Delenda Est

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I recently received a thoughtful question from a reader that I decided should be best addressed in a separate post. The question was generated by my exchange with Thabiti some months back, and there is no real point in trying to resurrect an old comment thread. So here we are.

The question goes like this. I had asked Thabiti why the abortion carnage was not sufficient grounds for another civil war, wondering why the “moral question” trumps all constitutional matters in the 19th century, but not in the 21st.

My questioner wanted to know what I would do if the tables were turned on me. When would I allow the moral question to trump my federalism? Suppose the War Between the States had never happened, and that today some pro-abortion blue states wanted to secede in order to establish abortion rights. How strong would my commitment to states’ rights federalism be then?

I think it is a great question, and the answer is that you cannot build a federal system when the component parts belong to different civilizations. Neither can you do it when the component parts were once part of the same civilization but have been headed in different directions. But I am running ahead.

My commitment to federalism is pretty strong, but nothing in that category outranks the laws of God. So this means that and so I would want to use the federalism to manage the crack-up. Depending on the circumstances, my inclination would be to let them go. There might be times when fighting with a departing state would be morally necessary, but that would have nothing to do with states’ rights — the same circumstances would require war with a neighboring sovereign state. If you could go to war with Canada over it, then you could go to war with a departing Massachusetts. If not, then not.

The question of secession goes right to the heart of an incipient idolatry of ours that is found in the word indivisible. Only God is indivisible, and all others are pretenders. If the idea of a state going its own way is “unthinkable,” then it would perhaps be a good idea to inquire into why it is unthinkable. Only God is indivisible.

Right next door to the question of secession — a right that the Founders should have made more explicit than they did — is the equally challenging matter of expulsion. There needs to be a mechanism for frog marching somebody to the curb. But enough about California.

A states’ right approach is not the same thing as saying that states know best how to govern themselves. A number of them clearly do not — Illinois springs immediately to mind. States can become tyrannical, and so my questioner asks what would I say about my precious states’ rights when a state was being tyrannical on a significant issue like the right to life, and was (in our thought experiment) at odds with the federal government, which on this matter was in the right. Take the example of New York State liberalizing their abortion laws before Roe v. Wade. During that brief time, a state was running ahead of the central government in this wickedness.

Should pro-life Christians abandon their federalism, and demand that the federal government intervene and do something? Suppose New York wanted to secede rather than give up their abortion?

Quite apart from the inversion of the Bill of Rights after the Civil War, there can be legitimate, constitutional, and necessary restrictions on what a state can and cannot do. A state cannot set up a monarchical form of government for example (Art. 4/Sec 4).

But what happens if they do? I don’t believe the federal government should come in to fix it — that would turn the state into a province. I say this despite the fact that the Constitution says the United States shall “guarantee” each state a republican form of government. It says that, but we don’t have a mechanism for it, and we plainly need one.

I believe that the Constitution should have a provision that would enable the rest of the country to deal with something like this. That provision should allow (say) the Feds to process things in much the same way that we would impeach a president. The House would indict the culprit state, and the Senate would hear the case. If the state is found guilty, they would have three options. The first would be to accept the judgment and fix the problem — the king of South Dakota would return to being a simple governor again. The second option would be for the state to peacefully secede. The third option would be for the Senate to vote to expel that state from the Union.

Such a process would ensure that something like this could be done in an orderly way. What it would not do is create the possibility of “two Americas” developing. That would have already been accomplished by a state adopting a cultural stand at radical variance from many or most of the others. The recent culture war flash points like abortion and homosexual marriage are a case in point.

I can get gumbo and grits more easily in New Orleans than I can in Manchester, New Hampshire. The same goes for hearing live zydeco. These represent variations in a common culture. A farmer with a pickup truck in Wisconsin listens to music all the time that sings about red, Georgia clay, and this, despite the fact that he has never seen any. This is part of the texture of a common culture, and a big part of what makes it so enjoyable to live in a country as big as ours.

But abortion represents an alien civilization. It is ancient Molech worship redivivus. The same sex marriage mirage is same kind of thing. This is not making the same dish with a slightly different recipe. Neither is this gumbo or goulash. It represents an alien civilization, one with a radically different idea of what it means to be human. How could it not be radically different? Mothers cultivate childlessness, wives are male, and husbands are female. Other than that, everything is the same as it was.

