…They are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come, he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth, but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast.
He writes, repeating words attributed by him to B. W. Newton, author of “Thoughts on the Apocalypse” and “Aids to the Study of Prophetic Inquiry.”
The native monarchy of Nimrod, the theocracy of Israel, the despotic authority of Nebuchadnezzar, the aristocratic monarchy of Persia, and the military monarchy of Alexander and his successors, had all passed away when John beheld this vision. All these methods had been tried — none had been found to answer even the purposes of man; and now another had arisen, the half military, half popular monarchy of the Caesars, — the iron empire of Rome. ‘Five have fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh he must continue a little space’.
That other (though it cannot yet be said to have come so as to fulfill this verse)1,2 and, with one brief exception [i.e.., the eighth kingdom], the last form that is to be exhibited before the end shall come, and it is under this form that the system of Babylon is matured. It is obvious that a monarchy, guided not by the people numerically, but by certain classes of the people, and those classes determined by the possession of property, must be the form adapted for the accumulation of wealth, and the growth of commercial power; for it gives (which pure democracy has ever failed to do), the best security for property without unduly fettering the liberty of individual enterprise…
1 It will not have come in the sense of this verse, until it pervades the Roman world. When all the ten kingdoms have been constitutionalized, it may be said to have come.
2 We are rather inclined to believe that the ‘seventh’ is commercialism, that is, the moneyed-interests in control — A.W.P.
…Everyone who has a general knowledge of the past, and who is at all in touch with political conditions in the world today, knows full well the radical change which the last two or three centuries have witnessed. For a thousand years the Church (the professing church) controlled the governments of Europe. Following the Reformation, the aristocracy (the nobility) held the reins. During the first half of last century democratic principles obtained more widely. But in the last two or three generations the governmental machines of this country and of the leading European lands have been run by the Capitalists. Of late, Labor has sought to check this, but thus far with little success.
In the light of Zech. 5 and Rev. 18, present-day conditions are profoundly significant. It is commerce which is more and more dominating the policies and destinies of what is known as the civilized world. “If we turn our eyes abroad upon the world, we shall find that the one great object before the nations of the earth today is this image of commerce, drawing them with all the seductive influence a siren woman might exercise upon the heart of men. The one great aim on the part of each is to win the favor of this mighty mistress. The world powers are engaged in a Titanic struggle for commercial supremacy. To this end mills are built, factories founded, forests felled, lands sown, harvests reaped, and ships launched. Because of this struggle for mastery of the world’s market the nations reach out and extend their borders” (Dr. Haldeman)
Contemporary Globalism seems to be the fulfillment of this titanic struggle for commercial supremacy. It reminds us of Matthew 6:24,
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Doubtless, there are many particulars respecting [Antichrist’s relations with Jews in Palestine] and all other related subjects, which will not be cleared up until the prophecies concerning them have been fulfilled. We, today, occupy much the same position with regard to the predictions concerning the Antichrist, as the Old Testament saints did to the many passages which foretold the coming of the Christ. Their difficulty was to arrange those passages in the order they were to be fulfilled, and to distinguish between those which spoke of Him in humiliation and those which foretold His coming glory. A similar perplexity confronts us.
To ascertain the sequence of the prophecies relating to the Antichrist is a real problem. Even when we confine ourselves to those passages which speak of him in his connections with Israel, we have to distinguish between those which concern only the godly remnant, and those which relate to the great apostate mass of the Nation; and, too, we have to separate between those prophecies which concern the time when Antichrist is posing as the true Christ, and those which portray him in the final stage of his career, after he has thrown off his mask of religious pretension.
Satan* is persuading many professing Christians that it is their duty to be well informed concerning current events and induces them to waste much time in reading secular literature and in listening in to the radio in order to be so. The “Signs of Times” men are zealously raking over all the “evil” they can find in the moral, political and social realms, as well as in the International Situation; all of which is contrary to Romans 16:19! And what good is accomplished thusly? Not a particle, either for themselves or anyone else…
You and I have no responsibility in the running (government) of this world, nor does He require us to take the burden of such government upon our shoulders. HE is ruling it directing all its affairs. There we may, and should, rest. Your business and my business is to be “wise unto that which is GOOD.”
… Let us prayerfully endeavor to pay more heed to that injunction. Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report … Think on THESE things (Phil. 4:8.)
* And note the very next verse – Rom. 16:20 – opens with the word “And”, after which reference is made directly to “Satan”!
To this stern advice, the A. W. Pink archivist writes,
It is probably wise to note that in the opening exhortation, Pink is not necessarily arguing against being generally aware of current events which are taking place, however he is pushing back against the suggestion that such things should so engross the Christian.
…It is with no doubt in my mind that Pink is notably pushing back against the overemphasis on the end time, or eschatological, prophesying that so dominated early-to-mid 20th century evangelicalism.
What comes to mind, in summary, is,
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16(ESV)
For more than half a century, realist scholars of international relations have maintained that their world view is inimical to the American public. For a variety of reasons—inchoate attitudes, national history, American exceptionalism—realists assert that the U.S. government pursues realist policies in spite and not because of public opinion. …Survey and experimental data on the mass public’s attitudes towards foreign policy priorities and world views…suggest that, far from disliking realism, Americans are at least as comfortable with the logic of realpolitik as they are with liberal internationalism. The persistence of the anti-realist assumption might be due to an ironic fact: American elites are more predisposed towards liberal internationalism than the rest of the American public.
To some, this may be obvious. However, Drezner is speaking to his elite peers. His insight does explain what we see on the national and global stages when certain parties are in power. He has constructed a very useful table of “testable predictions about American preferences.” These distinctions, too, are very useful, though obvious to those who are paying attention.
Realist policy preferences
Liberal internationalist policy preferences
Foreign policy priorities and world views
• Pessimistic or Hobbesian appraisal of international environment
• Pursuit of national interest
• Homeland security and territorial integrity come first
• Balance against rising powers
• Cautiously optimistic or Lockean appraisal of international environment
• Pursuit of interest through international law
• Promotion of democracy, human rights
• Reliance on multilateral institutions to regulate conflict and power in world politics
Justification and support for the use of force
• Violation of state sovereignty
• Containment of a rising power
• Tolerance of costs if the opponent suffers more
• Humanitarian intervention
• Promotion of self-determination/democratic regime change
• Extreme sensitivity to costs of war
Foreign economic policy
• Emphasis on relative gains
• Suspicion of economic interdependence leading to vulnerability
• Hostility to foreign ownership of strategic assets
• Emphasis on absolute gains
• Support for economic interdependence, liberalization
• Acceptance of foreign ownership
He defines the elite to which he refers as those “knowledgeable about foreign affairs and [having] some access to foreign policy decision-makers.” Members include “high-ranking members of the executive branch, members of Congress and their staffs, lobbyists and interest group representatives, journalists, academics, and leaders of labor, business, and religion.” The “members of the executive branch” he mentions are less those of the presidency than those in the administrative state apparatus.
Drezner, after examining surveys and studies, concludes that the hypothesis that Americans are anti-realist is false. Americans “hold some liberal aspirations for their conduct across the globe and believe that morality should play a role in foreign affairs—in the abstract.”
Restating his hypothesis as a question, Drezner writes,
…If American attitudes towards foreign policy have been consistent for decades, and those attitudes are receptive to a realist world view, then why does the anti-realist assumption persist within the academy and the policymaking worlds?
Drezner conjectures that realist policy makers make the mistake of confusing the views of elites with which they associate with those of the mass of the American people,
The liberal internationalist trend is strong among the elites that realist scholars interact with the most—other international relations professors. …It is possible that realists believe that most Americans do not like realism because the Americans they interact with the most—their professional colleagues—are hostile to the paradigm.
This, I think, is a result of self-segregation by class both here in America and the world over that will only increase as globalization reaches its apex. What happens after that has been rehearsed many times in the past (e.g., the Late Bronze Age Collapse.) Complex and efficient supply chain systems collapse under stress.
Lee Smith, in his 2021 editorial, “The Thirty Tyrants,” maintains that “the deal that [our] American globalist elite [has chosen] to make with China has a precedent in the history of Athens and Sparta.” He compares our elite with the Athenian oligarchy who, after Athens’ defeat in the Peloponnesian War, adopted their Spartan victor’s authoritarian ruling principles to subjugate common Athenians and exile, execute, and confiscate the wealth of those formerly in power. Smith writes,
The Athenian government, disloyal to Athens’ laws and contemptuous of its traditions, was known as the Thirty Tyrants, and understanding its role and function helps explain what is happening in America today.
He defines globalism and the globalist elite this way,
Globalism [is] the freedom to structure commercial relationships and social enterprises without reference to the well-being of the particular society in which [these globalists] happen to make their livings and raise their children.
Smith makes this elite’s operating method clear,
The elite…saw enlightened Chinese autocracy as a friend and even as a model—which was not surprising, given that the Chinese Communist Party became their source of power, wealth, and prestige. Why did they trade with an authoritarian regime and send millions of American manufacturing jobs off to China thereby impoverish working Americans? Because it made them rich.
They salved their consciences by telling themselves they had no choice but to deal with China: It was big, productive, and efficient and its rise was inevitable. And besides, the American workers hurt by the deal deserved to be punished—who could defend a class of reactionary and racist ideological naysayers standing in the way of what was best for progress?
…The corporate and political establishment’s trade relationship with China had sold out ordinary Americans.
He calls these people the ‘China Class,’ composed of Democrats and Republicans. The China Class is opposed to the American People, also composed of Democrats and Republicans; some of whom are unaware that they are opposed. Roughly stated, if you can’t afford a private island or citizenship in another country, you are merely a useful instrument in your own demise, no matter how “progressive” you might think you are.
As evidence of the China Class’s contempt for the American People, he writes [formatted for emphases,]
Because…China was the source of the China Class’s power, the novel coronavirus coming out of Wuhan became the platform for its coup de grace. So, Americans became prey to an anti-democratic elite that used the coronavirus to:
lay waste to small businesses;
leave them vulnerable to rioters who are free to steal, burn, and kill;
keep their children from school and
[keep] the dying from the last embrace of their loved ones;
desecrate American history, culture, and society; and
defame the country as systemically racist
[all] in order to furnish the predicate for why ordinary Americans in fact deserved the hell that the elite’s private and public sector proxies had already prepared for them.
