I believe some kind of Fascism is inevitable here, in America, in pretty short order. Simply put, the United States was founded on Enlightenment assumptions, and every single one of those is wrong. As nations can’t exist without an organizing myth, we’re going to have to find, or create, a new one. Fascism has an organizing myth, too — all political systems do — but Fascism’s is closer to the truth than the Enlightenment.
Here are the Enlightenment’s basic assumptions, all of which can be shown false with a minimal exposure to real life and few seconds’ reflection:
The Blank Slate. Originally nothing more than John Locke’s epistemology — which is whacked in itself — the Blank Slate has come to mean that humans are infinitely plastic. Anyone who has ever had children, or even been around children, or is capable of comparing his behavior to his parents’, knows this is bizarrely wrong. Most of our behavior is inherited. Not all of it — you could write entire abnormal psych textbooks on the distortions of the New Soviet Man — but much more than half. Which in itself is enough to doom the Enlightenment project — if Man is more Nature than Nurture, it doesn’t matter how perfect our social arrangements are. We’ll still act like monkeys most of the time — that is to say, patriarchally, hierarchically, violently — because we are monkeys.
Reason. See above. We’re monkeys. Man is not the Rational Animal; Man is, at best, the Animal Capable of Intermittent Rationality. Reason is a great tool for getting us what we want… but what we want is almost never itself rational, or even reasonable. Marvel at the exquisite reason behind Moneyball, wherein brilliant minds spend millions of dollars figuring out the best way to hit a ball with a stick. And yet millions of our fellow men don’t have clean drinking water. Or, if that’s too hippy-dippy for you, consider the course of the French Revolution — the very first thing they did after declaring themselves Reason’s BFFs was to start chopping off the heads of anyone who disagreed with them.
Religion. Whether Man is innately religious because God created the world, or we just evolved that way, doesn’t matter in the slightest. The Enlightened used to debate whether a society of atheists could endure… which proves that the Enlightened were every bit as self-aware as their descendants: Our Betters, the Liberals. The Enlightened considered themselves atheists, of course, since that was Rational, and see above for their pose as Reason’s BFFs. See also its consequences. As David Stove put it, the Enlightened were considerably worse than the Inquisition, because the Grand Inquisitor at least thought he was putting you to death for your own good — that is, he was trying to actually benefit an existing individual. The Enlightened, by contrast, guillotined actually existing people for the theoretical benefit of possible future people. Enlightenment is a religion, in other words — in fact, the bloodthirstiest religion of them all. Man can exist without a God, Eric Hoffer said, but never without a Devil.
Equality. The Blank Slate + Reason + Atheism = Equality. This is the core Enlightenment belief. Note, however, that it’s not a logical deduction. The Blank Slate says that all men start equal; it doesn’t follow that they all end that way. It’d be easy to come up with a justification for a caste of slaves on Enlightenment grounds — somebody has to toil in the salt mines, and with no religion to back up its “ethics,” we, The Enlightened, are free to make another group take one for the team. So long as it’s all Rational, with a fully worked out cost-benefit spreadsheet, who could possibly object?
Part II soon.