One of the weirder aspects of the modern age is the endless calls for unity from our superiors, particularly those in the Progressive camp. It’s weird for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact the Left is endlessly trying to marginalize anyone that disagrees with them. It is how diversity came to mean rigid homogeneity. Putting aside the hypocrisy, it’s weird because it is fairly new and very un-American. It also contradicts the very premise of democracy, which is about competing opinions, jostling for support.
It seems that the calls for “unity” have coincided with the spread of the American civic nationalism stuff. Thirty years ago, no public figure talked about “who we are” or made grand claims about a unified America culture. In fact, the lack of conformity was the gold standard of intellectual rigor. Democrats used to claim they had so much internal debate, it was like herding cats. Republicans used to crow about being the party of ideas, meaning that they had the bulk of free thinkers and dissident chattering skulls.
It’s not a coincidence that the flowering of the civic religion stuff has coincided with increasing calls for unity and now the un-personing panics. Religions, particularly in their growth phase, are highly intolerant of competing religions. It’s why the Left, even today, attacks Christianity. They see it as competition. In order to have a civic religion, it means stamping out ideas and movements that contradict it, even if those ideas are rooted in observable reality. In the name of unity, dissent must be crushed, along with the dissenter.
Related examples of this are Iran and Saudi Arabia. The ruling elites of both lands are members of sects within Islam. In both countries, the demands of unity require hordes of religious enforcers making sure no one has incorrect thoughts. To tolerate any dissent puts the power and authority of the ruling elite into question. Since the ruling elite are the embodiment of the religion, any dissent is a direct threat to the very existence of the theocracy. Unity is a necessary element of theocracy, even it comes at the point of a gun.
In terms of pure civic religions, ones that expressly reject the supernatural, the most obvious examples ended in bloodbaths. The French Revolution is the first real stab at establishing a civic religion. Nazism, Bolshevism and Maoism, on the other hand, quickly devolved into murder machines, killing off over 100 million, but they did so in the name of national unity. With Nazism and Bolshevism, even well intended questioning of the the prevailing orthodoxy got you killed. Again, unity abhors anything resembling dissent.
There’s a chicken and egg issue here. Is the rise of a priestly class the inevitable result of a civic religion, or does the elite attempt to legitimize themselves by peddling civic religion and making demands for unity? In prior ages, ruling dynasties would claim divinity in order to eliminate challenges to their reign. Even today, the motto of the monarch of the United Kingdom is dieu et mon droit. I’ll also note that the kingdom is united in the body of the monarch. This is a common element of all European monarchies.
Getting back to modern America, the fetish for unity and the promotion of the American civic religion looks a lot like a search for a reason to maintain the status quo. It’s reactionary. The very real threat of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War held the American nations together, under the Yankee Imperium. Once that was gone, something had to replace it, or the Cold War arrangements would be replaced. It’s not an accident that “both sides” of the political elite rely on the same language to quash dissent.
The increasing demands for unity, however, will probably backfire. You see this with social media. Facebook has instituted polices to silence unapproved facts. They have been moving much slower than Twitter, which is aggressively going after anyone who disagrees with the Council of Cat Ladies running the place. They have now declared jihad against anyone who is suspected of thinking bad thoughts. That means they will use your search results and surfing habits to police your access to Twitter. Think about that.
The unintended result of this is to de-legitimize the Right half of the ruling class. A so-called conservative with a twitter account, especially one with a blue check, will now be seen as nothing more than an organ grinder’s monkey. The civic religion only works when political debate is confined to the tiny ideological space occupied by Progressives and their hand-picked opposition. Strip away the legitimacy of the so-called conservatives and the civic religion is revealed to be a public relations campaign by the ruling oligarchs.
That’s the core reason that American public debate seems so uncivil. In an effort to defend the status quo, the ruling elites have become increasingly aggressive at stamping out dissent. The whole “Russian hacking” nonsense was a thinly veiled way of saying that those who voted for Trump were either stupid or un-American. The fact that it appears the purveyors of this story were themselves in cahoots with the Russians suggests there are no limits to what they will do to crush their opposition. Torquemada would be proud.
This heavy handedness also legitimizes the dissidents. Gab has struggled along, but the purges and promised purges have resulted in a boost in membership. The steadfast determination by the owners, in the face of serious threats and even laughably stupid threats, has given them legitimacy with people who think a marketplace of ideas is essential to civil society. Put another way, that which was previously dismissed as heresy, now has the air of legitimacy. That’s the real threat feared by the ruling class.
Eric Hoffer said, “Fanatical orthodoxy is in all movements a late development. It comes when the movement is in full possession of power and can impose its faith by force as well as by persuasion.” It’s also a late phase effort, a rearguard action, intended to defend the status quo, despite there no longer being an obvious use for it. The current arrangements in America no longer serve anyone other than the relatively small number of people who live like royalty in the Imperial Capital and its satellite cities.
At some point, the cost of maintaining unity among increasingly hostile tribes outweighs the benefit. The increasingly shrill demands for unity and obedience, along with the corresponding fissures opening up in public life, suggest we’re following a familiar path that leads to a break down. Some social scientists seem to get, to some degree, what is happening, but no one knows what comes next. Maybe it is just too frightening to consider or maybe it is impossible to know. What’s not coming, though, is national unity.