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37 minutes | Apr 7, 2022
Ep. 12 - We're Not Sending Our Best w/ Jake Hunsaker
Episode notes: Jake’s website. Follow Jake on Twitter @jakehunsaker Peruse the Original Draft of the Declaration. Check out more from Justin Stapley at the Self-Evident newsletter. Follow Justin on Twitter @JustinWStapley. This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit selfevident.substack.com
52 minutes | Nov 10, 2021
Ep. 11 - The End of the Trump Era?
Show Notes and PointsPart 1 - Is the Trump era over? Arguably, yes. * Not because Trump isn’t still a force to be reckoned with or is no longer relevant * But because the Virginia election demonstrates he’s no longer a center of gravity in American politics * Aside on Buffalo write-in-campaign, why don’t non-Trump conservatives have this kind of political will? * Democratic reactions: Racism, accelearate progressive agenda * Democrats are the ones who want Trump in the conversation Part 2 – Trump as a wedge issue * I just recorded a podcast episode with Josh Lewis who hosts the Saving Elephants podcast and we discuss some of these kind of issues * Specifically, he asked me why I don’t treat Trump as the existential crisis to the Republic so many other non-Trump conservatives * Points: * 1. The Democrats have not acted as center-left partners in a “coalition of the decent” * 2. They have used Trump and Trumpism as wedge issues to get votes for a progressive vision that the country doesn’t support * 3. Biden didn’t follow through with the moderate approach or the return to normalcy he promised (as a I predicted) * 4. The Lincoln Project and other “Never Trump” actors haven’t acted as center-right partners in a “coalition of the decent” but have embraced a role as partisan boosters, acting and behaving just like the #MAGA crowd they claim is existentially threatening the Republic * 5. Finally, as I touched on earlier, if Trump was truly an existential threat to the Republic, why on earth would Democrats want him in the conversation, why would they goad him to jump into the fray in Virginia, why do they seem to want him around and part of the dialogue? What political objective would be worth resurrecting the specter of a defeated president so that he can be used as a wedge issue to get people to vote for Democrats? * I guess this is the whole point of my frustration. So many of Trump’s political points want the political advantages of a narrative that treats him as an existential threat, but then they engage in politics as usual instead of shifting their rhetoric and their actions in ways that would make sense if he truly was an existential threat. Part 3 – Trump and Trumpism are problems * Don’t get me wrong, I have long recognized and resisted the nationalism and populism of the Trump era * Written extensively on this unique issue, and the threat that presents to the political health of our society * Points: * 1. Trump has been a catalyst for the embrace of nationalism on the Right * Nationalism is different than patriotism * Patriotism is love of country for its ideals, believes in exceptionalism based in principles and values * Nationalism is love of country beyond or even in absence of ideas, believes in national supremacy based on some belief of superior traits, whether that’s cultural, ethnic, religious..etc. * American patriotism clings to the norms and moors of our unique constitutional culture, nationalism views these norms and moors as “suicide pacts” and will circumvent them or even destroy them in order to defeat or “own” political enemies. * 2. Trump has been a catalyst for an assault on classical liberal values from the Right * Now not only is the Left largely illiberal, the Right has become anti-liberal * Since Trump’s rise, America’s constitutional framework is now under determined assault from serious and determined camps on both sides of the political aisle * Trump has been a catalyst for the dismissal of the importance of private and public virtue in political representation * Too many conservatives no longer consider character and virtue as important and desirable traits in their leaders. They want fighters, they want people who can play dirty. They view character and virtue as weakness and think anyone trying to cultivate or demonstrate character and virtue is going to get steamrolled by progressives who are willing to play dirty. * Over and over again, I hear conservatives say, “We can’t be nice, don’t be nice, now isn’t the time to be nice. We have to fight, we have to play dirty, we have to beat Democrats at their own game.” * So many times, I hear people say that Trump was the “greatest President in history” and I just can’t even wrap my mind around believing that this crass, petty man could be considered a better servant of the people than Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, Coolidge, or Reagan by people who call themselves conservatives and constitutionalists. * 3. Trump has been the catalyst for a Right-wing movement that, more and more, acts and behaves like Leftists rather than conservatives * Victim mentality: * “Those guys are out to get me” * “I have grievances, they’re more important than your grievances” * “My feelings are more important than your facts” * Cancel culture: * How many politicians have been chased out of office because they said something Trump didn’t like or proved insufficiently supportive of Trump? * How many conservatives have been chased out of the Republican Party or ran into the political wilderness because they didn’t get fully onto the Trump train? * How many pundits either had to change their tune on Trump or ended up taken off the air or relegated to smaller markets. * And, I can speak from personal experience that many, many insufficiently Trumpy conservatives have either had to self-censor their opinions about Trump or face the loss of friendships, relationships, or even face professional consequences. * Big government: * Big government used to be something that needed to be dismantled. The conservative movement used to be a movement focused on conserving and renewing the founding vision of limited government, dual sovereignty between states and the general government, and localism. * Now, big government is a hammer to be wielded. Trump had his article 2, which meant “he could do whatever he wanted.” Constitutional norms and moors were roadblocks rather than important bedrock principles. * Trump was cheered for doing things that would be called tyrannical if done by Democrats, like repurposing military funds for the wall or banning bump stocks through the ATF. * The welfare state was suddenly off-limits under Trump. No efforts were made to address runaway entitlements. Trump didn’t talk about it, and he prided himself for not talking about. * Debt and deficits suddenly didn’t matter under Trump. In times of plenty, he ran up trillion-dollar deficits. Pundits and politicians alike admitted that fiscal conservatism was out the window. Rush Limbaugh even admitted no one really cared about it at the end of the day. * 4. Perhaps worst of all, Trump’s assault on the efficacy of our elections led to the worst transition of power crisis in our history (second-worse if you count the civil war as a transition of power crisis) and has led to historic distrust in government processes. * Trump’s done this in virtually every election he’s been in, even one’s he won * Primaries he lost * Claimed he won the popular vote in 2016 * Was calling mail-in-ballots a path to fraud months before the 2020 election. * Reliably red states like Utah have had mail-in-ballots for years * Called the 2020 results fraudulent the minute it looked like he would lose * Jan. 6 * Trump won’t talk about anything else. He’s an anchor both on the American republic as a whole and on the Republican Party in particular because the only thing he cares about is his own pride and his refusal to accept that he lost to Joe Biden * Across the country, we’re seeing controversial and questionable election laws all built on the belief that 2020 election results were questionable. * Is fueling needless hysteria. Many of these laws are a result of unnecessary moral panic fueled by baseless claims that continue to come from Trump’s lips and those of his surrogates. * If Trump runs again, whether he wins or loses, it might trigger a serious constitutional crisis and even trigger a rift in the union. There are too many people who will refuse to recognize him as the President again while, on the other hand, an escalation of January 6th like backlashes against his defeat could trigger violence and escalate. Part 4 – Trump in Context * But notice that in all of this, I’m calling Trump a catalyst * Everything we’ve seen in the last five years, on both sides of the aisle, existed before Trump showed up. * Trump could catch a second bout of COVID tomorrow and die and we would still be dealing with the same issues and the same problems in our political culture. * We are witnessing serial and systemic political dysfunction that has shot through the entire political culture and both major political parties. * Trump was neither the “greatest president in history” nor was he a fascist, wannabe dictator whose re-election would have signaled the end of the republic. * Arguably, nothing he would have done in a second term would have been as damaging or concerning as what happened on January 6th. His defeat proved to be more of an existential concern than his victory would have been. * Trump was a bombastic reality tv star who combined his name id with an ability to tap into some serious fears and anxieties in a certain segment of America and was able to tap into a populist upswell that propelled him past shocked and perplexed political leaders into a position to face the most unpopular politician in recent American history for the presidency. * He was able to rely on negative partisanship and a siege mentality among conservatives who increasingly feel like outsiders in their own country as they’ve been marginalized and demonized by the Left, whose culture war has, in many ways, succeeded in taking over scores of institutions, such as entertainment, sports, the academy, and corporations, and has truly transformed many aspects of our culture and our country.
