Even though he never said it, Francis Bacon is famous for the dictum, “Knowledge is power.” Like many stories we receive as history, this one is fiction. But despite the misattribution of the saying, it expresses an important truth. Let us approach that truth carefully.
The Two Coalitions
In living memory, there have been only two significant political parties in the United States. They are fundamentally different, but not in the way that most people suppose. The difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is not that one favorsÂ “small government” and the other “big government”; it is not that one favors “law and order” and the other “social justice”; it is not that one is “working class” and the other “business class.” No, the difference is that the Democratic party is a coalition built around a shared political philosophy, and the Republican party is a coalition, built around no philosophy whatsoever.
In lieu of a shared philosophy, what serves to unite Republicans — incompletely, intermittently, and incoherently — is opposition to the Democratic agenda. If you scrutinize the Republican coalition, it becomes obvious that the constituencies of which it is comprised have little in common. Evangelicals oppose libertarians on nearly every social policy. Neoconservatives oppose evangelicals on the aims of foreign policy, if not the means toward those aims, while libertarians oppose neoconservatives on every policy — social, fiscal, foreign, and domestic. East-coast “RINOs” (Republicans In Name Only, such as Michael Bloomberg) are reviled by both libertarians and evangelicals, but maintain a prickly alliance with neoconservatives.
What Republicans Really Want
If you listen in on conservative talk radio and read Republican-aligned publications, it emerges very quickly that the Republican base not only is unhappy with its party leadership, but it isn’t happy with the party, period. This has been true at least since the mid-1990s, when the so-called Republican Revolution fell flat. Partly because each constituency of the Republican coalition opposes and undermines every other constituency, Republicans have been losing and losing and losing and losing — not elections, but every contest for shaping American government at its fundamentals — for as long as anyone remembers. Party leaders and cheerleaders try to paper over this fact, but the pro-party propaganda has never been entirely persuasive to coalition’s base. (The Republican base leans toward the culturally and fiscally conservative elements of the coalition, while the party leadership leans toward neoconservative and RINO views — views, by the way, which are indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton’s.)
Democrats, in general, do not understand this. They see the Republican alliance as an intractable, irrational, regressive foe, that, due to its members’ intellectual and moral failings, has perennially — and too often successfully — resisted “progress.” A typical Democrat cannot imagine what the Republican base wants, and so cannot imagine how deeply frustrated these people are from so many years of not getting it. On the contrary, Democrats look back at the presidency of George W. Bush, bemoan the lost opportunities for “progress” that America had to endure under it, and imagine that the Republicans are getting what they want all too often.
Nothing could be further from the truth. What follows is a sampling of what the Republican base wants. Not only has it gotten none of these things, but it is clear that theÂ historical trend is such that they willÂ never get these things. This sampling is going to be contradictory, because the Republican coalition is a tangle of contradictions, but it is nonetheless representative of views held by millions of Americans, even if few Americans hold all of these views simultaneously.
The Republican base wants:
- A total ban on abortion
- Prison terms for women who get abortions
- A restoration of explicitly Christian mores to the center of civic life
- A massive reduction in Federal taxes. (Imagine an income tax capped at perhaps 12% for the highest earners, and 5â€“7% for middle-class Americans.)
- The repeal of Social Security
- The repeal of Obamacare
- The total dismantling of all Federal welfare programs
- The total dismantling of
- The Department of Education
- The Department of Energy
- The Department of Labor
- The Department of Health and Human Services
- The Department of Commerce
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development
- The IRS
- The EPA
- And many other agencies
- An end to all funding for foreign aid, the arts, and scientific research
- To wage all-out war against radical Islam, by any necessary means, including large-scale nuclear assault, until it is utterly crushed, and the spirit of the movement is broken. Toward this end, reducing entire countries to radioactive, rubble-strewn wastelands would be considered perfectly acceptable, even if it meant hundreds of millions of civilian casualties.
- To kick all illegal aliens out of the country, no matter how disruptive this would be
- To immediately institute “colorblindness” as Federal policy, meaning, for example, that no institution receiving Federal funds would be permitted to consider race in any way (e.g., in hiring, admissions, or the awarding of contracts). Further, no institution receiving Federal funds would be permitted to gather or retain any race-related statistics at all.
