Our beleaguered republic has been blessed mightily with the artistry, dedication, wit, tenacity, and wisdom of Mike Church. Not only does he ask the questions that need to be asked, he also talks to the best men and women of our age. Anyone who has had the privilege of listening to Mike on his radio show knows his modus operandi. He listens, he questions, he learns, he responds, and he listens some more. Behind his views stand the greats of western and American civilization.
Most importantly for our society, though, he reminds us—as members of this republic (Latin for “res publica” the “good thing” or the “common good”; not to be confused with the “greater good”)—what it means to be serious and meaningful citizens and what it means to be at our best. I certainly don’t mean to gush too much, but it’s hard not to do so when speaking or writing of Mike. He’s that important to our future—and, by our, I mean the citizens of the present and of the future of America as well as of the West.
Every day on his Sirius radio show, Mike delves deeply into the meaning of what it means to be American. Now, with the creation of his Founding Father Films, as touched upon below, Mike has gone even deeper into the very heart of who we and what we are.
In the second history written of the American Founding, the perceptive participant, historian, and woman of letters, Mercy Otis Warren, wanted to remind the American people of what the War for Independence had been about. Why had so much blood been shed, why had so much treasure been burned by the ravaging fires of rebellion, insurgency, and independence? For what goal, for what cause? By the time she published her two-volume work, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution, in 1805, many Americans had either forgotten the principles of the founding or had never known them. Deism and atheism had spread as had an avaricious democratic and levelling spirit. With her history, Warren hoped to remind the Americans of what was most precious, their liberty and the struggle that had earned it.
Though the name of liberty delights the ear, and tickles the fond pride of man, it is a jewel much oftener the play-thing of his imagination, than a possession of real stability: it may be acquired to-day in all the triumph of independent feelings, but perhaps to-morrow the world may be convinced, that mankind know not how to make a proper use of the prize, generally bartered in a short time, as a useless bauble, to the first officious master that will take the burden from the mind, by laying another on the shoulders of ten-fold weight . . . . She has in great measure lost her simplicity of manners, and those ideas of mediocrity which are generally the parent of content; the Americans are already in too many instances hankering after the sudden accumulation of wealth, and the proud distinctions of fortune and title. They have too far lost that general sense of moral obligation, formerly felt by all classes in America.
As historian Gordon Wood forcefully argued in his 1992 work, The Radicalism of the American Revolution, all of the Founding Fathers had assumed the republic—at least in soul, if not in body—had already fallen. Republican theory going back to the ancients had always believed that republics—organic by nature, a reflection of God’s will but also the natural order and natural law—would always eventually fail. By the very nature of the thing, a republic can never last forever, just as the human body cannot last forever, at least not in its physical, earthly form. As with the human body, every republic had a birth, a middle age (decay), and a death. This was the “course of human events.” If Jefferson knew this to be true in 1776, Warren in 1805, and Wood in 1992, how much more of this truth has been revealed as of 2011.
A Decayed World
As I type this review, America is now openly in conflict (or, more appropriately, “war”) in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen. Indeed, since Gulf I, war has become merely a habit of our society, much as it was in Orwell’s dystopia, 1984. We live in a world where the chief executive—in clear and obvious violation of Articles I and II of the U.S. Constitution—calls in air blockades from the beaches of Brazil. We live in a world where U.S. officers can feel our most private parts—indeed, can grope women and our children—simply because we choose to travel from area to another, even within the boundaries of our own country. We live in a world where so many security agencies now watch American citizens, we cannot—simply from the standpoint of logistics—possess an effective oversight of them, the numbers of such agencies being simply too overwhelming to monitor.
Where do we turn for solutions? To politics? The god king who sits in the Oval Office makes the worst of that scoundrel, Richard Nixon, look like a rookie in the minor leagues. In the Senate, Rand Paul speaks the truth. In the House, Ron Paul and Justin Amash speak the truth. Each—representing exactly 3/535 of our Congress—does so only at the cost of extreme ridicule by his colleagues and, often, if even noticed, the press.
To the Christian world? The Eastern Orthodox Churches still, for the most part, remain divided by ethnicity and nationality. The Roman Catholic Church has yet to recover from—or, perhaps, even fully realize the depths of—the child abuse scandals. And, the various Protestant denominations now number in the thousands.
To the university? Most colleges and universities care about two things, at least in the so-called humanities (which really no longer exist to any degree worth defining; certainly they don’t exist in the way the Founders would have understood them): 1) scholarship backing the strangest and most perverse of claims; and 2) handing out degrees, certifying a person for something more capable than working in retail or fast food. Only a handful of colleges—almost all of them suffering financially—remain dedicated to the pursuit of truth.
To the law? While a few good law schools exist and a few honest judges exist, the vast majority in the law profession pursue either the trivial or that which can claim the most money from those who have rightfully earned it. Dare we admit that probably most law enforcement agencies themselves merely serve as fee-collecting agencies, such as through misdemeanors (speeding tickets) rather than actually protecting citizens needing protecting? How many law enforcement agencies monitor the community and the citizen, not for the protection of the citizen, but for the maintenance of some larger political power and a justification of the agency’s existence itself?
To popular culture? Strangely, though the decadent predominates in popular culture, amazing moments of clarity and goodness break through from time to time—in music, in drama, in movies, etc. Still, as much as we might appreciate the efforts of a Christopher Nolan (the greatest living Hollywood director, in my not so humble opinion), very few of us would want him leading us into the next generation.