24 minutes | Oct 20, 2021
Ep. 10 - When Factions are the Cure
TranscriptWelcome to the Self-Evident podcast. It’s been quite a while since my last episode. Life has been crazy, school has been crazy, and, honestly, I just do what I have time to do. Since it’s been so long, I decided to make an episode in connection to the debate triggered recently by an article written by Jonah Golberg about the idea of creating new conservative third parties. I won’t go into too much detail. I and many, many others have delved into this debate and I’d suggest doing some reading of the various articles yourself to get a measure of what it is we’re talking about. As for my two cents on the issue, I wrote a newsletter last week where I submitted a subtle shift from Jonah’s aims, maintaining the same goals but seeking to accomplish what he suggests, not through third parties, but through committees or caucuses that can organize people towards championing values within the existing party structures. Today, in this podcast, I’m going to take this argument a little further and add some philosophical flavoring to what I’m positing. I’m not going to rehash my arguments too much from last week’s newsletter, so before you continue listening, I would suggest taking a moment and giving that newsletter a read. As a Madisonian, one of my key interests throughout my studies of political theory and constitutionalism are the mechanisms or “auxiliary precautions” that can be introduced to a political system and political culture in order to maintain the counterpoise necessary to ensure that no single majority faction gains control of the government and proceeds to assault the rights and liberties of those outside of the majority’s interests. James Madison, for his part, was zealous in assuring that such auxiliary precautions existed within the framework of the US Constitution. While others would have preferred a strong bill of rights within the main body of the proposed constitution, Madison initially scoffed at the effectiveness that “parchment barriers” could have in actually controlling the actions of the government. Pointing to the serious violations of English Constitutionalism at the hands of Parliament that necessitated the struggle against Britain, James Madison was more interested in establishing checks and balances on power than in an enumeration of rights. Madison argued that only through a proper diffusion of interests that forced governance by coalition and consensus could rights and liberties ever truly be secured. In this view, no enumeration or declaration of rights can ever fully secure a nation from arbitrary oppression and tyranny if there was not a proper diffusion of interests to make it impossible for any one faction to be large enough to compose a true majority. It should be pointed out that faction and party are not necessarily synonymous in political theory. More often than not, especially in American political history, a political party is more likely to constitute a coalition of factions rather constitute a single faction in and of itself, seeking absolute dominance of the wheels of government. In our own day, most of Madison’s auxiliary precautions remain intact, though the counterpoise he helped establish has been disrupted by several key developments. The four main disruptions of constitutional counterpoise I’ll discuss today are negative partisanship, national communities, the imperial presidency, and national parties. National Communities By national communities, I refer to associations that allow individuals to assume identities disconnected from their local communities and their states. Social media, for example, has created platforms for political activism that tend to establish core constituencies of citizens united by ideological beliefs that can wield political power despite being spread out across the country. This has tended both to increased instances of groupthink through self-sorting as well as a tendency to view politics as purely national because local and state issues fall to the wayside among groups that have no common interests at that level of government. Developments such as this have frustrated several aspects of counterpoise that had existed within the American system. Firstly, the notion of dual sovereignty shared between state and federal governments has fallen to the wayside as the interests of the people have become far more interested in accomplishing their political goals through the federal government rather than local or state government. As well, officers in local and state government are often more interested in national politics and less interested in wielding political power in their limited spheres. Additionally, Madison had believed that each state would have its own interests and that it would be too difficult to unite various state-based factions into a majority faction. The technology that has brought us closer together has largely washed away the state-to-state differences that used to exist in even similarly philosophically disposed factions. Imperial Presidency The imperial presidency as well has created its own set of difficulties. More than a mere executive authority, the president has come to represent the will of the people as a whole by way of being the only political officer elected by the entire nation. The people and their political representation have developed the tendency to adopt interests based upon whether they support the “nation’s father” or oppose him. This has made it difficult for a proper diffusion of interests to occur as, increasingly, the nation becomes split in two in support or opposition for a president. Both individuals and institutions lay down many of their interests in order to adopt and champion the common interests of a larger faction united by their disposition towards a single man. Not only has this led to the development of larger, overarching factions, but it has disrupted the balance of power in the federal government as well. In the designs of the American system, the various branches of government were meant to check and balance each other through institutional jealousy. The idea was that, even if a member of Congress was politically allied with the President, his institutional loyalty would check the tendency to simply do what the President wants, and vice versa. But, as part of a broader political faction that transcends these countervailing forces, members of Congress now offer undying loyalty or unfailing opposition to the president based upon the pressures of national faction to the detriment of any institutional considerations. National Parties Another concerning development is the popular view of political parties as national parties. I say popular view because, while the supposed leaders of the parties act like they’re leading a national institution, the realities of how American parties organize themselves do not reflect the notion of truly national organization. Each major political party is actually a confederation of mostly independent local organizations with surprisingly high levels of autonomy. What national bodies exist within these parties have very little capability to impose their will upon local organizations. (This is why someone like Joe Manchin is a Democrat in West Virginia but would likely be a Republican in New York. Actual party politics can vary to great extant across different states and counties because there is no institutional gravity that dictates party politics). But, as I said, this is not how the political parties are viewed in the popular imagination. They are made out to be monolithic entities either to be wholly supported or completely opposed. A center-right independent in New York will refuse participation in their local Republican Party because of the actions and words of a far-Right Republican in Georgia. A center-left independent in Utah will refuse participation in their local Democratic Party because of the actions and words of a hard-Left Democrat in Oregon. The natural counterpoise that exists in the organization of political parties, which are modeled after the organization of the federal system, fail to operate as checks and balances upon the creation of majority factions because the tools for such a purpose largely lay unused. Because the parties have come to be viewed as national, monolithic institutions, people only join them if their interests align with their perception of the national interests of a large, national faction and they abandon them if they come to believe that their interests are opposed to their perception of the same. Negative Partisanship The combined impact of everything that I have discussed leads the propensity of negative partisanship. Because we’ve effectively allowed for the creation of two large factions that control our two major parties and because both factions claim to represent a majority of the country, many Americans have reasonably become concerned that the outcome of any given election will have major consequences upon the nation. Because the parties claim a mandate of majority approval for their ideas when they gain control of the government as a national “majority” faction, they feel entitled and empowered to engage in arbitrary governance. Building coalition and consensus in legislation in this environment comes to feel like a compromise of basic principles rather than the exercise of good governance. The political parties end up seeing no reason why they can’t attempt to enact their entire vision without the constraints of opposing viewpoints or the concerns for those outside of their “majority” faction. This leads to mainstream voters who, while at the same time feel pressure to disassociate from the parties and fail to engage in the party processes, nevertheless feel they have no choice in the general election but to vote against the side they view as a wholly unacceptable option due to the realities and perceptions of what they will do when in power. This negative partisanship has double impact upon the problems we’ve been discussing because it both leads to a lack of participation in
