The Book: The Unwashed Philosophers' Guide To Perfecting An Imperfect Union

The Book, Part 1-Chapter III: Man’s Thirst For Kings

There was a time in America when critical thinking (common sense) was more in fashion. In those times, people sometimes simply gave Bibles away. They didn’t preach, and they didn’t teach, they just said, “Here, read this.”

This could be seen in Russia and Eastern Europe as well, and some folks did read the Bible, starting at the front, yet not always making it all the way to the end where all the “hard choices” and “behold a pale rider” stuff pops up. Many of those people got through it, without the help of any Elmer Gantry preaching hellfire and damnation, or without soft come-hither music whispering, “Come, Come, Come”, inevitably followed by some fellow passing the plate to help keep the preacher’s wife in make-up. What many of them discovered, however much of it they actually read, was a book of wise sayings, great stories, and common-sense rules for living peaceably among their neighbors. Readers discovered there was a little bit of nearly everything that could be found in the Bible; some stories are told by way of parables and poems, some are told straight up (“thou shalt”), and others are told through allegory which, even to a crusty” old fur trapper, was the best way to tell a story around the campfire, a favored tradition from way back when the Irish first invented storytelling.

It has been said that the Bible contains all the elements of what anthropologists call “survival enhancing” traits for a society; common sense, wisdom, and insights (which even more secular societies need to survive.) Much can be learned from it (by the unafraid), so it is not a thing to dismiss outright because of its religious themes. Neither is it a place the vain man should tread too heavily.

In an opening scene of the 1960s Civil War film Shenandoah, a well-to-do Virginia farmer (James Stewart) surrounded by his children at the dinner table, begins saying grace, in which he details to God all the things he’d done to carve that farm out of the wilderness, then finishes by saying, “But we thank You just the same, Lord.”

That got quite a laugh at the time, but we’ve just identified what probably is Man’s most dangerous vanity, for here we see the type of strong, independent person who accepts God because God agrees with him and not the other way around. In the 17th century, Rene Descartes tried to prove the existence of God through Reason, for the same purpose, to bring God to men who admired and respected logic more. (As lawyers would say, you may have the wrong moving party there.)

That’s a risky venture, and C S Lewis warns us away from this path of inquiry in his several writings, for it can lead to where the pseudo-religionist Left now wishes to take us, moving toward rather than away from our vanities, with their current myth of collective salvation. This is secularism’s fatal flaw, for no matter how deeply felt the modern humanist’s ideal of justice or right and wrong might be, it always comes with a price tag that reads “Price Subject to Change Without Notice” and each and every one of those price changes will represent a dilution, not a strengthening, of the beliefs. So, within no more than three generations, beliefs must drift ever so much closer to self-proclaimed Progressive and Liberal agencies of change.

We won’t go where Lewis warns us to stay away, for we are soon to see public expressions in America, as Lewis did in Anglican London in 1940, where religion becomes “good”, but only if it makes society better, according to some human-made criteria whose price tag can change any day. When we can go to Orbitz and find special package deals to Paradise on “Enlightened Progressive Liberal Airlines” we will know Hitler’s Germany is just around the corner.

Still, for over 30 years we’ve debated CS Lewis on some tiny, finer points of his thesis, for a religious society is a major component of that survival enhancing society. It keeps the ground fertile for future generations. Our Republic simply cannot stand, the Constitution cannot survive, Liberty cannot exist unless we are at least wrestling with the Devil. It comes down to millions of personal choices, in the aggregate, as when say 75% of us are either locked in toe-to-toe personal combat with Ol’ Clootie or have already whupped him, while the rest of the Don’t-Give-A-Damns standing over on the sidelines are waiting for a handout. We don’t know the cut-off but believe that Europe has already thrown in the towel. Reverse those ratios, and free society, not to mention generations of millions of unborn souls, are doomed. This is the lesson learned from Communism in Europe for 45 years and this is the crux of our argument with Lewis.

Using Biblical metaphor to describe Man’s struggle he has within himself, and how it figures in with this other struggle, our current “war”, we often identify as the battle between Good and Evil or Liberty versus Tyranny.

These things are virtually the same, after all. Both are eternal, and the choices Man must make between his pride and his vanity (which we consider to be innate) and humbling himself (a choice) before the exclusive sovereignty of an Order in the Universe, however you wish to conceive that to define the central theme of almost all Chaos in Man’s history, and Chaos, we believe to be the sole domain of Satan. God vs anti-God. We all have this inside us, some of us just deny it altogether, while others ‘rassle with it all the time. And when we eventually win, as Pascal said in his Pensees that if we even bother to get into the fight, we will win and some people will hate us for it.

