In the aftermath of the disastrous 2012 election, many a conservative has "pulled in his horns," whether out of despair over the result or an inability to imagine how to continue. I can sympathize with the former reaction; I've often felt it myself as we've surrendered freedom slice by slice to the scalpels of the political elite. But the latter case yields easily to a simple technique.
What technique, you say? Good Lord! By now you should know I don't do short pieces.
It's been evident these past few years that the lovers of freedom have been fighting a rearguard action. We've been pressed backward by forces larger than ours, directed by tacticians who eclipse ours in ruthlessness. Several of the positions we've defended have fallen, while others have barely hung on. It's not a picture to inspire great confidence.
That's not completely bad. Confidence, as has often been said, is what you feel when you have no idea of the danger you're in. The routs we've suffered in recent years ought not to inspire us to think that "we've got 'em on the run." And there is indeed great danger perceptible in the shapes of current developments.
If a seasoned commander were to view such a theater objectively, he would make his tactical choices according to certain overall guidelines:
- Reinforce your successes;
- Don't throw good money after bad;
- Don't impede your enemy when he's making a mistake.
Much of warfare is determined by how well the commanders on opposite sides of a theater cleave to those rules. That applies to political combat as well.
In the political struggle of our time, the individual "battlefields" and "maneuvers" can be classified as:
- Developing, but as yet of uncertain significance;
The planners on each side make such assessments continuously. Sometimes they get them wrong...and sometimes they go wrong, because of developments no one foresaw. A historical example from the opening weeks of World War I is "Von Kluck's Turn." This maneuver by an aggressive general of the German forces on the Western Front was intended to add to the numbers poised to crush the French field armies from behind. It would have been unobjectionable had it not been for the energy of General Joseph Gallieni, commander of the military district of Paris, who had insisted upon preparing a force capable of defending the city.
Gallieni saw the defense of Paris as critical to the French war effort: were Paris allowed to fall, the French armies would have lost a great part of their morale, and possibly their cohesion as well. Yet the forces massed in Paris did not defend Paris as such; rather, they assaulted the German First Army in the flank it had exposed by turning away from Paris. The success of the Anglo-French forces at the First Battle of the Marne, though the achievement fell short of what it might have been, thwarted Germany's overall strategy (the "Schlieffen Plan") and gave the Allies time to marshal sufficient forces for an eventual victory.
Had Gallieni not bucked the political and military hierarchy to conserve three army corps for Paris's defense, "Von Kluck's Turn" might well have allowed Germany's forces to compel an overall French surrender. Alexander von Kluck, the German First Army commander who had unilaterally decided to swerve away from Paris, would have been hailed as a commander of genius and a great hero. As matters eventuated, Von Kluck is regarded as one of the "goats" of the war for pressing too hard against a tempting target while a critical new threat coalesced to his rear.
If conservative political strategists fifty years ago had looked upon the cultural trends of the United States and said to themselves, "We have no need to involve ourselves in such things," we of today would have been able to criticize their judgment with a degree of justice. However, we don't know whether such an assessment was even made; all we can say is "If only we had known," and resolve to be more alert to such threats in the future.
But another question of importance arises at this point: As events progress and trends develop, how can we measure the correctness or dubiousness of such decisions after they've been made -- possibly in time to correct our worst mistakes?
Charles Murray, in writing about social pathologies and the political measures applied to them, has emphasized the importance of watching the right metrics. For example, with regard to "public" education, the right metric was most definitely not the amounts being spent on the schools; nor was it the self-esteem of the students. We allowed state and local governments to escalate school spending with wild abandon. We allowed the federal government to stick its nose into primary and secondary education, most unConstitutionally. Yet our children kept failing to meet the norms of previous generations. Indeed, they slid further and further behind those norms while they became ever more unruly, ill-mannered, and prone to physical and social disaster, as we emptied our pockets of valuta and our hearts of hope for their futures.
If the car won't start, pumping more air into the tires won't fix the problem. But you have to know something about how cars work to reach that conclusion. Similarly, you have to know something about how children learn -- what the preconditions are; what specific preparations are required for learning specific subjects; and what can go wrong in the process -- to fix a failing school...or a nationful of them. You have to study the history of classroom education. You have to be willing to start small "pilot" programs and observe them in operation. You have to resolve to disregard supposed "experts" who can't even point to an example of their nostrums in practice, much less successfully so. (Publicly hanging a few such pour encourager les autres should be reserved for extreme cases.) Then you have to watch the right variables to be at all confident that your new fixes are getting the job done:
- The teachers' salary level isn't a "right variable;"
- The opulence of the school buildings isn't a "right variable;"
- The popularity of the school's athletic teams isn't a "right variable;"
- The little darlings' "self-esteem" most definitely isn't a "right variable."
And of course, there's always the Point of Diminishing Returns to beware of: God's little way of keeping our heads from exploding from mushrooming self-congratulation. Just because tactic X has been effective, doing X twice as hard, or twice as long, or twice as expensively is not guaranteed to be twice as effective. Indeed, it might not be effective at all.
You might have already deduced that this is the start of a new series of essays. They'll be pitched at a highly intelligent reader, and held at a fairly abstract level, for two reasons:
- That's just the way I swing;
- Given our lack of success with "grass-roots" mobilization, it's time to work on the higher levels of the structure of political outreach.
For those not familiar with the Pyramid of Political Production:
Level 2: Think Tanks.
Level 3: Popularizers.
Level 4: The General Public.
This is a special case of how all new ideas are born, developed, conveyed to large numbers of people, and eventually become dominant (i.e., "conventional wisdom"). If it troubles you to think of freedom, the free market, and a sharply limited government as "new ideas," be not afraid: "new" can often mean "forgotten." That's the case before us.
I'll return over and over to the three central guidelines of successful combat enunciated above. Perhaps you might give them a few of your spare moments, as well.
In any contest beyond the trivial, there comes a time of defeat: a time to take stock of ourselves.
There comes a time to employ wisdom garnered from other venues.
There comes a time to show that we're unbroken and formidable.
There comes a time to make our ancestors proud of us.
There comes a time to stand our ground.
The time is now.