The collision of materialism and idealism in American Politics

American democracy shows what happens between political contestants when one party is idealistic and the other is not.

I was a Libertarian in college – socially liberal and economically conservative. Still, the College Republicans were friendly to me. They enjoyed a hearty debate over drug legalization, gay marriage, or the War in Iraq. But the College Democrats were weirdly hostile and wouldn’t engage me, though we agreed on many issues.

Republican discourse is idealistic in character. Debate centers around discovering which policies would be best for America, or which policies support shared American values. Republican factions might never reach agreement, but if you’re willing to listen to them, they are willing to listen to you. The Republican youth conference CPAC is a lot of fun to attend for the quality of political conversations.

The Democratic party, however, is thoroughly materialistic. It is all “Who? Whom?”. They will not debate optimal policy with you because that is not what they care about. They care about advancing the interest of their interest groups. The first thought of the College Democrats on me walking into their meeting was thinking who is this guy? Is he one of the people on our side? Being white and male without the typical liberal air of softness and apology was a major tell.

Between the two, Democratic ideology is better adapted for life in a democracy. Rational idealism is a luxury for a trusted, homogenous group. Republicans engaging in idealistic debate foolishly believe that the homogenous America of the first 200 years still exists, that the nation shares a common set of American values. But America is a changin’, as  progressives tell us with glee.

Just as rationalist debate advances policy within groups, “Who? Whom?” is for doing battle between groups. This is tribal warfare on the African savanna and nobody cares what your beliefs are about income taxes. The question of the day is “are you a red or a blue”?

Materialism a very effective strategy in a diverse democracy. Democrats win because Republicans don’t realize that the rules of the game have changed. The national discourse is no longer about optimal policy, “small government”, or “family values”. It is now about stoking class anxiety and class hatred. It is about “wars on women” and the “racism” of voter ID.

Voter ID is a good example of how modern politics work. Republicans adopted the sensible policy that a democratic nation should check ID cards before people are allowed to vote, ensuring that the voter is a citizen with the legal right to vote. Democrats ran screaming, telling minority ethnic groups that the Republicans seek to disenfranchise them. In the last election, minorities voted overwhelmingly for the Democrats, giving them a smashing victory. Anxiety over voter disenfranchisment was no doubt a part of that.

Materialism cannot be combated with Idealism. The more real, the more primitive ideology wins. Resisting primitive ideas requires honor and agreement on both sides. Otherwise, it is as if one party brings a gun to a fistfight.

Democrats are perfectly willing to buy minority votes by helping them defraud the government. The only hope for Republicans is to sink to their level, and thus become a thing that they despise, or perish with the middle-class white majority.

Politically we have returned to a Hobbesian world of all against all and anything goes. The ideologies that win will be the groups that are the first to abandon their idealistic hangups and fight dirty until total victory is attained.

The True Knowledge

Ken Macleod writes the best political sci fi.

I first encountered his work through a libertarian friend’s recommendation of The Stone Canal, a homage to anarcho-capitalism set on a Mars-like colony planet. This lead me to the sequel, The Cassini Division, which depicts the anarcho-socialist society left behind on Earth.

Apparently there are two other books in the series, but I started reading one of them and it was terrible.

Macleod’s books explore the farthest reaches of right and left libertarianism. One of the distinguishing characteristics of both far right and far left ideologies is that they embrace materialism over idealism. They have a delightful hard-headed way of analyzing the mechanisms of power as it actually exists. Who holds the guns? Who makes the call on how they are used? If there is democracy, who controls the education system and the media that determines public opinion? It is no accident that neoreactionaries look to far leftist figures like Alinsky, Chomsky, Lippman, and Lenin for advice on the mechanisms of political change.

On the other hand, the discourse of the intellectual mainstream is idealistic. The power to make their fictions a reality is a given, so they spend their time weaving ever more complicated ideals. It is practically a theological enterprise, scholastic even. Their thoughts are far removed from the mechanism of power – violence is as alien to them as inalienable rights are real. To the extremist, mainstream discourse reads like the Summa Theologica to a non-Catholic.

Lenin’s concise formulation of political logic – “Who? Whom?” is a favorite on the reactionary right. It loses some meaning in translation – the basic idea is that fights over ideology are really fights over people – who wins and who loses, or who is doing and to whom it is being done. The socialist society in The Cassini Division, is based on a similar philosophy called “The True Knowledge”, a shockingly realistic creed:

Life is a process of breaking down and using other matter, and if need be, other life. Therefore, life is aggression, and successful life is successful aggression. Life is the scum of matter, and people are the scum of life. There is nothing but matter, forces, space and time, which together make power. Nothing matters, except what matters to you. Might makes right, and power makes freedom. You are free to do whatever is in your power, and if you want to survive and thrive you had better do whatever is in your interests. If your interests conflict with those of others, let the others pit their power against yours, everyone for theirselves. If your interests coincide with those of others, let them work together with you, and against the rest. We are what we eat, and we eat everything.

