Localism, Power and the Technological Society in an Age of Total War
Some time ago I listened to an interview with former senator Jim DeMint who had recently left the senate in order to take over as leader of the Heritage Foundation.
DeMint is a member of the PCA, the Reformed conservative remnant of the old Southern Presbyterian Church and a denomination which I'm sad to say I used to be a member of.
All that said, the point that struck me in the interview was that he insisted we can have a strong America rooted in both Localism and Military Strength. I'll dispense with some of the normal euphemisms like 'defense'.
It's interesting because many economists and sociologists will point out that this combination is impossible. In addition to showing a lack of understanding when it comes to the nature of government and the role business plays in our modern society he doesn't seem to understand the economic system that has led to all the big economic power players which he seems to be critical of.
In the face of the Libertarian dream, power-vacuums are always filled. If the state hands over governmental and societal responsibilities to private interests then the Corporatocracy begins to form. Some kind of government (even if it's corporate) will ultimately fill the vacuum and begin to function (even if in an unofficial capacity) as the government itself.
I've argued repeatedly that government officials would be abandoning their responsibilities regarding the civil order if they allowed social stability to be subject to market forces. In a technological society allowing utilities and infrastructure to be subject to boom-bust cycles and to simply shrug off shortages and periods of market adjustment are not only an abdication of responsibility but a great security risk.
Localism is wonderful in many ways, but it must be understood that for a nation to revert to such a model it means an absolute abandonment of geopolitical influence and power. You cannot have a strong military, especially in the industrial/technological age and also have localism. You cannot build a 'great' nation with Localism. Like them or not the Progressives of the early 20th century understood this principle.
With regard to the military, DeMint needs to revisit Eisenhower's famous farewell speech. Eisenhower helped to create the Military-Industrial Complex but seemed to pause in reflection and warn of the consequences. Ike wasn't the brightest but even he could see how this was affecting all of society and once the bridge was crossed there would be no turning back.
We can't take automotive factories and re-tool them to make tanks. Not anymore. Post-World War II warfare is a different animal. Modern militaries require an economic sector all to themselves and because of the tempo of technological development it requires significant investment and dynamism usually expressed in diversity and options with regard to available products. This is true from night vision goggles to the state of the art bomber. This means lots of money flowing into large diverse corporations in order to give the military the flexibility and innovation it will require.
Localism means an end of both national unity and military strength. It cannot simply represent an economic aspect of a larger social cohesiveness. Ron Paul's vision is not compatible with John McCain's which is akin to what DeMint is proposing.
DeMint is illustrative of the fact that even many people within government, people writing, sponsoring and voting for legislation often lack basic understandings of the institutions they operate within and how they integrate into the larger whole. If that seems harsh, I think it's deserved.
In addition I would also point out the Libertarian movement (which at present is dividing Christian conservatives and conservatives in general) hasn't given serious thought to the implications of living in an age of Total War. Many who believe the government first and foremost has a responsibility for the safety and welfare of its citizenry has to take on a new role in an age of Total War. There's no way around this.
Just as the 14th Amendment almost fundamentally changed the nature of the US Constitution and the role of the Federal Government, the World Wars forever changed the nature of Executive power.
The age of technological warfare not only signals pervasive change in the economic structure it also mandates a re-thinking of how the military chain of command works and how the president functions as the head of the military. This was probably best illustrated in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In the nuclear age decisions must be made in the blink of an eye. Presidents can enter into conference concerning strategic goals and overall planning and preparation but in delicate moments a quick decision must be made and obeyed. This is best illustrated by the guy who follows around the president bearing the briefcase known as the football.
In addition there would be many that would acknowledge that constitutionally Congress declares war as was done in 1941. Since then (it is argued) the nature of war has changed and the president has to be given flexibility. After Vietnam this power was checked somewhat. The president can launch strikes etc..., but is given a window within to operate. Even with something like the Iraq War (it is argued) the president needs to be given broad and sweeping powers.
Obviously there are many who disagree but even many Conservatives are forced to acknowledge there are aspects of the Constitution which have to be updated (at least in application) to the contemporary situation. Others would extend these powers when it comes to the Commerce Clause and other contentious issues of legal interpretation.
Like it or not the balance of powers and the relationship between the federal government and the states have not stayed the same as they were in days past and to a large degree cannot remain static.
As I said, there are many conservatives who have acknowledged this. They wish to 'conserve' aspects of the society but also understand the deep fundamental shifts that have occurred since 1865 and 1945. There's still a debate over the nature of the change which was generated by 1989 and 2001. Frankly I don't think DeMint is really aware of these things. I think his book project points to this fact.
