America’s Cold Civil War

America’s Cold Civil War, by Charles Kesler.

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.

Two visions for the future of the US:

One vision is based on the original Constitution as amended. … 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.”  … 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. …

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.

The conservative campaign against the inevitable victory of the living Constitution gained steam as a campaign against the gradual or sudden disappearance of limited government and of republican virtue in our political life. And when it became clear, by the late 1970s and 1980s, that the conservatives weren’t going away, the cold civil war was on. …

Race, and group identity versus the individual:

The prevailing liberal doctrine of rights traces individual rights to membership in various groups — racial, ethnic, gender, class-based, etc. — which are undergoing a continual process of consciousness-raising and empowerment. This was already a prominent feature of Progressivism well over a century ago, though the groups have changed since then.

Before [President] Woodrow Wilson [1912 – 1920] became a politician, he wrote a political science textbook, and the book opened by asking which races should be studied. Wilson answered: we’ll study the Aryan race, because the Aryan race is the one that has mastered the world. The countries of Europe and the Anglophone countries are the conquerors and colonizers of the other continents. They are the countries with the most advanced armaments, arts, and sciences.

Wilson was perhaps not a racist in the full sense of the term, because he expected the less advanced races over time to catch up with the Aryan race. But his emphasis was on group identity — an emphasis that liberals today retain, the only difference being that the winning and losing sides have been scrambled. Today the white race and European civilization are the enemy — “dead white males” is a favored pejorative on American campuses — and the races and groups that were oppressed in the past are the ones that today need compensation, privileges, and power.

Conservatives, by contrast, regard the individual as the quintessential endangered minority. They trace individual rights to human nature, which lacks a race. Human nature also lacks ethnicity, gender, and class. Conservatives trace the idea of rights to the essence of an individual as a human being. We have rights because we’re human beings with souls, with reason, distinct from other animals and from God. We’re not beasts, but we’re not God—we’re the in-between being.

via Tip of the Spear