For nearly a year, American officials have purposefully laid waste to our economy and society for the sole purpose of arrogating more power to themselves while the Chinese economy has gained on America’s.
…The China Class cemented its power within state institutions and security bureaucracies that have long been Democratic preserves.
But how could “our betters,” those with the most privilege, enjoying the fruits of liberty, and charged with the preservation of our heritage, abandon their responsibility? Short answer, the money looked good. Smith writes,
The poisoned embrace between American elites and China began nearly 50 years ago when Henry Kissinger saw that opening relations between the two then-enemies would expose the growing rift between China and the more threatening Soviet Union. At the heart of the fallout between the two communist giants was the Soviet leadership’s rejection of Stalin, which the Chinese would see as the beginning of the end of the Soviet communist system—and thus it was a mistake they wouldn’t make.
Meanwhile, Kissinger’s geopolitical maneuver became the cornerstone of his historical legacy. It also made him a wealthy man selling access to Chinese officials. In turn, Kissinger pioneered the way for other former high-ranking policymakers to engage in their own foreign influence-peddling operations,
Yet it’s unlikely that Kissinger foresaw China as a cash cow for former American officials when he and President Richard M. Nixon traveled to the Chinese capital that Westerners then called Peking in 1972.
It was only in the 1990s with the debates every year about granting China most favored nation status in trade that China became a commercial rival”—and a lucrative partner.
Just after defeating communism in the Soviet Union, America breathed new life into the communist party that survived. And instead of Western democratic principles transforming the CCP, the American establishment acquired a taste for Eastern techno-autocracy.
Tech became the anchor of the U.S.-China relationship, with CCP funding driving Silicon Valley startups, thanks largely to the efforts of Dianne Feinstein, who, after Kissinger, became the second-most influential official driving the US–CCP relationship for the next 20 years.
They Knew Better, But Did It Anyway
We were told economic trade with the People’s Republic of China would moderate their totalitarianism, but the opposite was true. Smith writes,
Yet the past actually should have told Feinstein’s audience in Washington a different story. The United States didn’t trade with Moscow or allow Russians to make large campaign donations or enter into business partnerships with their spouses. Cold War American leadership understood that such practices would have opened the door to Moscow and allowed it to directly influence American politics and society in dangerous ways.
But it wasn’t just about jeopardizing national security; it was also about exposing America to a system contradictory to American values…Trade and foreign policy from the end of WWII to 1990 reflected that this was a consensus position—Cold War American leadership didn’t want the country coupled to a one-party authoritarian state.
Sadly, we marched to our leadership’s tune for too long. We trusted their beneficence. We were lied to. Smith chronicles the China Class’s impact on business, national security, and society. He writes,
More than two decades later, the number of American industries and companies that lobbied against [the 45st President’s] administration measures attempting to decouple Chinese technology from its American counterparts is a staggering measure of how closely two rival systems that claim to stand for opposing sets of values and practices have been integrated.
…All [corporations] exist with one leg in America and the other leg planted firmly in America’s chief geopolitical rival. To protect both halves of their business, they soft-sell the issue by calling China a competitor in order to obscure their role in boosting a dangerous rival.
Nearly every major American industry has a stake in China.
On National Security
“Through the 1980s, people who advanced the interests of foreign powers whose ideas were inimical to republican form of government were ostracized,” says [an unnamed] former [44th President’s] administration intelligence official. “But with the advent of globalism, they made excuses for China, even bending the intelligence to fit their preferences…”
…The American security and defense establishment had their own interest in turning a blind eye to China. Twenty years of squandering men, money, and prestige on military engagements that began in [during the] “War on Terror” have proved to be of little strategic value to the United States.
However, deploying Americans to provide security in Middle East killing fields has vastly benefited Beijing. …American troops are deployed abroad in places like Afghanistan less to protect American interests than to provide security for China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
When a…virus hit in the fall of 2019, Chinese authorities followed the same protocol [used earlier in the year to suppress antipollution dissent], quarantining not just prospective troublemakers but everyone in Wuhan in the hope of avoiding an even larger public outcry than the one they’d quelled in the same city just months before.
There is a good reason why lockdowns—quarantining those who are not sick—had never been previously employed as a public health measure. The leading members of a city, state, or nation do not imprison its own unless they mean to signal that they are imposing collective punishment on the population at large. It had never been used before as a public health measure because it is a widely recognized instrument of political repression.
Eventually, the pro-China [American] oligarchy would come to see the full range of benefits the lockdowns afforded. Lockdowns made leading oligarchs richer…while impoverishing [the 45th President’s] small-business base. In imposing unconstitutional regulations by fiat, city and state authorities normalized autocracy.
I must let his words speak for themselves,
For the pro-China oligarchy, the point of getting [the 46th President] elected was to protect themselves…
What seems clear is that [the 46th President’s] inauguration marks the hegemony of an American oligarchy that sees its relationship with China as a shield and sword against their own countrymen. Like Athens’ Thirty Tyrants, they are not simply contemptuous of a political system that recognizes the natural rights of all its citizens that are endowed by our creator; they despise in particular the notion that those they rule have the same rights they do…
Like Critias and the pro-Sparta faction, the new American oligarchy believes that democracy’s failures are proof of their own exclusive right to power—and they are happy to rule in partnership with a foreign power that will help them destroy their own countrymen.
What does history teach us about this moment? The bad news is that the Thirty Tyrants exiled notable Athenian democrats and confiscated their property while murdering an estimated 5% of the Athenian population. The good news is that their rule lasted less than a year.
Today, please listen to (or read the subtitles of) an excerpt from Pastor Wang Yi’s sermon, “The Gospel and Church-State Relations” preached on May 27, 2018, at Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China. On December 30th, 2019, Pastor Wang Yi was tried in a secret trial and sentenced to 9 years in prison for the crimes of “inciting to subvert state power” and “illegal business operations.”
Citizenship is what makes a republic; monarchies can get along without it. What keeps a republic on its legs is good citizenship… Citizenship, after all, is not an entitlement; it requires work. Yet too many citizens of republics, ancient and modern, come to believe that they deserve rights without assuming responsibilities—and they don’t worry how or why or from whom they inherited their privileges…
A free, legally equal, and politically independent citizenry, when translated to the modern American experience, means that citizens of the United States should not follow any laws other than those authorized by their own elected representatives… No one American deserves greater deference under the law than any other… American citizens, bearing natural and inalienable rights bestowed by a supreme deity, are accountable only to themselves…
For citizenship to work, the vast majority of residents must be citizens. But to become citizens, residents must be invited in on the condition of giving up their own past loyalties for those of their new hosts… In return for our rights to pick our own leaders and make our own laws, we are asked to obey America’s statutes. We must honor the traditions and customs of our country. As Americans we cherish the memory of those who bequeathed to us such an exceptional nation, and we contribute… our time, money, and, if need be, safety and lives on our country’s behalf.
(Excerpted from pages 1 – 4)
He maintains that our Republic is on shaky ground and describes from what we came and to which we may return,
Republics are so often lost not over centuries but within a single decade… History is not static…citizenship can wax and wane…and abruptly vanish… A sign of democratic sclerosis is a loss of confidence in the integrity of voting—to the point that it becomes seen as a futile exercise rather than a bulwark of citizenship.
In most regimes of the past, there was one set of laws for the rich, priests, autocrats, and aristocrats and quite another for those without money, high religious or political office, or noble birth and lineage. Or those who gained power by election often sabotaged subsequent elections on the theory of “one election, one time.”
(Excerpted from pages 4 – 6)
Hanson summarizes democracy’s genesis and benefits,
Citizenship… explains the Greek achievement of drawing on the talents and energy of a much-empowered resident and middle-class population… Once protected by laws, rather than by the transitory goodwill and patronage of aristocrats and autocrats, in a practical sense the citizen has far more legal and economic latitude to paint, write, build, farm, create, discover, or litigate… If not worried about being arbitrarily jailed, killed, deprived of his property and inheritance, or told where and how to live, a citizen is more likely to exploit his own talents—and often create wealth for his commonwealth.
(Excerpted from page 9)
From these origins, the idea and practice of citizenship increased in fits and starts; however, it is always in danger of disappearing,
The subsequent postclassical idea of Western constitutional citizenship ebbed and flowed through periods of retrenchment, oppression, and authoritarianism. Nevertheless, it slowly evolved through the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment toward an ever-greater array of rights and forevermore inclusion of the formerly dispossessed…
By the twenty-first century, the Western idea of citizenship, after twenty-five hundred years of evolution, neared its logical fruition with the full emancipation of the poor, women, and minority populations after the long-ago abolition of serfdom, indentured peasantry, and chattel slavery…
In a practical sense the privileges of Western citizenship are, in fact, diluting… Just as there was no constitutional government before 700 BC, so there is no rule that there must be democracies and republics in the twenty-first century… Affluence and leisure often prove more dangerous to citizenship than poverty and drudgery.
(Excerpted from pages 10 – 11)
The body of Hanson’s argument explores the tension pulling our Republic apart,
Citizenship in the United States is now being pulled in two different and often antithetical directions, from below and above, spontaneously and yet by design, through both ignorance of and intimacy with the Constitution.
Many Americans do not know or worry much about the consequences of radical demographic, cultural, or political influences for the status of citizenship. They are indifferent to millions of immigrants of uncertain status, veritable resident strangers in their midst… When nearly four in ten Americans have no notion of their rights under the First Amendment, it is easy to curb them.
On the other hand, some elites believe that they know the Constitution all too well and therefore believe it in dire need of radical deletions and alterations to fit the times. They envision an always improving, changing, and evolving Constitution that should serve as a global model for a vast, ecumenical brotherhood, requiring a global administrative state to monitor and enforce its ambitious idealism.
(Excerpted from pages 13 – 14)
He divides his exposition according to these two tensions which he terms “precitizenry” and “postcitizenry.” Hanson summarizes his “precitizenry” argument this way,
The notion of precitizenry reflects ancient economic, political, and ethnic ideas and customs that were once thought antithetical to the modern democratic state. Yet, in organic fashion, they are reappearing and threaten to overwhelm the American commonwealth. (Page 14)
His argument against precitizenry is further divided into chapters titled Peasants, Residents, and Tribes. He writes,
Peasants [reviews] the ancient argument that to be self-governing, citizens must be economically autonomous… Without a middle class, society becomes bifurcated. It splinters into one of modern masters and peasants. In that situation, the function of government is not to ensure liberty but to subsidize the poor to avoid revolution and to exempt the… wealthy, who reciprocate by enriching and empowering the governing classes.
