The point of no return 3

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James Hankins and Allen C. Guelzo … noted in the first chapter of Where Next?: Civilization at the Crossroads thatCivilization is always threatened by barbarism, and the greater threat often comes more from within than from without.”

The political philosopher James Burnham made a similar point when he argued thatSuicide is probably more frequent than murder as the end phase of a civilization.”

The historian Arnold Toynbee spoke in this context of the “barbarization of the dominant minority.” When a society is robust and self-confident, Toynbee suggested, cultural influence travels largely from the elites to the proletariats. The elites furnish social models to be emulated. The proletariats are “softened,” Toynbee said, by their imitation of the manners and morals of a dominant elite. But when a society begins to falter, the imitation proceeds largely in the opposite direction: the dominant elite is coarsened by its imitation of proletarian manners. Toynbee spoke in this context of a growing “sense of drift,” “truancy,” “promiscuity,” and general “vulgarization” of manners, morals, and the arts. The elites, instead of holding fast to their own standards, suddenly begin to “go native” and adopt the dress, attitudes, and behavior of the lower classes. Flip on your television, scroll through social media, look at the teens and pre-teens in your middle-class neighborhood. You will see what Toynbee meant by “barbarization of the dominant [or, rather ‘once-dominant’] minority.” One part of the impulse is summed up in the French phrase nostalgie de la boue. But it is not “mud” that is sought so much as repudiation. …

What we are talking about is the drift, the tendency of our culture. And that is to be measured not so much by what we permit or forbid as by what we unthinkingly accept as normal. This crossroads, that is to say, is part of a process, one of whose markers is the normalization of the outré.  Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan described this development as “defining deviancy down.” It is, as the late columnist Charles Krauthammer observed, a two-way process. “As part of the vast social project of moral leveling,” he wrote, it is not enough for the deviant to be normalized. The normal must be found to be deviant. . . . Large areas of ordinary behavior hitherto considered benign have had their threshold radically redefined up, so that once innocent behavior now stands condemned as deviant. Normal middle-class life then stands exposed as the true home of violence and abuse and a whole catalog of aberrant acting and thinking.”

Hilaire Belloc espied the culmination of this process in Survivals and New Arrivals (1929):

When it is mature we shall have, not the present isolated, self-conscious insults to beauty and right living, but a positive coordination and organized affirmation of the repulsive and the vile.” …

Jean Raspail’s Camp of the Saints (1973) … imagines a world in which Western Civilization is overrun and destroyed by unfettered Third-World immigration. It describes an instance of wholesale cultural suicide … Conspicuous in that apocalypse is the feckless collusion of white Europeans and Americans in their own supersession. They faced an existential crossroads. They chose extinction, laced with the emotion of higher virtue, rather than survival. …

In 1994, Irving Kristol wrote an important essay called Countercultures. In it, he noted that “‘Sexual liberation’ is always near the top of a countercultural agenda—though just what form the liberation takes can and does vary, sometimes quite widely.” The costumes and rhetoric change, but the end is always the same: an assault on the defining institutions of our civilization. “Women’s liberation,” Kristol continues, “is another consistent feature of all countercultural movements—liberation from husbands, liberation from children, liberation from family. Indeed, the real object of these various sexual heterodoxies is to disestablish the family as the central institution of human society, the citadel of orthodoxy.”

In Eros and Civilization (1966), the Marxist countercultural guru Herbert Marcuse provided an illustration of Kristol’s thesis avant la lettre. Railing against “the tyranny of procreative sexuality,” Marcuse urged his followers to return to a state of “primary narcissism” and extolled the joys of “polymorphous perversity.” Are we there yet?  … Marcuse sought to enlist a programmatically unfruitful sexuality in his campaign against “capitalism” and the cultural establishment: barrenness as a revolutionary desideratum. Back then, the diktat seemed radical but self-contained, another crackpot effusion from the academy. Today, it is a widespread mental health problem, accepted gospel preached by teachers, the media, and legislators across the country. As I write, the National Women’s Law Center has just taken to Twitter to declare that “People of all genders need abortions.” How many things had to go wrong for someone, presumably female, to issue that bulletin? “All genders,” indeed. I recall the observation, attributed to Voltaire, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

In The Catholic Tradition and the Modern State”(1916), the historian Christopher Dawson wrote, “It is not liberty, but power which is the true note of our modern civilization. Man has gained infinitely in his control over Nature, but he has lost control over his own individual life.” I think this is true. And there is a political as well as a technical or scientific dimension to the phenomenon Dawson describes.

