soft despotism

The View from Here

You know what happens when a law is enacted to protect a “minority,” don’t you? The minority acquires privileged status in the eyes of the law. Any action that is claimed to deprive the “minority” of its rights brings the wrath of the state down on the purported offender. And the same law enables members of the “minority” to attain jobs, promotions, and university admissions for which they are otherwise unqualified.

My opening paragraph is prompted by the likely passage of a “gay rights in workplace” bill by the U.S. Senate. The bill is unlikely to be approved soon by the U.S. House of Representatives, but I won’t say “never.” Many members of the GOP are eager to seem “nice,” and enough of them might vote with Democrats to pass the bill and send it to B.O. for signature. Such an act of appeasement will, of course, go unrewarded by voters of the left. But panicked lawmakers are immune to logic, and devoid of principles.

The “gay rights” issue is only a symptom of America’s decay. The official elevation of gays to privileged status is of a piece with several other developments: the very possible failure of efforts to derail death-dealing Obamacare, the equally likely failure of efforts to curb murderous abortion (the gateway to involuntary euthanasia), the ever-growing dependence of Americans on an unaffordable welfare state, an unchecked regulatory apparatus, feminized and gutted defenses, groveling before enemies, and the suppression of dissent in the name of “rights,” “social justice,” “equal protection,” and other Orwellian catch-phrases.

It is altogether evident that America soon will be an irreversibly effete, statist, inhumane, and appeasing realm. In it, every truly beneficial impulse — like those that energized America’s revolution against Britain, the framing of a Constitution that promised the preservation of liberty, the defeat of oppressive regimes in wars hot and cold, and the creation of the world’s most dynamic and productive economy — will be squelched.

The barbarians within, and their willing dupes, are in the saddle. It can happen here, and it is happening here. America is about to become the land of the unfree and the home of the weak-kneed.

*     *     *

Related reading: Joe Herring, “I Am Now a Dissident (and You Should Be Too!),” American Thinker, November 6, 2013

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Putting Hate Crimes in Perspective
The Cost of Affirmative Action
Why Not Just Use SAT Scores?
The Face of America
Affirmative Action: A Modest Proposal
Race, Intelligence, and Affirmative Action
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy
Affirmative Action, One More Time
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values
Same-Sex Marriage
“Equal Protection” and Homosexual Marriage
The Course of the Mainstream
A Contrarian View of Segregation
Much Food for Thought
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
After the Bell Curve
A Footnote . . .
Schelling and Segregation
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Black Terrorists and “White Flight”
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice: Part IV (with links to earlier parts of the series)
Timely Material
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy, Revisited
It’s the Little Things That Count
A Footnote to a Footnote
Let Me Be Perfectly Clear…
FDR and Fascism
An FDR Reader
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
Is There Such a Thing as Society
The People’s Romance
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Fascism
Conspicuous Consumption and Race
An Honest Woman Speaks Out
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
The Interest-Group Paradox
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
A New, New Constitution
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Perils of Nannyism: The Case of Obamacare
More about the Perils of Obamacare
Health-Care Reform: The Short of It
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
First Principles
The Shape of Things to Come
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
A Moral Dilemma
A Conversation with Uncle Sam
Society and the State
I Want My Country Back
The “Forthcoming Financial Collapse”
Undermining the Free Society
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Government vs. Community
The Evil That Is Done with Good Intentions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
About Democracy
Externalities and Statism
Taxes: Theft or Duty?
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
The Meaning of Liberty
The Left’s Agenda
Substantive Due Process and the Limits of Privacy
In Defense of Marriage
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
A Declaration of Civil Disobedience
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Society and the State
Are You in the Bubble?
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Race and Reason: The Derbyshire Debacle
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Not-So-Random Thoughts (III)
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do
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Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox
Genetic Kinship and Society
How Not to Cope with Government Failure
Riots, Culture, and the Final Showdown (revisited)
Where We Are, Economically
The Economic Outlook in Brief
Is Taxation Slavery?
Obamanomics: A Report Card
Well-Founded Pessimism
A Declaration of Independence
The 80-20 Rule, Illustrated
America: Past, Present, and Future
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Economic Horror Stories: The Great “Demancipation” and Economic Stagnation
The Fallacy of the Reverse-Mussolini Fallacy
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Economics: A Survey
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“We the People” and Big Government: Part I
“We the People” and Big Government: Part I (continued)
“We the People” and Big Government: Part II (first installment)

The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union

As empires die, the barbarians usually gather at the gates, preparing a final rush. Unfortunately our savages are already inside. They are in the public schools, the universities, and downtown in the cities. They make our movies, set social policy from afar, instill appropriate values in our children. They do not know that they are savages. They now rule us, and there is nothing we can do about it.

Except watch. Vast disasters make splendid theater. This one is going to be a doozy.

– Fred Reed (Nekkid in Austin, iUniverse, 2002)

Reed is right. He must be right because he agrees with me about America’s future. (See “Well-Founded Pessimism” and “America: Past, Present, and Future.”) Reed also agrees with me about the causes of that future.

Some would say that “we” have done it to ourselves. But that is wrong. The truth is that some of “us” have done it to the rest of “us.”

Who are the doers? Reed gets it partly right, but he (like most social observers) overlooks the “secret” ingredient: leftist lying and treachery. (Though he is alert and scathing about one of its powerful instruments: political correctness.*)

Leftists lie to themselves and to others. The purpose of these lies is to advance collectivism, and to do so at the expense of America’s economic and military security.

By collectivism, I mean not just the obvious things (e.g., government control of the economy, income redistribution). Collectivism also embraces forced egalitarianism, regardless of differences in ability, skill, and effort — and to the detriment of freedom of speech, freedom of association, and property rights.

As for the willingness (eagerness) of leftists to forgo economic and military security, consider just a few examples: It is the left that opposes free trade. It is the left that constantly calls for higher taxes on “the rich,” to punish success and deter growth-producing investments. It was the left that sniveled about Reagan’s “dangerous and provocative” arms buildup — the buildup that brought the USSR to its knees. It is the left that, since the “McGovern revolution” of 1972 has turned the Democrat Party into a party of military weakness and appeasement — appeasement of Soviet and Chinese Communism, of Islamic terrorism, and of any other “ism” but American patriotism.

