that they and their friends and neighbors no longer have control over the organizations that rule them, and that without such control they are no more than serfs on a medieval plantation. The legal, peaceful, and democratic rebellions that they are organizing in their own communities to take back their country and their culture are merely the first sounds of the coming battle to create a new republic on the ruins of the old one that we have lost.


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A Foundation... Or Empire?

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