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CULTURE

When America Kneels, Toll the Bell.

Americans used to kneel to no one but God.

On June 8, 2020, a litter of the Democratic vanguard dropped to its knees inside the Capitol building. The act purported to commemorate George Floyd, but since Americans have never even knelt for fallen Presidents, and since Mr. Floyd’s family demanded no such sign of supplication, it is safe to conclude that these politicians were kneeling to something else: in fealty to a new political orthodoxy underwritten by Antifa (and its lesser sects). At its founding, America’s political leaders refused to kneel to monarchs. Now, they kneel to mobs. Such are the gewgaws of modern politics. 

Perhaps the event was merely political theater, but more troubling scenes followed. Even more troubling is the spectacle of law enforcement kneeling before those who openly profess contempt for law enforcement. More troubling still is the spectacle of the National Guard, which has never knelt even for its own fallen heroes, kneeling before those protesting the nation served by it.

Kneeling has been the physical expression of submission; the posture of the ruled before the ruler, from time immemorial. Kneeling rests on the presumption of superiority, the presumption,  throughout the breadth of human history, that some were born to rule, others to be ruled. Once the presumption is granted, the question “ruled by whom?” becomes an unimportant issue of detail. Whether the oppressor is an autocrat or a theocrat; a monarch or an oligarch; the polloi or the proletariat; Attila or Mao makes no difference to the oppressed. 

Americans kneel to no one. At least, they used to kneel to no one. 

Prostration before presumed authority was never a feature of the American vocabulary. This nation is founded on Enlightenment ideals that, in time, animated our transition from dependent colony to free nation and represented a radical break from the past. In an era of monarchy, of aristocracy lingering on the fumes of feudalism, the founders of this nation dared to argue—at peril to their lives—that all men are equal. That each has life and liberty by right, not by fiat, that government exists solely to secure these rights, and, correlatively, that men do not exist to serve governments. The individual is sovereign of himself—and no other. Our founders understood the dark fate that awaits those who deny this fundamental political truth. History bleeds with the presumptions of power. As Thomas Paine wrote in “Common Sense,” “Monarchy and succession have laid (not this or that kingdom only) but the world in blood and ashes.” 

To those who presume to rule, Americans answered with the assertive challenge: Don’t Tread on Me. Americans kneel to no one. At least, they used to kneel to no one. 

The chic and, at present, virtually unquestioned objection to all this is that Enlightenment ideals were merely the prejudices of white bourgeoisie (that race is relevant in this context is always assumed and never argued for, of course). Therefore, these values must be duly contemned as a consequence, and history “made right,” called to account, balanced or repaired. It is all just vague enough to be, at the same time, meaningless and ominous.

But of course, this argument presupposes the truth of the very principles that it is attempting to deny. If the concept of individual sovereignty—the concept that each person’s life is uniquely his; that, as a corollary, liberty is his natural state; that he has a right to say what he will and worship as he will; and that these rights may not be denied without due process. If these are to be relegated as prejudices to the dustbin of history, what precisely is the argument to be made against slavery? Segregation? Unequal application of law? 

It is precisely the moral apparatus established by our founding documents that renders these ills logically and politically unsustainable over time.

Mount Rushmore.

Mount Rushmore.

THE IRREDEEMABILITY OF HISTORY

History, both good and bad, is a record of events past. Nothing can change it. History cannot be redeemed or “made right.” An injustice remains an injustice forever. The past is deaf to petition; we may strive for a better future, but not a better past. 

You can no more assume the crime or victimhood of another than you can assume his breathing or digestion. 

A white person today who was never a slaveholder kneeling before and washing the feet of a black person who was never a slave does nothing to the past. It is the affected theater of a silly present. The slaveholder alone can atone for the sin of holding his brothers in bondage. The slave alone can accept or reject the atonement. It is presumption and farce to assume the crime of the one or the victimhood of the other. You can no more assume the crime or victimhood of another than you can assume his breathing or digestion. 

In thinking about history, nuance and context are essential. Slavery has existed in all times and in all places—the breadth of recorded history. It existed long before America was even a thought, and it remained (and remains) long after America achieved emancipation. History and its ills did not commence in 1492 (or 1619, or 1776). To pretend otherwise is willful ignorance. 

The modern day advocate of kneeling claims to deplore the past for its oppression. But adopting a gesture that signaled subjection for millennia is a concession to the sin of oppression. It shows how poorly understood and how fragile freedom really is. 

Liberty and prostration cannot abide together long. If Americans forget what they are and kneel, toll the bell for freedom. 

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Written By

Lieutenant Daniel Modell (retired) served over twenty years in the New York City Police Department. He is author of The Warrior’s Manifesto: Ideals for Those Who Protect and Defend.

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