The following remarks were delivered on Tuesday, September 13, 2022, at the third annual National Conservatism Conference in Miami.
It is such a pleasure to be with all of you “semi-fascists” and “extreme threats to our democracy,” as the President affectionately calls you. And not just you, of course. When Biden refers to “semi-fascists” and existential “threats to our democracy,” he is referring to a larger group. He is referring to half of the country. He is referring to the “MAGA Republicans,” which is to say, statistically, the Republicans, which is to say, about half the country.
Which is strange thing to think: that “government of the people, by the people, for the people” could be threatened by the very existence of half of the people. That our “sacred,” two-party system faces the threat of annihilation if anyone even thinks of voting for the party out of power. Something certainly seems amiss about “our democracy.”
I suppose the first thing amiss about “our democracy” is that we don’t actually have a “democracy.” The men who built our country were deeply distrustful of democracy from the beginning — not just back in 1789, when our Constitution went into effect, or even 1776, when the Founding Fathers declared independence from Britain. It goes even further back to 1630, when Governor Winthrop described the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a shining “city upon a hill” and “a model of Christian charity,” and even further back, in 1620, when Governor Bradford and the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. All of those men, and especially the Framers of the Constitution, gave us a mixed regime with an executive power, an aristocratic element, and, of course, a strong democratic representation in a federal system that balanced power between three branches of government as well as between three distinct interests — the people, the states, and the higher unity of the people and the states — in a nation.
The nation has a physical aspect: spacious skies, amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties, above a fruited plain from sea to shining sea. The nation, in its physical nature, has a body: that is, the body politic. But our nation, just like the people who constitute it, is not merely a body. Our nation, like all nations, is also a soul. It must be. The soul is the substantial form of the body. It is the intellectual principle of the body. The soul animates the body. Without the soul, the body is dead. A body politic must have a soul in order to live. So what animates America?
For most of American history, the answer was obvious: Christianity. The Pilgrims of the Mayflower undertook their voyage primarily “for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith.” Our Founders and Framers established our nation, according to John Adams, “only for a moral and religious People.” Adams spelled out what he meant by morality and religion in 1813 in a letter to Thomas Jefferson: “The general Principles, on which the Fathers Achieved Independence, were the only Principles in which, that beautiful Assembly of young Gentlemen could Unite . . . the general Principles of Christianity, in which all those Sects were United.”
Adams’s clear articulation of the nation’s religious grounding poses a problem for the secularists who deny America’s Christian spirit because it contradicts another quote, also ostensibly from John Adams, on which the argument against America’s Christian character rests.
According to the secularists, John Adams declared in 1796 that “the Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” So how do we make sense of that apparent contradiction? Here we see the proof of Alexander Pope’s warning that “a little learning is a dangerous thing.” Because when we look into the origin of the phrase, we find that it does not come from any founding document. It does not come from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist, or even the private papers of the men who built the country.
The statement comes, instead, from the Treaty of Tripoli, which, though signed by Adams, was not written by him. It was written by diplomat and Jeffersonian Republican Joel Barlow, and it was only written to persuade Muslim pirates to stop abducting and enslaving American sailors. The statement was not so much a statement of principle — or even of law — as it was a ransom payment by a struggling nation to international criminals.
When they were not attempting to placate Muslim pirates, our Founding Fathers spoke much more favorably of Christianity and its role in American public life. Adams, obviously, directly contradicted his own professed nonsense from the Treaty of Tripoli, and most if not all of the other Founders did as well. John Jay, co-author of the Federalist and the first chief justice of the United States, put it bluntly: “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” Had the ACLU existed at the time of the Founding, it no doubt would have taken the chief justice to court.
In 1814, Francis Scott Key composed his most famous poem, “Defence of Fort M’Henry,” in which he summed up the American creed:
“O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand / Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation! / Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land / Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation! / Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, / And this be our motto — ‘In God is our trust!’ / And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
The U.S. Navy recognized Key’s poem for official use in 1889. The White House followed suit in 1916, and it became the national anthem by congressional resolution in 1931 with the affirmation of then-president Herbert Hoover. In 1954, President Eisenhower added a variation of this near century-and-a-half-old national motto to the Pledge of Allegiance, and, as anyone with a dollar in his pocket knows, the motto also appears on all U.S. currency — an important reminder, especially these days, that it is a much safer bet to trust in God than in the value of the U.S. dollar.