Residents argues that [sovereign] states must privilege citizens over mere residents… Citizens live within delineated and established borders. They share a common history. Their sacred physical space allows them to pursue their constitutional rights without interference from abroad. Living on common and exclusive ground encourages shared values, assimilation, and integration and defines national character… Yet we now live…in an age [where] …an accident of birth should not deprive any of the planet’s eight billion people from entering and living in the United States. Citizenship, however, is not indestructible.
Tribes reminds us why all citizens should give up their own ethnic, racial, and tribal primary identities… Only through such a brutal bargain of assimilation can they sustain a common culture in a century in which superficial racial and tribal differences, the fuel for many of history’s wars, are becoming no longer incidental but recalibrated as essential to the American character… Once a man owes…more loyalty to his first cousin than to a fellow citizen, a constitutional republic cannot exist.
(Excerpted from pages 14 – 16)
The second half of the book, describing postcitizenry, “[focuses] on the even greater dangers to citizenship posed by a relatively small American elite.” This part is divided into chapters titled Unelected, Evolutionaries, and Globalists. Hanson writes,
Unelected chronicles how an unelected federal bureaucracy has absorbed much of the power of the US Congress, yearly creating more laws and regulations than the House and Senate together could debate, pass, and send to the president for signing… Even the office of the presidency…often lacks sufficient knowledge to control the permanent legions deeply embedded within the state… The bureaucratic elite believes that it can and should preempt any elected official who deems it…dangerous. If the citizen cannot elect officials to audit, control, or remove the unelected, then he has lost his sovereign power.
Evolutionaries …are the unapologetic grand architects of dismantling constitutional citizenship, inordinately represented by political activists, media grandees, the legal profession, and academics… As progressives, …they accuse the Founders of lacking our modern wisdom, today’s enlightened education, and the benefits of a constantly improving, innate human nature… The evolutionaries are, by all means [necessary], …in a trajectory toward a 51 percent, majority-vote-rules nation, without sufficient constitutional and long-accustomed guardrails.
Globalists …explains the current fad that Americans are transitioning into citizens of the world. An ancient but unworkable idea of cosmopolitanism has reemerged, now driven by privileged utopians empowered by twenty-first-century global travel, finance, and communications.
On the one hand, they are cynical critics of American exceptionalism and nationalism. On the other, they wish to extend American-style democracy and liberal tolerance across the globe—but without much thought about where such singular ideas arose or why so much of the world has always resisted them.
Globalism’s chief characteristic, however, is more mundane. Its architects focus on the distant and anonymous abroad, less so on concrete Americans nearby …In the end, globalization may not westernize the planet so much as internationalize America.
(Excerpted from pages 16 – 18)
In summation, he writes,
…Everything that we once thought was so strong, so familiar, and so reassuring about America has been dissipating for some time. The year 2020, in the manner of other revolutionary years, such as 1848, 1917, and 1968, has peeled away that veneer of complacency and self-satisfaction. Contemporary events have reminded Americans that their citizenship is fragile and teetering on the abyss—and yet the calamities can also teach, indeed energize, them to rebuild and recover what they have lost. (Page 18)
Despite massive immigration of the last half century, with immigrants traditionally more prone to have large families, the national median family size has shrunk dramatically. The 1960s average of 2.3 children per family has declined to a current 1.9. That figure is well below the 2.1 percent rate necessary to maintain current population size. When we speak of a “dying citizen,” we can take that phrasing quite literally: Americans are not reproducing themselves and are starting to follow European models of slow-motion demographic suicide. (Page 35)
Hanson suggests Americans must exercise their citizenship more vigorously, at county, state, and federal levels, in order to recover our Republic.
What is interesting is that Alexis de Tocqueville made corresponding observations at the beginning of the Republic in the 1830s in volume 1 and volume 2 of his book Democracy in America. He contended that American liberty could deteriorate into anarchy at one extreme or despotism at the other. Anarchy results when individuals refuse to subject their freedom to the Republic’s laws and customs. Despotism results when individuals relinquish liberty, either under coercion or by free will, for dependence and servitude to an elite class. He went further by saying that democracy, viewed as equality of outcomes, would atomize and level society and lull each individual into mass conformity administered by a central bureaucracy.
De Tocqueville presaged the fall of the Republic that Hanson now warns us against. This is the precipice upon which we stand. It makes you wonder at Augustine’s thoughts as he shepherded his flock in the midst of Rome’s fall. John Adams, of course, said,
…We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
I hope God uses me, by means of first losing my personal freedom, to tell those who have deprived me of my personal freedom that there is an authority higher than their authority, and that there is a freedom that they cannot restrain, a freedom that fills the church of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.
The book, Nuclear War – The Moral Dimension, by James W. Child, argues that a strong conventional defense, an invulnerable second strike, counterforce capability, and stateman-like prudence deters nuclear war for all sides, even if exercised by only one party. He advocates mutual arms control as circumstances permit. Published in 1986, this work confronts the US–Russia conflict. However, it is still applicable in the multipolar world we live in now.
In the book’s conclusion, Child lays out principles to abide by (quoted and paraphrased below),
1. We have an overwhelming moral duty to avoid nuclear war – Except at the cost of totalitarian slavery or utter annihilation, any cost to avoid it must be borne. Such war, especially a first strike, serves no policy objectives.
2.We must take all reasonable steps which can now be taken to avoid nuclear war. – He says this means, at a minimum, two things. First, strategic nuclear forces must be strong enough to deter and secure enough to survive a nuclear attack. Second, that conventional forces are effective enough to deter conventional aggression. Though the first is mostly met, as we’ve seen in the recent past, the second is not and we foolishly open ourselves to no alternative but nuclear escalation. Establishment of a “hotline” with China is essential to avoid an “inadvertent war,” a war no one wants but no one can avoid, such as happened with World War I. We must also pursue arms control, both nonproliferation and arms reductions, in an effort to lower the chance of nuclear war that benefits all parties.
3.We have a moral right to fight a nuclear war if we are attacked by nuclear weapons. – We have a moral right and duty of self-defense which entitles us to destroy our adversary’s ability to make war (military and industrial targets) or to command making war (governmental, party, and internal security apparatuses.) This “counterforce” retaliation would save millions of American citizens and allies.
4. We have a duty to take great pains to minimize noncombatant casualties. – The unrestrained slaughter of millions of civilians is never justified. Defensive targeting must deliberately reduce collateral civilian deaths. This duty also requires improving weapons accuracy which enables lowered nuclear yields to achieve the same counterforce effects. With this care, we have the moral right to put the adversary’s population at risk if we are to deter aggression and save our own citizens and those of our allies. Citizens have the duty to restrain their governments from aggression and if they fail to do so, they relinquish their absolute immunity as noncombatants. Each side’s citizenry has this responsibility and risk.
5. Within the bounds set above, we have the moral right to use nuclear weapons in our own defense in order to extinguish the war-making capacity of any nuclear aggressor. – It is not a “necessary evil.” It is morally justifiable. Once something safer comes along, such as workable, multilateral disarmament, we would be irrational and immoral not to avail ourselves of this preferable alternative. But until such time, we need not be made to feel guilty by those long on moral indignation but short on genuine alternatives.
Child concludes with these remarks,
We must develop strong, unfrightened, affirmative attitudes toward the risk of nuclear war. Only then can we disenthrall ourselves from myths and perhaps lessen the danger. We must see the threat of nuclear war as it is: of large but still human dimensions; a very difficult but ultimately tractable problem. But like all really important problems of human existence, the solution will come in bits and pieces to be slowly and patiently assembled: a more secure deterrent force replacing a vulnerable one here; a mutually adopted measure against accidental war there. In this painstaking process, we must dare to bear the risk of nuclear war if we are ever to make that risk go away.
This brief summary doesn’t do Child’s thesis justice but will have to suffice. His book is a thought provoking read. Child died in 2005 at the age of sixty-four. He left a legacy of mentoring, moral thought, adventure, and uplifting comradery.
For different reasons, a historicist or futurist might cite the following scripture to say that, ultimately, deterrence must fail,
But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 2 Peter 3:7(English Standard Version)
I am reading Victor Davis Hanson’s book, Carnage and Culture. His main thesis is that the remarkable success of the western way of warfare is not due merely to technological superiority, and not to biology nor geography, but to cultural strength and resilience. As I read certain passages, it struck me that he’s describing the terrifying and terrible fourth beast of Daniel 7. Mind you, not the horns or kings, but the mechanical beast itself. Here’s Daniel’s depiction:
After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns…
“Then I desired to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet…
This fourth beast is terrifying, dreadful, and exceedingly strong; unlike any prior kingdom in its inorganic nature. Its implements of destruction are made of iron and bronze. It devours the whole earth, tramples it down, and breaks it into pieces; an apt description of the warfare this kingdom executes. It sounds like Western warfare from Alexander the Great through General Colin Powell and beyond.
To be fair, Hanson caveats his thesis with the statement:
While I grant that critics would disagree on a variety of fronts over the reasons for European military dynamism and the nature of Western civilization itself, I have no interest in entering such contemporary cultural debates, since my interests are in the military power, not the morality, of the West. (Preface)
This is as it should be. Great power can be used for good or for ill. There are just and unjust wars.
