America is in the grips of more than an election. This is not simply a contest between two competing plans for life within the American system. It is a clash between two opposing philosophies — one of them friendly toward America and nationhood generally, another hostile toward America and the West. Republicans believe that America is the latest in a proud line of great Western civilizations, from Athens and Israel to Rome and the Europe of the Renaissance — each of them flawed but all of them fundamentally good. Democrats believe that this whole outlook is a lie — that the civilizations of the West are “systemically” oppressive of minorities and designed to hide that fact. They have articulated these beliefs not only in the New York Times’s 1619 Project but in the riots of summer 2020, which tore apart the cities and tore down the statues that represent America’s present, past, and future.
In this new series of articles, I’ll be arguing that these two philosophies — the philosophy of Trump’s Right and the philosophy of BLM’s Left — both have long histories, much longer even than the history of this nation.
The conservative philosophy is the philosophy of realism, a philosophy which affirms the basic experiences of ordinary men and women and celebrates the achievements in art, culture, and politics which have improved those experiences. Its natural products are freedom and prosperity.
The leftist philosophy, though it presents itself as a forward-thinking innovation, is really an amalgam of the oldest and most instinctive forms of tribalism and relativism. Its natural products are resentment, poverty, and social crackup.
Trump’s candidacy already revealed this contrast back in 2016, when he unveiled his signature campaign promise and primary philosophical demand: Build the wall! The Left and the international community went nuts: Walls, they claimed, are racist. The proposal to build one is ignorant. Nations that have them are backwards and outdated.
Meanwhile Trump and his base in the heartland insisted there will be a wall. It will be “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful,” and “beautiful.” The elites of our ruling classes thought they were being sophisticated and forward-thinking by recoiling in horror from the idea that nations should be so defensive and suspicious as to have walls.
In fact, they were only raising objections that had been answered thousands of years ago, by Aristotle in his Politics. “Some people say city-states which are trying to be virtuous shouldn’t have walls, wrote the philosopher in the 4th century B.C., “but those people’s beliefs are out-of-date — they can see proof of that for themselves by looking at what happens to other city-states that put on that kind of display.”
In other words, societies pay a heavy cost when they virtue signal by making a show of forgoing border protection. Every community depends on boundaries to define itself and protect its citizenry — and Aristotle adds that for the sake of civic pride, the walls should be “as beautiful as the city-state deserves.”
The reasons for this are clear: even if you believe in national generosity and shelter for the outcast, you have to make sure that there is a you around to offer that generosity and shelter. Nations that don’t protect their borders — that hate themselves for even contemplating the idea — are nations which effectively concede to their own enemies that they shouldn’t exist.
Conservatives like Ann Coulter rightly lament Trump’s failure to have the wall, or much of it, built by now. This, along with a host of other disappointments, can be chalked up at least in part to the relentless opposition Trump has received from the establishmentarians of America’s federal bureaucracy.
But the point here is more about the principle of the thing. The electorate responded viscerally in 2016 to a candidate who dared to affirm, without apology, that America is a place and a country which deserves to exist, whose citizens deserve protections and privileges unique to them.
In their furious opposition to that claim, Democrats already revealed the belief which they have now made explicit: that America should not exist, and should have no right to determine who does and does not occupy its land. In November, we will find out how many people agree with them.
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