time: 61:45/6,734 words
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Greg Johnson reads “The End of Globalization” (12:00 minutes)
Goldfrapp, “Utopia,” from Felt Mountain (Mute, 2001) (4:11)
It’s a strange day
No colours or shapes
No sound in my head
I forget who I am
When I’m with you
There’s no reason
There’s no sense
I’m not supposed to feel
I forget who I am
My dog needs new ears
Make his eyes see forever
Make him live like me
Again and again
I’m wired to the world
That’s how I know everything
I’m super brain
That’s how they made me
Mark Weber on “Reasons for Hope” (42:00).
Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of an extemporaneous talk.
Probably everyone in this room has thought a lot about the topic that we’re supposed to be dealing with today: reasons for hope. Or, to put it another way, what’s going to happen in the future. All of us talk about this. Of course I, Greg [Johnson], all of us have given a lot of discussion and thought to this issue over the years. In fact, I thought a lot about this just in the last few days in preparation for today, and also I spoke with people even last night – some of the people here today. What do you think about this issue?
Well, for many people, the answer was a lot like Greg said: “Ah, well, it’s counter-intuitive, it goes against my intelligence, but I’m optimistic anyway.” For many people, the choice for the future is between worse and a worst scenario, but nonetheless I think there are reasons for hope, and that allows me to make some comments about this weekend.
One of the things I’ve noticed over the years – and I’ve been involved in a lot of these kinds of activities over time – is that over a period there’s a much greater level of quality, of insight, of intelligence, among the people who come to meetings like this one any many other meetings we’ve had over the years. I’m impressed, more and more, with the intelligence and the perspicacity of so many people, and fewer and fewer people whose views are just nutty, or irrelevant, or silly. Fewer and fewer people say, “well, if we could only get rid of the Bilderberger hold on everything, everything will be fine.” And there’s fewer and fewer people who say “I think that the answer is if we could just get that Federal Reserve out of play, get that out of the way, then everything would be fine.” There’s more people, I think, who see the larger picture.
And one of the reasons for that – I think almost a decisive reason for that – is the ability to access huge amounts of information on the internet in a way that was very, very difficult when especially the older of us were very young.
Many of us who are older will remember the days when to find material that is important, you had to write away to an obscure post office box somewhere, enclose a few dollars and you got a poorly-printed pamphlet back, that discussed this or that issue. Many of the books were of very, very poor quality; they were reprints of older books; there was very little original writing. But now, the internet makes available an enormous amount of material that didn’t use to be available.
The result of that is – and this is a very gratifying thing – many younger people had this all sort of figured out. They understand the whole picture, even when they’re in their 20s, in a way that was much more difficult for many of us when we went through this process in the past. And that’s a very encouraging thing.
I’m encouraged very much by people here this weekend, and one of the reasons also I have for confidence and to look to the future with some hope, is some of the action and the actual work that people are doing here this weekend.
I think the Voice of Reason network is extremely important, not only as an example of this, but also as a model of what many other people can do. When I talk to many people, especially those who are older, many of us were inspired or moved by one or two persons that we knew when we were young. But now, there are many, many more models. And there are many people active here, who are here this weekend, who are themselves exemplary models for many younger people yet to come. And that’s a very, very encouraging thing.
The networking that’s taking place is itself a reason for hope, because unlike many conferences that used to take place, the focus, or much of the focus, has been not just on ideas – not just on “We agree,” or “We think that’s a good idea,” or “Right on!”; rather, there’s been a good focus on actual practical things to reach people far outside of our own circle.
That’s really the great challenge: to reach people far beyond our own inner circle. To reach people who don’t already agree.
Now, Mark Twain once said that making predictions is very difficult, especially about the future. And although by background and by training I’m a historian, I’m going to take off that hat and try to make some speculations about the future.
But in a way it’s not such a transition, because the best guide to what’s likely to happen in the future is based on a form of understanding of the great trends and the great dynamic of history in the past. Many of the comments that I’ll make here will be duplicated and echoed by points that Greg has made, but there are some very important things I think we can look to in the past to give hope for the future.