- To make every neighborhood in America safe to live and work in, no matter how much police violence is needed to accomplish this, and even at the cost of violating civil rights
- To implement economic policies that made it dramatically easier for individuals to accumulate wealth and property, especially in rural areas and in areas experiencing long-term economic decline, even at the cost of environmental quality
In sum, domestically, the Republican base wants a massive reduction in the size and scope of government, a reduction so stark that the character of American social and economic life would be transformed beyond recognition. Think of American social and economic structures reverted to their norm circa 1911, and you are not far from picturing their ideal. In foreign policy, the Republican base wants total warfare against any intractable enemy of the United States, and withdrawal from the international stage in all other spheres. Culturally, the base wants to see mainline Protestant values regain centrality in civic life.
To a typical Democrat, many of the items on this Republican wishlist are, strictly, unthinkable. It is impossible for a typical Democrat to imagine a sane, lucid, informed person who really wanted any of these things — let alone several of them.
First, let me assure you: millions of Republicans really do want at least a few of the things on this list. Second, although many will not believe this, they have reasons that are at least as well thought out as Democrats’ reasons for not wanting these things.
Now, if you lean toward the Democratic side, it doesn’t matter whether you believe me that Republicans are at least as thoughtful asÂ Democrats. What matters is that you recognize that these people exist, and exist in large numbers, and that they are not getting what they want. Not only are they not getting what they want, they have no realistic prospect of getting it. No matter how “regressive” you fear a Trump presidency might be, you are deluding yourself if you think it would significantly advance their agendas. If Trump voters were to get their candidate in office, and then get Obamacare repealed and replaced, they would be ecstatic. If they also saw the Department of Education abolished, that would go down in history as the Republican coalition’s greatest victory to date. And really, these two victories, the second one absurdly unlikely, would hardly amount any “progress” at all, from their perspective. Overall, in the long view, they would still be history’s losers.
This is necessary context for understanding contemporary politics: millions of Americans can see and understand the way the country is headed — but they hate it. They don’t want more social programs; they want to dismantle the existing ones. They don’t want more social justice; they want more traditional justice. They don’t want clean, green energy; they want cheap energy, dirty or not. They don’t want globalism; they want America First.
The left’s responseÂ to the intransigence of their opposition has been to cover its eyes and ears and pretend this isn’t happening. They refuse to see that every so-called “progressive” victory is perceived, by the Republican base, as oppression. They refuse to see that Republicans are not at peace with this accumulation of oppressions. Republicans, contrary to Democratic wishful thinking, are not just adjusting to the times a bit more slowly than their more enlightened neighbors. There are limits to how much anyone’s worldview can be “adjusted.” For decades, for generations, the Republican base has been building up resentment after resentment. The pressure and heat have been building, and all the institutions and norms that have been put in place to contain it are beginning to fail. Trump’s insurgent candidacy is proof of this.
(Now time is short before election day, and so in what follows, concerning the media and education, I will just state the truth without going through the rituals meant to persuade you of it. You already know that this is all true anyway.)
Why Republicans Never Get What They Want
In the present-day United States, the Democratic vision of the common good is ascendant, close to achieving the final and total victory it has long sought. It has achieved this dominance because Democrats and their allies control the key institutions that act as gateways to government power. Because, as we shall soon have further cause to understand, knowledge is power, the most important institutions for mediating access to power are the institutions thatÂ develop and publish knowledge and informationÂ on a large scale: mass media and mass education.
With the exception of talk radio, the Democratic coalitionÂ controls mass media. All major television and cable networks, except Fox News, have supported Hillary Clinton against Trump. Fox News has been ambivalent at best. The vast majority of newspapers support Clinton. The vast majority of news magazines support Clinton. The vast majority of celebrities support Clinton. The media as a whole supports Clinton.
Now, I’m not arguing that the media is wrong to do this. I’m just pointing out the obvious: that they do it. Most people who lean toward the Democratic coalition’s vision of the common good probably believe that this pro-Clinton / anti-Trump bias is justified, that, in other words, it’s notÂ really a bias at all, just the unavoidable consequence of Trump’s personal repugnance and ignorance. Let’s leave this question aside for the moment.
Consider instead that this pro-Clinton bias has nothing to do with theÂ relativeÂ merits of Clinton and Trump. Go back up and look at the Republican base’s wishlist again. Now try to imagineÂ any candidate whoÂ went against the grain of our times and supported several of the items on that list. Imagine this fantasy candidateÂ getting even-handed treatment from the major media. Doesn’t work, does it? This has never happened and will never happen. That’s because the major media are not united against Trump per se, they are united againstÂ anyoneÂ who projects an intention to resist the Democratic vision of the common good, or to advance a Republican-friendly alternative. The major media, which still largely controls the flow of information, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the DemocraticÂ coalition.
