James Burnham’s Misplaced Optimism

James Burnham’s Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism was published in 1964. Had I read Burnham’s book then I would have agreed with his description of “liberalism”, as it was at the time, for I was one of the breed. I would not have agreed with Burnham’s prognosis of suicide. But I hadn’t yet seen what I would see in the following five-plus decades.

Burnham correctly foresaw that “liberalism” would lead to a kind of suicide. But he (unsurprisingly) failed to foresee the nasty turn that “liberalism” would take in America, and the fratricide (figurative, I hope) that looms on the horizon. It is that fratricide, if “liberalism” emerges triumphant, which will lead to suicide at the hands of external enemies. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Burnham (1905-1987) was, according to Wikipedia,

an American philosopher and political theorist. Burnham was a prominent Trotskyist activist in the 1930s…. Burnham left Marxism and became a public intellectual of the American conservative movement. His book, The Managerial Revolution, published in 1941, speculated on the fate of capitalism. Burnham was also an editor and a regular contributor to the American conservative publication, National Review.

There was much more to Burnham than that, according to Matthew Continetti’s “James Burnham: A Visionary Like No Other” (National Review, March 26, 2015):

By the early 1950s Burnham’s departure from liberalism had become irreparable. He did not rule out the possibility of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, he warned of a “fifth column” of Soviet infiltrators operating in the West, he dismissed pieties involving the ballot box, equality, education, and free speech, and his attitude toward Joseph McCarthy was much too ambivalent for the bourgeois liberals within his social circle. So he left….

The defection was finalized when Burnham agreed to join William F. Buckley Jr. in the creation of National Review in 1955. A quarter century later, Buckley would say of Burnham, “Beyond any question, he has been the dominant intellectual influence in the development of this journal.”

At NR, Burnham was the first person to speak at editorial meetings. He wrote a regular column on foreign affairs, penned numerous unsigned editorials and items for “The Week,” edited the biweekly National Review Bulletin newsletter, and was understood to be in charge of the magazine whenever Buckley was traveling, which was often.

As for Suicide of the West, in which Burnham forecast the eponymous demise at the hands of dmodern “liberalism”, Continetti says this:

What is liberalism? Burnham identifies 19 of its assumptions. His list … is still relevant…. He is uninterested in refuting liberalism — indeed, he does not believe such a refutation possible. “The question of the truth or falsity of an ideology is in any case of minor importance,” he writes. “Human beings believe an ideology, as a rule, not because they are convinced rationally that it is true but because it satisfies psychological and social needs and serves, or seems to serve, individual or group interests.”

Guilt is the psychological need satisfied by liberalism. Not only is man a fallen creature, according to Burnham; man is conscious of his fallen nature. And such awareness produces in him existential dread, unease about the world, a restlessness that manifests itself in enthusiastic activity. What soothes this dread for most people in most places at most times is religion. Christianity, for instance, “faces the reality of guilt, provides an adequate explanation of it, and offers a resolution of the anxiety to which it inevitably gives rise.”

But modern society, especially educated society, is secular. The religious answer is ignored, regarded as a private affair, attacked and subverted. What is an affluent and credentialed and professional and secular man to do? “Liberalism,” Burnham writes, “permits him to translate his guilt into the egalitarian, anti-discrimination, democratist, peace-seeking liberal principles, and to transform his guilty feeling into” a “passion for reform.”

Liberalism for Burnham is a form of political religion. It responds to the tragic facts of life by denying those facts and substituting myths. “Thanks to the reassuring provisions of the liberal ideology,” he writes, “I can go about my ordinary business and meanwhile take sufficient account of my moral duties by affirming my loyalty to the correct egalitarian principles, voting for the correct candidates, praising the activists and contributing to their defense funds when they get into trouble, and joining promptly in the outcry against reactionaries who pop up now and then in a desperate effort to preserve power and privilege.”

Here is Continetti’s money paragraph:

Whether it is the Soviet Union, Third World insurgents, the criminal underclass, student revolutionaries, Vladimir Putin, the Ayatollah, the Castro brothers, or Hamas, whether it is rioters, drug pushers, or pornographers, liberalism offers reasons to justify, sympathize with, and appease the agents of violence and disorder and decline. Acting like a narcotic, it enables the intellectual “to leave the real world and take refuge in that better world of his ideology where tigers purr like kittens and turn in their claws to the United Nations.” Which is why Burnham called liberalism “suicidal”: It “permits Western civilization to be reconciled to dissolution.”

