Imprimis: Facing Up to the China Threat

Imprimis has published an adapted speech by Brian Kennedy, president of the American Strategy Group, titled Facing Up to the China Threat.

We are at risk of losing a war today because too few of us know that we are engaged with an enemy, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), that means to destroy us. The forces of globalism that have dominated our government (until recently) and our media for the better part of half a century have blinded too many Americans to the threat we face. If we do not wake up to the danger soon, we will find ourselves helpless.

That is a worst-case scenario. I do not think we Americans will let that happen. But the forces arrayed against us are many. We need to understand what we are up against and what steps must be taken to ensure our victory.

Our modern understanding of Communist China begins during the Cold War, with President Nixon’s strategic belief that China could serve as a counterweight to the Soviet Union. This belief seemed to carry with it two great benefits. First, the U.S. wouldn’t have to take on the Soviet Union by itself: Communist China was a populous country that bordered the Soviet Union and shared our interest, or so we thought, in checking its global ambitions. Second, by engaging with China—especially in terms of trade, but also by helping it develop technologically—we would help to end communism as a guiding force in China. This second notion might be called the China dream: economic liberalism would lead to political liberalism, and China’s communist dictatorship would fade away.

At the end of the Cold War, pursuing the China dream appeared a safe course of action, given that the U.S. was then the world’s preeminent military power. The 9/11 Islamic terrorist attacks reinforced the notion that superpower conflict was a thing of the past—that our major enemy was now radical Islam, widely diffused but centered in the Middle East. Later that same year, China was granted “Most Favored Nation” trading status and membership in the World Trade Organization. Little changed when the Bush administration gave way to the Obama administration. The latter’s “pivot to Asia” was mostly rhetorical—a justification to degrade our military capabilities vis-à-vis China, integrate even further the U.S. and Chinese economies, and prioritize the Middle East above all else.

Under both administrations, the U.S. failed to build a military that could challenge Communist China’s aggression in the Pacific—specifically its building of a modern navy and its construction of military installations on artificial islands in the South China Sea—and acquiesced in the export of much of the U.S. manufacturing base to China and elsewhere.

History will record that America’s China policy from the 1970s until recently was very costly because it involved a great deal of self-deception about the nature of the Chinese regime and the men who were running it.

Communist China Today

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has a population of 1.4 billion. They are governed by the Chinese Communist Party, which has 90 million members, and by an elite class of approximately 300 million additional Chinese who are deeply invested in the regime’s success. Not all of them may believe in every aspect of what the party calls “socialism with Chinese characteristics”—an admixture of Maoist, Marxist, and Leninist communism—but they actively support the regime. The system benefits these elites, whose businesses, mostly state-owned enterprises, are privately run with active participation by the CCP. Once a business reaches a certain size, it will take on board a cadre of party members who serve as a direct liaison between the business and the government.

However inefficient this may sound, understand that the CCP operates a massive global intelligence network through its Ministry of State Security. This network does its part to assist Chinese business and industry through industrial espionage, cyber warfare, and economic coercion. This type of state capitalism or neo-mercantilism has led to the creation of a modern economy that rivals that of the U.S. We might like to believe that communism in China cannot be sustained and will lead to the collapse of the regime. And it well may someday. But the CCP has proven extremely capable in building an empire that can govern 1.4 billion people. This required the conquest of a large number of peoples who were not willingly subjugated, as well as the physical mastery of a territory not easily managed. Doing this in such a short period of time and in such a ruthless and determined way is an achievement unparalleled in the known history of the world.

Today the PRC has a military of two million men, including the world’s largest navy. This military may not be qualitatively on par with the U.S. military, but quantity has a quality of its own. In the last five years of U.S. naval war game simulations, in which the U.S. is pitted against China, the U.S. has failed to come out victorious. We do not have enough ships and munitions to defeat China’s navy absent the use of nuclear weapons. And while it is often said that the Chinese do not have a nuclear arsenal to challenge the U.S., the fact is we don’t know what the Chinese possess. We know they are capable of building nuclear weapons and advanced missiles and rocketry. We know they stole or otherwise obtained advanced U.S. technology involving warhead miniaturization and guidance systems and that they have had the industrial capacity to build these for nearly two decades.

