Never End A Nation With A Proposition

I don't write much about political philosophy, but it seems to be unavoidable lately. There was that almost interminable hullabaloo over the Leo Strauss cult, which left me baffled about what the sage who surpasseth understanding had actually meant (if anything). Then the octogenarian Irving Kristol embarrassed his allies by spilling the beans—albeit in an article as beautifully-written as always - on neoconservatism.

And now, in "The Remedy," a nifty little blog run by the Claremont Institute out here in SoCal, the dapper Nicholas Antongiavanni offers "Friendly Advice for the Folks at VDare."

Antongiavanni is not at all a knee-jerk immigration enthusiast. (Click here for his clouting of the NRO Cornerites.) He actually says:

"…the folks at VDare are on the right side of one of the most important political issues of our time. They have done, and continue to do, some great work on the immigration debate. I freely admit to having learned a great deal from some of them (especially Steve Sailer). [link in original].

Wow! We're not used to this!

However, Antongiavanni's point is that VDARE.COM

"would do well to drop their smug and unthinking dismissal of America's Founding principles, and instead study those principles, learn from them, and embrace them."

Antongiavanni contends that we should support a reinterpretation of those Founding principles. The Founding Fathers, he says,

"believed that America's core equality principle not only entails the right of the people of the United States to regulate immigration (even to the point of total exclusion), but in some circumstances also the duty to curb immigration."

I would certainly advise all those interested in this kind of thinking to follow the links in Antongiavanni's piece. 

The Claremont folks seem much less susceptible to the mistakes than the WSJ crowd and the like. But, speaking personally, I find Proposition Nation thinking both too high-minded and too vulgarized.

For example, Antongiavanni reveals how easily Proposition Nation thinkers, even when their hearts are in the right place, spin off into the blue sky when he writes: "But love of one's own—however understandable—is never a sufficient philosophical justification for deeming something intrinsically good."

Well, so what? In the real world, that's how human beings feel. They love their own even without "philosophical justification."

Disastrously, the Propositionist civilian intellectuals in the Pentagon assumed that Iraqis would dance in the streets to celebrate our conquest of them. After all, we've got the world's best Propositions!

In a brilliant essay, however, the profane and mordant commentator who calls himself the War Nerd has explained why they did not:

Q: Why don't they love us?

A: Cause we invaded them, DUH!

Of course, nobody can be high-minded all the time. It's amusing to note how some Proposition Nation theorists themselves tend to be obsessed with primal turf rivalries.

Nobody in Fajullah hates anybody more than the WSJ Propositionists hate the French. James Taranto of the WSJ, for example, recently insinuated that 3,000 French people hadn't really died in the August heat wave—the Frogs probably just made it up because 3,000 Americans died on 9/11!

The irony, and it's an instructive one, is that France has officially sported a Proposition Nation ideology for 200 years. To any passing Martian, it would look almost identical to the one advocated by Taranto and Co.

Meanwhile, Proposition thinking becomes more vulgarized each year. The subtle meanings of the Founders are forgotten, and more literal and dogmatic interpretation becomes mandatory. I'm sure the Claremont scholars would suggest more intense study. But would they agree that a little less Proposition Worship, and a little more skepticism, might be useful too?

Consider the most famous of all the Propositions: "All men are created equal."

Well, guess what, I don't believe it—not in the sense of empirical equality of capabilities. But that interpretation has become increasingly dominant, especially after the discussion of IQ was driven out of polite society by the great Bell Curve brouhaha of 1994.

What I do believe in is the spiritual, moral, and legal equality of humans. The Catholic apologist and genius G.K. Chesterton wrote in 1922:

"The Declaration of Independence dogmatically bases all rights on the fact that God created all men equal; and it is right; for if they were not created equal, they were certainly evolved unequal. There is no basis for democracy except in a dogma about the divine origin of man."

Jefferson and the signers of the Declaration probably meant something similarly sophisticated.

Unfortunately, they didn't quite end up saying that.

The great computer scientist John McCarthy, the inventor of the LISP programming language for artificial intelligence, once told me that if Jefferson had asked him to debug the most famous sentence from the Declaration of Independence, he'd add the word "in" between "equal" and "that."  Then it would read:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, in that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Heresy, I realize. But Abraham Lincoln effectively offered the same explanation:

"I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal-equal in 'certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'"

Nevertheless, the relentless momentum in American public life is toward enshrining "All men are created equal" as totalitarian dogma.

And that's why the Proposition Nation idea scares the hell out of me.

If believing propositions makes a foreigner an American, what - in the Proposition Utopia of the near future - does disbelieving them make me?

A candidate for deportation?

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog.]