49 minutes | Jun 14, 2021
Ep. 9 - "Military Grade" Weapons
TranscriptWhat is a military-grade weapon? Should any of the firearms currently on the market in the United States be considered military-grade? Specifically, is the AR-15 a military-grade weapon? These questions are difficult to answer because “military-grade weapon” is another term in a long list of terms being used in the gun debate that have no specific, relevant meaning. But, for the sake of argument, I’m going to attempt to find a working definition of “military-grade” in this episode of the Self-Evident podcast. So, here we go. Full-Automatic FireThe most obvious firearm feature that we can universally consider “military-grade" is the capacity for full-auto fire or the ability to simulate or approach full-auto fire. That’s because a full-automatic weapon is what’s considered an area weapon, meaning it’s designed to saturate an area with gunfire far beyond what’s possible with manual pulls of the trigger. Area weapons fall into a broader category of weapons that are considered mass casualty devices, meaning their design fulfills a specific military need to cause mass casualties in an opposing force. Because the civilian application of a firearm for self-defense falls quite exclusively into situations requiring what are called point weapons, firearms designed to deliver purposeful, precise, and controlled gunfire, there is an established tradition in American law that civilians do not have a protected right by nature of the second amendment for area weapons and mass casualty devices. This allows us to classify, based on existing law, Light Machine Guns, Assault Rifles, and Submachine Guns as military-grade weapons (legally, they are classified as machine guns). This also allows us, generally, to classify a semi-automatic weapon modified in some way to simulate or approach full-auto fire as a “military-grade weapon”. However, if the limit of our definition of “military-grade” is only on the capability for full-auto fire, the debate would be closed. Manufacturing full-automatic weapons for general civilian use is already banned and the sale of existing full-automatic weapons is highly regulated. The highly complicated process for acquiring one of the little over 500,000 existing automatic weapons in the hands of civilians is so complicated and rigorous that their use in crime is virtually non-existent. There have only been three reported incidents of full-automatic weapons used in crimes since 1934 and none of these incidents were mass shootings. Additionally, the Vegas Shooting remains the only occurrence of semi-automatic weapons modified to simulate or approach automatic fire by use of external devices and those devices (bump-stocks) have since been banned. So, if we are to extend our working definition of “military-grade” to include any of the firearms currently on the market for purchase by the general public, we’re going to have to discuss other firearm features. Since the AR-15 is the weapon most commonly accused of being military-grade, let’s see if we can find a feature that helps in creating a broader definition of “military-grade” that makes sense. In this episode, I’m going to break down the features of an AR-15 to see if any of them can be highlighted as a feature that makes a weapon “military-grade.” The features of the AR-15 style rifle that I’m going to discuss will be semi-automatic fire, ammunition capacity, ammunition caliber, weight, length, material, grip style, attachments, and butt-stock modifications. Most of these features have either former laws, current laws, or proposed laws that would affect them. Does Semi-Auto Fire Make a Weapon “Military-grade”?Alright, so far, we’ve established that full-auto weapons, or machine guns, are already well regulated and that in order to have a working definition of “military-grade” that applies to firearms on the civilian market currently, we need to establish another firearm feature that can be considered “military-grade” beyond full-auto fire. The first AR-15 feature we’re going to discuss is the most striking feature that makes the AR-15 attractive to mass shooters: semi-automatic fire. Semi-automatic fire means simply one-shot for one trigger pull. It's called semi-automatic because while it’s not full-automatic, the action of the weapon still automatically loads another bullet into the chamber after the fired projectile leaves the barrel. This means the user can release the trigger and pull it again to fire another shot. But a user cannot fire successive shots by merely holding down the trigger. Semi-automatic fire was first developed in the late 1800s. It was a vast leap forward in firearm capability over the single-action firearm. A single-action firearm required the user to perform a manual operation to place another round in the chamber after he had fired a shot. While a user could fire a single-action firearm rapidly, such rapid-fire required quick and jerky motions of the action or even creative handling of the weapon, the kind of stuff we often see in westerns. Semi-automatic fire not only made rapid-fire a standard feature, it allowed a user to maintain rapid-fire with a firm, steady grip on the weapon impacted only by recoil. It is common among those who have little experience with firearms to mistake the term semi-automatic with the burst-fire capability of some modern assault rifles. Burst-fire is a modification of full-automatic fire that allows a user to fire a proscribed number of shots with each trigger pull instead of maintaining full-auto fire until the trigger is released. Burst-fire has no unique legal definition. The government considers it full-auto fire and regulates weapons capable of it as machine guns. It is the rapid-fire capacity of semi-automatic weapons that can make mass shootings so deadly. Most mass shooters use semi-automatic weapons, inviting a conclusion that this feature of an AR-15 is what attributes most to its lethal nature. However, is it reasonable to assert that semi-automatic capability makes a weapon “military-grade”? Semi-automatic weapons make up the bulk of modern weapons used by civilians for over a hundred years. In families with hunting and firearm traditions, most kids get a semi-automatic .22 as their first rifle. Mine was a Ruger 10/22 when I was twelve years old. Semi-automatic weapons are so common in America that even the Federal Assault Weapons Ban left large swathes of them untouched and fully legal (there were 650 firearm exemptions). This was because even those who designed the ban had to concede banning all semi-automatic firearms would ban almost every popular weapon on the market. Clearly, the semi-automatic feature is far too common in civilian use for us to credibly use it as the feature that defines a weapon as “military-grade.” In fact, purely semi-automatic weapons are surprisingly rare in military use. They are virtually non-existent outside of sidearms and designated marksman rifles. This fact, combined with the vast civilian use of semi-automatic weapons, makes it the most consistent feature of civilian-grade weapons. This means we’re going to have to continue looking at the AR-15's other features as we keep trying to define “military-grade” in a logical and usable way. So, let’s discuss the next AR-15 feature so often treated as “military-grade”: ammunition capacity. Does Ammo Capacity Make a Weapon “Military-grade”?The noted phrase thrown around by those who back gun control when it comes to ammo capacity is "High-capacity." "High-Capacity Magazines" are a top target for gun regulation. Some states already have heavy regulations on what they define as high-capacity mags and on the weapons that can use them. Specific to the AR-15's ammo capacity, it has several standard magazine options which include 10, 20, and 30. Far less common, but still available, are 50-round drum-mags and 100-round dual drum-mags. Given the ability to quickly reload an AR-15, ammunition capacity beyond the standard magazine options has not played as significant a part in making the AR-15 more lethal in its application as some might assume. But it does play a role if the shooter knows enough about the proper operation of his weapon. The ability to maintain a steady barrage of fire leaves fewer gaps for a driven response against the shooter. It can also allow a much higher saturation of fire at the start of a shooting if the shooter targets tightly packed crowds or if the shooter is placed at a choke point. If a shooter overcomes the higher chance of the weapon jamming, a far clumsier reload, and the increased difficulty of storing and concealing such large magazines, the shooter achieves the potential for using what would otherwise be a point weapon as an area weapon. However, military and law enforcement rarely use mags beyond 30-round capacity, if ever. This is because most drum-mags are known to jam. Also, experience has shown that the pause in shooting forced by a reload keeps the weapon from overheating, avoiding weapon-crippling malfunction. Constant reloads also help combat the effects of tunnel vision. In fact, the M16 was first fielded in Vietnam with only 20-round magazines because the military did not yet consider the available 30-round magazines reliable enough for the field. Drum magazines in use by active shooters have malfunctioned and jammed. Specifically, the Aurora Colorado Shooter may have been able to kill many more than just 17, given the confined space and the locked exit, if he had not used a 100-round dual drum magazine that caused his weapon to fail repeatedly. Yes, most weapons in use by the military use detachable magazines with a capacity above 20, even the ones that aren't semi-auto. There are reasons for this. However, using the ammo capacity as a way to classify a weapon as military-grade runs into the same problem that trying to use the semi-auto feature does. Most semi-auto weapons use de
27 minutes | Jun 4, 2021
Ep. 8 - Prudence Over Principles?
