What Is To Be Done? — A Comment on Angelo Codevilla’s “Ruling Class”

We shall break the clock of social democracy. We shall break the clock of the Great Society. We shall break the clock of the welfare state. We shall break the clock of the New Deal. We shall break the clock of Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom and perpetual war. We shall repeal the twentieth century.
— Murray N. Rothbard

In his paper “America’s Ruling Class – and the Perils of Revolution”1 Professor Angelo Codevilla offers an excellent analysis of the causes and forms of government encroachment into the basic traditional liberties of Americans, and a very good sketch of the reasons why big government ideology succeeded in imposing its tenets upon the country, despite overwhelming opposition by Americans. The problem America faces, according to him, is nothing less than a complete usurpation of power by an alienated elite: the ideologues of big government and the politicians that work in concert to subvert the structure of the American constitution, and to rule over the great majority of Americans against their will. In pursuing this goal they are using the federal government, judiciary and educational system as their levers of power. Professor Codevilla paints a very grim (and very true) picture of the complete breakdown of the constitutional form of government in America, under the assault of the modern statist ideology, delivered in a bipartisan manner, and garnered with political corruption:

The ruling class’s appetite for deference, power, and perks grows. The country class disrespects its rulers, wants to curtail their power and reduce their perks. The ruling class wears on its sleeve the view that the rest of Americans are racist, greedy, and above all stupid. The country class is ever more convinced that our rulers are corrupt, malevolent, and inept. The rulers want the ruled to shut up and obey. The ruled want self-governance. The clash between the two is about which side’s vision of itself and of the other is right and which is wrong. Because each side — especially the ruling class — embodies its views on the issues, concessions by one side to another on any issue tend to discredit that side’s view of itself. One side or the other will prevail. The clash is as sure and momentous as its outcome is unpredictable.

Unfortunately, this excellent analysis of the causes of the problem has not been accompanied by an equally elaborated and detailed set of prescriptions for what has to be done in order to address this problem. The only prescriptions Professor Codevilla was able to come up with as a remedy for this Titanic class struggle were the proposal for decentralizing the school districts, abolishing of the Department of Education and maybe de-funding the National Endowments. These measures are more than welcome, and very important, but they do not seem to be even remotely enough to address the tremendous scope of the problem he describes in the paper. Although the media-educational complex represents an important pillar of the American ruling class’s power, it is neither the only one nor even the most important one; moreover, merely abolishing the Department of Education and decentralizing the school district would not do much to uproot this pillar.

The author, however, touches another, and maybe far more important, problem in his discussion, and that is the need to restore “self-governance” in America. And he mentions a couple of possible recipes for what to do in that regard as well:

If self-governance means anything, it means that those who exercise government power must depend on elections. The shorter the electoral leash, the likelier an official to have his chain yanked by voters, the more truly republican the government is. Yet to subject the modern administrative state’s agencies to electoral control would require ordinary citizens to take an interest in any number of technical matters. Law can require environmental regulators or insurance commissioners, or judges or auditors to be elected. But only citizens’ discernment and vigilance could make these officials good. Only citizens’ understanding of and commitment to law can possibly reverse the patent disregard for the Constitution and statutes that has permeated American life. Unfortunately, it is easier for anyone who dislikes a court’s or an official’s unlawful act to counter it with another unlawful one than to draw all parties back to the foundation of truth.

What is peculiar in this quotation is that Professor Codevilla does not interpret the idea of self-governance in a way which is consistent with the original meaning of that term in the context of the American political and constitutional history. He by and large equates self-government with the electoral control, which is a far cry from what has been usually meant by this term throughout American history, and especially by the Founding generation. It seems that he in this regard falls victim to what Hayek called “a doctrinal democratic prejudice”, a conviction that the central problem of the constitutional government is not what the government is allowed to do, but whether it is democratically legitimized or not (Hayek, 1960). Even more strikingly, he proposes, as a way of restoring self-government, not only to tighten the electoral control of federal politicians, but also to introduce direct elections for judges, regulators and auditors! The proper way of fixing the “alphabet soup” regulatory agencies of the federal government, according to him, is not simply to abolish these agencies, (as a radical, “country-class” thinker would probably assume) but rather to elect directly their directors, instead of appointing them! He even proposes to elect directly the federal judges in order to make them more accountable and less prone to “legislate from the bench”!