I could go on citing the countless other evidences of America’s Christian character, but there is not enough time in this entire conference, let alone in a single speech. Suffice it to say, the soul of America is and always has been, essentially, Christian. And since the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, America is and has been a nation. So what does that make America’s traditional political order?
I am no academic. I do not have an advanced degree in political science. But it seems to me that if a political community is defined at the physical level as a nation — and not, say, an empire or city-state — and then is defined at the metaphysical level as Christian — and not, say, Zoroastrian — then that would mean the traditional political order of the United States is “Christian nationalism.” I fail to see how even the most zealous opponent of Christian nationalism could look at any epoch in the history of the United States and come to any other conclusion.
And yet today the liberal establishment considers “Christian nationalism” to be the most dangerous and radical idea in public life. How’s that? Simple. The liberal establishment detests the traditional American nation both in body and soul. At the level of the body, the liberals seek to disfigure the nation, most notably over the past sixty-some-odd years by erasing national borders and flooding the country with millions of foreign nationals — the largest migration of human beings in recorded history. And at the level of the soul, the liberals seek to corrupt the nation, perverting and, in fact, inverting the nation’s animating spirit: its moral and religious order.
Until 1963, public schools taught the Bible and banned pornography. Since 1963, public schools have banned the Bible and increasingly teach pornography. If you haven’t come across the children’s book “Gender Queer,” a pornographic comic book by Maia Kobabe, consider yourself lucky. Unfortunately, your children are not so lucky and very likely have come across the book in their middle school and high school libraries.
Much as we all might wish to dismiss the whole debate with some platitude about free speech, the question cannot be avoided because schools have to teach something. If the schools teach biblical morality, they cannot teach “gender queer” morality; if the schools teach “gender queer” morality, they cannot teach the biblical view. This inversion in the latter-half of the 20th century was not a development or evolution of our national character, nor was it a neutral expansion of free speech. It was a spiritual revolution. A change in religion. A reordering of the nation’s soul.
You can actually track this change as it occurred, year-by-year, using Google Ngram Viewer, a tool which demonstrates the prevalence of words and phrases in books over time. The phrase “Christian nation,” according to Google’s textual analysis, appears in English literature consistently from the 16th century onward, peaking in the middle of the19th century. The same goes for “Christian country.” The same goes for “Christian civilization,” which really took off in the early 19th century, peaked around 1870, and has been declining steadily ever since. All as we might expect.
Where it gets a bit strange is when you look up the literary history of the phrase “liberal democracy,” which today we are told describes the very essence of our nation. It is simply taken as a given that America is, at her core, a “liberal democracy.” But the phrase “liberal democracy” appears pretty much nowhere, according to Google’s textual analysis, until about 1930. It didn’t really start to take off until the mid-1950s, and it really only spiked in usage around 1982. If “liberal democracy” constitutes the soul of our society, no one seemed to know about it until about 40 years ago.
The phrase “liberal democracy” appears nowhere in the text of the Constitution or the Federalist Papers or the Declaration of Independence. The word “liberal” appears in the Federalist Papers just five times — and then only in the classical sense to mean “generous.” Never once is it used to refer to the political ideology. Indeed, the word “democracy” and its derivations appear nowhere in the Constitution or the Declaration. It appears just 18 times in the Federalist, and each time it appears, it is invoked with disapproval. So how on earth did America become a “liberal democracy”?
By contrast, the word “nation,” along with its derivatives, appears in all three founding documents. It appears in the Federalist alone 569 times and always with approval. The Federalist proposes that America “should, to all general purposes, be one nation, under one federal government.” America’s body politic, according to the Founding Fathers, would be national and her soul, Christian. One might call it, “Christian nationalism.”
Liberals hate Christian nationalism, not because it is a departure from the American political tradition, but because it is the American political tradition, which the liberals do not like. Liberals hate Christian nationalism because it is the opposite of atheist globalism, which is the scheme they prefer. The term “liberal democracy” lends itself to this agenda of atheist globalism by diverting the nation’s attention away, at the physical level, from its own citizens in favor of the ever-expanding international community of supposed “democracies,” and by turning the nation’s soul away at the metaphysical level, from our common good — which can only come from God — toward the glittering idol of individualism and choice.
The Left has led this spiritual and physical mutilation of our country. I think of it as a sort of “gender reassignment surgery” for the nation, one that has turned a once-beautiful creature in the image and likeness of God into a grotesque caricature fashioned after our own fantasies and delusions. The leftists led the transformation. But to be fair, they didn’t meet much resistance from the conservatives. They couldn’t have. Such a radical restructuring of the nation’s body and spirit could never have taken place in so short a period of time had the conservatives had even a smidge of the clarity and courage necessary to conserve anything at all.