Elaborating on his thesis, starting with its Greek origins, Hanson writes:
…The Greeks fought much differently than their adversaries and that such unique Hellenic characteristics of battle
—a sense of personal freedom, superior discipline, matchless weapons, egalitarian camaraderie, individual initiative, constant tactical adaptation and flexibility, preference for shock battle of heavy infantry—
were themselves the murderous dividends of Hellenic culture at large. The peculiar way Greeks killed grew out of consensual government, equality among the middling classes, civilian audit of military affairs, and politics apart from religion, freedom and individualism, and rationalism. (Page 4)
Explaining the motivation of the Western nations, he says,
Western armies often fight with and for a sense of legal freedom. They are frequently products of civic militarism or constitutional governments and thus are overseen by those outside religion and the military itself. (Page 21)
Western warring is often an extension of the idea of state politics, rather than a mere effort to obtain territory, personal status, wealth, or revenge. (Page 22)
Westerners, in short, long ago saw war as a method of doing what politics cannot, and thus are willing to obliterate rather than check or humiliate any who stand in their way. (Page 22)
These sharp engagements quickly settled conflicts decisively. However, Hansen observes, there is a downside,
I leave the reader with the dilemma of the modern age: the Western manner of fighting bequeathed to us from the Greeks and enhanced by Alexander is so destructive and so lethal that we have essentially reached an impasse. Few non-Westerners wish to meet our armies in battle. (Page 98)
The only successful response to encountering a Western army seems to be to marshal another Western army. The state of technology and escalation is such that any intra-Western conflict would have the opposite result of its original Hellenic intent: abject slaughter on both sides would result, rather than quick resolution. (Page 98)
Whereas the polis Greeks discovered shock battle as a glorious method of saving lives and confining conflict to an hour’s worth of heroics between armored infantry, Alexander the Great and the Europeans who followed sought to unleash the entire power of their culture to destroy their enemies in a horrendous moment of shock battle. That moment is now what haunts us. (Page 98)
Interestingly, the West’s principle of military accountability to civilian rule has enabled it to recover from horrendous defeats. Among other examples, Hanson cites Rome’s defeat by Hannibal at Cannae,
Polybius ended his excursus about Rome’s remarkable constitutional and military system with a final thought on the aftermath of Cannae: For although the Romans had clearly been defeated in the field, and their reputation in arms ruined, yet because of the singularity of their constitution, and by wisdom of their deliberative counsel, they not only reclaimed the sovereignty of Italy, and went on to conquer the Carthaginians, but in just a few years themselves became rulers of the entire world. (3.118.7–9) (Page 132)
In conclusion, Hanson says that the western way of war may lead to a frightening future,
Thucydides, who claimed he wrote history as “a possession for all time,” reminds us that states fight for “fear, self-interest, and honor”—not always out of reason, economic need, or survival. Honor, even in this age of decadence, despite the gloomy predictions of Plato, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Spengler, still exists and will, I think, still get people killed for some time to come. (Page 449)
The most obvious worry is the continual spread of Western notions of military discipline, technology, decisive battle, and capitalism without the accompanying womb of freedom, civic militarism, civilian audit, and dissent. (Page 451)
…Can the non-West import our weaponry and military organization and doctrine apart from the cargo of their birth (i.e., free citizens, individualism in command hierarchy, constant audit, and oversight of its strategy and tactics)? (Page 451, edited)
Even should our present adversaries adopt consensual government, free speech, and market economies, would they then really remain our adversaries? Would the embrace of Western culture gradually smother centuries of religious, ethnic, cultural, and racial hostility to the West itself? Perhaps, perhaps not. (Page 452)
States that become thoroughly Western are less likely to attack the traditional West, but not less likely enough to ensure that they will never attack the traditional West—and each other. (Page 452)
The more the world becomes thoroughly Western, it seems to me, the larger the Europeanized battlefield shall become. (Page 452)
The peril to come, however, is not just the spread of atomic weapons and F-16 fighter jets but much more so the dissemination of knowledge, rationalism, the creation of free universities, perhaps even the growth of democracy, capitalism, and individualism themselves throughout the world—the real ingredients, as we have seen in these case studies, of a most murderous brand of battle. (Page 453)
I have yet to finish the book, but the point is clear: Western military power, if not its liberties, will spread throughout the world and be its own worst enemy:
“Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”Rev. 13:4b(ESV)
We must not expect our revolutions to be identical (p. 226), [three of the four (the English (1640s,) French (1789,) and Russian (1917)) began] in hope and moderation, [reached] a crisis in a reign of terror, [and ended] in something like dictatorship—Cromwell, Bonaparte, Stalin. [The exception is the American Revolution, which] does not quite follow this pattern (p. 24).
…War has accompanied each of the other major Western revolutions of modern times. …[War and revolution] …destroy traditional authorities, classes, and types of wealth; both create new kinds of power, rank, and wealth.
… A revolution did indeed occur in America, one involving social structures and values. Why, then, did no Terror, no Thermidor, no military dictatorship make its appearance, as has been the case in European revolutions?
…The absence of an intellectual class in America at the time of the Revolution is one of the prime reasons for the lack of political ferocity both during and after the Revolution. …[This class’s] dominant characteristics are, and have been, social rootlessness, and adversary position toward polity, and a fascination with power and its uses. The capacity of this class for ideological fanaticism, for the sacrifice of life and institution alike in the name of principle, and even for outright bloodlust and terror is well known.
…Nothing so completely gave the American Revolution its distinctive character as the absence of [this] European species of political intellectual. It is only in the present century that we have seen this species coming into prominence in America.
The territorial aristocracy of former ages was either bound by law, or thought itself bound by [tradition], to come to the relief of its serving-men and to relieve their distress. But the manufacturing aristocracy of our age first impoverishes and debases the men who serve it and then abandons them to be supported by the charity of the public. This is a natural consequence of what has been said before. Between the workman and the master there are frequent relations, but no real association.
Beyond this, Tocqueville foresaw the inevitable outcome of liberal democracy. In his essay, “Is America Devolving into Soft Totalitarianism?” Bruce Frohnen wrote, “…In picturing America’s potential, dark future, Tocqueville saw the people and its virtues. He also saw the individual born of democracy, with all his weaknesses.” Tocqueville said,
I see an innumerable crowd of similar and equal men who spin around restlessly, in order to gain small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each one of them, withdrawn apart, is like a stranger to the destiny of all the others; his children and his particular friends form for him the entire human species.
As for the remainder of his fellow citizens, he is next to them, but he does not see them; he touches them without feeling them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone, and if he still has a family, you can say that at least he no longer has a country.
Frohnen observes “…Such men, Tocqueville feared, would surrender their self-government and even their self-will.” He quotes Tocqueville in support,
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild.
It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing.
For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
Thus, it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.
Frohnen comments, “Thus, we have Tocqueville’s famous description of “soft despotism.”” Then he offers his own historical perspective,
…One can trace the development of America’s welfare and administrative state, from its roots in a materialistic rendering of the “social gospel” and the surrender of local responsibilities to a supposedly more efficient set of state “experts.” Personal relationships atrophied as faith grew in mechanisms supposedly capable of producing more fair and effective results than could be produced by the very flawed beings who designed them.
Frohnen then says, “Tocqueville portrayed with stunning accuracy the decline of human character, into the tyranny of the majority and the selfishness of individualism.” He says that striving after material prosperity and equality enervated the intermediary institutions that formed communities of good character that withstood government encroachment. Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America (Volume 2, 1840) in evidence of Frohnen’s observation,
Our contemporaries are constantly excited by two conflicting passions; they want to be led, and they wish to remain free: as they cannot destroy either one or the other of these contrary propensities, they strive to satisfy them both at once.
They devise a sole, tutelary, and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people. They combine the principle of centralization and that of popular sovereignty; this gives them a respite: they console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. Every man allows himself to be put in [harness and reins], because he sees that it is not a person or a class of persons, but the people at large that holds the end of his chain.
By this system the people shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master, and then relapse into it again. A great many persons at the present day are quite contented with this sort of compromise between administrative despotism and the sovereignty of the people.
They think they have done enough for the protection of individual freedom when they have surrendered it to the power of the nation at large. This does not satisfy me: the nature of him I am to obey signifies less to me than the fact of extorted obedience.
It must not be forgotten that it is especially dangerous to enslave men in the minor details of life. For my own part, I should be inclined to think freedom less necessary in great things than in little ones, if it were possible to be secure of the one without possessing the other.
Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day and is felt by the whole community indiscriminately. It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their own will.
Thus, their spirit is gradually broken, and their character enervated; whereas that obedience which is exacted on a few important but rare occasions only exhibits servitude at certain intervals and throws the burden of it upon a small number of men.
It is in vain to summon a people who have been rendered so dependent on the central power to choose from time to time the representatives of that power; this rare and brief exercise of their free choice, however important it may be, will not prevent them from gradually losing the faculties of thinking, feeling, and acting for themselves, and thus gradually falling below the level of humanity.
Frohnen then wonders, “But what comes next? What does the individual produced by centralized administration choose for a life?” He quotes Tocqueville’s description of this new control regime:
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd.
The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
Frohnen says that Tocqueville’s vision of the degraded democratic citizen is dystopian, but it doesn’t stop there. The disintegration of civil society and human character results in a soft totalitarianism. This new pervasive and punitive means of control directs individual character and society as a whole towards social compliance that favors abnormity, demands obedience, and subjects individuals to national or global “communities” to find meaning and behavioral norms. Frohnen concludes,
The soft totalitarian answer, then, lies in punishing no one, but rehabilitating everyone. …As for those who reject the ruling ideology, soft totalitarianism aims to destroy the communities they build for themselves. …As soft tyranny undermines the character of its people it undermines its own ability to produce the goods those people demand. The next stage in human degradation is mere savagery.
When the modern political community was being shaped at the end of the 18th century, its founders thought that the consequences of republican or representative institutions in government would be the reduction of political power in individual lives.
…What we have witnessed, however, in every Western country, and not least in the United States, is the almost incessant growth in power over the lives of human beings — power that is basically the result of the gradual disappearance of all the intermediate institutions which, coming from the predemocratic past, served for a long time to check the kind of authority that, almost from the beginning, sprang from the new legislative bodies and executives in the modern democracies.
Nisbet’s key insight is that this new power, claiming humanitarian motives, hid itself from those who it allegedly served. He wrote,
…Had political power [and the manifest function of legislature and executive] remained visible, as it largely did down until about World War I, the matter would be very different.
What has in fact happened during the past half century is that the bulk of power in our society, as it affects our intellectual, economic, social, and cultural existences, has become largely invisible, a function of the vast infragovernment composed of bureaucracy’s commissions, agencies, and departments in a myriad of areas. And the reason this power is so commonly invisible to the eye is that it lies concealed under the humane purposes that have brought it into existence.
Wrapping up his essay, he cites Burke’s belief concerning the French Revolution with its implications for our own times.
…The French Revolution, Burke believed correctly, was different from any revolution that had ever taken place before. And the reason for this difference lay in its combination of eradication of social diversity on the one hand and, on the other, the relentless increase of military-political power that expressed itself in the timeworn fashion of such power.
