BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Challenging ourselves to be better ...

This was an easy decision when I saw it on the shelf at the dollar store this summer, as I've been a fan of its author for quite some time, and was very interested to see what he had to say in book length (as opposed to his Twitter or Facebook posts that I typically see). So, Allen West's Guardian of the Republic: An American Ronin's Journey to Faith, Family and Freedom got into my shopping cart, without much preconceptions (or data) about the book (as is often the case with dollar store finds).

If you don't know Allen West, he's currently a conservative commentator, but was formerly a one-term Congressman from Florida, after having served 22 years in the army. You might guess that this book was more of a biography, but only the first quarter is really focused on his story, with the rest being his “philosophy” in assorted areas (albeit in the context of his experiences). The book is broken up into five Parts, “My Conservative Roots”, “Conservative Principles”, “Conservatism in the Black Community”, “The Future of the American Republic”, and “Conclusion”. The middle three (each having 3-4 chapters) seem to be almost free-standing looks at their subjects. Obviously, the subtitle's reference to being an “American Ronin” begs some explanation, and he sets this up in the Prologue (although he doesn't really carry it forward much as a theme):
… rather than offer a conventional autobiography, I'd like to share with you my philosophical beliefs and the reasons why I love this country and why I shall fight wholeheartedly and fearlessly for the future of our republic.
      My story actually has its roots centuries ago in Japan.
      I've always been drawn to the warrior spirit and the code of the samurai. But it is the ethos of the ronin that truly resonates with me.
      During Japan's feudal period, from the late 1100s to the late 1800s, a samurai who lost his lord or master, either through the master's death or the samurai's loss of favor, was known as a ronin. …
He goes on to explain that these samurai were supposed to commit seppuku, ritual suicide, and the ones (the ronin) who did not were shunned. However, there must have been enough of them to have regulations regarding their status, as they were allowed to be armed, and be employed as bodyguards, etc. He frames having lost his father in his mid-20's as “losing his master”, and he “pledged an oath” to continue in the nation's service:
      And just like the ronin, I have remained an outsider, hewing to the code by which I was raised.
      My parents, my earthly masters, had brought me up as a conservative in every sense. They encouraged and championed my commitment to conservative values. Now I stood alone. I soon experienced the ronin's sense of undesirability, humiliation, and shame. I was treated as persona non grata not only by those who didn't share my views but also by some in my own African-American community.
      Because I refused to succumb and live my life according to other people's code, I was cast out. …
Although I'm jumping ahead a bit here, what probably resonated with him in the concept of the ronin is that he left the military through less-than-voluntary means (here's an article from just a few months after the fact). As any number of Leftists will harp on and on about, he ended up being put through Article 15 proceedings, which most of the MSM seems to want people to think is the equivalent of the Nuremberg trails. West discusses this over a couple of pages, and I'm going to just grab bits to give you the broad strokes:
In August 2003 we received intelligence reports that a particular Iraqi policeman had been providing information to the enemy, leading to an increase in ambushes on our patrols. We needed to detain the policeman for questioning because we believed something was about to happen. … The policeman had been stonewalling our interrogators, and we needed results. So I made the decision to put additional pressure on him with a psychological intimidation tactic. … He cried out to Allah and provided several names of individuals who intended to do harm to me and my unit. Afterwards there were no further attacks … {he immediately reports the incident, and takes responsibility} … During the hearing my defense attorney … asked if I would do it all again. Without hesitation I responded, “If it is about the lives and safety of my men, I would walk through hell with a gasoline can.” … Ultimately, as a result of the hearing, I received an Article 15, a nonjudicial punishment similar to a traffic ticket. I was fined five thousand dollars, given an honorable discharge, and retired with full rank and benefits. … I had lived up to the parting words {his father} shared back in October 1983 as I prepared to depart for Fort Sill: “Most of all, take care of your men.”
Anyway, the first chapter, “Early Lessons” takes a look at his family, their history, his youth, life growing up in Atlanta, school issues, and his move towards the military (both his parents worked in defense jobs) with University of Tennessee's ROTC program. Much of this is quite charming, but nothing stood out to quote here. Next is “Shaping Operations”, which appears to be a technical term:
      In military vernacular there are two types of operations: decisive and shaping. Before any decisive operation, there must be a shaping operation to set the conditions for the final attack and to ensure victory is achieved and objectives are met.
      My military career was the shaping operation that made me the man I am today.
This is primarily the story of his moving towards his long military career, with a lot of details of units, assignments, training, officers, etc., but also has some pieces about figures (like Colonel Chamberlain from the Civil War battle of Little Round Top, or the vets who ran the JROTC program at his high school) that he holds as exemplars. This moves into chapter three, “My Warrior's Code”, which is a bit more philosophical look at the military (and politics), with special honor given to a particular mentor:
Character is simply defined as doing what is right when no one is watching. … Courage, competence, commitment, conviction, and character were the fundamental principles of leadership I learned from a man who, had he been born centuries before in Japan, truly would have been a samurai master – “Steel 6,” Colonel Denny R. Lewis. … These principles form my personal warrior's code and combine with honor and integrity to shape my personality. I often wonder what Capitol Hill would look like if more elected officials possessed the same code. … I believe that we've come to a point in America where our elected officials possess no code whatsoever.
Oddly, for something that functions as an autobiography, this first part (at about 1/3rd of the page count) is pretty much it for a walk-through on West's life. The next part (also about 1/3rd of the book) is a review of just what he tells you it is – Conservative Principles – and is a fascinating read. At a point between the military and congress, West spent some time teaching history, and this comes out in a big way here. I've read a lot of political stuff over the years, and the “Philosophical Foundations” chapter is one of the clearest and most convincing expositions of the underlying philosophical stances of the popular options out there, from the concept of the “social contract” to an in-depth discussion of the differences of world-view of systems that evolved from Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. There's a look at the transition from Charles II to James II in England, and the eventual framing of the English Bill of Rights, and how that shifted the landscape of concepts of government. This then moves into the chapter “Governing Principles”, which starts out with Jefferson and Madison. This is not all philosophy, as West takes a number of broadsides at the sort of tax-and-spend behemoth that we're suffering these days, with quotes from such thinkers as Frédéric Bastiat, Ayn Rand, and Alexis de Tocqueville, whose warnings of just the sort of things that the Alinsky-inspired crowd have saddled the nation with over the past few decades. Of course, the blame for much of this falls to John Maynard Keynes, ignoring the cautions of Alexander Hamilton that the growth of government … would subvert the very foundation, the very nature of the limited government established by the people of America. Thomas Jefferson would have likewise been aghast at what the so-called “progressive” Left has made of our system: “To compel a man to furnish the funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” West runs through what he refers to as “governing principles” of the Founders, and how they're being erased before our eyes:
      If we are to live up to the governing principles our founders established, then we have a mighty responsibility to preserve the power of the individual citizen. We must resist government's constant fearmongering and exploitation of our sympathies, which cause us to gradually and imperceptibly surrender individual sovereignty and liberty, drip by drip.
West starts out the “Pillars of Conservative Thought” chapter with an arch quote from Napoleon Bonaparte: “In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.” (this paired with a doozy from Nancy Pelosi) … the chapter is something of a rant about how corrupted things have become vs. ideals. This leads into “Conflicting Philosophies of Governance”, which is something of the previous “Principles” evolved into their modern manifestations, or, as West clarifies:
… during times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. So in this chapter, it's time for a revolutionary act: to define truthfully what {Obama's} “fundamental transformation of America” means. … If we're fundamentally transforming America, it must mean we're moving toward the opposite of limited government, fiscal responsibility, individual sovereignty, free markets, strong national defense, and traditional values.
This leads back to Locke and Rousseau, with a few nods to Ronald Reagan. West connects the dots between Rousseau, Hegel, and Marx, and even reprints eight of the ten planks of The Communist Manifesto to show how each has been pressed to service by “progressive” regimes administrations since the early 1900's. I marked several pages in a row here, but there's so much that needs to be conveyed, that I can't really cherry-pick bits to put in here. This section is one of those that I really wish could be required reading in schools – if, of course, schools weren't the first things the Left sought to take over.

