As I take stock of the past year and contemplate the year just begun, I’m forced to conclude something horrible:
The terrorists really have won.
The goal of the 9/11 attacks — the goal of terrorism generally — is to bring down Western civilization, and especially American civilization.
Well, they did that.
No 9/11, no “War on Terror.” (Hard as it is to remember now, George W. Bush ran on becoming “the education president” back in 2000. And does anyone recall “compassionate conservatism” anymore?).
No “War on Terror,” no Iraq or Afghanistan. No Iraq / Afghanistan, no Bush Derangement Syndrome.
No BDS, and the Democratic Party clings tenuously to its sanity. No Dems going off the deep end, no millennial messianism.
No messianic fervor, no Barack Hussein Obama.
No Dear Leader, no Sarah Palin, and no Palin Derangement Syndrome, which makes BDS look like a nervous tic.
No John Boehner, no Sandra Fluke, no Herman Cain and no Mitt fucking Romney. No wise Latinas on the bench, no unwise Anglos wiping their ass with the Constitution because they’re afraid they won’t be invited to any of the good cocktail parties if they don’t (it’s a tax on not not going to Tina Brown’s winter social). Ron fucking Paul stays the punchline to a joke that was never funny in the first place, not the guy that guaranteed another four plus years of recession.
None of that stuff, and maybe the USA teeters on a few more years.
If I had to write the Republic’s obituary, I’d have a tough time choosing between two exact dates of death. And no, one of them isn’t November 4, 2008. He may be a grouchy old authoritarian — and I hesitate to say anything nice about someone for whom Goebbels had a good word — but Oswald Spengler really nailed it. Hail, Caesar:
Caesarism is essentially the death of the spirit that originally animated a nation and its institutions. It is marked by a government which is formless irrespective of its de jure constitutional structure. The antique forms are dead, despite the careful maintenance of the institutions; those institutions now have no meaning or weight. The only aspect of governance is the personal power exercised by the Caesar. This is the beginning of the Imperial Age…
Despite having fought wars for democracy and rights during the period of Contending States, the populace can no longer be moved to use those rights. People cease to take part in elections, and the most qualified people remove themselves from the political process. This is the end of great politics. Only private history, private politics, and private ambitions rule at this point. The wars are private wars, “more fearful than any State wars because they are formless.” The imperial peace involves private renunciation of war on the part of the immense majority, but conversely requires submission to that minority which has not renounced war. The world peace that began in a wish for universal reconciliation, ends in passivity in the face of misfortune, as long as it only affects one’s neighbor. In personal politics the struggle becomes not for principles but for executive power. Even popular revolutions are no exception: the methods of governing are not significantly altered, the position of the governed remains the same, and the strong few determined to rule remain over top the rest of humanity.
Given the events of the past eight years, someone like Obama was inevitable.
A better pick would be October 2, 2002, when the use of force against Iraq was authorized. It’s certainly the death date of American liberalism, which is a huge part of the death of the Republic. The body politic needs an immune system; one builds up immunity by exposure to pathogens. As wrong as American liberalism was, it was a coherent body of doctrine, advanced and defended — often quite skillfully and intelligently — by men and women of principle.
But a funny thing happened on our way to Baghdad. We on the right jokingly call it Bush Derangement Syndrome, but we’re not really kidding, and it’s certainly no laughing matter. But really, how can one describe the behavior of the American left in the run-up to Iraq except by reference to some mental illness? Instead of objecting to the war on principle — i.e. the sufficient and honorable thing — liberals went schizophrenic. They decided that if Bush was for it, they were against it… but they’d vote for it anyway, since it’d be electorally dangerous not to, and so we were faced with the gruesome spectacle of a whole bunch of super-smart people who knew more about metallurgy than MI-6 and were better strategists than the Pentagon, getting lied into voting for an illegal immoral neo-imperial war by a drunken D-average frat boy who can’t even pronounce “nuclear.”
I can still see their sickly shit-eating grins plastered all over CNN. If any of them had a scrap of shame, they’d never show their faces in public again. But they all got re-elected.
Another good candidate is August 29, 2008, the day John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate. That’s the day whatever marginal integrity — hell, whatever marginal sanity — American liberalism might’ve retained from 2002 finally gave up the ghost. We don’t need to rehash all the ridiculousness here; just think of your favorite anti-Palin argument for everything that follows.