Again, the important thing to understand here is not whether this state of affairs is good, just, right, or “progressive,”; the important thing to understand here is that everyone already knows this. There is a perverse tendency among members of the Democratic coalition to deny or downplay the media’s bias. But this tactic only makes sense if downplaying this bias stands some chance of lulling significant numbers of the opposition into complacency. I’m here to tell you: it doesn’t.Â None of them are fooled.
From the Republican coalition’s perspective, the left’s dominance of the major media is repugnant. But far more worrisome, for those Republican-types who pay attention to these things, is the Democratic coalition’s dominance of higher education. That’s because higher education hates America, and everyone knows it.
When a college freshman starts attending classes, his general-education curriculum, in almost every school in the country that still has one, will have one over-arching theme: The United States of America Is Evil, and your Duty, once Higher Education has made you ready for it, is to Right the Wrongs of this country by dedicating yourself to Progress.
Many students tune this propaganda out, because, as is well-known, young peopleÂ don’t go to college to learn. The agenda the left pushes in the university system goes right past many students. Nonetheless, the better students tend to pay attention. And every student who does pay attention is going to get this message.
The Democratic coalition’s total dominance of higher education is not discussed in polite company — which means members of the Republican coalition discuss it amongst themselves all the time. Like toddlers think themselves with blankets over their heads, Democrats seem to think the academic world’s antipathy for Republican values is invisible, as long as it’s not in the open. This is not true. They are fooling no one. Millions of parents across the country send their children off to college, knowing that their values will be denigrated by every adjunct instructor of Intercultural Communication 101, Sociology 101, Psychology 101, History 101, and so on, ad nauseam.
The reason the Democratic coalition’s Final Solution is nigh is that it was superbly incisive strategy on their part to capture the knowledge-management institutions of mass media and higher education. There can be no serious argument over whether they have captured these institutions, which is why I have only glossed over the evidence here. Everyone knows these institutions belong to the left. Everyone has known it for a long time. But there are implications of this capture that are not as clear to everyone.
First, the left’s capture of higher education, combined with our cultural tilt toward credentialism, means that the only people qualified to hold upper-level positions in the civil service bureaucracy are those who have spent thousands of hours earning those credentials — in institutions of higher education that already belong to the left. As a result, especially considering the Ivy League is the unofficial headquarters of the Democratic coalition, the upper reaches of power in American government are much easier to access for those who have deep roots within the Democratic coalition’s establishment. It was no accident that the 2004 presidential election was between two of Yale’s C-students, both of them members of its most elite fraternity.
Second, the left’s capture of mass media means that every issue, every controversy, and every candidate will be presented in a way that favors the Democratic coalition’s agenda. Even though it is well known in the Republican coalition that the media are compromised, the rhetorical power of “framing” issues remains formidable in the extreme. Even if every Republican ignored the media’s framing, the centrists and undecideds that finally decide every issue can still fall for it, and they do. By holding the high ground of these key institutions, the left has managed to advance its agenda, with a few minor setbacks, virtually without opposition, for more than a century.
One further aspect of the left’s domination of key institutions must be understood before moving on. That is: the Republican party is part of the Democratic coalition. The Republican base, the mass that forms the heart of the Republican coalition, when it is paying attention, has nothing but contempt for the Republican party leadership. It has been paying attention more and more often lately.
The leadership of the Republican party went to Andover and Yale, just like the leadership of the Democratic party. Thus, top Republicans and Democrats share the same general worldview, the same manners, the same values. There are differences, but, from the perspective of the Republican base at least, these are slight. For example, on foreign policy, both the Republican leadership and the Democratic leadership are interventionist and globalist. The difference is that the Republican party tends to favor a global community with the United States of America as its undisputed leader. The Democratic party favors a global community ruled by transnational corporations, non-governmental organizations, and bodies like the United Nations. It’s a difference of emphasis, not essence. And the Republican base knows it.
If you doubt this, consider the Tea Party. This was an attempt by the Republican base to get around their party leadership and begin to bring the issues they cared about directly to the general public’s attention. Although the Tea Party did not have a central leadership and therefore had no official agenda, the typical views of its members, you will find, looked much more like the Republican coalition wishlist above than, for example, the Republican party platform under the RINO John McCain.
But even more than the rise of the Tea Party, the candidacy of Donald TrumpÂ has been a reaction toÂ a basic truth in American politics: for at least a century, the left has controlled all the key institutions that mediate access to government power.