* * *
America today has many of the features of an empire. One of the features of an empire is that borders are not important. In the Roman Empire – ultimately, when it was in its highest imperial stage – they didn’t make a distinction between the Latin people in Italy or people in Gaul: people could move freely all over the empire. In the height of the British Empire, people from India or Nigeria could move freely back and forth to London and so forth within the Empire. And also in the American Empire, citizenship and borders play less and less of a role. And that’s one of the features of an empire.
Another feature of an empire is its pretentions to hegemony all over the world, all over wherever it can reach. That was what the Roman Empire did and what the British Empire tried to do. But America has many features like that today. It not only has military bases all over the world, it also insists that the worldview of the United States of America is one that must prevail everywhere around the world. So our leaders talk over and over about “building democracy” in different countries around the world, whether it’s Afghanistan and so forth. And the United States government insists that its way of doing things is exactly the right way of doing things.
These are the pretentions of empire.
Just a few weeks ago, the Obama Administration declared that a feature of American foreign policy will be to fight for gay rights everywhere in the world. Now, this is not only amazingly pretentious, it’s unbelievably arrogant. Fifty, sixty years ago homosexuality, homosexual behavior in America was a crime. It was illegal, and it was shameful. Today, the United States government says, “forget what America did in the past, we’ve got it really right now. In fact, we’re so right, for our country, that this is the way it should be all over the world.”
Now, whatever you think about gay rights or those issues, the idea that any country is going to tell other countries how their policies and attitudes should be — on this issue or on marriage or on the relationship between generations and so forth — is unbelievably pretentious, unbelievably arrogant. But that’s one of the features, also, of America in this imperial stage.
Now there’s another feature of this too. And this is an important thing that was touched upon by a number of the speakers here this weekend. That is the illogical core of the United States of America.
Now Americans are people who traditionally have prided themselves on not having an ideology. “We’re not bound by the strictures of old ideologies in other countries.” That was a big feature of America, especially when it was a young country.
When I was a boy, conservatives especially would make a big point about how “America doesn’t believe in ‘-isms’,” the way other countries do. “We’re not fooled by Fascism, or Communism, or Nazism, or any of those other ‘-isms’.” In fact, a slogan of the John Birch Society and of many conservatives was, “The only ‘-ism’ for me is Americanism!”
Well, in fact, America does have an ideology. It has a core idea and a core narrative of itself, that is widely accepted by Americans whether they call themselves “conservatives” or “liberals.” And it’s so ingrained in the American mentality, that it’s often not even expressed very openly. Although, increasingly, I think you’ll find more and more expressions of it.
This ideology and this American idea of itself has been highlighted in the recent Republican Presidential campaign by candidates who stress that America is an “exceptional” country: not only is America different than other countries in its history and its culture, but its ideology is different.
Now, the core of the American ideology, if you will, is in the birth certificate, as it were, of the United States of America: the Declaration of Independence. As you’re all aware the Declaration of Independence lays out what Americans assume — whether they call themselves “conservatives” or “liberals” — about what this country stands for, what it really means. And in cases of doubt, we turn back to it.
It starts out, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they’re endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; among these, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and to this end, governments are instituted.” Now that’s an essential belief that Americans more or less accept: liberals emphasize much more than conservatives the equality part of that, and conservatives tend to emphasize the part about individual life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
That’s a very core kind of thing. And with that is a kind of narrative of American history. The narrative of American history is that — although it’s true we didn’t have real equality when America was founded — that’s what we’re aiming for, that’s our goal.
And it’s true that the founding fathers didn’t practice it very well, but we all are trying to practice it, and we’re trying to reach that goal of real equality. And in keeping with that, for example, early on we decided distinctions between Christians and non-Christians was not very important, so that was done away with. We decided eventually, as a country, the distinction between Whites and Blacks was really not important, and so the equality of Whites and Blacks was enshrined. Or, equality between women and men was enshrined in our way of doing things, in accord with this idea of equality.
Today, the next bastion is to make sure that gay people are equal too. Because this idea that America is going toward this ever-greater equality is a narrative not only that liberals accept, but that conservatives accept too. They may resist, but once it’s in place, they don’t object to it.
