The following articles comes from Angelo Codevilla at The American Mind, Revolution 2020. This is a lengthy piece. Please click through one of the links to continue reading past this excerpt.
How did we get here—and how will it end?
Understanding what drives the revolution that is destroying the American republic gives insight into how the 2020 election’s results may impact its course. Its practical question—who rules?—is historically familiar. But any revolution’s quarrels and stakes obscure the question: to what end? Our revolution is by the ruling class—a revolution from above. Crushing obstacles to its growing oligarchic rule is the proximate purpose.
But the logic that drives the revolution aims at civilization itself.
What follows describes how far along its path that logic has taken America, and where it might take us in the future depending on the election’s outcome.
Aristotle, in Book 5 of the Politics, describes how revolutions kill regimes (such as America’s) that balance the contrasting interests of ordinary people with those of the wealthy, of officials, and of other prominent persons. As the balance between any complex regime’s components shifts over time, the system may seamlessly transform into unmixed democracy, oligarchy, or some kind of monarchy. The revolution may be barely perceptible—providing that those who impose themselves, whether from above or below, do so without adding insult to injury.
But, if the party that takes power thereby destroys the friendship that had bound the several parts, even trifling incidents can spiral into all-consuming violence. Thucydides’ account of the revolution that destroyed Corcyra during the Peloponnesian War is prototypical. The French revolution, the Spanish civil war, and countless others echo it. Today, the oligarchic transformation of America’s republic is turning violent. Aristotle, however, points out that oligarchies born of violent revolution tend to succumb to the very violence that births them, quickly degenerating into some kind of tyranny or one-man rule. Restoration of anything like the original constitutional regime is most unlikely.
The U.S. Constitution had codified as fine a balance between the powers of the Many, the Few, and the One as Aristotle may have imagined by arming the federal government’s components, the States, and ordinary citizens (via the first ten Amendments as well as elections) with means to maintain the balance. Its authors, however, were under no illusions about the efficacy of “parchment barriers” to prevent interests from coalescing into factions against the common good. During the 19th century, interests and opinions in the South and the North coalesced into antagonistic ruling classes that fought the century’s bloodiest war. In the 20th, the notion that good government proceeds from scientific expertise, as well as the growing identity between big business and government, fostered the growth of a single nationwide Progressive ruling class. Between the 1930s and the early 21st century, the centralization of administrative power in this class’s hands did much to transform the American republic established in 1776-89 into an oligarchy.
Progressive Oligarchy in America
The ruling class was able to transform America’s constitutional regime because its collective partisanship bridged the divisions between the federal government’s parts, the states, as well as between public and private power.
In America as everywhere else, government regulation of business meant the twains’ coalescence. From the very first, the blurring of lines between public and private—the focus of government on distributing tasks and rewards—shifted decision-making from citizens who merely vote to the administrative system’s “stakeholders.” This reorganization of liberal societies was first codified in Italy’s 1926 Corporation Law as Fascism’s defining feature. Before WWII every Western country, America included (in FDR’s New Deal), had adopted a version thereof. In 1942 Joseph Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, a neo-Marxist analysis, described this oligarchy as the necessary consequence of modernity.
In America, however, this oligarchy fit Aristotle’s (or Marx’s) mostly economic criteria only superficially. Yes, as we will see below, its power always very much involved the growing identity between government power and private wealth, and hence on restricting access to wealth to the politically connected. But as the decades passed, it became ever clearer that membership in the U.S. ruling class depends primarily on sharing the right socio-political opinions.
The European tradition of government by experts reaches back beyond Napoleon and Hegel to royal techno-bureaucrats. Being essentially amoral, it treats transgressors as merely ignorant. It may punish them as rebellious, but not as bad people. That is why the fascists, who were part of that tradition, never made it as totalitarians. People—especially the Church—remained free to voice different opinions so long as they refrained from outright opposition. America’s growing oligarchy, however, always had a moralistic, puritan streak that indicts dissenters as bad people. More and more, America’s ruling class, shaped and serviced by an increasingly uniform pretend-meritocratic educational system, claimed for itself monopoly access to truth and goodness, and made moral as well as technical-intellectual contempt for the rest of Americans into their identity’s chief element. That, along with administrative and material power, made our ruling class the gatekeeper to all manner of goods.
