Book Review: Bringing America Home: How America Lost Her Way and How We Can Find Our Way Back. Tom Pauken. Rockford, IL: Chronicles Press (2010)
JOHN M. DEJAK
G.K. Chesterton, commenting on the United States, said:
America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism. And it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things. (GKC, “What is America?” in What I Saw in America)
Bringing America Home is an extended reflection of Chesterton’s observation—and no wonder! This book is written by a man who is fiercely devoted to that creed and whose life has been marked by a thoughtful reflection of its contents and a fight for its preservation.
Tom Pauken has made a significant contribution to the reclaiming of the authentic culture of the United States and it couldn’t have come at a better time. In a period of our history where our elected leaders put forth government as the solution, here is a common sense response that not only demonstrates the folly of that position but also reawakens the public to the great heritage and uniqueness the American proposition. It is also a stinging critique of the elitist Washington-New York political culture that has come to dominate government and politics. This Brahmin class is ubiquitous at all levels of the political landscape, and that for the worse. Whether these folks be liberal or (so-called) conservative, Democrat or Republican, the common denominator that binds all of these folks together is the following: (1) the libido dominandi, the lust for power, (2) a utilitarian-pragmatic ethic that places morality and right reason second to getting the desired results, and (3) a rejection—explicitly or implicitly through forgetfulness—of the founding documents of the United States, especially the Constitution.
Part one of the book takes up “How America Lost Her Way.” Mr. Pauken takes special aim at the hijacking of the conservative movement in the United States. In nutshell fashion, Pauken describes the conservative movement: “The modern American conservative movement came of age in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Conservatism at that time stood for the principles of limited government, opposition to international communism, and support for traditional values” (Pauken, p.21). The convictions of conservatism were embodied, politically, by Sen. Barry Goldwater and President Ronald Reagan, two heroes of Mr. Pauken. It was through the articulation and policy enunciated—primarily by these two champions—that conservatism was defined and came to prominence in the 1980’s. Yet, amidst this seeming triumph of conservatism with the presidency of Ronald Reagan, Pauken notes that the seeds of its destruction were planted from within. Certainly, big government liberalism was always a threat, but now a double threat emerged with fellow travelling “Rockefeller Republicans” and the rise of the neoconservative big government conservatism.
The policies and results of big government conservatism reached its apogee in the George W. Bush presidency. Mr. Pauken spares not the former President and his colleagues for contributing to the current economic and foreign policy debacles that we currently find ourselves in. More significantly, however, are the effects of the George W. Bush presidency on the “hijacking” of the conservative movement. Though the seeds were sown with George H.W. Bush and some officials in the Reagan administration, the result of this came to fruition in the presidency of George W. Bush. Mr. Pauken analyzes this result through an examination of the machinery of government, foreign policy, economic policies and its effects on the middle class, and the cultural decay in morals and manners. The situation—unfortunately—that we find ourselves in is one that is the result of a rejection of true conservatism, and an unholy alliance between liberal and neoconservative elites in their threefold aim to hold and maintain power, to pursue a utilitarian-pragmatic ethic, and to consciously disregard the founding documents of the United States.
Mr. Pauken, however, gives us a prescription for the revival of a common sense conservatism that will moor the culture on the solidity of the American creed. In part two of the book, “Finding Our Way Back,” Mr. Pauken offers solutions that deal with the most significant threats to the United States, which include militant Islam, rising unemployment and a depressed economy, dumbed-down and bureaucratically-managed education, and rejection of constitutional principles and traditional values. The recognition and acknowledgment of the truths that we hold is the first step in reclaiming authentic American culture. First and foremost of those truths, is the acknowledgment of God as the immutable first principle of human life and government. This is a sine qua non. Mr. Pauken reminds us that the very first settlers and founders of our nation were inspired by a recognition of God as ever present and as the reason for their lives and endeavors. “In the Name of God. Amen,” were the first words of The Mayflower Compact. William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, stated: “Those who refuse to govern themselves by the laws of God will be ruled by tyrants.” Prescient words from the founding generation.
The common sense solutions offered by Mr. Pauken reads like advice that could come from one’s father. (Indeed, I would rather trust my dad than some “smart guy” from Harvard.) He deploys well his practical political experience in offering these solutions, and he also cites solid analysis of the issues by people who study them. In the case of militant Islam threatening our shores, Pauken knows well his history and cites the prophetic Hilaire Belloc in his assertion in the 1930’s that Islam would rise again. Indeed it has. Pauken suggests that the guiding principle for US foreign policy should be what is best for the United States. In regard to stemming the threat of militant Islam, our foreign policy should shore up what is left of Christian culture throughout the world. Practically, this would mean supporting beleaguered Christian communities in the Middle East and in the Balkans, opposing the de-Christianization of Europe which would be further sped by the entrance of Turkey into the European Union, forging better relations with Russia, and crafting a more independent Middle East policy and one less beholden to the Israeli lobby.
Regarding domestic policy, Mr. Pauken offers similar common sense solutions. While not giving a formal scholastic explicatio, Pauken remembers well his St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. The evils that beset our country—the economic crisis, the crisis in education, and the loss of morality—all arise first within the human person. Disorders in the soul lead disorders in the culture and the nation. Perhaps the most convincing solution to our domestic woes that Pauken proffers is the advice of a dying father to his son in the book The New Legacy by Skipper Dippel. Here is advice that, if taken, will repair disorders in the soul and, subsequently, disorders in our nation:
It is important to remember that no matter how they try in Congress, they cannot repeal the law of gravity. God’s laws and natural laws are the ultimate power in this world. Some people may only discover them after a lifetime, but they do exist. Recognizing them is critical….Remember to associate with people who care more about whether they go to heaven or hell than whether they become governor of Texas or head of a company….One certainty in life is that you are not always on top. There are many people who try to avoid the falls by changing philosophies. These are people of convenience. They’re often successful in the short term, while they are on earth. But I have always wondered if they were successful in the sense of eternity. I feel following conscience is a far better guide.
(Pauken, p. 164-166)
Of course, Mr. Pauken, offers specific policy goals and solutions regarding these domestic issues, but the thing that struck this reviewer most significantly, is that they arise from a conviction in a creed: Metaphysically and theologically, that creed begins with “I believe in One God….” Civically, that creed begins with “We hold these truths….” Politically, that creed begins with “We the People….”
Are there any faults with the book? Mr. Pauken does repeat himself quite often. A favorite quote sprinkled throughout the book is a description of modern culture offered by Pope Benedict XVI as a “dictatorship of relativism.” I suppose, though, that Mr. Pauken learned from his Jesuit professors that repetitio est mater studiorum. Not so bad a fault.
John M. DeJak, an attorney, is Headmaster of Chesterton Academy [www.chestertonacademy.org] in Minneapolis. He and his wife Ann have five children and are expecting their sixth.