Very, very few conservatives say that the right to vote should be taken away from women, for example. Very few conservatives would say today that any of the rights that have been achieved, or the equality obstacles that have been overcome, should be made retroactive. Because even conservatives accept that kind of narrative of America, with ever-greater inclusion as part of that.
Now conservatives emphasize another thing about the Declaration of Independence: the idea that governments are founded to ensure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And what they mean by that is individual life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: individual rights, individual happiness is the most important thing.
Now a corollary of that, an aspect of that, is that a society is made up of individuals. It’s not something more than that. It’s really just there to make sure that each individual, no matter who he is, has these rights.
Now it’s enshrined even more explicitly in the Constitution of the State of California, a document that very, very few people, I suppose, actually read.
The Constitution of the State of California begins, “We the people of the State of California, grateful to almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure and perpetuate its blessings, do establish this Constitution.” In other words, the government is set up for the purpose of assuring these freedoms.
Then it says, “All people are by nature free and independent, and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life, liberty — acquiring, possessing, and protecting property — and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.”
Now that’s in the Constitution of the State of California and it’s more or less — people may quibble about it — but it’s more or less a kind of consensus that people — whether they call themselves conservatives or liberals — have, about why government is instituted. So, in the Presidential debate that is now taking place, conservatives emphasize this idea that if we can just have more individual freedom and less government, everything will work out fine.
That’s kind of the narrative of America. And it’s not only in place because it’s in these documents: it’s in place because America has had a great run as a country, for a long time. In fact, America has been a fabulously successful country in many, many ways. And Americans like to think that this enormous rise from thirteen colonies on the East Coast of the United States, to the world’s number one power, is because we’ve got this great Declaration of Independence; we’ve got this great ideology; and, probably, God had a special blessing for America.
Ronald Reagan used to say that he thought God had a special plan in mind to put a continent here for people with a special love of freedom. He didn’t mean the American Indians, of course. He meant people from Europe. But anyway, people liked to hear that. And they liked to hear American politicians tell them, “We’re exceptional,” “We’re really better than other people,” “We’ve got it figured out in a way that no other people has.”
Now one example of that, a particularly arrogant example, was given by Newt Gingrich just a few weeks ago, or maybe a few months ago, during the Iowa Caucus campaign. He was speaking to an audience in Iowa, and he talked about American “exceptionalism.” The audience loves to hear this: conservative Republicans especially love to hear this. And he said, as a good example of what he calls this American exceptionalism, that when other countries go to war they send into battle soldiers and sailors and airman. America, he said, isn’t like that. America, when it goes to war, sends into war fathers, and sons, and brothers. And the reason, he says, is that Americans have a special preciousness about life that other countries don’t have. That’s what he said.
There’s an article in the Atlantic based on this amazing statement. Not only is this statement astonishingly arrogant, and stupid even — it’s insulting. It implies that people in Britain, or Japan, or Argentina, or Germany, or Russia, don’t love their fathers, or their sons, or their brothers, the way Americans do. And in fact, not only is it stupid in that sense, it’s even the exact opposite of the truth. Because if there’s any country that sends more people into war, it’s the United States of America: no country has sent more bombers to bomb other countries, more soldiers to invade other countries, more quick to go to war, than the United States of America has.
And typical of that is the example — a very good example — of the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. Now someone made a point earlier that America was a very sensible country up until about the 1920s or ‘30s. Well, it was sensible in some ways, but it was very un-sensible in other ways. Woodrow Wilson was actually more of a segregationist than his predecessors. He actually re-imposed segregation in [several bureaucracies in Washington, DC.]
But he also was an exemplar of another example of American life. A kind of arrogance about America and its place in the world. He believed America’s role and mission was to uplift all the countries of the world, so much so that when America entered the first World War it didn’t do so, he said, in order to win or to get territory; it was there to end all wars. It was there to secure democracy around the world. And Woodrow Wilson sent American troops into Mexico, he said, to teach those people how to be a democratic country.
