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by Christopher Chantrill
October 09, 2005 at 1:13 pm
THE CONSERVATIVE argument over the nomination of Harriet Miers to be associate justice on the Supreme Court is just like the Allied argument in the fall of 1944.
After the breakout from Normandy the British General Montgomery wanted to end the war by getting his Army Group 21 into Germany first with a bold left hook through the Low Countries. The American General Patton had the same idea. He wanted to end the war by getting his Third Army into Germany first with a bold right hook across the Rhine. But their boss, General Eisenhower, chose to advance towards Germany on a broad front, and rejected the high-risk plans of his subordinates. Ever since, military experts have criticized Ike for his timidity and lack of imagination.
In the Supreme Court battle, its the hot-shot Federalist Special Forces that want to assault the vital liberal citadel, the Supreme Court, in a daring coup de main. But President Bush has decided against such a risky scheme. He has chosen the Eisenhower strategy, and nominated Harriet Miers to the court. The Special Forces guys are fit to be tied.
But how smart is the ruthless coup de main strategy? Citadels cannot be successfully held or defended unless you have infantry all around them. That was the lesson of the Belgian fortresses in 1914, and the same lesson applies to the Supreme Court in 2005. Republican presidents have successfully infiltrated conservatives into the court time and again. But because conservatives on the court are surrounded by a liberal legal culture they find it very difficult to hold out against the endless siege of liberal opinion. Most of them give up.
The conservative raiding strategy for the Supreme Court is not a strategy, it is a tactic. The only way to achieve a conservative court for the long term is to change the legal culture of the United States. That, of course, is a much bigger, and much harder task than the decisive tactics of the coup de main. It requires conservatives to win the argument of ideas not just in economic policy and in national politics, but in the moral-cultural sector as well. It is with the moral-cultural sector that conservatives have their big problem.
F.S.C. Northrop pointed out 50 years ago that Anglo-Americans are fighting the battle of ideas with the seventeenth-century ideas of Locke and the eighteenth-century ideas of Burke while our opponents are fighting with the cultural ideas of the twentieth century, the precipitate of two hundred years of German philosophy. Look at the great cultural edifices of the present era. Compulsory education comes from Prussia. The research university comes from Prussia. Social insurance and pay-as-you-go pensions come from Imperial Germany. Modern science comes from Kants idea that we cant know things-in-themselves, only appearances. Modern psychology? Its German.
All these themes come together in the central article of liberal faith that a creative life is a Life, while a life of creating children is a cop-out.
This revolutionary program also took on the noble project of Anglo-American constitutionalism and irradiated it with postmodernism, an invention of French poseurs, its true, but founded on German ideas. Middle-class constitutional democracy wasnt about the rule of law or a high-minded separation of powers, they said, it was a cunning bid for power. All knowledge was a narrative of power, an apology for the ruling elite and its shameful path to power.
Conservatives think that all this is ridiculousa politically correct fantasy that no sensible person would consider for a moment. The trouble is that sensible people do believe it. Not only do they believe it, they proselytize it throughout the culture: in the government schools, in the elite universities, and above all in entertainment and the arts. Conservatives cannot easily hold the Supreme Court until they conquer and hold the cultural territory around it.
Conservatives must master the German canon. Then we can use the liberals weapons against them. Could it be, we could ask as conservative postmodernists, that the whole liberal narrative of the last centurythe noble government programs for education, health, pensions, environment, even perhaps civil rightsamounts to nothing but a crude apology for power?
Conservatives will be able to dominate the Supreme Court when and only when we have cured liberals of their cultural confidence.
To do this, we need a conservatism rooted not just in the ideas of the founders, but expert in the ideas of the German tradition, the ideas that were used to marginalize us over the century of socialism from 1850 to 1970 and in the culture to this very day. Then we will win the culture war not in bloody confirmation battles in the United States Senate but in the way recommended by the great masters of strategyby defeating our adversaries without even the need for battle.
[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists, she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican
[T]he way to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,
Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop
discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District
[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State
[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier.
Gen. Hans von Seeckt, quoted in MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050.
[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.
[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values
Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization
What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph
These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self
There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion
The Union publishes an exact return of the amount of its taxes; I can get copies of the budgets of the four and twenty component states; but who can tell me what the citizens spend in the administration of county and township?
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America