How Little We Have Lost

Like millions of conservative Americans, I spent last night with hope and fear, followed by sinking disappointment at what my fellow Americans had chosen to do with our country. That disappointment has not gone away. But it has been tempered, as all our disappointments should be tempered, by a realization of just how little we lost last night.

I do not regret that I voted against Barack Obama, a man determined to make my country into a cheap copy of a European social democracy. But that was what I did: I voted against Obama. I never really wanted to vote for a child of privilege, flush with Cayman Island bank accounts, mansions and all the usual accoutrements of a member of a European style ruling class, who never cared about the so-called “social issues,” speaking of them only when and to the extent absolutely necessary. I did not vote for a man whose vision of the free market in America rests on spread sheets and the maximization of “value” for passive investors who make nothing but paper profits.

Such comments no doubt seem like mere carping, or even scape-goating. But how many people really thought, in their heart of hearts, that a man so divorced from American life would, or even should, be President of these United States? I’m sure the Romneys are upset today, and I am sorry if they feel emotionally wounded. But the Presidency is not a prize for the most powerful to take as the capstone of a career; it is a sacred duty for one who seeks the common good of his country.

And now we have Obama. Four more years, now with “more flexibility” to pursue an agenda that already was “progressive” to the point of changing the fundamental character of our nation. Obamacare will now become entrenched as yet another “entitlement” making Americans wards of a state and its bureaucratic machinery as they pursue as much security as they can possibly manage, provided their free contraception, ready abortion, and government benefits guarantee that they will not be inconvenienced or pay any significant price for their actions.

And yet, I began by saying that we have lost little. And I believe this to be true. We already were well on our way to European style social democracy. After four more years of Obama, we simply will be in a position to accept the facts as they are: Americans no longer are a people committed to self-reliance, community values, and love of God above all else. And it is time for those of us who continue to cherish these permanent goods to come to grips with the fact that we cannot “take back” America by electing this or that politician. Since the Reagan years, an increasing number of conservative Americans have sought to recapture the moment when we seriously believed we could reverse decades of moral atrophy and fiscal irresponsibility by calling on the better angels of Americans’ nature.

It never happened, even under Reagan. And if one looks at the institutions our “leaders” have built, they come to very, very little beyond comfortable incomes for the mouthpieces of the Republican party.

And here is my point: none of this is a reason for despair. Indeed, knowledge of the dead-end that politics so obviously has become should be liberating for conservatives. It is far beyond time for conservative Americans—and Christians in particular—to put aside the distractions of mass politics for the tactile realities involved in building a decent life. We still need to vote and otherwise get involved, of course, but we need to remember what we are doing: hoping to prevent or mitigate the damage being done to us, not “taking back” a state apparatus that has long been used to reshape our society in unwholesome ways. We must come to recognize that the federal government, to its very core, has become hostile to our very way of life, not a violent oppressor, but nonetheless our adversary as we seek to raise our children, educating them in our faith, our morals, and our traditions. We must build neighborhoods, parishes and other religious and secular communities in which spiritual, intellectual and fundamentally moral lives are possible.

Perhaps, having taught in a university setting for many years, I am more comfortable than most with the realization that mine will be a voice that is little valued or noticed, save for occasional scolding. But there is little lost and much gained by giving up the empty hope of some “revolution” (from a new Reagan or otherwise) anywhere but in the hearts and minds of the people with whom we share our lives. We can and must hope that Americans will rediscover their traditions and the moral core of their character. We must work to make this possible. But we must stop thinking that the rather abstract act of voting for one of two sets of personalities and policies at the national level will make that happen. It is past time to concentrate on reinvigorating the culture that made this nation, and its people, great.

We have lost little save our illusions. And we should be thankful for that.

This column first appeared November 7, 2012 on the Imaginative Conservative website and is reprinted with permission.


Bruce Frohnen is Professor of Law at the Ohio Northern University College of Law. He is also a senior fellow at the Russell Kirk Center and author of many books including The New Communitarians and the Crisis of Modern Liberalism, and the editor of Rethinking Rights (with Ken Grasso), and The American Republic: Primary Source. His most recent book (with the late George Carey) is Constitutional Morality and the Rise of Quasi-Law (Harvard, 2016).

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