Trying to Form a More Perfect Union

stearnsThis morning at the Watchtower, Chalcedon started his post with this:

Democracy is boring. It involves discussing things in representative assemblies – aka ‘talking shops’; it means compromises – aka ‘fudging things’; it involves not always getting what you want  – aka ‘selling out’.

Do go and read it, I’ll wait for you, and this will make more sense, with his as background.

I certainly agree, and would add that it is a feature, not a bug. As an American, when I look at the British government, well it’s terrifying. Parliament can literally do anything. The Prime Minister is a creature of parliament. Parliament itself is the supreme court. No checks, no balances, nothing. Only the Grace of God to prevent what the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury feared from happening even more often.

As I have said, there are two points or two characteristics of the Radical programme which it is your special duty to resist. One concerns the freedom of individuals. After all, the great characteristic of this country is that it is a free country, and by a free country I mean a country where people are allowed, so long as they do not hurt their neighbours, to do as they like. I do not mean a country where six men may make five men do exactly as they like. That is not my notion of freedom.

And that is why so many of us refer to the United States as a Republic. We have rules, set, as close as man can, in stone. The key thing actually is that the federal government is a government of enumerated powers. It can only do the things it is chartered to do, essentially what the preamble to the constitution states.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Granted it has gotten stretched well beyond what the founders had in mind, and the states are plenary government, that can do anything not prohibited.

A few points here.

  • Our founders feared a strong central government. That’s why the government’s power is so circumscribed, and then divided three ways.
  • The founders also feared what John Adams called ‘Mobocracy’. That’s why the president is not elected by the people, we elect electors in each state who then elect the president. And that is also why the Senate used to be elected by the state legislatures. It was designed that way to slow down the passion of the mob and allow a cooling off period.
  • They also feared a standing army (with cause). That why the US Army, alone in the government can only be budgeted for 2 years.

It’s all about keeping the people, and only the people, not 50% +1 of the people, sovereign, not Congress, certainly not the President, not even the Supreme Courts, or the states, only the people.

Reagan said that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

He meant it and we still do. So Chalcedon is right as well about the second amendment. No, it’s not about hunting, although many of us enjoy that. Nor is really about the right of self-defense, although that is valid. And while the man who put the terrorist down last weekend in St. Cloud, MN is a sworn officer, he is a reserve and hadn’t been on duty for two months. What he does for a living is that he is an NRA certified instructor, mostly teaching and training concealed carriers. This was said once:

The right of self-defense is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and when the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.”

— Henry St. George Tucker (in Blackstone’s Commentaries)

And that is the purpose, it follows on from the inbred distrust in Anglo-Saxon communities of standing armies and aristocracies. Many say it can’t work anymore, but I wonder. Does anybody think the Americans can’t make as good partisan fighters as the Afghans? You might ask Lord Cornwallis about that. We wrote that book, with a fair amount of input from the Native Americans. It’s also germane that there are over 300,000,000 small arms in civilian hands here. It’s not a sure thing, for either side, and so prudent men wait and think and try to find a better way.

Putin and Assad are, perhaps, representative of their societies, but they are not of ours. Chalcedon is again right when he speaks of Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin, and Stalin. And while they were not as evil, Wilson, FD Roosevelt, George HW Bush, and Obama could be included. And likely some British PMs too. The wanting for a man on a white horse to right our perceived wrongs is as universal, as it is pernicious.

The identity politics we are seeing in the west, if we don’t get over it, will destroy our civilization. Jess and I wrote a short series on this a while back. Since this is already overlong, I’ll simply link you there, you’ll find them here, and here.

If It Ain’t Broke…

17078-john-adams-famous-quotesYes, I know I haven’t posted for a while, nor am I sure this isn’t the last. I started writing this blog because I had something to say, and I’ve said it over and over and over again. There’s little point that I can see in saying it anymore.

The title comes from that old saw: If it ain’t broke; don’t fix it. But there is a corollary: If it is broke; do fix it, or find another, or do without. And America isn’t.

There has been a lot written about Decius’ Claremont article The Flight 93 Election, of you haven’t read it, you really should. He has quite a lot to say, all of it cogent, and I think right. I’m only going to quote a couple of paragraphs.