All of this points to a basic, obvious truth of contemporary American politics: the Republican coalition is going to lose. Republicans are clumsy with power; they can’t seem to hold it for long, or ever use it to achieve any vision that fundamentally opposes the Democrats’. Republicans have been fatally outmaneuvered, flanked, and divided. The key institutions, the high ground, belong to the Democrats. Therefore, the Republican base is not going to get what it wants. The Democrats may offer a few expedient compromises along the way, but the state is well and truly caught up in the engine of “progress.” The total transformation of American social and civic life to align with the Democratic vision of the common good is a foregone conclusion.
Why the Left Should Be Afraid of Winning
And this basic truth, in turn, points to another. It’s this second truth that has become my singular political concern in the last several years. And this truth is one thatÂ the left has studiously ignored, because if they admit it, they will have to let go of their beloved vision of the common good. The truth is this: the right isÂ not going to accept the left’s victory. The left has treated politics like a game, like a matter of points and position, like a matter of scoring goals and blocking returns. It isn’t a game. There are neither rules nor referees. At its base, the Republican coalition is furious, outraged, boiling. They will not quit the field gracefully. We are not heading into the fourth quarter.Â We are heading into an explosion. We are heading into civil war.
Everyone who is paying attention to politics knows this, by the way. It’s just something we don’t speak of. But if we want to survive, this silence has to stop. Each side has reasons for staying quiet, but it’s the left’s reasons that matter most. The left remains quiet about the civil war we all know is coming … because they think they are going to win it.
On a few occasions, I’ve broached this topic, or heard it broached, among more thoughtful leftists. As theyÂ considered the possible outbreak of hostilities, I could tell theyÂ were picturing a pathetic, Malheur-style insurgency — overweight, middle-aged men playing army. I could tell because theyÂ always said something like this:Â “Well, if that happens, those militia-types’ shotguns and hunting rifles aren’t going to do much against the army’s drones, and attack helicopters, and tanks. It’ll be a massacre, and that will be that.”
That will, most certainly not, be that. Leftists see government as a benevolent force because they recognize, rightly, that it is their force. In the quotidian routine, government is the weapon that lets leftists work their will on their helpless victims (“deplorables”), and it is also the tool that helps them build their vision of paradise on earth (a community-college campus, dominated by green space, linked by maglev trains, stretching unbroken from coast-to-coast). Thus, they love government, both as a sadist loves her whip, and as a mason loves her trowel. But it’s a human tendency to overlook some aspects of the people and things we love. And leftists have overlooked a pivotal fact about government: itsÂ armed forces are not loyal to “progressive”Â ideals. Quite the contrary.
The armed forces, collectively, lean toward conservative or libertarian values. When civil war breaks out, the armed forces will split into factions, some supporting urban elites, but more supporting the deplorable flyover country. There will be no swift victory for either side. But in the end, because they will have greater numbers and a mass of armed civilian support, the right-wing factions will come out on top. Civil war will leave a broken and bleeding country in the hands of Trump voters, Sarah Palin fans, and evangelical Christians. The Democratic coalition will drop its whips and trowels, or be ground intoÂ mush.
If Hillary is elected president, this — a civil war followed by a right-wing dictatorship — is the most probable long-term result. But to understand why, it is necessary to delve below the superficies of the Republican and Democratic coalitions, to identify the fundamental nature of the forces that have created these coalitions. And, more important than understanding why this will be the outcome, is coming to recognizeÂ the one and only way out.
Why There Will Be No Compromise
And there are five fundamental forces that have created these coalitions: First and foremost, these coalitions exist because Washington, D.C. is the greatest power on earth. If you have something big you want done, and you can’t convince enough people to contribute their efforts voluntarily, D.C. is the key to making them do it.
Second, these coalitions exist because they each appeal to the masses through altruism. Since its rise in the waning days of the Roman Empire, Christianity has provided the dominant ethos in the Western world. There are no serious contenders. Even the vast majority of Western atheists adhere to fundamentally Christian ethical precepts. The single word that best captures this ethos is “altruism.” The characteristic moral advice offered by this ethos is: if you can make others happy by giving up whatever makes you happy, then do it: put others’ needs and interests before your own. Both the Republican and the Democratic coalitions frame their appeals to the masses in altruistic language, and the masses respond because the only ethos popular with the masses is altruism.
Third, these coalitions exist because, long ago, adherents to the Christian-altruist ethos split into two factions. It is difficult to place the moment of the split, but the watershed event seems to have been the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life in 1859. After Newton’s 1687 PhilosophiÃ¦ Naturalis Principia Mathematica,Â this was the most important work of science ever produced.
