During much of the United States' existence, a significant portion of the population lived near the uncivilized frontier. The frontier was a place where the laws of civilization did not reach, where Judeo/Christian morals were not in the ascendancy, a place of danger, where travelers must always be on their guard, where savage tribes held sway, a land often as not immersed in a low level of war, either between the tribes or between a tribe and western civilization, and where a man depended on his wits and weapons, and was not able to depend upon the force of law.
During his formative years, George Washington experienced what life was like on the frontier. While acting as a courier before the French and Indian War, he and a companion traveled along a wilderness pathway. They met an Indian who shared their fire and traveled with them. Suddenly, without warning, the Indian fired his musket at George Washington and his companion, missing both. George learned that on the frontier, there was no rule of law, only that of naked force. The history of the frontier is full of examples such as this. Those who traveled on the frontier, both those belonging to Indian tribes and others, were outside the rule of law. In civilized country, the rule of law was enforced, and extra legal violence was rare.
The frontier ended in the United States about 1885. The rule of law and Western Civilization had been extended over all of the United States, and could be generally depended on. For a period of perhaps 20 years, a golden age existed in the United States. Success generates its own problems. The very end of the existence of the frontier was used as a pretext for a "Progressivism" that considered the Constitution to be old fashioned and infinitely malleable without the necessity of following legal forms. Teddy Roosevelt was one of the prime promoters of this notion, and Progressives of both parties fought with classical liberals until the Hoover administration, when progressives become dominant in both parties, the national political scene, and popular culture for the next 60 years.
Early progressives took advantage of a large storehouse of morality and common American values to build their empire, but the empire, based as it was on a philosophical underpinning directly at odds with the fundamental values of America's founding, did nothing to replenish those values, and did much to undermine them.
There is no fundamental principle to "progressivism" but the desire for power and the belief in the nearly infinite malleability of human nature and the nation by the national elite. The attempt to social engineer, or change society, in the directions that the elite desired, resulted in the attack on traditional morality and belief in national values. Intrusive government control cannot be imposed easily on people who look down on sloth and dependency, and who value personal independence. Early progressives were so immersed in the sea of Judeo/Christian values in which they lived, that they mistook them as the natural state of man, rather than as hard learned lessons that each generation had to relearn through family, church, tradition, and shared national history. Because of this fundamental mistake about human nature, many were surprised when their attacks on church, tradition, family and shared national values resulted in the rise of multitudes of young men reduced to the default position of human nature, where the individual never progresses beyond the childish "I want" stage or progresses only a step up to tribalism, where all outside the tribe are the enemy, and those inside the tribe are "the people".
The rise of these multitudes, primarily concentrated in the inner city cores, have brought about an era of American history with a new, urban, frontier.
Once again, most of the country is safe, while those who live next to the modern frontier have to be on constant guard of their lives and their possessions. In the modern frontier, the rule of law and Western Civilization has broken down. A man travels there at his peril. It is once again necessary to depend on one's wits and ones weapons for safety. The tribes of the modern frontier are often at war, and a low state of warfare continually exists with the rest of the nation. As in the past, the level of violent death outside the modern frontier and its borders is quite low, approximating that of other Western civilizations. Inside the frontier, violent death rates are much higher, and approximate that of other societies where the rule of law is not dependable.
Progressives who have created this situation cannot admit that their policies are the causative agent of this level of violence and death. To admit this would mean that their philosophy and faith are a sham and a failure. They would have to work against everything they have worked for their entire lives. They would have to give up their power, perks, and privileges. Instead, they do what nearly all adults do when faced with facts that repudiate their core beliefs about the nature of reality. They deny them. They create conspiracy theories to explain them. They blame anyone and everyone except their own actions. At its core, modern progressivism is a denial of personal responsibility.
If we are to reverse the Progressive policies that have created the savage tribes among us, we need to reinforce the hard lessons that Western Civilization learned through millennia of trial and error. The family is the bedrock of society, and must be reinforced by tradition, church, and law. Personal responsibility must accompany personal liberty. Those who violate others liberty and property must be made responsible for their actions; personal responsibility must be taught as paramount, rather than the intellectual vacuity that claims nonsensical "collective responsibility". The entire idea of "collective responsibility" is simply a disguised way to deny individual responsibility, and to allow the individual to do anything without accepting responsibility for their actions. Promotion of individual responsibility without individual liberty will fail. If all individual actions are required or regulated by the State, individual responsibility becomes impossible. If the State requires you to wear a seat belt, then you no longer make a decision to be responsible when you buckle your seat belt. The State has made that decision for you. In order to make individual responsibility viable, the individual must be allowed to fail.
A glimmer of hope exists in the resurgence of carrying of arms by responsible members of society. The savage tribes in the inner cities do not lawfully carry arms; they do not recognize the law of civilized society. Responsible members of society have recognized the necessity and responsibility to carry arms for their own protection, especially when they are in or near the urban frontier. They also realize that while raids outside of the modern frontier are rare, they exist, and need to be protected against. The triumph of Western Civilization in the golden era at the end of the 19th century had convinced many that the carrying of personal arms was anachronistic and unnecessary. Unsurprisingly, this attitude coincided with the ascendency of "Progressivism". The rise of the modern urban frontier and the savage tribes that inhabit it, created by Progressive policies, has made the carrying of arms a resurgent sign of individual responsibility. A citizen that carries personal arms proudly proclaims his rights and responsibilities. Bearing arms loudly extols the willingness to accept the highest levels of personal responsibility and the invalidity of collective responsibility. This trend shows that the Constitution has not been completely destroyed, that a core culture of personal responsibility yet exists outside of the "Progressive" strongholds, that we have a chance to bring about a resurgence of Western Civilization, and bring the modern urban frontier back under the rule of law.
The current savage tribes are dependant on the products of civilized society. They depend on the recruitment of new members from broken families supported by the State. They depend on the money flowing into organized crime created by the Progressive policies of the old and new prohibition. It will take time, but these products can all be reduced to tolerable levels by a renewed recognition of the necessity of personal responsibility in our civilization. The exaltation of personal responsibility shown by the lawful carrying of arms not only reinforces the principle of personal responsibility, it makes membership in the savage tribes more costly. The replacement of failed public schools with private and charter schools that emphasize parental choice and personal responsibility can help dry up the replacements needed to maintain the savage tribes in the modern urban frontier, as can a resurgence of Judeo/Christian values in churches. Removal of the support of the "Progressive" state from those institutions that preach against individual responsibility by emphasising a false "collective responsibility" will do a great deal to undercut the replacement of the tribes lost to inter tribal warfare, prison, and armed citizens. The strict enforcement of the law for small illegal acts helps to reinforce the principle of individual responsibility and makes life among the tribes less attractive. The replacement of State decisions in personal matters with personal decisions and responsibility for those decisions, can dry up the money from the new prohibition.
All of these things can be done. The question is whether there is enough of the values of Western Civilization left in the current population to overcome the platitudes of the old "Progressive" elite. The easy mechanism of elections still exist. We will soon see if it will be used to restore civilization or to enlarge the modern urban frontier to include the entire nation.
An earlier version of this essay was published in 2010. It has been revised and updated
©2013 by Dean Weingarten Permission to share granted as long as this notice is included.
Example: It would not take much to transport this conflict to the edge of the frontier in Kentucky in 1780.