Since January 2017, we have been subjected to a deluge of hand-wringing over liberal ideas and constitutional freedoms. Such lamentations have certainly existed before, but never with the same obsessive dedication as in the age of Trump. It is almost as if people believe these principles are suddenly at stake, while under prior regimes they remained safe.
But there is one problem: they have never meant anything, or least not in the way most people think. Sure, one can cry about the Constitution and the Rule of Law, yet neither amount to much unless they are defended, unreservedly. Spectators seem to think we can somehow maintain the general concepts absent any substantial sacrifice, and in the process invalidate all which is at stake. The battle is lost in their thoughts, and thus nobody lifts a finger.
The most evident indictment on this question is that of private property. While liberalism can lay claim to allowing a certain degree of social barbarism in the name of free expression, its adherents have no place to flee on the matter of individual sovereignty over possessions. America was founded largely on this basis, with our Constitution borrowing heavily from the writings of John Locke, perhaps the greatest advocate of property rights known in the Western world. In his own words:
“Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself. The labor of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his.”
The very notion of being able to own something without threat of feudalistic seizure by some petty monarch has become sacrosanct in the broader liberal world, despite attempts to erode through acts such as eminent domain. Crimes of trespassing are still regularly enforced, and theft is considered a serious crime in most jurisdictions.
Until now. For all that the liberal republican system has promised to safeguard rights, the riots and looting of the last several weeks shows its agnostic opinion of self. Businesses or cars immolate and merchandise streams from the shelves unpaid, as scarcely soft murmurs escape the lips of the liberty-promoters. Police cannot respond, soldiers are warned against reacting, and politicians condemned for trying to bring order. Yet somehow, we are still implored to believe in the existence of these principles.
Even anti-skeptics must admit it is nearly impossible. The very essence of liberal religiosity requires that people can live without fear of losing their “pursuit of happiness” to the enraged mob of our current year, and edgy suspicion grows every day, with atheistic reactions not far behind. A spiritual awakening seems necessary to stem the tide, if only it can come. Of course such a development requires the will to act, and the liberal order has not anything close.
So softly the Republic burns.