America Bows To Technocratic Despots

The expert class, tired of facing resistance, makes obedience mandatory.

Jacob Howland. “[T]he logic of 21st-century technocratic despotism was spelled out long ago in Plato’s Republic. In that dialogue, a class of self-styled experts — the philosopher-kings and their academically-trained ministers — considers its exclusive claim to a science of politics as a title to rule. Contemptuous of what they regard as the ignorant many, they treat their fellow citizens as subjects to be manipulated, and for reasons Matthew Crawford suggested in his essay on the new public health despotism.

“They do so first, because persuasion takes time and effort and is less efficient than other available methods for achieving the desired results. In a democratic republic, this is a fundamental corruption of power. Second, because the notion that governance is an applied science or techne encourages the idea that human beings are basically raw materials to be shaped and stamped, like blanks at the Denver mint. Left unchecked, the state’s fundamentally idolatrous desire to coin young souls exclusively in its own image leads to the destruction of the family. The Attorney General’s attempt effectively to criminalise parental veto over public school curricula is a step in this direction. And third, because technocratic elites are inclined to regard the unsophisticated many as cognitively impaired. In the Beautiful City of the Republic, the rulers’ medicinal lies are justified on the ground that one wouldn’t give weapons to madmen. Just so, Dr Fauci’s supposedly noble lies about Covid presuppose that Americans are too sick to be entrusted with the truth.

“It is hard to exaggerate the extent to which the therapeutic idiom of bureaucracies has taken hold in United States. (Here again, the University of Tulsa was ahead of the curve, having installed a safe-space affirming psychiatrist as president in 2016.) It is no coincidence that expressions of the manly confidence, candor, and “masculine independence of opinion” that Tocqueville saw as essential to the health of a democratic republic are increasingly likely to be condemned as “toxic”, a term that tries to square the circle by implying that the problem is simultaneously one of social disease and moral depravity. But this is yesterday’s news.

“Tyrants have always attacked the political immune system of the people. Fearing spirited assertions of free thought, ancient Greek ones were known to close gymnasiums and ban philosophical discussion. At that time medicine was unsophisticated, and the psychiatric imprisonment of political opponents was not yet possible. Things have not gone so far in our country, but the identification of unorthodox speech and even of silence with violence — itself a symptom of a contagious political madness — serves the same purpose.

“Such tactics may be effective in the short term, but progressivist technocratic despotism is disastrous as a long-term political strategy in the United States. It will either be decisively repudiated or do great (and perhaps irreparable) harm to the country. For it betrays a fundamental ignorance not only of what one might call the physics of democratic republicanism, but of the unique nature of the American political experiment.

“Plato again illuminates matters. In the Republic, Socrates compares individual souls and political communities to spinning tops. This is a rich and suggestive image. Those short-lived wanderers we played with as children, setting them in motion like little gods, had a lifespan that depended on the rotational impetus imparted by a snap of fingers or string. Encountering irregularities on the hardwood floor, they would wobble and sometimes fall; we cheered when they righted themselves and continued to roam, as they often did. Children instinctively understand the allegorical character of such games.

“A top that does not lean in any direction — as happens only at maximum energy — is Plato’s image of the healthy soul and city. Such vital rectitude, which the Romans called religio, was traditionally formed by social ligaments of ancestral custom and habit that constrained the wild impulses of the young and made them straighten up, balancing their characters and aligning them with the ancestors below and the gods above. The ancients understood that moral alignment with traditional and transcendent norms optimises the energy of the human organism in a way that is essential for navigation. Lives tend to drift and fall apart without it.

“But punitive doctrinal correctness is no substitute for the basically healthy mores that have long kept the American polity from falling over. Our governing elites fail to understand that courage and moderation are the true and steady foundations of prudent policy. The good kind of political correctness that the Greeks called orthē doxa, upright opinion that furnishes sound premises for political deliberation, is rooted in these virtues and cannot be produced by the moral orthopedics of the propaganda state. The forceful imposition of woke political orthodoxy on the American public can only breed resentment and promote hypocrisy.

“While energy is imparted externally to a spinning top, a republic is renewed from within, by the exertions of its citizens. But even well-founded ones eventually fall off kilter. Decline may begin gradually, with minute oscillations, or suddenly, through some external blow, but it always terminates in wild gyrations. Most often, decay results when internal forces move large numbers of citizens, and impede the motions of many others, in ways that throw the whole out of balance.

“The chafing humiliations of the Covid police are just part of a surge of social friction that was gestating for years and exploded with the election of President Trump five years ago. Strong political passions, multiplied, amplified, and frequently concentrated on specific targets by corporate media and big tech, have destabilised our essential public and private institutions, virtually all of which, through some demonic Oedipal fatality, now seem intent on repudiating their founding principles and betraying their core missions.

“Some of those who, by reason of experience and accumulated wisdom, might still be capable of righting these institutions have been purged; the rest have mostly retired or retreated under fire, withdrawing much good and necessary energy from our common national life. Depleted and uncharacteristically depressed, the American people now spin and shudder along the edge of the abyss. What future awaits us if we forget how to live and work together in amity, and if, emptied of honest debate on matters of pressing concern, the public square echoes with blood curdling war cries?

“I have become convinced that a particular deficit of historical memory lies at the root of all our ills. I think there will be no cure for what ails us unless we can recover the answer to one big question: What is America for? What are we about, as a nation? Lincoln taught at Gettysburg that the United States was “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”. The twin pillars of our American story are ordered liberty and individual dignity.