We assert that any list of “First Principles of Liberty” would necessarily include the idea that it is the desire of every man and woman to be able to build and own their house and to be able to pass it on peaceably and in order to do that, to be able to create reciprocal arrangements with their neighbors, protecting all their rights to do this. As we will see, this desire is conditional, depending on where people stand on the “scale” of their Liberty.

You can see the wisdom in this for it entails a whole series of blueprints for the strong House, from the union of a man and a woman, two being better than one, especially since each is hardwired for specific skills and duties the other doesn’t normally have, to a list of understandings between neighbors so that, while pursuing their own ends with the talents they have, neither can attain power over the other. Governments don’t (can’t) pass this sort of thing out. It can only be accomplished through a handshake between citizens. The US Constitution serves as the basis for that handshake.

It takes about three generations to unload all the old baggage (bad habits) “from the old World” and, in that context, this is not unlike the early history of the children of Israel and how quickly they seemed to dismiss God once they’d found a certain level of security in the new world He’d given them, each of the times he had given it to them, and how that sense of security always turned out to be false.

We make no attempt to divine, here, God’s intentions. We simply take on faith, and our understanding of The Human Experience, what works, and generally figure that if it works there is probably a Design to it, and if it doesn’t, and chaos ensues, Ol’ Clootie was likely behind it.

We consider the desire for the House to be one of the four corners of a working free republic, alongside the Rule of Law, Free Markets, and the Constitution and suggest further that ours is a system that works and can work in every culture of the world, and for all time if the people can just hold onto a couple of simple personal practices. Chief among these is gratitude, which always works best when passed from parent to child, from father to son and mother to daughter. Only then would institutional rites, such as the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem…or saying Grace, Passover, and other religious observances of thanksgiving have any enduring meaning.

But standing athwart Man’s desire to be free is his vanity. They are usually at odds with one another, sort of like that little angel on one shoulder and that little devil on the other, each whispering in your ear.

What we learn, early on in the Old Testament, is that this thirst to be free is conditional. It’s a lot stronger when freedom is denied, and a lot less strong when freedom is literally there for the plucking, like fruit from a tree.

When God sent Moses to free the Children of Israel from bondage, they were rarin’ to go. Remember? And, through Moses, God displayed Himself in ways He never would again, with miracles so loaves of unleavened bread from the sky and He kept them fed in the wilderness for many years. Still, so set were the Children in their old ways of the plantation, where life apparently wasn’t all that bad after all, you know, living in houses and sleeping on beds, while being fed and clothed by someone else, they tired rather quickly of their new ways of life.

Once they had to camp out in tents, with skeeters and bugs and wild animals running around everywhere, every time Moses turned his back they’d start melting down their gold watches and designer glasses and start building graven images to the old gods back in Egypt and adopting the “Yeah, but what have You done for us lately?” attitude toward God. They disrespected God pretty quickly if you stop to think about it, yet He hung with them, or so the metaphor goes.

But, God, just like a good German social engineer, decided that you just can’t teach old dogs new tricks, and determined to keep the entire original cast of Exodus in the wilderness for forty years, just to make sure they had learned their lesson and earned their right to get back what they had already squandered generations earlier. You can call it punishment if you want to, but He also knew that when they finally marched into that new “land of milk and honey”, he couldn’t allow any of the old stock that had lived a comfortable life of slavery under Pharaoh to go along. They’d just mess things up. Too much old baggage. He wanted a clean slate going in.

When the children of Israel finally re-entered the Promised Land, they went in with a different kind of hunger for freedom. Gone were the memories of slavery. Theirs was, once more, the hunger to build that house, only we’re not so sure this hunger lasted as long as God originally planned. Something was still missing.

When they went in, they went under a different system of “government” which was meant to have been a kind of self-government, for the Judges (or governors) were to govern according to Mosaic laws, a theocratic constitution (from the Jerusalem Bible) but without the heavy hand of a Lawgiver always hanging over their heads. God didn’t really ask much of the Israelites in return for this new freedom, namely that they remember Him, keep to the Law and the Code, which you could almost write on the back of a McDonald’s napkin, drive out the remaining tribes, and not to hang out with them. And for God’s sake (literally) don’t marry ‘em.