Burnham was right about the moral rot inherent in the tenets of “liberalism”. And he was right to see that the rot would lead to a kind of suicide, namely, surrender to or conquest by the enemies of liberty. But the route to that suicide is somewhat different than the one envisioned by Burnham.

At the present rate — which neither Burnham nor anyone else could have foreseen in 1964 — America will first surrender to its internal enemy: the virulent leftism that has grown out of 1964’s “liberalism”. (Burnham foreshadows the transition in chapter 11, “Pas d’Ennemi à Gauche” — there Is no enemy to the left. Therefore, except in quotations where a writer uses “liberal” and its variants, I will hereinafter use “left” and its variants.)

The subsequent surrender to some coalition of external enemies will be de facto, a de jure surrender being beside the point when America has already become a moral and economic wasteland at the hands the left.

A surrender to the likes of Russia and China, whose imperialistic ambitions are undisguised, will be easy enough for the left to accept and foster. The left’s present anti-Russia rhetoric and opposition to a “trade war” with China are merely opportunistic, anti-Trump ploys. In the end, when the left triumphs over the body politic, it will revert to its usual moral relativism, reject a robust national defense as “dangerously provocative”, and consign America to vassalage. This need not be outright political subjugation; meek compliance with the social and economic regimes of the superior powers on America’s flanks will do nicely — for the superior powers and cowering leftists, that is.

It is time to give some space to Burnham. To begin at the end, here is Burnham’s prognosis, taken from chapter 16, “The Function of Liberalism”:

Liberalism is the ideology of Western suicide. When once this … is understood, everything about liberalism— the beliefs, emotions and values associated with it, the nature of its enchantment, its practical record, its future— falls into place….

… There is a really dazzling ingenuity in the liberal explanations of defeat as victory, abandonment as loyalty, timidity as courage, withdrawal as advance. The liberal ideologues proceed in a manner long familiar to both religion and psychology: by constructing a new reality of their own, a transcendental world, where the soul may take refuge from the prosaic, unpleasant world of space and time. In that new and better world, the abandonment of a million of one’s own countrymen and the capitulation to a band of ferocious terrorists become transformed into what is called “liberation.” The loss of control over the strategic axis of the Great Continent [FDR’s surrender of Eastern Europe to the USSR] becomes a vindication of universal law…. The failure to retaliate against gross insults and injuries to envoys, citizens and property becomes a proof of maturity and political wisdom. [Remember, this is 1964, before the self-inflicted defeat in Vietnam, the bug-outs from Lebanon and Somalia, the attacks on the homeland in 2001, the debacle in Benghazi, the substitution of defeat for victory in Iraq, and much more.] …

Domestic tribulations yield as readily as do foreign to the magical transformation. At the beginning of September 1963, at a moment when the nation’s constitutional and social fabric was being torn by generalized racial conflict [urban race riots] that was posing issues impossible to settle and therefore certain to become graver and more dangerous over the coming years [as it did], the American Psychological Foundation held a large conference in Philadelphia. The New York Times (September 2, 1963) singled out for report the address in which Professor Gordon W. Allport of Harvard explained that the “racial demonstrations in America are basically a sign of good national emotional health…. It is easy to imagine Professor Allport in late Roman days, explaining how the animals in the Colosseum are generally a playful lot…. You are worried, citizens, about an active enemy beachhead situated within our strategic periphery? Just let Richard Rovere run the matter through his ideological converter, and you will be relieved to discover that the Cuban situation is, on the absolute contrary, a blessing to be grateful for….