That is unless we want to be completely cynical and recognize the book as disingenuous and thus pure propaganda. Heritage has a long track record in that department.
Like DeMint I would like to see a return to Localism. But he hasn't a clue in how to get there and in fact is schizophrenic in his desires for the nation he professes to love... a nation that I think exists as a romantic notion in his mind. It has never existed in reality and the America of today is one that would resonate little with his hopes, aspirations or interpretations of history.
One must ask then, does he really believe in democracy or does he believe the nation should be ruled by force in order to maintain a codified order? To accomplish his vision (which in many ways is impossible) he would have to mandate some kind of ideological tests before anyone was admitted into congress, academia or Hollywood. If that stirs memory, it should.
Ultimately these folks, if they had their way would resurrect McCarthy's Inquisition and the era of Blacklists and Thoughtcrime. That's hardly democratic and certainly not a form of Localist autonomy.
Localism will mean the dismantling of the American Empire. In that sense it must be understood as not a reform but a revolution. There are very few examples in history of people voluntarily giving up power. Presidents step down after bitter election fights but Establishment's don't step down. Empires never dissolve peacefully. Britain gave us the closest example of what a peaceful dissolution might look like, but that wasn't entirely worry free either. From India and Malaya to Kenya and Egypt to Sub-Saharan Africa it proved all too often a messy business. Oh, and then there is of course the question of Ireland which still isn't quite resolved.
DeMint at this point doesn't really mean what he says and he simply doesn't understand the issues. Heritage has always been a key mechanism of the Military-Industrial Complex and I'm sure under DeMint this legacy will be perpetuated. He also stands to do well on a personal level. I will grant him one moment of political brilliance. He was right. He probably will wield greater influence running Heritage than he would in the polarized and thus largely impotent Congress.
Deregulation on the local level simply means handing the reins over to the Corporatocracy. Those at the top of the pyramid will benefit. Those of us at the bottom will suffer everything from high utility bills to poor customer service and healthcare and an ever decreasing standard of living. We've already had a pretty good dose of this.
DeMint also fails to understand that Localism has to be protected. There's a reason France, Italy and other countries still have forms of Localism. That's because they regulate and won't allow the Wal-Mart's and other forces to move in. That will mean zoning laws, environmental and building codes, enforcement mechanisms which must be funded through taxation and licensing. You actually can end up losing freedom but you're part of and have a genuine voice in the affairs of your local community.
Localism without these things will not only lead to another form of Cronyism (which is by nature discriminatory and harmful to democracy) or even what you might call patronage or quasi-feudalism. You end up with a good-old-boy network running the community or perhaps even a mafia-type chieftain.
Unregulated Localism can also lead to instability. Think of being back on the frontier and without laws and the threat of violence to back them up, contracts and disputes cannot be resolved and enforced. This is not a favourable environment for investment.
These are all things the business community is generally against but if given the choice between a regulated system versus a free-for-all, most would rather see regulation. Once there are rules the business sector can figure out how to operate within them. Without regulation unless the business literally takes over as the governing authority there will be a certain amount of caution, or there can be a bonanza where they come in get what they can and get out.
Unregulated Localism can almost work in homogeneous societies on a small scale. If you live in a town where most of the people are related and share the same race, culture and social values... it can work up to a point. Ultimately though someone starts to get greedy and it leads to social tension.
In the end none of these systems will actually work, and if they do it can only be for a generation at best. Do we throw our hands up in the air and give up?
As the Church we (as opposed to DeMint) love Zion, not the Babylon known as America and realize that we're pilgrims here. Peace and harmony can only be found in Christ. That's our message. That's our solution. Everything else is just a band-aid to stop the bleeding for a few minutes. No man-made system will work or last. This doesn't mean we embrace anti-intellectualism and say that we just don't know about those sorts of questions.
No, if we're honest we'll point out the complexities. If anything the reality should rightly lead people to frustration and despair and an acknowledgement that the world we live in is hopelessly corrupted and that are no solutions for this age but in the age to come.
I would like to see all power limited and that would include both DeMint's friends in the business world and organizations like Heritage.
But I also realize it won't happen on this side of glory. In the meantime people like me can continue to point out why DeMint (and Carson who wrote the forward) are naive and deceived and in terms of the Church... dangerous blind guides.
Ultimately they offer a false hope, a pseudo-Zion that many Christians are keen to embrace. We will continue to warn even if no one listens.
Come out from among them and do not partake of their sins. Let them build their Babel's. They will all burn and their wicked works. They baptize evil and worship their own lies and the works of their hands.