Mike Gemmell is the founder and president of Restore Our American Republic (ROAR). Prior to founding ROAR, he was a geologist specializing in groundwater resource development, a technical writer, and a freelance writer addressing environmental and other cultural issues. For more information on his professional background please see: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelmgemmell.
The essay below is Part I of a multi-part essay presenting the “what,” “why,” and “how” of Restore Our American Republic (ROAR’s) mission to restore the U.S.’s foundation of individualism as the crucial step needed to reverse the political, economic, and cultural decline the U.S. has been experiencing for many years. When the subsequent parts are completed, the entire essay will be made available as an ebook. The summary table at the conclusion of Part I presents the overall structure of the upcoming ebook and summarizes its contents.
Restoring our American Republic: Grassroots Action Holds the Key to a Free Future
As many U.S. citizens are aware, America of the 21st century is not the America that our Founding Fathers created. They had a vision of limited government unprecedented in human history. A government with the primary purpose of protecting individual rights. Today, however, that vision has turned into a nightmarish reality where government bureaucrats put their noses into virtually every aspect of our lives. These intrusions in the form of taxation and regulation have shackled industrial development, exacerbated class and racial tensions, eroded personal freedoms, and adversely affected our material prosperity. Concurrent with the intrusive activities of government domestically is a systematic weakening of our defenses against numerous external threats. It is becoming all-too-clear that the philosophy of the Founding Fathers has become lost on the vast majority of people occupying public office today at all levels across our country from local municipal government to the huge federal bureaucracy in Washington, D.C.
This essay presents the historical/philosophical development that has damaged America’s foundation of individualism and undermined our republic as well as outlining the steps Grassroots America needs to take to reverse the political, economic, and cultural decline resulting from damage to this foundation.
You may ask: Why target “grassroots” individuals and groups rather than elected officials, or business and cultural leaders, or opinion influencers such as the media? Our answer is the following:
To defend the philosophy of individualism underlying U.S. culture, we need to define issue(s) in terms of fundamental, personal values, terms readily understood in the language of Grassroots America. Grassroots movements are the most powerful mechanism for cultural change in existence, so appealing to members of Grassroots America via fundamental, personal values is the most effective method of igniting and sustaining the actions necessary to restore our American republic.
Defining issues in terms of fundamental values is more compelling than offering economic arguments or defending vague abstractions such as the “public interest,” or the “greater good.” This is because values have personal meaning, and we are trying to persuade people to act on the basis of their personal value systems. Values are what we – as individuals–act to gain or keep, provide the motivation behind our daily activities, and give our lives purpose. The more fundamental the value, the more effective it is in motivating us. To talk about the “public interest” is to talk about an abstraction, and abstractions cannot think, feel, or take actions to restore a republic, or anything else. They are not alive. However, individual Americans are.
The Homeschooling Movement
Fundamental personal values and the motivation they provide create the largely unacknowledged foundation of Grassroots America. Perhaps the quintessential example of the power of grassroots movements and the fundamental, personal values that serve as their fuel, is the homeschooling movement in America. From the early days of this movement to the present day, homeschooling advocates have lacked money and political influence in their attempts to legalize homeschooling, but they have more than made up for it by defining the issue in terms of a fundamental value, that value being:
An unshakable conviction that parents have a right to educate their children and instill in them their own values rather than the state’s agenda as represented by the public school system.
This belief was the foundation of their efforts to frame the debate and initiate reform allowing them to home school without government interference. They have never wavered from that belief and have used it for guidance in their efforts to challenge laws and statutes that have violated it. In so doing, they exposed the arbitrary and contradictory claims of the public school establishment. Through their efforts over a period of years, homeschooling advocates have succeeded in legalizing homeschooling in all 50 states against better funded and politically connected opposition.
Understanding the Role of America’s Philosophical Foundation
The foundation of American culture is the principle of individual rights, including our right to freely exchange goods and services within the marketplace. Unfortunately, that foundation has been eroded largely due to the fact that the Founding Fathers and intellectuals such as John Locke from whom they derived their ideas had inconsistencies, omissions, and contradictions in their moral philosophy that have been exploited over time by those opposed to the tenets of a free society. Problems with the intellectual foundation of the Constitution include a lack of concise definitions for important principles such as “equality” and “rights.” One glaring inconsistency with the general defense of individual rights was the legal sanctioning of slavery, a contradiction the framers of the Constitution understood but could not resolve at the time without destroying the unification of the colonies and that took decades more to resolve at the cost of more than 600,000 lives. Other examples include granting “rights” to states and an inadequate definition of the General Welfare clause, probably the most frequently exploited idea over our history to undermine our foundation of individualism. These and other inconsistencies and contradictions in the Constitution have been exploited in ways that have led us to our present-day state of perilous affairs. To understand the actions that are needed to correct these errors we need to conduct a brief historical review of America’s philosophical “devolution.”
