Belmont Club

Primal Scream

Sipa via AP Images

National Review’s call for Roy Moore to drop out of the Alabama race because “there is no such thing as a statute of limitations on standards” reminds us of an uncomfortable statistical fact, once widely accepted and prosaically expressed as “all men are sinners.” Moore may or may not be guilty of sexual indiscretion, but the possibility is not excluded in principle. An earlier generation could probably quote 1 John 1:8 — “if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” — to remind themselves of this. Alternatively, they might cite James Madison.

[W]hat is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

“Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help” was the usual warning. But somewhere along the line conventional wisdom discarded this injunction and media began to create the myth that there were special people to rule over us. Celebrities. A cultural elite. Role models. The only adults in the room. The smartest woman in the world. As social media exposes celebrity after celebrity as flawed, we are relearning just how fragile that foundation is.

It was the awareness of human fallibility that led political philosophers to externalize virtue by reposing it in God or in concepts like Robespierre’s Cult of the Supreme Being. “Though he was no admirer of Catholicism, [Robespierre] had a special dislike for atheism. He thought that belief in a supreme being was important for social order, and he liked to quote Voltaire: ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him'”.

The advantage of a world where “all men are sinners” is that the consequences of a politician not being up to “standard,” as National Review puts it, are purely personal. They do not delegitimize the principle, only the application. The individual is examined according to due process and either acquitted or found guilty of the charges.  But in either case the external standard of virtue remains untouched. It remains out there above the fray.

Things are completely different when a political movement bases virtue on a particular class of human beings. The danger is particularly acute in Marxism, which boldly declares in the Manifesto that “Communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion, and all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis.” There being no God, only institutions, raises the stakes for institutions. If the Party, the Vanguard of humanity and the source of virtue, is found to have a sinner, or worse yet found to be chock full of sinners, guilt is not merely individual but collective. The whole basis collapses. Unlike God who remains unsullied “out there,” the practical effect of vice is to undermine the Party’s actual legitimacy.

Not only does human frailty make the dictatorship of the Party untenable, it makes even lesser forms of coercion such as virtue signaling and nudging ineffective. God may speak down to us, but not Kevin. The scandals rocking Hollywood, the political elite, and the media are qualitatively different from any scandal that could embroil a conservative because the latter was always just a man while the former were special men who stood as judges of all mankind, able to nudge or signal virtue as the arc of history bade them do.

Now, so the joke goes, they are all being spliced out of movies by the octogenarian Christopher Plummer because it turns out they are no better than anyone else. Being “like everybody else” is the ultimate downer for any aspiring ruler. A ruler may be anything except ordinary and it’s just the trouble when they aren’t.

Just how essential the quality of specialness is to legitimizing the rule of one set of humans over another was illustrated by a BBC story on the Santa Muerte cult in Mexico. “Despite a reputation as a death cult for criminals and drug traffickers, Santa Muerte has surged in popularity and taken on an increasingly prominent and polemic role in the Day of the Dead festivities held every 1 and 2 November.”

Mr Chesnut says more and more devotees have started incorporating Santa Muerte into Day of the Dead celebrations over the past five years.

Although many Mexicans see no connection between the two, both are thought to stem from Mictecacihuatl, an Aztec goddess who presided over a festival of death every August.

After conquering Mexico in the 16th Century, the Spanish encouraged locals to honour the deceased on All Soul’s Day, leading to the emergence of the Day of the Dead as a fusion of Catholic and indigenous beliefs.

Mr Chesnut says devotees have begun to recognise Santa Muerte as the reincarnation of Mictecacihuatl and reclaim the Day of the Dead as her unofficial feast day, provoking what he says is a “huge panic” within the Catholic Church.

What a bummer. If the Aztecs were bloodthirsty in their paradisal state, even though it does not diminish the crimes of the Conquistadors, they are still no more than common flesh. With everyone on an equal footing there is no privileged point of view — no arc of history —  from whose height one faction can claim to rule over the rest.  The psychological hurt of ordinariness is exemplified by the mass “primal scream” at the sky event that was scheduled recently.

On Nov. 8, thousands of concerned Americans will commemorate the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump‘s election by screaming helplessly into the sky. Organizers in at least nine cities across the country — including Los Angeles, Miami, Austin, New York City and Chicago — are using Facebook to plan demonstrations titled “Scream Helplessly at the Sky on the Anniversary of the Election.”

What they were mourning was not some conservative’s sublunar fallibility, but their own. Whatever happens now, the progressives have lost decades of “gains,” not to the alt-right, which is nothing special, but to the realization of their own human frailty. They will find equality intolerable. But they might in consolation remember the classic lines from the movie Unforgiven.

The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.

Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.

Sadly, we do.

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