“Republicans”

  • March 21, 2024

One of the most exasperating things about the times in which we live is that it’s hard to discuss them – on account of what R. Emmett Tyrrell of the American Spectator coined the kultursmog. What he meant by that was the way our language has been infested by the mendacious verbiage of authoritarianism; terms that we use in conversation and writing that convey a meaning we don’t intend yet – by using the term – implicitly validate.

“Republican” is as good an example as any.

As in the Republican Party, the party founded by Abraham Lincoln – a man who believed in republican ideas like the abortion fetishists who style themselves “pro choice” believe in my body, my choice – when it comes to anything besides the extinction of the inconvenient lives of others.

Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe were republicans – small “r” – in that they were advocates of America as a republic, with the lawful power of the federal government being not much and strictly delineated, the remainder diffused among the individual states and deriving, ultimately, from the people. Whose consent was a necessary precondition.

The full, formal name for them was Jeffersonian republicans – after the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence. Almost all of the Founders spoke with approbation of what they styled  republican virtues – by which they did not mean a consolidated central state with near-omnipotent powers, as the founder of the Republican Party (Lincoln) believed.

The latter turned (by force of arms) what had been a republic into something very similar to the empire of Great Britain – with the main difference being our king is periodically elected.

Is it any wonder Republicans – today’s definition – are so confused about who they are and what their party actually stands for? Is it any wonder that the reach of the consolidated federal government relentless expands under Republican leadership?

Republicans – voters and politicians – talk vaguely about “less government.” Whatever they mean by that. They do not mean less government spending on the military, which has become the standing-in-perpetuity army that Jefferson’s republicans dreaded (this was one of the abuses enumerated by Jefferson in the Declaration). How does one have “less government” when the military is practically a fetish object that consumes more than half of all “discretionary” federal spending? When there has been continuous warfare of one kind or another without any constitutional declaration of war for the past 70 years ongoing?

The founder of the Republican Party set the precedent for this. But he was not the first American president to sic the army on Americans. That dishonor goes to George Washington, who was a proto-Republican (capital R to signify the difference between one of those and what Jefferson was).

Washington – and Adams – were Federalists. Which in those days did not mean those who believed in a federal system of delegated and so diffused powers, their oily pretenses notwithstanding.

They believed in what they called a “vigorous” federal authority. That it is to say, a strong central government that ran the show. When some rural farmers declined to pay the taxes imposed by their new masters – taxes that were imposed on their staple products, not on correspondence (viz, the Stamp Act) as had been a beef with the British masters – Washington led an army to set them straight. Just as – four score and seven years hence – Abe Lincoln would do the same on a much grander scale.

John Adams, the second president, criminalized thought – when expressed in critique of himself or his policies. This was styled “sedition.” It was the first expression of what, today, is styled a “threat to our democracy.” It means the same thing today as it meant back then; namely – an affront to the authority of those who are in power.

The Federalists became the Whigs and their avatar was Henry Clay, who was revered by Abe Lincoln (who was later admired by Adolf Hitler).

The Whigs favored the same program as the Federalists, including a regime of what they styled “internal improvements” – by which they meant large-scale, state-directed projects paid for by those forced to pay for them. They pushed for a central banking cartel, which was (and remains) necessary to finance such schemes by impoverishing the people via loaning the government the money to finance such “improvements.” At interest, of course.

Which the people are taxed to pay.

The along came Abe. He was a Federalist-Whig who rebranded himself as a “Republican” – and became America’s first elected (by a minority in the North) dictator, who eliminated the last peaceful circuit breaker left to prevent the consolidation of power in an oppressive central government – that being peaceful separation from it. Lincoln used the military to end the principle of the consent of the governed, which he had the effrontery to claim he was protecting in his beautifully loathsome Gettysburg Address. H.L. Mencken wrote the authoritative dissection of this masterful piece of reality inversion. It is worth excerpting from at length:

But let us not forget that it is oratory, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it! Put it into the cold words of everyday! The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination — “that government of the people, by the people, for the people,” should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in that battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves. What was the practical effect of the battle of Gettysburg? What else than the destruction of the old sovereignty of the States, i. e., of the people of the States? The Confederates went into battle an absolutely free people; they came out with their freedom subject to the supervision and vote of the rest of the country—and for nearly twenty years that vote was so effective that they enjoyed scarcely any freedom at all. Am I the first American to note the fundamental nonsensicality of the Gettysburg address? If so, I plead my aesthetic joy in it in amelioration of the sacrilege. 

If Jefferson could be reanimated and could see what a Republican is today – and what has become of the republic he knew when he was living – he’d likely be as amazed at the way language has been corrupted as those who can remember when a liberal was someone who favored less rather than more government.

. . .

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