… Mr. Rovere’s incantations, though they have a rather wide public reverberation, are at several layers remove from the inner seats of power. Professor Walt Whitman Rostow, as chief of the State Department’s policy-planning staff, has stood close to the very center, and has for some years been there in spirit through his books and memoranda. In his most prestigious work, The Stages of Growth…. Professor Rostow assures us that every society, when “the pre-conditions for take-off” along the industrial path appear, moves upward in a sequence of stages that culminates in “maturity” and “the age of high-mass consumption.” That consummation duly arrived at, the aggressive habits of the immature society are discarded, and the populace seeks peace and order in which to pursue its mature goals of more autos, suburban houses and babies. It is no coincidence, you may be sure, since this is why the work exists, that Professor Rostow’s most volubly discussed example is the Soviet Union, which, it turns out, is soon to cross, granted forbearance and help from us, that final hump into the peaceful promised land of cars and toddlers.

… Translated from the ideological, what Professor Rostow is saying is: “The stronger our enemy gets, the better for us; and if he gets strong enough— preferably as strong as we or stronger— we shall have nothing to worry about.” Nobody needs to be told what a ridiculous statement that is. But what Professor Rostow is up to has nothing to do with truth and falsity about the real world. He is brewing a drug to enable our minds and his own to leave the real world and take refuge in that better world of his ideology where tigers purr like kittens and turn in their claws to the United Nations.

It is as if a man, struck with a mortal disease, were able to say and to believe, as the flush of the fever spread over his face, “Ah, the glow of health returning!”; as his flesh wasted away, “At least I am able to trim down that paunch the doctor always warned me about!”; as a finger dropped off with gangrene or leprosy, “Now I won’t have that bothersome job of trimming those nails every week!” Liberalism permits Western civilization to be reconciled to dissolution; and this function its formulas will enable it to serve right through to the very end, if matters turn out that way: for even if Western civilization is wholly vanquished or altogether collapses, we or our children will be able to see that ending, by the light of the principles of liberalism, not as a final defeat, but as the transition to a new and higher order in which Mankind as a whole joins in a universal civilization that has risen above the parochial distinctions, divisions and discriminations of the past.

America arrives at this resigned state because of the nature of leftism. Here, in paraphrase (with my parenthetical commentary), are the 19 tenets (assumptions) of leftism alluded to by Continetti, which Burnham details in chapters 3, 4, and 5 (“Human Nature and the Good Society”, “The Universal Dialogue”, and “Equality and Welfare”):

1. Man’s nature is not fixed but changing, with an indefinitely large potential for positive development. (See commentary on 16.)

2. The leftist is a rationalist. The rationalist never doubts the power of his “reason”.

3. It follows from 1 and 2 that there is nothing in human nature to block achievement of the good society, given the application of “reason”. (The “good society”, of course, is society as the leftist wishes it to be, regardless of the limitations of nature and human nature, which the leftist ignores or wills away by concocting impracticable “solutions”.)

4. Only “bad” institutions, “bad” ideas, and “bad” people (i.e., those who wish to decide for themselves) stand in the way of the achievement of the good society, that is, “progress”.

5. Most long-established institutions, ideas, and and modes of conduct are “bad” because they stand in the way of “progress”.

6. “Bad” ideas can be eliminated by universal, rationally grounded education. (This project has led to the indoctrination of generations of Americans in “progressive” ideas by public-school teachers, college professors, and the “entertainment” and “news” media.)

7. “Bad” institutions can be eliminated or made powerless (by governmental suppression or co-option) at the behest of (indoctrinated) voters, (under the rubric of “democracy”).

8. The elimination of “bad” ideas and “bad” institutions will alleviate the evils of society: crime, delinquency, war, hunger, unemployment, etc. It follows as a corollary that there is no rational basis for “blaming” criminals for their crimes, etc. They are the products of the ideas and institutions that leftism will erase.

9. The elimination of “bad” ideas requires universal and absolute freedom of opinion in the schoolroom — above a certain academic level — and in universities. (This assumption has gone by the boards, freedom of opinion having delivered the academy — and much else — safely into the hands of leftists. Now it is necessary to suppress “bad” ideas, lest they push “democracy” in the wrong direction. And not just “bad” ideas in the present, but also “bad” ideas from the past.)

10. Politics is education generalized: a school in which all voters are the pupils. Absolute freedom of speech is therefore essential if politics is deliver humanity from the evils of “bad” ideas and institutions. (This assumption has gone by the boards for the reason stated in my commentary on 9. “Bad” ideas are being suppressed by institutions with actual state power — tax-funded schools and universities, the Supreme Court [e.g., freedom from religion], and State and local governments [e.g., hate-crime laws, suppression of those who oppose homosexuality and same-sex “marriage”]. And by those with state-like power — the information-cum-social-media complex (Google, Facebook, et al.)