All that tended toward the destruction of the intermediate authorities of social class, province, church, and family brought simultaneously into being, Burke noted, a social leveling and a transfer to the state alone of powers previously resident in a plurality of associations.
…Indeed, from the vantage point of the mid-twentieth century the history of the last hundred and fifty years looks like a systematic preparation for the headlong collision between empirical and liberal democracy on the one hand, and totalitarian Messianic democracy on the other… The world crisis of today consists [of this clash of ideologies].
…The liberal [democracy] approach assumes politics to be a matter of trial and error and regards political systems as pragmatic contrivances of human ingenuity and spontaneity. It also recognizes a variety of levels of personal and collective endeavor, which are altogether outside the sphere of politics.
The totalitarian democratic school, on the other hand, is based upon the assumption of a sole and exclusive truth in politics. It may be called political Messianism in the sense that it postulates a preordained, harmonious and perfect scheme of things, to which men are irresistibly driven, and at which they are bound to arrive.
It recognizes ultimately only one plane of existence, the political. It widens the scope of politics to embrace the whole of human existence. It treats all human thought and action as having social significance, and therefore as falling within the orbit of political action.
He clearly outlined the fundamental contradiction between these two approaches to democracy,
…Both schools affirm the supreme value of liberty. But whereas one finds the essence of freedom in spontaneity and the absence of coercion, the other believes it to be realized only in the pursuit and attainment of an absolute collective purpose.
…From the difficulty of reconciling freedom with the idea of an absolute purpose spring all the particular problems and [contradictions] of totalitarian democracy. This difficulty could only be resolved by thinking not in terms of men as they are, but as they were meant to be, and would be, given the proper conditions. In so far as they are at variance with the absolute ideal they can be ignored, coerced, or intimidated into conforming, without any real violation of the democratic principle being involved.
In the proper conditions, it is held, the conflict between spontaneity and duty would disappear, and with it the need for coercion. The practical question is, of course, whether constraint will disappear because all have learned to act in harmony, or because all opponents have been eliminated.
Talmon bluntly told us the origins of our predicament,
…In the second half of the eighteenth century…men were gripped by the idea that the conditions, a product of faith, time, and custom, in which they and their forefathers had been living, were unnatural and had all to be replaced by deliberately planned uniform patterns, which would be natural and rational.
…Different levels of social life, such as the temporal and the transcendental, or membership of a class and citizenship [were now obsolete]. The only recognized standard of judgment was to be social utility, as expressed in the idea of the general good, which was spoken of as if it were a visible and tangible objective.
And he framed the sad denouement of this conflict,
…They refused to envisage the conflict between liberty and virtue as inevitable. On the contrary, When the eighteenth-century secular religion came face to face with this conflict, the result was the great schism. Liberal democracy flinched from the specter of force and fell back upon the trial-and-error philosophy. Totalitarian Messianism hardened into an exclusive doctrine represented by a vanguard of the enlightened, who justified themselves in the use of coercion against those who refused to be free and virtuous.
What an odd conception of the means of democracy, “[using] coercion against those who refused to be free and virtuous.” However, this is exactly the approach a young communist told me that he and his comrades would use were it necessary to gain my compliance to his edicts. He said this openly in my second-year college humanities class without a qualm.
…Man cannot live in a spiritual void; he needs some fixed social standards and some absolute intellectual principles. [Any régime which offers a positive and objective end of life becomes attractive.] Bolshevism at least replaces the spiritual anarchy of bourgeois society by a rigid order and substitutes for the doubt and skepticism of an irresponsible intelligentsia the certitude of an absolute authority embodied in social institutions…Nevertheless, it is enough of a philosophy to provide society with a theoretical basis, and therein lies the secret of its strength.
Marxism, and therefore Bolshevism, does but voice the secret and unavowed philosophy of the bourgeois society when it regards society and economics as the absolute.
[Bolshevism] is faithful, likewise, to [liberalism’s] morality when it seeks to order this absolute, the economic society, in such a way that justice, equality, and freedom, the original war cries of the bourgeois advance [in the French Revolution], may be the lot of all. The rise of the bourgeois and the evolution of the bourgeois society have made economics the center of public life.
Bolshevism is at once the product of the bourgeois society and the judgement upon it. It reveals the goal to which the secret philosophy of that society leads, if accepted with unflinching logic.
Dawson, via Gurian, thereby squares the circle by revealing the “secret” hidden within liberal democracy.
Analyzing this devolution further, Dawson writes,
…[The] fundamental reason for the unpopularity and lack of prestige of bourgeois civilization [is that it] lacks the vital human relationship [that] the older order, with all its faults, never denied. To the bourgeois politician the electorate is an accidental collection of voters; to the bourgeois industrialist his employees are an accidental collection of wage earners.
The king and the priest, on the other hand, were united to their people by a bond of organic solidarity. They were not individuals standing over and against other individuals, but parts of a common social organism and representatives of a common spiritual order.
The bourgeoisie upset the throne and the altar, but they put in their place nothing but themselves. Hence their régime cannot appeal to any higher sanction than that of self-interest. It is continually in a state of disintegration and flux. It is not a permanent form of social organization, but a transitional phase between two orders…
Therefore, liberal democracy can do nothing other than lead to totalitarianism.
There are some nations…whose inhabitants think of themselves in a sense as colonists, indifferent to the fate of the place they live in. The greatest changes occur in their country without their cooperation. They are not even aware of precisely what has taken place. They suspect it; they have heard of the event by chance.
More than that, they are unconcerned with the fortunes of their village, the safety of their streets, the fate of their church and its vestry. They think that such things have nothing to do with them, that they belong to a powerful stranger called “the government.”
They enjoy these goods as tenants, without a sense of ownership, and never give a thought to how they might be improved. They are so divorced from their own interests that even when their own security and that of their children is finally compromised, they do not seek to avert the danger themselves but cross their arms and wait for the nation as a whole to come to their aid.
Yet as utterly as they sacrifice their own free will, they are no fonder of obedience than anyone else. They submit, it is true, to the whims of a [minor bureaucrat], but no sooner is force removed than they are glad to defy the law as a defeated enemy. Thus, one finds them ever wavering between servitude and license.
When a nation has reached this point, it must either change its laws and mores or perish, for the well of public virtue has run dry: in such a place one no longer finds citizens but only subjects.
This sounds like us, now. The French Revolution has finally come to America. And it is not yet over.
In his essay, “From Russell Kirk’s 1954 Lecture to Chi Omega,” Brad Birzer presents salient excerpts from Russell Kirk’s, “Conservatism, Liberalism, and Fraternity,” a lecture given in June 1954 to Chi Omega, (Eleusis of Chi Omega 58, February 1956, p. 121-130.) There, Russell Kirk said,
…Law and order, and the democracy of elevation, could not survive one year among us without the principle of true fraternity, the voluntary cooperation of persons acting as a group for the sake of the commonwealth, and joined by common interests, common associations, common memories, and to some extent common origins.
These voluntary associations are the great barrier against tyranny over minds and bodies…Voluntary associations, true fraternities, unite individuals by the power of sympathy against arbitrary measures, and train their members to stand forthrightly against oppression…” [Pages 127–128.]
…Great civilizations do not fall [from] a single blow. Our civilization has sustained several terrible assaults already, and still it lives; but that does not mean that it can live forever, or even into or through another generation. Like a neglected old house, a society whose members have forgotten the ends of society’s being and of their own lives sinks by degrees almost imperceptible toward its ruin…
…The alternative to… [reinvigoration of] our culture would be a series of catastrophic events…which eventually might efface our present sensate culture and bring about a new ideational culture, the character of which we cannot even imagine. Such an ideational culture doubtless would have its religion: but it might be the worship of what has been called the Savage God
Such ruin has occurred repeatedly in history. When the classical religion ceased to move hearts and minds, two millennia ago, thus the Graeco-Roman civilization went down to Avernus. As my little daughter Cecilia put it unprompted, some years ago looking at a picture book of Roman history, “And then, at the end of a long summer’s day, there came Death, Mud, Crud.”
…In conclusion, it is my argument that the elaborate civilization we have known stands in peril; that it may expire of lethargy, or be destroyed by violence, or perish, from a combination of both evils.
…What ails modern civilization? Fundamentally, our society’s affliction is the decay of religious belief. If a culture is to survive and flourish, it must not be severed from the religious vision out of which it arose.
Though America avoided France’s sudden transition, Tocqueville and his disciples saw the inevitable slide of a democratic people into complacency, despotism, and finally tyranny no matter what constraints the founders put on government. However, recent commentators have called us back to our origins.
All his life, Edmund Burke resisted tyranny. But his greatest service to liberty was to remind the world that freedom is anchored in a transcendent moral order and that for liberty to flourish, social and personal order and morality must exist, and radical innovations must be shunned.
Two centuries after Burke’s passing, as America grapples with the chaos and criminality of a liberty without order—itself promoted by the sort of reckless innovators he opposed and outlasted—the wisdom of this great insight is ever more painfully clear…
Insofar as the cause of freedom evades both the Scylla of license and the Charybdis of a tyrannical Utopia of abstract rights, the ship’s pilots owe much to Edmund Burke.
Whenever people cease to be aware of membership in an order—an order that joins the dead, the living, and the unborn, as well as an order that connects individual to family, family to community, community to nation—those people will form a “lonely crowd,” alienated from the world in which they wander. To the person and the republic, the consequences of such alienation will be baneful.
…Moral and social order, or a vast part of it, may be destroyed by a few years of violence or a few decades of contemptuous neglect. Then hope is gone, for many generations: for order is a kind of organic growth, developing slowly over many centuries; it cannot be created by public proclamation.
…America’s order rose out of acts of affirmation—from what Thomas Carlyle called “the Everlasting Yea.” Upon classical and the theological virtues, upon the social experience of the Old World and the New, there was built by self-sacrifice and high imagination the intricate structure of personal and public order. Although no single human mind planned this order of ours, the wisdom and the toil of countless men and women have gone into its making.
Other hands may renew that order’s structure and improve it with love and prudence, in God’s own good time. That work already is being undertaken by people whose names almost nobody knows as yet, but to whom posterity will owe much.
As Burke said, “Men are qualified for liberty, in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites…men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”
Maybe, yet once again, the miracle of the American Order may prevail. I wish it were so.