On our side, we know that the U.S. has not tested a nuclear warhead since 1992 and has not built the kind of advanced arsenal that might be required to deter China. And we know that Chinese President and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping adheres to the beliefs of Mao Tse-tung, who held that the U.S. was a “paper tiger” that possessed nuclear weapons but would not use them. There is also the rather disturbing belief, also a favorite of Mao, that even if we did use our nuclear weapons, we could not kill all of them. Such is the way a nation at war thinks.

As for China’s air force, it possesses and is building today advanced fighter aircraft that rival anything the U.S has built. They may not yet have the quantity, but that will come with time. As for proficiency in war fighting, that is something that likewise can be acquired. For all of our nation’s military superiority, we have not been in combat with a peer competitor for half a century. As good as we may be, history contains many examples of militarily inferior nations developing military superiority. If we think that this is not what Communist China is seeking to do today, we are mistaken.

Unrestricted Warfare

There is a famous book, Unrestricted Warfare, written in 1999 by two People’s Liberation Army colonels. It argues that war between the PRC and the U.S. is inevitable, and that when it occurs China must be prepared to use whatever means are necessary to achieve victory. This includes economic warfare, cyber warfare, information warfare, political warfare, terrorism, and biological warfare, in addition to conventional and nuclear warfare. The book’s purpose was not only to shape Chinese policy, but also to plant the idea in the minds of U.S. policymakers that China will consider nothing out of bounds. The book itself is an act of information warfare. Understanding the lengths to which the PRC is willing to go, might the U.S. prefer some kind of accommodation in lieu of building a military capable of challenging China’s strategic designs?

In thinking about the implications of the word unrestricted, it is useful to look at the CCP’s treatment of its own people.

Estimates put the number of those killed at the hands of the CCP—whether through war, starvation, or execution—at roughly 100 million. The mass murder committed by the party and its Red Guards during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) alone resulted in some 70 million dead. And these numbers do not even take into account the forced abortions stemming from China’s one-child policy. That number is conservatively estimated to be 500 million—500 million children murdered in the womb.

The Chinese government today is perfecting a system of social credit scoring that relies on constant monitoring of its people using the tools of social media, with the aim of grading each individual based on his or her support of the regime. This exerts a chilling effect on the people, who seem to have decided to go along with their communist masters lest they be excluded from whatever benefits they might enjoy from China’s economic modernization.

Many of us have heard of the CCP’s imprisonment in concentration camps of one to two million Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. Fewer of us are aware of how the Chinese government facilitates the abduction of Uyghur women for sexual use by Chinese soldiers—or even worse, if that were possible, how the government harvests the organs of the Uyghur population for sale both in China and abroad. This latter atrocity has become a multi-billion dollar industry: the Uyghur organs, since they are uncorrupted by alcohol or pork, are especially desirable to wealthy Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The ability of Westerners to avert their eyes from such abject horrors is clearly illustrated by the new Disney movie Mulan, parts of which were filmed mere miles from some of these camps. Disney went so far as to thank the Turpan Municipal Bureau of Public Security, responsible for imprisoning the Uyghurs, for its help during filming.

As an indication of the CCP’s treatment of Christianity, Chinese school textbooks are now promoting a false account of Christianity and of Jesus’s life and teaching. In the Chinese version of the story from the Gospel of John about the adulteress threatened with stoning, for example, Jesus explains that he too is a sinner and then stones the woman to death after the crowd disperses. Despite this and the CCP’s long history of persecuting Christians, Pope Francis will be renewing his agreement with the CCP that gives it effective control over how the Catholic Church, or what passes for it, is run in China.

The CCP operates a vast intelligence network in the U.S as well. It is made up not merely of intelligence operatives working for the Ministry of State Security, but also a myriad of business and industry officials, Chinese scholar associations, Confucius Institutes operating on American campuses, and 370,000 Chinese students attending American universities. Every one of these Chinese citizens is subject to Article 7 of the PRC’s National Intelligence Law of 2017, which requires that “any organization or citizen shall support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work.” Students and others must report to handlers in Chinese consulates and embassies about who they meet, the research they’re working on, and whatever else is demanded.

