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    Book Club: The Roots of American OrderChapter 1

    February 21, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    I know you will all be shocked to hear that I am already in love with this book. I think for now my plan will be to write a Real Post on Tuesdays, and then post my favorite quotes on Wednesdays. We’ll see if I can actually pull that off over time, but for now that is the format I’m hoping for follow for the duration of this book club.

    So. Onto my post, of course.

    I want to ponder three main points coming out of this chapter:

    1. Order is the most important thing. Considering that this chapter is titled Order, the First Need of All, it should come as no surprise that this ranked as a “main point.” He he.
    2. The best order comes from within, rather than being imposed from without. This is my interpretation, of course.
    3. Our American order comes from things that precede us. In other words, history has given us many gifts.
    Order: The Most Important Thing
    Kirk best makes this point when he relates the story of a chaotic village at the time of the Russian Revolution. Nothing was safe. Young men were roaming the streets with guns, firing on people at whim. Residents could not count their homes as safe, and could expect to have them raided at any moment, that thieves might obtain mere loaves of bread. The man who told Kirk about this experience concluded:

    Much though I hated the Communists, I saw then that even the grim order of Communism is better than no order at all. Many might survive under Communism; no one could survive in general disorder.

    This reminds me of the stories Siah’s grandpa used to tell. He and Grandma were missionaries in China during the Communist takeover. I expected horror stories, but they had none {of course, the Communists kicked them out of the country before things really got going}. Instead, he always emphasized how horrible the streets were, and how the Communists cleaned them up. They got rid of the prostitutes, etcetera. {One wonders what they did to these people, but still.}

    Kirk writes:

    [O]nce a revolution or war has demolished an established order, a people find it imperative to search for principles of order afresh, that they may survive. Once they have undone an old order, revolutionaries proceed to decree a new order–often an order harsher than the order which they had overthrown.

    The idea is that disorder cries out for order.

    This reminds me of what is sometimes done with out-of-control children. They are sent to military-type boarding schools, where rigid schedules and forms attempt to bring order out of chaos. I don’t know what the results of this are, but I have known a number of men whose lives greatly benefited from the order found in the military as young adults.

    The Best Order Comes from Within
    The order imposed from without is militaristic, especially when we are speaking on a cultural level of the government imposing order on the people. It is easy to get offended at new laws. I myself am constantly offended by them, and I do believe it will one day make an secret anarchist of me. But the point remains that many {not all} new laws are crafted to make up for some insufficiency in the character of a particular segment of society.

    I think, for instance, of the handful of judges who have tried to attack, outlaw, or regulate homeschooling in some way. Some of these judges might have an ax to grind with homeschoolers in some sort of perverse, anti-liberty sense. But when I have read up on the jobs these judges have to do, I realize they are dealing with deadbeat parents most of the time–to the point where they no longer trust parents to actually be good at their jobs.

    Now, jaded people should not make laws, and judges ought not be activists anyhow.

    But the point remains that the order they were seeking to impose was likely born out of their perception of a disordered morality inside of the homes of one too many families.

    Kirk writes:

    The “inner order” of the soul and the “outer order” of society being intimately linked, we discuss in this book both aspects of order. Without a high degree of private moral order among the American people, the reign of law could not have prevailed in this country.

    Kirk later explains a bit of the decline of Rome, and concludes:

    Like Plato before him, Cicero understood that the problem of order is simultaneously personal and social: Roman men and Roman justice had declined together. It is so still.

    History has Blessed the United States with Order
    I only point this out for some of you who are not reading along, and may not entirely “get” the point of this book from the other two posts. We are going to walk through history, touching on the parts that have most influenced American order. This means: Biblical Hebrew culture, Greek and Roman culture, pre- and post-Reformation English culture, and American colonial culture itself {among other things}.

    Earlier this month, Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg advised the Egyptians to look elsewhere when crafting a new constitution:

    America’s judicial representative counseled the Egyptian people that “I would not look to the U.S. Constitution, if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012.” Dismissing the document that has ensured the God-given “blessings of liberty” of the American people for over 200 years, Ginsburg instead pointed to countries whose people look to government — rather than the Almighty — as the creator of their rights.