Now, this kind of arrogance, this kind of ideologically-driven arrogant view about America’s place in the world, is not just characteristic of Woodrow Wilson, but has been characteristic of many other presidents.
When George [W.] Bush was president, he declared in one of his major speeches, that the key facet of America’s foreign policy is “to fight tyranny everywhere in the world.” President Franklin Roosevelt made similar claims about how he was going to make sure America was fighting for the freedom from fear, freedom from want, everywhere in the world.
Now, this is not only utopian, it has parallels with the whole Soviet attitude towards itself in the world. A country that’s founded to bring the blessings of its idea about how the world should be run throughout the entire world.
And that brings me to another point about history. The Soviets, in the years just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, people had already become very cynical about the Soviet system.
Now they became cynical not because propaganda wasn’t powerful. In fact, propaganda of the Communist Party was absolutely dominant in the Soviet Union. But what happened is something that’s happening in America today. That is, people stop believing whatever the System has to say.
Public opinion polls show there is a greater level of distrust about our political institutions and our mass media than ever before in American history. There’s a high level of cynicism, especially among young people, about these institutions that are in place in the United States of America.
And as a result, people just increasingly don’t believe presidents or politicians and so forth, even sometimes when they tell the truth. That happened also in the old Soviet Union.
And there are some objective reasons for this.
Everyone is aware of the tremendous and growing contrast between the theory of American democracy, and the reality of American democracy. The theory of American democracy is that if everybody just works for himself in his own self-interest, everything will be good for everybody. That’s harder and harder to sustain, especially after the economic downturn happened when lots of Americans were out pursuing their own narrow self-interest: we saw the collapse of the banking system.
But more than that, the American democratic system is based upon a completely false premise about human beings. American democracy is based on the premise that the pubic out there, that each citizen has the same amount of political power. One vote, no matter how rich or poor, intelligent, unintelligent, no matter what your background, however humble, you’re the same as every other person. You have the same amount of political power: one vote.
That’s the theory of American democracy.
The other theory is that the public in America are informing themselves about the great issues of the day, carefully weighing the rights and wrongs of various issues, making their own investigation into what our tax policy should be, what our agricultural policy should be, what exactly should be our US policy towards East Asia or Taiwan. And then, after carefully weighing this and discussing it with their neighbors, they go to the ballot box and make a prudent, intelligent decision about whom to vote for. That’s the theory about democracy.
Now, people know that this is basically a fraud. The system doesn’t work that way. I live in California. You may remember that in 2010, there was a big election for Governor of the State of California. And in this election, the Republican nominee was Meg Whitman. Well, before 2010 nobody have heard — well, some people — but almost no one had heard of Meg Whitman. Meg Whitman was the CEO of eBay. She had never held elective office. She had not even voted in many previous elections. But she decided she’d like to be Governor of the State of California. And she spent millions of dollars to become the Governor of the State of California.
She did it with an enormous propaganda advertising blitz that was on television and on radio all across the state of California, and it secured her the Republican nomination. Her advertising was utterly childishly simplistic. She repeated over and over this message: “I’m Meg Whitman. California is in trouble. Sacramento doesn’t work. I think we should do three things: we should reduce spending, cut taxes, and make our schools better.”
Well, this is so childishly simple it sounds nice to a lot of people. So nice, that she got the Republican nomination for Governor of the State of California.
Now, she didn’t win; Jerry Brown became the Governor instead. But that was Meg Whitman’s campaign. And she defeated her other Republican rivals because of money.
Now that’s the reality of American life. The reality of American politics is not that informed citizens carefully weigh the issues and determine which of these candidates is the most suitable chief executive of our country; rather, their influenced by the most emotional, the most simplistic sloganeering and advertising. And that’s the reality of American political life.
Americans know this. Increasingly they’re cynical about this. They know they’re being manipulated. And that’s why polls show — the surveys show — that membership or registration for both parties is declining. More and more Americans refuse to identify themselves either as Republicans or Democrats.
Now, that level of cynicism is a necessary, unavoidable aspect of a future that’s going to be better. Because this system is fundamentally in trouble.