A Brief History of America’s Philosophical “Devolution”
Let’s begin our review by revisiting the Constitution’s General Welfare clause, something that Thomas Jefferson’s regarded as a “mere grammatical quibble” but whose history of usage shows it to be anything but that. The clause has been interpreted as providing justification for most governmental action by reference to the “general welfare.” Other terms that have been used as synonyms for the General Welfare include “common welfare,” “greater good,” “public interest,” “good of society,” and so on. The term has not been defined explicitly, but its general usage has come to mean “everyone in general, but no one in particular.” A reference to its importance as compared to the rights of an individual in a Supreme Court decision of 1798—only seven years after the ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights–was an indication of ominous things to come for the preservation of Americans’ individual rights. In the decision of Calder vs. Bull, Supreme Court justices Chase and Iredell wrote:
“It seems to me that the right of property, in its origin . . . is conferred by society. . .” – Justice Chase
“Some of the most necessary and important acts of Legislation . . . are founded upon the principle, that private rights must yield to public exigencies.” – Justice Iredell
These two statements essentially say that general welfare (never defined) of society trumps the rights of the individual on an issue of fundamental importance to the Founding Fathers: personal property. How could it be that only seven years after the ratification of the Constitution and the blood of thousands spilled to secure mankind’s first country founded on the principles of the rights of the individual we have two Supreme Court justices, presumably among the best legal minds of the day, render a decision that had already begun the process of chipping away at one of our country’s fundamental ideals?
Their legal opinions began the chipping away at America’s intellectual foundation because they lacked an understanding of the foundational ideas upon which rights rest; therefore they did not grasp the destructiveness of their decision.
To come to a decision that upheld the principle of individual rights they would have needed to grasp a series of logically connected ideas underlying that principle. That series of ideas begins with the recognition that living organisms must engage in goal-oriented, self-directed action in order to secure the values required to live. That self-directed action is guided by the values that are dependent on the nature of the specific organism. In the case of human beings, our rational capacity is the faculty that gives us the ability to consciously select the values needed to live. However, the ability to reason is not automatic and requires an act of volition or free will to function properly. The use of force or coercion short circuits our ability to reason.
(The aforementioned chain of reasoning underlying the principle of rights was developed by novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand in “Mans Rights” in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, and is illustrated in the following diagram.)
Sustaining or destroying life via path (1) rationality or path (2) force/coercion
The chain of reasoning presented above may seem straightforward at first glance, but complications arise when we bring in the idea of the “greater good” of society and give it equal – or greater—moral status relative to the rights of the individual. The mistake that Chase, Iredell and many others before and since made was not recognizing that there was not a separate living entity “society” in the same sense that there are living individual entities such as the individuals we encounter every day. Society is not a living entity; it is an abstraction, or concept. Society does not experience, feel, or think, only individuals within a society can do that. Because society is not alive it cannot have moral status, something that justices Iredell and Chase did not, as well as many others before and since, understand.
Understanding this distinction is crucially important for anyone wishing to understand why our country has strayed so far from its original ideals, and how we can take effective steps to return to them. All forms of government that subjugate the individual to groups such as communism, fascism, socialism, progressivism –as well as the welfare state that the U.S. has morphed into– refer to the welfare of the floating abstraction known as “society,” “common good,” “public interest,” etc. as morally superior to the individual, and use it to justify infringement of the rights of individuals. All of the heavy-handed tactics that we have been subjected to by our own government in recent decades can be traced back to this wrongful placement of society’s welfare above that of the individual.
This is the fundamental error that must be addressed if we are to restore our Republic.
Later in this essay when we present how to take effective measures to restore our republic, we will see that exposing this flawed thinking will be the one absolutely essential step needed to successfully enact any specific measures aimed at restoring our republic.