If conservatives are right about the importance of virtue, morality, religious faith, stability, character and so on in the individual; if they are right about sexual morality or what came to be termed “family values”; if they are right about the importance of education to inculcate good character and to teach the fundamentals that have defined knowledge in the West for millennia; if they are right about societal norms and public order; if they are right about the centrality of initiative, enterprise, industry, and thrift to a sound economy and a healthy society; if they are right about the soul-sapping effects of paternalistic Big Government and its cannibalization of civil society and religious institutions; if they are right about the necessity of a strong defense and prudent statesmanship in the international sphere—if they are right about the importance of all this to national health and even survival, then they must believe—mustn’t they?—that we are headed off a cliff. […]

Yet we may also reasonably ask: What explains the Pollyanna-ish declinism of so many others? That is, the stance that Things-Are-Really-Bad—But-Not-So-Bad-that-We-Have-to-Consider-Anything-Really-Different! The obvious answer is that they don’t really believe the first half of that formulation. If so, like Chicken Little, they should stick a sock in it. Pecuniary reasons also suggest themselves, but let us foreswear recourse to this explanation until we have disproved all the others.

Read the whole thing ™The Flight 93 Election.

I think he’s exactly right. There was a lot of blowback, as you might imagine, and recently he issued a Restatement on Flight 93, And I also want to quote from that.

Some also complained about the aptness of the analogy: the plane crashed! Well, yes, and this one might too. Then again, it might not. It depends in part on what action the electorate chooses to take. The passengers of Flight 93 roused themselves. They succeeded insofar as that plane did not hit its intended target. The temptation not to rouse oneself in a time of great peril is always strong. In another respect, the analogy is even more apt. All of the passengers on Flight 93—and all of the victims at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—died owing in part to a disastrously broken immigration system that didn’t then and still doesn’t serve the interests of the American people. Which also happens to be the core issue at stake in this election.

And as we have always held here, the passengers of Flight 93 staged a counterattack, yes, they died, but they made sure in doing so that the terrorists’ mission did not succeed. And you know what, they were going to die anyway, because of their counterattack, others lived. That is why they are and remain American heroes. Just like the defenders of the Alamo.

A point from the earlier essay is worth repeating. Conservatives have shouted since the beginning of Trump’s improbable rise: He’s not one of us! He is not conservative! And, indeed, in many ways, Trump is downright liberal. You might think that would make him more acceptable to the Left. But no. As “compassionate conservatism” did nothing to blunt leftist hatred of George W. Bush, neither do Trump’s quasi-liberal economic positions. In fact, they hate Trump much more. Trump is not conservative enough for the conservatives but way too conservative for the Left, yet somehow they find common cause. Earlier I posited that the reason is Trump’s position on immigration. Let me add two others.

The first is simply that Trump might win. He is not playing his assigned role of gentlemanly loser the way McCain and Romney did, and may well have tapped into some previously untapped sentiment that he can ride to victory. This is a problem for both the Right and the Left. The professional Right (correctly) fears that a Trump victory will finally make their irrelevance undeniable. The Left knows that so long as Republicans kept playing by the same rules and appealing to the same dwindling base of voters, there was no danger. Even if one of the old breed had won, nothing much would have changed, since their positions on the most decisive issues were effectively the same as the Democrats and because they posed no serious challenge to the administrative state.

Which points to the far more important reason. I urge readers to go back through John Marini’s argument, to which I cannot do anything close to full justice. Suffice to say here, the current governing arrangement of the United States is rule by a transnational managerial class in conjunction with the administrative state. To the extent that the parties are adversarial at the national level, it is merely to determine who gets to run the administrative state for four years. Challenging the administrative state is out of the question. The Democrats are united on this point. The Republicans are at least nominally divided. But those nominally opposed (to the extent that they even understand the problem, which is: not much) are unwilling or unable to actually do anything about it. Are challenges to the administrative state allowed only if they are guaranteed to be ineffectual? If so, the current conservative movement is tailor-made for the task. Meanwhile, the much stronger Ryan wing of the Party actively abets the administrative state and works to further the managerial class agenda.

This is exactly what I see, as well, and I do want to quote Decius’ final paragraph.

