Reactionary Mush from the Imperial Wimp
"Contrary to popular myth, liberalism is not politics committed to science or rational thought. It is a substitute religion -- a secular philosophy similar to Marxism that seeks to replace Christianity and provide believers with existential meaning. Hence, it must be defended at all costs, even in the face of irrefutable evidence or logic. Mr. Obama is not an anomaly among progressives. They share his stubbornness. Reassessment is not possible. If Mr. Obama truly were to tack to the center, it would represent a fatal admission of error. The liberal faith would collapse. This is why left-wing Democrats are demanding that he defy the Tea Party --- and reality.... The problem is not Keynesian liberalism, but the lack of sufficient zeal."
As we will see, this is an extremely common pattern, for again, what is the millennialist to do when redemption doesn't come, when the cargo doesn't arrive, when the spaceship doesn't land? More stimulus!
Imagine if Obama were actually serious about helping our ailing economy. The first thing he would do is sign the repeal of Obamacare, but that is impossible. But why is it impossible? Is it only because of arrogance, narcissism, petty pride? No, it's much deeper than that.
I can fully relate, because I know how difficult it would be for me to abandon one of my bedrock beliefs. Furthermore, I know I wouldn't do so based upon some "transient" or "apparent" setback, as Obama no doubt imagines he is facing. Thought is always superimposed upon a well of deep emotion, so it's actually more analogous to switching allegiance from one team to another.
In my case, I've been a Dodgers fan since I was nine years old. My allegiance is completely irrational, or a-rational, anyway -- as Seinfeld said, since the players are always changing, it really comes down to rooting for laundry -- but that doesn't make it any less compelling. I suppose if I moved to another city I could root for a different team, but my heart wouldn't be in it, given my long history with the Dodgers, especially during the formative years.
Indeed, it was a very slow and difficult transition for me to go from 100% liberal to 100% conservative, as those beautiful and seductive lies and illusions were exposed and dropped one by one -- lies that had shaped and structured my identity and even my reality (although the two obviously go hand in hand).
A philosophy isn't just some kind of interchangeable operating system. Rather, it's a rough and ready, all-purpose economic, cultural, historical, sociological, political, and even metaphysical map of reality. It orients one to fellow citizens, to the world, to other countries, to history, everything. This is why it was always said that one should refrain from discussing religion and politics in public, or with people one doesn't know well. Religion is understandable, but why politics?
Because politics is quite obviously much more than politics, as we have been learning in our discussion of apocalyptic and millennial thought.
Furthermore -- and this is key -- if one has no (conscious) religion, then one's politics will inevitably partake of that preternatural energy as well. In my view, this is the only thing that explains the fanaticism, anger, and irrationality of the left.
And I would say the identical thing of "conservatives" who convert politics to a millennial religion or personality cult. A conservatism that is not rooted in maturity, sobriety, and (usually melancholy) experience (individual and collective, present and past), is not conservatism.
I want to continue with some of Landes' definitions before (I think) moving on to what I believe to be the actual dynamics, or deep structure, of the millennial/apocalyptic mindset.
First, he draws a distinction between hierarchical and demotic millennialism, which in many ways describes the differences between left and right. I won't speak for Landes, but when I say "right" in this context, I am referring not to American style conservatism -- which is uniquely demotic and hierarchical, hence its effectiveness -- but to European style statism, caesaropapism, fascism, authoritarianism, etc. American conservatism is as different from these as it is from contemporary liberalism.
The hierarchical "pole of millennial thinking works from a top-down model of the 'perfect' society," and often includes visions of the "messianic 'world conqueror' who inaugurates the golden age." This "emporer-messiah represents God on earth and constitutes" his "image and icon" (Landes). (See snidebar for contemporary examples.)
Landes notes that "the evil forces that hierarchical millennialists target come from 'below' (the unruly masses) and from 'without' (foreigners)." Substitute "reactionary statists" for "imperial government" and "tea party" for "unruly masses," and you get the idea. These statists are offended by "commoners who do not know their place, women who talk back," and general disrespect for aristocrats and elites.
As the Sultan so accurately describes it, "When liberal pundits accuse tea party protesters of longing for the good old days, it is in fact the pundits themselves who in true reactionary fashion long for the good old days," specifically, "when the common people kept their heads down and listened to their betters. To hear the MSNBC talking heads bewail the danger of the armed mobs at Town Halls, you might think that you were listening to royalists bemoaning the French Revolution. But theirs is an equally elitist worldview in which power comes not from the voice of the people telling their representatives, but from the people listening to their representatives telling them what to do."
Our state masters forget -- if they ever knew -- that "The American experiment was based on the radical progressive notion that the people as individuals were best suited to conduct their own lives. Socialism by contrast is a reactionary ideology that rejects individual freedom in favor of a rule of the enlightened elite" (ibid).
And Greenfield is writing of and from the same attractor we are, in observing that "To hear the adulation wash over Obama, is to hear an echo of the slavish worship of the Sun King or a divinely appointed emperor. It is not simply messianic, a vein of political mysticism long common among liberals, but royalist in nature" (emphasis mine).
Having said that, its inverted cousin, demotic millennialism, is hardly better, and often worse. For one thing, demotic movements have a way of becoming hierarchical: the people's revolution soon enough becomes the vanguard of tyrannical elites.
In conjunction with my research for this series of posts, I have been reading the classic account of our constitutional convention, Miracle at Philadelphia, and it couldn't be more obvious that this was one of the dualities the congress was trying find a way to get past: monarchy at one end, and at the other, democracy (which in those days wasn't any kind of ideal, but rather, another word for mob rule).
How to construct a system that was both "aristocratic" -- i.e., drawing upon the disinterested wisdom of virtuous citizens who had the time and inclination to think and study, unquestioned geniuses such as Barbara Boxer or Al Franken -- but also fostering in people a sense that they too were participants who had a stake in the government?
The second distinction drawn by Landes is between restorative vs. innovative millennialism. Here again, this is generally reflected in the differences between left and right, but only in Europe, not America, since our unique combination of limited government, free markets, and Judeo-Christian values was harmonuiously innovative (as evidenced by the "creative destruction" of the free market and the development of science) and restorative (we are by far the most religious nation on earth, if one presupposes the freedom to choose one's religion or no religion at all).
A true "restorative" or "conservative" revolution would be like that of the Islamists, who utterly reject modernity and want to return to an insanely "pure" form of Islam. Ironically, conservative Americans are routinely accused by the left of having a similar agenda, when the opposite is true. Rather, the left wishes to impose its religion on the rest of us, since one cannot be a leftist without a huge and intrusive state. Again, Greenfield describes it perfectly:
"While the Tea Party protesters are fighting for a fundamentally progressive cause, the right of individuals to lead their lives as they see fit, liberals are fighting for a reactionary cause to impose an overriding government on the people against their will.... The socialist dream is the ancient dream of a supreme state, that is somehow all-wise and all-benevolent, whose rulers are somehow more enlightened than ordinary people, and who supply everyone with their needs."
Lastly, Landes describes two main types of apocalyptic scenario, the cataclysmic and transformational, which further divide into active and passive versions. I'm running out of time here, but let us just say that the "passive transformational" is the most benign of the four possibilities, while the active cataclysmic is the most destructive (for example, the Islamists are active cataclysmic, as apparently was the recent Norwegian mass murderer).
And unfortunately, all secular millennial scenarios are activist. Why? Because there is no God to bring about the transformation. Rather, we're on our own.
For example, although the left supposedly believes in evolution, they do not trust it. Rather, they want to force their preferred outcome, but in ways that are certain to fail, which brings us back to last night's ridiculously stale Mush from the Wimp.