It should not be surprising that a combination of the efforts of this network and of China-based cyber criminals yields $500 to $600 billion of intellectual property theft annually. Also aiding the effort is China’s Thousand Talents Program, which seeks to recruit the brightest Chinese and American professionals to support Chinese science and industry. This has proved to be a real problem for the U.S.—consider the recent arrest of Harvard chemist Charles Lieber for not disclosing his ties to the Chinese government and the firing of the Chinese-American CIO of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, who had invested CalPERS funds in Chinese corporations tied to the People’s Liberation Army.

Perhaps the greatest threat to the U.S. posed by the CCP is its corruption of America’s business and financial elites, who view the economic benefits of dealing with China as more important than America’s national interests. If there is a single group committed to the globalist project and the delusory China dream, it is Wall Street. Our great investment banks are now selling trillions of dollars in debt and equity in Chinese corporations to American investors and retirees. They are literally betting on the success of China at the expense of the U.S.

The People’s War

Over the past decade alone, the PRC has stolen almost $6 trillion of U.S. intellectual property, including tech innovations coming out of Silicon Valley and Seattle, entertainment coming out of Hollywood, and medical research and development coming out of New England and elsewhere. Properly understood, this is China stealing the wealth and future wealth of the American people. It is only recently that our government began trying to combat this theft in a serious way. At the same time, the U.S. has begun a strategic military buildup—including the creation of a new branch of our armed services, the U.S. Space Force, sending a signal that the U.S. would not cede the strategic high ground of space to China, which is already active in militarizing space.

In response, on May 13, 2019, the PRC, through the Xinhua News Agency—which is controlled by the CCP—declared a “People’s War” against the U.S. This was specifically in response to U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods, which themselves were a response to restrictions of access to Chinese markets and China’s failure to negotiate in good faith on the theft of intellectual property.

What was meant by this declaration of a People’s War? Was the phrase essentially rhetorical or did it signal a fundamental shift or escalation in Chinese thinking?

I would not go so far as to say that the COVID-19 virus that originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology was part of this People’s War. But the virus did set into motion a radical reorientation of American society that had grave economic and political consequences...(continues)

Imprimis: The Roots of Our Partisan Divide

The following is a lecture adaptation of author and editor Christopher Caldwell published at Imprimis of Hillsdale College. Christopher Caldwell is a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, a contributing editor at the Claremont Review of Books, and a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. A graduate of Harvard College, he has been a senior editor at the Weekly Standard and a columnist for the Financial Times. He is the author of Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West and The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties.

American society today is divided by party and by ideology in a way it has perhaps not been since the Civil War. I have just published a book that, among other things, suggests why this is. It is called The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties. It runs from the assassination of John F. Kennedy to the election of Donald J. Trump. You can get a good idea of the drift of the narrative from its chapter titles: 1963, Race, Sex, War, Debt, Diversity, Winners, and Losers.

I can end part of the suspense right now—Democrats are the winners. Their party won the 1960s—they gained money, power, and prestige. The GOP is the party of the people who lost those things.

One of the strands of this story involves the Vietnam War. The antiquated way the Army was mustered in the 1960s wound up creating a class system. What I’m referring to here is the so-called student deferment. In the old days, university-level education was rare. At the start of the First World War, only one in 30 American men was in a college or university, so student deferments were not culturally significant. By the time of Vietnam, almost half of American men were in a college or university, and student deferment remained in effect until well into the war. So if you were rich enough to study art history, you went to Woodstock and made love. If you worked in a garage, you went to Da Nang and made war. This produced a class division that many of the college-educated mistook for a moral division, particularly once we lost the war. The rich saw themselves as having avoided service in Vietnam not because they were more privileged or—heaven forbid—less brave, but because they were more decent.

Another strand of the story involves women. Today, there are two cultures of American womanhood—the culture of married women and the culture of single women. If you poll them on political issues, they tend to differ diametrically. It was feminism that produced this rupture. For women during the Kennedy administration, by contrast, there was one culture of femininity, and it united women from cradle to grave: Ninety percent of married women and 87 percent of unmarried women believed there was such a thing as “women’s intuition.” Only 16 percent of married women and only 15 percent of unmarried women thought it was excusable in some circumstances to have an extramarital affair. Ninety-nine percent of women, when asked the ideal age for marriage, said it was sometime before age 27. None answered “never.”