The next section looks at “Conservatism in the Black Community”, which to most people sounds like a joke, although West is very clear about how conservative his upbringing in Atlanta, GA had been. Needless to say, this is very personal to him, which can be inferred by the title of the first chapter in it, “The Soul of Our Souls”, and he has a pretty good definition here: “Conservatism in the black community was not so much about political inclinations as it was a way of life that we called 'old school.'” He sets the conflict here as the philosophies of Booker T. Washington (“self-reliance and economic independence”), vs. W.E.B. Du Bois (advocating “black protest, militancy, and pride”) … “Compare Booker T. Washington, the consummate conservative, with W.E.B. Du Bois, the radical leftist, and you can see the origins of the current conflict in our community.” Obviously, West is supporting a return to the vision of Washington, and goes into a lot of painful detail of how black communities have decayed with ever-increasing governmental intrusion. Next is “The Big Lie and the Twenty-First-Century Economic Plantation” which takes head-on “the people who promoted the big lie that government will solve your problems”. He ticks through a list of big government programs that probably sounded real good to liberals, but were disasters for the very people that they were intended to help. I wish more people came to the same conclusions that West has here:
I believe these programs were never meant to rectify problems but to increase dependency on government, all for political gain. Through the Great Society, the government created this economic plantation where the only real “benefits”are the electoral votes keeping the subsistence providers in power.
He goes through a litany of statistical decline, from fatherless homes to prison population percentage, calling it a “social Armageddon” “Yet the so-called black leaders, nearly all of them Democrats, refuse to identify the true cause of these horrible statistics.”