Unfortunately, before the first Judge, Joshua, was barely cold in his grave, the people took up the gods of those other tribes they were supposed to run out. You all have heard of Baal, the ancient polytheistic Canaanite god of fertility? In Fairly short order, the children of Israel pretty much turned their backs on God, only coming back to Him when there was a drought or a new invader on their doorsteps. Turning the Promised Land into a Biblical version of Tolkein’s Shire never seemed to work out. Still, through a lot of ups and downs God kept His end of the covenant with His people a lot better than they stayed with Him…or so the metaphor goes.

To best define “innate,” consider the birds of the Galapagos. Carried there by winds who knows how many thousands of years ago, they developed and evolved separately, apart from all the rest of nature. Still, when scientists played recordings of the sounds of their homelands, they responded especially to those of predators even though they had been cut off from them for hundreds of generations. Science believes this sort of instinct or innateness does not exist in Man.

We’re not so sure.

To make our case, it might not be a bad time to sit down and revisit the Old Testament books of judges, and Samuel 1 & 2 in order to wrap some context around the Israelites and how things were going for them a few hundred years after the death of Joshua. It can be argued that these pieces of the historical biblical narrative essentially give us a peek at what it looks like when democracy and peaceful coexistence among men collapse and descend into chaos. Seems it’s always a work in progress.

Britannica tells us that the Book of Judges, along with Deuteronomy, Joshua, Samuel 1 & 2, and Kings 1 & 2 all belong to a specific historical tradition known as the Deuteronomic Code. Biblical historians suggest that this material was first committed to writing as early as 550 BCE, during the Babylonian Exile. “The “Judges”, of which Joshua was the first, and to whom the title refers were charismatic leaders who delivered Israel from a succession of foreign dominations after their conquest of Canaan” which ultimately gave rise to their return to the Promised Land. Consider these men, if you will, more or less like our first ancient Congress.

Keep in mind the 40-Year Rule Yahweh first imposed on the Children of Israel when He decided that the original refugees from Egypt weren’t up to the task of building a new nation in the Promised Land and made them, instead, mill around in the wilderness for forty years so that their children could move into it with a blank slate. Even Moses was denied a ticket.

Following the biblical narrative, it is true that it took nearly four hundred years for the children of Abraham to squander and lose the Promised Land to Egypt, it “only” took about 100 years of extreme suffering and repression, this time around, for Moses to be called in, redemption and salvation in hand, to lead them back out by way of the Exodus. Further, it would take forty years more, purging the generations of their sins, for Moses to actually deliver them back to the entrance of the Promised Land once more.

It would take another forty years before Joshua, with the Israelites fighting by his side, before ultimately conquering the indigenous tribes living in Canaan and reclaiming God’s endowment to them. Fact or fable, or a combination of the two in the Abrahamic genealogical narrative thus far, we think a decent case can be made for the idea that humankind genuinely does possess an innate capacity, hardwired in our genetic code, to sacrifice our lives and our livelihoods in order to be free from bondage while, just as easily, within a few subsequent generations, take it so much for granted that we eventually lose it and insist we never saw it coming.

Interestingly, the 40-year Rule is implied in our Constitution, for the Founders understood that as men became prosperous and powerful their line will more often than not fall away from Good. They will turn their backs on the Creator of all their good fortune (ingratitude), which can happen quickly, even in the first generation, but more often in drips and drabs into the second and third, until the kids have to drop the drum lessons and go back to school to get a marketable education.

America was the perfect petri dish for the Founders to test their “radical” theories about designing a constitutionally-framed defense against humanity’s innate capacity to succumb to God’s 40-year Rule, and the universal law of diminishing returns on investment in Freedom, Liberty, Independence, and long-term social and cultural order.

Let us not forget that, once we declared independence, we were starting out as a democracy, with no kings to first drain out of our system, so, with the resulting free market system we developed, every time one man’s risen House tumbles and falls, there is always a new one right there to replace it. And this makes America unique in history’s eyes, a case of first instances, and it is why all those nations, with the baggage of aristocrats and privilege-by-birth hanging around their necks, hate us so.

Americans, like the Children of Israel in the era of the Judges, have had none of the royal predators, or royal lures, that has blighted the rest of the world’s path.