But it is a third strand of the story, running all the way down to our day, that is most important for explaining our partisan polarization. It concerns how the civil rights laws of the 1960s, and particularly the Civil Rights Act of 1964, divided the country. They did so by giving birth to what was, in effect, a second constitution, which would eventually cause Americans to peel off into two different and incompatible constitutional cultures. This became obvious only over time. It happened so slowly that many people did not notice.

Because conventional wisdom today holds that the Civil Rights Act brought the country together, my book’s suggestion that it pulled the country apart has been met with outrage. The outrage has been especially pronounced among those who have not read the book. So for their benefit I should make crystal clear that my book is not a defense of segregation or Jim Crow, and that when I criticize the long-term effects of the civil rights laws of the 1960s, I do not criticize the principle of equality in general, or the movement for black equality in particular.

What I am talking about are the emergency mechanisms that, in the name of ending segregation, were established under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These gave Washington the authority to override what Americans had traditionally thought of as their ordinary democratic institutions. It was widely assumed that the emergency mechanisms would be temporary and narrowly focused. But they soon escaped democratic control altogether, and they have now become the most powerful part of our governing system...

Continue reading at Imprimis by clicking here.

Imprimis: Why the US Needs a Space Force

In this speech, retired Air Force General Steven Kwast discusses why the United States needs a Space Force. Congress recently authorized a limited Space Force, but it is one that will fail to deliver the sort of Space Force that the US needs to counter rising powers like China. When airplanes were first used in war they were a part of the army partly because leaders at that time failed to realize their potential. Eventually, a true and separate Air Force branch was created, which lead to advances in the use and development of aircraft. Of course, this has a downside as well, as the Air Force sometimes forgets the importance of supporting ground troops because it requires different and, to them, less sexy aircraft for that role.

oday, while America is building lighthouses and listening stations that can see and hear what is happening in space, China is building battleships and destroyers that can move fast and strike hard—the equivalent of a Navy in space. China is winning the space race not because it makes better equipment, but because it has a superior strategy. The Chinese are open about their plan to become the dominant power in space by 2049, the centennial of the end of the Communist Chinese Revolution and of the founding of the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong.

If China stays on its current path, it will deploy nuclear propulsion technology and solar power stations in space within ten years. This will give it the ability to beam clean energy to anyone on Earth—and the power to disable any portion of the American power grid and paralyze our military anywhere on the planet. America is developing no tools to defeat such a strategy, despite the fact that we are spending billions of dollars on exquisite 20th century military equipment.

Over the past two centuries, we have seen that technology drives economic prosperity and that economic prosperity is essential to sustaining national security. China’s plan is to profit from the multi-trillion dollar space marketplace while simultaneously acquiring global domination. We are capable of forestalling China’s plan, but only if we begin to build a Space Force soon and on the right plan. To do this, we must first understand China’s strategic goal, which is to dominate the sectors of economic growth that historically have held the key to world power: transportation, energy, information, and manufacturing.

Space presents unique economic opportunities because space technology operates on network principles. A network can deliver power, information, or goods from one node to many nodes at a fraction of the increase in cost per customer, as compared to the linear system on which most of our land-based economies are modeled. Compare the cost of sending 100 letters to the cost of sending 100 emails. A space infrastructure, by its nature, is a network system—and these types of systems will always translate to economic advantage. The first nation to build such an infrastructure will dominate the global economy of the 21st century and beyond.

China is developing the kind of technologies required to do so: hypersonic missiles and aircraft, 5G telecommunications, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, quantum computing, and robotics. Last January, China landed the Chang’e 4 spacecraft on the far side of the Moon. The mission provided valuable knowledge in terms of commercial and military applications. At one time this sort of mission was not beyond U.S. capabilities, but it is today, and it shows a commitment to space that we lack. To be sure, China has yet to achieve the ability to launch a manned spacecraft, but this is also a capability that we no longer possess—the U.S. relies on Russian rocketry to man and resupply the International Space Station...

Click here to read the entire speech at Imprimis.