11. Why should there be almost-absolute freedom of speech if “reason” leads us to the truth? Because we cannot be certain that we know the truth — if, indeed, there is any such thing as objective truth. (Here, again, the impetus for freedom of speech — which gave leftism its foothold — has given way to the triumphant rise of leftism in the academy, the media, etc. Freedom of speech now means “freedom” not to be contradicted by ideas that run counter to leftist dogma.)

12. Government ought instantly to reflect the will of the (properly indoctrinated) democratic majority. (Mediating institutions and the norms fostered by them must be suppressed because they obstruct the realization of leftist dogma.)

13. There is no need for the realization of leftist dogma to stop at the water’s edge. Long-standing institutions and cultural differences being of no account, world government (reflecting the will of an avaricious majority of mankind) is desirable and attainable.

14. All men (and women) are brothers (and sisters) under the skin, given their essential attributes of plasticity and rationality. (See commentaries on 15 and 16.)

15. It follows that tribalism, patriotism, and social hierarchies and distinctions can and should be swept away. (As Orwell said, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Leftists are consummate tribalists, witness their intramural virtue-signaling. They are patriotic about their imaginary world of “progress”, boundary-less comradeship, and freedom from the past. They — and their protegees — stand above the unwashed, in their own minds. Consider, for example, the virtue-signaling that is involved in erasing traces of the Confederacy, espousing same-sex marriage, and so on, ad nauseum.)

16. Another corollary of the foregoing is that subgroups of humanity defined by color, race, sex, or other physical or physiological attributes do not differ in their potential. (This, like much that precedes it, relies on the “blank slate” theory of the human mind. The blank-slate theory has been thoroughly debunked by a leftist no less — Steven Pinker. Leftism to the contrary notwithstanding, race and gender figure mightily in the potential and achievements of human beings.)

17. Given the innate goodness and perfectibility of mankind, and the anti-“progressive” nature of long-standing institutions (especially religion), there is no room in lefitism for religion. (This laughable proposition ignores the fact that leftism is a religion-substitute in which the banal theories of left-wing intellectuals are inculcated by public education, etc., etc., etc.)

18. War is wrong because it substitutes coercion and force for “reason”, and disrupts the effort to bind all people in their common humanity. Warriors and those who support military preparedness are therefore despicable. (This attitude was evident during the Clinton and Obama administrations, and is found generally among leftists. Their fixation on the horrors of war and the fate of warriors is nothing but an reflexive anti-war message disguised as “compassion”.)

19. Unlike the proto-liberals of the 19th century, leftists insist that the entry of government into nearly every phase of social and economic life aids rather than hinders the attainment of the good life and the good society. (This is an admission against perfectibility and rationality, and an assumption that a government consisting of imperfect and irrational human beings is somehow capable of doing what human beings cannot otherwise do cooperatively for their mutual benefit. It is an argument for that most illiberal of things: governmental coercion.)

All of this is ideological, as opposed to realistic. Thomas Sowell, in A Conflict of Visions, posits two opposing visions: the unconstrained vision of left-wing ideology, and the constrained (realistic) vision of conservatism. In chapter 2, Sowell writes:

The dichotomy between constrained and unconstrained visions is based on whether or not inherent limitations of man are among the key elements included in each vision…. These different ways of conceiving man and the world lead not merely to different conclusions but to sharply divergent, often diametrically opposed, conclusions on issues ranging from justice to war.

Burnham, in his chapter 6 (“Ideological Thinking”), illustrates the point concretely, for pages on end. Toward the end of the chapter, Burnham writes:

It is a characteristic of ideological thinking, whatever the given ideology, that it cannot be refuted by logical analysis or empirical evidence. Actually, the internal logical structure of a developed ideology is usually quite good anyway, rather like the logical structure of paranoiac obsessions, which ideologies resemble in other ways also; and when a logical gap appears — as happened to liberalism in the doctrinal shift from limited to welfare state — sufficient ingenuity can always patch it up again…. The ideology is a way of interpreting the world, an attitude toward the world and a method for dealing with the world. So long as I adhere faithfully to the ideology there is no specific happening, no observation or experiment that can unmistakably contradict it. I can always adjust my categories and my attitude to allow for whatever it is that happens or that I observe; if necessary I can shut my eyes.