Darwin argued that species came into being through a process of natural selection, or the interaction of naturally varying phenotypes with their environment. Some phenotypes would be more apt to survive inÂ their environment, and would thus live toÂ reproduce. Eventually, natural variations would pass through this environmental filtering effect for long enough that the variants would be distinguishable as new species.
It didn’t take long for the implications of this theory to suggest themselves. Consider the times in the mid-19th Century. Newton had already shown that there might indeed be nothing beyond the reach of human reason. After all, if the motion of the celestial spheres could be explained with a simple inverse-square, then what couldn’t be captured by math and measurement? The United States of America had already made the first attempt at organizing an entire society on reasoned principles, rather than on dynasties of inheritance, accidents of geography, or myths. The clear implications of Darwin’s work, which Darwin himself made clearer in later publications, were these:
- Man is part of, not above, the natural order.
- Living things, including man, change and develop.
- The interaction of living things with their environment is the force that drives change and development.
- The development of living things in interaction with their environment can be measured.
Science had already shown that what can be measured might be controlled. So if the human environment could be measured, which it could, then it meant human nature might be controlled. It might be improved. Human nature itself might be made more humane. And this would be “progress.” And this is why Democrats, especially the more ambitious ones, call themselves, “progressives.”
But if science and technology could open a path to “progress,” changing the human environment, and ultimately human nature itself, for the “better,” what defined “better?” Since the Christian-altruist ethos ruled unchallenged in the West in Darwin’s time (as it rules today, and has ruled since the inception of Western civilization), as the “progressive” political philosophy emerged, it drew its ideas of “betterment,” “improvement,” and “progress” directly from Christian theology. For Christians, the purpose of life is to reach God in heaven. Before they split into two factions, all Christians agreed that heaven and earth were distinct realms. But Darwinian science inspired a new ambition in some Christians. Rather than wait for another world to bring peace, joy, and direct fellowship with God, why not bring heaven to earth? Why not build heaven on earth? Why not transform earth into paradise?
The Christian-altruists, which, until Darwin, had shared a broad agreement, split into two factions over precisely these questions. One faction maintained the traditional faith that man was fallen, and not only constitutionally incapable of creating his own paradise, but bound by humility to accept God’s grace on His own terms and timeline. For them, heaven was, and remained, another realm. Speaking very broadly, with expansive room for exceptions, these people became Republicans.
The other faction, which of course became the Democrats, believed there was no reason to wait for heaven. They would use science and technology to bring it into being. They took Francis Bacon and turned him on his head. He had argued, understanding the ethos of altruism as he did, that free scientific inquiry must be allowed in order to make life better for the poor and downtrodden. The progressives inverted the Baconian gambit. Instead of leveraging altruism to free science from Christian authority, they would press all scientific inquiry into the service of a secularized Christianity. They would do this “for the common good.”
The fourth fundamental reason the Democratic and Republican coalitions came to exist is that the opposing factions of Christian-altruists saw incompatible visions of the “common good.” Even though they continued to share the same altruist ethos, one faction believed that it was morally incumbent upon them to bring all human resources to bear on improving humanity on earth, the other believed it was hubris to try this. In the Republican vision of the common good, it was better to cultivate — on earth — the social conditions that would bring individuals and families closer to God — in heaven. They felt that existing social norms were well suited to this end. Thus, they were “conservatives,” wanting to conserve the established patterns of social life. From these broad visions of the common good, it is easy to understand why the Republican coalition clashes with the Democratic coalition over the public-school sex-education curriculum. The former prioritize the young’s spiritual connection to God, and thus rigid obedience to the testaments’ strictures. The latter prioritize pleasant, hygienic, and orderly life on earth. Sex is pleasant. Condoms are hygienic. Planned parenthood is orderly.
The fifth and final reason that these coalitions exist in their contemporary form is that visions of the common good, which must be prodded into being with government’s guns and bayonets, do not direct themselves. They cannot direct themselves. This is what Hillary Clinton is, and what Donald Trump proposes to become: a director of prodding for the “common good.” A symbiosis naturally arises between any vision of the common good that compels mass allegiance and the officials, priests, or mandarins who usher this vision into reality. Put another way, any vision of the common good that garners mass support naturally develops a political class (or a priestly caste) that manages the practical work of keeping that vision on track.
In sum, the Republican and Democratic coalitions exist in their present form because the Founders’ vision for limited government could not withstand the power lust of two warring factions of Christianity, each wanting to wrest the power of government from the other, in order to realize two opposing visions of the common good: The Republican vision of earth as a waiting-room for heaven, versus the Democratic vision of earth, and the people on it, as raw material from which heaven should be built.
