This has been a disheartening political season, to say the least. We entered the 2016 presidential cycle with the strongest group of nominees in memory. Today, we mutter last rites over our hopes for a robust debate, as a heckler in a red hat spits profanities at the corpse.
In what was the best chance to elect a conservative in our lifetimes, the current Republican frontrunner is a populist blowhard with a liberal history, authoritarian tendencies, and rotten character. His contempt for the Constitution is surpassed only by his trail of failed businesses and busted cons.
Outside of a Hail Mary touchdown of a Cruz nomination or a brokered convention, it appears fans of virtue and limited government will be wandering the wilderness for some time. A plurality of Republicans have now abandoned the ideals of a Republic while a large majority of Democrats abandoned them decades ago. As conservatives talk of third parties and protest votes, they should also plan for their likely fate as America’s Remnant.
The concept of a Remnant was first seen in the Old Testament. When the prophet Isaiah was charged with speaking uncomfortable truths to an unwelcoming public, the Lord promised he wouldn’t change the minds of the majority. Instead, Isaiah’s blunt words were intended for a faithful minority from whom restoration would ultimately emerge.
Eighty years ago, Albert Jay Nock applied this term to the conservative minority of his day:
Apparently, then, if the Lord’s word is good for anything — I do not offer any opinion about that, — the only element in Judean society that was particularly worth bothering about was the Remnant. Isaiah seems finally to have got it through his head that this was the case; that nothing was to be expected from the masses, but that if anything substantial were ever to be done in Judea, the Remnant would have to do it…
The picture which Isaiah presents of the Judean masses is most unfavorable. In his view, the mass man — be he high or be he lowly, rich or poor, prince or pauper — gets off very badly. He appears as not only weak minded and weak willed, but as by consequence knavish, arrogant, grasping, dissipated, unprincipled, unscrupulous…
If the modern spirit, whatever that may be, is disinclined towards taking the Lord’s word at its face value (as I hear is the case), we may observe that Isaiah’s testimony to the character of the masses has strong collateral support from respectable Gentile authority. Plato lived into the administration of Eubulus, when Athens was at the peak of its jazz-and-paper era, and he speaks of the Athenian masses with all Isaiah’s fervency, even comparing them to a herd of ravenous wild beasts. Curiously, too, he applies Isaiah’s own word remnant to the worthier portion of Athenian society; “there is but a very small remnant,” he says, of those who possess a saving force of intellect and force of character — too small, preciously as to Judea, to be of any avail against the ignorant and vicious preponderance of the masses…
Marcus Aurelius was ruler of the greatest of empires, and in that capacity he not only had the Roman mass man under observation, but he had him on his hands 24 hours a day for 18 years. What he did not know about him was not worth knowing and what he thought of him is abundantly attested on almost every page of the little book of jottings which he scribbled offhand from day to day, and which he meant for no eye but his own ever to see.
One of those jottings serves as a reminder to all of us in our latter-day Remnant:
As Donald and Bernie and Hillary shout to the masses, the conservative minority needs to speak truth to power, not worrying about the crowds grabbing selfies at political rallies. Popular opinion changes quickly, as we saw with the Iraq War, and even more dramatically with George H.W. Bush’s 89 percent approval rating 18 months before he lost reelection.
As we persuade with facts and ideas, keep in mind that a classical liberal remnant created the American Revolution while the masses created the French Revolution. This election cycle hasn’t been kind to fans of limited government, but we can charge on as happy warriors with the goal of ultimately restoring this nation to true greatness.