The American Traditionalist Society is under construction, and part of its mission is to clarify the stance of American traditionalists toward contemporary America. Officially, contemporary America is anti-traditional, yet an American traditionalist ought presumably to look with approval on his homeland. The present essay works on resolving the contradiction.
What is the America that traditionalists love?
Traditional America, America as she was before roughly the 1950’s, a land that was Christian, mostly white, and conservative in its moral and social ideals, is gone. Vestiges remain, inspiring some and frightening others, but today’s officially-defined America is non-traditional.
And the new America is unjust, unhealthy, and probably headed for destruction. Our leaders have imposed a dysfunctional liberal order based on the rejection of both God and the wisdom of the ages, and they have imported tens of millions of incompatible and often hostile foreigners. To top it off, they have demanded that we regard this spiritual and ethno-cultural destruction as good. Why then should we American traditionalists love America? And what, more generally, should be our attitude toward America?
The basic answer is that we should love America not because she is great, but because she is ours. The former America to which we belong still exists, albeit in attenuated form, and therefore America is still our nation, the land our fathers built by their blood, sweat and toil. And since we are of her, we should love her despite her sins.
A cynic would reply that the current America is not the same nation as the land of our fathers and therefore we are no longer connected to her. Thinking this way, some conservatives are bitter and hate America for her liberalism even as they acknowledge that she is still legally their nation. They refuse to love America or regard themselves as connected to her. And their case seems at first glance to be valid. How can we respond to this challenge?
If America is ours, if we belong to her, then we must love her regardless of whether or not she is great. Love is not the same as approval; we are not obliged to approve of all that America is and does. But if we really are connected to America then there is no doubt about our duty to love our own people. And conversely, if America is not ours, if the situation has grown so bad that we really are no longer of America, then we owe her no more than the common courtesy we owe all people made in God’s image.
So do we still belong to America? Or has she become a different nation, one to whom we do not belong?
This question cannot be answered by airtight logic and a knock-down-drag-out argument. What we speak of here is real, but it is not known by mathematical or scientific reasoning. It is a spiritual and transcendent reality, and therefore it is known primarily by intuition rather than by syllogistic reasoning. But note that intuition—the mind’s ability to know a truth by immediately grasping it rather than by a process of logical deduction—always forms in response to what we observe. These observations are the evidence that induces intuitive knowledge under the right conditions. And logic can play the crucial role of removing false ideas and placing proper evidence before the mind, so that it can know.
Let us therefore consider the evidence for our above assertions:
Here is the first argument. The philosophers understand that whenever something changes, part of it remains the same. Therefore even though America has changed she still has the same identity. She still is America.
This philosophical truth is clear from the way we talk: We say “It changed from an X to a Y.” First it was an X, now it is a Y. But notice that the “it” is the same. There is the same “it” throughout the change.
Or suppose you and I were talking at a table and you got up and left the room. If someone else sat down in your former seat and started talking with me, would we say that you had changed into that other person? Obviously not, because nothing remained the same during the change from you to the other person. In order for you to change into someone else, something of you must remain the same.
Now, one could argue that some of the people who make up America have left the room, and others have taken their place at the table. But America is a big table, and many descendants of the original peoples are still at that table. America did not get up and leave the room, she changed. Therefore something of America remains the same, and we are still connected to her.
Here is the second argument. Man was not designed to be a lone wolf. He needs to be connected to his people in order to be happy. There is a sense in which he is connected to his people regardless of whether he acknowledges it, but to be happy he must acknowledge it and live in accord with this truth.
Even if it were the case that America were gone and replaced by something different, we would still have our families and our ancestors to whom we would still be connected. This connection exists regardless of whether we acknowledge it for, in the words of Laura Wood, “we cannot divorce our ancestors.” And we, along with our families and ancestors, are still Americans. Therefore we are still connected to, and owe love to, at least a part of America.
Here is the third argument. A strong vestige of traditional America remains. The old America has not been annihilated. It has been diminished, denigrated, obscured, and corrupted, but it remains. Since the America to which we are connected remains, we are still connected to America.
These arguments raise another important question. Can an immigrant, or the recent descendent of immigrants, belong to America? After all, his people are not people of America.
The basic answer is that anyone who chooses to identify with America can be an American, if he makes the effort. Immigrants are always capable of transferring their loyalty. Anyone who genuinely sees himself as part of the American nation and begins following our ways can belong to America.
