The Big Pretend
Move the clock back to November, 2013. It's a year after Obama has won a second term in the White House and it looks like the Democrats will control Federal power forever. There is talk of a permanent Democratic majority cemented into place by a liberal Supreme Court that will last for decades. Glenn Reynolds noted that in the absence of any conceivable reversal all the rubes could do -- they had not yet been dubbed the Deplorables by Hillary Clinton -- was exhibit a truculence or spirit of passive resistance he described as "Irish Democracy".
Perhaps the most dramatic formulation of "Irish Democracy" is from the movie Michael Collins where the character playing Eamon de Valera writes after the failed Easter Rising that "we must act as if the Republic is a fact. We defeat the British Empire by ignoring it". Irish Democracy is slow but works.
Fast forward to November, 2016 and Obama has been ignored. An insurgency is in full cry and the Democratic Party feels like the authorities in 1954 Algiers who realize that years of the mission civilisatrice have not turned the Arabs into Frenchmen. The 2016 elections were shocking because they showed how fake the decades of "gains" proved to be.
The liberal mission civilisatrice has apparently failed. The candidate who could not win, won. The candidate who could not lose, lost. All the shibboleths that could not possibly be rejected were pulled down into the mud. Now it was the liberals who had to resort to Irish Democracy. The cast of the Broadway musical Hamilton lectured vice president elect Mike Pence. "We are the diverse Americans who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents." Why? Because they could and because they had no choice.
One might add the cast of Hamilton was not just "alarmed and anxious" but thoroughly bewildered. That such an uprising could happen without any warning sent shock waves through the Left. Worse there may be more to come. Nigel Farage warned that elections in Austria and Italy may confirm the trend.
If Liberals don't understand what happened they will be at a loss to fight it. Saying no no no no no no! is not enough. Unless they know the cause of the disease they can't seek the cure. Lecturing people from the stage may make them feel good, but it is what got them into trouble in the first place. The instinct to repeat the same failed tactics more frequently and insistently is unlikely to lead to a different result.
Perhaps the liberal project does not want to know what ails them because they fear what they will find, and many already probably suspect what it is. The Leftist impulse is founded on the conviction they have a special position in the "arc of justice", a privileged vantage in the moral universe, a place in the vanguard of history. To suddenly admit they don't, to admit that they are no better than anyone else and possibly a good deal worse is not an easily correctable fault.
The compulsion to assert a special moral place underlies the bizarre moral posturing of Hamilton and the theatrical passage of the torch of the West from Obama to Angela Merkel during his European farewell tour. If you're not special maybe you're a Deplorable too. Perish the thought. So, like superheroes in some Marxist play whose pasteboard wings have fallen off, they cannot improvise without changing the script. But change the script they must and throw away the cardboard props if they are move on. The liberal impulses will fare better without their dated historical baggage.
The crisis of liberalism is bigger than Trump. It represents the exhaustion of an intellectual impulse that ran out of gas in the 20th -- the previous -- century. Maybe the Left should recast itself as a purely religious or ethical project since Achilles heel of liberalism is a Marxist tainted economic model that nobody even pretends works. They've been focused on pure redistribution for years. There is no Marxist way to make money. There are only Marxist ways to spend money. Under the circumstances someone should decide to be the new Marx. The old one is getting long in the tooth.
Their greatest strengths are fostering a sense of belonging, a life-purpose and a kind of ethics, an appeal compromised by the necessity to graft this belief system to a centralized state. The only thing that still works on the Left is its impersonation of Judaeo-Christianity; even that is weakened by its crazy insistence on atheism, which should be optional, since religion is the only thing the Left has to sell. The reason the Left has been losing ground to Islam is it doesn't work as an economic system yet it hasn't paid enough attention to being a religion.
In the end the human impulse may boil down to two major tracks. The first can be called the "God really exists" path. In that model there is a real God and real Truth which humanity can find. The other track is the one Western liberalism has historically taken: "let's pretend God exists" which sees the universe as an objectively meaningless void in which it is the duty of man to create an artificial moral habitat in an otherwise immoral vacuum; a place to shelter and amuse ourselves while we forget everything ends in the Big Crunch.
Nobody knows which of these world views is true. But conservatives may have an affinity for the first track while liberals emotionally attach to the second. It's the eternal issues which divide. The rest is transient and this dichotomy will probably define politics for the rest of the 21st century. The historical task of liberalism is to take up the cudgels for the proposition that all men are created to join a collective. The other side is already taken.
One of the literary precursors of the the left was Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor who saw his task as relieving man of the burden of meaningless freedom -- since all choices are ultimately futile -- and enclosing him in a bubble of perfect assurance. Only the Inquisitors knew the assurance was fake and nobly took the secret despair upon themselves to spare the masses the agony of doubt.
In socialism's 1930s heyday cadres were exhorted to bear on their shoulders the task of murder, genocide, deceit etc -- so that the masses might be happy in their simple hopes for a Worker's Paradise. The ones in the know knew the earthly paradise would never come. The Grand Inquisitor wore Chekist uniform but his function was otherwise the same. In 2016 the Inquisitors no longer shoot people but they still kept the secret. The reason the liberal project will never perform an autopsy on itself is because that would reveal there's no there there. It's the pretend that counts. The big secret the Left never wants to face is there's no "arc of history" they control.
Still there are always enough people who would rather be ruled by Grand Inquisitors than bear the burden of freedom; enough to keep a leftist project alive indefinitely. Life in a community is simple. And perhaps they are on the correct side after all. There may be nothing beyond the Big Crunch and the Big Pretend. So let's pretend.
But some will always aim to misbehave, and strive for more, like the Deplorables who want to be free either because they really are free or aren't educated enough to know they're not. And to be truly free requires betting that their choices count, actually count. Some people insist on thinking themselves as being in a real universe with a real God and a real Devil. That path is not for everyone. But it is the only path for some. The tables are always open in Pascal's casino.
Pass on the Torch of the West then to Angela Mr. President. The janitor will be along to pick up the cardboard wings after the show.
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