Author Archives: The Lancastrian

About The Lancastrian

Just your average Pennsylvania Dutchman trying to reconcile the traditional and the radical inherent in anabaptism.

On Guns and Military Sycophantism, the Civic Republican Response

The whole gun control issue that the Newtown tragedy has brought to the forefront of the American political conversation has, for me, coincided with some thoughts I’ve been having recently on America’s disturbing trend of military sycophantism. While these two things may seem a bit unrelated, I believe that a there is a common solution to both, but first some lists!

First, what has the Newtown tragedy (and the Aurora shooting, and the Oak Creek Sikh temple shooting, and the Gabby Giffords shooting, and most inner-city shootings etc) taught us?

  • These shootings are carried out by young men
  • These shootings are carried out by those who are mentally disturbed
  • The shooters use military style weapons (not guns normally used for hunting)
  • The shootings are planned ahead of time

Second, what do I mean by military sycophantism?

  • Unquestioning “support for the troops” without defining what this “support” consists of (is it more body armor and better equipment, or an unquestioning support of anything they do? Are they really “heroes” just for serving?).
  • A willingness to make excuses for terrible behavior by American soldiers.
  • A sycophantic obsession with showing public support for soldiers (in ways that sometimes make the soldiers themselves feel uncomfortable).
  • The way the media was so easily impressed with a general (who wore a LOT more medals/ribbons than other generals in recent us history).

So, what’s my point here? We need a civic republican response to both of these, required national military service. Now, let me point out that I don’t say this lightly, as a pacifist myself; this puts me in a very awkward position. I believe however that, 1.) these twin problems aren’t a concern for committed pacifists and 2.) the idea of Civilian Public Service that most Peace Church members participated in during World War II would provide an acceptable and proven alternative.

With that caveat, let me move on to my main point. The mass shootings that have been carried out very publicly over the last few years (and the shootings that get less attention, usually involving poor, brown, inner city youth) are carried out by young men of military age. I propose that we, therefore, put them in the military, put them through all of the analysis and training that soldiers go through, and, in the process, find out which of them are mentally disturbed. Having done this, the US would have a relatively accurate handle on those who can handle the responsibility of gun ownership upon completing military service, and those who cannot. If you weren’t allowed to handle a gun during your military service, you don’t get to handle one when you complete it. Those who own guns after military service will have the proper safety training and respect for the power and responsibility that gun ownership entails. If you’d like an example of this, look no farther than Switzerland, which has a deeply civic republican tradition (though that tradition certainly has its dark aspects: it led to some pretty terrible religious repression during the Reformation and the decades after). There, all young men are a part of the military, when they leave active service, they are part of the militia, armed with fully automatic weapons until age 30, and if they wish, after their stint in the militia, they may keep their weapon after it has been modified to make it only semi-automatic. Their rate of homicide by gun 0.52 per 100,000 citizens Ours? 3.0 per 100,000. The point is that this is a two-pronged approach rather than the typical conservative wild-west response of “ARM EVERYONE EVERYWHERE!” this civic republican ideal would arm responsible citizens while ensuring the mentally disturbed can’t get powerful military-style weapons easily.

The second aspect that national military service solves is civilian America’s sycophantic obsession with the military. Rather than seeing service members as a higher class of unquestionable heroes, the military will be a common experience for almost every member of society. This I believe has two advantages; first, it would limit the number of wars America would engage in. It’s all fun and games to declare war when it only affects a small number of volunteers, it’s quite a different thing to propose mobilizing an entire generation of young Americans. Second, I believe it to be much more democratic. The problem right now is that we’re creating a two class system: a military class that does almost whatever it wants without question (for to question is to not “support the troops” which is verboten), and a civilian class which sycophantically adores its “heroes.” There’s a reason that most of the founders were against a standing army: they lived through its potential for oppression. While the world situation has changed and a standing army is required, the better solution is to have as many people as possible involved in the process.

I don’t expect anything like this to ever happen, of course, but the point is that there are solutions other than the typical left-right liberal ones proposed after a tragedy like Newtown. Rather than looking at guns in terms of the liberal language of “rights,” perhaps it would be more productive to look at them in terms of the idea of civic virtue, how members of society can become better, more responsible gun-owning citizens by serving society.

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Have a drink and calm down.

As I’ve been reading various election postmortems, I keep coming back to one little question, what exactly is everyone freaking out about? To read National Review’s Corner, turn on Bill O’Reilly, or listen to Rush Limbaugh, you’d think that THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END and AMERICA AS WE KNOW IT IS OVER. To be honest, I don’t know what exactly the conservative talking heads are going on about, but I’m pretty sure what they do need is a good, stiff drink. As far as I can tell, the sun still comes up, and I continue to go to school and work, watch TV, read, think, talk, philosophize, worship, and eat in more or less the same way that I have for the last 25 years. Of course, some things have changed, I’ve turned 21 (and subsequently worked very hard on developing my beer, whiskey, and wine pallets), gotten married, created relationships with new family members, traveled, watched my beloved sports teams flame out in the first round of playoffs every year, learned more about my faith tradition, and gotten a dog; all without being affected by the person who happens to be sitting in the White House.