Leftists lie to themselves (engage in magical thinking) in order to justify (to themselves and the gullible) their upside-down woldview. Thus, for example, they embrace the pseudo-sciences of climatology and macroeconomics, which justify costly and aggrandizing state action (e.g., limitations on the use of fossil fuels, the conscription of scarce resources by government in the name of “stimulus”). Perhaps the biggest lie that leftists tell themselves is that they really believe in collectivism and egalitarianism, when they patently do not.

Leftists lie to others — usually deploying the lies they tell themselves  — in order to advance egalitarian collectivism and weaken America. There are the straightforward lies about policy matters as the need to combat man-made global warming by adopting expensive and inefficient “solutions” (think “green” energy, for example), and the effectiveness of “stimulus” spending. Beyond that, there are hoaxes and the Big LIe about Communism, the effects of which burden America more than two decades after the purported demise of Communism. (Note to reader: Hitler, inventor of the Big Lie, was a leftist — not a demented conservative, as later Big Liars would have you believe.)

Before I elaborate on the Big Lie and its accompanying treachery, I will set the stage by say a bit about a kind of “little lie” that appeals to leftists: the hoax.

What kind of political gain accrues to a hoax? Sympathy for a favored “minority group” — usually blacks, women, and persons suffering from real or feigned gender confusion. Beyond sympathy, of course, there is the hope of favored treatment through changes in social norms, forced and reinforced by codes of conduct, and statutes. Favored treatment means more-than-equal treatment for a “minority group” and less-than-equal treatment for persons not in the “minority group” — for example, the erosion of rights (property, speech, and association), and the loss of jobs, promotions, and university admissions.

Prominent, politically inspired/exploited hoaxes of recent times include:

  • The “rape” of Tawana Brawley, a black female
  • The fatal beating of Matthew Shepard, supposedly because of his homosexuality (more here)
  • The “rape” of a black female members of Duke University’s lacrosse team

What about the Big Lie? Well, the aim is the same: to twist the truth and advance the left’s domestic agenda:

the repudiation of ordered liberty of the kind that arises from evolved social norms, and the replacement of that liberty by sugar-coated oppression. The bread and circuses of imperial Rome have nothing on Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, Obamacare, and the many other forms of personal and corporate welfare that are draining America of its wealth and élan. All of that “welfare” has been bought at the price of economic and social liberty (which are indivisible). (For a broad enumeration, see this post.)

In foreign affairs, the left’s agenda is the erosion of America’s military and economic might, because (insert one or more of the following morally relativistic-politically “realistic” positions):

  • No other country [at present] poses a military challenge to the U.S. [As if this were a permanent condition which would survive prolonged decimation of America’s armed forces.]
  • it is wrong for America to attack other countries. [Always? Even when those other countries are hotbeds of terrorism?]
  • Other countries (e.g., Iran) ought to have nuclear weapons if they want them; after all, the U.S. has them. [Well, why didn’t we offer the A-bomb to Japan instead of using it to end World War II and save millions of lives?]
  • America is nothing special and doesn’t deserve to be stronger and richer than other countries. [Easily said when you are protected by America’s strength and benefit from its quasi-free and still potent economic system, but would you really weaken and impoverish America — and yourself — just to be “no better” than, say, a sub-Saharan country?]
  • “We” must rely in international institutions instead of being the word’s policeman and/or bully. [Rely on ‘international institutions’ even if they are controlled by states that wish ill on America, states that promote ideals other than America’s (professed) ones of liberty and equality of opportunity.
  • The inevitable “convergence” of Communism and capitalism will lead America down the path of socialism and accommodation with the USSR, so we might as well relax and enjoy it.

Reasonable people may disagree about the necessary size and shape of America’s defenses. Reasonable people may disagree about the wisdom of a particular military operation. Reasonable people may disagree about the threat posed by Iran. But reasonable people will not hold the preceding convictions as absolutely and fervently as they are held by leftists, without regard for the facts or the consequences for the liberty and prosperity of Americans.

For decades, the left indulged in one of its biggest Big Lies — a lie perpetrated with the clear purpose of fostering collectivism and military weakness — anti-anti-Communism:

… Whittaker Chambers experienced this [Big Lie] at its punishing extreme. Chambers, probably the most famous American ex-Communist ever, was a former courier for Soviet military intelligence, subsequently an editor at Time magazine, and, in passing, curiously, the English translator of the 1923 Austrian novel Bambi, which became the 1942 Disney cartoon. His exceedingly wise decision to retain hard evidence attesting to his espionage work in the 1930s helped convict, most sensationally, Alger Hiss— the Ivy-educated, well-connected former State Department official and progenitor of the United Nations, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and all-around poster boy of the Liberal Establishment. Starting in 1950, Hiss served four years in jail for perjury charges related to Soviet espionage.

Then what happened? Did a thankful President Truman crown Chambers in laurels and congratulate him on behalf of a grateful nation for exposing a Communist conspiracy metastasizing at the highest levels of the federal government?

Never has a simple “no” been less adequate…. At one point in his testimonial [Witness], Chambers encapsulates the physics of anti-anti-Communism this way: “I had been warned repeatedly that the brunt of official wrath was directed, not against Alger Hiss as a danger, but against me for venturing to testify to the danger.”

It bears restating: Officialdom was enraged not by the danger posed by Hiss, a Soviet military intelligence agent “continuously since 1935,” but by Chambers for testifying to the danger….

… When did anti-Communism itself— the philosophical and political drive against state domination of the individual— become a radioactive inheritance of perceived bigotry and mass hysteria to be passed down, gingerly, generation to generation? …

The so-called McCarthy Era is the obvious place to search for answers, since the narrative we can all recite tells us that the Red-hunting Republican senator from Wisconsin was himself singlehandedly responsible for the evisceration of ideological opposition to Communism— anti-Communism— rendering said anti-Communism into a kind of disease. The remedy was said to be a steadying dose of anti-anti-Communism, despite the often heavy pro-Communist side effects. McCarthy accomplished all of this, the same narrative goes, with his crude zealotry and wild overreach, hectoring and destroying American innocents who had the misfortune to be dragged before his investigatory Senate committee for nothing. “Name one Communist or Soviet agent ever identified by McCarthy,” goes the perpetual challenge to this day, regardless of evidence from both Soviet and American archives that corroborate FBI reports, sworn testimonies, and other facts amassed in support of innumerable McCarthy investigations into the Soviet penetration of the federal government…. (Diana West, American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character, St. Martin’s Press, 2013**)

What was the Big Lie of anti-anti-Communism? The story line went like this: Communism stands for a noble ideal (regardless of what Communism invariably looks like in practice), and the Soviet Union’s expansionism is merely defensive. Any criticism of the Soviet Union — including criticism of its espionage and infiltration of the U.S. government — is therefore bad. Anti-Soviet (anti-Communist) views must therefore be discredited.

