Tell me again all about how Trump’s the “authoritarian,” libtards.
One of the nice things about a core curriculum—sadly disappearing from most of higher education—is that it forces you to read books you would otherwise have skipped. Although this can be painful in the moment, it often pays off in unexpected ways.
Sigmund Freud is not a writer I would have picked up had he not been assigned. But I’m glad he was. The older I get, and the more of the Left I see, the more useful becomes Freud’s concept of “projection,” an unconscious defense mechanism that protects the ego from guilt or anxiety. It has amazing explanatory power and can help one make sense of a trove of recent books by left-wing writers, and one disgruntled former conservative, that blame Donald Trump for “authoritarianism” in American politics.
What, according to the authors reviewed here, is authoritarianism? They all attempt definitions, which are more or less similar. We may therefore take one as representative. The authoritarian, say Harvard government professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in How Democracies Die,
1) Rejects, in words or action, the democratic rules of the game,
2) denies the legitimacy of opponents,
3) tolerates or encourages violence, or
4) indicates a willingness to curtail the civil liberties of opponents, including the media.
Gee, none of THAT sounds familiar at all, does it? Final analysis:
The most certain way a once-stable republic gives way to tyranny is when the republican spirit of its people is eliminated or undermined. All such regimes decisively depend for their success and longevity on a foundation of virtue in the people. How’s that going in our time? None of these books has anything at all to say about the family, the bedrock of representative republicanism. Only Mounk treats religion at any length, and then mainly to lambaste figures and societies to his right for being insufficiently deferential to Islam. Nor do these writers even mention the government-driven erosion of Alexis de Tocqueville’s “mediating institutions,” another bedrock of American democracy. All of these goods—and more—have been under persistent left-wing attack for at least two generations. The health of democracy seems not to have improved during that period. The connection seems obvious enough but these authors glide right past.
In any event, it’s rich to read the Left fret about the end of “democracy” when they have spent so much conscious effort undermining its necessary preconditions. They have done so, I think, for two reasons. First, they long ago came to equate liberty with license. Philosophically, once nature was discarded as the standard by which to guide and judge human life, the satisfaction of appetites became the only conceivable end. Hence in matters of personal morality, the contemporary Left is a curious combination of libertine and censor. Any physical—especially sexual or pharmaceutical—act that does not draw blood or pick a pocket is permitted. There are no mores that are simply necessary to society or to personal well-being. If you’re not directly harming someone else, then no one has any business even passing judgment on what you do. But you deserve to be crushed for thinking or saying the wrong thing—especially for passing judgment! Witness the recent massive freak-out over Penn Law professor Amy Wax’s praise of the once-commonplace concept of “bourgeois norms.” How dare she!
The second is that the Left has internalized, mostly without realizing it, the classical case that the only truly legitimate regime is the rule of the wise. For them, it comes dressed up in its modern guise as Hegelian historicism, but either way, it’s ironic that in today’s cisgender Euro-bashing fiesta, their whole political philosophy rests on two quintessentially dead white male arguments. But, hey—they believe they are the wise. Not those dumb rednecks. When the pieces start to fit together in your mind, you begin to realize why the modern Left wants to make America more like those South American countries with a pale upper class, a darker lower class—and no middle of any shade. Because they get to be in charge. Uppity low-income, middling-I.Q. whites are troublemakers. They think they deserve a say. Trump gives those nettlesome, red-hat-wearing proles a voice. What else do you need to know to grasp that Trump is bad?
The greatest factor in hastening the end of American-style democracy over the past 125 years (at least) has been increasing government centralization and administrative rule. To answer the question posed by Harvard Law professor Cass Sunstein’s edited volume: it already did happen here! The project all along has been, and still is, to end politics. That is, to foreclose as illegitimate public debate and disagreement on issues allegedly settled by science and administered via expertise. As our personal freedom to abuse our bodies, sate our appetites, and neglect our duties ever expands, our actual freedom to govern ourselves and determine our collective future radically contracts. The people writing these ostensible democratic laments are all in the intellectual lineage of those who brought us to this point. Their aim is to complete the project. Trump’s aim—however inchoate or implicit—is to reverse it. Who’s the real anti-democrat?
It’s Michael Anton, so there’s plenty more between my excerpt blocks, all of which you’ll want to read.