However, this is a very peculiar understanding of self-government, at least from the American constitutional point of view. Namely, for the American Patriots, self-governance had never meant merely or even primarily a better electoral control of the distant federal government (even less a “democratic” control of the regulatory state and judiciary), but rather a right to severely limit the power of the same federal government, while reserving most of the political power for the states and the people. Actually, the typical American distrust towards the government implies that the only efficient way to “better control” (electorally or not) any government is to decrease its power. Since some government is unavoidable, for better or for worse, it is always best to have most of the power vested closest to the people, for example in the city councils or state legislatures, rather than in the federal institutions (them being filled with politicians or elected bureaucrats). People are much better served by and able to “electorally control” their city mayors or state legislators rather than the POTUS or federal congressmen.

This assumption that self-governance meant the absence of the tyranny of central government and overwhelming reliance on local government, was the exact reason why the Founding Fathers fought the British Empire, gained independence from it, and drafted the Constitution, draconically restricting the powers of the new federal government in it. The American Patriots were well aware, as Lord Acton was, that “every power tends to corrupt” and that the hope that people will “control” the federal Leviathan by being “informed” and “engaged” was futile; the only way to avoid the repetition of King George’s usurpation was, in their opinion, to restrict the extent of what the general government is allowed do, and not to rely on the citizenry to control it in its wrong-doings; minimal government, rather than a better controlled big government (the 18th century patriots would say, a “monarchical government”) — was, if anything, the founding American “ideology”, and the original meaning of “self-governance”. Not the belief in the elections as a check to the federal Leviathan.

In that connection, for an American Patriot, “self-government” traditionally was most prominently and canonically conveyed in the US Constitution’s Ninth and Tenth Amendments and in the compact theory of the federal government that the Founding Fathers professed. As James Madison said in the Federalist 45: “powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite”. Both of the great founders of the American Union and of the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were more than clear in their understanding of the American government as a compact between the sovereign states. James Madison, “the father of the Constitution,” during the Virginia ratification convention said, answering the Patrick Henry’s objection that the phrase ‘We the people’ in the preamble of the Constitution was meant to be a pretext for the imposition of the consolidationist view of the Union: “Who are parties to the Constitution? People, but not the people as composing one great body, but the people as composing the thirteen sovereignities”.

The special appeal of this argument lies in the fact that it has been brought forth by the leading creator and supporter of the Constitution, who warned us that if we want to understand the real nature of the American Union, and the real meaning of the Constitution, we have to study the ratification debates in the states. Further, in one of his Virginia resolutions of 1798/99 Madison explained that the federal judiciary was the last resort for resolving the legal issues only within the federal government’s jurisdiction, not with regard to the issues of state legislation. In other words, the Supreme Court can be the last resort only for the issues pertaining to the acts of other branches of the federal government, and not those of the several states:

However true, therefore, it may be, that the judicial branch is in each question submitted to it by the forms of the Constitution, to decide in the last resort, this resort must necessarily be deemed the last in relation to authorities to other branches of the federal government, not in relation to rights of the parties to the constitutional compact, from which the judicial as well as other branches hold their delegated trust.

Therefore, not only the American Union was in the view of its Father a compact between the independent states, but also the Supreme Court in this original constitutional design had no powers whatsoever to interpret or nullify the laws or acts of the “contracting parties in the compact”, that is, the states.

Consequently, in their 1798 Kentucky and Virginia resolutions Jefferson and Madison advocated the right of the states to “nullify” unconstitutional federal laws (Jefferson), or to “interpose” in order to prevent their application (Madison). Quite consistently with Madison’s writings in the Federalist Papers and with the prevailing understanding at the Constitutional Convention, Jefferson and Madison used the nullification and interposition doctrines to argue against the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798, adopted by the federal Congress, which blatantly violated the First Amendment.