Obviously, two visions of the common good, each one claiming to be the One True Vision, each one claiming to be the True Altruism, cannot “compromise.” One has to make the other extinct. After all, the priests, pastors, scientists, or “experts,” on each side make it their business to assure their followers, as often as necessary, that their Good Works for the Holy Cause must never flag. The Enemy must never gain ground. The Others’ vision of the common good, the priests, pastors, scientists, and experts always say, is a heresy.
And now you have — nearly — all the means to understand why, if we value our lives and liberties, Donald Trump must be the next president of the United States.
Sunset in the West?
More than 2000 years ago, Aristotle introduced twoÂ of the three or four most radical ideas in human history: that logic is theÂ oneÂ method that builds knowledge, and that the senses are theÂ one foundation to build it on.
Then Newton and Locke inspired a confidence in human reason, in the Aristotelian inheritance, that had never been seen before. The United States of America, a nation founded on reason, was the result.
The American ideal of social order founded on individual rights, a social order that exists only to secure those rights was an Aristotelian order.
When Aristotle placed the root of all knowledge in the senses, he placed the root of political sovereignty in the individual. Only individuals have eyes, hands, ears, senses of any kind. If knowledge is rooted in the senses, and if senses are attributes of individuals, then each individual is his own highest authority. Each individual is the foundation of a new understanding, a unique understanding, aÂ private understanding that was built on the mostÂ publicÂ space of all: the world we all see and hear and touch in every act of everyday life.
Plato, in contrast, stood within the long tradition of thinkers, of priests, of witch doctors, of shamans, of all the men who saw visions in the temples and sacred, secret spaces. Plato said that the roots of knowledge weren’t in the world of sight and sound and touch, but in a “higher” realm.
And Plato didn’t discover the “truths” of this higher realm by observation, by using his eyes. He discovered these “truths” in conversation. By coming to a “consensus” as he sat at a banquet table, chatting with the idle rich of Athens, the “best men.” The truth of the higher realm did not just emerge from these conversations, it was created in these conversations.
And this leads us to the fundamental political insight of the West, the heart of Western civilization, that Hillary Clinton means to cut out and eat: whoever controls knowledge will have the power, becauseÂ knowledge is power.
If knowledge comes from the senses, which everyone has equally, then everyone has power.
If knowledge comes from officers, priests, scientists, political operators, agency men, commissions, committee members, or “representatives,” coming to “consensus” in their secret councils, thenÂ they will have the power. All of it.
In the medieval world, those holding power/knowledge wore robes or held scepters. Now they wear lab coats or pantsuits. The story is the same: these people know better than you do. These people have special insight. These people have access to a “higher” truth, a truth no mere peasant can claim to lay hold of. And this truth tells theÂ priests and politicians that it is their noble duty to look after us all, in the name of the “common good.”
It’s an iron law of history, although we are only now seeing its first full unfolding: If individuals are let to make their own knowledge, they will be free. If they must submit to the “higher truths” of some priestly caste’s “consensus,” they will be slaves. Hillary Clinton doesn’t aim to usher in some “progressive” future, she means to bring the Aristotelian experiment to an end, to bring civic life in the United States back in line with the rest of humanity, back in line with all of human history. She means those beneath her cast to be slaves. She means herself and her ilk to be masters.Â She means to do this in the name of the “common good.” She means to do this on the authority that they “know better.”
Ray Bradbury, the great American author, foresaw, decades ahead, much of what is befalling our culture now. He recorded some of what he saw in his novelÂ Fahrenheit 451.
451 is misunderstood by the teenagers who suffer through it in school to be a book about censorship. That’s because the main character is a fireman who, instead of putting out fires, sets them. And he sets them to burn books.
WhatÂ 451 is really about is two contrary drives in human beings: first, to try to know the truth at all costs; second, to be comfortable at all costs. The America ofÂ Fahrenheit 451Â has chosen comfort. And since ideas can make us uncomfortable, and since books are packed with ideas …
At one point, the main character (Guy Montag) finds a mentor, a former professor, a man of experience who, Montag hopes, can explain what has gone so dreadfully wrong with the world. Montag has noticed that no one seems to be happy in their world that’s tailor-made for comfort. He has begun to wonder whether the pandemic of unhappiness has something to do with all the books he’s been burning, that maybe people need books.