Now, the idea of American individualism — the idea that if we just all pursue our individual self-interest it will all work out — is such a hallmark of the American DNA, you might say. It’s based, though, not just on a theory. Not just because it just sounds good, but because America has been very successful for a long time.
But that’s not because this theory of government is a correct theory. It’s not because the ideology is correct. It’s because of objective conditions of American history that permitted America to rise so quickly. To be more specific, the central fact of American life — American history — is that it was founded and settled overwhelmingly by Europeans. If it had been settled and founded by Africans it’d be a country much like Haiti. If the native population had stayed in place, it’d be a country much like Mexico or Bolivia, something like that.
But it was settled essentially by Europeans. Europeans who came here and came here not because they wanted to build a different society; they came here as individuals who wanted to better themselves as individuals.
The individualism of America is a very important aspect of our history, of who we are. And it’s understandable why that’s such a part of our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and so forth. But America was successful because this was a whole continent, with every possible great resource available for the taking. Huge forests were available. Millions of acres of very arable, prime farmland were available. And from the very beginning in American life, settlers came and they would plant something, exhaust the soil, and move on. They cut down the trees until they were finished and move on. They’d shoot buffalo, kill them off, and the move on. Because there was always more. There was always more abundance in America.
Not only does America has these vast forests and farmland — it has petroleum reserves, gold, huge iron ore reserves, coal, enormous and very great harbors — and no great enemies to challenge America’s control. There were the Indians, who were easily done away with and pushed aside. Mexico caused a few problems, but that wasn’t hard to deal with. And so, that’s the main reason why America was so wealthy and rose so quickly: because people who were very capable, intelligent, resourceful, and enterprising came to this country and exploited a continent that was basically there for the taking.
And then America had another challenge: there was the Depression. The frontier was finished, but America had another second wind. It wasn’t because we had a great Constitution; it was for objective reasons. From 1945 up until about 1980, America had a tremendously great run as a country economically.
Now that’s not because, as many conservatives think, that we had presidents who believed in individual freedom. It’s because America emerged from the Second World War as the only industrial country not ruined and destroyed in that war.
In 1948 something like 80 percent of the automobiles made in the world were made by the Big Three of Detroit. America absolutely dominated on the wreckage of the rest of the world. Japan, absolutely in ruins. Destroyed utterly in the Second World War. Germany, destroyed. Britain, utterly exhausted. Russia, ruined. China, which still had to deal with this devastating civil war, ruined by the Japanese fighting during the Second World War.
So America stood alone, because it didn’t have any big neighbors. And Americans also took great solace from the fact that we emerged from that war without actually very little damage, except for the soldiers who were actually wounded or killed in battle, America prospered during the Second World War. There were no bombs falling on American cities. We didn’t have foreign armies marching here and destroying or pillaging or ruining America.
But Americans got out of that, this idea that this was a further vindication of how good we are, how great we are. And that the problem with the rest of the world is that they just got to do what we do and get on track and they’ll be the same way we are.
Now that’s all come to an end.
It’s come to an end, and it’s not going back to the way it was, because the rest of the world has built up in the meantime. And America’s place in the world is not going to be what it was in 1950 or 1960, despite all the promises by Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or all these other guys.
Mitt Romney says, “If I’m elected President I’m going to unleash the potential of America.” Well, you wonder why that potential hasn’t been quite released before. That’s all silly talk.
But the point is, that Republicans and Democrats, when they’re confused about this, go back to this idea of America. “Well, we have these problems — what should we do?” In the life of individuals, and in the life of nations, when people face a crisis their first reaction, their most understandable reaction, is to try to do more emphatically what they’re already used to doing. They try to just do it more energetically. So, if America is in trouble the idea is, “Well, I guess we’ve got to be even more individualistic.” We have to make sure that government is reduced — that’s the Republican mantra: if we just reduce government, that’ll be a good thing.
Well, is it really true that the best societies are those with the least amount of government?
Well, a few minutes of reflection show that that’s absolutely untrue. The opposite is true. When we look around the world the most desirable places to live in, the most agreeable countries and cities, are in places where government is very big. They have national health care plans. They have high tax rates. You have to separate your plastic and your glass garbage. And the countries around the world where government plays very little or no role are basket cases. They’re terrible countries.