They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.
And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the [falling away, rebellion, apostasy] comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.
Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.
Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.
On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife.
Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
According to the research of a good friend of mine, “Idolatry is the worship (latreuo) of images, including mental ones (i.e., ideas.)” Also, he says, “Ideology is the study (-ology; logos, lego) of ideas that, in man’s arrogance and pride, easily can and often do become the objects of worship.” The classic example is:
…They know not, nor do they discern, for He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of [this cedar log] I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” Isaiah 44: 9 – 20, English Standard Version
Our times are fraught with ideological struggle that we can sense, even if we cannot pin it down. Many false gods contend for the hearts of humanity, only we do not see them anymore. The closest we get to seeing the struggle most days is in the evening news: House and Senate committee meetings, press briefings, editorials, boarded up storefronts, riots, and wars.
This post explores the character of ideology, compares it with its alternative, and outlines its consequences for us. We draw materials from several authors. However, our primary source is Russell Kirk (1918 – 1994,) who captures the essence of ideology and its opposite in Chapter 1, “The Errors of Ideology,” from his book, The Politics of Prudence which is a defense of prudential versus ideological politics.
This small book [The Politics of Prudence(1993)] is a defense of prudential politics, as opposed to ideological politics. The author hopes to persuade the rising generation to set their faces against political fanaticism and utopian schemes, by which the world has been much afflicted since 1914. “Politics is the art of the possible,” the [traditional] conservative says: he thinks of political policies as intended to preserve order, justice, and freedom.
The ideologue, on the contrary, thinks of politics as a revolutionary instrument for transforming society and even transforming human nature. In his march toward Utopia, the ideologue is merciless.
Our previous post, “Revolution Never,” described the horrific extent to which some ideologues have already inflicted upon the world their march toward Utopia (i.e., literally, ‘no place.’)
Kirk points out that the word ‘ideology’ originally applied to a science of ideas, whose proponent, Antoine Destutt de Tracy, was criticized for rejecting religion and metaphysics in favor of, in Kirk’s words, “systematized knowledge derived from sensation [which] could perfect society through ethical and educational methods and by well-organized political direction.” Napoleon, according to Kirk, dismissed this ‘science’ by saying that the world is governed not by abstract ideas, but by imagination. John Adams called it “the science of idiocy.”
He notes that since world war two, the word ideology has meant,
…A dogmatic political theory which is an endeavor to substitute secular goals and doctrines for religious goals and doctrines; and which promises to overthrow present dominations so that the oppressed may be liberated. Ideology’s promises are what Talmon calls “political messianism.” The ideologue promises salvation in this world, hotly declaring that there exists no other realm of being…
Kirk concludes that this “political formula” promises humanity an earthy paradise but has delivered a “series of terrestrial hells.”
He then gives, over the next few pages, a list of ideology’s vices and contrasts them with what he terms their opposite, prudential politics. The following table captures his thoughts.
Ideology is inverted religion, denying the Christian doctrine of salvation…and substituting collective salvation here on earth through violent revolution. Ideology inherits the fanaticism that sometimes has afflicted religious faith and applies that intolerant belief to secular concerns.
Prudential politicians know…that we cannot march to an earthly Zion; that human nature and human institutions are imperfectible; that aggressive “righteousness” in politics ends in slaughter. True religion is a discipline for the soul, not for the state.
Ideology makes political compromise impossible; the ideologue will accept no deviation from the Absolute Truth of his secular revelation. This narrow vision brings about civil war, extirpation of “reactionaries,” and the destruction of beneficial functioning social institutions.
Prudential politicians…[understand] that the primary purpose of the state is to keep the peace…by maintaining a tolerable balance among great interests in society. Parties, interests, and social classes and groups must arrive at [mutual concessions] …Prudential politics strives for conciliation, not extirpation.
Ideologues vie with one with another in fancied fidelity to their Absolute Truth; and are quick to denounce deviationists or defectors from party orthodoxy…on the principle of brotherhood—or death. The radical reformer, proclaiming omniscience, strikes down every rival, to arrive at the Terrestrial Paradise more swiftly.
Prudential politicians, rejecting the illusion of an Absolute Political Truth before which every citizen must abase himself, understand that political and economic structures are not mere products of theory, to be erected one day and demolished the next; rather, social institutions develop over centuries, almost as if they were organic.
Ideological versus Prudential Politics
Kirk then asks how it can be, when the ruins of ideology are scattered throughout modern history, that it still strongly attracts new adherents? He answers using a quote from Raymond Aron,
When the intellectual feels no longer attached either to the community or the religion of his forebears, he looks to progressive ideology to fill the vacuum. The main difference between the progressivism of the disciple of Harold Laski or Bertrand Russell and the Communism of the disciple of Lenin concerns not so much the content as the style of the ideologies and the allegiance they demand.
Kirk says that ideology, in its many forms, is a sham religion that provides comfort through belonging to a greater cause, a group of fellow travelers, and a movement which takes direct action.
Paraphrasing Hans Barth, he says, “The fundamental reason why we must set our faces against ideology…is that ideology is opposed to truth; it denies the possibility of truth in politics or in anything else, substituting economic motive and class interest for abiding norms,” and, “Ideology even denies human consciousness and power of choice.”
Finally, Kirk passionately sums up his position,
What we need to impart is political prudence, not political belligerence. Ideology is the disease, not the cure. All ideologies, including the ideology of vox populi vox dei, are hostile to enduring order and justice and freedom. For ideology is the politics of passionate unreason.
…Ideology is founded merely upon “ideas”— that is, upon abstractions, fancies, for the most part unrelated to personal and social reality; while conservative views are founded upon custom, convention, the long experience of the human species.
To be “prudent” means to be judicious, cautious, sagacious…Prudence is the first of the virtues. A prudent statesman is one who looks before he leaps; who takes long views; who knows that politics is the art of the possible.
The necessity of personal morality in a thriving community is denied by the enemies of the permanent things, who do not believe that there are permanent standards of behavior or indeed an unchanging human nature, and who seek to create political systems that will make everyone happy without much effort…
Characterizing Kirk’s outlook, he says, “Where the liberal mind concocts a utopian plan, the conservative mind seeks a principle, “a justified deduction from what we have learnt, over the ages, about men and their commonwealths.””
To many, traditional conservatism means conserving the bad with the good. Kirk’s mentor, T. S. Eliot wrote, “Conservatism is too often conservation of the wrong things; liberalism a relaxation of discipline; revolution a denial of the permanent things.” Lockerd quotes Kirk, “Any healthy society requires an enduring contest between its permanence and its progression. We cannot live without continuity, and we cannot live without prudent change.”
Eliot did not define what he meant by “permanent things.” However, Kirk defined them as norms of our human nature, “A norm means an enduring standard. It is a law of nature, which we ignore at our peril,” and, “Normality is not what the average sensual man ordinarily possesses,” he writes, “it is what he ought to try to possess.” Norms that Kirk names are charity, justice, freedom, duty, temperance, prudence, and fortitude.
Lockerd then contrasts those who abide with or reject these norms,
In a healthy society, individuals will attempt to live by these permanent norms of moral action, and the laws of the land will give support to citizens as they make that attempt. In their revolutionary zeal, the progressives tend to scorn those norms as old-fashioned or even oppressive, and in doing so they become the enemies of the permanent things.
To my shame, I admit to scorning the old norms in my youth.
Following Kirk’s passion for education, he says,
…A fundamental purpose of literature is to teach us the norms of human nature: “The aim of great books is ethical: to teach what it means to be a man.” [It is well expressed by] Sir Philip Sidney, who argues that poetry is superior to moral philosophy in that it not only teaches us what is virtuous but moves us to be virtuous.
…For the political battles are first fought in the minds and hearts of the populace, and if the people are badly educated, their minds filled with images and ideas created by modern materialists, they will easily be drawn to political movements that deny all permanent truths in favor of utopian schemes.
Lockerd says that Kirk spoke often of, “order in the soul and order in the commonwealth.”
He says that Kirk labeled these perfect [and perfecting] systems “ideology.” Kirk insisted that instead of applying the label to any system of ideas or beliefs, as many do today, the label should only apply to, “the belief that this world of ours may be converted into the Terrestrial Paradise through the operation of positive law and positive planning.” Kirk taught that ideology is a secular substitute for religion that requires fervent assent to its doctrines, disciplines, and duties.
Recent ideologies, such as Communism and Fascism, promise freedom, but, as anyone can see, they result in servitude. Kirk said that the milder, progressive and liberal ideologies lead to the same extremes because they, too, throw off moral restraints.
Quoting Kirk, Lockerd characterizes a conservative (i.e., prudent) government, “A prudent government is no artificial contrivance, no invention of coffeehouse intellectuals, got up abstractly to suit the intellectual whim of an hour,” and, “Not abstractions, but prudence, prescription, custom, tradition, and constitution have governed the American people,” Kirk writes, “We have been saved from ideology by political tradition.”
I must add, Enemies of the Permanent Things, was first published in 1969 and Lockerd wrote the introduction for the 2016 edition, so it may be premature to say whether political tradition will continue to save the American Republic.
Next, Lockerd puts a bow on the essence of ideology and ideologues,
Ideologues put their faith not in God but in their own reason and in science…Kirk spends a good deal of time in this book exposing the prejudices hidden in the supposedly rational and scientific thinking of the modern ideologues. Here he allies himself with Eric Voegelin, who gave the ancient name of “Gnosticism” to these modern ideologies. For like the Gnostics of old, these more recent thinkers believe that we can be saved by gnosis, rational knowledge. One fundamental problem with these rationalistic ideologies is that they are ultimately materialistic, so they hold out no ideal goal for humanity.
Finally, in contradistinction, Lockerd says, “there will always be much that [conservatives] do not know and much that is finally mysterious, not knowable by human reason at all. But if we achieve this partial understanding of life, our existence will be “tolerable”—not completely happy, not blissful, not perfect, not even close to any of these.”
…As modernity, and now post-modernity, continue to make inroads, ravenously mocking and devouring history, tradition, and religion, more and more persons become prey for the seductiveness of false absolutes and easy answers. They crave something greater than themselves but have missed the opportunity to embrace true religion and right reason. They latch onto the first thing that presents itself as truth.