When they entered Canaan, God had already given the Children of Israel a constitution, The Law, and a new type of leader, Joshua. After Joshua, for over 300 years, the Children were led by men and women who they elected to lead them. They were a theocratic democracy, each tribe electing a leader, who then elected a Judge (president or prime minister). Some of these were weak, some strong, and it seems, about every 40 years, the people would fall on wickedness, turning their backs on God, who would then allow a neighboring country to make war on them, kill off their best men, burn their crops, and carry away a bunch of women and children. At which time the people would turn back to God, throw themselves at His feet, and beg for mercy, rededicating their lives to His ways.

Allegory or history, the lessons are clear.

Over and over again God always forgave. Then a new leader, most prominent among them Deborah, Gideon, and Samuel would come forth to defeat the armies of the Philistines, and everything would be hinky-dinky for a generation or so.

The entire 300 year period of Judges ran in these cycles; first-generation grateful servants of God, with the rising second and third-generation ingrates and layabouts forgetting the trials and tribulations of their fathers or presuming to be wiser and smarter, thus being forced to do it all over again. Rinse and repeat.

But God had a Covenant with these people, so He always kept His end of the bargain. And, fortunately for the fledgling American colonies, Thomas Jefferson understood this human dynamic when he wrote, in 1787, that “[t]he tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

The last of the biblical Judges, Samuel, was also the first prophet who spoke directly to God since Moses. As a younger man, he was a great leader. But when he became old he appointed his sons to be judges, and they were so bad the people came to Samuel, asking that he approach God with the idea of anointing a king. Democracy is too hard, they thought.

Instead of saying “No” God told Samuel to list for the people all the things they’d lose that they have now if they take a king. Instead of paying a 10% tithe, they’ll be paying two-three times that much. (Sound familiar?) And the king will take their land for his own use at a pittance. And when war comes, while they’re all volunteer now, the king will draft their sons into a standing army, keeping them away all four seasons.

Unmoved, the people insisted and were given their king. Unsurprisingly, it would turn out that this new king, Saul, would become about as bad as a king could be. But instead of going back to the old ways, God then replaced Saul with David and anointed him, thus establishing a covenant with David and his House for eternity, saying “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me” (II Samuel 7:14,) giving rise to the idea of the Divine Right of Kings.

This is why, since Charlemagne (800 AD), every wannabe-king went traipsing off to Rome to have his bargain with the devil sealed.

Interestingly, evidence of this constant replay of men doing what is pleasing in God’s eyes, then stumbling and doing what is displeasing in God’s eyes, over and over again, as found in Judges, is only found in England and America. It seems when the French discovered debauchery they liked it so much they decided to stay with it. Culturally they threw God overboard centuries before they discarded the Church, which is an interesting study in itself.

The jury’s still out on the other great powers.

England, for its part, is hanging on by a thread. Though so similar in so many ways, England has had a rougher time of it than America because they started out with a king. First, they squeezed out a charter, a thousand years ago, and finally got rid of the sovereign power of the throne, four hundred years later. But they have never been quite able to get rid of the aristocratic institutions the Crown supports. And the real kicker, like France, their Church, and their national soul,  is moribund. They are definitely headed in the wrong direction.

Still, we owe them much, as they plowed a row half a century ago that we may now have to walk down, “breaking up clods with our own bare feet.”

We think there is a decent argument to be made that suggests it was Cromwell who ultimately built the foundation of the bridge between the days of the old school despotic King and the ancestors of the new King that would follow and ultimately be overthrown by the ancestors of our founding fathers. At the very least, he certainly deserves an honorable mention for his role in giving birth to the idea that men could break free of the chain of bondage and aspire to a life of freedom and self-determination. It would not come easy, nor would it be without blood and sacrifice.

You may think you know great Indian “massacres” but, in 1622, members of the Powhatan tribe killed 347 men, women, and children in the English Colony of Virginia. In 1704 the town of Deerfield, Massachusetts, (yes, Massachusetts), was attacked by a band of Indians and Frenchmen, killing 66, including 9 women and 25 children. Many more died as they were marched to new slave quarters in Canada.

America was in diapers a long time, 1609-1776, when England had its great Civil War, and that civil war was over who had the greater power in England, the people through Parliament, or the King, then Charles I; a crucible we seem to be backing into ourselves today.

Oliver Cromwell began the Civil War as a lieutenant general (cavalry). He was a member of Parliament, a commoner, while many of the leading Parliament leaders were of the nobility. They didn’t get along. Cromwell was also a Puritan, a narrow Protestant sect who didn’t like Rome at all and were none too ecumenical about other Protestants. Cromwell wanted to abolish the monarchy, while many members of rank and privilege only wanted the monarchy to agree to be subordinate to Parliament. Cromwell believed that England could do better without any strong executive at all.