This story line was advanced by Communist agents working inside the U.S. government, with the help of the usual suspects: academics, show-biz types (with a few notable and ostracized exceptions), and politicians and bureaucrats — many of whom agreed with the story line and others of whom sought election and advancement by placating the left and, at the same time, adopting the “sophisticated” posture of moral relativism and political realism.

By 1995, when the collectivist cause needed no special protection — having advanced from FDR’s New Deal to LBJ’s Great Society, and having been consolidated in the years since — the U.S. government finally released materials amassed by the Venona project,

a long-running secret collaboration of the United States and United Kingdom intelligence agencies involving cryptanalysis of messages sent by intelligence agencies of the Soviet Union, the majority of them during World War II….

During the initial years of the Cold War, the Venona project was a source of information on Soviet intelligence-gathering activity that was directed at the Western military powers. Although unknown to the public, and even to Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, these programs were of importance concerning crucial events of the early Cold War….

… Sometime in 1945, the existence of the Venona program was revealed to the Soviet Union by the NKVD agent and United States Army SIGINT analyst and cryptologist Bill Weisband….

To what extent the various individuals were involved with Soviet intelligence is a topic of dispute. While a number of academics and historians assert that most of the individuals mentioned in the Venona decrypts were most likely either clandestine assets and/or contacts of Soviet intelligence agents, others argue that many of those people probably had no malicious intentions and committed no crimes [emphasis added].

Well, of course, “many of those people” were innocent. But many were not. Among the many non-innocents:

And that’s just a sample of a long list of known Soviet agents. Did you notice the presence on the list of the Rosenbergs, as well as a large number of government officials (Alger Hiss among them)? Protestations and “proof” of the innocence of the Rosenbergs, Hiss, and others were key components of the Big anti-anti-Communist Lie.

America’s hollow victory in the Cold War brought with it the end of anti-Communism and anti-anti-Communism as political preoccupations. But the Big Lie lives on, in the service of a collectivist and weak America. How could that have happened if America “won” the Cold War? The bitter truth is that every living person of influence in the U.s. was raised during the reign of the Big (anti-anti-Communist) Lie or in the succeeding generations that were (and are) dominated “educators” who persist unto this day in spreading  the gospel of collectivism at home and weakness abroad. (It is not a sign of strength to kill a few terrorists at long distance with armed drones or to back with words and deeds the efforts of anti-American insurgents aiming to replace one kind of tyranny with their own.)

The lamentable truth is that America’s political elites, their enablers in the academy and the media, their financial backers, and their constituents and dupes (the “masses”) have together succeeded in yoking America with “soft” despotism:

Soft despotism is simply a more polite term than fascism (or socialism) for pervasive government control of our affairs:

Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by “a network of small complicated rules” might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called ‘hard despotism’) in the sense that it is not obvious to the people. Soft despotism gives people the illusion that they are in control, when in fact they have very little influence over their government. (Source: Wikipedia.)

Soft despotism is “soft” only in that citizens aren’t dragged from their houses at night and executed for imaginary crimes against the state — though they are hauled into court for not wearing seatbelts, for smoking in bars, and for various other niggling offenses to the sensibilities of nanny-staters.

Despite the absence of arbitrary physical punishment, soft despotism is despotism, period. It can be nothing but despotism when the state holds sway over your paycheck, your retirement plan, your medical care, your choice of associates, and thousands of other details of your life — from the drugs you may not buy to the kind of car you can’t drive, from where you can build a house to the features that your house must include.

“Soft despotism,” in other words, is too soft a term for the regime under which we live. I therefore agree with Tom Smith: “Fascism” is a good descriptor of our present condition, so I’ll continue to use it.

Consider Obamacare, which — unlike Hillarycare — may survive:

When Obama was campaigning on behalf of his health care law one mantra was repeated ad nauseam: If you like your current plan, you can keep it. To put it gently, this hasn’t turned out to be the case, as more and more employers are opting to drop health coverage for their employees, pushing them onto the insurance exchanges…. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Instead of subsidizing retiree health premiums directly, IBM will give retirees an annual contribution via a health retirement account that they can use to buy Medicare Advantage plans and supplemental Medicare policies on the exchange, as well as pay for other medical expenses. Retirees who don’t enroll in a plan through Extend Health won’t receive the subsidy. […]

Few employees can now count on big companies to provide retirement health care. Only 28% of large companies that offer health benefits to employees offered retiree coverage in 2013, down from 34% in 2006 and 66% in 1988, according to a 2013 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This is huge. Far from being a status quo law, Obamacare has become a weapon of mass destruction against traditional employer plans…. (“Obamacare Is Destroying Employer-Based Health Plans,” Via Media, September 9, 2013)

Anyone who knew anything about the likely effects of Obamacare knew that it was sold with this purpose in mind: To undermine employer-based plans and, thus, to garner support for single-payer (i.e., government-provided) health insurance. That, in turn, would practically complete government’s takeover of health care in the U.S., given its control of everything else involved in health care through regulation and the power over providers that accompanies Medicare and Medicaid. (This, too, probably shall not pass.)

And healthcare is but one aspect of an economy that has been commandeered by government spending and regulation, in the name of and for “the people.” For it is well known that most Americans oppose government spending and regulation, in the abstract, while supporting those very things when push comes to shove. (See, for example, this and this.)

Not that the state of the economy will matter much when America is no longer able to effectively defend its citizens and their legitimate overseas interests:

… The fate of the free world no longer rests with the US. It now rests with Putin. He and the mullahs in Iran, presented with the spectacle of the preening narcissist in the White House gazing in rapt adoration at his own reflection, are surely laughing fit to bust.