Birzer observes, “ideologies do not politely contain themselves within revolutionary tyrannies; they have slowly infected all of the West, especially its literature and politics.”
He reiterates that Kirk saw conservative thought as the opposite of ideology because it supports tradition, religion, and history as vital guides to future thought, words, and actions.
Birzer then quotes Cicero when defending his premise that Twenty-first Century man has forgotten how to balance the universal with the particular:
True law is right reason in agreement with Nature…it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions.
The modern mood is one of radical insecurity; nothing is so senseless or catastrophic that we can assume it will not befall us. As God has lost historical sovereignty in modern eyes, He has lost the power to call forth human love.
He says that if God is dethroned, not only do we no longer have the security of His sovereignty over events, but we lose the influence of His sacrificial love, both for salvation and as a pattern for life.
However, illustrating Dostoevsky’s dictum that “man must bow down to something,” this vacuum is filled by lesser gods, idols, which are finite and manipulable. No longer made of wood, these idols, Tinder offers, are often government systems composed of their leading proponents, instigators, leaders, and bureaucrats. Government, he says, offers the illusion of invincibility and eternality.
Further, he says that by eliminating God, we eliminate revelation as a check on human reason, even on human pride. As Tinder says,
…The power and significance of reason derive from the fact that there is an ordered reality outside the mind…Separated from other sources of insight such as tradition and revelation, reason became autonomous, even sovereign…It soon [seemed] that the very structures which reason had supposedly been bringing to light were nothing more than forms which reason itself had imposed on the underlying chaos of reality.
He says that Camus was horrified by this “metaphysical rebellion.” Morality and science lose their foundations. Objective norms and values disappear; in Dostoevsky’s words, “Everything is permissible.” Tinder says, “We are speaking, of course, of nihilism—the annihilation of all limits and standards.” He goes on and says,
A less obvious, if hardly less serious, danger inherent in the crumbling of foundations is the disappearance of the independent self…again and again in present-day social and political writing we are told that individualism is altogether false, and that all genuine human life takes place in society.
Reflecting on my years of reading in philosophy, I have found no better summary of philosophy’s collapse as those of Tinder’s words in this essay. However, I do not hold to all his conclusions.
…If we, a people living in the midst of an ideological age, might find our way back to the origin of one of the most important words in our language and in civilization, [justice,] we might very well be able to restore its original meaning and, equally important, begin to debate how best to implement it in this fallen world.
He says that Kirk learned from his grandfather, Frank Pierce, that, “The just man defends vigorously whatever is entrusted to his charge and sets his face against the lawless,” and that Kirk said, “Frank Pierce gave every man his due, without fear or favor.” Birzer notes that Kirk used the Socratic definition of justice, “to give each person his due.” To this he adds,
As Kirk—and every conservative before and after—understood, “to give each person his due” is not to make all men one, but rather to acknowledge the unique gifts and talents bestowed upon every person by God.
…[Jacob Burckhardt(May 25, 1818 – August 8, 1897,)cultural historian and art critic,] noted that the most significant historical developments at the end of the eighteenth century were the advent of mass politics and the belief that every man’s opinion was of equal worth. The long-term results of this would be the destruction of every vestige of traditional authority, the cheapening of culture, the enthronement of mediocrity at all levels of public life, and the eventual rise of “terribles simplificateurs,” the ruthless demagogues who would ride the waves of mass politics and culture to set up a tyranny armed with all the instruments provided by large-scale industrial capitalism, science, and technology.
As we have seen overtly in recent months, media is not neutral in the conflict.
Martin Gurri, in his essay “Slouching Toward Post-Journalism,” says that our post-journalism media no longer presents reality to inform the public; its goal is to produce angry citizens who are harnessed to current ideological trends. Unfortunately, this happens across the political spectrum.
How do we know our political convictions are based in reality?
…How do we know that the providers of our information don’t have their own agenda, slant, or warped way of reading the world?
Both are very good questions. Reidl admits that when it comes to understanding government, we favor our trusted sources. He goes on to say that it is time consuming and complicated to verify their claims so many believe whatever we are told. His solution is skepticism which should drive us to compare news reports across the political spectrum.
However, this becomes tiresome for everyone and only works if there is a spectrum to compare.
…This new system of robbery in France, cannot be rendered safe by any art; that it must be destroyed, or that it will destroy all Europe; that to destroy that enemy, by some means or other, the force opposed to it should be made to bear some analogy and resemblance to the force and spirit which that system exerts; that war ought to be made against it in its vulnerable parts. These are my inferences. In one word, with this Republic nothing independent can co-exist.
Prudential politics yields mutual benefits only among prudent politicians. Prudence must either war with or succumb to idolatrous politics. There is no compromise with idolatry. If prudent politics fails to defeat idolatry, to “rid the high places of their idols,” then the prudent must continue to choose the way of the Cross, which is both a defeat and, ironically, an ultimate victory (Is. 57: 1-2, 20-21).
…If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise [here on earth] …
He postulated its corollary, too,
There are men who will kill and maim with a tranquil conscience under the influence of the words and writings of some of those who are certain that they know perfection can be reached [in this life].
In this post, we review a worked example in evidence of such theorems’ absolute truth: the Russian Revolution, Lenin’s philosophy of life, and statue desecration. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to apply the example to their understanding of current and future cultural change in the United States of America.
Wirthlin writes that the Russian liberal and socialist left used Marxist tactics to remove Tzar Nicholas II from power in the February 1917 revolution. Then they invited the exiled Bolshevik communist party back to rule Russia with them in a spirit of comradeship. This tiny Bolshevik party used the same tactics against the socialist left, with whom they were allied. In this way, between five to ten thousand radical leftists successfully seized control of Russia, a nation of 97 million people at that time. By 1941, ninety eight percent of the Russian liberal and socialist left were exterminated in purges from the October 1917 revolution onward.
Vladimir Lenin followed Marx’s dictum to “smash” existing institutions, instead of trying to reform them as the socialist left was doing. Lenin had seen that the failed 1848 Paris Commune had tried to reform institutions and was determined to “smash the world of the present” to not repeat their mistakes.
Remarkably, the liberal and socialist left expected a counterrevolution from the right. However, even the right no longer supported the Tzar in large part due to his wife’s obsession with Rasputin. They were stunned when the radical left overthrew them.
Wirthlin quotes Richard Pipes, historian of Soviet Communism, “Committed radicals fear reform because it deprives them of leverage and establishes the ruling elite more solidly in power: they prefer the most savage repression.” The Bolsheviks acted upon the motto, “the worse the better.” Wirthlin then describes an example of their tactics in detail,
Deliberately building pressure also helped provoke police into retaliation to create evidence of an authoritarian system that radicals hoped would drive public opinion left. The Bolsheviks used what Stalin called a “smokescreen of defenses.” When authorities responded to unlawful activity, it was used as evidence of a crackdown.
Once in the streets, the Bolsheviks borrowed Napoleon’s skirmishing technique: mass recruits are sent first to draw fire and give away enemy positions, then the professional guard is sent to the enemy’s weakest point. Even if they fail, it appears that the masses want change, and repeated demonstrations kept tension high and made everyone believe change was inevitable.
In October 1917, the Bolsheviks told military units in Petrograd a counterrevolution was underway and admonished them not to respond to the provisional government’s orders. The military staff told the Bolsheviks to retract their statement, sent troops to protect the provisional government in the Winter Palace and shut down Pravda. The Bolsheviks used the troop movement and shutdown of Pravda as “evidence” of a “counterrevolution” and put out a call to action to “save the revolution.”
The Bolsheviks pursued a three-year civil war to secure power. They were unable to sway the populace to their cause and chose instead to oppress them using terror. Wirthlin says,
Every institution was systematically uprooted and crushed. Lenin pioneered a one-party state, built on brutality and violence previously unseen in human history, which would be used in communist revolutions all over the world. Once Lenin had used the Left to eliminate the Right, they next were liquidated. By 1941, 98 percent of all Russian socialists had been murdered.
Morson, at the beginning of his essay, sets the stage,
Lenin did more than anyone else to shape the last hundred years. He invented a form of government we have come to call totalitarian, which rejected in principle the idea of any private sphere outside of state control. To establish this power, he invented the one-party state, a term that would previously have seemed self-contradictory since a party was, by definition, a part. An admirer of the French Jacobins, Lenin believed that state power had to be based on sheer terror, and so he also created the terrorist state.
…Lenin pioneered and Stalin greatly expanded a policy in which arrests were entirely arbitrary: that is true terror. By the time of the Great Terror of 1936–38, millions of entirely innocent people were arrested, often by quota. Literally no one was safe. The Party itself was an especially dangerous place to be, and the NKDV was constantly arresting its own members—a practice that was also true of its predecessor, the Cheka, which Lenin founded almost immediately after the Bolshevik coup.
NKDV interrogators who suspected they were to be arrested often committed suicide since they had no illusions about what arrest entailed. They had practiced exquisite forms of torture and humiliation on prisoners—and on prisoners’ colleagues, friends, and families. “Member of a family of a traitor to the fatherland” was itself a criminal category, and whole camps were set up for wives of “enemies of the people.” Never before had such practices defined a state.
In Lenin’s view, Marx’s greatest contribution was “the dictatorship of the proletariat.” He defined this dictatorship as, “nothing other than power, which is totally unlimited by any laws, totally unrestrained by absolutely any rules, and based directly on force.”
According to Morson, Lenin regarded all human interactions as zero-sum. He says that Lenin’s phrase, “Who Whom” meant, “who dominates whom, who does what to whom, ultimately who annihilates whom.”
Lenin, he says, advocated the most violent solutions in all circumstances. Lenin admonished subordinates for, “not using enough force, for restraining mobs from lynchings, and for hesitating to shoot randomly chosen hostages.”
Soviet ethics incorporated Lenin’s principle of anti-empathy. Morson says, “…Schoolchildren were taught that mercy, kindness, and pity are vices. After all, these feelings might lead one to hesitate [to shoot] a class enemy or denouncing one’s parents.” The concept of “conscience” was replaced by the Marxist-Leninist ideological term: consciousness.
Bolshevik morality, according to Morson, holds that whatever contributes to the movement’s success is moral and anything that hinders it is immoral. Lenin derided principles such as “no crime without law” and “no punishment without a crime.” As he previously said, Lenin defined “dictatorship of the proletariat” as rule based solely on force unconstrained by law. In fact, the Soviet state forbade not using arbitrary power under Lenin and Stalin.
