January 13th, 2010

On Whether to Tear Down or Build Up

photo credit: johnnywonderful

A recent article by Utah attorney Jerry Salcido touched on the battle many patriots face when they realize the magnitude of our awful situation: do we focus our time on outing conspiracies and pointing out corruption, or do we study and advocate correct principles to win people over to the cause of liberty?

Salcido’s article, also published here, elicited a flurry of responses both of support and opposition. Many commenters had a problem with his seeming abandonment of the fight to expose conspiratorial individuals, and felt that his advocacy for learning philosophy and principle instead of focusing on conspiracy and corruption was only aiding the enemy’s efforts by not joining in the fight against them.

John Birch Society President John McManus himself jumped into the fray, penning a rebuttal to Salcido’s article. Contesting Salcido’s central claim that conspiracy theories (and the effort to expose them) are counterproductive to the cause of liberty, McManus states:

There’s nothing wrong and plenty beneficial with knowing and preaching the philosophy of liberty. But that’s not enough if an enemy has the same understanding yet works round the clock in shadows to impose his very opposite view.

This perception of where one’s efforts of persuasion and influence are best spent is not new. Over two centuries ago the same pattern manifested itself in the works of both Thomas Paine and John Adams. Paine, a master essayist known for his vitriolic and passionate pamphlets excoriating monarchy, oppression, and a government out of touch with its people, used his rhetoric to convince the reader of the need to dismantle the reigns of unjust government.

John Adams was initially impressed with Paine’s Common Sense and felt flattered when some suspected that he was the author of the originally-anonymous document. But as biographer David McCullough notes, “the more he thought about it, the less he admired Common Sense.” Writing to his wife Abigail in 1776, Adams commented that Paine was “a better hand at pulling down than building.” Adams’ uneasiness with some of Paine’s proposed ideas fueled the desire to propose his own:

But it was Paine’s “feeble” understanding of constitutional government, his outline of a unicameral legislature to be established once independence was achieved, that disturbed Adams most. In response, he began setting down his own thoughts on government, resolved, as he later wrote, “to do all in my power to counteract the effect” on the popular mind of so foolish a plan. (John Adams, p. 97)

A decade later in a changed world, Adams reiterated his assessment of his relation to Paine’s efforts in a letter to James Warren. “It is much easier to pull down a government, in such a conjuncture of affairs as we have seen, than to build up at such season as present” (p. 373-4). A few short years later on the issue of the French revolution, he opined in similar fashion in a letter to revolutionary Samuel Adams:

Everything will be pulled down. So much seems certain. But what will be built up? Are there any principles of political architecture? … Will the struggle in Europe be anything other than a change in impostors? (p. 418)

On this last line more than any other, Adams pinpoints the underlying issue in the discussion between Jerry Salcido and John McManus. Conspiracies do exist, evil men wield power, and corruption is rampant. But while some dedicate themselves to tearing down these individuals, their work, and the heavy burdens of tyranny increasingly being imposed on a once-free people, many of these well-intentioned “truthers” lack any principled, philosophical foundation upon which to build a solid structure. This can easily be noted in comments on discussion forums, blogs, or other venues in which these topics are addressed. This is not to say, of course, that all those who focus on such material suffer from this intellectual dissonance. Indeed, many who realize the scope of the problems facing our nation, and their darker implications, are often compelled to better understand true principles and dive into a serious study of history and government. In this sense, Paine is a precursor to Adams.

America’s successful future requires a type of patriot who is part Paine and part Adams—one who will expose evil and fight tyranny while continually studying history, political economy, and the philosophical aspects of government and society. Studying conspiracies and philosophy need not be mutually exclusive, but rather can and should complement one another in a study and advocacy of improving our communities and government at all levels.

13 Responses to “On Whether to Tear Down or Build Up”

  1. Jeremy Nicoll
    January 14, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    Thank you – it’s not one or the other, it’s both. So many false dichotomy arguments go around.

  2. David
    January 14, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    It’s not simply both, it is one and then the other in a specific order. Paine following Adams would not succeed – it would actually work against improvement.

  3. Connor
    January 14, 2010 at 1:06 pm #

    I’m not so sure I agree, David. There is always corruption, and it’s always in need of being pulled down. So, Paine is constantly necessary. But we always need a bit of Adams to be ready to build up a solid structure in place of what’s torn down.

