When leftists want civilians to be like the military

Civilian society is not supposed to be like the military, though making it that way is the leftist’s dream.  So says George Will:

Obama, an unfettered executive wielding a swollen state, began and ended his [State of the Union] address by celebrating the armed forces. They are not “consumed with personal ambition,” they “work together” and “focus on the mission at hand” and do not “obsess over their differences.” Americans should emulate troops “marching into battle,” who “rise or fall as one unit.”

Well. The armed services’ ethos, although noble, is not a template for civilian society, unless the aspiration is to extinguish politics. People marching in serried ranks, fused into a solid mass by the heat of martial ardor, proceeding in lock step, shoulder to shoulder, obedient to orders from a commanding officer — this is a recurring dream of progressives eager to dispense with tiresome persuasion and untidy dissension in a free, tumultuous society.

Progressive presidents use martial language as a way of encouraging Americans to confuse civilian politics with military exertions, thereby circumventing an impediment to progressive aspirations — the Constitution and the patience it demands. As a young professor, Woodrow Wilson had lamented that America’s political parties “are like armies without officers.” The most theoretically inclined of progressive politicians, Wilson was the first president to criticize America’s founding. This he did thoroughly, rejecting the Madisonian system of checks and balances — the separation of powers, a crucial component of limited government — because it makes a government that cannot be wielded efficiently by a strong executive. . . .

In his first inaugural address, FDR demanded “broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.” He said Americans must “move as a trained and loyal army” with “a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in time of armed strife.” The next day, addressing the American Legion, Roosevelt said it was “a mistake to assume that the virtues of war differ essentially from the virtues of peace.” In such a time, dissent is disloyalty.

via Obama follows the progressive president’s model of martial language – The Washington Post.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Tom Hering

    Johnson declared war on poverty, Nixon declared war on drugs, and Ford declared war on inflation. Candidates conduct campaigns. Politicians are partisans. Strategists focus on battleground states. Standard bearers rally the troops.

    But yeah, it’s just progressives who militarize politics with their language, and just progressives who expand the powers of – or surrender power to – the executive.

    George Will, political marketer: you’re trying too hard to differentiate the conservative brand.

  • Tom Hering

    Johnson declared war on poverty, Nixon declared war on drugs, and Ford declared war on inflation. Candidates conduct campaigns. Politicians are partisans. Strategists focus on battleground states. Standard bearers rally the troops.

    But yeah, it’s just progressives who militarize politics with their language, and just progressives who expand the powers of – or surrender power to – the executive.

    George Will, political marketer: you’re trying too hard to differentiate the conservative brand.

  • SKPeterson

    Yep, Tom. It cuts both ways. The “grand cause” methodology has a modern pedigree as old as Machiavelli. It’s just that the people who buy into these grand visions of unified cadres moving towards some glorious future, always envision themselves being on the leadership dais and the glorious future being one that they have envisioned. They never see themselves as some poor sap forced to march along against their will towards a future in which they always get to keep marching, or be sacrificed for somebody else’s vision of the glorious future. And they almost never see the possibility that they get to be the one’s put up against an wall and removed from the prospect of the glorious future because their vision clashes with the visionaries on the dais.

  • SKPeterson

    Yep, Tom. It cuts both ways. The “grand cause” methodology has a modern pedigree as old as Machiavelli. It’s just that the people who buy into these grand visions of unified cadres moving towards some glorious future, always envision themselves being on the leadership dais and the glorious future being one that they have envisioned. They never see themselves as some poor sap forced to march along against their will towards a future in which they always get to keep marching, or be sacrificed for somebody else’s vision of the glorious future. And they almost never see the possibility that they get to be the one’s put up against an wall and removed from the prospect of the glorious future because their vision clashes with the visionaries on the dais.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    What Tom said. They all, or nearly all, do it. Yawn.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    What Tom said. They all, or nearly all, do it. Yawn.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Continued from #3:

    …except of course, us Centrists: We will stand up for the right to sit down, we will march for the right to disperse, we will fight for the right to go home, nothing will come in our way, we will unite in our div…

    Oh.

    Bother…..
    :)

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Continued from #3:

    …except of course, us Centrists: We will stand up for the right to sit down, we will march for the right to disperse, we will fight for the right to go home, nothing will come in our way, we will unite in our div…

    Oh.

    Bother…..
    :)

  • Tom Hering

    SK @ 2, the conflict, as always, is between individual liberty and the social good. I’m glad we have a system where this conflict is continuous and (usually) non-violent. Heck, I’m glad we have a system where this conflict can even exist. If it’s sometimes expressed through military language and organization – by forces on both sides – meh. (See? I just said “forces.” It’s absolutely unavoidable.)