All that you really value, and the goodness and truth and beauty of life, have their roots in this apparently barren soil.

This is the true knowledge.

We had founded our idealism on the most nihilistic implications of science, our socialism on crass self-interest, our peace on our capacity for mutual destruction, and our liberty on determinism. We had replaced morality with convention, bravery with safety, frugality with plenty, philosophy with science, stoicism with anaesthetics and piety with immortality. The universal acid of the true knowledge had burned away a world of words, and exposed a universe of things.

Things we could use.

Among untrustworthy people, the True Knowledge is a necessity. Naive idealism always loses against “Who? Whom?”. It is only after sovereignty is secure that the more idealistic side of human nature may be indulged.

Liberal Misogyny

*editor’s note: this post started life as a hacker news comment

I am consistently amazed by the profound contempt which modern liberalism holds for the traditional role of the wife and mother. In a healthy society, motherhood is not looked down upon or held in contempt, but mothers are honored. As the managers of families and the people that consistently invest the most in the next generation, they are the backbone of society. Every successful person today owes his success to a chain of hundreds of successful mothers, stretching back into pre-history.

It is only as our planning horizon has shrunk from a thousand years to six months that we begin to look on motherhood as a form of slavery. Females are told that they must do anything but a traditional female role to have value in society. We cajole women to act like men. Every little girl that enjoys playing mother with a baby doll is judged a traitor to her sex. In a twist of irony for the movement that enjoys so much flinging the epithet at others, liberalism is misogynist.

It is little surprise that Western liberals no longer breed above replacement rates. Denigrating motherhood is not the way for a people to last the aeons of time. I believe the future of the West is profoundly more conservative than the present, because Darwin. Liberalism is a suicidal ideology.

Who is raising the next generation? To a large extent, nobody. In the upper class, following the finest tradition of Yankee capitalism, the task is outsourced and commoditized. This allows for the mother to join the rat race and earn a second income for the family, but the parents discover that 80 hours of work is now needed to buy what 40 used to do. GDP goes up because more labor takes place in the formal economy, and politicians pat themselves on the back. Is this a way for a civilization to survive?

In fiction, too, the liberal critic demands that a female “defy gender stereotypes”, i.e. act unlike a female. The liberal wants to see warrior women preposterously beating up bigger, stronger men while walking the fine line between being attractive and being objectified. If she has a love interest, she must “own” her sexuality by being sexually aggressive like a man. And her career must not anything too soft or caring – preferably something traditionally male.

I hesitated to use hyperbolic liberal jargon like “misogyny” – literally meaning “hatred of women”. The attitude that liberal feminism shows towards females and the fruits of their millennia of work is more accurately contempt rather than hatred. While proclaiming themselves the champions of women’s rights, liberals set out to destroy femininity. Every good feminist father wants his little girl to grow up to be a boy.

The worst form of government

Anybody who’s discussed politics on the internet has seen the Winston Churchill quote:

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.”

It seems to be wielded like a charm to ward off doubt ever more frequently as the Western democracies spiral into chain-reaction crises. But seldom do people wielding this quote seriously consider any other form of government.

Is it true that democracy is the best form of government? I’m not a religious man, but I’m a fan of Jesus’s saying “by their fruits, you will know them”. If a tree is producing poison apples, don’t count on it to reform its ways anytime soon.

So what are the fruits of democracy? A big welfare state, permanent deficits, class warfare, and birth rates below replacement. The democratic governments of the west aren’t the worst governments ever, but their history is one of monotonic decline and an increasing inability to deal with obvious impending catastrophe.

The end game for these rotting democratic hulks is high levels of immigration in order to keep the workforce big enough to feed the welfare state while hoping that the education system can turn immigrants into something close enough to natives to preserve native values and culture. It’s a slow suicide, and a ceding of the earth to others who will happily receive it.

Reaction without Ressentiment

Over at More Right, Athrelon caution against the urge to smash the progressive Cathedral just because it would be satisfying. Indeed, the people that make up the progressive movement are the some of the best remnants of the West. They are not the enemy. The doctrine of progressivism is a poisonous, suicidal, and perverse ideology. But it is perverse precisely because it is an ideology of ressentiment. It teaches the weak that they are good because they are weak and that the strong are evil because they are strong. Progressives never lack for reasons to hate the successful man.

But progressives are the noblest caste of our society. Progressives have empathy and high IQs. They are scientists, artists, and writers. They love knowledge. They marry before they have kids and manage their lives competently. The political doctrine they preach is batshit insane, but let’s not throw out the whole cake because of a little moldy corner. When their leadership brings an end to the Western way of life, their way of life will go too. And that will be a sad day.

