This morning, the great Victor Davis Hanson deposeth and sayeth:
For bewildered and increasingly quietist Americans, the center holds mostly in family, religion, a few friends, the avoidance of the cinema and nightly news, the rote of navigating to work and coming home, trying to stay off the dole and taking responsibility for one’s own disasters — as the world grows ever more chaotic in our midst.All sorts of escapism from the madness is now epidemic. Home-schooling. Gun ownership. A second home in the mountains. A trunk of freeze-dried food. Kids living in the basement. A generator. Some gold coins. A move to Wyoming. An avoidance of the old big cities. A tough choice between death and going to the nearby emergency room (at least your relatives are safe as you pass away at home). A careful and narrow selection of channels on cable TV. A safe room or escape plan. And on and on.
There is a strange new and dangerous sentiment brooding below the spoken surface that whatever is going on in the world and in America today cannot go on much longer — although as the sages say, there is a lot of rot in the West to enjoy for some time yet.
I cannot argue with Dr. Hanson’s assessment of the objective facts of our nation:
- An increasing number of families are homeschooling their children.
- Gun ownership and gun acquisition are on the rise nationwide.
- Interest in real estate outside the urban and semi-urban danger zones has increased as well.
- The vendors of “emergency food” and “disaster prep” goods are raking it in.
- Hey! I just put in a generator!
- Gold and silver as inflation hedges are making a big comeback.
- The search for alternative sources of medical care is becoming especially frenzied.
- Safe rooms are multiplying, especially among the residents of well-to-do areas close to large cities.
Some of this is undoubtedly “better safe than sorry” stuff. We might compare it to the skeptic about nuclear war who puts in a bomb shelter despite his low assessment of the probability of an exchange of nukes because he can afford to do so, and because “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” And some of it is propelled by a habitually dark assessment of the state of society by persons who are simply inclined to see disaster looming around every corner. But some of it is the fruit of a sober analysis of current trends in politics, economics, and the social order.
Such an analysis might be wrong, in the sense that while the trends, should they continue, would eventuate in catastrophe, nevertheless they might not continue. The nation might right itself; all might yet be well. In that event, prior disaster preparations might be viewed a posteriori as having been a waste of time and resources. But such “Monday morning quarterbacking” is inherently invalid. Hindsight, as the saying goes, is always 20-20.
In outlook, I stand closer to the preparationists than to the pooh-poohers. Indeed, in some ways I’m more radical than most. Were my wife and I of an age to produce further children, they would be born at home. We would strive to keep them free of birth certificates, Social Security numbers, and the other trappings of “official recognition.” There’s no better defense against the predations of the State than to deny it all knowledge of your existence. Unfortunately, it’s a bit late for us already-born pro-freedom types to try that.
Just yesterday, I invoked Patrick Henry’s famous question: “Why stand we here idle?” The question has as many answers as respondents. Some of us are too encumbered by freely chosen responsibilities to embrace rebellion actively. Others find that their choices have fettered them to the State in one way or another. Still others are too aged, or otherwise worn down, to contribute usefully. (I’m in that third category; given my age and infirmities, all I have left to contribute is words.)
Still, every last one of us has a voice. Every last one of us can express himself, whether in words or in deeds. Every last one of us exerts some leverage over the future, even if what he can achieve is sharply bounded by his circumstances. The only reason not to lean on one’s personal lever is fear: in the usual case, the fear of being targeted by the myrmidons of the State.
It’s not unreasonable to fear — and as I wrote a few days ago, fear can be useful. But fear must not inhibit us from doing what we can, consonant with our other responsibilities to our loved ones and ourselves, to resist and reverse the crumbling of the Republic.
If what Dr. Hanson has tagged as “quietism” is truly only that, then it’s to be deplored. Beyond all other obligations, we who love freedom are obliged not to be quiet. But if it’s merely one facet of the national mosaic — if those who are preparing for political, economic, and social upheaval are “hunkering down” while simultaneously exerting themselves as best they can to leave their own preparations forever unemployed — then the outlook is potentially much brighter.
So the ultimate question becomes: Have we given up?
Dr. Hanson concludes his essay as follows:
The postmodern world of our new aristocracy and the premodern world of those they both avoid and romanticize won’t hold. The old caricatured middle shrinks and turns inward. Even if the doomsday mood is a mere construct of the new instantaneous media, it is a dangerous mood nonetheless.We all know what follows from this — either the chaos grows and civilization wanes and tribalism follows, or the iron hand of the radical authoritarian Left or Right correction is just as scary, or a few good people in democratic fashion convince the mob to let them stop the madness and rebuild civilization.
I hope for option three. I fear option one is more likely at home. And I assume that option two will be, as it always is, the choice abroad.
If one accepts the vision promulgated by the nightly news, option one — the chaotic dissolution of the American order — does seem the most likely. But the nightly news obeys the same dynamic as any other news organ: bad news always leads. Besides, the major news agencies are headquartered in large coastal cities. Their reporters and stringers concentrate on urban events, which creates a “selection bias” of unknowable impact. It’s quite possible that the image of America it purveys is inaccurate — that the bastions of civility and order far outweigh the social cancers in the scheme of things, and will overwhelm them before the American organism can succumb.
Option two — the outright totalitarianization of these United States — would only be possible were Washington to succeed in first disarming the citizenry. The State’s power to inflict its will on us is limited by its manpower and the equipment they possess. Not every police department will cooperate; not every cooperating police department will possess machine guns and mobile armor; not every militarized police department will be proof against being taken down by the forces of freedom. As long as the American people remain a people in arms, a Cuba-like or North Korea-like future is one we need not worry about.
It’s impossible to assess the likelihood of option three: the resurgence of Constitutional government before a tide of pro-freedom sentiment. The freedom movement is a real and substantial thing, but its power to sway national discourse is sharply limited by the “individual crank” problem. We cranks have to get on the same frequency, at least to the extent of refusing to slander one another’s preferred causes and subjects. Until we manage that, our influence will be circumscribed.
However, the probability of a revival of a free, prosperous, orderly America won’t drop to zero until we give up. Therefore: if your prognostications and the weight of your responsibilities suggest that you should “hunker down,” by all means do so. But don’t stop speaking out. Don’t become “quiet.” The crocodiles might eat you last, but they will eat you. Your hope of a better future lies in speaking and acting as a free man should: clearly and candidly, secure in the knowledge that in a good cause there are no ultimate failures.