TranscriptWhile the conservative movement has fallen short of the outright civil war that’s often talked about in the media, there are multiple flashpoints that are creating general paralysis in the movement as the various factions of conservative thought try to find a way forward. Even the small and, up until recently, mostly cohesive remnant of conservatives who’ve chosen to stand athwart the nationalist and populist trends in the broader conservative movement are losing themselves in internal squabbles over what to do next. As a member of that remnant, I have begun pondering many of the major flashpoints of contention. Today, I want to consider the question of putting “prudence over principle” or “prioritizing the important principles” as some have phrased it. This is the choice of whether or not to vote for politicians you don’t much care for or who fail to reflect key aspects of your values in order to oppose those you are very much against. In 2016, most conservatives were faced with choices they didn’t like. While many conservatives eventually made their peace with Donald Trump’s influence in the movement, the fact that he only received 44.9% of Republican votes in the primary tells us he was not the first choice of a significant majority of the party. But in the general election, he was running against Hillary Clinton.Additionally, several key issues, such as Supreme Court nominations, softened the initial #NeverTrump impulse that washed over what, at the time, remained a significant portion of the party. By the time November 8th rolled around, most Republicans and conservatives had fully embraced a “lesser of two evils” approach to the election. As I said earlier, I’m part of a remnant of conservatives that opted out of this “lesser of two evils” thinking. My stance was not only #NeverHillary, not only #NeverTrump, but #NeverTyranny as I was faced with a decision that, I felt, led to an expansion of federal power and intrusion into our liberties no matter who I voted for. My stance on “prudence over principle” or “prioritizing the important principles” remains the same now as it was back then. I value prudence, but there are limits at which prudence becomes carelessness. Elections are among the most emotional and formational experiences in modern politics. There is no such thing as passive support for a candidate nor a qualified vote in the ballot box, at least not in a functional, meaningful way. As we have seen with Donald Trump, the election experience and euphoria of victory transforms “lesser evils” into “greater goods.” Passive 2016 support became full-throated 2020 support. Qualified 2016 votes became blank check votes in 2020. Plugged-nosed votes for Trump in 2016 in the name of supporting the values of the Republican platform became a 2020 election effort that was absent a party platform altogether. So, while prudence suggests there is no such thing as a perfect candidate and that it is wise to make our peace with candidates who do not represent all of our values in order to keep candidates who reflect none of our values out of office, that prudence can easily slip into dangerous imprudence if we compromise too many of our core ideals. As much as members of the human race like to think of themselves as intellectually consistent, we’re not. We are social creatures subject to the forces of tribalism and conformity as a matter of hardcoded DNA. Things that may seem absurd or crazy when one person does it alone become second nature and compulsory when engaged in by a crowd. Each one of us is a human being with ingrained impulses that can have us staring in consternation and uncomfortable observation of one person acting alone only to sprint to engage in what was bizarre and silly just moments before as a person becomes a pair, a pair becomes a group, and a group swells to a crowd. In politics especially, a marginal element of political activists can have all the reason and rational arguments in the world, and people will remain rooted in their place and blissfully separated from “those people” who they will ridicule and mock. But those same people [who deride the lonely but reasoned stand] will sprint to associate themselves with a popular element even if it stands for unhinged, disjointed, and vague ideas and they will staunchly defend “our movement” from even the most well-intentioned and reasoned naysayers. This is the great danger of negative partisanship that sets aside core principles. When the impetus becomes absolute and unqualified opposition to whoever we deem as our political enemies, when we proceed with an unquestioning view that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” we put ourselves at the mercy of forces, crowds, and ideas that will unmoor us from even our most deeply held principles, values, and beliefs. And often, this will occur without even realizing just how far we've drifted from where we thought we stood. The word principle comes from the Latin principium meaning a beginning or a foundation. For something to be a principle it must be the starting place of our consideration and the foundation upon which our values and beliefs are built. If the place we begin our political considerations is negative partisanship, then the journey and the destination become entirely different. If the foundations we have built upon get shifted to accommodate calculated adjustments of which principles matter when and why, then all our values and beliefs built upon that foundation will collapse. Principium is further derived from another Latin word: princeps. Princeps means simply “first.” So, if a principle is not placed first in our decisions, deliberations, and actions, it isn’t a principle. If they are placed second, third, fourth, or fifth, they become preferences, inclinations, or sensibilities, still able to be important aspects of our thought process for sure, but far from notions that guide us and moor us. The importance of having principles and holding to them is that they allow us to counter our human nature. Through calm deliberation and careful thought, the development of principles allows us to decide for ourselves what we believe and what we will stand for. Having principles creates a firewall against the inclinations and impulses of peer pressure, of popular movements, and of our ingrained tribalism. By setting down our principles, however noble the reasons seem, we are setting ourselves adrift on a sea of human discontent and we will be carried away on whatever tides of populism we place ourselves at the mercy of. So, what happens after that point? As I mentioned at the beginning, I belong to a small remnant of conservatives who resisted the impulses of tribalism and tried to stick to their principles in 2016. But I also belong to an even smaller subset of that remnant who recognized that what happened in 2016 wasn’t just the result of some particular failure on the political Right. It was simple human weakness and, in the face of unhinged populism, serially weak political institutions, and general political decay, it has come to pervade the Right, the Left, and the Center. In the face of Donald Trump’s presidency, many who stood athwart the “lesser of two evils” determination in 2016 changed their political calculus in 2020. They arrived at a conclusion that Donald Trump had come to be an existential threat to democracy in America, and they reasoned that above everything else, they should support, campaign for, and vote for the side that “stood for Democracy” (Democrats) in opposition to the side that “threatened democracy” (Republicans) even if, in so doing, they helped put a party and a movement in power that stood against every other conservative principle. They concluded that Trump and Trumpism were not a typical political “evil” and that the Democrats, and their presidential candidate, weren’t just lesser evils but, indeed, greater goods in the face of the threat that Donald Trump represented. But, living in a very conservative state and having seen this same thought process play out in 2016, where so many conservatives surveyed Barack Obama’s presidency and Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and arrived at a similar conclusion that another four years of Democratic governance was an existential threat to the Republic (a thought process that turned Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidency from a lesser evil to a greater good), I once again chose to stand athwart what I surmised to be another “lesser of two evils” determination and “Flight 93 Election” justification. I offered a warning that there was no guarantee Joe Biden would be the moderate “holdover” candidate he campaigned as and that recent political history had demonstrated that both parties had a propensity for claiming sweeping mandates from even the narrowest of victories. I cautioned people that when you start thinking like a partisan you often become a partisan, and that in the flush of victory it would become easy to forget Joe Biden only represented your values and principles in the most limited sense. I told them that if they wanted to fall on the sword to get Trump out of the White House, so be it, but that they would have to hold Biden’s feet to the fire with intense ferocity if they wanted to have any hope at maintaining the efficacy of their conservative witness in the face of a progressive government they had enabled. I asked people to really think carefully about what they were doing, because if our small remnant of principled conservatives became unmoored from the principles we sought to preserve by taking the stances we took in 2016, there would be no one left in the aftermath to rise above the fray and guide conservatism back to the principles, values, and beliefs it has abandoned in the heat of impassioned partisanship. Unfortunately, I fear these warnings have played out. Having offered support, campaigned for, and voted for a Democratic candidate, a great many n
41 minutes | May 25, 2021
Ep. 7 - GOP Equivocation
Watch it on Youtube. This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit selfevident.substack.com
50 minutes | Feb 13, 2021
Ep. 6 - Truth In Tension w/ Josh Lewis
Discussing self-evident truths and the tension of views that often leads to them with Saving Elephants host Josh Lewis.Welcome to the sixth episode of Self-Evident, a podcast about first principles, hosted on Substack along with the Self-Evident Newsletter. In this episode, I was pleased to host my first guest on the podcast, Josh Lewis of Saving Elephants fame. You can listen to the episode by clicking the play button above or listen on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, or Spotify. I have also included a transcript of the discussion below. You can also subscribe and get future episodes as well as the newsletter in your inbox:And, please, share this podcast episode, add any thoughts you might have in the comments section, and be sure to connect with me on Facebook and Twitter. Episode TranscriptMe: Hello folks, welcome to the Self-Evident podcast. Today's episode is going to be something a little different. For the first time ever, I'm going to have a guest on the podcast. My good friend Josh Lewis is here with us. He is the host of the Saving Elephants Podcast; he also writes on the Saving Elephants Blog, and he's also contributed to the Liberty Hawk from time to time. So, good to have you here, Josh. Josh Lewis: It's great to be here. Hey, I feel very honored. I'm the first-time guest on the podcast. Me: Well, you know I've been on your podcast what, three times? So, I felt like whenever I got around to deciding to have guests, you had to be the first guest. So, I'm pretty excited. Josh Lewis: We might call it two and a quarter since the third time you were on, you were on there with three others. Me: I guess that’s true, that’s true. I mean, if you want to bring it down to two and a quarter, then so be it. (laughter) Me: So, we're going to try something with my guests, and I'm going to use Josh as my Guinea pig here a little bit. My podcast’s name is Self-Evident. Most people would recognize that as coming from the Declaration of Independence when it says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” So, even though I talk a lot about the news of the day, I talk a lot about, you know, the political