One can point to a few enduring successes: Tax rates haven’t approached their former stratosphere highs. On the other hand, the Left is busy undoing welfare and policing reform. Beyond that, we’ve not been able to implement our agenda even when we win elections—which we do less and less. Conservatism had a project for national renewal that it failed to implement, while the Left made—and still makes—gain after gain after gain. Consider conservatism’s aims: “civic renewal,” “federalism,” “originalism,” “morality and family values,” “small government,” “limited government,” “Judeo-Christian values,” “strong national defense,” “respect among nations,” “economic freedom,” “an expanding pie,” “the American dream.” I support all of that. And all of it has been in retreat for 30 years. At least. But conservatism cannot admit as much, not even to itself, in the middle of the night with the door closed, the lights out and no one listening.

I tried to tell it, and it got mad.

Again, read the whole thing: Restatement on Flight 93

I’ll tell you something, this is exactly what drove Brexit, this summer. Jess won’t agree, but everything I read says that the people that voted to leave the EU did so to restore the sovereignty of Great Britain. Some are as the BBC tries to paint them all, but most are not even against immigration, they are against uncontrolled immigration. But most want Britain to be governed in Britain’s interest, not Europe’s (or increasingly, Germany’s).

And that brings me to this. I have no idea when or if there will be another post here. I will take up my pen (I’m getting a little old for the sword) and my ballot to fight the left at any time. But when most of the right makes common cause with the left against America’s interest, well…

It really is our Flight 93 moment.

A Man for All Seasons

LZ Albany

LZ Albany

Yesterday, I commented that I have doubts in America’s leadership these days. That’s true, but many of us did in the sixties as well. But then, as now, we had heroes. Some of them remain in our hearts, even more than the others. This article also from five years ago, tells of one of mine.

There were plenty of heroes on 9/11. Fire and police and port authority all going in. Passengers counterattacking on Flight 93 and various civilians and military in New York and the Pentagon. Even what the military calls NCA, the National Command Authority.

If

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

….
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

~Kipling

But the one that is my especial hero of the day; is my hero because of how he lived his life.

A British NCO from Cornwall who served in the Parachute Regiment, immigrated to the US, served as Platoon Leader, B Co 2/7 Cavalry in the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in the battle of Ia Drang, where he gave the British commands of ‘Fix Bayonets, On Line, Ready forward’. His picture is on the cover of ‘We Were Soldiers’. It is a praiseworthy story prompting us to Remember ,

but it doesn’t end there.

On 9/11 he was vice-president in charge of security at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. We all know what happened that day, but do we remember that only six Morgan Stanley employees died when their building was obliterated. One them was this man, now a retired Colonel, who stayed to make sure he got his people out. In all those situations, he was singing an old song commemorating the resistance of the Cornish against the British, and Roark’s Drift in the Boer War, and other engagements. That song is:

 

Men of Cornwall stop your dreaming;
Can’t you see their spearpoints gleaming?
See their warriors’ pennants streaming
To this battlefield.
Men of Cornwall stand ye steady;
It cannot be ever said ye
for the battle were not ready;
Stand and never yield!

That man was Colonel Rick Rescorla and he is a legend in the 7th Cavalry. He is not a man any of us should ever forget. A real life Sagaman, who lived quietly amongst us.

From Shakespeare:

“His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world ‘This was a man!’”

The tragedy of 911 was this; multiplied by three thousand.

Never forget.

After having reached safety, Rescorla returned to the building to rescue others still inside. He was last seen heading up the stairs of the tenth floor of the collapsing WTC 2. His remains have not been recovered. He left a wife and two children.

He is my hero not least because he fulfilled to the last breath the leadership credo that the Air Force taught me and so many others:

First: The Mission

Always: the People

Last: Yourself

And thus, on this September 12th the story of how the people of a great American financial institution were rescued by the 7th U.S. Cavalry (Custer’s Own).


If we are to live up to the heritage that men like Colonel Rescorla have left us, I think our motto must be:

At football, golf, and polo you men have made your name

But now your country calls you to play your part in war

And no matter what befalls you

We shall love you all the more

So come and join the forces as your fathers did before

From: Oh! What a Lovely War

Fifteen Years

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I wrote the following five years ago today. It still seems appropriate now for the fifteenth anniversary of that horrid day.

There isn’t one of us who doesn’t remember what we were doing. I was having a day off and was watching Good Morning, America and I will remember to my dying day Diane Sawyer’s “Oh, my God!”.

I was very lucky, though, although I have family working in the financial district, I lost no one close to me. But in a very real sense they were all my family; the workers, the Firemen and Police doing their everyday heroics, the passerby. They were all our family: the family of the free. For this was an attack on freedom. For this was an attack on the free market system and the military that protects it.