There is much more of the same in chapter 7 (“A Critical Note in Passing”), where Burnham contrasts each of the 19 tenets of leftism with its conservative (realistic) counterpart. He does this in parallel lists: the l-list (leftist) and the x-list (conservative). Burnham then writes that

there is a difference in structure as well as content between the two sets of nineteen taken in their entirety.

The l-list is the verbalization of a single, more or less systematic ideology: the ideology of modern liberalism. The x-list, though it perhaps has a recognizably “conservative” cast, does not constitute an ideology, not any ideology at all. The nineteen x-beliefs are related much more loosely to each other, both logically and psychologically, than the nineteen l-beliefs.

That’s as it should be in a comparison of an idealized world and the real one.

Burnham closes the chapter by focusing on the delusional and suicidal nature of leftism:

The findings of the modern scientific study of genetics seem to strike a multiple blow at the liberal conception of man and his prospects. The fixity of unit characteristics, their biological transmission through the genes according to mathematical laws of probability, and the non-inheritability of acquired characteristics combine to reinforce the non-liberal belief that human nature has a permanent sub-stratum, that there are ineradicable differences among men not traceable to social circumstance, and that there are limits, often quite low, to what even the most perfect education could accomplish. Genetics certainly gives no support to any doctrine holding that education and social reform could transform man into a creature so radically different from what he has been as would be the case if he dropped his aggressive, destructive and other troublemaking traits. The conclusions to be drawn from genetics would, indeed, seem to be even more drastically counter to the liberal faith in secular progress….

Because the ideology of modern liberalism has become so powerful an influence in contemporary American thought and conduct, it is worth noting that the liberal doctrine of human nature is sharply at variance with the view that prevailed among the Founding Fathers of the republic….

Ignorance, liberal doctrine tells us, is in the last analysis the only obstacle to the good society— peaceful, free, just, prosperous and happy; and ignorance can be dispelled by a rational education accepting the axioms of academic freedom and free speech. Even the problem of reforming bad institutions is secondary to education, because once education overcomes ignorance, then men— men as defined by liberal ideology— will know what is wrong with the institutions, and will take steps to correct them. What do the facts show?

The facts show plainly that there are many obstacles on the road to the good society that are at least as formidable as ignorance: obstacles, such as I have cited, innate to the human organism and psyche; obstacles planted in the physical nature around us; the accumulated weight of history that unavoidably presses on all of us….

Athens was the most educated society of the ancient world and in some respects of all time; and Athens fell as much from inner decay as from external foes. Germany has been the most literate, the most thoroughly educated nation of the twentieth century; and Germany bred Hitler, Nazism and the gas chambers….

In the United States, all of our children go to school; but in many of our cities they are much worse behaved and more dangerous to society than their unschooled ancestors of a few generations ago….

There are a number of other practical dilemmas that modern liberalism cannot avoid. Take, as one additional example, the meaning of the liberal declaration against social hierarchies, segregation, discrimination, against what sets one group of men apart from others. Certainly some sorts of discrimination are of a kind that seems cruel and unjust to almost everyone. But the trouble is that human beings— the human beings of the real world— are hierarchical and segregating and discriminating animals. There has never been a human society anywhere, at any time, from the most primitive tribe to the freest republic to the most civilized empire, in which there have not been segregations, discriminations and groupings: into young and old, male and female, warrior and peasant, slave and citizen, black and brown and white, believer and unbeliever, tall and short, rich and poor, egghead and blockhead. There is always apartheid— the South African word means merely “apartness”— in some degree, on some basis or other. Even in college there are clubs and fraternities, freshmen and seniors, athletes and brains, chess players and beer drinkers and aesthetes. Prison and concentration camp are no different from other forms of human society. The French writer David Rousset, who was for some years an inmate of Nazi concentration camps, wrote a brilliant study of what he called “The Concentrationary Universe.” Its main point is to record the existence within the camps of the same patterns of social division and discrimination that exist in the outside world; and his findings have been confirmed by many ex-inmates of the Soviet camps.