To the larger world of ideas? Yes, here, we find successes. Winston Elliott at the The Imaginative Conservative; Jim Otteson and Roger Ream at the Fund for American Studies; Dan McCarthy at The American Conservative; Annette Kirk and Gerald Russello at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal; Carl Olson and Mark Brumley at Ignatius; Gleaves Whitney at the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies; Brian Saint-Paul at Crisis; Larry Reed and Ben Stafford at the Foundation for Economic Education; Barbara Elliott at the Center for Cultural Renewal; Sam Gregg at the Acton Institute; Patrick Deneen at Georgetown University; Joseph Pearce at Ave Maria University; Gary Gregg at the University of Louisville; Mark Henrie and Jeff Nelson at ISI; Jeff Cain, Jeremy Beer, and Doug Schneider at American Philanthropic; Fr. Donald Nesti and John Hittinger at the University of St. Thomas; Jennifer Thompson at Liberty Fund; Dan McInerney at Baylor; and Father Bill Miscamble at the University of Notre Dame. And, others—Aeon Skoble, Steve Horwitz, Greg Schlecker, Matt Anger, Tony Williams, Mark Kalthoff, Paul Moreno, Richard Gamble, Harold Siegel, David Raney, Nathan Schlueter, Steve Smith, Justin Jackson. Really, too many to be named.
The last is an especially fine list of persons dedicated to the common good of the republic.
In his stunning new animated film, “The Road to Independence,” Mike Church challenges the prevailing notions, such as they are, regarding the American Founding. Neither Abraham Lincoln nor Ronald Reagan, he notes, were of the Founding generation, but, within the political right especially, these two men greatly have fundamental shaped our understanding of 1776 and 1787. And, from the opening of the film to its end, Church points out that the prevailing interpretations of the Declaration of Independence—especially if focused on “all men are created equal”—are, at best, misinterpretations of the text and of the historical moment in which the text was written. He does this through Jefferson’s own words from a 1821 interview. Indeed, the entire film is based on original research and primary documents, all of which reveal the essence of the Revolution.
From a cinemagraphic standpoint alone, there is much to love in this movie. Some of the visuals are simply stunning, as are many of the camera angles and movements.
The backgrounds, especially, are always interesting. In one modern scene, for example, an eager, intelligent student attempts to answer a question. Near this bespectacled boy sits a cynical girl, chained to her cell phone, a slave to texting, while the teacher professes what is true and best about the American Founding. In the background of this classroom, the famous picture of Friedrich Hayek, taken at the Institute for Humane Studies in the 1970s, hangs on the wall. It’s a nice and important touch; he looks friendly and bemused.
In the scenes from the 1770s, the animators have captured the essence of the time and of the Founders. John Adams is brilliant, driven, anxious, and full of integrity. He clearly loves Abigail (presented as extremely attractive), and teases her. Jefferson is pompous and stern, learned. Franklin is befuddled and dumpy. Dickinson is handsome and overly confident. Washington is, naturally, ramrod straight, and he suffers no fools. Mason is bright, inquisitive, and argumentative. John Quincy Adams is young, eager to please his father. Martha Washington is fearsome and wise. Colonel Patterson is effeminate and sniveling.
Discussions or laws, rights, balance, and sovereignty abound throughout the movie. Virtue and manhood matter as well. Only those who are willing to fight for their rights (God given or not) have the right to enjoy liberty and independence. Church does an excellent job of making the ideas real; he also shows how important struggle and integrity are to any struggle and especially the willingness not to compromise for the sake of convenience or expediency.
The animators have chosen to focus on the eyes and the mouth of each person—capturing his or her personality—while leaving the bodies rather stiff. The effect works, as it forces the viewer to consider the deep character of each participant of the story. Much of the animation reminds me of Japanese anime. Perhaps the best animation, though, comes from the opening credits. As the words of the Declaration scroll onto the screen, the name of all of those involved appears, then disappear, as the correct words of the Declaration continue. It’s a brilliant and captivating effect—again, reminding me of Japanese-style animation, especially parts of Batman: Gotham Knight.
If the estimate given at the Internet Movie Database is correct, Founding Father Films spent over 125,000 dollars producing this film. After watching it, I have no doubt this is true.
This is a film worth watching over and over again. There are many layers to it, and, while it moves quickly in terms of story and visuals, it also demands an intelligent eye and an active mind to enjoy it fully. It will prove equally effective as a movie in classrooms, in church and civic meeting halls, and in family rooms. It is certainly scholarly and well researched, but it is also, at times, properly mischievous and intelligent, artful as well as direct. It is, clearly, a reflection of the soul, the mind, and the person of Mike Church; all to the good. He’s the writer, the director, and the producer of the film, and, blessedly, it shows in every frame and in every word of dialogue.
The Born Historian
As Warren wrote in 1805, should decadence ever rule the United States,
let some unborn historian in a far distant day, detail the lapse, and hold up the contrast between a simple, virtuous, and free people, and a degenerate, servile race of beings, corrupted by wealth, effeminated by luxury, impoverished by licentiousness, and become the automatons of intoxicated ambition.
In every way, Mike Church is that unborn historian Warren described.
With his life, his honor, and his fortune, Church has done all in his power to remind us of what is most important in the American founding, and, consequently, in the American character. Now reminded, it is up to the citizens of this republic to make good on what we have inherited, to embrace it, to exercise it, and, importantly and vitally, to pass it onto the rising generation.
God bless Mike Church.
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.