This disagreement between Cromwell the Puritan and Parliament’s nobility was decided not by debate or vote but the simple fact that Cromwell was the better general, and it was Cromwell who defeated the King’s armies in several engagements. It was sort of like dealing himself four aces.

During a lull, when they became aware that Charles I was trying to raise a new army from France, Ireland and Spain (all of them papist states), Parliament, at Cromwell’s insistence, ordered the King to stand trial, and then be executed, which he was in 1649, again, when America was still in diapers, and Harvard (then a Puritan school) was the only college in America and had only been offering classes for seven years.

[Note: Charles II died well at the ax man’s hand, which was not uncommon among the nobility. But neither was this trait uncommon among the common man, even the poor if they were also people of faith. They had a pedigree that ran back 800 years before the first nobleman.  But there are classes of men, we all know them, from mountebanks to fops, popinjays to politicians, who are not cut from this kind of cloth. Sometimes the only way you can tell true nobility from the phony is whether they can walk erectly up the steps to the scaffold, or have to be dragged up by the shoulders. Maybe time will show us. ~ Authors]

Thus the Commonwealth of English was born, only it didn’t work out so well, for Parliament went off on a brigandage spree, essentially appointing themselves a kind of replacement-royalty. In fact, they had become so ravenous, taking a cut of every pie, that Cromwell, still in charge of the military, and thoroughly disgusted, stomped into Parliament in April 1653 and said these words:
“It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would, like Esau, sell your country for a mess of pottage, and, like Judas, betray your God for a few pieces of money.

Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.

In the name of God, go!”
Not bad for a commoner. Carrying a loaded Colt.

With this, he dissolved Parliament and appointed a new one that was more responsive to the people. And another. And another until they got it right. He remained as Lord Protector of England, (a pompous title, we think, but better than “military dictator”) until he died in 1658, after which the English promptly invited Charles I’s son, Charles II, to become the new monarch…only more in keeping with the original Parliamentary proposals to Charles I back in 1642.

But the new kings (Charles II and James II) wouldn’t back off of that royal prerogative crap from their dear old beheaded Dad so there had to be yet another Glorious Revolution (1688) in which the Stuart line (going back to Mary Queen of Scots) was finally kicked out of the British Isles and a new King and Queen, William and Mary, were invited in to rule, bringing George Frederich Handel along with them, so that Messiah would be an English oratorio instead of German.

The new arrangement William & Mary used with Parliament was the one Cromwell designed.

So Cromwell is both loved (Macauley) and despised (Hume) in England, but unlike most military dictators, he actually had a plan to restore Parliament to its former glory under Elizabeth as a truly representative voice of the people, and that largely happened under the reign of William and Mary. Even Cromwell’s detractors had to begrudgingly grant him that. And until the rise of Marx and the British Labour Party in 1900, England had been on an upward path toward recovery.

Cromwell exercised power, sometimes ruthlessly, but he never exercised it royally or aristocratically, and for this, he is buried still in Westminster Abbey.

In contrast with this Cromwell narrative, de-throning Kings until he was satisfied that the right one was in place, consider that, when George Washington was offered the presidency after the ratification of the US Constitution, he had already turned down the offer of being made King. It seems many of his political followers, like England, never quite understood the full gravity of the Constitution. Like Galapagos birdlife, man’s thirst for kings runs deep, but Washington did posterity a great service by declining to quench it.

Thus did America’s Founders finally cross Cromwell’s Bridge and set it alight upon reaching the other Shore.

About David M. Poff

There's not much to say... I come from a long line of Appalachian folk that landed in America long before flipping off the King was even a twinkle in the eyes of our founding fathers. We have been Carpenters and coal miners... Soldiers & Sailors and pig farmers and Sunday morning circuit-riding preachers. Hell, I'm told we have even been fairly decent bootleggers too. The oldest of my family elders I met as a child were the sons and daughters of farmers across whose red rocky fields the North and South marched and died at Antietam. I am quite sure that my ancestors had more wisdom in the palms of their crooked calloused hands than the whole lot of high-minded and over-educated White Collar class will ever acquire across the entirety of their collective lifetimes. It is my hope that, in the midst of so many lost and self-unaware souls, I might pay forward - even a little bit - of what was handed down to me before it is my turn to swan-dive off this mortal coil.
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