issues in the headlines, this podcast is ultimately about trying to get back to first principles and discovering what is self-evidently true about limited government and about the entire experiment of American governance. So, to start out this conversation, Josh. When you think about what self-evident means or what could be considered self-evident truths or even just what first principles might be, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Josh Lewis: First thing that comes to mind is exactly what you read, 'cause it's the most famous phrase perhaps in all of American literature, if you will, as we hold these truths to be self-evident. Now, that being said, it being the first thing that comes to mind, I am a chronic overthinker, and sometimes you know I think through this is like well is that self-evident 'cause there's a whole heck of a lot of people it doesn't seem to be self-evident, you know, in their world. Let me start off by saying this: I believe the statement is true, right? I absolutely believe we are created equal that we are endowed with certain rights. I think that the big three, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, is a good way to summarize it. Is it self-evident? When I think of self-evident, I think of something like 2 + 2 = 4 or the famous “I think therefore I am.” You know, it's hard for me to doubt my own existence because there has to be a non-doubting that they exist. And again, maybe I'm overthinking this, and if I am, please let me know, but I guess that's where I'm trying to bridge the gap of how much of these truths that we hold as Americans are truly self-evident or what allows us to base our purpose as a nation on these truths. Me: You know, and it's something that I've always wrestled with as well, 'cause I mean, my first love is history and then I kind of branched out from there and even though, you know, I agree with you, I totally agree with Jefferson’s statement, but for these things being self-evident, it's kind of interesting that in a lot of ways, that moment in time was a radical departure from the norm in history. The idea that people have rights and that, you know, the government isn't just there to allow those who are in power to rule, you know? So, how do we reconcile that reality? Can these truths be self-evident if they haven't been the norm in human society? Or, was Jefferson and the founding generation rediscovering something that had been lost along the way? Josh Lewis: I think the question you just asked is what I would call conservatism. And I have no succinct answer to it. I really don't. And Justin, I think I'm not telling you anything you don't know here. I think between the two of us, you would be more Jeffersonian than I am. I think he was an incredible thinker, eloquent writer. I think he hit on some very valuable truths that's worth debating [and] discussing today. How do you reconcile that is hard. And, it's hard because I think sometimes the temptation from a classical liberal, say, framework, and I support classical liberalism, but I think sometimes the temptation is to try to say, well, this is something that's formulaic, right? This is something that is not only discernible and understandable to all people at all times, and it's completely reasonable, but it's something that we can document in a manner that's just from A-Z. We understand this thing completely. And I tend to be way more skeptical of that. Somehow, in the United States, I wouldn't necessarily say just through accident, but probably through a combination of accident and providential grace, we stumbled upon what Jefferson refers to as self-evident truths. This idea of equality. I don't mean that as the Left means it, of equal outcomes. But the idea that there's something about human nature that we are no greater or less than one another just by the raw material of what we are as humans, that from that we can derive all sorts of notions of duties and rights. And what is the purpose and the justice of a just society, of civil society? This is in my mind quite a group effort that really stretches over thousands of years in Western civilization, and I'm uncomfortable saying there's any one thinker or any one document that had it all right, but it was a very laborious, difficult trial by error that, to be honest with you, we still don't have completely right. We're still trying to figure out how to do this, and I think part of the problem is here, and this is a matter I suppose we would agree, we are a fallen creature. We're imperfectible, and we're trying to figure out how to fit the square peg in a round hole of how do we establish, you know, perfect justice, perfect truth on this Earth, and I don't know that we'll ever get there, but I think the struggle in that direction is what allows for these truths to be born out. Me: Not to segue too quickly away from the topic that we started with, but you mentioned, you know, I'm definitely more Jeffersonian. You, not quite as much. Which of the founders would you say you associate with the most? My guess would be Adams or Hamilton? Josh Lewis: (laughter) Yeah, yeah, you picked the big two I think I would throw in, I'm probably a trifecta: Adams, Hamilton, and Madison. I love Hamilton. Of the three, to be completely honest with you, If I put it on my purist conservative lens, Hamilton is probably the odd fit there. But he's just sort of dark enough and realistic enough that it kind of fits my kind of pessimistic nature at times, like sometimes you kind of need, you know, the wise guys in charge, sort of running the show. But you're right. It's more Adams and the Madisonian model I would look to. Me: Yeah, the HBO miniseries John Adams is one of my favorites, not only because it really does a good job of showing who Adams really was, but they did such a good job of finding actors to represent all of the different Founding Fathers in ways that I really, really enjoy. Josh Lewis: Yeah, and Adams, I think, was a terrible president. Me: Yeah. Josh Lewis: He did some good things and was an amazing thinker, and I think I've read somewhere he wrote more than all of the other founders maybe combined, or at least pretty close to it. Me: Well, I think Adams’ problem as a president was he thought his job was to govern in deference to so many other forces, especially Congress. Josh Lewis: Uh-huh. Me: I think, I mean, especially the Alien and Sedition Acts comes to mind because he wrote many, many times that he felt like they were wrong. But he felt like it wasn’t his place as President to veto a bill that was so supported by a majority of Congress. So, I think, if anything, Adams was part of the Presidency finding its place. Josh Lewis: Yeah, and I would go one step further and, again, I'm a huge fan of Adams, [but] I don't think he had the temperament to be president. I, you know, if you look at Washington or Jefferson, they had a sort of stately mannerism about them, whereas Adams kept, I’m blanking on the name, the Hamilton book. It will come to me in a second. Ron Chernow. There we go. The historian Ron Chernow that wrote the definitive biography of Hamilton in a lot of ways, refers to Adams as a man who has an encyclopedic memory for slights. I thought that was just hilarious that he could not hardly forget when someone had wronged him or harmed him in some way. Me: Well, I think you could almost say that most everything that Adams accomplished that was very good, he had Franklin whispering in his ear at some point, tempering down his short man syndrome. Josh Lewis: Well, Franklin was known for his eccentricities also. Me: (laughter) Oh yeah, yeah, just different kinds of eccentricity. Well, I guess back to the or
24 minutes | Jan 15, 2021
Ep. 5 - Freemen and King-men
The last place the Title of Liberty belongs is above the angry voices of an insurrectionist mob.Welcome to the fifth episode of Self-Evident, a podcast about first principles, hosted on Substack along with the Self-Evident Newsletter.Self-Evident is currently available on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.You can also subscribe and get future episodes as well as the newsletter in your inbox:Episode TranscriptHello folks, welcome to the Self-Evident podcast. This is the first episode on this side of January 6th. There’s just so much to say about what happened, what led to it happening, and what comes next. I have a lot to say and a lot to write, but with school started up again I have very little time. So, I thought I’d start out with my biggest issue first, here in podcast form, and then move on to other issues in article form in the near future. Last October, I wrote an open letter to Senator Mike Lee about Captain Moroni, a Book of Mormon military leader he had compared Donald Trump to at a rally in Arizona. In light of what appears to be Latter-day Saints involved in the insurrection at the US Capitol, who took Mike Lee at his word by hoisting what we Latter-day Saints call a Title of Liberty over the heads of the mob, I thought I’d address a few points of Latter-day Saint culture, imagery, scripture, and history to put that terrible image in context and offer my view of how just how backwards all of this is. Before I begin though, let me just say that I am not speaking on behalf of my church but simply offering my view and understanding of history and scripture. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is officially politically neutral, rarely speaks out on matters of political concern, and encourages its members to be involved in their government as their consciences dictate.Captain Moroni Now, for those unfamiliar with Latter-day Saint scripture, Captain Moroni is one the most beloved figures from a book of scripture we believe tells the story of a Christian nation in ancient America. He was a strong and passionate leader who stoically defended the Nephite nation from enemies both within and without. He is often compared to Gideon and Joshua from the Old Testament. Of Captain Moroni, Mormon (who we believe to be the author of the record, and therefore its namesake) said, “If all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” Needless to say, Captain Moroni holds a special place in the hearts of Latter-day Saints, especially those of us who have served in the military or in law enforcement. Captain Moroni, along with another group of righteous warriors found in our scriptures known as the Sons of Helaman or Stripling Warriors, provide a spiritual and philosophical groundwork for being Warrior Saints within the Latter-day Saint tradition. Because we operate with a lay clergy, many of our leaders, especially those of the greatest generation, have served in the military, including those we consider prophets and apostles. I was often met with surprise but respect during my own military service that my piety was accompanied by a strong commitment to the mission of a soldier. The idea of a Christian soldier is not unique to the Latter-day Saint tradition, but it is uniquely intense for those of us who step forward to serve and peculiarly specific in what values and ideals we step forward to protect: liberty, justice, and free society. The Title of LibertyAccording to the Book of Mormon, the Nephites were not only an ancient American society of Christians, they also formed a republican form of government. Several times during the lifetime of Captain Moroni, the Nephite nation faced internal rebellion from groups who wanted to replace the republic with a monarchy and raise up a king. During one such rebellion, Captain Moroni rent his coat and made it into a flag, writing a message that he called the Title of Liberty. He went forth with this title and rallied his countrymen to the defense of their republic and the uprising was defeated. The words of the Title of Liberty are sacred to Latter-day Saints, especially those of us who have served in uniform, and are carried on pieces of cloth in the pockets of our uniforms, hung on barrack walls, and have even been flown from flag poles in Utah in times of strife for the American Republic, such as after the 9/11 attacks. The Title of Liberty reads as follows: “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children.” These are simple words, but they fill Latter-day Saint hearts with fire and a burning passion to preserve freedom for ourselves