But, this compact view of the federation was overwhelmingly accepted even if we go back as far as the ratification debates. We can see then that several states, Virginia, New York, South Carolina and Rode Island among others, included in their ratification instruments the language that explicitly reserved the right to nullify the federal laws and to secede, as a condition of their acceding to the Union. At the Virginia ratification convention, the members of the Federalist party and also the members of the important five-men ratification committee, Randolph and Nicholas, convinced Virginians to adopt the Constitution, in the face of the growing scepticism toward the perceived nationalist flavor of this new document. Their argument was that if the federal government usurps any of the rights not expressly delegated to it by the Constitution “Virginia will be exonerated from it”. And that was the decisive reason why the Constitution was ratified by Virginia (by far the largest of the US colonies at that time) at all! The observers of the American affairs, as perceptive and well informed as Alexis de Tocqueville and Lord Acton, concurred with this overwhelmingly accepted understanding of the nature of American government as a compact between the sovereign states. In his great and classical book Democracy in America, Tocqueville states that:

The legislators of the Constitution 1787 were not appointed to constitute a government of the single people, but to regulate the association among the several states. . .  The Union was formed by the voluntary agreement of the states; and these, in uniting together have not forfeited their nationality, nor have they been reduced to the condition of one and the same people. If one of the states chose to withdraw its name from the contract it would be difficult to disprove its right of doing so, and the Federal Government would have no means of maintaining its claims directly, either by force or by right (Tocqueville, Democracy in America).

It is not immediately clear how such a basic connection between self-government and political decentralization and states’ rights in the American tradition could have eluded such a refined analytical mind as Professor Codevilla. One can argue for the supremacy of other political values and principles to self-government, but hardly anyone can argue, as he does (in the American context at least), for self-government as the most-important principle, while avoiding at the same time the issue of states’ rights and the compact view of the Constitution. He could criticize the “deficiency of the democratic process” and consistently propose better electoral control of federal politicians and agencies, but could not insist on self-government and go along with the present federal supremacist view of the Constitution.

Therefore, I think that, contrary to Professor Codevilla’s argument, the most obvious meaning of the restoration of self-government in the USA as a political program today cannot be to electorally reform the federal government, but to organize the resistance movement to federal tyranny on the state level along the lines of the Jefferson-Madison compact theory. The aim should be to use the Constitution, Madison’s writings in the Federalist Papers, the Resolutions of 1798 and 1799, as well as judge Upshur’s and Calhoun’s brilliant defences of federalism to redefine the framework of the debate by bringing up real federalism, not the phony rhetorical federalism which many conservatives these days indulge in, and which amounts to little more than a lip service to the founding principles, while actually accepting the prevailing progressive, big government institutional and philosophical framework.

In practical terms, this would mean first an initiative for abolishing the 17th amendment and restoring the original provision of the Constitution that the federal Senators be appointed by the state legislatures, rather than directly elected. That would give to the states a much tighter control over federal legislation than is the case now, and much more influence over what is going on in Washington D.C. in general. The second practical avenue of reviving federalism would be to advocate the right of nullification of particular federal laws by the states, and to reject the prevailing nationalist interpretation of both the Constitution and history, upon which the very power of the federal Leviathan is based. This process of bottom-up federalism has already taken off all over America, but without any solid theory of government to back it up.

For example, Missouri already voted on a state referendum against Obamacare and the Virginia legislature enacted a law forbidding the implementation of any federal statute that would mandate citizens buy medical insurance. But a further step is now needed: instead of litigating the federal government before the federal courts, the state legislatures and governors should quote the Tenth Amendment, Madison’s Federalist 45 and the Virginia, and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 as a constitutional basis for the nullification of Obamacare. Simply, 20 or 30 states should proclaim Obamacare unconstitutional and indicate that they do not intend to apply it.

That’s what is already happening in a bunch of states with regard to couple of different issues. For example, the Supreme Court struck down the laws allowing the usage of medical marijuana in many states, by upholding the federal statute which prohibits it, but the states openly defy that decision. At this moment, there are 14 states that allow production and use of marijuana for medical purposes, in direct defiance of federal law and the Supreme Court’s decision. Just in one county in Los Angeles there are more than one thousand depositories that sell marijuana! On the other hand, states also de facto nullified the National ID Act of the federal government. Once a sufficient number of states stop obeying the commands of the ruling class from Washington D.C., its power quickly dissipates. The federal government was forced to give up on enforcing its laws against medical marijuana, on a National ID card, and on bans against firearm use in some states as well as many other laws, when faced with the sufficient critical mass of people willing to openly defy its decisions. These examples should be exploited and further emulated on a much wider set of issues.