Here again, we’re forced back into disease metaphors. Look, y’all: I follow politics more than the average bear, and I’d never even heard the name “Sarah Palin” until McCain tapped her for VP. And yet within hours — I’m not kidding; hours — Facebook etc. were stuffed to bursting with anti-Palin invective. Forget the content of the arguments for a sec; it’s simply not possible for anyone other than a professional pundit to come to some kind of informed conclusion about a rather obscure public figure in that amount of time. It’s crazy to think otherwise.
And that right there should’ve told us all we needed to know. But it didn’t. It’s 2013 now, and in some ways I’m still trying to process it. I had more than one person of demonstrated high intelligence, whose opinion I respect in all other matters, seriously try to argue with me that the governor of a large American state is somehow less qualified to be vice-president than a half-term junior senator is to be president….
But that’s where I, and every other conservative I know, got it wrong. We treated these “arguments” as if they were actual arguments, propositions that exist in some logical relation to each other in the service of a deductively valid conclusion. They weren’t. I call these pseudo-arguments parathought, but Spengler’s term will do, too: They’re Caesarist, or better yet, Caesar-ish arguments, expressions which maintain the form of debate propositions but are actually just assertions, opinions presented as facts.
That’s what I mean by the death of American liberalism. The things said about Sarah Palin were so ludicrous, and so over-the-top nasty, that they should’ve given even the most committed partisan pause. But they didn’t, and like a virus they’ve infected the entire bloodstream of our political discourse. I never tire of pointing out that I, like most thoughtful conservatives, can make a case for just about any liberal position you care to name. There are, for instance, strong or at least strong-ish arguments to be made for Obamacare on any number of grounds — ethical, utilitarian, epidemiological, even national security (a state needs a healthy potential soldiery). But instead of making any of them, our intelligent, oh-so-rational liberals cling to two breathtakingly illogical claims — that it actually saves money, and that it’s constitutional.
The first might be excused by ignorance — it’s possible to not know how the CBO scores are cooked, especially if you only get your news from our totally objective, completely nonpartisan media. But the second is the kind of gross non sequitur that used to get your knuckles rapped by mother superior’s ruler — the claim that because a thing is constitutional (or legal, or not prohibited by some higher authority), it’s automatically a good idea. (Liberals will claim this is nonsense, of course, but you can prove it easily enough. Just catch one and ask her why Obamacare is necessary. Chances are she won’t get through two objections without busting out some version of “it’s constitutional!,” in that neener-neener-neener tone liberals have brought to such a pitch of perfection).
How do you compete with that? How does one make a principled objection to something that didn’t have any principles to begin with? How does one possibly win an argument with a Sandra Fluke, who has decided that she has a right to birth control at your expense? You can’t shame the shameless, so traditional appeals to virtue are useless. Nor can you win with a slippery slope objection, because an Alinskyite, even a half-assed unconscious one like Sandra Fluke, considers that slippery slope to be the entire point of the exercise — a “right” is whatever you can convince a critical mass of elected officials to force others to give you, until the whole system collapses and the Revolution comes.
To put it another way, there’s no there there. Absent some kind of guiding principles, politics is exactly what Lenin said it was, and all that matters is who is doing what to whom. Republicans have yet to realize this, which is why they’re constantly roped into me-too gestures — running soulless welfare-state technocrats and tokens, grabbing ankle on fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings, and generally making nicey-nice with their opponents, who quite openly mock them for fools and suckers.
And that’s the road to tyranny, and that’s why I think, here in the cold and the dark of the wee hours of the morning, that America is finished. Because if politics really is nothing more than who? / whom? — and since at least 2002, our liberals have been doing their damnedest to make sure it is — then it’s a fool indeed who ends up as one of the whom. We on the right have our demagogues and big men and unthinking aggrieved masses too, and I don’t think it will take too much more for our knuckleheads to decide that hey, if their knuckleheads are living it up and sucking off the public tit and patting themselves on the back for it all the while, we can do it too. The only counter to a radical ideology is another radical ideology, and we have plenty of historical experience on that score.
I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen. But here in the coldest and darkest part of the year, I’m pretty sure it will.