Imprimis: Freedom and Obligation

The excerpt below comes from a commencement address given by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas at Hillsdale College back in 2016. In order to have liberty our freedom must be tempered by the duties and responsibilities that we have.

…In my youth, we had a small farm. I am convinced that the time I spent there had much to do with my firm resolve never to farm again. Work seemed to spring eternal, like the weeds that consumed so much of our time and efforts. One of the messages constantly conveyed in those days was our obligation to take care of the land and to use it to produce food for ourselves and for others. If there was to be independence, self-sufficiency, or freedom, then we first had to understand, accept, and discharge our responsibilities. The latter were the necessary (but not always sufficient) antecedents or precursors of the former. The only guarantee was that if you did not discharge your responsibilities, there could be no independence, no self-sufficiency, and no freedom.

In a broader context, we were obligated in our neighborhood to be good neighbors so that the neighborhood would thrive. Whether there was to be a clean, thriving neighborhood was directly connected to our efforts. So there was always, to our way of thinking, a connection between the things we valued most and our personal obligations or efforts. There could be no freedom without each of us discharging our responsibilities. When we heard the words duty, honor, and country, no more needed to be said. But that is a bygone era. Today, we rarely hear of our personal responsibilities in discussions of broad notions such as freedom or liberty. It is as though freedom and liberty exist wholly independent of anything we do, as if they are predestined…

America’s Founders and many successive generations believed in natural rights. To establish a government based on the consent of the governed, as the Declaration of Independence makes clear, they gave up only that portion of their rights necessary to create a limited government of the kind needed to secure all of their rights. The Founders then structured that government so that it could not jeopardize the liberty that flowed from natural rights. Even though this liberty is inherent, it is not guaranteed. Indeed, the founding documents of our country are an assertion of this liberty against the King of England—arguably the most powerful man in the world at the time—at the risk of the Founders’ lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. Over the lifespan of our great country, many occasions have arisen that required this liberty, and the form of government that ensures it, to be defended if it was to survive.

At the risk of understating what is necessary to preserve liberty and our form of government, I think more and more that it depends on good citizens discharging their daily duties and obligations…

Today, when it seems that grievance rather than responsibility is the main means of elevation, my grandfather’s beliefs may sound odd or discordant. But he and others like him at the time resolved to conduct themselves in a way consistent with America’s ideals. They were law-abiding, hardworking, and disciplined. They discharged their responsibilities to their families and neighbors as best they could. They taught us that despite unfair treatment, we were to be good citizens and good people. If we were to have a functioning neighborhood, we first had to be good neighbors. If we were to have a good city, state, and country, we first had to be good citizens. The same went for our school and our church. We were to keep in mind the corporal works of mercy and the great commandment: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Being wronged by others did not justify reciprocal conduct. Right was right, and two wrongs did not make a right. What we wanted to do did not define what was right—nor, I might add, did our capacious litany of wants define liberty. Rather, what was right defined what we were required to do and what we were permitted to do. It defined our duties and our responsibilities. Whether those duties meant cutting our neighbor’s lawn, visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, or going off to war as my brother did, we were to discharge them honorably…

if we continue to consume the benefits of a free society without replenishing or nourishing that society, we will eventually deplete that as well.  If we are content to let others do the  work of replenishing and defending liberty while we consume the benefits, we will someday run out of other people’s willingness to sacrifice—or even out of courageous people willing to make the sacrifice…

Click here to read the entire article at Imprimis.

Clarence Thomas: Faith and Reason Are Mutually Reinforcing

The following is excerpted from a speech given by association Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at the October 2019 dedication ceremony for a new chapel at Hillsdale College.

…Although a chapel is a place for many activities, it also serves as a statement about the importance of those activities. The construction of a college chapel, in particular, is a public declaration that faith and reason are mutually reinforcing. And in 2019, the construction of a chapel is a bold act of leadership at a crucial time in our nation’s history. So I would like to underscore briefly the broader significance of the decision that Hillsdale College has made in building Christ Chapel.

Beginning in the early 1900s, many elite private colleges and universities began to face questions about the continuing relevance of religious instruction on campus. These questions would have surprised the founders of those schools, many of which were created in part for the express purpose of providing religious instruction. But as time went on and as schools moved away from their religious roots, the relevance of religion to higher education was increasingly questioned, and campus chapels, in particular, came to be viewed as relics of a bygone era.

