The judge was “Borked,” however, by the likes of Sen. Ted Kennedy and other liberal Democratic senators who didn’t like his strict constructionist Constitutional views. Kennedy and company, like Al Gore during the 2000 Presidential campaign, argued that the U.S. Constitution is a dynamic, ever-changing document, while Bork boldly asserted during his confirmation hearings that the Constitution is a static document of enduring, timeless principles. Bork was voted down.
To title his book about America’s slide into cultural decadence, Bork tweaked a line from the British poet W.B. Yeats. In his celebrated poem, “The Second Coming,” Yeats wrote in 1919:
The center cannot hold …
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction …
What rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Literary critics have argued about Yeats’ intended point (World government? Middle East chaos? The breakdown of civilization?), but political commentators have never argued about Bork’s point. His book contains no ambiguity: America is morally adrift; academia is awash in moral relativism; our courts are stretching individual rights to the breaking point.
Bork’s chief reliance on Yeats lies in the words, “The center cannot hold.” Both men are correct, of course, in suggesting that everything must have a center: the wheels on which we ride, the planet on which we walk, a nation, a family, an individual.
One of the most profound questions Americans could ask today is: How strong is our center? More fundamentally, what is our center? Whatever it is, for 223 years it has held. To be sure, it was shaken in the mid-1860s, but despite that interlude of civil strife, America has had a continuous government since 1789.
Are we so arrogant, or so ignorant of history, as to think our country will automatically continue on in freedom and prosperity for our children and grandchildren? Are there not certain requirements for making the center hold?
Surely a free and creative spirit has been part of our center. John Adams once gushed, “It will take 300 years to expand America to the Pacific, and we will build a free nation every mile of the way.” Fifty years later, California became a state, and America became a continental nation, a bit sooner than Adams predicted. The freedom to explore, build, and risk brought it about. Are we in any less need of freedom and the creative spirit today? Does the entrepreneurial spirit enjoy free reign, or is it being stifled by the current Age of Regulation?
Beyond the American “can-do,” inventive spirit, what else constitutes our center? For a long time it was our public schools. Schools were the great equalizer — in the good sense — providing “free” education for rich and poor. But since the 1960s, public education has been the source of as much division as it has equanimity. Cultural conservatives, particularly, have often felt alienated from their public schools. The point is public schools are not the glue they once were.
Is football part of the center? Seriously, yes and no. Football did alleviate the race issue and improved race relations, but sports are seasonal. They are not really our center.
Religious faith? Certainly. America was birthed in and has been sustained by the Judeo-Christian ethic. Not Oriental philosophies or Middle Eastern religions, but the standards of the Ten Commandments. There is little room for debate regarding what initially informed, shaped, and directed America. We began hardly two centuries ago as a Judeo-Christian/Greco-Roman experiment. If America chooses to take a different philosophical/religious path, then that’s that, but our origins are clear. Our institutions and values spring from Israel, Greece and Rome.
How central is the family? Has anyone noticed that everybody has a mother and a father? This means that the very moment a newborn comes into the world, a miniature society, a miniature government, is also born — a mother, a father, a child. It’s no wild deduction to say that the first societal or governmental unit was the family. How central does this make the family to civilization itself? Why do liberals think it can be tinkered with?
In contemplating our center, it helps to return mentally to Philadelphia in 1776. What did those men in Independence Hall have their sights set on? What values undergirded their plans for a new nation?
One more thing we might do is to consider how the upcoming election will affect us. In other words, which of the two candidates will help the center hold?
Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school teacher and former state legislator.