This is not making an omelet with three eggs instead of two. It is making an omelet with with three rocks instead of two eggs. And the average diner will not be able to get it down, no matter how many tolerance seminars you make him attend.

The remnants of Christendom and the rising acceptance of the Molech state cannot coexist. One will devour the other. One must give way to the other. The apostles of the aspiring Molech worship know this better than the Christians do. It is a striking fact that the religion of secularism does not have a R2K contingent.

There is a wonderful passage in The Everlasting Man where Chesterton compares the decent (but still lost) pagans of Rome and the dark pagans of Carthage. I think it was because the Carthaginians had what Van Til would later call epistemological self-consciousness. They saw their damnation and doubled down.

So bringing it back to the original question, these two civilizations — secularism and Christianity — cannot be cobbled together, however stout the ropes. I believe that self-government in a federal and decentralized republic is the strongest and best form of civil government. But it is a form of government that has to presuppose a particular kind of  civilization. It grows nowhere else.

Which is why . . . Carthago delenda est.

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ChrisC
ChrisC
8 years ago

While I appreciate what you’re trying to do and say (and wholeheartedly endorse the purpose), I think this is a case where the American devotion to their Constitution leads to all kinds of contortions and contradictions.  Put as simply as I know how, abortion and same-sex marriage are NOT from a different civilisation if that civilisation was one that came out of the Enlightenment, which can be viewed (I think correctly) as a project to maximise and institutionalise individual autonomy.  All modernist and post-modernist ideologies (and much theology sad to say) spring from this, post-modernism attempting to remove the final… Read more »

David Smith
David Smith
8 years ago

Indeed, for a number of reasons, abortion being preeminent, continued union with states whose populations endorse other such Reality-defying policies, is neither preferable nor is it really possible.

David Axberg
8 years ago

“then you could go to war with a departing Massachusetts” thanks for thinking we would be the departed ;-) but I really doubt that would happen we “built the ship and will make sure to go down with it”. Of course leading the way as we did with tea parties and mandatory health care.  

Nathan Brunaugh
8 years ago

State Excommunication…a novel idea to me, but a good one.

Reuben K.
Reuben K.
8 years ago

The Middle ages were the true age of reason. The Enlightenment was a farce of folly.

John Capps
John Capps
8 years ago

David Axburg: “Massachusetts … leading the way as we did with tea parties and mandatory health care.”
Don’t forget compulsory education! (The Old Deluder Satan Act)

Aaron Snell
8 years ago

ChrisC-
I knew you to be an Englishman at “civilisation” and “maximise.” Too bad you couldn’t have worked a “whilst” in there, too.

Rob Steele
8 years ago

“They saw their damnation and doubled down.”  Poetic and prophetic.

Dan Glover
8 years ago

ChrisC, a monarch is more flexible as you say, but this is only good if that monarch is truly Christian.  If that monarch honours God’s laws and seeks to uphold them, great, though in modern England the monarchy really hasn’t much teeth with regards to making/upholding laws.  But say the monarch did have some real (as opposed to merely figure-head) authority.  The flexibility of the monarch would only be good if the monarch was a godly individual.  Queen Elizabeth II – great.  Her son, Charles – not so much.  Whatever form of government a nation adopts, be it monarchy, constitutional… Read more »

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
8 years ago

Dan — You’re not from the U.S. because you said “honours.” I wouldn’t venture beyond that.

Matt
Matt
8 years ago

States, at this point, aren’t much more than administrative divisions.  The power, attention, and money all lie in DC.  Even apart from abortion or gay marriage, mass immigration has already rendered the US an empire of disparate peoples rather than a single people.  Indeed, even in the heyday of American nationalism the common culture only was attainable at the exclusion of other elements, blacks notably, but other racial groups as well as non-racial groups like catholics, and this exclusion got pretty draconian at times.  We’ve tried to square this circle, but beyond a certain point it can’t be done anymore,… Read more »

JohnM
JohnM
8 years ago

Southern secession was a repudiation of democratic process. I’m not so sure but what shutting down the government over objectionable legislation  isn’t as well. Not that democracy is sacred, but it is dishonest to say you’re for representative democracy  if you mean only as long as you can stand what results from the process.