To me then and now it hearkened back to another ‘Day of Infamy‘: 7 December 1941, both in the manner of the attack, a sneak attack on a peaceful country, and in how I instantly understood, as I never had, what my parents and their generation had felt on that awful Sunday afternoon.

And I knew something else, even as they had, I now lived in a country at war, where nothing short of victory was acceptable. I thought my country was united in that, I still think most of it is. I also knew that the retribution of America and her allies would be terrible and no interference by anyone would be tolerated. For indeed “They had sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat”.

And I was heartened by the reaction of the world, especially this:

Nobody ever showed their support better, which is not surprising, after all, the Queen has known us well since she was Princess Elizabeth driving an ambulance in the Second World War.

Another thing I understand now was my Dad’s and his generation’s respect for Roosevelt even if they disagreed with almost all of his policies, he was the war president. I now have that feeling, even love, for George W. Bush.

We really are an exceptional nation, nobody in the world, outside of the Anglosphere understood our determination, in Bevin Alexander’s words “to proceed door to door in the very heart of the Arab-Muslim world, to make clear that we were ready to kill and to die to stop our society from being undermined, and to say, gun in hand, to the people, and to the governments who permit terrorists to exist, “What is it that you don’t understand about leaving our country alone?”” And I find it notable that those stalwart Allies of the Anglosphere are marching forward to the battle in step with us, as it has been for nearly a century now.

And so, almost before we knew what was happening the first counterattack was underway. It ended in a smoking hole in Pennsylvania, it was a very expensive counterattack but it was successful. And like the targets of the attack itself, it was conducted by ordinary Americans, no different than you and me.  The counterattack launched with that simple command, “Let’s Roll”.

The time for our superb military had not yet come. But it would, with dire consequences for our enemies.

Bin Laden should have studied us better, for indeed the man who said this was half American:

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be.

The American people are difficult to turn into an enemy, for we much prefer to be everyone’s  friend, but attacking the homeland will do it, every time. There is no more fearsome enemy in the history of the world than the aroused people of America.

A quick look back will show this. On 7 December 1941 the battleship USS Arizona was sunk on battleship row in Pearl Harbor. 35 months later, the other old battleships of the 7th Fleet, also sunk at Pearl Harbor, sank the Japanese fleet at Leyte Gulf, in the last surface gun action ever fought. The new battleships in the 3rd fleet were off chasing the IJN’s aircraft carriers. Moored close to the Arizona is the USS Missouri on whose deck 11 months after Leyte Gulf, in Tokyo Bay, Imperial Japan surrendered. Yes, we are impatient, and sometimes fickle, but do not mess with our homeland.

It never fails to amaze me how much the enemies of the United States rely upon the goodness and restraint of the United States. The Taliban who supported al Qaeda knew that their sheer existence beyond the next 30 minutes depended exclusively on the forbearance of the United States.

If we were the imperial power that we are so often accused of being, Afghanistan would now be the world’s largest sheet of glass. If a city rebelled against Imperial Rome, the retribution was that every living thing, right down to the dogs, was put to the sword, the city was destroyed and the ruins sown with salt, so nothing would grow. I dare you to find Carthage on a current map.

Instead, we very carefully target our retribution on those that we believe are guilty. Indeed, we have developed weapons that allow us to target an individual  from several hundred miles away. Instead of our massive air raids in World War II we now use a stealth aircraft with individually targeted missiles. I have seen reports that say that the Pakistanis, when they see one of our drones overhead, calmly go about their business, knowing that only the target is in danger, as opposed to the panic when their own air force is attacking.

This is the way that America, a country that values each and every human life makes war.

This is America the Avenger. Not on the innocent people of cities and countries, but upon the malefactors hiding in its back streets and hills.

This is America at war. Not destroying cities and countries but only individual enemies.

This is America, the superpower that can destroy any country on Earth in an hour but chooses to put its own sons and daughters at risk to find only the guilty.

This is America, where steel from the World Trade Center now is incorporated into the bow of the USS New York, leading the ship into harm’s way.

This is America, the first revolutionaries, who learned to control the revolution, but not to let it die and slip back into tyranny, about whom our President said, long ago:

  We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

and who later that day also said:

  Now the trumpet summons us again—not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are—but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation”—a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.  Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

  In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

This is the America that I grew up in and love, and I will not allow the destruction of, from without or within. For above all others, this hill, with its city gleaming bright, is worth dying for and worth living for.

