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


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).

  • Simon

    Thank God! I have never been prouder to be an American! The arc of history tends toward justice!

    • DC

      I didn’t know that justice had the tendency to trample its historical arc through my garden of religious liberty. But hey, as long as the people get their consequence-free sex on someone else’s dime then all is right in the world. (please excuse my sarcasm, I’m finding it hard to contain this morning.)

      • respectlife

        Ditto DC! Our nation is no longer the nation it once was. We are now a divided nation and divided we fall. But God says we will one day win against evil and I have no doubt this will happen. Its unfortunate that many Americans believe hollow words and do not see the character of the man and his actions.

  • Hilary Cotter

    Well said Bruce!

  • Rita

    JPII promised us a “new springtime”. However, we all know what comes before spring. We are reaping the consequences of 40 plus years of contraception and the back-up to failed contraception, abortion. As we enter a demographic winter…we should remember that demographics rule. JPII also said, “Be not afraid.” Amen. Thanks Mr. Frohen for your thoughtful article. Maybe it’s time to take the blinders off.

    • musicacre

      Yes. I know other Catholic profs here in Canada that are surrounded by an atheistic and feminist university. They are not responsible for the directions the university takes since they are alone, but they make a difference under the radar to a lot of students lives. They are the water in the dessert.

  • Sheila

    So true. As a young person who has never lived in a “God-fearing America,” I’ve always taken courage from looking at the church of the catacombs. They didn’t live in a society that supported their values or religion. People around them were watching bloody gladiatorial games and exposing their infants, but they were not corrupted by this. Instead, they won droves of converts who could very easily see the difference between them and the world. And unlike times when the Church had a lot of worldly power, Catholics weren’t lukewarm and they weren’t in it for the money. They had a passionate love for Christ that really did change the world.

    Worldly power has always been a dubious tool for the Church. It might serve us for awhile, but then it turns against us. Lately it has been against us, and THAT’S OKAY. Christ is for us, so who can be against us?

    • Veronica

      I needed to hear that catacomb image today, thank you! I think so, so many Americans are inadequately catechized now, that in part we are all to blame if we have not studied the faith well and passed it along vibrantly to the young around us.

      • musicacre

        Well spoken! These images keep us in a spiritual communion with our predecessors who did survive with an intact faith surrounded by a hostile society.

    • musicacre

      I think I was thinking “catacombs” when I began Homeschooling as a young mother. Now I am a much older mother and still home-educate the last two of six. (the others are off at university; their own expense since I had to give up a nursing career to stay home). I believe that God always gives us a way out when the atmosphere gets harsh, we just have to be open to the sacrifice it takes. I f every single family catechized their own children we would have strong nation of clear thinkers. This is not a duty that can be passed off to someone else; not until they get rid of the corrupted texts and courses.

  • Worked for our wealth

    Wow, have you had a deep seated dislike of rich people all your life or is this envy, that got under your skin during the election?

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Excellent article

    One recalls the scathing words of the abbé Laberthonnière, written a hundred years ago to those French Catholics, who hoped that L’Action française would lead to “the triumph of the Church in society.”

    “The triumph of the Church in society? That would be excellent. However, it would be necessary to examine by what means our religion permits us to pursue it. Moreover, it has not been promised us. And then, it is not, perhaps, the most pressing of our tasks…

    Her power does not consist in giving orders, to which external obedience is required, backed up by threats or favours. Her power is to raise souls to the life above. It is to give birth to and to cultivate in consciences the supernaturalising obligation to live for God and for others, through Christ, and to pass through temporal defeats to a triumph that is timeless.

    Do not indulge in childish dreams, when you have in your grasp eternal realities that invite you. Understand, all you who would triumph and reign on earth – Et nunc, reges, intellegite.”

  • PJA

    Looks like snarky class envy is alive in well in certain conservative Catholic precincts. Mr. Frohnen, your obvious disdain for the wealthy is as unattractive as Mr. Obama’s disdain for those who cling to their guns and religion. I would argue that a person who daily grapples with the very human issues involved with running a business is far less divorced from American life than someone who has taught in a university setting (or did community organizing) for many years.

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  • Alecto

    I understand what you’re writing, but Mr. Frohnen, you’re so very wrong about so very much. Like most lawyers, you belong to the profession which took us down the dark path of European social democracy feigning expertise and erudition when in actuality lawyers are guilty of the most grievous sin: pride.

    When you lose your nice, comfortable teaching position because you are Catholic, please come and tell me how little you have lost. When you cannot pay your mortgage, feed your children because you are facing discrimination against Catholics please do come and tell me how little you have lost. When the progressives who have overrun the government come for your family, your children, your home and all you have, please come tell me how little you have lost.