Dan Glover
8 years ago

Hi Jane, In Canada (wink) we have a constitutional monarchy (ChrisC & I are homies).  However, like merry ol’ England we have only a figure head of a monarch (same one, in fact) and like our cousins to the south, our courts pretty much have reign to eviscerate whatever good might be left of our constitution and whatever the presiding flavour we get in the most recent election can amend the constitution to say what they want if there isn’t the leeway for the courts to reinterpret.  Oddly, we find ourselves in the strange situation of having a more conservative federal gov’t than either the US or the UK… Read more »

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
8 years ago

Yes, but you have a strange idea of what bacon is. I would have guessed Canadian first but I really had nothing to go on to distinguish between Commonwealth Countries. :) You could have been Aussie, Kiwi, heck Jamaican for all I knew!

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
8 years ago

I think your premise that what you call two cultures cannot coexist is belied by the fact that evangelical Christians live in places like Boston and New York and San Francisco, and atheists live in places like Spokane and Dallas and Salt Lake City.  They are the minority opinion within the culture, and they no doubt find it vexatious to live among people who mostly don’t share their values.  However, they are free to preach, proseletyze, protest, organize, and, of course, live their own lives as they see fit.  Do not confuse “I’m not allowed to use the legal system… Read more »

Dan Glover
8 years ago

I should have asked, “what country am I from. eh?”…and don’t knock the bacon.  At least we know the difference between ham and bacon up here.

Steven Opp
Steven Opp
8 years ago

Eric, the abortion issue is all about who is allowed to exist in a culture.

Paul Reed
Paul Reed
8 years ago

Thabiti’s question on abortion can be made much more difficult.  Forget starting an entire war over abortion.   How about just agreeing that women who get abortions should face jail time?  I can’t tell you how many fellow pro-lifers will state that women who get abortions shouldn’t go to jail.  As pro-lifers, we won’t even say that women who get abortions should face a civil penalty.  So it’s probably unlikely that we’re going to go to war over abortion. 

Robert
Robert
8 years ago

Janr, I knew that Dan was Canadian from his overall spelling. Theeir spelling is a mixtire of British and American standard spelling. The purpose of the mass immigration by the Washington types is to bring in a people who have no concept of a Constitutional Re[ublic. Canada has it worse. Ontario is being taken over by Islam

Dan Glover
8 years ago

Our spelling may be a mixture, but our bacon is pure Canadian goodness…    Robert, Canada unfortunately has a bad immigration policy for a long time, probably worse than the US, though our current gov’t is trying to reform it (and being fought every step of the way by the Canadian media and academia).  Speaking of immigration, Marvin Olasky made an interesting bracketed comment in World Magazine back in July:  “While researching Hispanic views on abortion 20 years ago, I heard pro-life views from Mexican immigrants who feared their children would be “Americanized” on this issue and become pro-abortion.”    [you… Read more »

Aaron Snell
8 years ago

Dan – beauty, eh. 

Dan Glover
8 years ago

Aaron – No doot aboot it.  Now I’m going to put on my toque, eat some poutine and catch some zeds. 

Robert
Robert
8 years ago

Dan, what is your take on Quebec?

Dan Glover
8 years ago

Not much time right now but in a nut-shell, probably the most secular society in the Americas.  Used to be vast majority Catholic so very interesting to see how different they now are…very Liberal.  I’m a conservative western Canadian so I don’t have much sympathy for Quebec politically.  They receive a huge amount in federal and provincial monies (through the farce called “transfer payments”) annually, the load of which is borne by the “have” provinces (BC, Saskatchewan, Ontario, but by far mostly Alberta).  They legislate a lot of “French only” policies in their own province, yet everywhere else in Canada,… Read more »

Dan Glover
8 years ago

That should say (Japanese, Chinese, Indian, etc.-only signs are quite common in our bigger cities)

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
8 years ago

But I don’t think there were any words in Dan’s post other than “honour” that are spelled more than one way in any version of English. Were there? So how would you know anything beyond “he’s a native English speaker, but not American?”