What is necessary now is to support and encourage this grassroots political revolution which is already taking place, and to provide it with a rigorous constitutional argument and a consistent political philosophy. Unfortunately, Professor Codevilla’s essay falls short of both of these tasks. His argument actually distorts the meaning of self-government – a very powerful, maybe the key, narrative in the American political context – by portraying it as just a better control of what our wise overlords are already doing in Washington D.C. On the contrary, what self-government meant in the past, means now, and must mean in the future if we are to create a viable political alternative to the Leviathan state, is something entirely different – a bottom up resistance movement on the state level that uses the American constitutional tradition and the original philosophy of the Founding Fathers as its bedrock, rejection of the very idea of the federal supremacy, and a vigorous revival of the compact theory of the American federation. The goal of the Tea Parties and all American Patriots should not be to improve the federal government from within by filling it with better people who would change everything from above, but to make whatever the federal government is doing irrelevant by undercutting the basis of its power – by discrediting the nationalist vision of government and reviving classical federalism and the states’ rights tradition. The federal government could continue producing blatantly unconstitutional laws such as Obamacare, only the states would not implement those laws.

The main problem of today’s American politics is the uncontrolled growth of the federal government, both in terms of existing and new entitlement programs and pervasive regulations. In order to address this set of issues in any – from the libertarian point of view – sensible way, little can be done on the federal level itself, as the experience of the last 30 years or so has amply shown. As Professor Codevilla himself emphasizes, the Republican party was a party of the ruling class throughout the 20th century; in the past, it obstructed and finally demolished Barry Goldwater’s candidacy, tried to derail Ronald Reagan’s presidential bid as well, and when that failed, surrounded him with a cohort of regimists who prevented any meaningful change. Not to speak of the two Bushes! The increase of the federal government had only slowed down during the Reagan times, but the trend had not been reversed. No major redistributive and entitlement program was abolished, or even downsized. No Progressive Era and New Deal programs or regulatory measures were abolished, or at least downsized; Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, SEC, Federal Reserve, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Department of Energy, Federal Trade Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, Interstate Commerce Commission, Departments of Agriculture and Education, Farm Subsidies, Foreign Aid – nothing was abolished, nothing was downsized, and everything only grows and expands, under both the Democratic and Republican Presidents and Congresses.

Do we have any plausible reason to believe that anything different will happen in the future if the same methods and the same failed strategy are pursued? If, in the 2010 mid-term elections, the American people put in Congress some new version of Gingrich’s Republicans from 1994? I think that Professor Codevilla is well aware that no reform will be initiated, much less completed, from the federal level under any circumstances.

The best indication of that is the fact that Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposals to make some modest steps in the reform of entitlement programs fell on deaf ears among the Republicans in Congress (partial privatization of Medicare and diverting a smaller portion of payroll taxes to personal retirement accounts, administered by the federal government). No congressmen or senator accepted these moderate proposals until now! The new “pledge” made by the Republicans as their election platform is a complete joke; among other things, they promise to return government spending to 2008 levels, and to shore up entitlement programs. No word about abolishing, downsizing, privatization, opting out or similar. Nothing. They don’t even promise to do anything about the spending and entitlements, not to speak of really intending to do something.

The very structure of incentives and the modes of functioning of the federal political machine that Professor Codevilla so ably described make any hope in his cure (a better control within the prevailing rules of the game) futile. Does anyone really believe that by electing the judges and the heads of the federal agencies anything can be done to shrink the federal government? And not only to stop further bailouts or repeal Obamacare; if one is really serious about undercutting the basis of power of the ruling class in America, the real task must be demolishing of the entire structure of the welfare state and government interventionism instituted during the 20th century, primarily during the progressive era and the New Deal and Great Society’s “big leaps forward”. As the late Murray Rothbard said, the task must be to “abolish the 20th century” (Rothbard, 1994). Nothing short of that would be sufficient to restore constitutional democracy in the USA. And for that goal to be met, small internal changes within the structure of federal machinery are simply not enough.