and our posterity at whatever cost. There are three major instances in Church history that typify this tradition and the sacrifices members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are willing to make in the name of liberty and a government that preserves it.Zions Camp The first occurred in 1834, and is known as Zions Camp. The previous year, Latter-day Saint settlers had been driven forcibly out of Jackson Country, Missouri by the “old settlers” who opposed the new religion in their midst as well as the abolitionist-oriented views of its members (who were largely from the New England region). The first leader of our church, Joseph Smith, sought redress for the violation of constitutional rights through the Missouri judicial system. It was intimated to Joseph Smith and other church leaders that state officials might be willing to assist in returning displaced Latter-day Saints to their property if the Church was able to provide an armed militia that could be deputized to protect the returning settlers. After declaring he had received a revelation to do so, Joseph Smith agreed to the proposal, organized a group of 200 volunteers, and embarked on an expedition from Kirtland, Ohio, marching South to Missouri. But by the time they reached Missouri, the judicial system had bogged down and authorities refused to support the Latter-day Saint claims to the property that had been seized by the anti-Mormon mobs. Absent the official sanction to protect the Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith disbanded Zions Camp and returned to Kirtland. The Missouri legislature, however, did set aside Caldwell County for the resettlement of the Latter-day Saints that had been driven from Jackson County. Zions Camp may seem like a failure on its face, but the leadership of the Church would largely comprise of men who made the march for the next half-century. It is remembered in the Latter-day Saint tradition as a kind of pilgrimage, a holy march of godly men who were prepared to fight and die for their faith and their freedom. But it is also remembered as a cautionary tale about understanding the difference between a righteous cause and an unrighteous desire for conflict. Before Zions Camp had been disbanded, a mob composing of armed local Missouri militia had moved to confront this armed group of Latter-day Saints. Instead of preparing them for battle, Joseph Smith told his men that the Lord would fight their battles for them. As they took shelter, a storm moved in that flooded the nearby river and kept the Missourians from crossing. However, when Joseph Smith announced that the camp was disbanded and they would be returning to Kirtland, many of the men were angry. They wanted to fight, whether the local authorities would sanction them or not. Joseph Smith warned them that there would be consequences for their pride. Indeed, the camp was struck with cholera and several members died. The Mormon BattalionThe second story from Latter-day Saint history relevant to our tradition of stepping forward to preserve and protect freedom begins in 1846. By this time, the Latter-day Saints had not only been set upon by mobs once more in Missouri and driven from the state entirely, they had also been driven from Illinois and Joseph Smith, along with his brother Hyrum, had been murdered in Carthage, Illinois. The President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Brigham Young, had become the new leader of the church and led an American Exodus out of Illinois and into Iowa, where preparations were being made to trek westward and find a new home. While the exiled saints gathered in tent cities spread around Council Bluffs, Iowa, a US Army officer arrived from Washington D.C. with a request from President James K. Polk to organize a volunteer unit for service in the Mexican-American War. In what is remembered with reverence as the “Mormon Battalion,” around 550 men volunteered for service, even though they’d be leaving their families alone on the trail and uncertain of even what their final destination would be. (I personally have several ancestors who served in the Mormon Battalion and my father, as a descendant, was able to march in a reenactment as part of the 1996 centennial parade celebrating Utah’s statehood in 1896). The Mormon Battalion is the only religious military unit ever organized in American military history, and their 2080-mile march from Iowa to Southern California is among the longest military marches in history. Members of the battalion were present in California for the beginning of the gold rush, but chose to leave and reunite with their families in Utah rather than seek their fortunes in gold. A small detachment of the battalion was part of the detail that discovered the remnants of the Donner Party and helped bury those who had perished. The Modern Stripling WarriorsThe final story is less well-known as it is a more modern story and not quite as well known among everyday Latter-day Saints. But to church members in the uniformed services, it is remembered as the modern stripling warriors. The stripling warriors were a group of young men in the Book of Mormon who volunteered to defend the Nephite nation in a terrible and costly war. They were raised by their mothers to be firm in their faith in Christ and were promised, a
43 minutes | Dec 11, 2020
Ep. 4 - Thinking Out Loud
In this episode of the Self-Evident podcast, I try out a new style of “stream of thought” dialogue as I discuss Joe Biden’s appointments so far and what they portend for both his foreign policy and economic direction as well as further discuss the ongoing situation of “Trump v. The Republic” and the tremendous anchor the “Stop the Steal” effort is creating for the Republican Party’s near future and long term ability to truly make a case to all Americans for realigning the country towards a conservative vision. Be sure to subscribe to get future podcast episodes in your inbox. This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit selfevident.substack.com
20 minutes | Sep 22, 2020
Ep. 3 - Nationalism, A Step Backward
Nationalism displaces patriotism’s love for rights and reason, repudiating the victory of civic virtue over the base instincts of tribe and faction.Welcome to the third episode of the Self-Evident, a podcast about first principles, hosted on Substack along with the Self-Evident Newsletter.Self-Evident is currently available on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.You can also subscribe and get future episodes as well as the newsletter in your inbox:Episode TranscriptHello folks, welcome to the third episode of the Self-Evident podcast. There’s been quite a break since my last episode...I’ve had a lot going on in my life. I left my job as a Deputy Sheriff during the summer and began my studies at Utah Valley University and I’ve had a lot on my plate. For those who don’t know, I’ve put my website, The Liberty Hawk, on hiatus as I focus my efforts on my studies. You’ll still be able to find my writing in my weekly newsletter, now renamed the Self-Evident newsletter, and I’ll also have articles from time to time on NOQ Report, Medium, and at the Federalist Coalition. With more free time, I hope to start having a new podcast episode out every other week. We’ll see how it goes. Today, I’m going to talk about nationalism. This is something that has a lot to do with our current political moment, both here in America and broadly in the world. Among conservative scholars and intellectuals, there’s been a lot of discussion about whether nationalism is a good thing or a bad thing and whether patriotism is or isn’t a form of nationalism, or, as some claim, if nationalism is patriotism. What is Nationalism? The subject of nationalism is quite complicated and it touches on philosophy, sociology, culture, and political ideology. It can be described generally as a process, a movement, and even as related to a subconscious human tendency. But I think the term’s been made to carry too much weight. It’s in desperate need of trimming so that the useful parts can find their place fitfully under the umbrella of other more suiting terms, and the damaging portions can be properly disposed of. Merriam-Webster’s simple definition of nationalism is “loyalty and devotion to a nation.” It’s more detailed definition explains it as “a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interest as opposed to those of other nations.” The online Encyclopedia Britannica adds that nationalism has a “premise that the individual’s loyalty and devotion to the nation-state surpass other individual or group interests.” The Wikipedia entry for nationalism adds a few more positive aspects by pointing out that nationalism has the “aim of gaining and maintaining the nation’s sovereignty (self-governance)” and it “holds that each nation should govern itself, free from outside interference (self-determination), that a nation is a natural and ideal basis for polity, and that the nation is the only rightful source of political power (popular sovereignty).” From these general definitions, we have the chief elements that make up the current use of the term nationalism. These can include nationism, tribalism, and patriotism. My argument is that the rise of nations, or nationism, and a national sense of civic virtue, patriotism, should be considered distinctly from the tribalistic tendencies of aggressive nationalism. The Rise of Nations The modern idea of a nation is unique because it denotes a far more contiguous connection between government, culture, language, and religion than the traditional notion of the state. Pre-modern ideas of the state were defined by ideas of realms and fealty to a sovereign authority. For most of human history, political boundaries chiefly followed geographical features, natural lines of defense, or simply the reach of a sovereign entity’s authority. It wasn’t until the enlightenment and the subsequent revolutionary periods in the 18th and 19th centuries that true nations began to form with borders that marked cultural and ethnically homogeneous regions. The rise of nations, long considered the process of nationalism, is better termed nationism because it was simply something that occurred as a natural response to events. There are no set ideological features linked to the rise of nations and the form of government adopted by these nations was dependent on many other and separate factors. Using the term nationalism for this process when nationalism is also used to denote distinct political movements and ideas creates a false notion that there is a natural flow from the inevitable rise of nation-states to the notions of political and ideological nationalism. As we can see in the distinct histories of modern nations, there is no such connection. Nationism involves the idea of sovereign peoples, self-determination by those sovereign peoples, and the nation-state as the legitimate source of political power. We can, and should, regard this as wholly separate from the other traditional aspects of nationalism and we should treat it as a distinct idea. Nationalism’s Step Backward While nations were a new turn of events in the 18th Century, the process that led to their creation was basic to the human condition. The primary result of the enlightenment era and the American and French revolutions was a shocking and sudden tearing down of the institutions of monarchy and the idea of the divine right of kings. While the salutary neglect of the British Crown had conditioned Americans for self-governance, the people of Europe at that time had little to no enduring tradition of governing authority beyond the crown. As wars and revolutions tore down kingships and empires over the next two centuries, nations rose from their ashes, not necessarily in a grand step forward in human progress, but as a regressive move reflecting the primal urges of tribalism. In other words, the early thrust of nationalism in Europe had nothing to do with the liberalizing ideas of self-governance, self-determination, or popular sovereignty. Instead, it was a reactionary effort to place the old mantle of absolute power and the divine right of kings upon the geopolitical realities that had endured beyond the monarchs: language, culture, and religion. France rose up against the Ancien Régime, but neither Robespierre’s