[It may be true, but the underlined sentence is annoyingly badly written. When “Man” is used  as a generic term, “he” cannot be said to have an “individual life”. A better formulation of the idea Dawson is trying to express: Humankind has gained greatly in control over Nature, but individuals have lost control over their own lives.]

In the West, what we have witnessed since the so-called “Progressive” movement of the 1910s and 1920s is the rise of a bureaucratic elite that has increasingly absorbed the prerogatives of power from legislative bodies. In the United States, for example, Article I of the Constitution vests all legislative power in Congress. For many decades, however, Americans have been ruled less by laws duly enacted by their representatives in Congress and more by an alphabet soup of regulatory agencies. The members of these bodies are elected by no one; they typically work outside the purview of public scrutiny; and yet their diktats have the force of law. Already in the 1940s, James Burnham was warning about the prospect of a “managerial revolution” that would accomplish by bureaucracy what traditional politics had failed to produce. Succeeding decades have seen the extraordinary growth of this leviathan, the unchecked multiplication of its offices and powers, and the encroaching reach of its tentacles into the interstices of everyday life. We are now, to an extent difficult to calculate, ruled by this “administrative state”, the “deep state”,  the “regulatory state”.

When in September 2020 the World Economic Forum at Davos announced its blueprint for a “Great Reset” in the wake of the worldwide panic over COVID-19, a new crossroads had been uncovered. Never letting a crisis go to waste, the Davos initiative was an extensive menu of progressive, i.e., socialistic imperatives. Here at last was an opportunity to enact a worldwide tax on wealth, a far-reaching (and deeply impoverishing) “green energy” agenda, rules that would dilute national sovereignty, and various schemes to insinuate politically correct attitudes into the fabric of everyday life. All this was being promulgated for our own good, of course. But it was difficult to overlook the fact that the WEF plan involved nothing less than the absorption of liberty by the extension of bureaucratic power.

Kimball’s idea is that we are now  at a point – a “crossroads”, or a fork in the road – where we have a choice to make: restore and preserve Western civilization, OR let it die.

I do not think we have that choice. “The drift, the tendency of our culture” has gone too far in the direction of “the repulsive and the vile” to be stemmed and diverted back to “right living”. Western Civilization  has been “overrun and destroyed by unfettered [unobstructed] Third-World immigration”.

We are at – we have have passed the point of no return.

 

Jillian Becker    December 12, 2022

Do you remember the American Republic? 9

Do you remember the USA, the nation that was established by a constitution?

Perhaps you imagine it is still in existence?

It is not.

Glenn Ellmers describes the post-constitutional republic that America has become. He writes at American Greatness:

The constitutional republic created by our founders no longer exists. Most everyone on the Right seems to agree with that—though we differ about how deep the rot is, and whether we are now living under a new regime that is essentially different in kind, not merely degree.

Most of us also agree that we want to restore the American founders’ principles and institutions. …

But how exactly we recover the founders’ constitutionalism is a question no one has been able to answer with any specificity. …

Elections—and therefore consent and popular sovereignty—are no longer meaningful.

This is the big one, and in a way, everything flows from it. It is helpful to break it down into two discrete pieces.

First, even if conducted legitimately, elections no longer reflect the will of the people.

Set aside for the moment any concerns about outright fraud and ballot tampering. The steady growth of the administrative state since the 1960s means that bureaucracy has become increasingly indifferent to—even openly hostile to—the will of the people over the last half-century. A clear majority of Americans, including Democrats (at least until recently), has been demanding and voting for comprehensive immigration reform, including strict control of the border, for decades. The Republican establishment in Congress—which made its peace with the deep state some time ago—has made numerous promises to fix this problem, and broken them all, always finding a reason for “amnesty now, enforcement later.” The decision about who gets to be part of the political community was the basic principle of popular sovereignty in the founders’ social compact theory. To the degree that the elites have simply ignored the American people on this point, neither the United States as a nation nor its citizens can still be considered a sovereign people.