    I blame the Catholic church for the “transformation”. It promoted mass immigration and amnesties for decades, inundating us with people who neither know our history, understand our values or care anything about them – then stuffed a ballot in their ignorant hands. Catholics have pushed us along the path through misguided misinterpretations of scripture and Vatican II socialist policies. For decades no Catholic bishops or priests said a word about prayer, penance, fasting, mass attendance, proper disposition of Catholics, confession, contraception, abortion, gay marriage. They had nothing to lose – they already gave it all away in exchange for a handout from Caesar.

    Truly, there is so little left to lose.

    • MAT

      Very well said.

    • Amanda

      I love everything you have said, save the part about lawyers. We’re not all evil, corrupt, or prideful. People usually hate what they cannot understand (which is so obvious with the left). Please don’t assume we’re bad because of our profession.

      • Adam_Baum

        Are seriously trying to court favor by suggest the displeasure with the Bar is because we “hate what they (we)cannot understand”. I would suggest that we understand the legal profession all too well.

      • Alecto

        Amanda, I understand, I attended law school myself. I know you’re not all “evil”, but too many are rent-seeking power-hungry nabobs. Exhibits 1, 2 and 3 – Barak Obama, Bill Clinton, John Roberts. Character is important, especially in that profession. We get Hugo Blacks, not Thomas Mores.

    • jjill roberts

      Alecto, I so appreciate your comment. As I’ve talked with family and friends today I have realized 2 things: 1- We will benefit our country and our citizens by reaching out to Latino Americans and all immigrants to teach our history and values by including them in our homes, churches, and circles of friendship. And by ensuring schools teach our heritage of freedom. 2- Real and lasting change starts in our homes – Having core principles and living by those – The purpose and nature of prayer – Regular church attendance if you are so affiliated – Teaching that there are choices that require us to choose between good and evil (and how to recognize when those choices are upon us) – routinely give service to others – teach and practice honesty and hard work.

  • JP

    “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.”
    Mr Frohnen,,
    Fifty-one percent of Americans indicated through their votes last night that they do not share your sentiments. In today’s Brave New World, you can run but you cannot hide. There is no returning the safety of the Shire. I think many Catholics will be startled about what exactly is coming their way these next 4 years.

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  • MaterDeiOPN

    Looks like you bought into all the class warfare attack ads.

    You may be a law professor, but if you can’t see what’s plainly in front of your face, you’re not as smart as you think you are.

    I am in no way academic – these are real issues to me.

    I am a veteran and a grandmother and smart enough to know that what we have lost – and what we have stolen from our grandchildren – is bigger than anything you can apparently imagine.

    • MAT

      This response is very real and wise. Unfortunately this election result affirms that our nation is in decline economically and morally. Is is very sad that pandering, fear-mongering and the politics of envy were so persuasive and effective.

  • mima

    Well, Dr. Frohnen, you & your university colleagues have contributed greatly to building this liberal, social democracy in our country! Don’t complain, now.

  • Every Catholic here, who wants to hammer Mr. Frohnen, should find and read Dr. John Rao’s “Americanism and the Collapse of the Church in the United States”

    • musicacre

      Thank you!! It’s taken me all evening to read it. And my husband read most of it too. The most incisive essay I have ever read explaining how America got to this point.

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  • Marie

    Your resentment of Mr. Romney’s wealth is so odd (moreso because he is a self-made millionaire).

    What are your feelings towards FDR?
    Why would anyone dislike another because they used their God-given gifts to make a good life for themselves and family (not to mention Mr. Romney’s charitable donations)?

    Prof Frohnen, you are a disappointment to the Catholic community.

  • Deacon Steve

    Your attacks on Mr. Romney are contemptable. Romney may not have said all the things that you would have liked him to say; but he is a good decent man. A man whos only sin was working hard and well enough to be successful; while helping those around him.
    As for the rest of your absurd contention that we haven’t lost much…well, perahps you should revisit the question again in four years time. You just might be surprised at how much we lost.

    • Alecto

      Amen, Deacon Steve and Romney as a man presented a true contrast in character and values to the demon Obama.

  • Carl

    I will not comply!

  • Lt. William J. Lawler II, M.Ed

    This is an important notice:

    Mr. Frohnen states “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.” This line demonstrates that Mr. Frohnen,
    republicans, neo-cons, and all of a similar elk have their heads so far in the
    sand that they have lost any conception of reality.