With the completion of Christ Chapel, Hillsdale College has staked out its position in this debate, and its decision serves as an example for all of us. The construction of so grand a chapel in 2019 does not happen by accident or as an afterthought. Christ Chapel reflects the College’s conviction that a vibrant intellectual environment and a strong democratic society are fostered, not hindered, by a recognition of the Divine. Hillsdale College affirms, with the writer of Proverbs, that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

By constructing this Chapel, the College upholds the continued importance of its Christian roots, even as it respects the rights of each person to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. Our country was founded on the view that a correct understanding of the nature of God and the human person is critical to preserving the liberty that we so enjoy.

John Adams wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” He recognized that the preservation of liberty is not guaranteed. Without the guardrails supplied by religious conviction, popular sovereignty can devolve into mob rule, unmoored from any conception of objective truth.

As I think about our political culture today, I am reminded of Ronald Reagan’s warning that, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. The only way they can inherit the freedom we have known is if we fight for it, protect it, defend it, and then hand it on to them . . . [to] do the same.”

Each generation is responsible both to itself and to succeeding generations for preserving and promoting the blessings of liberty. Faith in God, more than anything else, fuels the strength of character and self-discipline needed to discharge ably that responsibility. That is why I am so encouraged by the construction of Christ Chapel…

The full speech can be heard in the video below.

Imprimis: Clarence Thomas and the Lost Constitution

This article comes from Hillsdale College’s Imprimis. This is a longer article that gets into some details of Justice Thomas’ dissenting opinions and why he feels it is important to write them in hopes that future justices may overturn wrong precedence.

Clarence Thomas and the Lost Constitution

Clarence Thomas is our era’s most consequential jurist, as radical as he is brave. During his almost three decades on the bench, he has been laying out a blueprint for remaking Supreme Court jurisprudence. His template is the Constitution as the Framers wrote it during that hot summer in Philadelphia 232 years ago, when they aimed to design “good government from reflection and choice,” as Alexander Hamilton put it in the first Federalist, rather than settle for a regime formed, as are most in history, by “accident and force.” In Thomas’s view, what the Framers achieved remains as modern and up-to-date—as avant-garde, even—as it was in 1787.

What the Framers envisioned was a self-governing republic. Citizens would no longer be ruled. Under laws made by their elected representatives, they would be free to work out their own happiness in their own way, in their families and local communities. But since those elected representatives are born with the same selfish impulses as everyone else—the same all-too-human nature that makes government necessary in the first place—the Framers took care to limit their powers and to hedge them with checks and balances, to prevent the servants of the sovereign people from becoming their masters. The Framers strove to avoid at all costs what they called an “elective despotism,” understanding that elections alone don’t ensure liberty.

Did they achieve their goal perfectly, even with the first ten amendments that form the Bill of Rights? No—and they recognized that. It took the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments—following a fearsome war—to end the evil of slavery that marred the Framers’ creation, but that they couldn’t abolish summarily if they wanted to get the document adopted. Thereafter, it took the Nineteenth Amendment to give women the vote, a measure that followed inexorably from the principles of the American Revolution.

During the ratification debates, one gloomy critic prophesied that if citizens ratified the Constitution, “the forms of republican government” would soon exist “in appearance only” in America, as had occurred in ancient Rome. American republicanism would indeed eventually decline, but the decline took a century to begin and unfolded with much less malice than it did at the end of the Roman Republic. Nor was it due to some defect in the Constitution, but rather to repeated undermining by the Supreme Court, the president, and the Congress.

The result today is a crisis of legitimacy, fueling the anger with which Americans now glare at one another. Half of us believe we live under the old Constitution, with its guarantee of liberty and its expectation of self-reliance. The other half believe in a “living constitution”—a regime that empowers the Supreme Court to sit as a permanent constitutional convention, issuing decrees that keep our government evolving with modernity’s changing conditions. The living constitution also permits countless supposedly expert administrative agencies, like the SEC and the EPA, to make rules like a legislature, administer them like an executive, and adjudicate and punish infractions of them like a judiciary.