Now the fact that social discriminations always exist does not justify this particular discrimination, whatever it may be. Perhaps we ought to get rid of this one, or at least try to mitigate its degree. But it shows that the attempt to get rid of all discriminations, all apartheid, is illusory. The undiscriminating effort to end all discrimination must necessarily fail. Either the old groupings remain, perhaps with new protective disguises; or they are replaced by new and different types of discrimination that may be worse than the old: party member and outsider; bureaucrat and plain citizen; college graduate and non-graduate; secret policeman and concentration camp candidate.

As Simon Mawer says in The Gospel of Judas,

the universe is not a very liberal place. That is what the modern world seems not to understand….

How might the delusional tenets of leftism lead to the suicide of the West, and of America in particular? The path should be obvious. America’s legacy is that of a limited central government standing guard over civil society — the mediating institutions (family, church, club, community, etc.) that promulgate and enforce Northern European social norms, as they were at the time of America’s founding and for some generations afterward. (I don’t mean to imply that the observance of such norms is restricted to persons of Northern European descent.)

Among the norms were (and still are in many places):

  • hard work and self-reliance, rewarded by the right to acquire, keep, and voluntarily distribute the fruits of one’s labor
  • charity and consideration for others as voluntary acts manifesting good character and social bonds
  • a preference for the tried-and-true over the novel, with an evident willingness to adopt and adapt the novel, where it demonstrates improvement
  • modesty in demeanor and conduct, that is, observance of the customs of one’s kinship-cultural-ethic group (which are also open to demonstrably harmless or beneficial change)
  • rootedness in one’s kinship-culutural-ethnic group, which manifests itself in patriotism when the nation is generally composed of (or at least dominated by) groups with congruent ethics
  • willingness and readiness to defend self, kith and kin (in a racial or ethnic sense), and way of life.

I daresay that today’s patriots hew to America as it was and could be, as opposed to what it has become at the hands of leftists.

What has it become? For huge swaths of the populace, it has become the opposite of the norms listed above. Even where there is rootedness in one’s kinship-cultural-ethnic group, it doesn’t support nationalistic patriotism if members of the group either see themselves as outsiders or reject Northern European mores.

Leftism, especially beginning with Progressivism in the late 1800s, has deliberately and steadily erased the moral legacy of Northern Europe — even among (perhaps especially among) persons of Northern European descent. This is due, in great part, to the unrelenting efforts of the information-entertainment-media-academic complex over several decades. Long gone are the days when school began with the Lord’s Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance. Binding rituals like those, and more, have been cut from the social fabric, rendering it weak and threadbare.

How could it happen? The fundamental reason is that Americans — like Westerners generally — are spoiled children of capitalism:

Before the onset of the welfare state in the 1930s, there were two ways to survive: work hard or accept whatever charity came your way. And there was only one way for most persons to thrive: work hard. That all changed after World War II, when power-lusting politicians sold an all-too-willing-to-believe electorate a false and dangerous bill of goods, namely, that government is the source of prosperity. It is not, and never has been.

That’s the economic case. The social case is similar. As the bonds of family, church, and other mediating institutions become less and less necessary to survival, they are more easily rejected. And rejected along with them are the social norms that reflect accumulated wisdom, the observance of which breeds mutual trust, respect, and forbearance. No wonder there are respectable observers who see civil war on the horizon.

It thus becomes easy to believe in and practice things that undermine prosperity and social comity. And in the absence of existential challenges, those things become believed and practiced widely because they are widely believed and practiced. This is also known as an information cascade, or more familiarly, a bandwagon effect.

The bandwagon in this case took some decades to get rolling, but get rolling it did. And so the 19 tenets of leftism became articles of faith across the deeply influential information-entertainment-media-academic complex — and thence to anyone and everyone who seeks the approval of the powers-that-be in that complex. Approval-seekers include (but are far from limited to) not only the aforementioned public-school teachers (and their impressionable pupils), but also managers of mid-sized to huge businesses who (unlike small-business owners) aren’t scrambling to keep themselves and their families afloat.

