Washington in the Corner

I recently looked up George Washington’s noted farewell address. It was fascinating not only for our frantic departure from its precepts, but also in the elegant honesty of its expression. Mr. Washington, lauded for courage and fortitude, was not considered an artist of the word in his age. Rather, he was thought–by himself as much as any–quite modest in this faculty. Yet what we read below hasn’t been equaled by a Western statesman in at least a generation. Whether this is an indication of dysgenics in bloom, or merely the political victory of cant over candor is a topic of debate. Though what isn’t much debatable are the injuries we suffer with distance from his principles. The articulation of which is excerpted to focus attention, though it is all worthy. More so than our long train of leadership lilliputians who have yet to consider its simple guidance.

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations…

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur.

Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions, by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluged citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils! Such an attachment of a small or weak, towards a great and powerful nation, dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influences (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens), the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defence against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

…constantly keeping in view, that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors; and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

In other words, make sure other people’s problems stay that way. And expect no appreciation when you don’t.

I was going to bold passages for emphasis, but would have been left with little remaining. It’s all there. So many seeds of misery planted blithely against counsel from the outset. It’s impossible to read without admiration for his foresight. The inveterate antipathies and passionate attachments that drown our interests beneath those of others. George couldn’t be more plain in his nodding toward Russia and Israel than if he were bellowing from beneath the cold clay. Alas his children, like most juveniles, are wise beyond the experience of their parents.

And as for being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more, it is the iron law of American race relations. Perhaps we should have considered gratitude’s elusivity before squandering so much in its pursuit.

Though it’s interesting how little purchase such advice finds when carried in goodwill. We seem determined to ignore critical points until they arrive on the end of a spear. Something Aristophanes noticed even before Washington: It is from their foes, not their friends, that cities learn the lesson of building high walls.

Don’t fault our foes. They’re teaching as enthusiastically as possible.

9 thoughts on “Washington in the Corner

  1. Brilliant man. I often wish the Founding Fathers would come back from their graves to impart their wise counsel…but then I wouldnt want to be cruel to them.

    Let them rest. They have done their duty.

  2. Pingback: Washington in the Corner | Reaction Times

  3. At first glance, It seems wise counsel. But we have to remember to discount it once for white privilege and secondly for slaveowning, which results in it falling to the status of subway graffiti according to the current zeitgeist. God we are fucked

  4. America’s first and greatest isolationist. Sensible people can see the wisdom of his words from experience at the personal level. For instance if you try to stop some drunken fool beating his wife, chances are they’ll both end up turning on you.

  5. There was once a lass who said to me that the greatest man that ever lived was Jesus of Nazareth. I told her that there was a man that she should respect more, as we are living in the USA. As far as I know, it went over her head.
    I hope that she doesn’t get raped too much, I was kinda fond of her.

  6. All nations have their problems of course, but the US seems to have bigger problems than most. Most Western nations anyway.

    The big three uniquely American problems are:

    1. A huge black underclass
    2. A hostile Jewish elite
    3. A 2000 mile border with Mexico

    So it’s pretty amazing that despite these otherwise crippling handicaps, the US still has one of the world’s highest standard of living. On the Human Development Index, the best known such measurement, the US ranks 5th. More homogenous nations with no history of slavery, a much smaller Jewish cohort, and no borders with the Third World only wish they had American levels of order and prosperity.

    I think this speaks well to the genius of Founding Fathers like Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin, Adams and the institutions they built. The American republic they created, in spite of all its flaws, is still in many ways the envy of the world, and rightly so.

    And the foundational stock that produced these far-sighted men, the Anglo-Germanic, Northwest European core population of America, is what keeps the country great to this day.

    Adam Smith said there’s a great deal of ruin in a nation, meaning that a strong country can survive almost anything (except a treasonous political class importing a low-grade replacement population). I think that helps explain why the US, now only about 60% white, still ranks up there with, say, lily-white Denmark, and not with demographically similar Brazil. Because that 60% white population is some of highest-quality human capital on Earth.

    So, in short, America is fucking awesome. White Americans should pat themselves on the back and thank their ancestors–first and foremost the greatest American of them all, Geo. Washington–for creating such a quality polity.

    And don’t despair. When Imperator Trumpus Maximus siezes power on Jan 20, 2017–then to be known as Year 1 AD (After Donald)–the good ship SS America will surely be righted and the traitors thrown overboard.

  7. Alexander Hamilton wrote the first draft of Washington’s Address. The retiring president revised it here and there as he saw fit. I normally assign that document in my intro to American Government courses and point out how the United States does not follow any of Washington’s prescriptions anymore. A few students have understood the gravity of that.

  8. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/11/22) | The Reactivity Place

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