But nowadays immigrants—and, in fact, residents in general of the United States—are neither encouraged nor required to identify with America. They are instead encouraged (if they are encouraged to identify with any group) to identify with the people or religion of their ancestral home. And the presence of too many outsiders—too many people who do not see themselves as part of the nation—is always a destructive force, regardless of how virtuous the individual outsiders may be. When there are too many outsiders they naturally band together and start to see themselves as a separate group. The result is Balkanization, i.e., ethnic conflict.
To say this is not a case of white people being racist, for American whites have always been uncommonly welcoming of outsiders, especially nonwhite outsiders. It is instead basic human nature. Every nation is capable of absorbing and benefitting from a certain number of outsiders, but once this number is exceeded trouble inevitably ensues.
Therefore an immigrant can become an American, as long as he chooses to identify with his new nation and begins following our ways, and as long as there are not too many such people.
This question of whether we American traditionalists still belong to America is crucial, for a nation is not just any group of people who live in the same place. A nation requires a people who are connected spiritually and (for the most part) by blood. It also requires a land in which they continue to live and leaders who see themselves as connected to the people and therefore have the interests of the nation in mind. A nation is a people moving through time together, in a place, under the guidance of leaders who are of the people.
But our current leaders generally do not see themselves as connected to the people of America. They generally see themselves as managers, not leaders, who are charged with maintaining a smoothly functioning society by rationally coordinating competing egos. And they generally see their most sacred task as implementing the tradition-smashing social changes demanded by liberalism. Loyalty to the people and traditions of the American nation are not part of our leaders’ job description. And rank-and-file Americans are told that they are many peoples, not one people. There is little national solidarity, either among our leaders or among ordinary Americans. This is why America is failing.
Therefore, although we love our America, we do not automatically endorse whatever is said to be American. We oppose the soul- and nation-crushing ways of our leaders, and we look for ways to renew America and to protect our traditionalist ways of life.
So what exactly is the America to which we traditionalists are connected and which we love? Since a nation is a large thing, no precisely-defined, clear-cut answer can be given. A nation is a people, a land and a government, and to answer the question we must identify what parts of these three elements are the America to which we owe love and loyalty.
At the same time, though, we must remain formally loyal to America as she currently is. We must not be seditious, for sedition dishonors our cause and brings unnecessary suffering.
At first glance, identifying the land to which we are connected would appear easy, for America’s borders have not changed significantly in more than one hundred fifty years. But we must acknowledge that some regions of America have become de facto foreign territory, as the local populations do not consider themselves to be Americans except in the legal sense of American citizenship which confers various benefits. Instead, they derive their primary identities from their religion or ethnicity, and they see themselves as separate from us.
If these people regarded themselves as Americans in the full sense we would have no quarrel with them. But they, not us, have chosen to separate themselves from our fellowship. And if they do not regard themselves as our fellow Americans, we are under no obligation to regard them as our brothers. We recognize that they are legally Americans (unless their legal status is aliens), and we extend to them the courtesy owed to all people made in God’s image, but we also take them at their own words when they say that they are not of us.
And who are the people to whom we are connected? We have spoken above of those residents who have separated themselves from us, but to whom are we connected? Certainly we are connected to those who are descended from the same ancestors as we. But America also has a tradition of immigrants becoming Americans, provided that they take up our ways and that they consciously see themselves as joining us. Therefore we may tentatively say that we are connected to any people who consider themselves Americans.
But this assertion must be qualified, for modern notions of what it takes to be an American are often wrongheaded. A currently popular view, for example, holds that being an American requires only a commitment to certain abstract principles that are said to characterize America, such as liberty, equality, and a democratic form of government. It holds that America is defined by nothing more than these principles, and not by ethnicity, custom, religion or shared history.
This view is generally held by those who call America a “propositional nation,” but this thinking is false. It is true that all nations are ordered by various propositions that articulate how their people understand reality, but the error is to define America purely by propositions. For one thing, nobody nowadays is actually required to demonstrate a commitment to liberty or representative government in order to become or remain an American citizen. In practice, anybody who arrives in America and persists in living here is regarded by our ruling classes as being American.
But even if a commitment to these principles were required, it is clear that these principles do not define the American people. American citizenship has never been treated as analogous to membership in a church or other organization defined by beliefs. It is true that joining a community entails acceptance of the ideas—the propositions—held by the people, but this is just one part of joining a community. Instead, the traditional definition of American citizenship has been that an American is anybody who was born into one of our communities, or who demonstrated a sincere desire to join such a community and therefore went through the necessary process of naturalization.
