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christian hope

On the evening of the first presidential debate (October 3, 2012) I decided I would simply read, rather than watch the debate (I read first to my children, and after they went to bed, simply by the fire with a book). My reasoning is simple: I love what the United States—at its best stands for, and it is simply too sad to watch what today passes for political discourse. At its best the U.S. is a republic with a Constitution. It is a confederation of quasi-independent states who have given limited authority to a federal government. Neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama are in the least committed to governing in accord with the charter document—the Constitution—of the United States. So we have a perverse situation: the rule of law is not respected in any meaningful sense by the two candidates representing the two main political parties in the United States. But we should not be too terribly surprised. Throughout history it appears that most people are quite happy to be ruled by tyrants. Even in the biblical period (as seen in 1 Samuel 8) the Israelites wanted to be oppressed by a king. We get the rulers we deserve, it would seem.

As I was reflecting on these things, I noticed a book review of a recent book by Morris Berman, Why America Failed: The Root of Imperial Decline (the review is written by Kirkpatrick Sale, and can be read here). A number of years ago I had purchased Berman’s The Twilight of American Culture, and in picking it up this evening I enjoyed re-reading the following from the Introduction:

[I]f you have finally had it with CNN and Hollywood and John Grisham and New Age ‘spirituality,’ then pull up a chair, unplug your phone (beeper, TV, fax machine, computer, etc.), and give me a few hours of your time. I promise to do my best not to entertain you (p. 13).

A nice way to introduce a book on the “twilight of American culture.” I note these two books by Berman because they both appear to have a common theme: the twilight, or even worse, the failure of America. If “failure” is taken to mean that America has ceased to be a republic that is ruled by law, then it would seem inescapable: America has failed.

And I raise that issue because if one follows the current political debate, it would seem that for many folks of a more conservative persuasion, it is understood that–as much as Romney may be less than the perfect candidate–good folks need to line up behind “our man.” I certainly understand, I think, this line of reasoning. Obama has no interest in constitutional government, in terms of economics he is clearly a fascist, and wants to take money from you and me (by force), in order to fund the killing unborn children. Fair enough.

Perhaps the best thing is simply pull the lever and try to oust Obama. But then things get a tad difficult. Romney gives no evidence of any real understanding of the Constitution (or if he does understand it, he is not committed to governing in accord with the Constitution). He may be more committed to economic liberty, but is there any real reason to think that he will govern—even in the realm of economics—in accord with the Constitution? At least he appears to be more pro-life—a very good thing indeed. But at the end of the day, we are dealing with two men who give us no reason to believe they will govern in accord with the rule of law. As I noted in a recent essay, they are both still old-school revolutionaries.

So, when faced with a debate between two such persons, I will likely spend time with my children reading (we are currently finishing the first book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy), and then sit by the fire and read myself. After Berman, perhaps I will pick up a classic, Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences. For some it may seem terribly inappropriate to point to America’s decline, or twilight, or even failure. However, it used to be a staple of traditional conservative thought to try and get to the bottom of America’s problems (or the West’s problems more generally). Indeed, in Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences, the first line of the Introduction reads: “This is another book about the dissolution of the West.” He then spends the entire book outlining his understanding of the problem before–in the final three chapters–outlining a suggestion for the “restoration of culture.” I do not know if C.S. Lewis ever read Weaver, but Lewis would agree with Weaver on a central point. Lewis once responded to the accusation that one cannot “go back” to the past. Lewis said that if one has taken a wrong turn in the road, the wisest course is to go backward, find the place where you took a wrong turn, and to start heading in the right direction. In an American setting, the way forward will probably entail first going back, and discovering how and when the Constitution began to be abandoned. Neither candidate appears to understand the most basic issues of constitutional government, and is unwilling to truly affirm the basic constitutional framework—a confederated relationship of states who have given limited power to the federal government.

So, perhaps the best thing simply is to read Tolkien to my children—so they will over time not be seduced by Sauron and his minions. And then I may just keep reading Berman and Weaver and other folks who are trying to understand our current situation. And as a Christian I want to soak myself in Holy Scripture, and in the central writings of the Christian faith. It is completely possible that America has failed, although I certainly hope not. If one believes in the resurrection, one has to always believe that it is at least possible that this or that political entity can be renewed and revived, and that any political association can learn how to bow the knee to the risen Jesus (my hats off to Peter Leithart and Oliver O’Donovan). If God can make dead people walk, and if He can make bones come to life, He can certainly do the same thing in our day. He can certainly rule in such a way that we could see a radical transformation of our current situation. To diagnose our twilight or failure is a worthy project. But for the Christian, failure is not the final word.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

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8 replies to this post
  1. I could not agree more OR less with Mr. Green. Many of our current leaders, pretty much all in the Democrat Party and too many in the Republican Party, are not constitutionalists. But a pox on both your houses is absolutely the wrong response. I certainly sense some hope here based on Mr. Green's faith, but underlying it is a narrow defeatism that is all too common on the right. We seem to forget that the Founders had many different ideas of what the Constitution and the power of the federal government should be. I don’t think the obsession with Constitutional purity is a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in it, completely. My passion is to turn American government and culture back to its foundations in liberty and limited government.