You can find on the internet, for example, maps showing tax rates around the world. Well, the countries with the highest tax rates — Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Sweden and so forth — are pretty nice places to live. And there are some countries in the world that, according to these surveys, have zero income taxes.
Haiti ought to be a great place, because there are no income taxes in Haiti: the government of Haiti stays out of your life. It doesn’t interfere much at all. In fact, it doesn’t collect the garbage. If your house is on fire, you can’t count on the Fire Department showing up.
Now, for conservatives, their idea is, “Well, if you just have government reduced that ought to bring prosperity and unleash the potential of the people.” Well, they had a lot of opportunity for unleashing potential in Haiti, or Bolivia, or Nigeria, but somehow it hasn’t been released. Because the most important thing about a nation in terms of its prosperity, its orderliness, and so forth; is not the constitution — not its theory of government — but the quality and character of its people.
That’s a fact that anybody who has life experience, anyone who’s traveled around the world, knows and understands. But it’s a fact that is forbidden to be said in our society. It’s a little bit like in the old Soviet Union: saying things that are obviously true was not permitted in the old Soviet Union as things began falling apart. And similarly, in America today it’s forbidden to say things that certainly people who are intelligent or have thought about things know are true. They’re obviously true.
There are differences between men and women. There are differences between ethnic groups and racial groups. Anyone who’s traveled around the world, anyone who knows about life knows this is true.
And that’s why our politicians and our educational system engages in a vast kind of deceit, a vast kind of lie, really, about society.
Now, it’s more and more obvious to more and more Americans that a city like Detroit is the way it is, not, as conservatives say, because they have the unfortunate fact of having liberal mayors — and that’s what conservatives have to say about why Detroit is a basket case. Well, if liberal mayors were the reason a city goes to ruin, then I guess Copenhagen, or Berlin, or Seattle ought to be equally bad. Because they’ve had liberal mayors, even more liberal, I suppose, then many in Detroit over the years. And our politicians now, none of them even talk any more about how they’re going to turn Detroit around.
Well, there was an ad during the Super Bowl, narrated by Clint Eastwood, in which he said “it’s halftime for America.” The implication being, that while we’ve had some big troubles and there’s been some problems — it’s true Detroit is in a bad way — but it’s halftime and we’re going to go out and “Rah, rah, rah!” and win the second half. Well, my own view of course — and I think you’ll share this — is it’s not halftime: it’s near the end of the fourth quarter! It’s already set. In fact it’s going to get worse.
Now, my point is in all of this that the ideology of America and this kind of mindset is very ingrained in America, but it’s wrong, it’s false.
A reference was made the other day, that’s it’s so ingrained that it’s very hard to get people to think differently. I understand that. It was very hard in France, at one time, to think of anything other than having a monarchy. Monarchy had been around for a lot longer in France than it had been in the United States [i.e., the American colonies prior to Independence].
Very few people [in Russia] saw the alternative as the end of Communism. They said, “Well, we should return to Leninism; maybe Nikolai Bukharin had the right idea about how Communism can work.” Generally, what people do is they talk about how to reform the existing system. They don’t say it should be swept away.
Now it’s true that the American ideology has been in place for a long time. But not only should it be shunned because it’s wrong, but it will be shunned. And I know it sounds hard to believe, but I think it will be replaced as readily as the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, which had been in place also for centuries, and which was swept away. Now nobody — in Romania, particularly — says, “Well, what we need is for the Austro-Hungarian monarchy to come back.”
No, these things have been ended.
No one talks about restoring the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish republic was a very sharp break with the long tradition of the Ottoman Empire. And it was unthinkable in 1890, for example, or 1880, to imagine a time when the Ottoman Empire would be swept away and be replaced by a national Turkish republic. But that’s what happened there.
Now, that’s why — looking at history, especially — we can see much more how things can suddenly change. And especially they change under great times of crisis and stress.
