Saturday, November 3, 2012

Obama and the crisis of liberalism

James Piereson at The New Criterion has a marvelous review of Charles Kesler's new book I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism.

Most fundamentally of all, [the first Progressive president Woodrow] Wilson claimed that the vision of the founding fathers did not lead to progress but to endless division and factional infighting. The Constitution was a Newtonian machine designed to balance conflicting forces when what was now required was a Darwinian instrument flexible enough to evolve in response to changes in its environment. It was not necessary to change the Constitution itself in order to bring about such a fundamental change; it was only necessary for Americans to think about it in a new way. After all, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison led a revolution and wrote the Constitution in response to the challenges of their time: Why should not Americans in the twentieth century do the same? Thus Wilson and his associates in the Progressive movement looked to an intellectual revolution as the means by which Americans would liberate themselves from the constricted and obsolete doctrines of the founding fathers, and in the process free themselves from the limits the founders placed upon government.
Hanna Arendt, the pre-eminent scholar of totalitarianism, has observed that the totalitarian concept of government rejects adherence to natural or positive law. Totalitarian rule demands participation in a Darwinian process of "progress" and struggle, without respect for traditional concepts of law grounded in a written Constitution based on God-given rights. 

Progressivism is certainly not totalitarian to the same extent that Nazism and Communism are totalitarian, but the Progressive rejection of originalism in Constitutional law and gross rejection of black-letter law (how can Affirmative Action be defended in light of the Civil Rights Act, which explicitly prohibits government discrimination based on race?) certainly invokes the basic chord of totalitarian politics-- the notion that the "movement" is more important than the actual law.

Piereson goes on to ask: what happens when Progressivism runs out of money, as it has already? He suspects that it is the end of Progressivism. I am not so sanguine. I am concerned that Progressivism will progress, stir social and financial disintegration, and pursue a much more threatening-- totalitarian actually-- agenda.

The Kerensky goverment and Weimar spawned much evil. In a time of financial collapse and social disintegration-- which we might face with our ruinous deficits and debt and incessant race-baiting and class-baiting--we must be careful of people who already believe that their political agenda supercedes the written Constitution and federal law.

Piereson's essay is brilliant. Please read the whole thing.


  1. a Darwinian process of "progress" and struggle

    You just make things up as you go, don't you? Darwinian evolution is not a progression from simple to complex. It's a common misconception.

    1. "Hanna Arendt, the pre-eminent scholar of totalitarianism, has observed that the totalitarian concept of government rejects adherence to natural or positive law."

      Actually, many totalitarians, including Hitler, simply claim to be carrying out natural law. And as with the modern Christian right, natural law just happens to coincide with their political views and justify oppression of those they wish to oppress.