A house divided

It must now be abundantly clear to even casual observers of American history, culture and politics that pledging allegiance to a flag is not enough to keep “one nation, indivisible”—even “under God.” Unity and patriotism toward societal oneness in America probably always has been a myth. In my memory it seemed to hold only for a few years during World War II after the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor (with lots of government propaganda and curtailing individual freedom), and again for a few months after the Islamist attacks in 2001 (when we were panicked into bigger, increasingly intrusive government and more loss of our freedom).

Even at the founding, many people were reluctant to break alliance with the King of England. Of course, some thought he was a tyrant. Others were willing to trade freedom for security. The Founders themselves argued long and passionately about replacing the Articles of Confederation (agreed to by a convention of State delegates in 1777 and ratified by the states in 1781) with a new untried constitution.

Once submitted to the states, ratification of the 1787 Constitution became a struggle between Federalists and Antifederalists. The latter feared concentrated government power and wanted states to retain most of it. Antifederalists (who, including Thomas Jefferson, had not been delegates to the Constitutional Convention) also argued for specified individual rights incorporated into the Constitution. Thus, the first ten amendments guarantee those liberties (but not limited to them) to individual citizens.

The Constitution was accepted only because people in the states believed that the federal government would be limited and subordinate; but those “certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people” (Ninth Amendment). Furthermore, all other powers not delegated were “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people” (Tenth Amendment).

The most profoundly divided period in our history came before, during and after the War Between the States—a defining split in our union from which we have never recovered. What could have been peaceful separation was lost. Foreign wars have also irreconcilably divided Americans. The current war with Middle Eastern Islamists further tears at our culture and politics. Ideological divisions during the national political events from 2008 to the present have finally torn our cultural fabric in two parts.

We have become “a house divided against herself,” as Chilton Williamson Jr. wrote in Chronicles magazine in 2010. He blames what has been called “advanced liberalism” for accelerating statist agenda since the 1990s. Now half of our population comes to a “Great Awakening” about liberal ideology that divides us. We have two Americas, unlikely to be resolved in the foreseeable future because the division is becoming “more fixed and rigid.”

Williamson believes that advanced-liberalism is actually the “old liberalism stretched and distorted and pummeled from its youthful naïve falsity into senile surrealism.” He writes, “The battle lines have been drawn. America is fated to remain a house divided against herself for many generations, and afterward to share the inevitable fate of all divided houses, which are by nature ungovernable, and hence unlivable.”

I’m not quite as cynical about our fate as is Williamson, but I do believe we are ungovernable under the central system as now run, or not—depending on one’s perspective. I think the only way out (maybe an illusionary hope) is to reset the system to the default position intended by our Founders: dramatically limit the size and power of the federal government within the specific enumerated powers of all branches—and return to the founding self-evident “Truths.”

Some people believe that the States could, justifiably, nullify all onerous federal laws and regulations imposed that are not authorized in the Constitution, including unconstitutional laws decreed by five unaccountable black robes in the misnamed “Supreme” Court that do not represent the people. Article VI, however, makes this an arguable point—and federal military power, with a president likely to use it, makes this risky for States acting individually.

Another way states can restore our confederacy from dysfunctional and oppressive central control is described in Article V of the Constitution of the United States: processes for amending the Constitution that could bring federal government back under control. The previous twenty-seven amendments were proposed by a two-thirds vote of Congress and ratified by three-fourths of the State legislatures.

Article V also allows two-thirds of the States (34) to petition Congress for a national convention to propose amendments. Then, if majority’s in three-fourths of the State legislatures vote to approve, or if State conventions of 38 (three-fourths) States accept amendments, they can become part of the Constitution.

A new book titled, “The Liberty Amendments,” by Mark R. Levin describes how Article V could work. He offers ten new amendments to establish congressional term limits, including court justices; restore selection of State senators to State legislatures; limit federal spending and taxing; limit the federal bureaucracy; protect private property; grant the States authority to check Congress, and others.

With Americans politically split in half it will be difficult to get three-fourths of the States to ratify these amendments; or even two-thirds of the States to propose amendments. But it seems to be a possibility to avoid the dire “house divided” predictions of Chilton Williamson.


About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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