    1. If the government “to its very core” is hostile towards anyone or
    anything it is de facto a violent oppressor. The government claims the
    so-called “right” of the exclusive use of violence in order to
    effect, enforce, and carry out policy. Try not paying your taxes because you
    refuse to grant consent for the government to murder babies and civilian men,
    women, and children in foreign countries, and you will find out just how much force
    our “not violent oppressor” will use against you. If you still doubt
    the fact that the American Government is a violent oppressor then I recommend
    you look into Ruby Ridge, The Branch Davidians, The Patriot Act, The Military
    Commissions Act, The National Defense Authorization Act, and perform a You Tube
    search of “Police Brutality”. Also look into “The federalization
    of local law enforcement.” You’ve been warned.

    2. Obama IS a socialist. Romney IS a fascist. Stop engaging in mental
    masturbation and trying to convince yourself that either one is better than the
    other. Every single person that supported either one deserves what is about to
    happen to them in the coming years. The sad thing is that those of us who
    refused to buy into your false two-party/left-right paradigm and can actually
    think for ourselves are going to suffer along with you. But this is probably what
    it will take for a truly strong and actual third party to emerge in this
    country. By the way, George Washington said this would happen, BUT YOU ALL DID
    NOT LISTEN. Now you deserve what you are going to get.

    3. For all you republicrats, neo-cons, and deriders of true Constitutional
    Government, maybe next time you won’t lie, cheat, and steal throughout the
    entire primary. Maybe next time you won’t break your own rules and will actually
    allow those who met your own qualifications to speak, to actually speak at the
    convention. Maybe next time you won’t try and force duly elected delegates to
    sign “loyalty oaths” as if this were some kind of a damn
    communist/totalitarian society. Maybe next time you won’t allow the chairman of
    the convention to read scripted teleprompter vote results BEFORE THE VOTES ARE
    EVEN TAKEN! And for those of you who have no idea what I am talking about,
    being ignorant about these facts means you have no business even commenting
    because your opinions are based on ignorance and ineptitude.

    4. Maybe next time you won’t
    claim to be pro-life but support a neo-con agenda of world governance which is
    attained thru the bombings of foreign countries that have committed absolutely
    no acts of aggression against the United States of America.

    5. Next time you republicrats, neo-cons, and deriders of true Constitutional
    Government had better open your arms wide to us Constitutionalists, us Ron Paul
    supporters. Because if you don’t, then in 2016 we will give you a Biden or
    Clinton white house. And if you don’t open your arms wide to us is 2020 then we
    will give you an encore Biden or Clinton White House. So forth and so on. Turn
    to Constitutional Government. Turn away from your fascist neo-con agendas, or
    face an entire generation Obama, Biden, and Clinton.

    6. Check and mate.

    Lt. William J. Lawler II, M.Ed

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  • Adam_Baum

    “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..”

    “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.”

    Wow, that’s rich, not even considering the irony that Romney owed as much of
    his success to his JD, as much as his MBA.

    Do you teach your students to make such vacant and gratuitous insults in legal
    briefs, is it merely something you do for amusement or an expression of the
    arithmophobia that is so manifest among barristers except when it’s time to
    cash a check?

    As a financial professional and a user of those spreadsheets you so readily
    deride, I can tell you, governance would be far better if there were more of us
    and fewer lawyers with their wordy writs and incessant argumentation. It’s
    principally lawyers that have put us in our present condition.

    As for being a “child of privilege”, who is more privileged than an
    attorney and one working in academia at that? Your profession is a modern day
    caste of pharisees, operating out of a medieval guild publicly masquerading as
    guarantor of professional quality. Lawyers have infested every useful activity
    with exacting rules designed to frustrate society into submission. That’s
    doesn’t even being to address the Tort Bar and its aggressive predations, with
    “paper” profiteering masquerading as “justice”. Try
    watching a half hour of TV without some slip and fall or pharmo-pirate firm
    telling you they can “help” you get “justice”.

    As for Law schools, what exactly have they accomplished other than being echo
    chambers for would be philosopher-kings suffering delusions of grandeur? Are we
    getting more enlightened jurisprudence or more legal sleight-of-hand? Wink,
    wink “unenumerated penumbrae”. Without law schools, courts issued
    Dred Scott. With them they issued Roe v Wade and Kelo v New London and a
    million smaller insults to justice and reason.

    Spare me the silliness about the Presidency being about the “common
    good”, the office has been held and sullied for a century by principally
    by imperial narcissists and serial liars. The richer the hagiography, the more
    wanting the character. Kennedy and Camelot comes principally to mind. You can’t
    really hold such a sanitized seventh-grade concept of government. It’s
    populated by scoundrels and scoundrels with “Esq.” after their name.
    You can’t possibly be that naive, even in ivory-tower captivity, and you
    seriously underestimate your readers if you think we are that naive.

    Do you feel insulted? How does it feel?