Of course, my lived experience is my own, so let’s look at America more generally. In a world where expressing a dissenting political, religious, or philosophical belief may get you tortured or killed, Americans can explore the life of the mind and spirit freely not only without governmental repercussion, but protected by it. When I picked up the business page the other morning, the main story wasn’t austerity, regulation, or “the makers” versus “the takers.” Rather it was an analysis of which fantastical tech company is more likely to provide Americans with more fantastical gadgets for a longer period of time. Last I checked, America doesn’t have a rising fascist party, or almost daily protests in the streets. It also seems that, despite the silly rhetoric, America has dealt with the problem of racism in a more comprehensive and final way than almost any country on Earth.

Look, I know things aren’t perfect here; there are plenty of things I’d love to change, tweak, edit, etc. In the end, though, I remember why my ancestors came to Pennsylvania in the 1700s. It wasn’t because they were ambitious and made a rational choice to find the place to maximize their earthly acquisitiveness. Rather, they came because they were quite literally being imprisoned, exiled, tortured, and executed in Europe for their faith, and Pennsylvania offered them a place to quietly worship their God in whatever way they saw fit. Things have changed since the 1700s, political parties and ideologies have come and gone, the tides of religious fervor have ebbed and flowed, but in valleys of Pennsylvania, the children of those religious refugees, both those of us who live in a more modern way and those who choose a radically simple life, are still able to quietly worship God in the way we see fit.

In the end, really, it doesn’t matter if government has a few too many economic regulations, implements social programs that might be more efficiently done by the private sector, or eventually creates a single payer health system. What matters is that, for over 200 years, America has allowed the dissidents, the unsatisfied and unwanted, to quietly live their lives according to their creeds. Rather than worrying about the future, freaking out about a changing American electorate, or decrying the evils of bureaucratic statism, I suggest that you, as a conservative, find a friend (family member, acquaintance, dog, colleague, arch enemy, I don’t care, anyone you like), pick up one of the roughly 1 billion micro brews (or macro brews, doesn’t matter, as long as its beer) available at your local bar or booze distributor, sit back, shoot the breeze, and appreciate what we have, and what I guarantee will still be here after 4 more years of an Obama presidency.

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Go ahead. Do something crazy. Vote for the Green Party.

Hey there. I’m here in an attempt to convince you of something that may, at first, seem crazy. I want you, as a traditionalist conservative, to vote for Green Party Candidate Jill Stein for president. Go ahead, get the laughs out, I’ll wait. Ok, done? Good, then let’s talk.

First off, Mr. O’Shea, in his defense of voting for Governor Romney declares that conservative politics must be about the possible, and therefore, the traditionalist must remain within the two-party framework, hoping beyond hope that the Republican candidate governs conservatively. What he forgets is that third parties historically have had a significant impact on American politics, even without electoral success. Dr. Stein and the Green Party are also thinking of the possible; they aren’t expecting to win, and in fact, the front page of their website implies that getting as little as 1% of the popular vote would be a success. This is because simply by taking away votes from the major parties can be enough for one of them to coopt the party’s positions in the next election in order to gain more voters. The beauty is that this works, if you take a look at the Populist Party platform from 1892, or any of the Socialist Party platforms under Eugene V. Debs, you’ll see that these parties managed to get plenty of legislation passed without ever winning an election.

Are you with me so far? A vote for Jill Stein isn’t cast in order to win the 2012 election, voting for her means you’re playing the long game (but you’re a conservative, so you should love the long game). But why vote for Dr. Stein of all people, isn’t she the one the people to the left of Obama are going to be voting for? Certainly, and last I checked, traditionalist conservatives have a lot in common with the American left, especially on issues such as foreign policy, the importance of community, society as an association that extends beyond the living, and the belief that successful acquisitive individualists should not, by default, rule because of their successful acquisitiveness. In order to look at these similarities more closely, I’m going to go straight to the Green New Deal, the platform that Dr. Stein is running on this year.

Let’s start with foreign policy, shall we? I think that after watching the last debate, we can agree that the next four years are going to be, at best, the same as the last four, and at worst, will result in the invasion of Iran. As far as I’m concerned (and I believe there’s something called a Constitution that backs me up on this) this is the most important aspect of President’s job, the area where he has almost unilateral power. As a conservative, a dealer in what’s possible, this is where you should be looking when you cast your vote, because let’s be honest, nothing is going to be possible domestically with a divided congress for at least two more years.