Is it really possible that Professor Codevilla overlooked these obvious facts? That he really failed to realize that what American Patriots for centuries called a right to self-government meant only and exclusively – to be left alone, or to be governed as little as possible, and always by the local politicians and the state legislators, rather than by the federal bureaucrats, delegating only a very limited powers to the federal politicians in a distant capital? And that federalism represents the only key for a successful self-governance today? I do not think he failed to understand any of these. Actually, in his paper he has given us a hint why he was so reluctant to embark upon this theme of states’ rights as an obvious avenue for restoring the lost self-government in America. Namely, he quotes or otherwise references Abraham Lincoln at least 5 or 6 times, in one instance even praising him for the transformation of the Republican party during the 1850s. If we bear in mind that Lincoln transformed the party in that decade exactly into a big government, protectionist organization, and a vehicle of “nation building” and administrative centralization, it is then not surprising at all that Professor Codevilla is sceptical of the concept of decentralization of power today.

He even uses Lincoln’s famous “house-divided” metaphor (which traditionally has been used to demonize the states’ rights advocates) to castigate his chief villains – the left-wing intellectual elitists who ignite the culture wars and in so doing imperil American “unity”. Why is it then so puzzling that he does not like either libertarianism or states’ rights? Simply, “the nation building” does not fit squarely into the Jefferson-Madison compact theory of the federal government. For, one cannot in the same breath be a supporter of states’ rights and an admirer of the man who practically abolished states’ rights in the form they have existed in the Constitution as originally adopted, together with the compact theory of the federal government upon which those very rights (and the Constitution itself) were based. The Church of Jefferson is an entirely different thing than the Church of Lincoln.

Professor Codevilla is a member of the Claremont Institute, a neo-conservative research centre known for its excellent scholarship on American history, but also for its uncritical admiration, on the verge of an open worshipping, of Abraham Lincoln, and consequently the highest possible contempt for the states’ rights tradition. People from the Claremont Review of Books are always first to castigate anyone who deviates in the least from the Lincoln orthodoxy. For example, Professors Gutzman and Di Lorenzo who published books about Lincoln and the Constitution that were deemed heretical, have taken a hard beating by the Claremont scholars as “neo-confederates”, “apologists for slavery”, and so on. Di Lorenzo was attacked by four Claremont members!2 Most of the people at the Claremont Institute are Straussians, who actually don’t believe much in free markets and the libertarian blend of conservatism, but rather in a peculiar statist “conservative” philosophy, which consists of the combination of Plato, Aristotle, Tomas Aquinas and above all – Lincoln. As late professor Mel Bredford, wrote about Harry Jaffa, the ideological guru of the Claremont Institute, his “conservatism is of a relatively recent variety and is, in substance, the Old Liberalism, hidden under a Union battle flag”.

It is then quite understandable that as a “Claremonista” you would not tend to care much about free market arguments and solutions for problems. And it is also understandable that you would care even less about the states’ rights arguments – actually you are obliged by the logic of your own position to reject them completely. And that is the probable reason why Professor Codevilla was very careful not to lend any support to the notion of decentralization as a vehicle of positive political change in America. There is no an easy way out of this trap; every step toward criticism of the federal government and centralization is a step further toward rehabilitating states’ rights, and therefore toward the dethroning of “honest Abe”. Hence, the only decentralization allowed is school district decentralization which does not put into question the general federal supremacy – the issue which was “settled by the Civil War” (the favourite mantra of the “Church of Lincoln”). And hence that ambiguity among the Claremont people – they continue paying lip service to the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, while openly stigmatizing as a neo-confederate sympathizer of slavery anyone who would dare to take the Founding Fathers too seriously.

