view from mars

"Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

resurrecting Americanism


Glenn said today:
I have argued many times that a recognition of the dangers of the Bush Administration’s theories of lawlessness and its law-breaking behavior -- both as part of the NSA scandal and beyond -- is not based upon liberal or conservative political beliefs but, instead, is compelled by the most fundamental and defining American principles of government. That is not some "framing" ploy or effort to "triangulate" a partisan political controversy by elevating it above petty partisan disputes. Rather, objections to the Administration's theories of power are grounded in non-ideological premises because what is so offensive about the Administration’s conduct and theories of power is not that they are liberal or conservative -- they are manifestly neither. Instead, both the Administration's law-breaking and its justifications for that law-breaking constitute a profound assault on the core principles of government on which our country was founded and which has governed the country since its inception.

Of course his deconstruction is completely accurate. The reason why BushCo's illegal warrantless surveillances elicit reactions from those-who-care-to-educate-themselves-about-it across the "political spectrum" that are so viscerally distasteful is because we have been imbued with a uniquely American belief system. Our education, our set of symbols/idols, our culture, our language, our history -- everything -- contributes to a shared Americanism, that twinkle in our hearts when we think of our proud shared heritage. The reason none of us could consider defecting to another nation.

In college, I took a class with the brilliant Richard Handler on nationalism (and the places race and multiculturalism have within it.) Anthropologists love to argue about the relativity of it all -- it is their fascination, and this is not to say that their work is not important; indeed, to analyze this issue anthropologically is to deconstruct what it means to possess these deeply held notions of nationality. It is illuminating, and necessary. Humans inherently long towards belongingness, which in my opinion engenders the variety of nationality across geographic areas humans inhabit.

It is because of this longing that philosophers have constructed and nurtured theories of politics and government. In other words it is within this drive-towards-nationhood that verifiable progress (which is not to say that this progress is necessarily dialectic at all) has been made in theories of government and representation within realized political institutions. Democracy, it seems thus far, facilitates the maximization of individual rights -- Locke's pursuit of life, liberty, and property.

Liberals understand this; indeed, we embrace this drive towards maximization-of-individual-rights (which is not to say that democrats are necessarily similarly inclined.) This Liberalism is the stream from which all of the works of great philosophy upon which this republic rests are nurtured. The Founders and the philosophers they analyzed, with all of their writings and arguments, articulated Liberalism in a way that had not been done before in all of human history. They encapsulated Liberalism into a single document -- our Constitution -- and gave birth to a new type of nation.

It is in this way that our nation, and all of our resulting feelings-of-nationality, must necessarily be analyzed in a new way. Professor Handler might disagree, arguing that while other nations (those of Europe, notably) derive their nationality from shared language/race/blood, we inherit nationality in similar ways through shared culture/language/history.

While Professor Handler would be correct that there are many avenues to explore when analyzing where nationality comes from, one cannot deny that partly our nationality stems from this institutionalized Liberalism (indeed, a kind of institutionalization that had, at least up until the writing of our Constitution, had never been conceived in this World.)

I drew the distinction earlier between Liberals and democrats because the two bodies are not mutually exclusive. Because of the revelation of BushCo's illegal warantless surveillance program, the shroud has been lifted and the line has been drawn in the sand.

This is why you see republicans like Snowe and Hagel (and to some extent Graham and Specter, though I have my doubts) attempting to obstruct BushCo's assaults on our Constitution. Liberalism, the philosophy that underlies our nationhood more fundamentally than in any other society in this World presently, is not confinable into divisions between political parties. It is Americanism.

And it is in this way that we can begin to understand the true horrors the modern republican party (specifically, neoconservatives and their ilk) have unleashed on this foundation of our nationality. Glenn didn't explore this, but I think it deserves, indeed requires, some analysis within this framework. By lying, manipulating, smearing, and general crookedness they have successfully clouded the issue so much that many Americans today no longer understand that by virtue of being American they have signed on to an institutionalized adherence to Liberalism as the Founders articulated. They are republican ("patriotic") or democratic ("not patriotic.")

They have memetized the philosophy from which we draw personal identity. Republicans are "patriotic defenders of the Nation"; Democrats are "weak on national security" and "confused" or "leaderless." Republicans are "united"; Democrats "lack vision." They have convinced the polity in the last 40 years that Democrats are socialists or communists, pinko atheists. And of course these smears are cognitively incompatible with Liberalism. One cannot be a socialist and adhere to the philosophy of our Founders at the same time.

Who is responsible for this? Any individual who has spread this meme in any way. Of course these labels are meaningless and unfounded. They are spread by the lie-mongers, the right-wing noise machine that has successfully taken over media (talk radio, corporate news, certain newspapers) and culture (think action movies.) How? That's an entirely different diatribe, but one word is enough to understand adequately: money.

Republicans are dangerous to our Constitution, and we can finally understand why. With the revelation of BushCo's illegal warantless surveillance program, those in the republican party who choose to side with the neoconservatives show that they are willing to allow a unitary executive to act in a way that is fundamentally incompatible with our Founders' conceptions of Liberty.

It has, now, become a struggle for the Liberalism upon which our nationality is formed. There are Liberals, those who understand that the core philosophy that is Americanism is under assault, and there are anti-Constitutionalists, those who believe an executive has the power to sideline the maximization of personal liberty our Founders worked so hard to ensure through our Constitution. The distinction between republicans and democrats, by virtue of this struggle, is obsolete.

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