I had an awesome time talking with @DavidAFrench about evangelicals, nationalism, Confederate monuments, DC vs. Marvel movies, with a coda on (what else?) Star Wars. Give a listen here:https://t.co/2lKkT0WeWE— Paul D. Miller (@PaulDMiller2) October 11, 2019
I enjoyed this podcast with David French.
In the podcast, David French talks about conservative liberalism, nationalism, Donald Trump, Confederate monuments, DC vs. Marvel movies and Star Wars movies. I love to attack David French and Frenchism because he makes it so easy to strike a contrast between the rising nationalist, populist and illiberal Right and the flailing conservative liberal Right.
David French sees himself as a conservative liberal. He is a lawyer who is defending the “American Founding.” As a conservative liberal, he says that he differs from progressive liberals on “issues,” but he shares with them their understanding of the Republic. In contrast, he might agree with us on certain issues, but we disagree on the larger framework of Americanism. Thus, there are two culture wars going on. There is the traditional culture war between conservative and progressive liberals over issues and the new culture war between liberals and illiberals.
The liberal story of America is an abstract doctrine that begins with a single line in the Declaration of Independence which is ripped out of context. It moves from there to the Bill of Rights which is similarly taken out of context. It leaps from there to the Gettysburg Address and the Reconstruction Amendments. Finally, it leaps from Reconstruction down to mainstream conservatism which was launched by National Review in the mid-20th century where it tells us that America “is an idea” that has no racial, ethnic or cultural foundation.
How would we explain America to a conservative liberal?
In our theory of history, the true founders of America arrived in 1607 in Virginia and 1620 in Massachusetts in the age of King James I of England, Scotland and Ireland. The American colonies began under the Stuart monarchs several generations before the Glorious Revolution and John Locke published his Two Treatises of Government. These plantations of the English nation had nothing to do with liberalism which was still in the future. New England was founded as a religious project while Virginia was founded as a commercial and geopolitical one.
In between Jamestown and Plymouth and the American Revolution, six organic cultures emerged between the Atlantic seaboard and the Appalachian mountains. These organic cultures all thought of themselves as English, Christian and free. As they became more ethnically and racially diverse in the 18th century as a result of Scots-Irish and German immigration and the importation of African slaves, they increasingly began to define themselves as White. These organic cultures were already free in the sense that they were English, who contrasted their own Protestant culture with the common law with Catholic absolutism on the European continent, and because they were barely governed by Great Britain down to the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War.
America wasn’t born in the American Revolution. 150 years had passed between the founding of New England and the American Revolution. 170 years had passed between the founding of Virginia and the American Revolution. It would be more accurate to say that the American Revolution was our equivalent of reaching young adulthood. The American colonies had grown up and essentially rebelled against parental authority which was being flexed for the first time in memory. They were forced to make common cause in order to win their independence.
The colonists were incensed that their rights as Englishmen were being violated and the American Revolution was justified by the Founding Fathers on the basis of “Nature, on the British Constitution, on Charters, and on immemorial Usage.” John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government was first printed in Boston in 1773 when it was seized on to justify the Boston Tea Party. Americans were unfamiliar with Locke who wrote South Carolina’s original constitution for his patron the Earl of Shaftesbury. Locke’s constitution was ignored by South Carolinians who revolted against the Lord Proprietors and molded South Carolina to their liking. The American Revolution was already in progress before the rhetoric of “natural rights” was seized on as the safest, but not the only ground upon which to justify an American rebellion against the sovereignty of the British Parliament which was legally questionable.
The thing that resonated with Yankees about Locke’s work was his interpretation of the biblical story of Jephthah in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Judges. When the Israelites begged Jephthah to take up their cause against the Ammonites, he in turn asked God to decide the controversy. Jephthah made an “Appeal to Heaven.” Locke argued in the Second Treatise that in extreme cases when a ruler betrayed his people and the judges with the authority to hear their cause sided with the tyrant, the people could make an “Appeal to Heaven” when all other avenues had been exhausted. It was this “Appeal To Heaven” flag with the green pine tree that was adopted as the symbol of the insurgency in New England in the heady days after Bunker Hill. The insurgents in New England were the descendants of the highly religious Yankee Puritans who came of age in the aftermath of the Great Awakening. These people were incensed by the Quebec Act which granted religious freedom to French Canadians and which placed the Midwest under the administration of Quebec. It was condemned as one of the Intolerable Acts.
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was published on January 10, 1776. Although it was certainly the most popular political pamphlet of the American Revolution, Common Sense cannot explain why ordinary Americans took up arms against King George III either. Common Sense was published after the Boston Tea Party, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill and the invasion of Canada. George Washington was already on the field in Massachusetts at the head of the Continental Army when Americans were reading Thomas Paine.
The United States of America was created by 5 of the 6 of these regional organic cultures which did not understand themselves as being a single nation. Ethnic nationalism is a doctrine of the 19th century. The phrase “all men are created equal” attracted little notice at the time because far from being seen as a mission statement of liberalism it was understood as only being an acknowledgement that the struggle between the British and the American Patriots was about replacing a monarchy with a republican form of government. The Articles of Confederation was a treaty between sovereign states. It did not create a liberal state. The American Constitution that replaced it did not create a liberal state either. It created a federal republic that divided sovereignty between the federal and state governments. Federalism is alien to liberal theory.
