In the last post of 2020, we proposed, as an exercise for the reader, a comparison of the tactics, techniques, and procedures used by those who perpetrated the Russian Revolution with those used by our contemporary revolutionaries.
In the first post of 2021 we explored the idolatry inherent in ideology; how man must worship the creation (even that of his own mind) if he denies that worship which is due to the Creator. This inaugural 2021 post examined the nature of the sacrifice that earth dwellers offer.
Our prior post encouraged us in the ways by which we may lead a peaceful and quiet life.
Today, we explore the nature of our society’s descent toward barbarism and savagery. One of our primary sources is Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.
“Desolation,” from “The Course of Empire,” Thomas Cole, 1836, Public Domain
Many consider America’s revolution as unique. In the book The Anatomy of Revolution , published in 1938 and revised August 12, 1965, author Crane Brinton wrote,
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).
In fact, some have questioned whether there was an American Revolution. Robert Nisbet, in his 2012 article “Was There an American Revolution?” wrote,
…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.
Although Americans threw off the corruption of the Old World, they threw off its protections as well. Alexis de Tocqueville, in volume 2 (1840) of Democracy in America, observed,
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.
But what is the nature of such a totalitarian regime? From where did it come? To where is it going? Robert Nisbet, in his book The New Despotism, 1975, p. 3-9, said,
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.
In the introduction to his 1952 book, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, J. L. Talmon defined totalitarian or messianic democracy. He wrote,
…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.
Of course, elimination is the path Lenin took.
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.
In his essay, “The Significance of Bolshevism” (published in The American Review, April 1933, pp. 36-49 and posted by Thomas Yonan) Christopher Dawson wrote of Leninist Bolshevism,
…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.
Dawson then quotes Waldemar Gurian,
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.
Let us consider where we are. Tocqueville in Democracy in America (Volume 1, 1835) wrote concerning Europe of his day,
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…
At the Heritage Foundation, in lecture Four Hundred and Four, given July 24th, 1992, Russell Kirk spoke about “Civilization Without Religion?”
…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.
John Attarian, in his 2017 essay “Edmund Burke, Champion of Ordered Liberty,” says,
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.
In his essay, “Reflections on American Order,” Russell Kirk says,
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.
Kirk, who loved this American Order, then says,
…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.
For those who see this ‘slouching toward savagery’ for what it is and oppose it through your uncompromising proclamation of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in thought, word, and deed, know that the scriptures say this of your time on earth,
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.
Matthew 24:9-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; Luke 17:26-33; 1 Peter 4:13; Matthew 24:44 (English Standard Version)
As I’ve read recently, we are always on the verge of eternity.) If God is setting up the “Frogs of War” (as Barnes says in his commentary) and the “Millstone Moment,” then so be it. May we be strong and courageous until He returns.
For those of you who are unsure of what is happening, know that America may descend into the abyss of history along with the rest, but you, dear reader, need not descend with it but rise. Repent and believe and you shall be saved.
Tucker – Our Only Option is to Fix What’s Causing This, January 6, 2021, YouTube, Fox News