Progressivism’s foundational proposition—that the American way of life suffers from excessive freedom and insufficient latitude for experts to lead each into doing what is best for all—is the intellectual basis of the oligarchy’s ever-increasing size, wealth, and power. The theme that the USA was ill-conceived in 1776-89 and must be re-conceived has resounded from Woodrow Wilson’s Congressional Government (1885) to the campaigns of Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Barack Obama, and Joseph Biden: “listen to the scientists!” The criticism’s main point has been constant: America’s original conception validated the people’s right to live as they please, and made it hard to marshal them for Progressive purposes.
But the Progressive critique adds a moral basis: the American people’s indulgence of their preferences—private ease and comfort, focus on families, religious observance, patriotism—has made for every secular sin imaginable: racism, sexism, greed, etc. Because most Americans are racist, sexist, un-appreciative of real virtue or refinement (these are somehow rolled together), because these Americans resist knuckling under to their betters, America is a sick society that needs to be punished and to have its noxious freedoms reformed.
Hence, the revolution that created the American oligarchy—illiterate contemporary Marxists notwithstanding—has nothing in common with Karl Marx’s original democratic (in the Aristotelian sense) conception “from below” (e.g. his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Programme) other than “overthrowing the pillars of the house.” Ours is the Party-centered oligarchic revolution from above that Lenin outlined in What Is to Be Done? (1902). This Leninism is the template of the Soviet and every other Communist regime, bar none. In our revolution, too, everything—always and everywhere—is about the Party.
Upbuilding the Ruling Class
The moral class critique from above was always implicit. It largely stayed in the background of the campaigns for social improvement into which Progressives have led the American people ever since the 1930s, and especially since the 1960s. The ruling class chided Americans for insufficient commitment to education, to well-being for the poor and disadvantaged, to a healthy natural environment, and to public health, as well as for oppressing women, and, above all, for racism. The campaigns for remedying these conditions have been based on propositions advanced by the most highly-credentialed persons in America—experts certified by the U.S. government, whom the media treated as truth-telling scientists, their opponents as enemies of the people.
But each and all of these campaigns produced mostly the ostensible objectives’ opposites while increasing the numbers of the oligarchy’s members and their wealth and power, endowing them with socio-political clienteles as well as with levers for manipulating them. As its members’ powers grew, they developed a taste for disdaining independent Americans and acquired whips for punishing them.
In 1950, Americans at all levels of government spent 2% of GDP on K-12 education and 0.37% on higher education. In our time we spend 4.4% on K-12 and 1.9% on higher education, of a GDP that is about ten times as large. By any measure, the increases have been huge. These were supposed to uplift Americans intellectually and (maybe) morally. But they have dumbed down the nation to the point of mass illiteracy at the bottom and, at the top, created herds of ignorant, haughty, debt-ridden college graduates, fit only to enforce government edicts against Americans they despise. But the money also built up and entitled a class of monied, entitled, self-indulgent educrats—mostly administrators. U.S. college towns nowadays are islands of luxury, ease, and hate. They act as the ruling class’s gatekeepers.
Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir had reminded Americans to preserve our country’s beauty and bounty for all. But beginning in the 1960s the ruling class started using conservation as an excuse for restricting the public living on and profiting from the land, even their own properties. This resulted in big developers, regulators, politicians and lawyers making fortunes while preserving the privacy and increasing the value of places where they themselves live. (Now they want to outlaw building new single-family homes anywhere.) They also reaped billions from subsidies for “renewable energy” by flogging possible correlation—without evidence of cause—between CO2 and “global warming.” All others have suffered.
In 1965, the Census counted some 40 million people as “poor”—roughly the same number as today. Over the succeeding half-century, the Federal government has spent some $22 trillion to lift people out of poverty. Had that money been divided evenly between all the poor, each would have been a millionaire. Instead, the War on Poverty swelled and solidified America’s underclass. Because the government paid to support women with children so long as they were not married, marriage and family cohesion declined. With only about one in eight black children growing to adulthood with two married parents, the black community and America as a whole are beset by a self-perpetuating flow of dysfunctional youth. This led to the long-term imprisonment of more than a million people. Prisons became an industry. But the war on poverty enriched countless contractors, consultants and members of the “helping professions.”