And why shouldn’t the First Narcissist preen? For he has achieved precisely what he wanted, his true goal that I described in this blog when Obama first ran for President: to extend the reach of the state over peoples’ lives at home, to emasculate the power of America abroad, and to make the free white world the slave of those he falsely characterised as the victims of that white world’s oppression…. (Melanie Phillips, “Putin Checkmates America,” Melanie’s Blog, September 15, 2013)

(Norman Podhoretz delivers a more elaborate version of Phillips’s thesis at “Obama’s Successful Foreign Failure,” The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2013.)

And the Big Lie continues, transmogrified from anti-anti-Communism to anti-anti-Islamism:

[S]hortly after 9/11, a time when some among us were beginning to realize that what we were all hearing 24/7 on cable, on NPR, in The New York Times, from all the experts … was out of sync with what we were watching before our eyes. In other words, the narrative—“ Islam is peace”— was not supported by the evidence: Islam is violence. Islam is slavery (Sudan). Islam is forced conversion (Egypt). Islam is child rape (Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, South Yorkshire, too). Islam is pillage (Somalia). Islam is religious cleansing (Iraq). Islam is death for apostasy (Swat Valley, Harvard University, too8). Islam is censorship (everywhere). Islam is conquest (Cyprus, Israel, Kosovo, Philippines, the 751 government-ID’d no-go zones of France). Such fact-based observations, of course, trigger charges of that sin of sins—“ Islamophobia” (“ racism” being its domestic twin)— but does mere name-calling (“ Islamophobe”) make these serious crimes and their real victims go away? In our world, yes. Over nearly a century of Big Lies we have learned to discount fact and disable logic. As in a frustration dream, the crimes, the victims, and their suffering vanish in today’s magic word, “Islamophobia.” What remains— slanderous allegations of “prejudice,” permanent brands of “bias”— triggers the revulsion reflex in the postmodern brain, still programmed to be vigilant against racism, lynch mobs, the KKK, and the like.

Extant or not, functional or not, these usually faux stimuli create outrage Islam exploits as “Islamophobia.” … This pattern is very old. In pre-McCarthy times, the all-powerful word that stopped the logic process cold was “Red-baiter.” …

… Islam, we are told, has nothing to do with anything bad. How could it? Islam means “peace,” said the forty-third president of the United States. No, in fact, Islam means “submission.” There’s a huge difference, and it explains why Islam celebrated the fall of the Twin Towers in Gaza, Kabul, and Queens. Dhimmitude, already evident in our society, goes a long way to explain why we didn’t dare show that we had noticed.

What we were witnessing was the marshaling forces of the latest, greatest Big Lie…. I saw how … this Big Lie was actively pressed on us by cadres of agents of Islam and their own armies of useful fools: members of the Muslim Brotherhood fobbed off as advocates of a pluralistic, American Islam, the Iran Lobby, Saudi princelings, the international Islamic bloc now known as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Bush administration, the Obama administration, practically anyone on a TV soundstage. All “reasonable people,” they peddled the same Big Lie: Islam is a religion of peace.

The history of the decade that followed, then, became a stuttering story of mongrel words and phrases (from “Islamofascism” to “violent extremism”) and morphing suffixes (“ ist,” “ism”). It was a time of now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t terminology (jihad, jihadist, sharia, mujahideen, shahid, taqqiyya, jizya, caliphate). Apt phrases became verboten (“ Islamic terrorism,” “Muslim violence,” “Islamic jihad”), as did concepts uniquely or characteristically Islamic: religious supremacism, censorship, slavery, pederasty, “honor killings,” “grooming,” and totalitarianism, among others. We may have intuited that “apostasy” did not go out with Galileo, and that beheadings did not end with the French Revolution, but  … Islam is a religion of peace. The real threat, we decided to believe, or thought we had no choice but to believe (or just didn’t think), is “violent extremism.”…

Limiting our brains to this empty phrase, however, has done extreme violence to our thought processes…. After all, if the problem is “violent extremism,” what’s the problem? Have a nice flight….

Islam is the totalitarian threat of today. However, because we continue the “deceit and double-speak” we adopted in response to Communism, we are unable to deal with the new threat— the new Communism of today. We deal with Islam the same way we dealt with Communism: Having been subverted and undermined, we apologize and converge.

As [Geert] Wilders asked, What is wrong with modern Western man? Did something happen to him? I think the answer is yes: Communism happened to him. Solomon aside, there was something novel under the Communist sun; under the shorter-lived Nazi sun, too. In his 1998 book Century of Horrors: Communism, Nazism, and the Uniqueness of the Shoah, Alain Besançon explains what that was: “Communism and Nazism set out to change something more fundamental than mores— that is, the very rule of morality, of our sense of good and evil. And in this, they committed acts unknown in prior human experience.”

And in this, our world was transformed….

Where “good” and “evil” are old-fashioned and laughable (and bracketed by quotation marks), moral relativism takes hold— Lenin’s universal legacy. Solzhenitsyn wondered what would happen next: “But if we are to be deprived of the concepts of good and evil, what will be left? Nothing but the manipulation of each other.”

The manipulation of each other through the manipulation of narratives….

… All these decades later, no one wants information or to open their eyes to the Muslim Brotherhood’s self-described “civilization jihad,” either. It hurts our heads. It exhausts our limited lexicon of ideology…. (Diana West, op. cit.)

*     *     *

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the ascendancy of FDR, his “Brain Trust,” and the New Deal. It is an anniversary to be mourned, not celebrated. Mourned because it means that Americans’ prosperity and liberty have been eroded and imperiled by eight decades of leftist lies and treachery.

Thus the land of the free and the home of the brave has become the land of the handout-seeker and the home of the appeaser. That is the unfortunate state of the Union in 2013.