  • Alecto, If you are discriminated for standing up for Christ, you have lost nothing. I wish I could be attacked for being a Catholic, but in secular Australia, no one cares enough for religion to give me the promises of Christ -“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5)
    Frohnen is wise in saying we must build from the foundations of a good personal life, before putting our hopes in a single leader. Worry about what you can change. Be able to have an apologia pro vita sua before trying to take the beam out of the nation’s eye or the Church. Christ will look after the Church which after all is made up of a bloody lot of sinners.

    • justamom

      Of course, we should always focus on our own soul and family first, but that is not the ONLY area we focus on. We cannot hide our lights under bushel baskets. We should take part in the Public Square as proud bearers of truth. We would be even worse off now if we didn’t have the 50% of the country who voted for Romney trying to mitigate the damage. Our government never has been and never will be perfect or even semi-perfect, but WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE?? Totalitarianism?(because you know the other side isn’t worried about building up their own personal morality and any opening in the system they will grab as quickly as possible) Anarchy?

      We can’t all run off and live off the land in our little Catholic compounds, as nice and cozy as that sounds!

      Christ will look after the Church and persecution is expected – that is true! BUt we cannot hide from the challenge this time in history brings. We must put on our armor and use those graces!

      • NotANeoCon

        au contrare. we can, in fact, choose to live off the land. and it may be exactly what God is calling you to do.

        • justamom

          Does look wonderful! But my husband wouldn’t go for it! I think your lifestyle is admirable, but truly all people are not called to it.

      • musicacre

        The big mess we are in with 95% of ‘Catholics” contracepting is precisely because Catholics definitely were NOT first of all growing the morality of the home. It absolutely can never be over emphasized, since so many parents handed over formation to the state on such a wide scale! It actually takes a lifetime of dedication. The new “barbarians” as I heard it from a well-known Catholic speaker is actually your new precious children who were not born knowing the truth and must be painstakingly guided through the process all the while building a culture within your home…and yes it spills into the immediate community if you are visible. We were visible to others at church and the first to homeschool way back when.. in1990, and there is now a flourishing and growing strong faith community that takes the raising of kids seriously and not just lamenting and wringing of hands that the public school ruined their kids. Believe me, a community that becomes strong in living out the Catholic ideals gets noticed in the “public” square.

        • justamom

          Yes – we sure might get noticed – that is why we need that armor!! The demonization of Rick Santorum(a homeschooler like us) is a case in point.

          • musicacre

            Part of the reason I said what I did is because I have seen many Catholics run programs, try to evangelize all the while their own children were neglected. I see it time and again. I’m saying….and emphasizing that you can never take it too seriously, making sure your own kids are evangelized. It doesn’t happen by osmosis.

  • Bob

    Through this election, Augustine’s “City of God” comes to mind. The choice is simple: do we build the city of God, or the city of man? We have jettisoned God from society, as seen by our decayed morals and culture of abortion, contraception, pornography, materialism and secularism. We have chosen the city of man, and our country will be tossed someday on the ash heap of societies and empires whose death came about due to the acceptance of immorality. Welcome to Sodom. All I see here in these posts is a rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic. I’m not looking over my shoulder, lest I turn in to a pillar of salt…….

  • Grandma Pat

    Dear Mr. Frohnen: I pray God will forgive me for I want to call you a pompous, arrogant, head in the clouds university know it all! Nothing has changed? Today I met with the Aquinas Academy board, a small but dedicated group of parents who operate and fund this jewel of a school, a “pearl of great price” (Cardinal Dolan). We are confronted with the medical Insurance contract renewal due the end of the month. The cost was raised substantially and contraceptives and “pregnancy and any other like diseases” were included as mandated. What to do? You are so smart – Senior Fellow at the Russel Kirk Center – tell me?

    Talk to families worried and saddened for the future of the country, their children and grand children. Get out from behind your desk and speak up for the 49% of the country supporting the 51% with their hands out. Use your talents and lawyerly wiles for the defense of FREEDOM, even for those who work hard and are successful! Pat

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  • Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
    Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10
    Don’t take the speck out of the eye of the Church which after all is full of sinners. The professor is right to concentrate on the value of a good personal life in the face of America’s decline. The story of the leaven in the loaf comes readily to mind. Be thankful you can still post in freedom. At least in America you still discuss the escatological issues; here in secular materialist Australia no one cares anymore. I know such suggestions may seem sanctimonious with the gall still in your throat. But in other countries, the idea that one man as leader over another in a democracy is not all that important. It was in Nazi Germany, however in a real democracy you should ponder the important of a stalemate in the two houses as a bigger threat, or a solace. I personally live to love my wife; my child and try to respect myself in an every increasingly flux. Out of Pandora’s box also came hope. That hope is Christ.

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  • J G

    The Republic is dead. I think that is an occasion for mourning. What has taken its place is an alien and deadly thing. We will now see the culture of death come to fruition. It won’t be pretty.

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