    My point here is that the only party in which a going back to Constitutional government is even remotely possible is the Republican Party. To write that party off as hopelessly committed to Leviathan is to write off any hope of ever attaining any real governing power to make that happen. It seems memories among the purists are very short. I came of age politically when Reagan was elected in 1980. The Republican Party prior to Reagan was very different than it is today. Country club blue blood “moderate” Republicans dominated the party, and they distinctly disliked Reagan. The economic line prior to Reagan and Jack Kemp was as Keynesian as the Democrats. Prior to the influence of the so called religious right, the Republican Party wasn’t committed to the pro-life platform, as it clearly is today. And I could go on.

    I realize none of these changes is enough for the purists, but if they choose to just stay home and read to their children, or about the dissolution of the West, the Republican Party will never move in their direction. I’m focused as much on culture as on politics, but how could this be done on a political level. How about raising up a generation of leaders and statesmen who are committed to a Constitutional Republic, one modeled on the Founders’ vision, and helping them run for local and statewide offices, and eventually run for national offices. This needs to be done in the context of the Republican Party. The purists need to fight on the battlefield of not only ideas, but of where real power is exercised. I implore them to, because at heart I am one too! (BTW, kudos to Hillsdale College for striving to teach Americans about the Constitution and the progressive bastardization of it through its Constitution 101 and 201 courses.)

    We must also fight a parallel battle in the culture, specifically those professions that have a huge influence on average apolitical Americans who sway elections and the direction of government. These would be media, entertainment and education. Until more right-minded people work and have influence in those professions, moving toward a true Constitutional Republic will be very difficult indeed.

  2. Mike (I assume?): This is a good comment. And I suspect we are not all that far apart on all of this. I think there certainly can be a "I am above the fray, so I will smoke my pipe and read books while the world goes to hell in a hand basket" mode. I don't want to live there. And that is not how I live my life. At the same time, I am under the conviction that most conservatives (at least self-identified Republicans) do not grasp the gravity of the problem (the loss of the rule of the law, the Constitution, etc.). Thus, there is a place for the jeremiad (although I make no claim to being a prophet!). And as a Christian, I believe that (1) there is much we can–and ought–do in the present "to seek the good of the city", and that (2) we should always do right/vote wisely/support worthy candidates/build institutions/seek justice/etc./etc. (as well as read Tolkien to our children! :)), while we look with hope to what God might do in the world. Now, I DO think America's day might be past–again, I am not a prophet. But certainly we have blood on our hands–both internally and around the world. So, we do ALL of above, we serve God, and we hope and pray that God will do something great. Thanks for your note. Carry on! Brad

  3. And Mike . . . This might be of interest. We have been involved in Jackson, Tennessee in starting a school that embodies much of the overall vision outlined in things I have written here or there. So, if it is of interest, our school's web site is . . .

    If I were to flesh this out, I would say (in brief), that one of the ways one engages in a meaningful cultural life in the midst of Babylon is to create schools and institutions. Thus, while one fights one battle in relationship to the current political status quo, one ALSO builds schools and institutions which embodies the types of virtues/practices/principals/etc., one believes in.

    Take care,


  4. Mr. Green, thank you for this well written and encouraging essay. I agree with you that our Christian hope is paramount in preserving our political patience and resurrecting the traditional institutions of our society. I have come to love The Imaginative Conservative for this very reason: it provides an outlet for the conservative to both lament and to hope, to grieve and to rejoice, to reflect and to imagine about our collective experience as a community of believers and as concerned, patriotic citizens. I believe that it is healthy to express the full range of this dichotomy and seemingly paradoxical notions.

    As a student at Freed-Hardeman University (just a few minutes down the road!), I also find this blog a pleasant supplement to my Christian, liberal arts education. If you would be interested in speaking to the College Republicans here on campus, we'd love to have you! My email is if you would like to discuss this further.

  5. Brad,yes it is Mike. Computers don't do well with apostrophes, so thus the gobbledygook between the D and the V (my grandfather didn't foresee computers when he changed the "i" to an "'" back in the 1940s.) I am sure we are not all that far apart. I couldn't agree more with our need to create schools and institutions; my youngest just started the 5th grade in a classical Christian school here in the Chicago area. But I also believe, as I stated in my initial comment that we need to infiltrate the institutions that have such incredible influence in American culture today. Regardless, none of it will be easy, because in a fallen world we all strive against the ever present gravity of sin, and dust and weeds and disorder of every kind. All the best to you.

  6. Mike, I'll double check our Google Blogger settings. I'm pretty sure that we asked Google to block comments from folks of Sicilian ancestry. Let me double check. (I don't know how others create smiley faces–but mine would be here!) Yours, faithfully, Brad

  7. Mike:

    And all the best to you. I have a little bit of knowledge of classical schools in the Chicago area. I hope it is going well. On infiltration: I am all for it. Blessings to you, Brad

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