My reason for getting involved in political engineering is that I want to build nice places to live that can last. These will necessarily reject ressentiment, the feelings of bitterness and hatred towards one’s betters. And they will give room for the best features of man to be developed and relished. We need to keep our eyes on the goal and not be seduced by the ancient pleasure of smashing enemies.

Too much of right-wing discourse is marked by a spirit of bitterness that smells of ressentiment. It is not the smell of a confident, noble people. It is the smell of a prole mob that thinks it would be fun to turn the Harvard dons out on the street.

Me, I’d rather seduce them to the side of order and reason. It’s a tall task – they’ve been gulping the progressive kool-aid for 300 years. Maybe some are unredeemable. Certainly  no progressive should wield any real power or influence in a good society. But I’m hoping many of the smart, honest progressives can be convinced to come over to our side.

Democracy as Ressentiment

The arguments I hear against universal suffrage democracy start from a belief that some other means of appointing political leaders will lead to a better governed society. But arguments for universal suffrage begin with an argument about fairness or rights. Now look, I have no idea what fairness tastes like and I’ve never seen a right, but I do know that I prefer a well-governed society over a poorly governed one, so it’s easy for me to choose which kind of argument I prefer. But I seem to be in a minority among my peers.

The other day a coworker and I discussed the stupidity of voters. I suggested it was ludicrous that we let people vote who don’t know how a bill becomes law. How are they going to have valuable thoughts on how the government should run if they don’t know how it works? My friend agreed that restricting the franchise would produce better government, but he disagreed that we should do so. Why? Because it wouldn’t be “fair”, because lots of people grow up without access to an education that would give them a basic civics lesson.

My response to him is “so what?”. How does the “unfairness” of the situation of the uninformed voter change whether or not it is wise to let him vote? One of the most pernicious consequences of liberalism (and here, like a libertarian, I include both the modern and the classical sense) is divorcing right-ness from wisdom. If doing good leads us to self-harm, then why do good?

My conclusion is that Universal Democracy is an ideology of what Nietzsche referred to as ressentiment. It is not driven by sober reflection on what is best for society, but on the emotions of envy felt by those without the vote towards those that have it. That they have little idea what to do with it once they get it is seldom considered.

The founders of the United States spent many words reasoning against democracy in its rawest forms. The advocates of unlimited Jacksonian democracy needed no reasons to refute them. Resentment and envy were enough.

Libertarian Suicide

Libertarianism appeals to people who begin to see the flaws in the liberal edifice, but that don’t want to go through the pain of replacing its rotten core principles. They still believe in the most fundamental liberal myths, and the cracks in the foundation of their philosophy shows up in the deformity of their policy prescriptions. Chief among them is this:

all men(humans) are created equal

As this is clearly untrue, perverse effects flow from it. Libertarians find themselves attracted to doctrines that would wipe out libertarianism if implemented. In other words, they are suicidal.

Exhibit A is Bryan Caplan, and his influencees such as Don Boudreaux, who support unrestricted immigration from the third world. Some of us who enjoy a Western/libertarian lifestyle note that as the United States runs a democracy, and that third-world peasants tend to vote in un-libertarian ways. It’s a simple matter to extrapolate that the United States with the addition of a few hundred million third-world immigrants will have political institutions that mirror the quality of the third-world. But your Bryan Caplans of the world, again, believe that all humans are created equal, and that with a little education your third-world peasants will become Thomas Jeffersons and leave their current social and political pathologies behind.

Being pseudo-liberals, your libertarians are also dogmatic pseudo-puritans. Even if it is true, they argue, that third-world immigration will destroy the quality of life of the West, then we must go through with it because it is right. “Right” to a libertarian is a Christian/platonic ideal of righteousness, not the Confucian/Aristotelian concept which is synonymous with “wise” or beneficial. Libertarians see no contradiction in the “good” being opposed to good sense.

I am a Westerner and I like free Western society. But I do not believe that any principle is worth committing suicide for. Nietzsche is wise to counsel against conviction and in favor of pragmatism.

 A mind that aspires to great things, and that wills the means thereto, is necessarily sceptical. Freedom from any sort of conviction belongs to strength

I commented at Bryan’s blog, my ideal model for preserving freedom was Singapore’s first president, Lee Kwan Yew. Yew outlawed communist party writings in the 60s and 70s. While neighboring countries fell to bloody communist revolutions, Singapore remained a relatively free and prosperous country. Moreover, it’s economic model served as an inspiration for Chinese ruler Deng Xiaoping in crafting an alternative to China’s failing Maoist totalitarianism.

Were the actions of Lee Kwan Yew un-libertarian? Certainly. But yet he preserved an island of liberty in the middle of a hostile world.

Blessed is the man ruled by a wise king, and woe to him ruled by a dogmatic libertarian!