15.10.18

TIME FOR THE ANGRY PARTISANS TO R-E-L-A-X?

Kevin D. Williamson, none the worse for wear for being purged by Atlantic Monthly, notes "The World Keeps Not Ending."  Perhaps he's seeing something I hinted at last year.  "If ... the cults of the CEO and the Wise Experts and the Presidency are all tarnished, perhaps we will have an environment more conducive to getting along."

What's amusing is that it's the behavior of a sitting president that's tarnishing that cult.  Somehow the Republic endures.  Here's Mr Williamson.
Americans have developed a weird, cultish, caesaropapist attitude toward the presidency, without ever stopping to consider that the nation has thrived under the administration of a succession of very different men with very different political agendas: Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and, now, Donald Trump: The fact that America just keeps on trucking irrespective of the qualities or character of the man in the Oval Office ought to make us think rather less of the presidency and rather more of ourselves — and think better of our neighbors, our businesses, our public institutions, our civil society, and much else — including the citizens who do not share our political views.
There's a lot in his article, by all means read and understand all of it.

I submit, though, that there might be a simpler explanation behind the hysteria attaching itself to the Democrats, the establishment Republicans, the permanent government, and their enablers in what passes for journalism and the academy these days.
Longstanding American institutions ranging from the First Amendment to the Electoral College to the Senate have been suddenly and rashly declared “illegitimate.” Why? Because, at the moment, they are keeping the Left from getting what it wants. The Left wants to silence certain right-wing critics and dissidents, and the First Amendment stops them. The Senate and the Electoral College perform their intended constitutional role in protecting the interests of the less-populous states and their residents, ensuring the protecting of minority interests from the tyranny of the majority. This annoys the would-be tyrants. (They are, to their discredit, unable to truly appreciate that political tides turn, and that majorities are fickle things.) The ordinary political processes of the United States have produced results that the Left does not like, and, hence, those processes and the institutions that enable them must be considered illegitimate. The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is to be understood as a national emergency because . . . Democrats would prefer to have somebody else, and they believe they having something like a divine right to rule.
Yes, that's the kind of thing that keeps the pundit class busy on Sunday mornings, and you can supply whatever deflections such as "But the Democrats aren't appealing to inland voters" and "Republicans fail to appeal to minorities" and what have you and fill up several hours worth of panels (and get Chris Matthews's eyeballs bulging in the process.)

Suppose, though, that what people who have lives notice is that a sitting president can put all sorts of wild stuff out on Twitter and play golf every weekend and spend much of his week at campaign rallies ... and life goes on.  There's nothing quite like life going on without the appearance of Someone in Authority mattering to get people questioning the utility of the governing class.

George Will sort of gets it, although his salary depends on his, or perhaps Jonathan Rauch's, not fully grasping it.
Modernity began when humanity “removed reality-making from the authoritarian control of priests and princes” and outsourced it to no one in particular. It was given over to “a decentralized, globe-spanning community of critical testers who hunt for each other’s errors.” This is why today’s foremost enemy of modernity is populism, which cannot abide the idea that majorities are not self-validating, and neither are intense minorities (e.g., the “Elvis lives” cohort). Validation comes from the “critical testers” who are the bane of populists’ existence because the testers are, by dint of training and effort, superior to the crowd, “no matter how many” are in it.
"Majorities" and "minorities" are terms from politics, and their validity requires that people respect the institutions of republican or democratic governance (the lower cases are deliberate). Anyone can be a "critical tester" and the validity of critical testing requires that people respect rules of inference, evidence, and logic.  Superiority is emergent. Order emerges, and Mr Will sees it. "Hayek recommended to governments epistemic humility and preached the superiority, and indispensability, of markets, society’s spontaneous order for gathering dispersed information and testing it." That's classical political economy in a nutshell.  That also might be the wisdom of the much-ignored Tenth Amendment.

Mr Williamson, again.  "Political fanaticism is not rooted in ideology. It is the hollow clanging sound that social life makes when banging up against an empty soul."  Perhaps I should follow my own advice and get back to work on my railroad.  " That's less depressing than documenting the world going to hell." Or, perhaps, if I knew an angry partisan well enough, I'd buy him a train set.

1 comment:

David Foster said...

"Political fanaticism is not rooted in ideology. It is the hollow clanging sound that social life makes when banging up against an empty soul."

Sebastian Haffner, who grew up in Germany between the wars, said something very similar. He observed that when, during the Stresemann chancellorship, the political and economic situation stabilized significantly, *most* people were happy---but not everybody:

"A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddently ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk."

and

"To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis."