Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Rising" to Empire, Falling from Grace

The following article is adapted from my contribution to a forthcoming collection of essays addressing America's descent into imperialism.

“If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”

This panegyric to what is commonly called “American Exceptionalism” could have been composed by any of a number of GOP-aligned media figures, such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, or their legions of local imitators. Those words were actually spoken by Madeleine Albright in 1998, when she was the Clinton administration’s Secretary of State. She was defending the U.S. role in enforcing an embargo on Iraq in the aftermath of the first Gulf War in 1991.

Albright had memorably addressed that issue in a different fashion three years earlier during an interview on the CBS program 60 Minutes. 

“We have heard that a half million children have died,” observed interviewer Leslie Stahl. “I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
Without challenging the statistics, or displaying even a tremor of remorse, Albright replied: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it.”

By reconciling Albright’s statements we learn that when “we have to” impose policies that result in the avoidable death, through starvation and disease, of hundreds of thousands of children, “it is because we are America.... We stand tall. We see further into the future.”

For some reason, the self-styled seers and visionaries who defended the Iraqi embargo didn’t foresee how that policy, coupled with decades of U.S. meddling in the Middle East, would cultivate and nurture the seeds that bore murderous fruit on September 11, 2001. 

To ordinary people not blessed with Albright’s oracular insight, it seemed obvious that some variety of murderous blowback would be the inevitable product of a foreign policy that featured deliberate mass starvation punctuated with bombing raids. However, the custodians of permissible opinion have decreed that history began on the morning of 9/11 – that nothing the U.S. government did prior to that date has any organic connection to the motives and actions of those who carried out the attack (at least as that attack is described in the officially sanctioned narrative). To suggest that Washington’s policies had some relationship to anti-American sentiment in the Middle East is to commit a grave blasphemy against American Exceptionalism – the official creed of the ruling Establishment, irrespective of party.

What makes America exceptional, from this perspective, is not the blessings we have been allotted by Providence, or the individual liberties promised by our country’s founding documents. America is exceptional because of the power of the government that rules us, as manifest in its ability to kill people in distant lands. 

Death-dealing herald of empire: A Global Hawk drone.
That view, once again, is not limited to bellicose left-wing internationalists like Albright. On several occasions, Rush Limbaugh – who, like fellow late-blooming militarist Dick Cheney, had “other priorities” when he was of draft age during Vietnam – has related an anecdote about witnessing a military fly-over during a Super Bowl in the 1980. Aroused by the spectacle to the point of rapture, Limbaugh (by his own account) was moved to exclaim, “How can you see something like that, and be a liberal who hates your country?”

Offensive as it would be to both Limbaugh and Albright, a compelling case can be made that their reflexive militarism is a repudiation of our country’s founding principles. The Framers of the Constitution, painfully familiar with the uses to which large military establishments could be put, never intended for the united States of America (in Congress assembled) to have a standing, centralized army. While they did have the lamentable intention of creating a consolidated central government -- and pretty clear ambitions for territorial expansion to the West -- they did not entertain grandiose ambitions of policing the world. 

The most admirable members of the Founding Generation understood that love of country was not measured by one’s enthusiasm for government-inflicted bloodshed. That’s why Washington’s Farewell Address emphasized both adequate provision for defense and the compelling necessity to avoid entanglement in the affairs of other countries. 
Imperialism by joystick: A drone operator carries out an attack.

“Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be,” observed John QuincyAdams in his 1821 Independence Day Address. “But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.... She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.” (Emphasis added.) 

Unlike the supposedly far-seeing Madeleine Albright – who couldn’t foretell how her arrogant endorsement of genocide in 1995 would help catalyze the enmity that led to the devastating 9/11 assault six years later – Adams displayed uncanny foresight in describing the degenerate state of American “patriotism” today, 190 years after he delivered his warning against interventionism: “Patriots” today celebrate force, not liberty.

Today, what Adams and his generation called “Independence Day” is simply called the Fourth of July. Rather than being a celebration of individual liberty, the “Fourth” has become an annual orgy of militarism, often involving saturation-level barrages of propaganda in the form of televised war “movie marathons” and military parades that wouldn’t be out of place in Pyongyang. 

Lest it be forgotten, Independence Day originally commemorated an act of insurrection against the “legitimate” government – an incomparably powerful globe-spanning empire on which the sun never set. The men who committed that act of rebellion would probably consider it perverse that they are “honored” by public rituals extolling the imperial power of a government that is more corrupt and oppressive – by several orders of magnitude – than that of George III.

America was unique because of its origins in principled rebellion against lawless rule, and because of a set of founding political instruments that, while imperfect, did provide individuals some protection against government aggression. Those traits that are typically celebrated as tokens of “American Exceptionalism” – an interventionist foreign policy; a Chief Executive with unqualified power to kill, imprison, and torture people at whim; a badly overgrown military establishment – are, in a specific sense, un-American. 