What does Dr. Stein say on foreign policy? Let me pull out a few choice quotes. For her, the problem is not vague Middle Eastern “terrorism,” but rather, “we must protect our liberty from those who would frighten us into surrendering our freedoms in the name of security. The Green New Deal will repeal the Patriot Act and those parts of the National Defense Authorization Act that violate our civil liberties. It will prohibit the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI from conspiring with local police forces to suppress our freedoms of assembly and of speech.” A good start, right? She continues, declaring that, “Protecting our liberty requires one additional, important step. Washington and Eisenhower, both generals who became president, warned us about the military industrial complex. They warned us about the dangers of empire.” Wait; did she just cite a founding father (I thought librools hated them!) and a Republican as examples? Whaaat?

There’s no talk of Wilsonian internationalism or the Bush doctrine here, her policy position is includes “a 50% reduction in military spending and the withdrawal of U.S. military bases from the over 140 countries in which our military is now located. It calls for restoration of the National Guard as the centerpiece of our system of national defense. It creates a new round of nuclear disarmament initiatives. Overall, it requires shifting from an economy in which the majority – the majority – of our discretionary budget is spent on war and the occupation of other countries, to an economy that provides the secure, just, peaceful future we all deserve.” If you’re looking for the candidate who wants to end the American Empire, I think you’ve just found her.

I’ll be honest with you though, you could also vote for Gary Johnson for the exact same foreign policy reasons. So what else does Dr. Stein have to offer? How about something that Governor Johnson certainly doesn’t stress, the importance of community. While Dr. Stein and the Green Party certainly use the symbolism of FDR in their party platform, a closer look reveals that the use of the term “New Deal” might be a bit misleading. Rather than large-scale federal programs, Dr. Stein calls for federal money to be implemented locally. For instance, “Our Full Employment Program will directly create 16 million jobs through a community-based direct employment initiative that will be nationally funded, locally controlled, and democratically protected against conflicts of interest and pay-to-play influence peddling. The program will directly create jobs in the public and the private sector. Instead of going to an unemployment office when you can’t find work, you can simply go to the local employment office to find a public sector job.” Notice that the point is to work, not receive unlimited unemployment insurance.

The emphasis on local implementation is not incidental, she continues by saying, “This program will not be run from Washington D.C. Our job in Washington will be limited to insuring that you have a say in how this program runs. Local communities will be responsible for putting this jobs program into practice through a process of broad community input and democratic decision-making involving you, your neighbors and local government – not corrupting monied interests.” Um, isn’t that like, you know, the definition of subsidiarity? And, if you happen to be a traditionalist with an agrarian bent, you might just be a fan of the idea that some of the jobs created at the local level will be in “regional food systems based on sustainable organic agriculture.” Yes. Jill Stein is also the Jeffersonian candidate.  

Let’s stick to this point for a minute, because I think it is, perhaps, the strongest reason why anyone who calls himself or herself a traditionalist conservative should vote for Dr. Stein. She continues by detailing one of these subsidiarity-driven programs, the “Green Transition Program,” which “will provide grants and low-interest loans to grow green businesses and cooperatives, with an emphasis on small, locally-based companies that keep the wealth created by local labor circulating in the community rather than being drained off to enrich absentee investors.” Take out the name “Green Transition Program” and it sounds exactly like something a traditionalist who admires Tocqueville might vote for. The emphasis on community also carries over to transportation, where one of the publically created, community-based projects is the creation of “’complete streets’ that safely encourage bike and pedestrian traffic.” Fact: Jill Stein wants to reduce the effects of the “Mechanical Jacobin.”

As you might expect, the Green Party is also interested in the environment. Of course, there’s nothing terribly un-traditional about this stance either, after all, didn’t Burke say that, “Society is indeed a contract. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”  Dr. Stein is clearly in this spirit then when she says that, “A business model that destroys our forests, our fisheries, our topsoil, our water supplies, our health, and our climate – is a business model that will inevitably collapse upon itself. And an economy that is addicted to ever-increasing supplies of oil is not only doomed, it is a national security disaster just waiting to happen.”

Finally, Dr. Stein rejects the notion that successful acquisitive individualism is a legitimate reason to hold power. She believes that, “the takeover of our economy by big banks and well-connected financiers has destabilized both our democracy and our economy. We do not need and should not tolerate the dictatorship of bankers and financiers who manipulate money without doing productive work and who enrich themselves at the expense of real businesses and real working people. It’s time to take Wall Street out of the driver’s seat and to free the truly productive segments of working America to make this economy work for all of us.” Note that this is not a call to a revolution, a takeover of the means of production by the proletariat, or a wholesale rejection of the good that capitalism brings. Rather, it is an emphasis on the dignity of both labor and ownership that has suffered at the expense of financial gamesmanship.

There are many more examples in the Green New Deal of things that traditionalists would agree with (and certainly some things they wouldn’t), but here’s the thing, there is no other candidate in this race who emphasizes the dignity and importance of the local like Jill Stein does. Sure, her candidacy will attract all the hippies and crunchy co-op people, but lets face it, traditionalists have a lot more in common with them than they’d like to admit.

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