It was the First World War that eventually brought the downfall of the Ottoman Empire, of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its replacement by a lot of small states, the end of the Russian Czarist monarchy, the Romanov dynasty, which had been in place for centuries; the end of the Hohenzollern dynasty in Prussia and Germany — those were all swept away. And out of all of that, out of the ruins of the First World War, people across these countries had to think, “Well what do we replace this with?”
There was a tremendous debate all over Europe about “What do we do now?” And countries answered it in different ways.
As we all know, the Liberal-Democratic system in Italy was replaced by the regime of Benito Mussolini, a Fascist regime in Italy. That swept away the Liberal regime.
In Russia, the old monarchy was replaced by Bolshevik regime, by the Soviet Communist regime. And Soviet Communism offered an explanation for what had happened, and a prospect of hope for the future.
The idea that governments are founded to ensure individual rights is, historically, silly.
The Soviet Union, for example, might have been founded to make sure that workers control the means of production — that’s one way to form a government — but in history the main job of government, the main duty of government, is not to ensure individual rights, it’s to ensure the survival and the furtherance of the people who founded it. That’s the essential and most important and absolutely important task of a government. If it fails in that task, nothing else matters.
To give another example, if American society or any society is one in which there are a lot of individual rights — but no children — it’s a dying society. It’s a doomed society, no matter how prosperous people may be.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are all fine things. Just as food that tastes good is a very good thing. But the most important thing about food isn’t that it tastes good, it’s that it’s nourishing. It sustains us. And Americans have lost sight of that. Our ideology has replaced the importance of the essential character of what a government is a government is supposed to do.
The logic of this individualism is manifest right now, for example, in the whole discussion about gay marriage. Because for most people, consistent with this ideology of America, marriage is for many people a right: it’s a fun event where friends, family, and neighbors get together and you have a nice ceremony. But that’s not why marriage exists. Marriage has existed throughout the centuries in all different cultures and societies as a way of trying to ensure the best future for children — that’s why marriage exists. It doesn’t exist so that a man and a woman — or two men, or two women — have a nice ceremony and feel good about themselves.
But in America, it’s very hard to make that point convincingly. Because most Americans assume that the whole purpose of everything should be “what makes me happy,” “what makes me feel good.”
To set the bar of a society in terms of making sure people pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” sets the bar very low. Because a society dedicated to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not at all necessarily a society that’s free of corruption, of disorder, of chaos, and so forth. That’s far more important than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
But out of all this comes the realization that this ideology and this way of doing things is doomed because it is based on false premises about life, and must be replaced. More than that, in doing what we’re doing, the more important thing is not prospects about the future — although I’ve talked about some possible scenario compared with the Soviet Union. More important is the sense and the motivation to do what we do not out of a prospect that it’s going to be victorious but out of a sense that this is our duty and this is what’s right.
Robert E. Lee once said that he regarded duty as the most sublime word in the English language. He was motivated very strongly by questions like “What is it that I should do?,” “What’s the right thing to do?” And for us here, this is very important and should be our main motive. Not a calculation of what’s going to come out of all of this, but a sense that we’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do.
It’s the right thing to do, and I think it’s fortified by three things.
First of all, a sense of what we’re doing is right is fortified because the news that happens all the time that we see in our newspapers, on the internet, and so forth — daily current events — reinforce our worldview. They reinforce our sense of how things are unfolding and how inevitably they must unfold.
Second, our worldview is based upon reality and science. It’s based upon the reality of the differences in human beings. The more we know about DNA, the more they unlock those secrets, the more that confirms our essential worldview.
And third, our worldview and our job, our task, our campaign, our effort is fortified by the knowledge that we’re consistent with the eternal, timeless wisdom that goes back to Ancient Greece. The wisdom that’s manifest even in the saying of Confucius and so forth. The wisdom of the ages fortifies our struggle here today, so that we do things, and we should do things and act this way not out of a prospect that we’re going to win or this is going to be better in the short run; but out of a sense that this is right and good and fulfilling. That what we do gives content and meaning and purpose to our lives.
This is a very important point. That we’re doing this not out of happiness for us as individuals, but for a better future not only for our children but our children’s children, and so on.