A commercial republic in which both citizens and their elected representatives are governed by law, and individual liberty is regarded as the highest political good, would be truly exceptional. A sprawling empire ruled by a corrupt oligarchy that plunders both the national treasury and the resources of distant lands is actually quite commonplace. 

 To catch a glimpse of the America that could have been, it's useful to pay a brief visit to the period between the end of the War for Independence and the mercantilist counter-revolution in Philadelphia that abolished the Articles of Confederation and created a more centralized constitutional Union.

 In 1782, a year after the British surrender at Yorktown and one year before the Treaty of Paris finalized American independence, a former French Lieutenant named J. Hector Saint John de Crevecoeur composed a series of essays entitled Letters from an AmericanFarmer. Six decades before Alexis de Tocqueville published Democracy in America, Crevecoeur devoted his considerable literary gifts to an examination of the question: “What, then, is the American, this new man?” 

Unlike Europe, a continent plagued by entrenched elites, there were “no aristocratical families, no courts, no kings, no bishops, no ecclesiastical dominion, no invisible power giving to a few a very visible one” in America, he wrote. The inhabitants of this new-born confederacy of constitutional republics were “a people of cultivators, scattered over an immense territory … united by the silken bands of mild government, all respecting the laws, without dreading their power, because they are equitable.” (Emphasis added.) 

At its best, the "mild" government to which Crevecoeur referred was self-government; it was the spontaneous cooperation of productive people, rather than the imposed order of a parasitical elite. This state of affairs was hardly uniform throughout the confederation, of course, but that it existed at all was something truly inspiring.

On "Evacuation Day," November 25, 1783, British troops ended their occupation of New York. In comments recorded by the New York Packet newspaper, a departing British officer expressed a bemused admiration for the Americans, who distinguished themselves by their unwillingness to be ruled:

“Here, in this city, we have had an army for more than seven years, and yet we could not keep the peace of it. Scarcely a day or night passed without tumults. Now we are [leaving] everything is in quietness and safety. These Americans are a curious, original people; they know how to govern themselves, but nobody else can govern them.”

The promise of the War for Independence was the establishment of a system of individual liberty protected by law – and, at least at that early stage, that promise was being kept. That genuinely exceptional America earned the admiration of the world – not because its government possessed the power to murder people by remote control, or annihilate entire continents in a nuclear paroxysm, but rather because its people were free and independent, and its society -- although displaying all of the imperfections to which fallen man is heir – aspired to be governed by the Golden Rule. 

Tragically, "our" government’s rise to global power has meant our country’s fall from grace. 

Your donations to keep Pro Libertate on-line are urgently needed -- and deeply appreciated. God bless! 

Dum spiro, pugno!


Anonymous said...


idahobob said...

The collection of essays will be in book form.....yes?

If so, I will want more than one.


Anonymous said...

Another great one!

Anonymous said...

Yet...stil...again... more elucid writing from Mr. Grigg.

Our country's decent into the morass of Empire and Bread and Circuses is so painful to is hard to decide which is worse to observe...utterly oblivious children waving 4th of July flags and waving at marching parading soldiers....or watching the parents of said children..who DO know better....enabling thier children to an ominous future of horror.....

Thanks Bill for your writing.

Rich Birkett said...

Libertate? I had coined the term "libertation" as a fusion of "liberty" and "liberation" back in the 1990s. I thought I was the first. Am I wrong?

MoT said...

Will, I remember you telling me before that writing about such tragic history saddened you. I'm amazed you continue with eyes filled with tears. It does clear the vision of dreck but must make it difficult to drive.

Doc Ellis said...

no need to post

Greetings Will

Shared as Will Grigg on Amerikan Fall From Grace

Thank you for writing this essay

Doc Ellis 124

no need to post

Sans Authoritas said...


The word "Libertate" existed for 2500 years before you did. It's Latin, and lee-ber-tah-te is how it's pronounced. Simply means "liberty."

Tucker McElroy said...

Central banks, usury, standing armies all are the seeds of tyranny.

Bob said...

Another well-written essay, Will!

Jessica said...

Will -

I echo Bob's comment - I would purchase multiple copies of such a book. In fact, I'm sure you'd have more than enough essays of your own to fill a book. It would be even better if it took several books! :)

I discovered your writings on Lew Rockwell's site and I'm thrilled to listen to your interviews on Antiwar Radio with Scott. In fact, I'm came here today to read this article before listening to your latest interview with Scott. When I saw you were a guest, I couldn't wait until the interview was available through iTunes; I must have checked it a dozen times!

