Fundamental to all human organizations are three questions that must be answered in order for the organization to survive. A group of people who come together by chance with no reason to be together will go on their way. A mob at a sporting event is there for the game, but once the game is ended, they disperse. The only point of them gathering in the stadium was to see the game. Even that reason, however, was temporary and was never intended to bind the fans together.
The first question for every human organization is “Who are we?” This is the most basic and if not the most important question. The answer could be something mundane and temporary like a sporting event, but this is an answer that assumes the gathering of people is intended to be for the mundane and temporary. A more lasting answer is one that provides the members with a reason to continue working together. A fraternal organization, for example, has an answer that is timeless.
That answer will then be linked to the second question, “To what end?” The people at a ball game come together to see the game and to cheer on the team. Since the founding answer is expected to be short-lived, the second answer is as well. The group that assembles near the old railway station with the password “sic semper tyrannis” for the purpose of organizing a rebellion has a longer-term point of their organizations, so the answers to these two big questions have a longer view.
The final and most important question that all human organizations must answer is the one of authority, “Who says?” The answer to this question is usually assumed, but rarely considered in the open. The people at the ball game do not talk about who says it is a good idea for them to come together and cheer for the team. Similarly, when the civil authority banned public gatherings during Covid, everyone just accepted that they had the authority to do so. The state is usually the answer here.
Those guys meeting near the old railway station to plot the overthrow of the government, however, cannot just assume the question has been answered, because ultimately the purpose of their group is to provide the answer. Maybe they think the civil authority has offended the gods or is violating the traditions of their people. The answer to “Who says? for them is those gods or traditions. There is some moral authority that provides them with the justification to rebel against the civil authority.
At a more mundane level, the people who assemble in the park on the third Saturday of every month for the purpose of cleaning the park also have an answer. They are getting together because they are the Third Saturdays Park guys, and the point of their organization is to keep the park clean. Their moral authority for doing so, the answer to “Who says they can do this” is their understanding of their civic duty. By the morals of their society, they feel a duty to clean the park.
To see how this works in American society, think about the civil rights movement, which has come under renewed scrutiny of late. As if by magic, America went from a rights-based society in which the citizens were sovereign to one ruled by a self-perpetuating elite charged with enforcing a regime of equity and diversity. The words on the original paper, which is supposed to be the moral authority, are still there in the museum but as if by magic new words on new papers now prevail.
This is the reality of civil rights legislation, particularly the founding court case of the movement, Brown v. Board of Education. A group of men came together in the name of what they called civil rights, with the purpose of overturning the rights based moral structure of American society, so they could insert a new answer to that fundamental question of society. The answer now is the law requires that all public policy bend toward the goals of diversity and equity.
It is an amazing trick, but it shows how powerful even a small group can be when they have answered the three big questions. That power only grows when they are able to undermine the majority confidence in the traditional answers. The new moral regime of civil rights looked attractive to people who had slowly been disabused of their long-held answers to the three big questions. Once Americans stopped believing in their rights as Americans, they were ready to believe in anything.
From a different angle, you can see how the three big questions can vex a movement before it gets started. Christian nationalism is largely a reaction to the moral degeneracy of the current age, but it seeks to be a positive alternative to the prevailing order, which it struggles to define. You can see that here in this post in the American Mind, which tries to flesh out what is meant by Christian nationalism. Another take is this post that addresses some of the points of the first post.
Christian nationalism fails the first test as it is unable to provide a coherent answer to the question, “Who are we?” As you can see in those posts, they are not even sure what they mean by Christian, much less nationalist. The plan seems to be that they will rally a majority around some vague criticism of the present condition in order to gain political power, which they will then use to order society to their liking. Their answer to that third question will presumably be the ballot box.
For a human organization to live past its initial enthusiasm of the moment it must answer the three big questions. Who are we? What is our purpose? By what authority have we come together to act in concert? This is why reactionary movements always fail to rollback what they oppose. The object of their efforts either evolves to evade their critique or it evolves a moral authority based in itself, like we see with the civil rights movement, that the reactionary cannot defeat.
If there is to be a revolt against the modern age, the people doing the revolting will first have to tackle the three big questions. In other words, the opponents of the present order must learn from the creators of the present order, the people behind the civil rights movement, and fashion a new moral framework that rests on a moral authority that the movement will defend to the last man. In other words, to defeat the old gods, one must build a movement around a new god.
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