Having this in mind, it should not surprise us at all that one group is conspicuously absent from the professor Codevilla’s ruling class’s hall of infamy, and that is the conservative Intelligentsia. Both Democratic and Republican parties are by and large summarily dismissed as the parts of the same ruling elite, together with the educational class, media people, as well as the progressive intellectuals. However, the conservative opinion molding apparatus is somehow relieved of the guilt for cementing this fatal “national” and cross-party consensus, or even from being a part of the ruling class at all. Apart from the first sentence of the article where professor Codevilla mentions that Bush’s bank bailouts were supported by the “opinion leaders stretching from the National Review magazine (and the Wall Street Journal) on the right to the Nation magazine on the left”, the reader would search in vain for any further reference to the conservative intellectuals and their contribution to the perils of the American post-democracy. This is quite consistent with the professor Codevilla’s general approach; the mainstream of the American conservatism today shares the same Webster-Lincoln “house united” narrative, the same devotion to the federal supremacy, centralization, big government and statism. Hence, it is not a part of the problem from his point of view.


Having all that in mind, it could be said that the reception of Professor Codevilla’s article was a bit odd. The factions that did not have much reason to support it (like the paleoconservatives and libertarians) were enthusiastic about it, while the other factions (e.g. the neoconservatives) that at least did not have strong reasons to be offended by it, and were actually vindicated by its arguments, were conspicuously silent and reserved. The article was initially catapulted to public attention by populist conservative radio-host Rush Limbaugh, the guy almost equally despised by the liberal elites and the Beltway conservatives, who quoted extensively from it in his live program. The article was then widely commented and publicized in the blogosphere, primarily among radical libertarians, paleoconservatives and other “fringe” elements of the conservative movement.

But no major conservative outlet commented on it. Although the article was not philosophically dissonant at all with the beliefs of the Beltway conservatives (as it might appear when one looks at its rhetoric), it was completely ignored by the mainstream conservative “opinion leaders”. I searched in vain at the National Review, The Weekly Standard or The Wall Street Journal’s online archives for any mention of the Codevilla’s piece. Nothing came out. A deafening silence. The only thing I was able to dig out was a very short comment by Jonah Goldberg on the National Review’s blog “Corner”, in which he said that some reader asked him for an opinion about Codevilla’s article, and that although he had not the opportunity to read it still, the article seemed “intriguing”, and he was going to read the piece “during the weekend”. That was on July 16. Goldberg never reported back to the readership about his impressions. Obviously, he either did not read the paper, or did not think it was interesting enough to comment on publicly.

It could be said that the paper was partially misunderstood by both “paleos” and “neocons”. The paleos and populists tended to overestimate the reach of Codevilla’s arguments, seduced by his powerful rhetorical set up: the ruling class against the country class, elitists against the people. That sounded to them right from a paleoconservative play-book, right in the tradition of Harding, Coolidge, Flynn, Bradford, Rothbard or Ron Paul. However, what paleos failed to see was the superficiality of this apparent convergence, the lack of real paleoconservative substance behind a couple of nicely sounding populist slogans, or better still, the hidden neoconservative content – the Lincoln citations and references all over the place, the reluctance to mention abolishing anything as far as federal programs are concerned, the total lack of states’ rights perspective, etc. It seems that the paleconservatives who enthusiastically praised Codevilla’s piece have forgotten that the same Codevilla was derided by them many times before as an extreme neoconservative ideologue, for his aggressive foreign policy positions, and as a part of welfare-warfare state consensus. What was the likelihood that a guy who spent most of his career warning of the dangers of insufficient military preparedness for the Soviet threat, who is a member of the Claremont Institute, a translator and commentator of Machiavelli, a passionate teacher of Plato and a great admirer of Lincoln, would, all of a sudden, in his early 70s, convert to libertarianism?

On the other hand, it seems that the Beltway conservatives also were possibly a bit confused about the Codevilla’s piece. Just as the paleos were seduced by the article’s powerful rhetorical set up, the neocons were possibly equally disgusted by the purely rhetorical contrast between the ruling class and peasants. The D.C. conservatives don’t like any kind of uncontrolled populism based on principles, rather than on party or institutional tribalism. Although Codevilla almost never mentions them as a group which participates in the ruling class, it is nevertheless clear that most of them would consider themselves a part of the national elite.