Many things have happened since President Kennedy said those words on a cold January morning.

The Berlin Wall was built up and torn down.

The World Trade Center was built up and knocked down.

The specter of the Soviet Union no longer threatens the world.

The threat of Islamofascism has arisen from the shadows.

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain that had descended across the Continent, has now been lifted.* Old and proud states of eastern Europe have been liberated. Many having seen what America believes, in action, have become proud allies of America.

Al Qaeda decided that the old American will had been eroded and has had that illusion shattered, and is on its way to destruction. Almost weekly we hear of the demise of more of its leadership as America again sorts out the guilty from the innocent.

Many things have happened since 9/11/01 also. How will it all work out? We will never know. This is the eternal war between liberty and slavery.

As Cassandra of Villainous Company put it on 27 June 2005:

Our own Revolution was not without blemish. Innocent men were tarred and feathered. Families torn asunder. People bled, and suffered and starved. There was even [shudder] terrorism. But it lit a flame that has burned brightly for over 200 years. There are signs that this is happening in the MiddleEast: Arabs are looking at election day in Iraq and Afghanistan and demanding democratic reforms in Egypt and Lebanon and Kuwait. The fire in men’s (and women’s) hearts is spreading.

We would like certainty. We would like painless progress. We would like closure. We will not get any of those things.

On July 4th we must ask ourselves, what do we believe? Our military – brand new immigrants who enlist before the ink is dry on their visas – believe in those words so strongly that they will lay down their lives to spread the fire of democracy. They also believe (as I do) that their purpose is to serve American foreign policy aims, no matter how abstract and long-term they may seem. No matter how difficult to explain to the American people. No matter how frustrating in the short term.

What kind of world will we bequeath to our grandchildren? It may be that long before we know. But our actions today will have an incalculable effect on that far-off tomorrow. And if our policy is not firmly grounded in the spread of those long-ago words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights

…then I wonder if we shall not be the first Americans who fail to pass the blessings of liberty on to the next generation?

“The only thing necessary for evil to triumph. is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke.

And so as we remember and celebrate the lives of the victims of that horrible day ten years ago, so we must also renew our determination that their sacrifice and the sacrifices of our military since shall not have been in vain. For as another President said:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Ultima Cumaei venit iam carminis ætas;
Magnus ab integro sæclorum nascitur ordo.
iam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna,
iam nova progenies cælo demittitur alto.

From the  Eclogue of Virgil:

which translates as follows:
Now comes the final era of the Sibyl’s song;
The great order of the ages is born afresh.
And now justice returns, honored rules return;
now a new lineage is sent down from high heaven.

* Adapted from Sir Winston Churchill at Fulton, Missouri.


So, I said and believed then, five long years ago. Do I still? I want to, but as the wastage of our young people in foreign wars, for no good purpose continues, as well as the degeneration of our society. I have come to doubt that our leadership has the interest of America in its heart. Perhaps it does, and I misread the signs. I hope so. Or perhaps we will see a change in direction, for truly all things are possible, under God.

In the meantime, we must carry on, such that if this Republic shall last for a thousand years, our descendants will remember us with pride.

More Whittle Sharpshooting

Are Trump and Putin worrying you? Here are Bill and the gang with their take on it.

This has been kicking around for a bit. It’s still valid though, and I suspect there are lessons here for us as well.

Our Country’s Father’s Advice on his Retirement

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Note: I see that this got rather long, I sort of regret that but, Washington had a long and distinguished career, from the study of which we would prosper, if we gave it the appropriate attention. So while I’m going to crave your indulgence of another old man who worries about his country, I am not going to ask your pardon for the length of this post. If we don’t learn from the great leaders of our history, who will we learn from?

Let’s talk about Washington as a leader. After all, he was a military officer, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army and a two-term President as well as the President of the Constitutional Convention, he should have some leadership lessons to teach us. And he does. All quotes unless otherwise noted are  from George Washington on Leadership by  David Witt. Link to his article here.

With great power comes great responsibility.  In the unsettled atmosphere of the American Revolutionbetween the victory at Yorktown in 1781 and the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, a movement arose from officers in the Continental Army to proclaim George Washington as King George I of America.