  • Tom Hering

    SK @ 2, the conflict, as always, is between individual liberty and the social good. I’m glad we have a system where this conflict is continuous and (usually) non-violent. Heck, I’m glad we have a system where this conflict can even exist. If it’s sometimes expressed through military language and organization – by forces on both sides – meh. (See? I just said “forces.” It’s absolutely unavoidable.)

  • http://www.caryschwarz.com saddler

    I wonder what Jonah Goldberg has to say about this current state of affairs. His book ‘Liberal Fascism’ (2008) has a persuasive message that speaks to these dynamics. The things I learned about the Wilson presidency were startling. Yes, the rhetoric can sound familiar from both sides of the spectrum, but when you peal a layer or two off the top, there lies exposed the truth.

  • http://www.caryschwarz.com saddler

    I wonder what Jonah Goldberg has to say about this current state of affairs. His book ‘Liberal Fascism’ (2008) has a persuasive message that speaks to these dynamics. The things I learned about the Wilson presidency were startling. Yes, the rhetoric can sound familiar from both sides of the spectrum, but when you peal a layer or two off the top, there lies exposed the truth.

  • Tom Hering

    Ah, the wax nose of facism. We’re always molding each other’s faces that way. Mega meh.

  • Tom Hering

    Ah, the wax nose of facism. We’re always molding each other’s faces that way. Mega meh.

  • http://www.caryschwarz.com saddler

    “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war…”
    “Taking our country back for Christ”
    …and abundant indications that we are to subscribe to a civil religion of the ‘right’, are all about us. I’ll concede your point Tom, but I still think you need to read the book. :)

  • http://www.caryschwarz.com saddler

    “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war…”
    “Taking our country back for Christ”
    …and abundant indications that we are to subscribe to a civil religion of the ‘right’, are all about us. I’ll concede your point Tom, but I still think you need to read the book. :)

  • Tom Hering

    What? You want me to educate myself, and admit that leftists and liberals abuse power? And are as hypocritical as everyone else? I already admit it. :-D

  • Tom Hering

    What? You want me to educate myself, and admit that leftists and liberals abuse power? And are as hypocritical as everyone else? I already admit it. :-D

  • mendicus

    A bit too facile merely to say “both sides use martial language.” Of course they both do. Will’s point isn’t about that fact that progressives use marial language. It’s about the way they use that language, the goal they seek. That is a concentration of power in the executive, which is the polar opposite of what our country’s founders sought.

    Now, do those who love liberty seek at times to concentrate power in the executive? Sure. But to the extent they do, they violate their own principles. Progressives, on the other hand, are being true to their principles. Which is the point of the article: it is in the nature of progressivism to think of the ideal populace in military terms, that is, as obedient and controllable.

  • mendicus

    A bit too facile merely to say “both sides use martial language.” Of course they both do. Will’s point isn’t about that fact that progressives use marial language. It’s about the way they use that language, the goal they seek. That is a concentration of power in the executive, which is the polar opposite of what our country’s founders sought.

    Now, do those who love liberty seek at times to concentrate power in the executive? Sure. But to the extent they do, they violate their own principles. Progressives, on the other hand, are being true to their principles. Which is the point of the article: it is in the nature of progressivism to think of the ideal populace in military terms, that is, as obedient and controllable.

  • http://www.caryschwarz.com saddler

    mendicus, I think Goldberg’s book does a good job of fleshing out what you are saying.

  • http://www.caryschwarz.com saddler

    mendicus, I think Goldberg’s book does a good job of fleshing out what you are saying.

  • mendicus

    It’s on my shelf…perhaps it’s time to open it.

  • mendicus

    It’s on my shelf…perhaps it’s time to open it.

  • Tom Hering

    “Progressives, on the other hand, are being true to their principles … it is in the nature of progressivism to think of the ideal populace in military terms, that is, as obedient and controllable.”

    Can you demonstrate the truth of this with quotes taken directly from the works of political progressives? Not by repeating what you’ve read in anti-leftist/liberal books. (Please cite your sources.)

  • Tom Hering

    “Progressives, on the other hand, are being true to their principles … it is in the nature of progressivism to think of the ideal populace in military terms, that is, as obedient and controllable.”

    Can you demonstrate the truth of this with quotes taken directly from the works of political progressives? Not by repeating what you’ve read in anti-leftist/liberal books. (Please cite your sources.)

  • Booklover

    “proceeding in lock step”
    “obedient to orders from a commanding officer”

    This describes perfectly what Obama’s desires are for his minions in his decision to force Catholic organizations to comply with his birth control and abortifacient order from on high. His expectation that obedience to him surpasses freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, is unconscionable.

  • Booklover

    “proceeding in lock step”
    “obedient to orders from a commanding officer”

    This describes perfectly what Obama’s desires are for his minions in his decision to force Catholic organizations to comply with his birth control and abortifacient order from on high. His expectation that obedience to him surpasses freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, is unconscionable.


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