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There is a lot of talk lately about recovering conservatism, revitalizing the Republican party, and even restoring American greatness. Beneath these proclamations is an underlying progressive concept about making the nation better tomorrow than it was yesterday or is today. I think this largely ignores the reality we face and distracts from the main function of the conservative/right side of the political spectrum. We are neither rudder to provide guidance nor sail to precipitate forward momentum. We are, at best, an anchor whose sole purpose is to slow progress.
The greatness of this nation, at least from a political perspective, reached its apogee at the founding. When Jefferson penned “We hold these truths to be self evident…” the waxing of America was complete and the waning began. We have made no ideological advancements since this proclamation of human liberty. We have at times better implemented the concepts, but we have never improved on them, nor will we.
Even by the time of the formal creation of the governmental structure employed in this nation we had already started on a long downward slope, pulled inevitably through decline and toward destruction by the great weight of human nature. This trend should come as no surprise to conservatives because we have studied history. We know that from the pinnacle of our founding everything else would be downhill. At the close of the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin said:
In these Sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its Faults, if they are such; because I think a General Government necessary for us, and there is no Form of Government but what may be a Blessing to the People if well administered; and I believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a Course of Years, and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other.
The cry for socialism and despotism has been long coming, but not unforeseen. The problem for Franklin wasn’t that we had created an inadequate government but rather we would become an inadequate people. He was right. He looked to the past and saw what had gone before, then looking to the future he foretold what would be the fate of this nation.
While arguing in favor of our new form of government even its most ardent supporters feared the havoc which would be wreaked by those entrusted with power. As James Madison stated it in Federalist 51:
But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. [emphasis mine]
We could imagine the founders would be shocked if they saw the state of our nation and our people today, but I doubt they would find it so surprising that we proved them wholly correct. Government is a reflection of human nature, and the government we have (and are about to get) reflects perfectly the character of those who inhabit this nation and make up a majority of the votes cast. We elected a despot with his pen and his phone because we’ve become incapable of electing any other kind of leader. In a few short months we’ll elect another, only this time our choices are limited to an even more corrupt and criminal politician or a conman who promises to be an even more effective despot than the last. Neither candidate sees as the problem the concentration of power in one branch or one person. They believe the only flaw is the concentration of power in the wrong person.
I said in the beginning that conservatism acts as merely an anchor. Some may see the nation foundering on the rocks of human nature and believe that conservatism has failed. It has not. In any other time or place the crash would have come sooner, the destruction more violently, the catastrophe more severe. We’ve done the job well, and we will continue to do what we can until the whole thing comes apart, or until the chain breaks and we lie useless on the bottom as the nation sails unhindered across the seas of time to its inevitable end.