The Founding Fathers created a federal republic for the American people. The American people were the citizens of each sovereign state. The Constitution was created for their posterity. The Bill of Rights only restricted the power of the federal government. The Tenth Amendment reserved vast powers to the state governments including the right to define the nature of citizenship. The Naturalization Act of 1790 required immigrants to be “free white persons” and dozens of subsequent naturalization acts in the 19th century and the early 20th century preserved America as a European country all the way down to the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952. This is why America was nearly 90% White in the 1960s. It was due to the restriction of non-European immigration and naturalization which was no accident. America was designed to stay White.
In 1860, only 5 New England states recognized black citizenship, which was down from 6 because Pennsylvania had repealed black citizenship in 1838. The Dred Scott decision of the Supreme Court had recently established that blacks were not American citizens and “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.” The country was being torn apart over the rise of the Republican Party. The specter of what was called “Black Republicanism” or “Radicalism” loomed and the election of Abraham Lincoln as a “Black Republican” president triggered the collapse of the Union. The Southern states seceded from the Union in order to avoid being forced to live under abolition and a dystopia of civic, political and social equality which would result in the amalgamation of the races and the destruction of the Southern economy. In other words, the nightmare that Southerners sought to avoid was liberalism.
The “American Founding” had established a federal republic, not a liberal state. The American Republic was dominated by Southerners until 1861. The Southern social order was based on plantation slavery, white supremacy, racialism, patriarchy and a strong defense of states’ rights through the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, the Northern social order was coming to be based on liberalism, industrialism and free-market capitalism. The constitutional order established by the Founding Fathers had allowed each of America’s organic cultures to evolve in their own way. The states enjoyed vast powers. The federal government had only a few powers.
Illiberalism thrived in the White Republic under the shield of state sovereignty. There was no such thing as birthright citizenship or “equal protection of the laws” until Reconstruction. Americans drew sharp distinctions between natural rights, civil rights, political rights and social rights. It was up to each sovereign state as a political body to define the nature of these rights. In practice, this meant that women and slaves did not enjoy equal rights. Husbands were recognized under the common law as the heads of their households and the franchise was thought as a privilege, not a right. Slaves were the property of their masters. Free blacks and unmarried women could exercise natural rights and civil rights. Social equality was anathema in the North and South.
As we have discussed in detail, it took the Reconstruction Amendments and federal civil rights laws of that era to reverse the traditional relationship of power between the states and the federal government to impose liberalism on the states. In the late 19th century, the Supreme Court retreated from Reconstruction and created the loopholes which allowed the Jim Crow system to be created in the 1890s and 1900s. Far into the 20th century, American national identity which was the broad consensus of its organic regional cultures remained White, Christian and free, even though blacks and American Indians were recognized as minorities and were extended citizenship and rights which they had previously not possessed. Women were also extended political rights, not social rights, by the 19th Amendment.
In a culturally confident White America, Anglo-conformity remained the dominant cultural model of the United States until the mid-20th century. European immigrants were expected to assimilate to Anglo-American norms. They were expected to embrace a White American identity. The Immigration Act of 1924 was driven by concerns about assimilation and went even further. It was designed to shutdown immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe to keep America a predominantly Northwestern European nation. White identity, Christianity and Anglo-American cultural norms like the English language worked together as boundaries to restrain liberalism. A century ago, Americans still thought of themselves as being more than “freedom” and “equality” as even progressives were comfortable with eugenics and segregation.
David French is a product of the culture of late 20th century American mainstream conservatism. It was only in the late 20th century in the wake of World War II that American identity was redefined as liberalism to compete with communism. White identity was stripped out during the Civil Rights Movement. Anglo-conformity and Christianity were stripped out in the social revolutions that followed in its wake. They were replaced by multiculturalism and political correctness which delegitimized the White Christian racial and ethnic core of America which had previously been a dominant force in American history and had no problem asserting itself.
This was not a unique phenomenon. It happened in every Western country that found itself under the umbrella of the American Empire during the Cold War. Every single one of these Western countries now has the same problem which is that their racial and ethnic cores have been delegitimized by liberalism. Conservative liberals like David French are conserving multiculturalism and political correctness and laughably calling that the “American Founding.” He recently described Drag Queen Story Hour as “a blessing of liberty.”
Would the American Founders have recognized David French with his adopted black daughter from Ethiopia and his deracinated bugman interest in Marvel and Star Wars movies as someone who is conserving the American Republic? Alternatively, would they have found our account of American national identity as being White, Christian and free a more familiar one?
Frenchism or conservative liberalism is a solvent that destroys all organic cultures which are the foundation of nations. It is not a product of the American Founding, but a doctrine that triumphed in the West in the context of the Cold War. Its history has been nothing but the conservation of leftwing social revolutions which it makes possible by the undermining the social fabric. It is worthless and unresponsive to the needs of its constituency, particularly its base in the American South, which seeks to reverse the tide of liberalism and the social disintegration it brings in its wake. Finally, there is nothing “conservative” about conservative liberalism, which is false advertising designed to dupe ordinary people with healthy instincts and resentments. It is an ideological obstacle based on a false theory of history to the reassertion of organic nationalism against the forces of demoralization and disintegration around the Western world.