Reign of Terror nor Napoleon’s French Empire looks like liberal governance. The German nationalism that arose with the abdication of Wilhelm II not only toppled the Weimar Republic but culminated in the conquests and crimes of Nazism. Russian nationalism appropriated Marxism as a vessel for internal purges, regional hegemony, and ideological imperialism. If nationism is the process that led to the rise of nations, then it is abundantly clear that the process leads to highly varied ends based upon geopolitical realities. The rise and subsequent history of the American nation bears little to no likeness with early European nations. Nations in Europe took steps backward as they indulged in ancient notions of tribalism to justify a renewal of autocratic rule and central authority. The American Republic tempered and offset the negative tendencies of human nature by championing universal ideals. This is what makes America distinct. An Exceptional NationIn America, there was no real sense of an American identity among the colonists until the shots rang out at Lexington and Concorde. Even with war at their doorstep, the 2nd Continental Congress had no initial desire to break away from Great Britain. Much of the colonial rhetoric leading up to the American Revolution was predicated upon their perceived rights as Englishmen. Any identity that existed beyond that lay in the markedly distinct cultures, prominent religions, and ethnic backgrounds of each colony. Even in declaring their independence, the document penned by Thomas Jefferson spoke in a manner unique for the creation of a new nation. He wrote of respecting the opinions of mankind. He asserted a self-evident truth that all men have unalienable rights. He said governments are instituted based on principles. He spoke of the colonist’s identity as a free people. He even mentioned the failure of the common kindred between the American Colonies and their British brethren to overcome their difference in principles. The United States waged war against the British more as an alliance of sovereign states than as a unified nation. George Washington and his Continental Army were the only true unifying institution during the war. The Continental Congress was infamous for its ineptness. The delegates relied largely on their state governments for support and guidance. State militias often only mustered when British forces entered their own states and remained mostly free from Washington’s direct control. Even after victory against the British, the unifying ordeal failed to excite centralizing passions. The Articles of Confederation basically maintained the alliance of sovereign states. With no enemy to force mutual efforts, the young nation frankly operated as thirteen independent nations. Only when faced with the gross failure to govern did the states agree to convene delegates and reform the Articles of Confederation. Only in closed debate did the delegates dare to proceed beyond their mandate and craft a document that would create an entirely new form of government. And ratification of the Constitution was no easy thing. A vigorous debate ensued. For a time, ratification was far from a sure thing. Only by nature of arguments upon principles, republican ideals, and civic virtue were the states convinced to surrender their autonomy and unite under the US Constitution.
12 minutes | Jun 17, 2020
Ep. 2 - Promissory Note
As we face the crises of our time, don’t walk away from the sacred vision of America or the ones whose sacrifices have consecrated the creeds of our nation.Welcome to the second episode of the Self-Evident, a podcast about first principles, hosted on Substack along with the From the Hawk’s Nest newsletter.Self-Evident is currently available on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.Episode TranscriptHello folks, my name is Justin Stapley, and welcome to the second episode of Self-Evident, a podcast about first principles. Today, I’d like to discuss what is probably the most disturbing image I’ve seen in recent weeks. As many of you know, our country has been rocked by ethnic tensions in the wake of the terrible murder of George Floyd last month. The video of the sickening, unlawful use of force that took his life has erupted into a sea of discontent. While many have protested peacefully and in good faith, there are others who have engaged in unlawful acts of violence, vandalism, and occupation. While the videos and images of flames, blood, and vulgar messages have been deeply disturbing, the most disturbing thing I’ve yet seen is a little sign placed on a concrete barrier in the streets of Seattle, “You are now leaving the USA.” Given that this podcast is where I try and discuss the first principles of the American republic, it goes without saying that when any of my fellow Americans have reached a point where they want to create a place where they can leave the United States of America, it leaves me more than a little disheartened. Taking a KneeI think, too often, we approach politics based on what we see as wrong in society and then angrily demand change at the expense of everything else. Rare are the moments when we take a step back from what we see as the bad that history has handed down to us and take stock of the good we have been blessed with. Every now and then, we face those poignant moments when we are forced to reconcile how we thought the world was with how it actually is. Injustice and cruelty survive and thrive despite our best efforts because the world remains inhabited by the fallen creatures we call humanity. In these moments, it is right and proper to mourn for our country. But in our mourning, let us never turn towards disparagement. If we must take a knee, so be it. But let it truly be out of mourning and not out of spite. Let us rise from our grieving posture and rejoice to live in a land whose foundation allows us to work out our disagreements as fellow citizens and not as warring combatants. Let us find ways to workout whatever crises we face by building upon what came before and joining together to become yet another generation of Americans who answer the call to carry the torch of liberty a little farther, and more fully recognize the “promissory note” of America’s founding. But most important of all, let’s make sure that in facing the difficulties of today, we don’t tear down the gains made by those who came before us, nor belittle their legacy. The Promissory Note of America’s FoundingIn many ways, those occupying the city blocks in Seattle who, apparently, no longer wish to be Americans have exiled themselves from their own land when those who came before them fought so hard to take their rightful place in it. A moment ago, I mentioned the “promissory note” of America’s founding. That term is from Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech, given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. It is a speech that has always moved me greatly. And, in light of the present crisis and, especially in reflection of that sign in the streets of Seattle, it seems to be a speech we should revisit. For, while some seem to signal they want to leave the USA, Dr. King refused “to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.” He “refused to believe there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.” He said that “even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” Dr. King’s dream is rooted in the American dream because, as he said, “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.” Rather than reject America or America’s creeds, Dr. King had a dream that “one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.” And so, Dr. King stood in our nation’s capital and declared, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. “I have a dream that one day... little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. “This is our hope, and this is the faith...With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together...to stand up for freedom together.” “And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning: “My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, From every mountainside, let freedom ring!”A New Birth of FreedomBoth Dr. King and the President whose memorial he chose to stand before as he delivered his sacred words, were martyrs for liberty whose blood calls out from the ground not for vengeance or for the abandonment of our nation’s legacy, but for a new birth of freedom. Memorial Day was not so long ago. And while we specifically remember those who have served in uniform for our country, I have often chosen to remember all those who have sacrificed and fought for our freedom. Each year I set aside a few minutes to read the powerful but surprisingly brief words of the Gettysburg Address. I am always impressed by Lincoln’s ability to, in so few words, deliver something so profound and so timeless. And I think that while Lincoln’s words were spoken at the dedication of a specific battlefield, they applied to so many believers in freedom across our nation’s history. America is not just a place. America is definitely not the cauldron of sin so many today think it is, the place some people want to leave, or tear down, or whose history should be forgotten or rewritten. America is not defined by those who failed to live up to its creeds but by the brave men of Lincoln’s address and the brave souls of men and women across the history of our nation who have not only hallowed the places where they labored in sweat, blood, and tears but who have hallowed the idea that is America until it has become much more than just an idea. In many ways, America is a creed, a faith, and a gospel. Not in a religious sense, but in the sense that we are a nation founded, not on the arbitrary notions of border, language, or race, but on ideals, principles, and values that have been consecrated by millions of sung and unsung patriots who have not shied away from the struggle of preserving and realizing the founding vision. From the soldiers who stepped into the hellfire of German bullets at Normandy to the Americans who marched on Selma and into a hell storm of their own, the sacrifices made in the name of this vision we call America are beyond our capacity to comprehend. There are many Americans who, today, want to walk away from a nation they see as steeped in the stain of slavery, of Jim Crow, of segregation, of lynchings and beatings and hatred and cruelty. But they would also be walking away from a nation whose first martyr was an African American killed in the Boston Massacre. They would be walking away from a nation whose abolitionist movement defied unjust laws and helped thousands escape slavery. They would be walking away from the 54th Massachusetts who proudly wore the uniform of their country and charged fearlessly into the jaws of death to show they were no longer slaves but Americans. And, they would be walking away from Dr. King and his generation, who fought so hard to take their rightful place in a country conceived in liberty so that their posterity, so that this generation, could live the American dream. It’s true that there are many things that aren’t as they should be. We find ourselves once more in one of those times where our creeds feel hollow and the dream feels out of reach. Today, we are engaged in a struggle. Armies are not clashing in a field far away in storms of gunfire and showers of lead. We wage war upon each other with the crack of words and the sharpness of our tongues. We stand in open conflict with each other in a war of rhetoric, whose fields of battle are our homes, our streets, and our halls of government. In the callous and bitter treatment of fellow Americans, we have each become casualties. But is the test put to our generation any different? Are we not today faced with the very real question of whether a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal can endure in this modern world? Shall we answer the challenges of our time any differently than those who came before? As Lincoln suggests, the cause of liberty is an unfinished work. As Dr. King tells us, we have a “promissory note” that needs fulfilling. It falls to each generation to ensure liberty’s flame does not go out while carrying the torch a little farther. We neither ho
11 minutes | Jun 11, 2020
Ep. 1 - Shall We Play a Game?