Add …

  • politicians, who — at the higher levels of government — are nothing but professional office-holders who preach “equality”, “social justice”, and even “economic fairness” because it costs them nothing and yields power and perquisites
  • legions of bureaucrats whose jobs depend on big government
  • masses of people for whom self-reliance is just an old-fashioned idea, thanks to big government
  • greater masses of people who are simply gullible and unthinking

… and you have the better (or worse) part of the nation committed to leftism.

What it all adds up to, as I have suggested, is the elevation of myths and hopes over hard-won norms and harsh realities. In that respect, Burnham’s own realism failed him at the end of Suicide, where he writes with undue and uncharacteristic optimism:

But of course the final collapse of the West is not yet inevitable; the report of its death would be premature…. There are a few small signs, here and there, that liberalism may already have started fading. Perhaps this book is one of them.

But it wasn’t to be.

In fact, the publication of Burnham’s book coincided with the resurgence of leftism in America. (For an excellent analysis of leftism as it is today, see the article by the Winegards in the reading list, below.) The electoral thrashing of an avowed conservative, Barry Goldwater, in 1964 opened the way for LBJ’s Great Society. The next several years marked the onset of America’s social, political, economic, and cultural downfall, which I have addressed here and in many other posts; for example:

Almost overnight, it seems, the nation was catapulted from the land of Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, and Leave It to Beaver to the land of the free- filthy-speech movement, Altamont, Woodstock, Hair, and the unspeakably loud, vulgar, and violent offerings that are now plastered all over the air waves, the internet, theater screens, and “entertainment” venues.

The 1960s and early 1970s were a tantrum-throwing time, and many of the tantrum-throwers moved into positions of power, influence, and wealth, having learned from the success of their main ventures: the end of the draft and the removal of Nixon from office. They schooled their psychological descendants well, and sometimes literally on college campuses. Their successors on the campuses of today — students, faculty, and administrators — carry on the tradition of reacting with violent hostility toward persons and ideas that they oppose, and supporting draconian punishments for infractions of their norms and edicts. (For myriad examples, see The College Fix.)

Adherents of the ascendant culture esteem protest for its own sake, and have stock explanations for all perceived wrongs (whether or not they are wrongs): racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, hate, white privilege, inequality (of any kind), Wall  Street, climate change, Zionism, and so on. All of these are to be combated by state action that deprives citizens of economic and social liberties.

In particular danger are the freedoms of speech and association. The purported beneficiaries of the campaign to destroy those freedoms are “oppressed minorities” (women, Latinos, blacks, Muslims, the gender-confused, etc.) and the easily offended. The true beneficiaries are leftists. Free speech is speech that is acceptable to the left. Otherwise, it’s “hate speech”, and must be stamped out. Freedom of association is bigotry, except when it is practiced by leftists in anti-male, anti-conservative, pro-ethnic, and pro-racial causes. This is McCarthyism on steroids. McCarthy, at least, was pursuing actual enemies of liberty; today’s leftists are the enemies of liberty.

The organs of the state have been enlisted in an unrelenting campaign against civilizing social norms. We now have not just easy divorce, subsidized illegitimacy, and legions of non-mothering mothers, but also abortion, concerted (and deluded) efforts to defeminize females and to neuter or feminize males, forced association (with accompanying destruction of property and employment rights), suppression of religion, absolution of pornography, and the encouragement of “alternative lifestyles” that feature disease, promiscuity, and familial instability.

The state, of course, doesn’t act of its own volition. It acts at the behest of special interests — interests with a “cultural” agenda. They are bent on the eradication of civil society — nothing less — in favor of a state-directed Rousseauvian dystopia from which Judeo-Christian morality and liberty will have vanished, except in Orwellian doublespeak.

If there are unifying themes in this petite histoire, they are the death of common sense and the rising tide of moral vacuity. The history of the United States since the 1960s supports the proposition that the nation is indeed going to hell in a handbasket.

In fact, the speed at which it is going to hell seems to have accelerated since the Charleston church shooting and the legal validation of  same-sex “marriage” in 2015. It’s a revolution (e.g., this) piggy-backing on mass hysteria. Here’s the game plan:

  • Define opposition to illegal immigration, Islamic terrorism, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, and other kinds violent and anti-social behavior as “hate“.
  • Associate “hate” with conservatism.
  • Watch as normally conservative politicians, business people, and voters swing left rather than look “mean” and put up a principled fight for conservative values. (Many of them can’t put up such a fight, anyway. Trump’s proper but poorly delivered refusal to pin all of the blame on neo-Nazis for the Charlottesville riot just added momentum to the left’s cause because he’s Trump and a “fascist” by definition.)
  • Watch as Democrats play the “hate” card to retake the White House and Congress.

