By Ronald Glenn
For the past few years now, I have been associated with Ron Paul followers–most of which were not Republicans–and other members of the Patriot Movement. (For obvious reasons, I am excluding any branch of the movement that advocates violence against the United States in this discussion.) A couple months ago, I received an e-mail that, in one of the meetings I must have missed, one of the groups I had participated in personally had voted to stop meeting. I found it interesting, because it clears the way for some comments on not only the state of the third party movement as I see it, but the future of the conservative movement as well.
Now, I’ve always felt it hard to understand where you are unless you know where you went off course, so I will attempt to fit the present into the past. I think a good place to start is the Roman Empire.
Yes, the Roman Empire. America has always had an ambiguous relationship with the ideals and evils of the Roman Empire. Take a stroll down Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. sometime. Look around the interior of the Capitol. Do the government buildings look like American log cabins? No. They look like the buildings of an idealized Roman capital that rules a great empire.
America has always preached a hatred of Roman cruelty but, at the same time, has held an underlying admiration of Roman power. The Romans could organize armies, build roads, and make people fear them. The monuments of America look Roman, even when they likely shouldn’t. The Lincoln Memorial, after all, commemorates the life of an American pioneer who spent his youth in poverty splitting logs by casting him in enough marble to impress any Roman Emperor. It always seemed strange to me when I was a child that the Christian churches emphasized the horrors of the Romans when discussing the crucifixion of Jesus, yet the government of the United States modeled so much of their government on the Romans.
In fact, there has always been a great deal of political anxiety over the fact that America may “fall” for the same reasons the Roman Empire did. America is becoming flabby and weak. It has lost its backbone for war and struggle. We are fat and debauched. Rome, like America, started out as a Republic — but like Rome, America has degenerated into a dictatorship. We have become a nation of bread and circuses, namely food stamp cards and sports. Our presidents increasingly appear to act more like Nero than Caesar.
With regards to Rome, the Patriot Movement needs to be given a great deal of credit. These people have no interest in running an empire. They have no interest in running a police state. In fact, I heard many of them argue that Homeland Security is nothing more than the CIA placed on American soil, and that the United States likes arresting foreigners without warrants and torturing them so much they feel inhibited if they cannot do it to their own citizens. This attitude, of course, places many of the group members at odds with the Republican party, especially those who are fans of Dick Cheney. It can, however, make the Patriots friends of the left since such an attitude is viewed as anti-imperialist, and anti-imperialism was the hallmark philosophy of the left in the twentieth century and still holds great sway today.
What is important to understand is that this anti-Roman attitude makes the Patriot Movement revere the idealism of a constitutional republic and government restraint.
But if we move forward in Western history to the Middle Ages (approximately 500 to 1500 A.D.), we see where the Patriot Movement runs into trouble. After the Roman Empire collapsed, Europe evolved into a collection of feudal states where the Lord of the Manor lived in his castle and the serfs farmed the land on his behalf. The injustices of the age are legendary. The serfs were poor, disease-ridden, and subject to the whims of their rulers who had knights to enforce the rules. As Europe evolved toward the modern world, men started to realize that law actually made them free, because the law stood between them and the whims of the Lord. No law at all gave the men in power to much leeway. The law could limit what a Lord of the Manor was allowed to do.
The Communists and Fascists of the twentieth century ruined this trend. They made it appear that government laws were oppressive by nature. This has only been reinforced in America by the vast amount of law that has been passed with regard to taxes, land use, and criminal activity. One of the basic reasons people are against the health care bill presently before the American congress is its size. A 2,000-plus page bill must, by demand for space and material alone include measures that are not only oppressive but ridiculous.
Many people with whom I have spoken who oppose the Patriot Movement oppose it on the grounds that these “patriots” are actually disguised anarchists. (I will refer to them as patriots from now on.) They believe these patriots really do not want any law at all, that “limited government” means no government. This attitude is understandable, since it was often difficult when I attended meetings for me to understand what the patriots wanted the government to do. I had my own suspicions at times that they wanted the government to disappear completely.
This outlook is based on a philosophical belief that it is possible to be absolutely free. I heard a Roman Catholic priest give a homily a few weeks ago in which he addressed the issue of freedom from a religious point of view. He told the congregation that the modern concept of freedom is based on the precept that anyone who limits personal freedom is evil. Freedom is defined as the absolute right to do absolutely what you want. In this context, even God is evil, since he has rules of conduct that limit what a human being can do without facing judgment.
The other definition of freedom, the priest said, is the freedom to the right thing. It is naïve to believe you can live a world where you live only by your own rules. The patriots are attacked for believing in the former definition, which means the left looks upon them as selfish little kids who want their way but have no regard for the well-being of others. (This brings us back to “communitarianism.” See my previous commentary at America’s Right on the American health care system.) It also allows critics to accuse the patriots of elitism and racism, since they are accused of wanting no laws so they can become the Lord of the Manor and take us back to the Middle Ages and economic slavery.
I think these charges are extremely damaging to the Patriot Movement because they resonate with many contemporary Americans. If you work with younger people as I have for the last four years, you probably have also found they preach freedom, but they really like rules because they think the rules protect them. Unfortunately, they do not question whether those in charge have the right to make the rules in the first place. The Patriot Movement questions the existence of power and its relationship to natural law as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, whereas it seems most Americans only question whether power is used correctly, not whether the power of government is unconstitutional. This is a division between the two sides that cannot be compromised.
So, in the end, I think the local group dissolved because it could not decide on a course of action. It refused to support a political party, since that would be succumbing to the money and power side of politics. It refused to be issue-oriented, since that was another way of getting the government to intervene where it should not. It refused to back specific local candidates since that approach attempts to fix the problem of big government through the good will of a particular person instead of enforcing the constitutional system on the candidate that happens to be in office. The failure of Ron Paul’s candidacy for President ended many patriots interest in campaigning for candidates at all.
The public, on the other hand, lives for their candidates. The current rage about Sarah Palin is an example. What is Sarah up to? What does she wear? What caliber does she prefer when hunting moose?
The patriots could care less who she is. To them she is a living representative of the Marxist substitution principle. She is not anything other than a replacement for the current emperor. Nero in place of Caligula. If she is elected, will Homeland Security be disbanded? Will America leave Iraq? Will the budget of the United States go below three trillion dollars?
In meeting after meeting, what I heard was agreement that the only way to make America into a constitutional republic was through education. It would require citizens to hold public meetings, hand out information on street corners, speak on radio shows, write conservative blogs, and so on. But that is slow, tedious, and shows few immediate results. America’s Right is part of that educational process, even if it is not directly tied to the Patriot Movement. Conservatives are working hard to educate the public out a belief that the truth will win.
If these patriots choose to work outside political parties, they may not have any other road to follow. Will it work? In the face of a Democratic Party machine that raised $600 million dollars in 2008 for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, it seems a long shot. But it is also one of the best tools the conservative movement has. It is still up in the air where the conservative movement in America is headed in the aftermath of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. While they may have no effective political vehicle without the Republican Party, conservative values themselves in America can survive without the GOP. They cannot survive, however, without the Constitution.
I hope to see these same people out on their own working for America with or without an organization. I just hope the work of the patriots produces conservative voters instead of giving the left political targets to bolster its own causes. Good-bye for now, my friends. God go with you.
Ronald Glenn has worked in real estate and law for more than twenty years. He now works in Philadelphia, and lives outside the city with his wife. Ron has been writing for America’s Right since January 2009.