For as long as anyone reading this has been alive, the people in charge have described the great divide as a conflict between those who are future oriented versus those who past oriented. Progressives don’t call themselves “progressive” because they long for a bygone era. They correctly see their thing as being focused on the Promised Land, somewhere over the rainbow. Their opponents are naturally cast as romantics, stuck in a past age, yesterday men who will be thrown into the dustbin of history.
In fairness to Progressives, their thing is mostly a set of highly refined feelings about the ever extending wave of probabilities rippling outward from now. It’s a blend of free will and predetermination and the interplay between the two. Progressives romanticize the future to the point where the only thing that matters is their place in it, which is determined by their role in bringing it about. The moral person is one who works to bring about the eschaton.
For American Progressives, the intellectual tradition from which this springs is different from what birthed it in Europe. In America the roots are in Yankee Calvinism while in Europe the roots are in the French Revolution. As is plainly obvious to those familiar with the development of European fascism, both traditions borrowed heavily from one another. That’s why it is easy to think of Barak Obama and Francois Hollande, for example, as fellow travelers. Critics on the right routinely call Progressives “socialists” even when said Progressive is an undiluted capitalist.
To some degree, this is also why Progressives are so fond of describing their opponents, real and imagined, as the heirs of Hitler and the Nazis. While it is mostly a way for the Cult to tar their enemies, the great divide between the heirs of Rousseau is over orientation. Fascists were “restoration socialists” who imagined they were ushering in a restoration of a utopia rooted in the past. Communists were breaking with the past in all regards, building a new society and new men.
That last bit is a good jumping off point as this is not a post about intellectual history. This “great divide” in orientation really does not exist, outside the imaginings of the Cult of Modern Liberalism, but they have been in charge for so long that their view of the world is the dominant one. Even “conservatives” accept this framing. Twenty-five years ago when the political Left was reinventing itself they held “Renaissance” weekends to plot strategy. The political Right held “Dark Ages” weekends.
The fact is, all mass movements are future oriented. Until someone invents a time machine, the only thing we can do anything about is the future. The fascists may have rhapsodized about the past, but they were all about building the glorious future. Similarly, the Bolsheviks may have talked a lot about breaking with the past, but they invested heavily in rewriting it. If they truly thought they were cruising to a glorious future, they would not have spent so much time airbrushing old photos.
The real difference, the real divide, is between those who see a world that is fully integrated, like an organism, versus those who imagine an atomized world where the parts bump against one another. The one side thinks the goal of human social evolution is something close to an ant farm, while the other side does not think social evolution has a goal. Individuals have goals, desires and dreams. Social evolution is just the unpredictable result of all those bits smashing into one another over time.
You see this in Europe and in the US. The European Left is pro-EU integration, pushing for the abolition of national sovereignty in favor of the committees of technocrats in Brussels. The EU will not just coordinate big macro issues like trade. They will make sure your food has the right amount of salt and your neighbor does not say mean things about you. The EU is The Borg.
In the US, the Federal state is The Borg, gobbling up the rights and responsibilities of state and local government. At the dawn of the First World War, it was possible for an American to have no interaction with the national government, outside of the Post Office. His government was the town, village or city. Even his state government was alien to him. Today, it is impossible to live as an American without rubbing against the rasp of national government.
What we think of as liberalism is just a defense of these arrangements. The doctrines of the Left are contrary to observable reality and are mostly just expressions of sentimentality and resentment. The obsession with fringe minority groups, the weirder the better, is just a distraction, an argument to kill time. No serious scientist, for example, thinks transsexualism is anything other than a mental illness. Yet, the elites insist we use feminine pronouns when writing about Bob, who now wears a sundress to work.
That incoherence is the reason both American political parties find themselves in turmoil. The voters of both parties, for various reasons, are questioning the rationality of the managerial state. The answer coming back from the elites is a combination of emotive nonsense and threats. The question Trump presents the Republicans, for example, is why is he less qualified for the job than any of the preferred candidates? The answer coming back is “shut up and do as you’re told.”
Every ruling elite needs a raison d’être. In the early medieval period, being the best warrior was enough. Later, having the magic blood was enough. Those reasons to be in charge may seem silly now, but they made sense at the time. They gave the people a reason, other than fear, to respect the arrangements. The modern managerial elite cannot articulate a reason to exist. That’s why they are in crisis.