Dan Glover
8 years ago

You’re right, Jane.  I just looked and there was only “honour” as a hint.  Not very good behaviour on my part, not up to calibre, even off colour, perhaps.  If I were asking someone to guess and didn’t want to cause a clamour, I should have included more of my favourites in the centre of my long paragraph (which I still can’t divide).  In my defence, I didn’t want to catalogue a bunch of words just for the sake of emphasizing (see, not Brit) the difference in case no one found the humour in it and it came across as… Read more »

Ellen of Tasmania
Ellen of Tasmania
8 years ago

I used to envy the U.S. their constitution, but that was when I thought they really meant it. Still, I imagine it can be a comforting thing to know it’s there – sort of like an old family Bible in the bookcase.
I enjoyed Tom Woods book on nullification. Do you think it could work?

James Goodman
8 years ago

Carthago delenda est. And what with the national debt running at $17 trill, the USA deborrowa est.

John McNeely
John McNeely
8 years ago

Thank You, Pastor Wilson for answering my question. It did clear up where you are coming from on this. If I understand you correctly on this issue. you believe the south was not too far from being a Christian civilization that would keep you from supporting it in the war.  On the other hand, my hypothetical group of states that would secede to continue abortion would be at its inception an “alien civilization”. You said, “But abortion represents an alien civilization. It is ancient Molech worship redivivus.” Does this mean you do not see the race based slavery of the south as an alien… Read more »

Robert
Robert
8 years ago

Jane, I am a linguist. Spotting Canadians is subtle. Usually it is little things that show it. If only one word in the paragraph has a word like colour, but the rest are spelled as an American would spell something, then the author is probably Canadian. A couple of summers ago, I went into a coffee shop where a family sat; father, mother, nine year old daughter. I asked the girl what grade she was in. She replied that she had just finished Grade Three. I asked her what part of Canada she was from. She asked in amazement, “How… Read more »

Dan Glover
8 years ago

Hey Robert, the real fun must come with all the words that Brits, Canucks and ‘Mercans can spell which are permitted in two or more ways.  Or do you find that, inspite of multiple allowable official ways of spelling, people from each country still spell primarily one way? 

Robert
Robert
8 years ago

Don’t forget the African/Caribbean/Asian dialects. It is not just the spelling of a word. Sometimes, the sentence structure or specific vocabulary will tell me something. For instance, “I am reading English,” and “I am majoring in English,” mean the same thing. Can you tell which country uses which phrase? The groups that throw me the most are immigrant groups. Buenas dias y’all

Dan Glover
8 years ago

I would think the Brits say the “reading English” option and Canadians and Americans the “majoring” option.  Not sure about Aussies/Kiwis.  Scots and Irish also would “read English” or “read for English”, correct??

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
8 years ago

Robert, I get that, and I get the Grade Three example (I would have picked up on that, too) but if there were no words that were spelled differently from the way Americans spell them in the post, and no words used that a Canadian *would* write differently from an American, how WOULD you tell? Regardless of how good anyone is at spotting clues, the clues have to be there. I cannot find any clues in Dan’s post other than “honour,” which by itself tells us nothing more than “not American.” As far as I can tell, his subject matter… Read more »

Robert
Robert
8 years ago

Jane, I am not 100%. Sometimes you can’t tell. This discussion makes me think about some American ethnic minority writers I have read. Especially Black authors who do not have names that are associated with the Black community (Juwan, Aiesha, etc). When I was young, I couldn’t tell at all when the author was Black. I can usually tell, now, but that comes from maturity and reading many different authors. Enthnolinguistc patterns interest me.

Robert
Robert
8 years ago

One of my best friends is a Canadian expat. I have watched Canadian tv shows (Loved E.N.G.) I spend time at GoodEreader.com For me, the fact that only one word was spelled Canadian along with the rest of the sentence sounding consistent with American speech patters, told me that Dan is Canadian, don’cha know (My friend uses that phrase all of the time. She only says eh when she wants to ham it up.

John Rabe
John Rabe
8 years ago

Eric: the alien civilization Doug’s talking about is imposing its morality through the legal system at every turn. The only reason you think that this isn’t a matter of “I’m not allowed to exist in this culture” is because either you have a poor grasp of trajectories, or you’re part of the “alien civilization” and thus on the comfortable side of the current line. Or perhaps both.