As incredible as it might sound today after 200 years of U.S. democracy, it was a very real possibility and opportunity for Washington.  As the military leader of the fledgling republic, he had the ability and the backing of the colonists who had put their faith and future in his hands.

And yet, Washington quickly dispelled the idea. Upon learning of the proposal, Washington sincerely and admonishingly responded to the officer who had written the original proposal saying that, “…if you have any regard for your Country, concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your Mind, and never communicate, as from yourself, or anyone else, a sentiment of the like Nature. “

For Washington, leadership was not about personal gain or ambition, but instead, service to a higher purpose and a greater good.  And to confirm his intentions eight years later, when the people wanted him to run for a third term—Washington  again voluntarily gave up his power when he refused to be nominated.

Emphasis is mine.

What a difference from today, isn’t it? It wasn’t about Washington at all to Washington. It was about the mission: to create and see the United States of America off as a free and independent country. Here we are hearing one of the best practitioners of servant leadership that ever lived. And because of it, 200 years later he is still considered a demigod all over the world.

Let’s compare the difference in revolutionaries, shall we?

In His Excellency, his heralded biography of Washington, Joseph J. Ellis underscores “the truly exceptional character” of Washington’s act. “Oliver Cromwell had not surrendered power after the English Revolution. Napoleon, Lenin, Mao, and Castro did not step aside to leave their respective revolutionary settlements to others in subsequent centuries. … Whereas Cromwell and later Napoleon made themselves synonymous with the revolution in order to justify the assumption of dictatorial power, Washington made himself synonymous with the American Revolution in order to declare that it was incompatible with dictatorial power.” Ellis thus reminds us that Washington, in relinquishing power — not just once, but twice — was bucking an imperialist pattern that stretched back to the days of the Roman and English republics, and which, sadly, continues to this day.

Joseph Campbell might have called this pattern “ego imperialism,” “trying to impose your idea on the universe.” “That’s what’s got to go,” Campbell insisted in The Hero’s Journey. “Your ego is [only] your embodiment and your self is your potentiality and that’s what you listen to when you listen for the voice of inspiration and the voice of ‘What am I here for? What can I possibly make of myself?’” The great task of the hero, Campbell tells us, is “not to eliminate ego, it’s to turn ego and the judgment system of the moment into the servant of the self, not the dictator, but the vehicle for it to realize itself. It’s a very nice balance, a very delicate one.” It is also a lesson that every American citizen, of any station, would do well to heed.

And it was a lesson engraved in Washington’s psyche by Masonic philosophy and ritual. Unfortunately, Ellis never mentions Washington’s involvement in Freemasonry — a lamentable omission, since Masonic beliefs provide deep insight into Washington’s mind and heart. For example, in the Crata Repoa, an 18th-century work of Masonic philosophy, a ritual is described in which a king “meets [the initiate] graciously and offers the aspirant the royal crown of Egypt,” as Masonic scholar Manly P. Hall recounts. “This pantomime suggests that part of the New Testament where Jesus, as the neophyte, is offered the kingdoms of the earth if he will give up his spiritual mission. … The neophyte takes the crown and, throwing it upon the ground, tramples it under foot. This symbolizes the final conquest of pride, egotism, and the love of power. The initiate refuses the crown of the physical world because his kingdom is not of that world but of the hidden world of spirit.”

Emphasis is again mine.
That makes for an exceptionally American leader, doesn’t it?
Now to the man’s words:

Friends and Citizens:

The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States being not far distant, and the time actually arrived when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.

I beg you, at the same time, to do me the justice to be assured that this resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and that in withdrawing the tender of service, which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness, but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.

The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office to which your suffrages have twice called me have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence, impelled me to abandon the idea.

I rejoice that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty or propriety, and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire.

The impressions with which I first undertook the arduous trust were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious in the outset of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied that if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.

In looking forward to the moment which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.

Strong words from a true “Servant of the Republic” aren’t they? To continue:

Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.

The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.

But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole.

All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.

Read these paragraphs carefully in light of our recent experience of government run amok.

However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

Towards the preservation of your government, and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the Constitution, alterations which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion, exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion; and remember, especially, that for the efficient management of your common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should co-operate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

And finally:

In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.

How far in the discharge of my official duties I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them. …

Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.

Geo. Washington.

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