Long rambling shortened, your insights are invaluable. I'm crudely paraphrasing something you said during an interview a few months ago with Scott Horton but if my recall is at all accurate, you two were discussing the risks of speaking out against the government (I think you were talking about the CIA/FBI 'mapping' neighborhoods), risking becoming a target, etc. and Scott posed the question of how to get people to see how eroded liberty has become and you said it takes each individual deciding the truth is worth speaking and knowing that someone has to be the first. (Like I said, crude paraphrase!) That really stuck with me. You have a gift for making the complicated eloquently accessible and I rely on you and others like you to help me explain it to those I know.

Thanks for sharing your wisdom and also for offering a way to donate to your work. I'm off to listen to your interview!

Brian Schuck said...

The militarized national security state is now inescapable. This morning at a fast food drive-up, I was asked to donate to military families. The state already spends trillions of the taxpayers' hard-earned $$ on wars and the military, yet somehow can't find a way to take care of the troops and their dependents (?!!??)

I dearly love baseball, but it's becoming a chore to ignore the endless jet flyovers, strutting Marines unfurling huge flags, and the announcers continually and breathlessly paying tribute to the troops. And now it seems the National Anthem at the start of the game is not enough-- we all need to stand again at the 7th inning stretch and belt out God Bless America just to prove for the umpteenth time that we're all mindlessly behind the Great Empire.

Trivial-- yes. But also indicative of a society that is right on the edge of succumbing to authoritarian militarism. We used to ridicule (and rightly so) the pompous Soviets reviewing the streams of tanks and missiles in their May Day parades. We have become what we once had the good sense to deride.

castiron said...

Jessica & others wanting to listen to more,

Will is a guest of Dr. Stan's Radio liberty nearly every Friday. The shows are archived here:

Load up your iPod : )

aferrismoon said...

"in principled rebellion against lawless rule"

Should u decide to publish your essays in book form perhaps the above quote from this post would be a fair description of your work.

One might imagine Albright could foretell exactly what was going to happen in the future, it seems to me that the 'Warlords' [ always safely tucked away] rather enjoy the stirring-up of people to commit acts of terror against their 'own' opening the door to justified revenge - squeals of bloody delight.


WhyLie said...

this article fails to mention how this 'new American man' imprisoned thousands of North American natives into Reservations and stole their land and violated Treaties.

William N. Grigg said...

WhyLie -- I broadly alluded to those crimes by referring to the U.S. government's "lamentable intention of creating a consolidated central government -- and pretty clear ambitions for territorial expansion to the West...." Those designs had yet to coalesce into the doctrine of conquest called "Manifest Destiny," but they were present from the beginning.

I've written about the atrocities committed against the "Indians" at some length:

Sibkiss said...

Another billiant article. My friend says "That's who should be our President, I tell you; he's brilliant, articulate, and libertarian minded." I don't think that you should be POTUSA, but I think that you should be involved in the dismantling of the leviathan in the cabinet of say...a Ron Paul administration perhaps? Love to you and your family from your KS friends.

Jon said...

This article reminded me of the LDS scripture in 3 Nephi 16:10

And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.

Anonymous said...

Jessica wrote, "... the CIA/FBI 'mapping' neighborhoods ..."

Huh, I hadn't really thought about that before. Gross Stasi.

Col. B. Bunny said...

On the mark on our imperial policies. Wrong as to "patriots" celebrating this. Neocons love them, among whom GWB.

Wrong as to those policies fueling enmity toward the U.S. Certainly not the primary fuel. Plain-vanilla Islam teaches and has taught hatred of infidels 24/7 and it has been the impetus for aggression against and oppression of infidels everywhere for 1,400 years. Our imperial policies -- mindless and ruinously expensive in their own right -- only fuel Islamic outrage because they demonstrate Muslim inferiority. Everything about us demonstrates that when you get right down to it.

Well before 1995 you can see evidence of this. Remember "the Great Satan"? I'm sure but for U.S. imperialism we'd be in a real love fest with those pricks.

The disdain for the West was part and parcel of Islam way before Sayyid Qutb was lathered up over the thirsty lips and full buttocks of Colorado women.

By all means flay the fools who have us strung out over the globe and solving problems that are arguably those of the Europeans and certainly not ours. But please don't delude yourself that it added anything to Muslim hatred of the West over and above generic Muslim hatred of the West over the centuries.

MoT said...

Sorry, Colonel, but the "fools" have no business solving ANY problems outside of the CONUS. And while fundamentalist nuts exist in both Christendom, Islam, Hinduism etc. etc. Adding fuel to the fire is no excuse.

Col. B. Bunny said...

MoT, agreed as to OCONUS activity.

When "thirsty lips" set Muslim leading "thinkers" off, Americans could have stayed home for 60 years and watched Little Rascal movies and those thinkers and their peeps would still be writhing on the floor with hatred.

Doing anything overseas DOES indeed fuel the fire of Muslim hatred but only in the same way that tossing a book of of matches into a blast furnace makes it hotter.

Gary S said...

Why is the discussion over Islam? It's clear from every piece of information presented Islam had nothing to do with 9-11 and the military industrial complex did.