The conservatives have failed to conserve the nation and continue to fail each day because they fall into the trap laid by the liberals. They fail to recognize the importance of both the nation’s body and soul, as well as the connection between them.
Consider how conservatives have attempted in vain to stop the spread of transgenderism. The liberals argue that there is a difference between biological sex and gender expression. (It is a little more complicated than that, since some excitable liberals claim that there is such a thing as a “biologically female phallus” and “biologically male uterus.”) But at their most coherent, liberals ground their arguments for transgenderism in a distinction between sex and gender.
And how do conservatives argue against it? To date, we simply claim that there’s no such thing as gender expression. We cite facts about genitals and chromosomes, and we appeal to the same sort of reductive, soul-denying scientism that the liberals used to get us into this mess in the first place. But, of course, there is such a thing as “gender expression.” Of course men can be effeminate and women masculine. Of course the behaviors and self-conceptions of men and women can differ from those implied by their physical bodies. Of course living bodies have souls which lack chromosomes and genitals, but, nevertheless, are real. The reason transgenderism is wrong is not that there is no distinction between the physical and metaphysical self, the symbol and the symbolized, the body and the soul. The reason that transgenderism is wrong is that men aren’t supposed to act like women. Transgenderism is wrong because there very much is a distinction between our sex and the way in which we express our sex — and we have a duty to express our sex in the correct way.
“Duty” was once a common concept among conservatives. In many ways, it defined conservative thought. Edmund Burke, as he laments the passing of “the age of chivalry” for “that of sophisters, economists, and calculators,” eulogizes “that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom!” Such notions are considered ridiculous today, not only on the Left, but also in many quarters of the Right, which has forsaken duty, sacrifice, obedience, and submission in favor of the same babble about rights and entitlement for which we once rightly mocked the Left.
At other times, when conservatives are not denying the soul in a misguided effort to own the libs, we fall into the opposite error and deny the body. We see this especially in the case of immigration. For decades, self-styled conservatives have denied the physical aspect of the nation entirely, parroting the liberal platitude that America is nothing but “an idea.” Not a place, not a people — just an idea. Even the most hardline mainstream conservatives on the issue have denied that there would be any reason to curtail the unrestricted flow of foreigners into the United States, insisting instead — quite to the contrary — that America should embrace more immigration than ever, just so long as the immigration is legal. But a nation that does not have any practical borders, a nation that does not in any way distinguish its own people from any other people, is not a nation at all. A living nation must have an idea to animate it — it must have a soul — but it must also have a body, without which the soul cannot act in time and space.
The central thesis of Joe Biden’s presidency, articulated in the earliest days of his campaign and reiterated just last week, is that we are now engaged in a battle for the soul of our nation. If you don’t believe him, look no further than his appointees. Biden’s assistant health secretary is a man who thinks he’s a woman and demands we castrate little kids. Biden’s deputy assistant energy secretary is a psychosexual sadist who dresses grown men up in leather dog outfits and photographs himself dragging them around on a leash. And Biden’s new deputy monkeypox coordinator is a store-brand Anton LaVey, whose headshot depicts him wearing a leather pentagram chest harness atop his pentagram pectoral tattoo. Now, in Biden’s defense, he never did tell us which side of the battle he is on. If personnel is policy, our nation’s soul is in trouble. And if that bizarre speech Biden made a couple of weeks ago — the angry one in the dark with the infernal red backdrop and the screaming and the gesticulating — is any indication, the President wants to take the soul of our nation straight down to the bad place.
Ronald Reagan rightly understood that, ultimately, “there is no such thing as a Left or Right” — that when you really get down to it, “there is only an up or down.” And in time and space, we must always be moving in one direction or the other. There can be no stasis. There can be no neutrality. Political communities must have a shape and a shared end. In vibrant political communities, the various parts of the body politic fulfill the function and duty proper to their role, and all of the parts work together toward the common good — or the body politic will atrophy and die. The Left is mounting a concerted attack on our nation’s body and soul. The leftists wish for our traditional nation to die. It remains to be seen whether conservatives will muster the wisdom to understand this fact and the will to live. We have before us a choice between life and death, blessing and cursing. If we are to have any political future at all, we conservatives at least must choose life — life in body and in soul — that the United States and our descendants may live.