This is the traditional definition of the American people, and it remains valid despite having been, for all practical purposes, repudiated by our leaders. It is valid because it is the only definition of citizenship that works long-term. In the long run, if the inhabitants of a nation do not define themselves by being born into the community or having demonstrated a sincere desire to join it, the inevitable result will be the destruction of the nation by Balkanization.
Who, then, are the American people to whom we American traditionalists are connected? Those who, like us, were born into one of our American communities, or who have decided to join us in our way of life.
And what is the American government to which we are connected? This is a difficult question, as most of our formal government has become corrupt and is working to subvert the nation even as it continues, for the most part, to uphold basic social order. And it would appear that traditionalists cannot be connected to a government that opposes them. But a corrupt government can still be legitimate, and the legitimate government of a people is a natural part of their nation. It appears, then, that since we are connected with some of the people of America, we American traditionalists are ipso facto connected with the American government even though it generally opposes us.
The legitimacy of a government stems primarily from its having been legally elected (or otherwise instituted), and from its continuing to perform a government’s main task of upholding the social order. Our basic accusation against the American government (here meaning the totality of the federal, state, and local governments) is that, even as it generally does an adequate job of maintaining the physical order (arresting dangerous criminals, maintaining the common infrastructure, and so on), it is working hard to destroy our moral and spiritual orders. We say this because the government is increasingly instituting unjust laws such as the forced approval of homosexuality, the legalization of divorce and abortion, and forcing upon us large numbers of foreigners. A related accusation is that the government now tries to coordinate and control vastly more than it should, resulting in further social and spiritual destruction. In both ways, the American government, although it promotes some forms of social order, is overall destroying our American way of life. This would tend to make it illegitimate.
On the one hand, even an unjust American government is owed a certain amount of loyalty simply because it is ours, and a certain amount of gratitude because it does contribute to the common good. On the other hand, an unjust government can become the enemy of a properly-ordered society. How should we traditionalists respond to the situation?
First, we must recognize that the American government is basically legitimate. In America, the traditional form of sovereignty is popular sovereignty, and we must acknowledge that most Americans approve of the general liberal framework within which American government operates. Americans frequently disagree with specific governmental actions, and they frequently disapprove of the way specific governmental processes are carried out, but most Americans approve of the overall system, in which the government sees its job as applying liberal principles of freedom, tolerance and inclusion to the operations of the nation. Combine this popular approval with the facts that governmental processes are, broadly speaking, carried out legally, and that the Government does an adequate job of maintaining basic order, and we have to conclude that American Government, despite its corruption, is basically legitimate.
Therefore we traditionalists must accept that we will not bring about the restoration of a proper social order either by supporting or opposing the American government. A proper social order, based on traditionalist principles, can only be instituted when the people come to see that it is the best order for them. We will sometimes have to oppose the government in the sense that we will have to do what is right despite its opposition, but we must not oppose the government in the sense of working to overthrow it and replace it with a radically different type of government. This type of revolution has no chance of succeeding, either in the sense of taking power or in the sense of using its power to institute a new order. Perhaps it could succeed in small local areas, but not in America as a whole.
The specific question before us here is “What part of the American government are we traditionalists connected to?” The answer is, unfortunately, ambiguous. There is a sense in which a people, even in a nation defined by popular sovereignty, has no choice about their government, either in the sense of how it operates or in the sense of whether the government represents them. If the current American government is legitimate, then we are connected to it whether we like it or not.
But the American government is large and complex. Certain parts of it are friendlier to our enterprise than others, such as local governments in more conservative districts, or the executive and legislative branches, which are responsive to the votes of the people, as opposed to the judicial and bureaucratic branches of government, which generally are not. It is natural and right for us to see ourselves as connected to the parts of government that reflect our principles.
And the word “government” has a wider meaning. Our leaders are not simply the officials who hold formal governmental office. Our leaders are also pastors, professors, public intellectuals, organizational leaders, fathers, and so on. These men form a second, informal government in the sense that they govern our affairs, and many of them are sympathetic to us, or even part of, us.
How then can we summarize the answer to our main question? What is our relationship with the new America?
Our relationship with the America that currently exists is neither one of approval nor disapproval. We understand and love the historic ways of our people, for these ways are uniquely ours and are based, for the most part, on an accurate understanding of the God-given order that characterizes reality. These traditionalist ways oppose the false and soul-crushing lies of the current, official, American order by connecting us with God and the order that He has established.
But we do not simply dismiss and hate America as she is now. We recognize that vestiges of the old and life-giving order remain, that our people still live in America, and that we cannot avoid being Americans. If it is necessary, for our survival, for us to separate ourselves from parts of America, so be it. But we continue to be Americans.