*     *     *

Related reading:
Arnold Kling, “Our New Technocratic Masters,” Askblog, February 3, 2013
Victor Davis Hanson, “The Glue Holding America Together,” RealClearPolitics, June 28, 2013
Victor Davis Hanson,”Liberal Apartheid,” RealClearPolitics, July 8, 2013
M. Stanton Evans, “In Defense of Diana West,” cnsnews.com, September 13, 2013

*     *     *

Related posts:
The Course of the Mainstream
FDR and Fascism
An FDR Reader
The People’s Romance
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Fascism
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
The Interest-Group Paradox
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
The Shape of Things to Come
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
Our Enemy, the State
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Where We Are, Economically
The Economic Outlook in Brief
Obamanomics: A Report Card
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Well-Founded Pessimism
Is There Such a Thing as Society
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
America: Past, Present, and Future
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
The Fallacy of the Reverse-Mussolini Fallacy
__________
* From Fred Reed (op. cit.):

Feminists wanted congress to pass a vast program of funding for every left-wing cause that incited enthusiasm in the sterile nests of NOW. They called it the Violence Against Women Act, and men deferentially gave it to them. Of course to vote against it, no matter what it actually said (and almost no one knew) would have been to seem to favor violence against women. A law to exterminate orphans, if called the Domestic Violence Prevention Act, would pass without demur.

There followed yet more male deference to female desires. When women wanted to go into the military to have babies, or a Soldier Experience, men couldn’t bring themselves to say no.

When the women couldn’t perform as soldiers, men graciously lowered standards so they could appear to. It was the equivalent of helping a woman over a log in the park, the legal and institutional parallel of murmuring, “Don’t worry your pretty little head about a thing.”

On and on it went. The aggregate effect has been that women have gained real power, while (or by) managing in large part to continue to exact deference and, crucially, to avoid the accountability that should come with power. A minor example is women who want the preferential treatment that women now enjoy, and yet expect men to pay for their dates. In today’s circumstances, this is simple parasitism.

Today men are accountable for their behavior. Women are not. The lack of accountability, seldom clearly recognized, is the bedrock of much of today’s feminist misbehavior, influence, and politics. Its pervasiveness is worth pondering.

** West’s book is controversial — to put it mildly — even among conservatives. Key charges and counter-charges about American Betrayal can be found here:

Ronald Radosh, “McCarthy on Steroids,” FrontPage Mag, August 7, 2013

John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, “Was Harry Hopkins a Soviet Spy?,” FrontPage Mag, August 16, 2013

Diana West, “Published: The Rebuttal in Three Parts [links provided],” dianawest.net, September 10, 2013

West’s style — breathless, repetitive, discursive, often logic-challenged — should not blind you to the essence of her argument, which I have tried to capture in the quotations from her book. Read American Betrayal, read the entries in the debate, consult your own knowledge of America’s past 80 years (if you have much knowledge of those times), and judge for yourself. But don’t commit what I call the fallacy of particularism, which is to discredit an entire thesis because the supporting argument is incorrect in some particulars. (That’s how O.J. got off: “If it [a glove left near the murder scene] doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”) West may not be right about every detail; she has, in my estimation, got the big picture right. For example, even if West is wrong in her assertion that FDR’s right-hand man, Harry Hopkins, was a Soviet agent, she is right about his baleful influence on the foreign and domestic policies of the U.S. government. And his influence lives on.

In Defense of the 1%

“Liberalism,” its adherents claim, is about things like “fairness” and “social justice.” Where “fairness” and “social justice” are lacking — as they usually are in the “liberal” worldview — the state must intervene and penalize the “privileged” so that the “less privileged” may enjoy “fairness” and “social justice.” (I call it blaming the blameless.) This kind of retributive governance cannot stand logical or empirical scrutiny, but it pleases the masses and feeds the power-lust of “liberal” politicians.

Who are the “privileged”? These days they are those who have (temporarily, at least) scaled the  heights of the income distribution. They are the so-called 1%, who (in the “liberal” and left-libertarian view) are there because they are able to “game the system” better than the 99%. Will Wilkinson has a good answer to that allegation:

I think anti-1% rhetoric is misguided and perhaps politically self-defeating. By failing to distinguish between those who became wealthy primarily by creating wealth and those who became wealthy by appropriating wealth, 1%-er/anti-oligarchy language implicitly sets itself in opposition to the kind of inventive, productive people many of us nobly aspire to become. As Kinsley says, a lot of folks really resent this, and they’re not wrong.

Making more money than 99% of one’s countrymen is, by itself, no more morally objectionable than scoring in the 99th percentile of the SAT. Indeed, generally, it’s much more morally praiseworthy; creating wealth benefits people other than oneself. Of course, some people cheat on the SAT. Cheating is wrong. But high-scorers generally aren’t screwing anyone over. Likewise, some people do get rich by cheating and screwing people over. But most people who get rich do it playing by the rules. It’s a mistake to base a protest movement on the refusal to acknowledge this….

If we’re all embedded in a fundamentally unjust, exploitative global economic structure, it’s hard to see why the American 1% should be especially salient. Why not the global 1%, or the global 10 or 20%, which would include pretty much the whole American population. If it is morally imperative to confiscate exceptional wealth and use it to meet human needs, then it is imperative to confiscate most of the wealth in all wealthy countries, not just the wealth of the wealthiest of the wealthy, and transfer it to the world‘s poor, not to the relatively well-to-do poor of the wealthiest countries.

If it’s not possible to bring in $600,000 in a year without therefore being guilty of complicity in a exploitative global system, which invalidates one’s moral claim to one’s income, it’s probably not possible to bring in an untainted, secure $60,000 either.

Of course, most complaints about the American 1% are not grounded on the view that the global political economy is a comprehensive web of exploitation. It’s based on the supposition that the domestic 1% is guilty of something or other the domestic 10 or 30 or 50% isn’t, and therefore deserves to be a target of scorn in a way the 10 or 30 or 50% does not. But, however you slice it, it’s going to be true that a lot of people in the top 1% got there in pretty much the same way a lot of people in the top 30 or 50% got there. If there’s nothing wrong with a way of making money at the 50th percentile, there’s nothing wrong with it at the 99th. And if there’s something wrong with it at the 99th, there’s something wrong with at the 50th. The unwillingness to identify specific mechanisms of unjust income acquisition, and the insistence on treating income-earners above a arbitrary cut-off point as a unified class deserving special contempt, strike me as symptoms of intellectually laziness and a less than thoroughgoing interest in justice.