To the Old Constitutionalists, this government of decrees issued by bureaucrats and judges is not democratic self-government but something more like tyranny—hard or soft, depending on whether or not you are caught in the unelected rulers’ clutches. To the Living Constitutionalists, on the other hand, government by agency experts and Ivy League-trained judges—making rules for a progressive society (to use their language) and guided by enlightened principles of social justice that favor the “disadvantaged” and other victim groups—constitutes real democracy. So today we have the Freedom Party versus the Fairness Party, with unelected bureaucrats and judges saying what fairness is…

Click here to continue reading at Imprimis.

Imprimis: America’s Cold Civil War

Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College, has a posted a transcription of a speech given by Charles Kesler, the Dengler-Dykema Distinguished Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College and editor of the Claremont Review of Books. America’s Cold Civil War discusses the current political divide in the USA and how it came to be. The somewhat lengthy piece details the difference in beliefs about the Constitution, individual vs group identity, and opposing definitions of rights. It also identified five possible paths ahead, including hot civil war.

…[W]e have described our current political scene as a cold civil war. A cold civil war is better than a hot civil war, but it is not a good situation for a country to be in. Underlying our cold civil war is the fact that America is torn increasingly between two rival constitutions, two cultures, two ways of life.

Political scientists sometimes distinguish between normal politics and regime politics. Normal politics takes place within a political and constitutional order and concerns means, not ends. In other words, the ends or principles are agreed upon; debate is simply over means. By contrast, regime politics is about who rules and for what ends or principles. It questions the nature of the political system itself. Who has rights? Who gets to vote? What do we honor or revere together as a people? I fear America may be leaving the world of normal politics and entering the dangerous world of regime politics—a politics in which our political loyalties diverge more and more, as they did in the 1850s, between two contrary visions of the country.

One vision is based on the original Constitution as amended. This is the Constitution grounded in the natural rights of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution written in 1787 and ratified in 1788. It has been transmitted to us with significant Amendments—some improvements and some not—but it is recognizable still as the original Constitution. To simplify matters we may call this “the conservative Constitution”—with the caveat that conservatives have never agreed perfectly on its meaning and that many non-conservatives remain loyal to it.

The other vision is based on what Progressives and liberals, for 100 years now, have called “the living Constitution.” This term implies that the original Constitution is dead—or at least on life support—and that in order to remain relevant to our national life, the original Constitution must be infused with new meaning and new ends and therefore with new duties, rights, and powers. To cite an important example, new administrative agencies must be created to circumvent the structural limitations that the original Constitution imposed on government.

As a doctrine, the living Constitution originated in America’s new departments of political and social science in the late nineteenth century—but it was soon at the very forefront of Progressive politics. One of the doctrine’s prime formulators, Woodrow Wilson, had contemplated as a young scholar a series of constitutional amendments to reform America’s national government into a kind of parliamentary system—a system able to facilitate faster political change. But he quickly realized that his plan to amend the Constitution was going nowhere. Plan B was the living Constitution. While keeping the outward forms of the old Constitution, the idea of a living Constitution would change utterly the spirit in which the Constitution was understood.

The resulting Constitution—let us call it “the liberal Constitution”—is not a constitution of natural rights or individual human rights, but of historical or evolutionary right. Wilson called the spirit of the old Constitution Newtonian, after Isaac Newton, and that of the new Constitution Darwinian, after Charles Darwin. By Darwinian, Wilson meant that instead of being difficult to amend, the liberal Constitution would be easily amenable to experimentation and adjustment. To paraphrase the late Walter Berns, the point of the old Constitution was to keep the times in tune with the Constitution; the purpose of the new is to keep the Constitution in tune with the times.

Until the 1960s, most liberals believed it was inevitable that their living Constitution would replace the conservative Constitution through a kind of slow-motion evolution. But during the sixties, the so-called New Left abandoned evolution for revolution, and partly in reaction to that, defenders of the old Constitution began not merely to fight back, but to call for a return to America’s first principles. By seeking to revolve back to the starting point, conservatives proved to be Newtonians after all—and also, in a way, revolutionaries, since the original meaning of revolution is to return to where you began, as a celestial body revolves in the heavens…

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