These initiatives are scams. Whatever else they have done, they have increased the number of people whose livelihoods depend on government. Since 1965, the number of direct employees has more than doubled to 22 million, and their pay exceeds that of persons who actually perform services that people want. The city of San Francisco, for example, employs 19,000 persons whom it pays more than $150,000 yearly. This does not count the countless government contractors, or the advantages for some and disadvantages for everyone else that government power combined with corporate power conveys. In short, whatever else these initiatives have done, they surely have created a lot of patronage.
The Little Law That Ate the Constitution
One initiative, sold as the pursuit of justice for black Americans, has empowered the U.S. ruling class with power that transcends money. More than all the other campaigns combined, it has fueled its members’ sense of entitlement to rule fellow citizens it deems moral inferiors. That sweet, heady sense—not any love for blacks—is what drives it.
Into the 1960s, the states of the former Confederacy had imposed segregation to racially separate accommodations. In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the Supreme Court had approved them so long as they were “equal.” In fact, most of what states had reserved for Negroes was grossly inferior. The longstanding campaign for “civil rights” had rallied the country against this obvious negation of the 14th amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws.” But as liberals fought state-imposed racial segregation, they had come to equate justice with the forcible imposition of racial integration resulting from countless personal choices. The Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed state-directed segregation, also gave impetus to all manner of efforts to re-form society by legal-administrative force.
The decision itself eliminated any chance that this could be done in a disinterested manner. It was not based on the plain, unequivocal meaning of the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection of the laws.” Back in 1896, Justice John Marshall Harlan had dissented from Plessy, arguing that any state establishment of racial preference whatever, regardless of its character or intention, violates those words. But Thurgood Marshall based his decision on “science”—that is, on the variable opinions of the credentialed class. A sociologist by the name of Kenneth Clark claimed he had proven that Negro children could feel and learn normally only in a racially mixed environment. (The “black is beautiful” movement began countering this immediately.) Quickly, “scientific” conventional wisdom made “benign” or “remedial discrimination” by race official U.S. government policy.
The Brown decision’s reliance on “science” also confused legally established segregation with the segregation that results from personal choices. This confusion was the basis for Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in “public accommodations” on the basis of race. Thenceforth, Civil rights law was no longer about removing legal barriers to personal choices. It had begun forcing personal choices. The Supreme Court’s approval of the law as a mere regulation of interstate commerce was thin pretense. The Act turned out to be the little law that ate the Constitution and poisoned American society.
It was passed primarily by Republican votes. Democrats, seeing the empowerment of a historic Republican constituency in the South as potential disaster, scrambled to avert it by out-pandering Republicans, while describing any reticence on their part as racial animosity and ascribing whatever ailed Negroes to the Republicans’ racism. Quickly, the dynamics of politics turned “civil rights” into a ruinous socioeconomic scam.
Howard W. Smith, segregationist Democrat of Virginia, best foresaw the scam’s size. Bitterly, to ensure that the law’s logic would roil the lives of its sponsors as it was roiling his constituents’, Smith, Chairman of the House of Representatives’ powerful Rules Committee, added language that outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex. The list of supposedly invidious discriminations that the Act (as amended) thus prohibits never stopped growing—age, all manner of disabilities, sexual orientation, etc. In the Act’s lengthening legal shadow, even speech that some may construe as insufficiently hostile to discriminatory “anti-discrimination” has become punishable civilly as well as criminally. Thus, willy-nilly, the Act established what U.S. law quickly recognized as “protected categories” of persons. This negates the American republic’s bedrock: “all men are created equal.” It invited whoever perceives himself disadvantaged or dishonored to construe himself part of such a category and to invite the government to discriminate against his foe. As government joined in some people’s quarrels against others, government became fomenter and partisan in endless strife.