Soviet parlance distinguished between purely formal law and what was called “the material determination of the crime.” A crime was not an action or omission specified in the formal code, because every “socially dangerous” act (or omission) was automatically criminal. Article 1 of the Civil Code of October 31, 1922 laid down that civil rights “are protected by the law unless they are exercised in contradiction to their social and economic purposes.”
A true revolutionary did not appeal to logic or evidence to determine truth but rather, as Morson quotes Lenin, “blackening an opponent’s mug so well it takes him ages to get it clean again.” Lenin lied without scruple. According to Morson, he told one leader, Karl Radek, “Who told you a historian has to establish the truth? Yes, we are contradicting what we said before…and when it is useful to reverse positions again, we will.”
These attitudes were necessary for Lenin’s construct called “partiinost’,” literally, according to Morson, “Partyness, in the sense of Party-mindedness.”
Partyness means that the true member cares nothing for their family, community, or church. No organization but the Party counted. Morson says, “according to Marxism-Leninism, everything [the Party] did was guaranteed to be correct.”
Coercion is the first principle of Party action. he says, “Changing human nature, producing boundless prosperity, overcoming death itself: all these miracles could be achieved because the Party was the first organization ever to pursue coercion without limits.” This thaumaturgic trust in coercion could not but lead Soviet justice to incorporate perverse forms of torture.
Partyness requires that one truly believe 2 + 2 = 5. Though, Morson says that long time party members do not seem to believe what they profess. The Party takes stances not because it cares about them but because they are useful to the Party. Party loyalty is not to issues or justice, but to the Party itself. Issues were pretexts.
He then points out an interesting phenomenon we see daily in our news. When the true ideology is criticized or inconvenient facts arise, the Party members adopt a specific response. Now-a-days, we call these “talking points.” Morson says that one neither believes nor disbelieves these answers. It is by saying these responses that loyalty is demonstrated. In this way, the members signal to those in the know that they are loyal to the Party. Might we call this “virtue signaling?”
Conversely, however, a strict adherent to the ideology might question the leadership’s consistency with or deviation from previous party lines. Morson says that Stalin followed the dictum, “The citizen belongs to the state and must have no other loyalty, not even to the state ideology.”
Anyone was suspect who truly believed the ideology. He quotes sources as saying, “The [great] purge, therefore, was designed to destroy such ideological links as still existed within the party, to convince its members that they had no ideology or loyalty except to the latest orders from on high.” True Leninists do not believe in Leninism.
Morson sums up this understanding as,
The whole point of Leninism is that only a few people must understand what is going on. That was the key insight of his tract What Is to Be Done? Burning Questions of Our Movement. When Leninism is significant, there will always be a spectrum going from those who really understand, to those who just practice the appropriate responses, to those who are entirely innocent.
They’re Coming for Your Head
Klavan explains what destroying statues represents by discussing its historical origins,
Pliny the Younger was a gentleman of means and standing. He ascended the ranks of high Imperial Roman society… Pliny was a careerist. He did everything right. Pliny…had participated in what scholars call a damnatio memoriae, tearing the statues of the old emperors limb from limb.
He said, “How delightful it was to smash to pieces those arrogant faces, to raise our swords against them, to cut them ferociously with our axes, as if blood and pain would follow our blows” (52.4-5).
As if blood and pain would follow. As if by tearing apart the statues of the evil past, Pliny and his fellow loyal subjects could relish the anguish of Rome’s former oppressors, could hear their screams and know that justice had at last been done.
Klavan then states the obvious, only God almighty can execute righteous vengeance and confer eternal mercy and unmerited favor. But the new Marxist vanguard in our midst rejects the God of the Bible. So, he says that they construct a religion of endless self-abasement where their identified “damned” must bend their knee to them, begging for a forgiveness that must never come. The condemned must constantly confess their privilege resulting from their forebear’s misdeeds. The sins of the vanguard and their currently favored groups are expiated upon the heads of the condemned thereby making the vanguard virtuous and “pure.” Unfortunately, the domain of the condemned must expand until no one is left.
He points out that this perversion stems from “a very real and human desire for what our tradition calls suum cuique — the righteous judgment which gives to each what he deserves.” Klavan points out that, as Pliny said, the radicals’ motive is to destroy History and to deface its memory. All of this is done in some misbegotten effort to begin again anew in an Eden of their own making.
…The search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity, invariably leads to coercion.
And then to destruction, blood—eggs are broken, but the omelet is not in sight, there is only an infinite number of eggs, human lives, ready for the breaking.
Klavan agrees and says,
The natural endpoint of this…is the guillotine, and worse. The Epistle to the Hebrews [(9:11 – 10:18)] tells us that all human attempts to cleanse the sin of the world are ineffective—that only one Sacrifice can make us clean within.
He concludes that in place of a true sacrifice the current crop of Marxist radicals would overthrow America. He says they want blood for blood via the guillotine and worse.
In case you doubt that anyone could act in these ways, Sergei Nechaev wrote a 1869 pamphlet of instruction, a to-do list, if you will. Morson says that this nineteenth-century terrorist Nechaev wrote that a true revolutionary “has no interests, no habits, no property, not even a name. Everything in him is wholly absorbed by a single, exclusive interest, a single thought, a single passion—the revolution.” Nechaev’s life informed Dostoevsky‘s novelThe Possessed.
The radicals of our time are, as Wikipedia accurately defines, filled with hubris which denotes “outrage.” These are actions that violate natural order and which shame and humiliate the victim. And these are done for the pleasure or gratification of the abuser. Ultimately, this is satanic.
Don’t be fooled by any mild “reforms” liberals may propose or enact, true Jacobins want blood and will have it.
On November 25, 1994, Isaiah Berlin accepted a Doctor of Laws honorary degree at the University of Toronto. His remarks, “A Message to the 21st Century,” were read to the audience. Though he felt sure that the 21st century, “can be only a better time for mankind than my terrible century has been,” we cannot fault him for his misapprehension.
A biographer said that he dictated all his manuscripts. Given this style of composition, what is truly remarkable is his coherent train of thought, especially in longer works. What captured my attention in this essay was the clarity with which he outlined our ongoing problem.
Berlin’s essay starts with a historical reference point,
Men have for millennia destroyed each other, but the deeds [of the past] pale into insignificance before the Russian Revolution and its aftermath: the oppression, torture, murder which can be laid at the doors of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and the systematic falsification of information which prevented knowledge of these horrors for years—these are unparalleled. They were not natural disasters, but preventable human crimes, and whatever those who believe in historical determinism may think, they could have been averted.
Berlin viewed these crimes as due to a drive toward some singular idea of perfection, not merely due to fear, greed, tribal hatreds, jealousy, love of power, etc., though those played a part.
As an illustration of the power of ideas, he relates an observation by the German poet Heinrich Heine, “[he] told us not to underestimate the quiet philosopher sitting in his study; if Kant had not undone theology, he declared, Robespierre might not have cut off the head of the King of France.”
Berlin goes on to say that Heine predicted that armed disciples of German nationalist philosophers would destroy Europe in a way that would make the French Revolution seem insignificant. He then says,
There are men who will kill and maim with a tranquil conscience under the influence of the words and writings of some of those who are certain that they know perfection can be reached.
Berlin plainly states the following,
…If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise.
Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter.
He says that this is how Lenin reacted after he read Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. Berlin says that if he (Lenin) could create a “just, peaceful, happy, free, virtuous society,” then this singular, perfect end justified absolutely any means to achieve it. And Lenin pursued his goal with conviction.
Berlin points out that the root of such a conviction is the premise that the central questions of life have one true answer; and once discovered, they must be implemented. Those who have found these answers are law givers and must be followed to the end. He says that opposing leaders fought wars over which answer was right, but each was convinced they had the unique answer and only mankind’s sin or ignorance could thwart them.
One True Answer
He states that this “one true answer to life’s questions” is an age-old problem and it is demonstrably false.
Berlin says that humans, at all times and in all places, desire “liberty, security, equality, happiness, justice, knowledge, etc.” However, these universal values cannot be completely realized simultaneously. He offers the following examples,
Complete liberty is not compatible with complete equality…
If men were wholly free, the “wolves” would be free to eat the “sheep.”
Perfect equality means that human liberties must be restrained so that the ablest and the most gifted [do not overtake] those who would…lose if there were competition.
Security, and indeed freedoms, cannot be preserved if freedom to subvert them is permitted…
Justice has always been a human ideal, but it is not fully compatible with mercy.
Creative imagination and spontaneity…cannot be fully reconciled with the need for planning, organization, careful and responsible calculation.
Knowledge, the pursuit of truth—the noblest of aims—cannot be fully reconciled with the happiness or the freedom that men desire…
He concludes, “I must always choose between peace and excitement, or knowledge and blissful ignorance.”
Berlin says that he can offer no silver bullet to restrain the “champions” of one or another of these values, “each of whom,” likely referring to the champions, “tends to trample upon the rest.” However, he offers this modest proposal,
…If these ultimate human values by which we live are to be pursued, then compromises, trade-offs, arrangements have to be made if the worst is not to happen. So much liberty for so much equality, so much individual self-expression for so much security, so much justice for so much compassion.
…Some values clash: the ends pursued by human beings are all generated by our common nature, but their pursuit has to be to some degree controlled—liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I repeat, may not be fully compatible with each other, nor are liberty, equality, and fraternity.
He says, “We must weigh and measure, bargain, compromise, and prevent the crushing of one form of life by its rivals.”
Passionately, Berlin adjures his listeners,
…One cannot have everything one wants—not only in practice, but even in theory.
The denial of this, the search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity, invariably leads to coercion.
And then to destruction, blood—eggs are broken, but the omelet is not in sight, there is only an infinite number of eggs, human lives, ready for the breaking.
And in the end the passionate idealists forget the omelet, and just go on breaking eggs.
Along with Berlin, I must urge us to examine our beliefs. Are we pursuing a “single, overarching ideal,” with which all will be well, and without, we will not lift a hand, in the here and now, to improve our fellow citizens’ lot? If that’s a yes, get over yourself; put your hand to the plow, do not look back, and humbly serve your fellow citizens in your community, state, and nation in the ways you are able.