There is a further, crucial criticism of the anti-1% mentality. The 1%, for the most part, consists of individuals who are smart and ambitious enough to do quite well without the unspecified mechanisms that supposedly favor them. Even with a hypothetically appealing but practically unattainable “level playing field,” I would not expect the composition of the 1% to change markedly.

In any event, there will always be a 1% of one kind or another, the left’s penchant for Nirvana fallacies to the contrary. The real-world choice is not between equality and inequality, it is between liberty and tyranny. Liberty allows a 1% consisting of an (ever-changing) economic “elite”; tyranny allows a 1% consisting of a tyrant’s henchmen and courtiers. The futile flight from economic inequality has delivered America into the hands of rabble-rousing petty tyrants — “soft” despots, if you will — who have badly damaged our economic and social liberties without quite extinguishing them.

These rabble-rousers — who are exemplified by the Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, LBJ, and BHO — have been enabled by the decline of constitutional republicanism and the rise of interest-group democracy. The rabble-rousers have exploited the masses’ envy and fear. But, unbeknownst to the masses, the rabble-rousers have failed to deliver prosperity and have instead delivered impoverishment.* Why? Because the rabble-rousers’ essential program is to penalize the productive through progressive taxation, affirmative action, and restrictive regulations. But the rabble-rousers seem not to know or care that their schemes also penalize the less-productive and unproductive by hindering economic growth and job creation.

If anything, the 1% is to be applauded for having succeeded against great odds. And for delivering value.

Related posts:
The Causes of Economic Growth
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
A Short Course in Economics
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
The Devolution of American Politics from Wisdom to Opportunism
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Left
Enough of “Social Welfare”
A True Flat Tax
The Case of the Purblind Economist
Youthful Wisdom
The Divine Right of the Majority
Our Enemy, the State
Social Justice
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Nature Is Unfair
Elizabeth Warren Is All Wet
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
The Morality of Occupying Private Property

* For more about the impoverishing effects of government, see the preceding post and follow the links at the bottom of that post.

Tocqueville’s Prescience

I have added Joseph Epstein’s new book, Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy’s Guide, to my Amazon.com wish list. My urge to own the book arises from a review in The American Spectator. The reviewer (Larry Thornberry) observes that

Tocqueville understood the constant conflict in democracies between liberty and equality, and the threat too much emphasis on the latter poses to the former. He recognized the emotion of envy behind much of the high-minded talk about equality, which he once described as “generally the wish that no one should be better off than oneself.”

Tocqueville saw the soft tyranny of the smothering paternalism that democracies can impose, and the bureaucracies they can build. He understood that too much centralization of government is a one-way street to despotism.

So true. So prescient.

With respect to “soft tyranny” or “soft despotism,” as it is generally called, I can only repeat myself:

Soft despotism is “soft” only in that citizens aren’t dragged from their houses at night and executed for imaginary crimes against the state — though they are hauled into court for not wearing seatbelts, for smoking in bars, and for various other niggling offenses to the sensibilities of nanny-staters.

Despite the absence of arbitrary physical punishment, soft despotism is despotism, period. It can be nothing but despotism when the state holds sway over your paycheck, your retirement plan, your medical care, your choice of associates, and thousands of other details of your life — from the drugs you may not buy to the kind of car you can’t drive, from where you can build a house to the features that your house must include.

“Soft despotism,” in other words, is too soft a term for the regime under which we live. I therefore agree with Tom Smith: “Fascism” is a good descriptor of our present condition, so I’ll continue to use it.

Fascism and the Future of America

Many commentators, including me, have said that our government is either fascistic or well on its way to being fascistic. What I mean when I refer to fascism in America — and what most commentators mean — is this:

[A] system in which the government leaves nominal ownership of the means of production in the hands of private individuals but exercises control by means of regulatory legislation and reaps most of the profit by means of heavy taxation. In effect, fascism is simply a more subtle form of government ownership than is socialism.

The central point is the scope of government power, which in recent months has gone from big to bigger, with the threat of becoming biggest.

Whether the United States has, at last, descended into full-blown fascism (as defined above) is less important a question than whether and how we might ascend to a better place. I will visit the possible future after assessing our present condition and its causes.

FASCISM OR SOFT DESPOTISM?

Soft despotism is simply a more polite term than fascism (or socialism) for pervasive government control of our affairs:

Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by “a network of small complicated rules” might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called ‘hard despotism’) in the sense that it is not obvious to the people. Soft despotism gives people the illusion that they are in control, when in fact they have very little influence over their government. (Source: Wikipedia.)

Soft despotism is “soft” only in that citizens aren’t dragged from their houses at night and executed for imaginary crimes against the state — though they are hauled into court for not wearing seatbelts, for smoking in bars, and for various other niggling offenses to the sensibilities of nanny-staters.

Despite the absence of arbitrary physical punishment, soft despotism is despotism, period. It can be nothing but despotism when the state holds sway over your paycheck, your retirement plan, your medical care, your choice of associates, and thousands of other details of your life — from the drugs you may not buy to the kind of car you can’t drive, from where you can build a house to the features that your house must include.

“Soft despotism,” in other words, is too soft a term for the regime under which we live. I therefore agree with Tom Smith: “Fascism” is a good descriptor of our present condition, so I’ll continue to use it.

THE CAUSES OF OUR PRESENT CONDITION

In spite of my preference for “fascism” to describe our present system of governance, I do concede an advantage to Tocqueville’s usage: It suggests the mechanism by which we got to where we are, that is, “overrun by ‘a network of small complicated rules’.” (Well, the rules aren’t small, but we are overrun by a network of them.) By “we” I don’t mean to imply concerted action on the part of the whole populace. There is a more insidious mechanism at work, which I call the interest-group paradox:

Pork-barrel legislation exemplifies the interest-group paradox in action, though the paradox encompasses much more than pork-barrel legislation. There are myriad government programs that — like pork-barrel projects — are intended to favor particular classes of individuals. Here is a minute sample:

  • Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, for the benefit of the elderly (including the indigent elderly)
  • Tax credits and deductions, for the benefit of low-income families, charitable and other non-profit institutions, and home buyers (with mortgages)
  • Progressive income-tax rates, for the benefit of persons in the mid-to-low income brackets
  • Subsidies for various kinds of “essential” or “distressed” industries, such as agriculture and automobile manufacturing
  • Import quotas, tariffs, and other restrictions on trade, for the benefit of particular industries and/or labor unions
  • Pro-union laws (in many States), for the benefit of unions and unionized workers
  • Non-smoking ordinances, for the benefit of bar and restaurant employees and non-smoking patrons….