Race (and sex, etc.) is yet another set of excuses for transferring power to the ruling class. The oligarchy is no more concerned about race than it is about education, or environmentalism, or sex, or anything else. It is about yet more discretionary power in the hands of its members, for whom not all blacks (or women, or whatevers) are to be advantaged—only the ones who serve ruling class purposes. In education, employment, and personnel management, co-opting compatible, non-threatening colleagues is the objective. As Joseph Biden put it succinctly: if you don’t vote for him, “you ain’t black.” A ruling class of ever-decreasing quality is a result.
Members and hangers-on who receive privileges, however, are a small number compared with the ruling class’s clients. Breaking down their client’s resistance to the revolution of the ruling class requires inducing them to share in the revolution’s logic of hate for its targets. This in turn requires control over channels of communication. Google, Facebook, and Twitter are indispensable for this. But creating and maintaining a sense of identity between oligarchs and the client mobs is possible mostly because of the latter’s gullibility.
The Logic of Hate
I noted that this revolution’s logic leads to no logical end. That is because “the logic that drives each turn of our revolutionary spiral is Progressive Americans’ inherently insatiable desire to exercise their superiority over those they deem inferior.” Its force, I observed, “comes not from the substance of the Progressives’ demands,” but rather “from that which moves, changes, and multiplies their demands without end. That is the Progressives’ affirmation of superior worth, to be pursued by exercising dominance: superior identity affirmed via the inferior’s humiliation.” Affirmation of one’s own superiority by punishing inferiors is an addictive pleasure. It requires ever stronger, purer doses of infliction, and is inherently beyond satisfaction.
In short, the Progressive ruling class’s intensifying efforts to oppress those they imagine to be their inferiors is not reversible. It is far less a choice of policy than it is the consequence of its awakening to its own identity—awakening to the powers and privileges to which they imagine their superior worth entitles them. It is awakening to its deep resentment—indeed, to hate—for whoever does not submit preemptively.
Let there be no doubt: the ruling class’s focus on Donald Trump has been incidental. America’s potentates do not fear one pudgy orange-haired septuagenarian. They fear the millions of Americans whom they loathe, who voted for Trump, who gave his party control of House and Senate, and who will surely vote for folks these potentates really should fear.
America’s oligarchic transformation had proceeded smoothly for decades because the ruling class had taken care not to add insult to injury. But as time passed, its arbitrariness and contempt increasingly tried the patience of ordinary people who practiced constitutional restraint.
During the 2008 financial panic, however, as the Progressive, bipartisan ruling class scrambled incompetently to save itself and its clients’ assets, it fatefully flaunted its united contempt for the rest of Americans. Republican president George W. Bush, Republican presidential candidate John McCain, the overwhelming majority of Republican politicians and institutions, and the literati from the Nation to the (post-Buckley) National Review were of identical minds with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Democrat politicians and institutions regarding measures to be taken—to which three fourths of the public objected, to no avail. United, this ruling class scoffed at popular opposition.
Insult having awakened substantial numbers of Americans to the injuries being inflicted on them, they looked to push back.
That began a cycle of recrimination which laid bare and accentuated the differences that had been growing between America’s rulers and ruled. At the time, I wrote that
The two classes have less in common culturally, dislike each other more, and embody ways of life more different from one another than did the 19th century’s Northerners and Southerners—nearly all of whom, as Lincoln reminded them, “prayed to the same God.” By contrast, while most Americans pray to the God “who hath created and doth sustain us,” our ruling class prays to itself as “saviors of the planet” and improvers of humanity.
The people who killed one another in 1861-65 respected each other as individuals and shared standards of truth, justice, and civility. But as our ruling class put the rest of America beyond the proverbial pale, what remained of friendship among the American republic’s components drained away.
By 2016, most Americans preferred either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders over ruling-class candidates for president. And of course, they increasingly despised one another. In short, the popular basis for constitutional restraint had ceased to exist on all sides. But mostly the ruling class, unaccustomed to outright opposition to its presumption of authority, deemed the voters’ recalcitrance to be illegitimate. That began the revolution’s active phase.
At that time, I wrote that, regardless of who won the upcoming election, the United States of America had crossed the threshold of a revolution, and that though no one could know how that would end, we could be sure only that the peaceful American way of life we had known could never return. Hilary Clinton’s or Donald Trump’s victory in the election would merely have channeled the revolution onto different courses. We would look back on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as relics from an age of moderation… (continues)