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.


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