    It’s like a construction project, where demolition and building is part of the entire project. If something gets built in the process that is not to spec, it has to be torn down (in part or entirely) and something better built in its place.

    I seem these two, Paine and Adams, as being best manifested in an individual in synchronous fashion—people who can, in whatever circumstance, respond with a bit of Paine, or a bit of Adams, always prepared to switch over to the other where necessary.

  4. David
    January 14, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    I agree that the need for each is ongoing, but tearing down without a followup of rebuilding is ineffective – it simply creates a vacuum that will be filled with at least as much corruption as was torn out by Paine.

  5. a concerned mommy
    January 14, 2010 at 1:40 pm #

    Yes, that seems to me to be the point of the post, David. No argument here. I agree entirely!!!

  6. sloanie
    January 14, 2010 at 2:08 pm #

    Indeed. You can pull weeds all day long, but if you don’t cultivate the ground and plant some good seeds, what’s the point of pulling weeds?

  7. Steven Montgomery
    January 14, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    As I recently wrote in another forum regarding this article, “I don’t know why you can’t emphasize both. I believe that both are important and necessary. It goes without saying that an understanding of the principles of freedom and liberty is vital. But an understanding of the who, what, why, when, where, and how of the secret combination which seeks to destroy our freedom is also vital.”

  8. Brian Mecham
    January 14, 2010 at 3:14 pm #

    I also wrote a response to the original article Philosophy Vs Conspiracy…. I thought Jerry’s article was great, and made multiple valid points, but also felt it was lacking in voicing at least some responsibility of understanding the enemy.

  9. Krista
    January 14, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    Great post! Simultaneous efforts building their monster and eroding our foundations seem to be working pretty well for organized opponents of liberty, as well… at the moment, I feel like it’s all we can do to kick down their ladders! 😉

    The civic involvement that has grown as a result of economic trouble and political disenchantment, though, has the potential to result in some RAPID liberty-building. 🙂

  10. Jim Davis
    January 14, 2010 at 5:56 pm #

    Amongst our liberty-loving culture there are some of us who turn others away with our extreme methods. Granted, too much truth and light can be blinding to those who are accustomed to their complacent darkness. But I see some amongst us (and perhaps I have been guilty of this in the past) who use much negativity, fear-mongering, and anger in an attempt to expose whatever corruption we see in government. If we appear to others as merely “Paines” (attacking the wrong) but give little energy to promoting the good then we lose all credibility (and rightfully so).

    I believe the message of freedom is a positive one that should be promoted with hope and joy. The corruption which exists in government deserves little more than our humble acknowledgment to its reality. We can seek to educate others by exposing the evil but unless we instill hope in others with a simultaneous positive message than our message has been nothing more than destructive.

    A few examples of those who, while acknowledging the bad, first and foremost promote the good:

    LDS Church- How many of you Latter-Day-Saints have heard sermons on the devil or of his corruption? I haven’t heard much. On the contrary almost everything I’ve heard has had a positive tone. Yes, evil exists but spending the majority of our time focusing on it doesn’t make it go away.

    Ron Paul- If you pay attention to him when he speaks you’ll notice he promotes freedom, the constitution, sound money, a moral foreign policy etc, etc. I have yet to see him attack anything or anyone. He points out bad policy but most of his efforts are spent promoting moral solutions.

  11. Pat Henry
    January 14, 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    Prophets (as Jeremiah) were to both tear down and build up. Paine (though I do not like him a lot) was in fact very influential in waking people up. Without that, they would not have fought and worked for a “solution” as there’d have been nothing to change. Both Paine and Adams (and others) worked together.

    In McManus’ article, I think you also missed the important allusion to Washington believing a “conspiracy theory.” He said and wrote that they knew there were those (referring to Illuminati / Masons / Weishauptians) who were trying to infiltrate and control the budding government. I have to believe that while he fought at the risk of all to keep back British tyranny, he supported the limited, separated, enumerated powers of the Constitution to hinder such revolutionaries.

    False dichotomy. We need both strategies. Let’s keep working together.

  12. John
    March 10, 2010 at 9:23 am #

    While the options are not a dichotomy, they are also not an equality. One is more important than the other. If we merely tear down corruption, more corruption can rise to replace it, and we create a world defined by conflict. If we merely learn, live, and teach correct principles, we would govern ourselves, and corruption would eventually be starved of support and votes. One is helpful, but the other is necessary, and they synergize together.


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