You may believe that a particular program is worth what it costs — given that you probably have little idea of its direct costs and no idea of its indirect costs. The problem is that millions of your fellow Americans believe the same thing about each of their favorite programs….

It is the interest-group paradox which has brought us to our present condition. Since the advent of American fascism in the New Deal, both of the major parties have vied for votes by promising more things to more interest groups. Many interest groups have been mollified, if not satisfied, but most of their members — not to mention the vast, silent minority of unrepresented voters — have in fact been made worse off because the price of their mollification is the mollification of other interest groups.

Thus we have become freighted with massive tax and regulatory burdens. The cumulative effect of the twin burdens is astoundingly large, and is likely to grow under the present regime:

Had the economy of the U.S. not been deflected from its post-Civil War course [by the advent of the regulatory-welfare state around 1900], GDP would now be more than three times its present level…. If that seems unbelievable to you, it shouldn’t: $100 compounded for 100 years at 4.4 percent amounts to $7,400; $100 compounded for 100 years at 3.1 percent amounts to $2,100. Nothing other than government intervention (or a catastrophe greater than any we have known) could have kept the economy from growing at more than 4 percent.

What’s next? Unless Obama’s megalomaniac plans are aborted by a reversal of the Republican Party’s fortunes, the U.S. will enter a new phase of economic growth — something close to stagnation. We will look back on the period from 1970 to 2008 [when GDP rose at an annual rate of 3.1 percent] with longing, as we plod along at a growth rate similar to that of 1908-1940, that is, about 2.2 percent. Thus:

  • If GDP grows at 2.2 percent through 2108, it will be 58 percent lower than if we plod on at 3.1 percent.
  • If GDP grows at 2.2 percent for through 2108, it will be only 4 percent of what it would have been had it continued to grow at 4.4 percent after 1907.

The latter disparity may seem incredible, but scan the lists here and you will find even greater cross-national disparities in per capita GDP. Go here and you will find that real, per capita GDP in 1790 was only 3.3 percent of the value it had attained 201 years later. Our present level of output seems incredible to citizens of impoverished nations, and it would seem no less incredible to an American of 201 years ago. But vast disparities can and do exist, across nations and time. We have every reason to believe in a sustained growth rate of 4.4 percent, as against one of 2.2 percent, because we have experienced both.

These numbers are only a proxy for the loss of liberty associated with the massive growth of government in the U.S. Economic stagnation is the inevitable outcome of punitive taxes and burdensome regulations, all adopted in the name of one or another “good” cause. Those who cannot stand to see others rise above them are doomed to suffer the consequences of leveling, unless they happen to be co-conspirators in the erection of the fascistic state (or whatever you want to call it).

ANOTHER VIEW OF HOW WE GOT HERE, AND WHERE WE’RE HEADED

James V. DeLong, in a recent article (“The Coming of the Fourth American Republic,The American, April 9, 2009), advances a similar view as to the causes of our present condition:

[T[he New Deal … radically revised the role of government. The process of economic growth was tumultuous, and the losers and dislocated were constantly appealing against the national political commitment to “let us do.” The crisis of the Great Depression provided a great opportunity, and it was seized. Starting in the 1930s, the theoretical limitations on the authority of governments—national or state—to deal with economic or welfare issues were dissolved, and in the course of fighting for this untrammeled power governments eagerly accepted responsibility for the functioning of the economy and the popular welfare.

…Remaining limits on governmental authority were eliminated by the dialectic of the civil rights revolution, in which the federal power over commerce was expanded to meet moral imperatives, and the new standards were then fed back into regulation of commerce.

Inherent in the expansion of governmental power was the complicated question of how this unbridled power would be exercised. As the reach of any institution expands, especially anything as cumbersome as a government, it becomes impossible for the institution as a whole to exercise its power. Delegation to sub-units is necessary: to agencies, legislative committees and subcommittees, even private groups.

The obvious issue is how these subunits are controlled and directed. The theoretical answer had been provided by the Progressive movement (the real one of the early 20th century, not the current faux version). Much of the Progressive movement’s complaint was that special interests, often corporate, captured the governmental process, and its prescriptions were appeals to direct democracy or to administrative independence and expertise on the theory that delegation to technocrats could achieve the ideal of “the public interest.”

The real-world answer imposed by the New Deal and its progeny turned out to be special interest capture on steroids. Control comes to rest with those with the greatest interest or the most money at stake, and the result was the creation of a polity called “the Special Interest State” or, in Cornell University Professor Theodore Lowi’s terms, “Interest Group Liberalism.” Its essence is that various interest groups seize control over particular power centers of government and use them for their own ends.

It is this combination of plenary government power combined with the seizure of its levers by special interests that constitutes the polity of the current Third American Republic. The influence of “faction” and its control had been a concern since the founding of the nation, but it took the New Deal and its acolytes to decide that control of governmental turf by special interests was a feature, not a bug, a supposedly healthy part of democratic pluralism.

In DeLong’s analysis, the First American Republic, which lasted until the Civil War, was  the “alliance-of-[S]tates polity.” In the Second American Republic, following the victory of the Unionist cause in the Civil War,

sovereignty belong[ed] to the nation first and the [S]tate second, and … the nation rather than the [S]tate claim[ed] a citizen’s primary loyalty…. The shift [from the First Republic] was traumatic and took decades to complete, but eventually the [S]tates became largely instruments of federal policy, except for a few areas in which conformity is unnecessary or special interests have managed to preserve [S]tate autonomy for their own purposes.

What lies beyond the Third Republic’s special-interest state? According to DeLong, it goes like this:

This Third Republic has had a good run. It was wobbling in the late 1970s, but got bailed out by a run of good luck—Reagan; the fall of the USSR; the computer and information revolution; the rise of the Asian Tigers and the “BRICs”; the basic dynamism and talent of the American people—that kept the bicycle moving and thus upright.