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Lead Essay Summary Table for:
Restoring Our American Republic: Grassroots Action Holds the Key to A Free Future
PART I: WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE REPUBLIC IN AMERICA
|Introduction||Presents the purpose of the lead essay:
|Understanding the Role of America’s Philosophical Foundation||The crux of America’s problem is the misunderstanding and misuse of the “public interest” vs. the rights of the individual. This section provides the groundwork for subsequent sections that elaborate the problem.|
|A Brief History of America’s Philosophical De-volution||Presents the legal issues and the associated philosophical confusion in the early days of the republic when a fundamentally flawed view of the “public interest” vs. the rights of the individual first emerged.|
|Ideas in Our Constitution and Founding Ideals – and Their Misunderstanding||Explains the nature of an abstract concept and how it was misunderstood which led to treating an abstract concept i.e., society as having superior moral status to an actual person(s). In the examples that follow we will see the immense and increasing damage over time caused by this error.|
PART IB: EXAMPLES SHOWING WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE REPUBLIC IN AMERICA
|Example 1: America’s Railroads||During the Civil War, the public interest was known as the “Union,” and everything—including securing the freedom of slaves—was given lower moral status relative to it. Destructive actions that took place due to this error included issuing paper money and the initiation of Central Banking, increased taxes, and issuing land subsidies to the railroads to induce them to build lines to support the North’s war effort. The economic problems caused by these actions were not properly addressed after the war leading to the eventual unraveling of an entire industry.|
|Example 2: Property Rights and the Electric Grid||Not recognizing the error behind the unraveling of the railroad industry led to the destruction of a second industry, the electrical generating industry and the associated electrical grid. In this case the public interest was designated “the commons” and it was once again elevated in moral status relative to that of individuals and companies in the electrical power generating industry.|
Example 3: Public Funding of Science and the Rise of Environmentalism
|In yet another example of mis-designating moral status, individuals are forced to pay for the public funding of science and as a result an establishment is entrenched in the sciences with an anti-industrial ideological bias that is a critical component in the rise of environmentalism. As this new cultural issue surfaces, human moral status is lowered relative to “the environment” with catastrophic effects in the loss of millions of lives from the banning of DDT among other issues.|
|Conclusions from Examples 1,2, and 3||Concluding remarks on the issue of the public interest (known as the General Welfare principle in the Constitution) vs. the individual and why this principle can properly be applied only in situations where it is used to protect the rights of the individual such as its use during World War II to achieve technological superiority over Nazi Germany.|
PART II: WHY OUR AMERICAN REPUBLIC HAS BEEN DAMAGED
|America’s Fundamental Conflict: Individualism vs. Collectivism||The previous sections and the 3 examples of the railroads, electrical power industry, and the rise of environmentalism present evidence showing the fundamental conflict that has been tearing America apart since the first days of the republic individualism vs. collectivism. In America it has manifested itself by the terms of the individual vs. the public interest, or the common good, general welfare, etc.|
PART III: HOW TO RESTORE OUR AMERICAN REPUBLIC
|Framing Proposals with Fundamental Principles as the Key to Reversing the Destruction of the Republic in the U.S.||This section introduces the antidote to the sickness that is ailing America is in the defining of terms and using objective definitions of terms to frame reform proposals. Terms such as “equality”, “justice,” and so forth have been redefined by those opposed to a republic and its foundation of individual rights to mean the exact opposite of their original meaning. This is where the battle for America must take place if we are to restore our American republic.|
|The Failure of the Conservative Leadership||Why the conservative leadership of the Republican party has failed to grasp the importance of definitions and the framing of proposals as the key to restoring our American republic and why this causes them to suffer an endless series of defeats in their efforts to stop the destructive effects of progressive liberal policies.|
|Summarizing America’s Journey From Constitutional Republic to Welfare State||Because of the failure of anyone to effectively challenge the public interest having superior moral status to the individual, by the middle of the 20th century the rights of the individual in the U.S. had been severely damaged. Mounting a defense based on fundamental personal values is the key to showing that the rights of the individual deserves superior moral status to the public interest and is the key to reversing the damage to our republic.|
|A Practical and Principled Approach to Restoring Our American Republic||How the use of fundamental personal values can lead to successful political/cultural reform (Ex #1: the homeschooling movement) when used and when not used how its absence causes defeat even though superior financial resources are available (Ex #2 JP Morgan Chase).|
|Correcting Industry’s Failure at Self Defense||Value-based arguments are the key to industry–and Americans in general to stop the excessive laws and regulations that have been promulgated over the last 150+ years. Value-based arguments based on individual rights resonate with large segments of the population and have proven effective time and again as a method of framing the policy in question philosophically rather than with economic arguments alone.|
|Broadening the Cure From Industry to the U.S. Culture at Large||There are three basic elements to initiating the broad culture-wide change that will lead to the restoration of the American republic:
|Specific Reform Projects to Restore the Foundation of Individualism in the U.S.||Using the three basic elements for initiating culture-wide change, ROAR will concentrate on the following specific reform projects:
PART IV: AMERICA AT THE CROSSROADS: RESTORING OUR REPUBLIC OR A CULTURAL MELTDOWN IN OUR FUTURE
|A Call to Action||Lists the alarming actions that have taken place in recent years that are threatening to destroy the U.S. The future of the U.S. hangs in the balance and it is up to “we the people” to take actions needed to restore the republic in America.|
|Our Vision of America’s Future||Our vision of the future depends on restoring principles of the past that were never fully understood or implemented. If Grassroots America is up to the challenge our future will be very bright indeed.|