Explaining the zero-sum game that American politics has devolved into using a little bit of ‘80s pop culture.Welcome to the first episode of the Self-Evident, a podcast about first principles, hosted on Substack along with the From the Hawk’s Nest newsletter. Self-Evident is currently available on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.Episode TranscriptHello folks, my name is Justin Stapley, and welcome to the first episode of Self-Evident, a podcast about first principles. Some of you may have been reading my work as a writer for quite some time and others may have listened to my previous podcast endeavors. Others, I assume, well I hope, are new listeners who are open to the perspective I’m going to try and present in this podcast. This podcast isn’t going to be about electoral politics, partisan bickering, or the hysterics of the culture war. It is my sincere hope that I can find a way to rise above all of that and do what little I can to bring a discussion on the first principles of the American republic into the conversation. But before I get knee-deep in the primordial soup of America’s great experiment in self-governance, I had better discuss why I’ve chosen not to continue my previous podcast project, the New Centrist. The Untimely End of the New Centrist PodcastI have, unfortunately, discovered that the premise upon which the New Centrist podcast was founded on was overly optimistic. The perspective I had was that America’s two mainstream political parties had migrated to the margins and left a traditionally-minded political center without a voice. While this perspective remains true in many ways, I came to also discover general political dysfunction across the board, even in the purported center of American politics. If there is a constituency for founding principles, or a "new center" as I had envisioned, it’s shockingly small in the face of the anxieties and agitations presented by presidential electoral politics in what has clearly become a Progressive Democracy. The Imperial Presidency has become the most consequential of political footballs, and the passions of the general electorate seem too hotly stoked by the contest for its control for principles, ideals, or values to be a present consideration. The self-evident truths of classically liberal governance have become all but forgotten. Specifically, anxieties have become so centralized in the specific person of Donald Trump, few have demonstrated the broader vision necessary to understand that nationalism and populism, the embryos of totalitarianism and fascism, are the inevitable results of central planning. Our present dysfunction is the inevitable state of dystopia and decay that represents the final result of a century-long doomed attempt to create a progressive utopia. It has been my woeful observation that there is simply no constituency for a "return to normal" in terms of the health of our Constitutional Republic because there are relatively few who understand what normal actually looks like. We are fallen from the founding ideals of the republic in heart, mind, and soul. With this new understanding of our present situation, I was forced to retire the short-lived “New Centrist” podcast. This new podcast, Self-Evident, is my attempt to embark on a new project to reassert and reaffirm the first principles of our republic that we have forgotten and communicate to a lost generation the values, ideals, and principles of the republic they have inherited. I fully understand and am painfully aware of how difficult this journey is going to be. Our nation is currently engaged in all the rancor, excitement, and hysteria of an election year. Since I have chosen to reject the choice between nationalism and progressivism, as represented by Trump and Biden, and since there is currently no viable, principled option able to slice through the hyper-partisan fog, I will probably be accused often of muddying the waters without offering an alternative. So be it. If attempting to illuminate the self-evident truths of our republic’s foundation “muddies the water” then it only speaks to how very lost we all are. Shall We Play a Game?So, if I’m not going to throw my weight behind some politician and wave their banner in yet another “consequential” election year, what exactly am I trying to accomplish? I am going to play tic-tac-toe. You heard me right. Tic-tac-toe. Pop-culture and 80s nerds who saw the name of this episode might have an idea of what I’m getting at. For those who have no clue, let’s talk Matthew Broderick. Now, I wasn’t born until 1987. I have no memory of the cold war or even the Berlin Wall coming down. I have faint memories of my dad getting orders to ship to Desert Storm before he got stood down, but by then the world was already a very different place. Without growing up facing the very real possibility of thermonuclear war, it’s hard for me to appreciate the terror my parents’ generation lived with for decades. But I caught a glimpse of what the world went through when, as a kid, I watched WarGames for the first time. For those who are unfamiliar with WarGames, it’s a 1983 movie about a young hacker who unwittingly hacks into a government computer system and starts playing a game with an artificial intelligence. He doesn’t know that the AI is actually in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal. The hacker, played by Matthew Broderick, plays what he thinks is a computer game as the Soviet Union in a Global Thermonuclear War scenario. The AI reacts in real-time, not understanding the difference between reality and simulation. Long story short, spoilers to follow, the situation escalates towards Armageddon as the AI is determined to instigate a nuclear war and “win the game.” It isn’t until Broderick’s character has the AI play a game of tic-tac-toe with itself that the world is saved from the brink of disaster. For those who don’t know, tic-tac-toe is impossible to win if every move is followed by a perfect response. By having the AI play tic-tac-toe, Broderick’s character taught it the concept of futility. After applying this new logic to its ongoing game of Thermonuclear War, the AI concludes there can be no winner in a scenario of mutually assured destruction. The AI concludes that nuclear war is “a strange game” in which “the only winning move is not to play.” Zero-Sum GamesWhat does any of this have to do with politics? Simple. Tic-tac-toe and nuclear war are both zero-sum games. The moves taken to win are always at the direct expense of the opponent, who responds in kind. The end game is always dysfunction and destruction. The political contest in today’s America has devolved into a zero-sum game. Over the last hundred years, we have created a presidency vastly more powerful than envisioned by America’s founding fathers. Congress has slowly ceded copious amounts of its own power to the executive branch, aiding in the creation of a vast bureaucracy that ultimately answers only to the President. Through use of regulatory and emergency powers, the President can proceed almost with impunity in enacting national policy with or without the consent of Congress. This reality has long been hidden by the fact that many Presidents have mostly chosen to keep their actions within established norms. But in the past 20 years, situations have arisen that have provided excuses to our current and recent presidents to break established norms and reveal just how powerful the presidency has become. The American people have responded as should be expected. Recognizing just how consequential presidential elections have become, the various factions have engaged in a pitched battle for control of the presidency. And, from Obama’s “elections have consequences” and “bitter-clinger” comments to Trump’s constant ad-hominem attacks on anyone who doesn’t support him, it’s clear to see there is no respect for the rights or viewpoints of those who lose an election in our current climate. In this zero-sum game of electoral politics, there’s never going to be a winner and each round is just going to bring us closer and closer to the brink of collapse. The only way to win, the only way to save our republic, is to teach the American people the futility of the game they’re playing, to teach them not to play it anymore. The only way I know to do that is to try and go back to the basics, to teach the tic-tac-toe reality of human behavior and why our nation’s government was established as a constitutionally limited republic with necessary checks and balances on power. As the founders knew too well, men are not angels and never will be. Expecting a government to function justly when it must rely on the best men, and women, to always hold the reins of power is an exercise in futility. Until balance in the system is restored, until the American people learn the futility of playing this partisan game of mutually assured destruction, the establishment of liberty and justice is never going come from simply removing whichever demagogue happens to have risen to the top of the ash heap. And that’s going to do it for this brief but pointed episode. I hope you enjoyed this first foray into this new project. If you liked what you heard today, be sure to subscribe and offer a review of the podcast. I encourage you to also check out my writing and the writing of other liberty-minded Americans at TheLibertyHawk.com, that’s TheLibertyHawk.com and to consider subscribing to my bi-weekly newsletter From the Hawk’s Nest. You can find me on both Facebook and Twitter and can also email me anytime at JustinStapley@TheLibertyHawk.com. Stay free my friends. This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit selfevident.substack.com
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