Claire Berlinski has written another book, which she intends to serialize on her blog/newsletter — found at the following address:
I will be following Claire’s work with comments and asides, posted as the occasion warrants. It’s rare to find someone like Claire, who is working through “big picture” questions in an entertaining way. She keeps the reader guessing as to her final destination. Perhaps she does not know herself.
After three installments on the question of democracy’s survival, i cannot resist commenting. Readers are encouraged to read Claire’s essay on the question of democracy’s future — parts 1-3.
It is in Part 3 where she suggests “right wing” populism shares intellectual roots with fascism. That got me thinking. In what sense could this be true? If we understand fascism as the collectivist nationalism of Mussolini and Hitler, whatever could she mean?
Perhaps anticipating her thoughts, I will suggest the following interpretation of the relationship:
1) fascism properly defined is a phenomenon rooted in the left, not rooted in the right; 2) if this is true, the term “right wing” populism is a misnomer; 3) which leads us to the idea that the right no longer exists — that everyone is now on the left; 4) that liberalism is failing (or has already failed) because there is no right, because everything political is done in the name of the common man, or the oppressed man, or the uneducated working-class ranch hand, etc.; 5) which may explain the slow but steady advance of authoritarian collectivism in every country; 6) that Republican liberty arose as a byproduct of a bygone aristocratic culture, with a non-liberal class at its center; 7) that — as Joseph Schumpeter argued — liberalism destroys its own illiberal supports (by destroying the aristocratic ideal) and therefore dies at its own hands through a misunderstanding of how it came about in the first place; 8) paving the way for authoritarian collectivism.
This leads me to ask whether Claire’s discourse on our failing political culture mistakes effects for causes. Let me suggest that the various threats to liberty we see today are actually proofs that liberty was betrayed long ago (by liberals). This idea is further suggested by the fact that we are obsessed with a vulgar, common materialism, entwined with market hedonism, wrapped in egalitarian democracy.
Arguably, This has led us to a very real political dementia. And we are not paying attention to the “menace in Europe” — or in Asia — because we are too busy shopping and having fun.
It is not a question of liberty failing in the future. Liberty has already failed. We do not recognize this because the full effect of liberty’s defeat has merely been delayed by the slowly grinding gears of institutions that are already in totalitarian hands. The totalitarians, who surround us on every side, are slowly but surely tightening those chains that already adorn us.
The preconditions of freedom have been eliminated, over time, by freedom itself. Liberty was the child of a vibrant literary culture where people read books, and discussed books. Thousands of readers possessed a degree of intellectual refinement that no longer exists. The culture was then aristocratic and concerned with excellence instead of possessed of meanness (which is, today, everywhere favored as a matter of style). Democracy, as such, is NOT liberal, as Claire more than hinted. The truth is, only extraordinary qualities sustain what is essentially “liberal,” and these qualities are no longer valued or rewarded, or even recognized (as they once were).
Perhaps it is not the time to ask whether the liberal order is doomed. Its cultural supports and structures are already gone. Reconstruction can only occur through a series of improbable course corrections. More likely, real change can only come in the wake of a global upheaval; and then, there would be no guarantee things wouldn’t get worse, like they did in the ninth century.
I say again, liberalism has already failed; by the fact of falling birth rates, rampant infanticide, clownish parliamentarians, a post-literate culture (as argued by Neil Postman), and the collapse of the Christian religion, etc. These data points are not causal factors in liberalism’s demise; rather, they are proofs that liberalism — as Joseph Schumpeter argued — has already destroyed itself, having eliminated its non-liberal (aristocratic and spiritual) supporting structures.
It is important to acknowledge the missing ingredient here. Our generation has not understood that liberalism is unviable without the Iron Duke [i.e., someone like Wellington, or like George Washington]. This notion may also find a glint of elucidation in Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals, and Beyond Good and Evil. (But here I tread dangerous ground, already claimed by the enemies of liberty.)
Of course, what we presently call our elite are not liberals. They are the opposite. And they are not aristocrats. And they are not patriots. They are the opposite of these ideal types. Their regime is, rather, a parade which is led by the first to follow; that is to say — a democracy. What Aristotle called the worst form of government.
There is one more question, and one more answer to be given. What do you get when you empower an idiot?
Answer: A powerful idiot.
And so, it seems, this is the end at which we have arrived. To save our civilization and revive liberty, we must rediscover the trick of empowering real leaders, and heroes.