“Ours is a unique experiment in mature self-governance, testing whether a nation of citizens who are free and equal under the law — and therefore free to make mistakes, to be wrong or right in their own ways and to stand or fall as they will under the hammer of experience — can long endure. This experiment involves considerable risk; as Tocqueville repeatedly reminds us, every one of our political institutions and practices balances goods against evils. But even when faced with the gravest political exigencies, our forefathers reckoned that the rewards of participation in the story of America were too precious to forgo.

“This question of risk goes to the heart of the problem Crawford raised. Failure to comply with Covid regulations is presumed to be irrational because it exposes the populous to unnecessary dangers. But risk is always relative to possible outcomes, which today are seen darkly through a glass of psychological and physical safetyism. To take a real example, does the possibility that a student might suffer psychic injury from a book spine justify removing a volume entitled American Negro Poetry from a high school library? But what sort of injury are we talking about? And how does it compare to the possibility that a student will never hear Langston Hughes sing America or speak of rivers, or dream a world “where every man is free”? And above all, who has the right to decide these matters?

“Our technocratic mandarins dislike such questions and recoil from the political uncertainties of democratic debate. Whatever its psychological causes, their longing for certainty in practice leads them to insist on it in theory, and so to end debate by any means necessary. This is an engine of comprehensive despotism because it can be satisfied only with the advent of univocal global answers.

“The best outcome we could hope for if we continue down this road is what Tocqueville calls “the type of social well-being that can be provided by a very centralised administration to the people who submit to it”. “Travelers tell us,” he writes, “that the Chinese have tranquility without happiness, industry without progress, stability without strength, physical order without public morality.… I imagine that when China opens to Europeans, the latter will find there the most beautiful model of administrative centralization that exists in the universe.”

Biggest Inflation Increase in Thirty Years:

The treadmill that is delayed, this ain’t it. “Consumer prices in October increased by a historic 6.2 percent over the year prior making it the biggest inflation jump in 30 years. According to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans also paid 0.9 percent more on daily goods and other items than they did in September.

“Along with shelter, used cars and trucks, and new vehicles, the indexes for medical care, for household furnishing and operations, and for recreation all increased in October,” the report noted.

“These rising prices come on the heels of a massive supply-chain crisis fueled by the Biden administration’s lack of action and a nation still recovering from months of shutdowns mandated by politicians who sacrificed economic stability and viability to keep people at home.

“White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki recently joked that the supply-chain issues facing a majority of American families are simply “the tragedy of the treadmill that’s delayed,” and White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain also downplayed the crisis in a retweet mischaracterizing the historic inflation and backup of goods as “high class problems.” More here. And here.

OSHA Plans To Rely On Narcs:

Whistleblowers needed. “To enforce President Joe Biden’s forthcoming COVID-19 mandate, the U.S. Labor Department is going to need a lot of help. Its Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn’t have nearly enough workplace safety inspectors to do the job.

“So the government will rely upon a corps of informers to identify violations of the order: Employees who will presumably be concerned enough to turn in their own employers if their co-workers go unvaccinated or fail to undergo weekly tests to show they’re virus-free.

“What’s not known is just how many employees will be willing to accept some risk to themselves — or their job security — for blowing the whistle on their own employers. Without them, though, experts say the government would find it harder to achieve its goal of requiring tens of millions of workers at companies with 100 or more employees to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 or be tested weekly and wear a mask on the job.”

Why The Woke Can’t Take A Joke:

Kyle Mann. “‘It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it,” G.K. Chesterton observed more than 100 years ago. The Laughing Prophet, as he was known, pointed out that people who are secure in their beliefs need not fear mockery. It’s those with shaky doctrines who can’t tolerate laughter. Today’s political radicals hold their views with the fervor of a religion, and by Chesterton’s measure they’re rather weak creeds.

“As Dave Chappelle recently found out, mocking the left’s dearly held dogma will provoke outrage and uproar the likes of which would make the religious right of Satanic Panic fame look grounded and sane. You are allowed to make jokes, the left declares, as long as they target the right people—or rather, the people the left thinks are wrong. Anyone in their congregation is off limits.

“But the recent dustup over Mr. Chappelle only further demonstrates the true power of political satire and comedy. It can shine a light on the unflattering traits of those controlling our cultural institutions. Funny is funny, even in a time of political polarization and censorship. Comedy can get people of all stripes laughing and dole out a little truth while their guard is down. This is why, from woke boardrooms to the White House and elite universities, those wielding cultural power today can’t abide humor that illuminates their moral failures, their hypocrisy and the ultimate bankruptcy of their worldviews. Jokes intended to provoke a good-natured laugh are now met with calls for censorship, boycotts and even “fact checks.”

“Satire in all its forms—from online satirical papers like the Babylon Bee and the Onion to the pre-Trump days of Stephen Colbert and John Oliver —is the little boy turning the world on its head by pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. The kid isn’t scheming to start a political revolution or even really telling a joke. He’s dryly stating the obvious, not having yet learned the rules of polite society.

“The boy, in his childish innocence, has stumbled on another superpower of comedy: It unites people. It empowers them to speak up. It opens up even closed hearts and minds to a new perspective. It reminds us that our leaders and those with an ironclad grip on our cultural centers are not imperial gods, but men naked in the cold.

“You can see then why they can abide only comedy that plays by their rules. Once a culture learns to laugh at its leaders, it’s hard to scare them into silence. So they’ll let you joke, all right. They’ll let you joke about how great the emperor’s outfit is and how beautiful the ceremony, and they’ll especially appreciate it if you make fun of the crowd of peasants and their filthy garb. Just don’t point out the obvious, or you could find yourself on the business end of a guillotine—or at least of a Netflix employee protest.“

Feature:

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Ephemera:

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Podcast:

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