It could continue. It is characteristic of political arrangements that they go on long after an observer from Mars might think that surely their defects are so patent that they have exhausted their capacity for survival…. The culture, the people, are astonishingly creative and productive, and may demonstrate a capacity to keep the bicycle moving faster than the demands of the Special Interest State can throw sand in the gears.

But it is more likely that the Special Interest State has reached a limit.

This may seem a dubious statement, at a time when the ideology of total government is at an acme, but it is not unusual for decadent political arrangements to blaze brightly before their end. Indeed, the total victory of the old arrangements may be crucial to bringing into being the forces that will overthrow it. In some ways, the grip of the aristocracy on 18th-century France tightened in the decades leading up to 1789, and the alliance-of-states idea could have lasted a while longer had the Confederacy not precipitated the crisis. So the utter triumph of the Special Interest State over the past 15 years, and particularly in the recent election, looks like the beginning of its end.

A catalogue of its insoluble problems includes:

Sheer size. The usual numbers concerning the size of government in the United States are that the Feds spend about 20 percent of GNP and other levels of government at least another 16 percent. These do not reflect the impact of tax provisions, regulations, or laws, however, so an accurate estimate of how much of the national economy is actually disposed of by the government is impossible. Whatever it is, it is growing apace, and the current administration is determined to increase it considerably.

Responsibility. As the government has grown in size and reach, it has justified its claims to power by accepting ever more responsibility for the economy and society. Failure will result in rapid loss of legitimacy and great anger…. And as the government’s reach extends, any chance that it will meet its self-proclaimed responsibilities declines.

Lack of any limiting principles. There is no limit on the areas in which special interests will now press for action, nothing that is regarded as beyond the scope of governmental responsibility and power. Furthermore, special interests are not limited, cynically trying to get an undeserved economic edge or subsidy…. Inevitably, special interests try to convert themselves into moral entitlements to convince others to agree to their claims. The problem is that many have convinced themselves, which means that no half loaf satisfies. The grievance remains sharp, and compromise immoral….

Conflicts. The Special Interest State could get along quite well when it simply nibbled at the edges of the society and economy, snipping off a benefit here and there, and when the number of victorious interests was limited. But the combination of moral entitlement, multiplication of claimants, and lack of limits on each and every claim is throwing them into conflict, and rendering unsustainable the ethic of the logrolling alliances that control it.

The guiding principle is that no member of the alliance will challenge the claims of any fellow member. But this principle has a limit, in that unlimited claims cannot help but impinge eventually on each other….

We are in a crisis of legitimacy. The concept of legitimacy, the right to rule, is the single most important factor in political life. The particulars of how it is gained and lost are infinitely varied, according to the culture and history of the polity….

In the United States, legitimacy is conferred by elections, but it is not total. Through the ages, the basic question mark about democracy as a form of government has been that 51 percent of the electorate can band together to oppress the minority—“the tyranny of the majority” is a valid concern. To address it, the United States has a formal written Constitution to guarantee basic rights, but it also has an unwritten constitution that sets limits on how far the winners can push their victories….

Over the past few years, political winners have become increasingly aggressive, culminating in President Obama’s recent “We won” as an assertion of an unlimited mandate. Losers have become increasingly restive, ready to attack the legitimacy of the winners’ victory….

[I]f each party is regarded by the other as a principle-free alliance of special interests, eager to claim the government so as to loot the other side, then a large chunk of legitimacy is lost. All that remains of that concept depends on the government’s ability to deliver overall economic prosperity and national defense, and if the rulers falter in either of these realms, they will receive no slack. Nor should they.

Given these trajectories, and the lack of any mechanisms for altering them, it is hard to see how the polity of the Third Republic can continue, and, as former Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Herbert Stein said: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” The question is whether the landing will be hard or soft….

[I]t is difficult to see any self-correcting mechanisms in the Special Interest State. Quite the reverse; the incentives all seem to be pushing the accelerator rather than the brake….

So what will the Fourth American Republic look like, and how will it come about? The answers are shrouded in the mists of a highly plastic future, and depend to a large extent on the outcome of the current economic crisis. If that grows severe, the change will be quick and explosive. As noted, an American government that presides over a depression will immediately lose the Mandate of Heaven—the Lady will reclaim the sword.

If this immediate crisis is alleviated, then change may have to await the next one, which will certainly come as more and more sand gets thrown in the gears of the Special Interest State and the bicycle eventually stops….

Two possibilities for change seem most promising. The first is a third political party that explicitly repudiates the present course and requires that its members eschew the legitimacy of the Special Interest State. This would require a certain almost religious fervor, but the great tides of history and politics are always religious in nature, so that is no bar.

This second would be more bottom-up. The Constitution has a residue of the original alliance-of-[S]tates polity that has never been used. Two-thirds of the [S]tate legislatures can force Congress to call a constitutional convention, and the results of that enterprise can then be ratified by three-quarters of the [S]tates. So reform efforts could start at the grassroots and coalesce around [S]tates until two-thirds of them decide to march on the Capitol….

IS THERE LIFE BEYOND FASCISM?

In my view, the Third Republic is unlikely to end soon, unless:

  • Obama’s “stimulus” policies — including his efforts to nationalize a large part of the auto industry and all of the health-care industry — fail spectacularly (e.g., we slip deeper into recession, there is a massive backlash against health-care nationalization).
  • Obama continues to follow the path of accommodation and appeasement in foreign and defense policy, and the United States suffers a devastating setback (e.g., a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 or worse). (The setback need not be a direct result Obama’s policies; it would nevertheless be perceived as such.)
  • One of the preceding occurs on the watch of Obama’s successor — presumably a Democrat, if Obama doesn’t fall on his sword.

Absent a débâcle, the special-interest state will not run its course until some of its main constituencies turn from cooperation to conflict — which they will do when their collective greed for an ever-larger share of an ever-weakening economy turns them against each other.

There is a temptation — perhaps born of conflict-avoidance or a fear of seeming callous — to hope against débâcle and for a graceful dénouement. But there will be no graceful dénouement, just a long, messy descent into harder times, harder despotism, and perhaps even subjugation by an coalition of opportunistic enemies. So, for the sake of my grandchildren, I hope for an early débâcle.