Of course, that is only one obvious example. In thousands of other ways, the federal bureaucracy ignores the deliberate wishes of the American people. The regulators, administrators, and policymakers in the alphabet soup of federal agencies set the rules and impose their collective will as they see fit. Regardless of who the people repeatedly elect to reform the system, those politicians and their agendas come and go; the permanent government persists.

Yet even this has not been enough for the leftist oligarchy. Trump’s election in 2016 scared the establishment into taking even more extreme measures to prevent “unacceptable” electoral outcomes. Which leads to the latest antidemocratic development.

Second, elections now represent “manufactured consent”.

Mollie Hemingway showed in her excellent book, Rigged, that the technically legal though unscrupulous maneuvers undertaken by the Left—including legacy and social media propaganda and censorship, last-minute changes to election laws, and private money poured into partisan “voter education” efforts—were more than enough to alter the outcome of the 2020 election.

This new reality became even clearer this month. The highly manipulative practice of ballot harvesting—which reached new lows of cynicism in the recent midterms—makes a mockery of elections as an expression of popular deliberation and rational will. … The Democrats didn’t beat back the red wave because the voters chose them; they won by choosing their voters. It is hard to see how elections under these circumstances are substantially different from the artificial voting rituals practiced by the “people’s republics”, i.e., communist regimes of the 20th century.

The idea that the founders’ institutional arrangements still obtain is a nostalgic fiction today—especially the idea of checks and balances based on federalism and the separation of powers.

As a treatise on constitutional government, The Federalist is and will always be a classic work of political science, with many enduring insights. … [But] what Publius describes about the functions of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches—as well as the countervailing powers of the states—has almost no connection with current reality.

Congress doesn’t write, the executive does not enforce, and the judiciary does not interpret the laws. Power and wealth have become massively centralized in Washington, D.C. Federalism, judicial review, executive authority, the legislative process, appropriations—none of this remains operational in a way James Madison would recognize. And now, the country’s most powerful corporations are in active collusion with the federal security apparatus to enforce the regime’s authority. That’s practically the definition of fascism.

Political competence, in the traditional sense, is becoming irrelevant. 

Ignore the current spat between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. A bitter nomination fight would only benefit the opposition. What’s important to note is that any attempt by a Republican president to control his own (nominal) employees in the executive branch would require talents that neither Trump nor DeSantis has demonstrated. In fact, if confronting today’s administrative state, it isn’t clear how even a Lincoln or a Churchill would have exercised effective statesmanship. We are in a post-constitutional, even a post-political, environment.

For all his flaws, Donald Trump at least recognized that defending the sovereignty of the people (the most fundamental and meaningful definition of Americanism) meant striking at the legitimacy of the administrative state, especially its assumptions of rational expert knowledge. Trump correctly perceived that mockery and derision were effective, if indelicate, tools for challenging this hubris.

But Trump erred grievously in thinking he could accomplish everything he wanted on his own. The art of the deal doesn’t work when the other side holds almost all the cards. Trump underestimated this situation. And he was simply foolish and vain in thinking he could overcome it on the strength of his abilities alone and ignoring his duty to fill every available appointment with people loyal to—and willing to fight for—his agenda.

A DeSantis presidency, meanwhile, would have to recognize that while executive experience as a governor was once the ideal training ground for the Oval Office, this is much less true today. To whatever degree overweening bureaucracy has infiltrated the states, the governor of Florida does not have to deal with a national security machine that sets its own foreign policy, abuses classification rules, and engages in shameless leaking to a compliant national press; a Justice Department that weaponizes the resources and capacities of the FBI to undermine an elected president; and a veritable nation of unfireable (for now) subordinates long habituated to regarding themselves as the true representatives of the public will.