    “I might look at the constitution of South Africa,” Ginsburg suggested, referring to the once proud and self-sufficient nation that has teetered on the edge of anarchy for the past 20 years. “It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done,” she said…

    She also suggested such UN-modeled documents as the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms implemented by Canada…along with the Convention on Human Rights of the European Union (EU)…

    “Yes, why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world?” encouraged Ginsburg to her Egyptian audience.

    I don’t really want to discuss her suggestions {though the article I linked takes a few shots at them}. Instead, I found it interesting that all of her examples were from very recent history. Kirk talks about exactly this in his foreword:

    T.S. Eliot remarked once that we have been condemning the rising generation to a new form of provincialism: to the provinciality of time, which imprisons men and women in their own little present moment.

    We often call this sort of thing chronological snobbery.

    This is not to say that new documents cannot possibly have any wisdom. That is not the point. The point is that the American document was written using the knowledge of human history. {Not to mention Scripture.} To act as if it no longer applies is really to say that all of the past no longer applies, either.

    Justice Ginsburg is notorious in her desire to look around and use documents other than the Constitution she is supposed to be interpreting and applying. She obviously finds it insufficient. But at the very least, she could have encouraged the Egyptians to do as our Founders did, which is to reach into the depths of great civilizations of the past, and mine their jewels for the benefit of our progeny. Instead, she suggested the Egyptians trap themselves in time.

    Read More:
    Buy the book and join in the conversation
    More book club posts linked at Cindy’s blog

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  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 22, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    I wondered about the French reading Weil, too, Dana!

    Kelly, I’m so glad you are going to join us!

    Rachael, Thanks for “delurking” as they say, and letting me know you are here. 🙂 What you said here reminded me of Jami’s comment over on Cindy’s post. It *is* arrogance–but so many of us are raised to think that this moment is all that matters, and that our time is the best time ever, that I think it is a rare person who sees it for what it is.

    Dawn, I think the whole nation-building thing is a total sham, personally. We keep saying we are giving them the “gift of democracy” but democracies never succeed for very long, and the truly advanced countries all tend to have a republican form of government. I also really doubt the ability to “give” a people freedom if they do not first desire it for themselves.

    I read George Grant’s book on the Middle East situation, and he briefly mentioned {I think…if I am remembering correctly} of the long-term benefits of colonization. As unpopular as that sort of thing is politically, we see a big difference between countries that were colonized by governments like 1800-Britain and those that weren’t.

    Something to think about…and I don’t even know if I agree with myself. 😉

  • Reply dawn February 22, 2012 at 1:32 pm


    I have thought about democracy as a part of our culture particularly in relation to the “nation building” our country has been attempting to do in the Middle East … and is doomed to failure.

    I appreciated Kirk’s insistence that our kind of order is particularly Western. I have a book from college called Roots of the Republic and it traces the Constitution from the Mayflower Compact through some of the Federalist Papers (with some commentary). It could be improved by adding the Magna Charta, which itself was based on other, older history. But the founders had that sense of knowing where they came from and how to frame it for the future.

    I’m looking forward to continuing as well as I can.

  • Reply rachaelnz February 21, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Brandy. I enjoy reading your posts, even though I do not often comment. How arrogant people are nowadays to think they know how to run a country and yet they are unwilling to educate themselves about the past. Sounds like a great book.

  • Reply Kelly February 21, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Okay, I was always planning on following this club by reading the blog posts, but this morning, after downloading the free sample from Amazon onto my Kindle reading that old-fashioned table of contents, I decided to buy it.

    I had decided that it was probably just going to rehash everything I already believe, given my upbringing, but it does look like it not only has the general idea I’m familiar with but lots of history, lots of making connections, lots of wisdom that I could always use more of.

  • Reply Go quickly and tell February 21, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    Insightful synopsis with good examples, Brandy.

    In addition to many of the points you emphasized, I liked the one where Kirk states that our order *grew*

    I did wonder, too, based on the state of affairs in France, if any French read Simone Weil’s book.

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