Montag’s reluctant mentor says it’s not the absence of books that’s making everyone so miserable, he says the real cause of the universal misery is that there are three human needs that aren’t getting met. First, says the mentor, people need access to high-quality, textured information. (In the world of Fahrenheit 451, what they get instead is something more like endless MTV mixed with soap operas and tabloid shows. Or, come to think of it, something a lot like CNN and Fox News.) Second, says the mentor, people need leisure time to really think through all this textured information. (Instead, free time is packed full with “activities” in the world of Fahrenheit 451.Â Speaking of which, how much textured information is Facebook providing about this election? How much leisure time do people have, and of that, how much are they dedicating to thinking through all of the available information?) But it’s the last thing Guy’s mentor says that’s always stuck with me: He says that, in order to be happy, people need to be able toÂ take action on what they’ve concludedÂ from all their textured learning and leisurely thinking.
This vital power, the power toÂ act on what we know is the power thatÂ any politics based on a “common good” robs from us. It is absolutely necessary to every vision of the common good that knowledge and power, including the power to act on knowledge, are concentrated in the hands of a priestly caste, an elite, a DNC, an oligarchy.
What does the Republican coalition want? It wants to force everyone in America to contribute to its vision of the common good. What does that mean? It means, in practical terms, and among many other things, that the Republican base wants to take away every woman’s self-determination, to tell her, if she’s pregnant, what she can and can’t do with her body, and with any potential human life that has taken root inside of it.
What if the woman’s best reasoning tells her that the six-week-old fetus growing inside her isn’t yet a human life? What if her conscience tells her, therefore, that the abortion she wants, for her own, well considered reasons, can harm no one?
Too bad, says the Republican coalition. The truth we perceive is greater than the truth you perceive. After all, our pastors and priests came to a consensus, by scrutinizing the lines of texts we say are sacred, even if their sacredness is invisible to you. Certainly,Â you cannot see, with your own eyes, how weÂ know that this fetus has a fully human life. But our insight is into a higher realm. We know God’s will. If you can’t see it, so much the worse for you; we willÂ force you to save that life, the life we know is human, and you say is not human yet.
What does the Democratic coalition want? It wants to force everyone in America to contribute toÂ its vision of the common good. What does that mean? It means, in practical terms, and among many other things, that the Democratic coalition wants to seeÂ gay people able get a nice wedding cake from any bakery in the country, even if that bakery is owned by evangelical Christians.
What if the bakers’ best reasoning tells them that marriage can only be between a man and a woman? What if their consciences tell them that baking that cake is tantamount to telling God: “Your word doesn’t matter. What matters is that I make gay people comfortable in our shop.” — ?
Too bad, says the Democratic coalition. The truth we perceive is greater than the truth you perceive. After all, our sociologists and LGBTQ theorists came to a consensus, by scrutinizing the law through the lends of critical theory, even if critical theory is gobbledygook to you. Certainly,Â youÂ cannot see, with your eyes, how weÂ know that this cake must be baked, for justice. But our insight is into a higher realm. We know the vector of history. We are the keepers of Progress. If you can’t see it, so much the worse for you; we willÂ force you to bake that cake, the cake we know is just, and that you say is treason to your covenant with God.
In the original conception of law in the United States, a conception based on Aristotelian reason and Lockean individual rights,Â the government had no power — it was granted no power — to enforce either of these visions of the common good. It was granted no power to enforceÂ any vision of the common good. It was granted power only to ensure that each individual — using her own senses, her own mind, her own reason, her own values, her own judgment, her own hands, her own work, and whatever she made real with that work — could pursue her own good, her own happiness, in peace.
Seduced by the lure of power, drunk on visions from “higher” dimensions, visions that tell them the violence they do is just, both coalitions have betrayed this chance atÂ peace. Neither coalition will ever persuade the other to see things its way. There will never be a pan-American consensus. There will never be a universal vision of the common good. And because the “reasons” that justify each vision come from “higher” realms that are invisible to the uninitiated, reason will be impotent to bring these coalitions closer together.
And when men and women cannot deal with one another with reason, they will deal with one another by force.
And we ain’t seenÂ nothingÂ yet.
If Hillary is elected president, it might happen like this: One way or another, in her first term or her second, she will get new gun-control measures passed — into what passes, now, for “law.” The Democratic coalition will congratulate itself, smugly, for whatever twist, under color of law, finally broke the Second Amendment’s meaning on the rack of sophistical language. And then there will be a shooting.
The news will report it as domestic terrorism. There will be much hand-wringing, and talk of further measures to re-educate the angry white males, to reason with them, to get them to see why they need to just lay down their arms, just comply, just go along. After all, it will all be for the “common good.” Everyone on television will agree that this is the only sensible thing to do, and surely gun owners will soon see the truth of this, just like they did in Australia.