Yet DeSantis has shown better instincts than Trump in backing up his words with actions, especially in his willingness to punish powerful opponents, like Disney, when they needed it.

It remains to be seen how either man could translate his virtues, and overcome his shortcomings, to exercise the power of the presidency creatively, with cunning, subtlety, and ruthless determination, in ways that pursue the goals of constitutionalism even while understanding that the old forms no longer apply.

Moreover, any president seeking to restore constitutional government would need large majorities in both houses of Congress committed to reform far more seriously than the current Republican leadership seems to be. This partnership would not involve traditional legislative log-rolling, but would require an alliance in a quasi-political street fight, probably leading to a constitutional crisis, to bring the bureaucracy to heel. It is a big ask to expect congressional leaders who would even understand how this would occur, let alone have the will actually to do it. Massive challenges await at every turn. …

By carrying on with retail politics and accepting the current situation as normal, people on the Right are now legitimizing and strengthening their enemies. 

This may be the hardest pill to swallow.

Our current woke oligarchy becomes more fanatical every month, yet instead of getting weaker or provoking a popular backlash, it seems to grow ever stronger. In part, this is because the elites have maintained a semblance of institutional normalcy. No matter how extreme its policies—COVID lockdowns, chemical or surgical castration of children, open borders—the ruling class carries on with a kind of constitutional kabuki theater. Citizens (or rather “people”) vote, Congress meets and passes “laws”, the president pontificates and signs documents. It is largely just a performance; it certainly doesn’t resemble government functioning as the founders intended. But it looks close enough to the real thing to persuade many people that the situation, if not perfect, is at least tolerable. There is just enough veneer of Our Democracy™ to keep most citizens from acting on their dissatisfactions and justified fears.

But the longer this goes on, and the more phoniness people are willing to tolerate, the more the whole rotten edifice becomes accepted as legitimate. At some point, the people will have consented, by their acquiescence, to anything the regime decides to do. Soon, one suspects, our left-wing masters won’t find it necessary to keep up the charade.

That’s why I disagree with those who say we should simply go tit-for-tat with the Democrats. Julie Kelly and Scott McKay, among others, believe that Republicans need to adopt the Democrats’ ballot harvesting techniques in order to beat them at their own game. In the same vein, Ned Ryun argues, “If conservatives and Republicans want to win again, we had better adopt the only-ballots-matter approach at least in the short term or die. . . . This is now the modern-day political battlefield in America, the rules of the game. One can either howl at the moon about it or beat the Left at it.”

Look, I get it. Nevertheless, this strikes me as a bad idea—practically, theoretically, and morally.

    • Practically, we can never hope to match the maniacal zeal of the Left, which invests millenarian expectations in politics, and is thus always driven to do whatever it takes to win. Acknowledging this does not mean giving up and letting them win. But it does mean recognizing that in a race to the bottom, the Left will always get there first. And having fought tooth and nail to see who can go lower, what do we do when we reach the bottom?
    • Theoretically, this means we will be participating in altering the essential meaning and purpose of elections. Representative, deliberative democracy will become the technocratic accumulation of votes—a clickbait contest that rewards whichever side can best wage computerized demographic warfare.
    • Morally, we will then lose any claim that we are trying to recover genuine self-government. If the argument is that we need to descend to the Democrats’ level in order to gain power, one might ask, “Why not just cut to the chase and skip the empty, meaningless process?” If power really becomes the only object, and neither side really believes in consent, then the entire pretense will fade away soon enough anyway.

Accepting, even “in the short term”, the regime’s authority to perpetually rewrite the rules of the game is the true surrender. They will always win if we repeatedly acquiesce to their legitimacy, chasing after what they define as normal on their terms. Worse, there won’t be a republic in the long term worth having.

I know that what I am painting here is a pretty bleak picture. But while it reveals a rough road in the short term, I don’t think it necessarily dictates long-term despair, in part because there are certain truths about political life that the Left cannot change.

Ellmers then “offer[s] some ideas about what has not changed, which might provide some grounds for optimism”, including “human nature”! But with that section of his article I disagree. I don’t think human nature or anything else he points to provides grounds for optimism.  Quite the contrary.