The relationship between the neoconservative elite and the peasants’ class was always somewhat ambiguous, to say the least; neocons always liked to be perceived as the authentic representatives of the American founding ideals, the people with a healthy distance from the liberal elitism and in tune with the rhythm of the ordinary folks. However, that was never really the case; moreover, they seldom wanted to follow, or for that matter, to ignite populist sentiments of any kind. That goes as far back as Bill Buckley, the founder of both National Review and the neoconservative movement itself. He was famous for his canonical statement that he would rather be governed by the first 200 people from the Boston phone book than by the 200 leading graduates from Harvard. This statement has always been invoked by his followers as a rebuttal to those who would point to Buckley’s snobbery and his purges of the “fringe” elements of the Right during the 1950s, such as the John Birch Society, made in an effort to make the conservative movement more mainstream and “respectable”.

However, the same “populist” Bill Buckley said in a debate at Cambridge University during the early 1960s, when asked why the USA did not allow the blacks to vote in Mississippi, that the real problem was that whites in Mississippi had the right to vote, not that the blacks had not. If he were a citizen of Mississippi, Mr. Buckley said (with a standing ovation from the Cambridge anti-American bigots and elitists in the audience), he would have the standards for voting lifted so as to disqualify 65% of the white people! In other words, the serious things such as voting are for us, an enlightened elite able to speak at Cambridge, eat lobsters, and drink French wines, not for the peasants and unwashed Rednecks from Mississippi, be they white or black. That was the strongest display of the elitist bigotry toward the country class I have ever heard from conservatives, and not only from them.

I think that the entire neo-con movement retains something of this Buckleyian ambiguity towards the peasants even now. Yes, since the Tea Party became so “cool”, the conservatives have been trying constantly to co-opt them, to appease them, or at least to make a good working relationship with them. But, beneath the surface, the conflict of visions is obvious: an intellectual elite socialized and educated on the same East Coast big government elitism of the liberals, who’ve drunk the same nationalist and statist kool-aid of “national greatness” and “national purpose” — against the unwashed Rednecks who simply want the government to get out of the business of controlling their lives. These unsophisticated peasants don’t give a damn either about the “national greatness” or about any similar sublime ideal so important to their Wise Overlords. The Beltway conservative elite do not like this crude, individualistic and anarchistic anti-statism of the Peasants that leaves no place for the cultural mission of their Betters, who speak at Oxford and communicate on equal footing with the Ivy League coterie. Their intellectual heroes are not the Founding Fathers (although they occasionally pay the lip service to them) or the presidents who epitomized the ethos of the minimal constitutional government in the past, such as Grover Cleveland, Warren Harding or Calvin Coolidge (whom they openly despise), but rather the big government nation-builders such as Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt, and often even FDR.


All in all, the true American Patriots can learn from the professor Codevilla’s Manifesto a lot about the current state of affairs, but little about the strategy of what to do about it, and even less about the principles upon which to base whatever they decide to do. Instead of half-hearted “reforms” within the federal government, a thousand times tried out and failed, the battle cry of the newly emerging Tea Party Patriotism should be: states’ rights, the original federalism, and the compact theory. Back to the 1788 and 1798! One can either to bow to federal tyranny or resist. There is no third way. In order to repeal the 20th century, as the late Murray Rothbard wanted us to do, we must also repeal the 20th century in terms of how we understand the relationship between the federal government and the state.


Bradford, Mel. 1976. “The Heresy of Equality; Bradford Replies to Jaffa.” Modern Age (Winter).

Codevilla, Angelo. 2010. “The Ruling Class and the Perils of Revolution.” The American Spectator.

Hamilton, Madison, Jay. The Federalist Papers.

Hayek, F.A. 1960. Constitution of Liberty. University of Chicago Press.

Ostrowski, James. “DiLorenzo and His Critics.” LewRockwell.com.

Rothbard, Murray. 1992. “A Strategy for the Right.” Rothbard-Rockwell Report.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. 1848. Democracy in America. Prat Woodford and Co.

Woods, Thomas. 2010. Nullification, How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century. Regnery Publishing.


Ivan Jankovic is a graduate student of Political Science at the University of Windsor, Canada. Originally from Serbia, he has published in the fields of Austrian economics, public choice, and classical liberal philosophy.

Comment on the blog.

  1. The paper was originally published in the American Spectator, July-August, 2010, and reprinted in the short book under the same title, also published by the American Spectator (Codevilla, 2010). 

  2. See, James Ostrowski, “DiLorenzo and His Critics,” LewRockwell.com