It is 2023 and middle-aged conservative pundits around the country are wondering if maybe today is the day when they bring back the sock tie. Perhaps break out that “Gipper” lapel pin they got in college. After all, it is high time that this country be reminded of the greatness of the Reagan years. Then they think better of it, as they do not want to ruffle any feathers. After all, that is not who they are. Conservative principle requires conforming to current norms.
A bit ridiculous, perhaps, but it is not far off. This post by conservative pundit Jeremy Carl on Twitter is a good example. Ronald Reagan has been dead for close to twenty years and he has been out of public view for thirty years. For the tens of millions of people who entered the country after Reagan opened the border, he is at best a guy in their history books, no more meaningful to them than the other long dead white guys responsible for the scourge of whiteness, they are told.
In other words, Reagan and the politics of his time are about as relevant to this age as those old clothing styles in the closets of conservative pundits. Reagan and his movement were a product of the 20th century, primarily the Cold War. What we call conservatism was just a radical approach to fighting communism. Note that Reagan’s lasting influence is all negative. Corporatism, open borders and a massive military are what he passed onto the 21st century.
It would be unfair to lay the present crisis at the feet of Reagan as he was a man of his time dealing with the issues of his age. He could not know that his military buildup would lead to decades of reckless and pointless violence. No one imagined that his economic reforms would lead to the financialization of the economy. Global capital with the reach we are seeing was unimageable in the 1980’s. The world “trillion” was an abstraction for most people.
Even so, it is not hard to make a case that in the long run, the world would have been a better place if Carter had won in 1980. The neocons would have been cut off at the pass, thus sparing the world of their senseless violence. We most likely would not have got the same currency, banking and regulatory reforms that we got under Reagan, so we may have avoided the blossoming of global corporatism. This is all speculation, but you can make an argument for 1980 being the inflexion point.
Putting that aside, conservatives are not the only ones trapped in amber. The people they pretend to oppose are also spending every night at the museum. After the Cold War, what we call the Left went back to put on their old 1960’s radical outfits so they could relive their salad days, but this time as the man. For the last thirty years it has been a revenge tour by the culture wreckers who thought they got short changed when they rioted in their youth.
It went unnoticed, but in the Obama years, it was if they were working from a list of slights they endured over the prior decades. The Iran deal was about avenging the “arms-for-hostages” issue. The Russian reset that everyone now forgets was about avenging Carter. When they were not revisiting past defeats, they were reviving old causes like black radicalisms and sexual liberation. Just like their conservative buddies, the so-called Left is trapped in the 20th century.
This weird dance through the halls of the museum of the 20th century is most obvious with the war in the Ukraine. This post by Thaddeus McCotter at American Greatness is emblematic of the mindset. The triumphalism following the fall of the Soviet Empire froze everything in place. No one on either side of the political class can think beyond the point when the West declared the end of history. Therefore, nothing can be allowed to change from that point in time.
Alexander Dugin has written about how the end of the Cold War was a disaster, which strikes most Western readers as sour grapes. It certainly was a disaster for Russia, but who cares about Russia? She deserved it for losing. Of course, what he meant is that the Cold War provided a moral framework for the world. When it abruptly ended, that moral framework ended with it. All of a sudden, there were no rules and what has followed has been chaos from the Eurasian perspective.
From the Western perspective, it has been worse than chaos. “If God does not exist, everything is permitted” is a common Russian expression. In fact, it greatly influenced the thinking of Nietzsche. For the West, the requirements of the Cold War filled the role of God, limiting the excesses of the ruling class. When those restraints were removed, what followed was an orgy of excess leading to the current crisis, made worse by rulers who are trapped in the past century.
Max Planck famously said, “Science advances one funeral at a time” and that may be what must happen for the West to escape the current crisis. As the geriatric class of leaders fades from the seen, they will take their antiquated worldview with them, leaving open the possibility for a new world view. Whether the West is governable as currently composed will be the defining question, but it will not be answered by those old men with their sock ties and Reagan memorabilia.
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