And then there will be another shooting. And another. And another. And in little fits and starts, in expected places, and in places no one would ever expect, there will be more shootings.
A retired army officer will go on Fox News. He will be expected to say calming things. Things to “unite us, not divide us.” He will say something else. A hundred thousand gun owners will take up arms and march, soon after, on Washington. It will not go well, for anyone.
Now, of course, it might not start like this at all. It’s unpredictable.
But the end of war is not as hard, I think, to predict.
The Democratic coalition’s roots are in the college-educated classes. Their vision of the common good only really reaches people who’ve had years and years of expensive socialization. It’s a vision only plausible to thoseÂ enthralled with the self-satisfaction one gets from mastering lightweight undergraduate coursework in the social sciences. In other words, it’s a vision of the common good that only appeals to a small (but disproportionately influential) segment of the population.
Old-fashioned regressive Christianity, though? That’s a vision of the common good that has reach. And because it has reach, because it speaks to millions and millions of people, and speaks to their hearts,Â once the right-wing coalition gets its hands on power, it will keep it.
Vote Trump: The One and Only Way Out
There is one chance, as I see it, to avoid this.
If Donald Trump is elected instead of Hillary Clinton, America, and those of us living here, get a stay of execution.
The Trump candidacy is a freak phenomenon. The Democratic coalition’s lock on power is nearly absolute. Trump is the only candidate since Reagan to challenge it at all, and the only candidate in American history to present a somewhat credible threat. If he loses, there will be no second Trump. The Democratic party will, for all practical purposes, run unopposed for the foreseeable future.
This has several implications. Two need mentioning here. First, Trump will have no support from the entrenched civil service bureaucracy, no support from the Republican party, and fierce opposition from every Democrat in the country. Should he win, he will never be able to implement any of the hyperbolic horrors the Democrats have promised.
Second, his election will calm the Republican base. Right now, that base is seething. It is making ready for war. If Trump wins, it will mean the Republican base has gotten a speaking part on the national stage for the very — first — time. Contrary to the dark fantasies of Democrats, this will not open up a path to a right-wing populist dictatorship. Quite the opposite. It willÂ delayÂ this dictatorship.
It will delay this dictatorship because, having their candidate in power for the first time ever, the Republican base will not know what to do with itself. The Republicans allied with Trump will need to showboat and prance on that stage until they get it out of their system. They will spend a full year patting themselves on the back, I’m sure. They will win some token policy victories, maybe the repeal of Obamacare, but they will not roll back the welfare state. They will not make much headway toward realizing their vision of the common good.
And by the time Trump’s one or two terms in office have expired (and no, he won’t declare himself president for life; the country is not ready to accept that kind of power grab yet), he will have made a lot of noise and maybe a bit of a difference, but the sky will not have fallen, there will have been no second Kristallnacht, and America will have remained pretty much the same country it is today.
On the other hand, we’ve already seen what happens if Hillary becomes president. It might not happen during her terms in office, but happen it will.
While the Republican coalition savors Trump’s victory, everyone with sense to exploit it will have an unprecedented opportunity: a break in left’s long march through the institutions. During this pause, we can work, not through politics, but through other means, to restore reason and rights to the center of American civic life. It’s a long shot, but I think it can be done.
So if you align with the Democratic coalition, my final message to you is this: Vote Trump, or you will snatch a gruesome and bloody defeat from the jaws of victory.
If you align with the Republican coalition, it is this: power corrupts. A government powerful enough to, finally, give you everything you want, even if all you want is to save the lives of the unborn, is powerful enough to take everything you have. And it will. So Vote Trump on November 8th, but get your mind right right after. You cannot use force to achieve any good end. If you try, you will bring horrors to the world, the like of which we’ve never seen.
Aristotle, Locke, and Jefferson gave us, gave humanity, one chance at getting it right. We have to learn to live together without holding guns to each others’ heads. We have to renounce the power of government to realizeÂ anyÂ fantasy of a common good, no matter how it calls to us. We have to give each other the right to discover what’s best for ourselves, the right to know what’s best for ourselves, and the right to act on this knowledge. If we do not, it can only end one way. We’ve come far too close to that end already now. And so,Â finally, to all of you, of both coalitions:
You fucking idiots. You’re half-likely to burn the world, to waste the gift of peace, a gift you’ve never done anything yet to earn, a gift that heroesÂ gave to you. But at least it couldn’t happen to a more deserving lot.