With the White House in the hands of a left-wing Democrat (is there any other kind now?) and an aggressive left-wing majority in Congress, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and property rights will become not-so-distant memories. “Affirmative action” (a.k.a. “diversity”) will be enforced on an unprecedented scale of ferocity. The nation will become vulnerable to foreign enemies while billions of dollars are wasted on the hoax of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming and “social services” for the indolent. The economy, already buckling under the weight of statism, will teeter on the brink of collapse as the regulatory regime goes into high gear and entrepreneurship is all but extinguished by taxation and regulation.

All of that will be secured by courts dominated by left-wing judges — from here to eternity.

And most of the affluent white enablers dupes of the revolution will come to rue their actions. But they won’t be free to say so.

Thus will liberty — and prosperity — die in America.

It will resemble the Fall of Rome. The barbarians are already within, and will not defend America — or what little is left of it. They won’t even think it necessary because they reject America as it was meant to be.


Related reading:

Selwyn Duke, “Leftists Are Now Advocating Racial Segregation“, The New American, September 10, 2018

Jeffrey S. Flier,”As a Former Dean of Harvard Medical School, I Question Brown’s Failure to Defend Lisa Littman“, Quillette, August 31, 2018

Theodore P. Hill, “Academic Activists Send a Published Paper Down the Memory Hole“, Quillette, September 7, 2018

James Kirkpatrick, “Michael Hart’s The Rise and Fall of the United States: An Indispensable History for the Historic American Nation“, VDARE.com, September 7, 2018

Joy Pullmann, “Explosive Ivy League Study Repressed For Finding Transgender Kids May Be A Social Contagion“, The Federalist, August 31, 2018

James R. Rogers, “The Federalist‘s Heart of Darkness“, Law and Liberty, August 7, 2018

Roger Scruton, Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, London and New York: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2015

Roger Scruton, Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition, London: All Points Books (Macmillan), 2018

Ilya Somin, “Jeffrey Rosen on ‘Madison’s Nightmare’“, The Volokh Conspiracy, September 15, 2018

Bo Winegard and Ben Winegard, “The Preachers of the Great Awokening“, Quillette, September 21, 2018

Related pages and posts:

Constitution: Myths and Realities (see especially “The Framers’ Fatal Error”)
Economic Growth Since World War II
Keynesian Multiplier: Fiction vs. Fact
Leftism
Spygate

Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
America: Past, Present, and Future
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The World Turned Upside Down
The View from Here
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
The Fall and Rise of American Empire
O Tempora O Mores!
Presidential Treason
A Home of One’s Own
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism
Decline
Two-Percent Tyranny
A Sideways Glance at Public “Education”
Greed, Conscience, and Big Government
The Slow-Motion Collapse of the Economy
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
1963: The Year Zero
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
Society
How Democracy Works
“Cheerful” Thoughts
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Turning Points
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?
Polarization and De-facto Partition
How America Has Changed
Civil War?
Freedom of Speech and the Long War for Constitutional Governance
Retrospective Virtue-Signalling
The Left and Violence
Leftist Condescension
Red-Diaper Babies and Enemies Within
Equality
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What Is Going On? A Stealth Revolution
Down the Memory Hole
“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”
Mass Murder: Reaping What Was Sown
“Democracy” Thrives in Darkness — and Liberty Withers
Preemptive (Cold) Civil War
The Framers, Mob Rule, and a Fatal Error
Whence Polarization?
Social Norms, the Left, and Social Disintegration
The Lesson of Alfie Evans
Can Left and Right Be Reconciled?
Freedom of Speech: Getting It Right
Justice Thomas on Masterpiece Cakeshop
Suicide or Destiny?
“Liberalism” and Virtue-Signaling
Freedom of Speech, to What End?
Conservatism vs. Ideology
O.J.’s Glove and the Enlightenment

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