We can see today the totalitarian impulse among powerful forces in our politics and culture. We can see it in the rise and imposition of doublethink, and we can see it in the increasing attempt to rewrite our history.
The American story, still young, is the greatest story ever written by human hands and minds. It is endlessly interesting and instructive and will continue as long as there are Americans. The most important stories are those about what it is that makes America beautiful, good, and therefore worthy of love. In this light, we can see what might make America better and more beautiful.
More and more areas of American life have been withdrawn from voters’ democratic control and delivered up to the bureaucratic and judicial emergency mechanisms of civil rights law. Civil rights law has become a second constitution, with powers that can be used to override the Constitution of 1787.
It is a consistent characteristic of this country that we have always sought to rise above or move beyond the conditions that are given to us at birth—something not true of every people. To be an American is to believe that the status we are born into is never the final word. We have a spirit of striving, a spirit of hope that goes back to our very beginnings.
The measure of our fundamental law is not whether it actualizes the general will—that was the point of the French Revolution, not the American. The measure of our Constitution is whether it is effective at encouraging just, stable, and free government—government that protects the rights of its citizens.
We go to great lengths to recover fallen comrades, we honor them in the most precise and exacting ceremonies, we set aside national holidays to remember and celebrate them. We do these things for them, of course, but also for us, the living. Their stories of heroism, of sacrifice, and of patriotism remind us of what is best in ourselves, and they teach our children what is best in America.
To understand a political scandal fully, one must take into account all of the interests of those involved. The problem is that these interests are rarely revealed—which is precisely why it is so tempting for partisans, particularly if they are at a political disadvantage, to resort to scandal to attack their opponents.
Welcome to the new Orwellian world where censorship is free speech and we respect the past by attempting to elide it.
From this history we learn that it is not the nation-state, but the kinds of nation-states that matter. From the birth of political philosophy in ancient Athens, it has been understood in the West that the difference between good and bad regimes, just as between lives lived well and lives lived badly, is all-important.
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.