Greetings. I hope this message finds you well in these confusing times. Our honorable President* Joseph Biden recently referred to current attempts to expose election fraud as, “the greatest crisis to hit our country since the Civil War.” According to my sources, several weeks ago, in offices around the federal government, language began to be used such as has never been used in history. Language such as, “When we come back from Labor Day we are going to start going after Conservative groups” (not “extremists” or “White Nationalists”, but “Conservative groups”). Word also reaches me of discontent and “near civil war conditions” in some nooks and crannies of your esteemed offices. I write with the hope of pouring oil on troubled waters.
My political leanings are known. Like Milton Friedman, I define myself as a small “l” libertarian small “r” republican (and have no love for the Republicans). Given this, it might be assumed by some that I am antagonistic towards federal employees. Yes, there are individuals at certain commissions with whom I have had friction, but my mentor General Jack Vessey once told me, “Federal employees don’t go in every day wanting to do a bad job. It’s their leadership.” You folks would be shocked to know how I have over the years generally spoken of you so highly as a class, telling people how pleased and surprised I had been with the quality of people who have become federal employees whom I have met (even those many across deposition tables). I sometimes sense an insecurity in lifelong federal employees, as though they wonder how they would fare in the private market. Be assured (and the public should know) that the popular conception is misguided, and that in federal employment one generally encounters a higher octane of individual than one comes across in corporate America, and with a significantly rarer incidence of duds. “About 1 in 20 are duds,” is how I have described it, “versus about 1 in 5 one meets in corporate America.” Truly: Respect.
Thus my following words do not come from a place of antagonism. 55% (and perhaps over 60%) of citizens will now tell a pollster that they believe fraud was “significant” or “very significant” in President* Biden’s victory. In a different and more softly worded poll, 60% agree that election fraud played a role in Biden’s victory and 90% agreed that the authorities have to do more to tighten up on election integrity for November 2022 (and I think this really means that 90% know in their hearts that Biden won because of election fraud but only 60% will say that to a pollster). Given this situation, there must be some among you who harbor doubts. Such people will be having sleepless nights, should they be reflective about their duties.
I would like to share (and arguably, overquote) a story from a classic of my early adolescence, Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig. In the context of a father-son motorcycle trip this book wove together numerous lectures on topics diverse. Describing the efforts of a professor he calls “Phaedrus” (actually Pirsig’s name for himself before the onset of crippling mental illness), he refers to a time when his university had been threatened with loss of accreditation, and a student had asked if the police could not be posted to prevent it. Phaedrus gave the class a lecture on the real nature of the University, or what he called, “The Church of Reason”.
The real University, he said, has no specific location. It owns no property, pays no salaries and receives no material dues. The real University is a state of mind. It is that great heritage of rational thought that has been brought down to us through the centuries and which does not exist at any specific location. It’s a state of mind which is regenerated throughout the centuries by a body of people who traditionally carry the title of professor, but even that title is not part of the real University. The real University is nothing less than the continuing body of reason itself.
In addition to this state of mind, “reason,” there’s a legal entity which is unfortunately called by the same name but which is quite another thing. This is a nonprofit corporation, a branch of the state with a specific address. It owns property, is capable of paying salaries, of receiving money and of responding to legislative pressures in the process.
But this second university, the legal corporation, cannot teach, does not generate new knowledge or evaluate ideas. It is not the real University at all. It is just a church building, the setting, the location at which conditions have been made favorable for the real church to exist.
Confusion continually occurs in people who fail to see this difference, he said, and think that control of the church buildings implies control of the church. They see professors as employees of the second university who should abandon reason when told to and take orders with no backtalk, the same way employees do in other corporations.
They see the second university, but fail to see the first.
After these explanations he returned to the analogy of the religious church. The citizens who build such a church and pay for it probably have in mind that they’re doing this for the community. A good sermon can put the parishioners in a right frame of mind for the coming week. Sunday school will help the children grow up right. The minister who delivers the sermon and directs the Sunday school understands these goals and normally goes along with them, but he also knows that his primary goals are not to serve the community. His primary goal is always to serve God. Normally there’s no conflict but occasionally one creeps in when trustees oppose the minister’s sermons and threaten reduction of funds. That happens.
A true minister, in such situations, must act as though he’d never heard the threats. His primary goal isn’t to serve the members of the community, but always god.
The primary goal of the Church of Reason, Phaedrus said, is always Socrates’ old goal of truth, in its ever-changing forms, as it’s revealed by the process of rationality. Everything else is subordinate to that. Normally this goal is in no conflict with the location goal of improving citizenry, but on occasion some conflict arises, as in the case of Socrates himself. It arises when trustees and legislators who’ve contributed large amounts of time and money to the location take points of view in opposition to the professors’ lectures of public statements. They can then lean on the administration by threatening to cut off funds if the professors don’t say what they want to hear. That happens too.
True churchmen in such situations must act as though they had never heard these threats. Their primary goal never is to serve the community ahead of everything else. Their primary goal is to serve, through reason, the goal of truth.– Pirsig, Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, 1999, p. 150-151
To federal employees who read this, I respectfully ask, What god do you serve?
I humble and respectfully suggest that I know you have all kinds of private beliefs, as all citizens are entitled to have. We all have paradigms within which we live and seek to find meaning in life. Some of us are Catholics some Jews, some are economists some bowlers, some are athletes some are gamers, some are environmental activists some are social justice advocates, but no matter one’s personal commitment to such centers of meaning in life, there is one and only one god a federal employee qua federal employee may serve.