Chapter 10 is “The Hunt for Black Conservatives”, and this isn't about seeking out them, but the pattern of attacks on them. He leads off with a story that ran about him on a satire blog, that makes up an entire interview that supposedly happened between West and a CNN reporter. Despite nothing being true in it, leftist media picked it up and ran it as real, and neither CNN nor the reporter ever bothered to deny the piece. West points out that this is straight out of the Alinksy playbook, and asks the very reasonable question: “Why is it that any philosophy in the black community that differs from the established liberal canon is viciously attacked?” He goes into the character assassination campaigns that the Left has waged against a long list (he has several dozen cited) of black conservatives … and offers the following as a very plausible reason this happens: “The Left must destroy black conservatives because it cannot afford to have freethinking, independent-minded black Americans. If we begin to pull away from the dependency society … the Left loses.”

West then takes another turn, looking forward in “The Future of the American Republic” … the first chapter of which is “Republic or Democracy”, in which he has a fairly concise framing of the question, which also casts shadows on the American educational system (in that most people have no clue):
If there is to be a future for our nation, it means understanding America is a republic, not a democracy. The future of the American republic depends first and foremost on ensuring the citizenry and the voting electorate understand the basic framework of this grand experiment.
He goes on to discuss how many more college courses favor Marx over Jefferson, cites several founding fathers specifically warning about “democracy” (vs. a constitutional republic), and lists numerous really horrible governments that have come to power “democratically” (mainly in the Arab world) in recent decades. He charts out how things went downhill, and especially points to the 17th Amendment, which changed the method of seating senators from being appointed by state legislators/governors to direct election (where pandering to the mob seems to be the norm).

Next is “The Dilemma for the American Republic”, which leads off with this choice bit: “it's not just that we are abdicating the freedom, we're doing so without a clear understanding of the issues or the unintended consequences of our surrender.” He paints a very grim picture of how things are, and how they have been going, and suggests that America is primed for a “third party”. He sets out the philosophical conflict as being between those working for an “opportunity society” and those hell-bent on driving us deeper into a “dependency society”. While he doesn't specify what a possible third party would look like, he notes the Republican Party has been fading into the “Democrat Lite” Party, and has a quite biting description of the Democrats:
Today the Democratic Party has drifted so far to the left it has lost touch with the fundamental values of our constitutional republic. The Democrats have truly embraced modern-day progressive socialism, and I would challenge anyone to show me where that model has ever been successful anywhere in the world.
West walks the reader through disastrous Democrat-driven legislation and government programs, the decay of once-thriving cities like Detroit and Chicago after lifetimes of Democratic control, and describes how “the dependency society confuses privileges with rights and sells everything as a right”. On a more politics-in-general mode, he notes:
Through microtargeting and divisive segmentation, the political machine figures out what buttons to push to maintain power. And voters fall for it over and over again. They reward the impostors and charlatans.
In the final chapter, “Servant Leadership Versus Self-Service”, he starts out contrasting recent vile Democratic administrations with the character of the Founders and fellow Americans of their era, featuring a choice quote from Samuel Adams: “If ever a time should come when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats of Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.” … needless to say, West sees himself as such a patriot, and this then leads to a return to the samurai/ronin imagery, where he details the elements of Bushido (warrior code). While I'm sure that Mr. West can't be accused of wanting America to become some echo of medieval Japan, he certainly is advocating a significant shift from the direction the country's been going over the past 50-100 years. He closes the chapter with a famous quote from Reagan, about “if we lose freedom here”, which is the ultimate thrust of his thesis.

Guardian of the Republic is still in print (it's only 3.5 years old, so I guess I lucked out at finding a dollar store copy), although there's not been a paperback edition of it as yet. The online big boys do presently have it at a substantial discount (over half off) which probably bests the brick-and-mortar guys … and you can get “like new” copies from the new/used vendors for about a quarter of cover price (including shipping). As I alluded to above, there are parts of this (most of the non-autobiography stuff) that I really wish everybody would read … but I realize that West's Tea-Party-influenced type of conservatism rubs a lot of people the wrong way (although I'm certainly in the cheering section). It is quite an edifying look at the state of the nation, however, so you probably should consider giving it a go!

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Tags: book review
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