The Allure of the Imperative

Posted by Tiltt on Tue, 12/21/2021 - 13:59

‘Imperative’ comes from the Latin imperare, an infinitive that means “to command.” It is the same root word that gives us words like ‘emperor’ and ‘imperial.’ ‘Imperative’ can be an adjective or a noun. The essence is the same in either case. Someone is ordering someone else to do something. Someone has no option; he must follow a specific instruction.

Someone has power over someone else. Force is being (or could quickly be) brought to bear.

Not so long ago, schoolchildren were taught English grammar in the public schools, including one meaning of the word ‘imperative.’ It described a particular type of sentence – distinct from declaratory, interrogatory, and exclamatory – that contained an order or a command from the writer to the reader – or from the speaker to the hearer – to do something. ‘Imperative’ meant to do it exactly, and to do it now. The essences of the imperative in any form are the apparent expectation of obedience on the part of the speaker, and the willingness, often implied, of the speaker to use power or force.

Imperatives are the framework of many relationships. Parents – the good ones, at least – assume the imperative role when dealing with their young children. The rank system typical of all military organizations is powered by cascading imperatives, with generals and admirals at the top, raw recruits at the bottom, and everyone in between giving and receiving commands. A system of imperatives is usually present in classrooms, boardrooms, and most commercial enterprises. Even the harmony between humans and dogs relies on imperatives given by one and acted on by the other.

In most cases, imperatives are harmless at worst. More typically, imperatives are useful, even indispensable, to successful human interaction and progress. “Mind your manners!” “Watch out for black ice!” “DUCK!!!” These are examples of conversational imperatives we hear every day. Imperatives are used extensively in advertising, where they are often in some form of “buy this now.” They make great slogans, as with “Remember the Maine!” and “Be All That You Can Be!” Many, if not most, of our heroes have been people in a position to make lavish use of the imperative: generals, presidents, kings, titans of industry.  The greatest Commander of them all gave Moses ten commandments – imperatives – carved on stone tablets; those were not suggestions from a committee of equals.

Governments have always been infused with imperative tendencies. To govern, after all, means to command in many cases.  Hundreds of governments throughout human history have rested on the shoulders of a king or a pope or an emperor or other potentate who was considered qualified to command others by right of birth or heredity or experience or, in some cases, by grant of a supreme being. To this day, for example, the Japanese emperor is considered to be a direct descendant of a Shinto god or goddess.

The national government of the United States differs from most other governments on the planet in that it recognizes no king or sovereign. Further, our government is specifically based on the principle that all power it may possess or exert flows from the governed, and then only with their permission. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson said it plainly. “...That to secure these [unalienable] rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” The people who wrote the US Constitution considered the preservation of the rights of “free men” to be the only legitimate role of any government.

The national government of the United States was formed with the intent of reserving the imperative, to the extent possible, for the people.

Before the ink was dry on the US Constitution, forces of what we call today the American political Left were at work. Their goal, then as now, was to weaken and eventually destroy the structure that limited the power of the new government. Their goal was to establish and grow the imperative in a different sort of government, one of their making. One in their control. One in which they alone possess the power of the imperative.

Political issues common today in the United States were utterly unheard of a century or even twenty years ago. So-called “progressives” in the past hundred years have built a modern welfare state that has dragged every facet of American life into the political arena. Instead of being the unobtrusive body that patrols the coasts and borders and secures our “pursuit of happiness,” the national government has become increasingly the arbiter of first resort whenever a conflict arises. The ill-advised granting of the power of unlimited taxation to the national government in 1913, along with the establishment of the Federal Reserve Bank, has placed vast power in the hands of what has evolved into a ruling class centered in Washington, DC. The expansion of the Executive Branch, with its uncountable departments and agencies and commissions and bureaus and services and administrations, all populated with unelected, mostly anonymous bureaucrats and fueled with powers ceded by Congress to essentially write law and establish courts, has created the very situation the nation's fathers believed was the deadliest of all – the concentration of powers in a single entity.

Adding to the chaos, advances in technology, especially in the field of communications, have accelerated the pace of information exchange and distribution at a fantastic rate. Unfortunately, the changes have also accelerated the cancerous spread of misinformation and outright falsehood. There is danger in this; it lies in the stasis of truth and the slippery flexibility of a lie. Jonathan Swift observed more than 400 years ago:

Besides, as the vilest Writer has his Readers, so the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect…

We live in a world today where news of a white police officer shooting to death a black man can circumnavigate the globe a hundred times before the merest details of the incident can be determined. (See Michael Brown.) We deal with a world where a disgruntled actor can hire two friends to help him stage a violent incident and the story he tells – completely ridiculous and incredible on its face – becomes a cause for millions for two years before, as has been said, Truth comes limping after it. (See Jussie Smollett.) We live on a planet where the merest whiff of a new variant of a not-very-deadly virus – which variant appears to all observers to be the least deadly to date – can move nations to imprison their own citizens and impoverish the rest if they don’t comply with government vaccination mandates. (See Omicron Covid.)

The American Left has long ago discarded God and Christianity, along with many other faiths. Most religions don’t fit well with policies that provide for unlimited abortion on demand, for example. The Left particularly detests Christianity because the two entities are utterly incompatible; they can’t breathe the same air. The Left rejects orthodox American values, such as those that promote hard work and rewards for achievement. The left abhors any honest teaching of history, especially that of the United States, and actively works to destroy that history by renaming, banning, and tearing down its symbols. 

All these actions and attitudes reek with the stench of the unrestricted imperative. Command is fast becoming the essential nature of government in the United States, the last nation on the planet where this should be possible. The American Left has pursued its whole-hearted infatuation with, and dedication to, the imperative to call upon government to assist it in passing out its orders, its commands, its diktats. The Left has found in Woodrow Wilson’s works and philosophies the model of unelected administrative government that allows it to finally tell us all what to do all the time. It is hardly surprising that roughly 90% of political donations coming from federal government workers go to Democrats, the banner wavers for the American Left. It shouldn’t shock anyone to learn that voters in the District of Columbia – the ultimate “company town” – went over 92% for Joe Biden in 2020.

“Karen” is a surreal caricature, fashioned to represent the finger-wagging, yardstick-wielding culture of irrepressible busybodies who offer themselves as our betters – as everyone's betters – and therefore suited for dominance and ultimate dictatorship. Karen is quite real, and she smells victory. She understands the power of the imperative, she is captivated by its irresistible addictive grip, and she cannot resist its allure.


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