That is to say, the US Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Why is that? Because the citizens of this country (or our ancestors) made a deal with you (or your forerunners), and there is nothing in life worse than a welcher, right? The deal is the deal. And the nature of that deal is spelled out with great clarity near the beginning of the first of those documents:
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—-That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed,…”
So we agreed that we the people start with rights and do so “self-evidently” (which is to say, we don’t have to prove that point to anyone, including you). Some of us may buy the story that a Creator made us and invested us with such rights or that we carry them because we are made in the image of that Creator. Some may locate them in imagining what people in a “state of nature” engaging in Lockean reasoning about non-interference in each other’s lives must look like for civil society to flourish. The question may be debated in one’s private conscience, but one’s individual answer is irrelevant at this moment. Because whatever your theory as to the origin of those rights, the deal was that we the people (and the states we created) traded in some of those rights (no matter their origin) so as to empower a federal government to do certain things we could not do as individuals or as states.
In these confusing times, it may help to review what those things are. A good list of them can be found in Article I Section 8. And a list of things the federal government can never do is found in the Bill of Rights.
So in sum: that’s the paradigm within which our political discourse occurs. It is within that paradigm, for example, that we the people surrendered the most fundamental right of all, the right of self-defense (known to philosophers as “self-help justice”). As John Locke noted, the right to defend oneself is something even an animal has. So much more, then, a rational being such as a person. Yet we surrender that right in all but the most urgent, dire cases, and agree to live under a rule of law wherein all matters will be adjudicated. That concession made by We the People is the most basic one we make: we have taken that most fundamental right of all animals and surrendered it to you, the government, in return for your commitment to abide by a paradigm established by a Declaration that says we have rights and that to protect them we traded in some of those rights so as to empower you in government; a Constitution defining the architecture of that government government and the processes by which it generates and enforces well-formed rules; and a Bill of Rights listing the things that this federal government can never do.
That’s it. That’s the deal. That’s our deal. It is the deal you took when we hired you and you swore us an oath. It is on the basis that you swore such an oath that we trusted you with the awesome powers of government, including trusting you enough to surrender our right to self-help justice.
There are other paradigms some may have, I know. Among them are paradigms that a proper life is spent abiding by the teachings of this or that religious figure, promoting art or literature, or pursuing goals as the environment, or maximizing some form of X-justice (e.g., “social justice” or “economic justice” etc.) Those may be worthy goals and I wish you the greatest of success in choosing your own ends and maximizing them with your lives. But I wish respectfully to remind you again: a deal is a deal, nothing is worse than a welcher, and the deal that we the people made with you the government is spelled out in those three documents. It is on your acceptance of those terms that we surrendered our rights and created your powers. You are free to pursue all your other ends in life as well in your own time and I sincerely wish you the greatest of blessings in your such pursuits, but when you became an officer of the federal government, that is the deal you made us.
To the military class I send my special greetings and respect. I have no doubts that the enlisted members of the services will always remember their constitutional duties, but about some officers I have my doubts. Yet they have been trained in situational ethics, presumably for a moment such as we are reaching. Evidence is bubbling (and beginning to gush) to the surface about the criminal activities that accompanied last November’s election. The recent news from Arizona is just scratching the surface. You are going to be tested, because no one can take over this country through civil forces alone: police and sheriffs aren’t willing and the 2nd Amendment would stop them even if they were. A dictator may rule this country only if that dictator is able to get the military to do things which the military is forbidden to do and which no modern military wants to do. You are not Noriega’s goons, you are not the People’s Liberation Army driving tanks over dissidents in Tiananmen: you are the United States Military, and you don’t “start going after” your own population. Those who are preparing to order your involvement in political matters, whether they tell you to use bullets or other tools of national security, are violating our deal. I am no expert on the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but I’m pretty sure that the rule is if someone gives you an unconstitutional order such as that YOU SHOULD FIND A WAY TO PEACABLY RESIST THE UNCONSTITUTIONAL ORDER TO FIRE UPON AMERICANS OR OTHERWISE WEAPONISE THE NATIONAL SECURITY STATE AGAINST POLITICAL OPPONENTS XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (but consult your own attorneys and conscience on that one).*,**
In closing, to our great and many esteemed federal colleagues, I respectfully recommend that in moments of confusion, please think about the story above. Remember the minister, who had to remember for whom he really worked (not “to whom he reported” but for whom he worked). Remember the story of the Church of Reason and the role of a professor therein. Then ask yourself, what god do you serve?
No matter your private beliefs, you answered that question by oath the day you took the job.
_*_ It occurs to me that in these stressful times I should curtail my customary comedic panache. Obviously, under no circumstances should people on any side of this debate go violent in any way, including against their superiors in government. There is a point I have been making in speeches again and again: America is going to get a chance to show that is is indeed the exceptional country because we are going to defeat this, and we are going to do so without firing a shot. And perhaps, without anyone even having to go to jail (yes there’s an approach). So under no circumstances should any federal employees hang their chain-of-command from lampposts. They should refuse to perform Unconstitutional orders. And if orders ever come to fire on American citizens, I am confident they would disobey such orders.
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX… consult your UCMJ.
** As a belt-and-suspenders measure, I would like to repeat what I have been saying repeatedly in interviews and talks: America is the exceptional country, and we are going to show it by not only getting through this, but by doing so peacably. Given that, it does not help for me to use comedic panache, not even once, about government officials such as I have in the past about Wall Street bankers. I removed the over-the-line quote, and remind myself of my duty going forward to find a peacable way forward. I feel I have done so continuously since I foresaw this mess on November 4, but I will say it again here: there are peaceful ways forward. It is time I devote another essay to the subject.