American politics is often cast as a battle between wreckers and restorers, taking turns at the helm of state. The wreckers are the do-gooders on the Left, who push through a bunch of ill-considered, by well-intentioned reforms that end poorly. The restorers are the so-called conservatives on the Right, who come in to clean up the mess and restore things back to order. Political history is often described in these terms, even by the people on the Left, who focus on the good intentions.
It is, of course, another example of how both sides of the Progressive orthodoxy serve the interests of the whole. The Left side gets to fashion itself as the good-hearted reformers, but are in too much of hurry to save the world. Their colleagues on the Right, of course, get to play the daddy role, coming in after the mess was made to be the sober minded restorer of order. It’s the classic sit-com model of the funny, scatter- brained wife with the frustrated husband as the straight man.
The funny thing about this model is the base of both sides never accepts this dynamic, instead seeing themselves more as revolutionaries and romantics. The hard Left dreams of flattening the global order to build a new world order around Gaia worship or possibly a matriarchy. The popularity of Ocasio-Cortez is based in the assumption of her followers that she is anti-white and will therefore usher in a world without white people. They clearly seek a radically different world than the present.
On the Right, something similar is true. The base conservative is not looking to fix the mess made by the Left. They want to roll back the last fifty years of cultural revolution, getting back to an America that looks like the 1950’s. If you asked most of the so-called movement conservatives, they would say they want to roll the political order back to the 18th century, the way the Founders intended. These are romantics, not restorers. They want to go back to another age, not live in this one.
Pillow talk to their base, while playing both sides against one another, is how the American political class has functioned for the last three generations. The Democrats figure out how to get a majority and push through some reforms, which never work as intended or satisfy the base. The majority falls apart and the Republicans come in to preserve the real reforms, while cleaning up the collateral damage and telling their base they plan to roll all of it back. This never happens, of course.
The health care reform package passed under the reign of Obama is a pretty good example of how this works. The bill was supposed to fix the American health care system, by lowering everyone’s costs, giving free care to everyone, who needs it, while giving everyone on the supply side a raise. This was lunacy, but it passed and the wheels came off the cart quickly. The republicans promised to repeal it, which they never did, despite have two years under Trump to do it.
Again, it was all a charade from the jump. The original bill was about punishing Christian organizations, hated by certain elements of the Left, while taking care of the wealthy interest profiting from their health care monopolies. The so-called reforms by the conservatives stripped a few onerous provisions from Christians, but kept all the goodies for the monopolists. Health care reform tuned out to be a bipartisan scam on the public that profited the health care rackets.
The truth is, the American political system has evolved to prevent both the revolutionary and the romantic from ever getting power. The one thing these two types have in common is they are at war with the present. The former wants to race into a glorious future, disconnected from the present. The latter wants to go back to a glorious past, but a radically different past, one where they possess the foresight their ancestors lacked. It is a past with a better future.
This is precisely why the people reigning over the neo-liberal political order are in such a panic over the rise of dissident politics. The numbers may be small, but the dissident right legitimatizes the radical Left. Put another way, by marginalizing radicals and anathematizing an authentic Right, the political class saps both sides of legitimacy, therefore maintaining a monopoly on legitimacy and political power. An authentic Right results in an authentic Left and the end of the present orthodoxy.
This is, perhaps, why the interwar years in Europe hold such a fascination with modern political thinkers, despite the lack of relevance. After the cataclysm that was the Great War, the old order had lost its legitimacy. Into the void rushed Bolshevism, the radicals, and Fascism, the romantics. The commies wanted to build their glorious future on the ruins of the past. The Fascists wanted to wind back the clock, recapturing the glory of the past, but with the lessons that led to the horrible present.
Another way of viewing that period is as a battle between Bolshevism and Fascism for how best to rule the industrial West. The communist embraced extreme egalitarianism, in theory, while Fascism embraced extreme hierarchy, in practice. Liberal democracy was not an alternative to Bolshevism or the enemy of Fascism. It was a compromise between the two. In theory, liberal democracy combines the virtues of egalitarianism, the democracy, with those of hierarchy in the form of meritocracy.
What we are witnessing and to a small degree a part of, is the decline of the old democratic order, as both an alternative Left and an alternative Right emerge from the shadows of post-Cold War America. Just as Fascism and Bolshevism were a battle over how best to rule the industrial West, the coming fight will be about how best to manage the West in the demographic and technological era. The reformers and restorers will be sidelined, while the revolutionaries square off to decide the future.
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