Apologies for the severe delay getting back to you. I hope my response is worthwhile.
So why do I oppose (and dislike, really) Ted Cruz? In a word, the man is the epitome of everything that has marginalized the GOP for the last sixty-five years, since the 1950s- ideological movement conservatism so committed to inflexible principle as to shun all pragmatism and prudence, all in the best interests of “conservative” philosopher-kings and against the interests of the American nation’s true heritage. His brand of “conservatism” is better described as an ideology of right-wing libertarianism, social traditionalism, and neoconservative hawkishness- American Rightism, really. “Conservatism” in the true sense is a temperament gracing and adorning any conceivable ideology, and it has to do more with the character and personality of the thinker or statesman than with the principles they espouse. In some ways, FDR was a very conservative statesman (though only a few.) I’d argue that the MOST conservative (in the best sense) statesmen of the 20th Century were Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower- they accepted the realities of industrialism and the New Deal, respectively, and sought to update the institutions of American liberalism around these new institutional and economic realities. They did NOT seek to repeal or burn down the institutions that had grown up before them, as William Jennings Bryan and Barry Goldwater so desired.
In a sense, American conservatism needs a bedrock in some very liberal ideals. In my case those ideals are liberal nationalism and republicanism; but I can respect those who have, as their fundamental liberal ideals, Jeffersonian decentralism and classical liberalism (these include men I deeply respect like Yuval Levin and Henry Olsen.) These guys understand that policies have costs and that you need to tinker around with existing institutions in order to make them better work for the betterment of the common man. You’ll never hear this Levin or this Olsen call for the burning down of ObamaCare, but for its replacement. On the other hand, Cruzies like Cruz himself and most of the Freedom Caucus display no such pragmatism- as many have argued, their core message is “let’s go back to the laissez-faire of 1870.” (Note, by the way, that that pure laissez-faire led to oligarchy and monopoly. Government is not the only institution that can threaten liberty.)
And the economic libertarian ideology of today’s “conservatives” does not even RESEMBLE something that would have preservation of social capital and traditional morality and institutions as its guiding compass. Neoliberal banking deregulations? Flat taxation? Ending subsidies for infant industries and technology firms? These policies are all irrational in a truly nationalist sense, for they contribute to the formation of an internationalist financial elite and overclass; they also tend to destabilize the economy and undermine the true determinants of economic growth like basic research and infrastructure. They don’t even strongly benefit the working class that Cruzies purport to support (has trickle-down economics EVER worked?) Now I’m a 50% free-marketer- we are too heavily taxed and regulated and most legacy industries are propped up by disgusting government subsidies straight out of the 1930s. But taking an axe to that superstructure and adopting a Randian utopia is a sure path to national weakness, plutocratic ascendence, and working-class poverty.
But it is not only his economic pseudoscience that disgusts me with Ted Cruz. No, the worst part of his platform is, in my opinion, his social divisiveness. Don’t get me wrong- I’m a social moderate with a conservative social temperament, believing strongly in the importance of religion, family, and character in the formation of citizens, and in the necessity of social capital in an irrational world. When the world descended upon Hobby Lobby and that Pizza Shop, I defended the Christian businesses in both cases IN PRINT, because I don’t think it’s right that mob rule should overturn very basic religious liberty and liberty of conscience. And when I look at the crisis of the multiethnic poor, I see not only an economic crisis- I see a social-moral crisis that requires a civil society response as well as a governmental response. This, in my opinion, is what a truly just and inclusive social conservatism would look like. But Cruz? What Cruz peddles is a white Christian populism, based on the resentments of the Evangelical white working class against the excesses of liberal urban culture. And that culture HAS had its excesses- but that is no reason to imprudently marginalize everyone in the minority groups liberal social views purport to defend.
Can anyone see Ted Cruz being a uniter? Can anyone see Ted Cruz being a man who seriously believes in the future of America, when he crudely, snydely, and nostalgically harkens back to a conservative past that never existed? He makes enemies all around and delights in his rivalries; he insults entire classes of people and holds no respect for his fellow Senators and statesmen; his candidacy is based upon resentment and anger, not upon hope. He represents, to me, the anger of American right-wing populism rather than a constructive approach to solving any sort of institutional problem.
Would I prefer him over anyone? Well, in one-on-one matchups-
Cruz v. Clinton- Clinton. Clinton is the epitome of the establishment, but at least we can expect stability under her.
Cruz v. Trump- Trump. Trump is an opportunist, not an ideologue, and shockingly enough, probably a few points likelier to attempt to unite the nation.
Cruz v. Sanders- whoever jumps in as a third-party candidate. I stand squarely above and in the middle of these two, ideologically; I cannot in good conscience vote for either.
What I expect from a commander-in-chief, assuming we won’t get the next Washington, Lincoln, or FDR this election cycle, is someone who can keep America in strong, respectable standing among the nations of the Earth, someone who can put in place basic institutional and economic reforms in our heavily imbalanced system, and someone who can provide an optimistic, uniting message to the American people and guide them as one through crisis and calm. Cruz, methinks, cannot do any of those things.
If he’s elected President, though, I won’t necessarily lose all hope. You gotta have a mediocrity like Huntington, Buchanan, or Hoover before a demigod like Washington, Lincoln, or Roosevelt.
Apologies if I’ve offended. I hope you like the newsletter. Looking forward to keeping this conversation going.
No worries about boring me (you didn’t- experiences of my fellow young politicos interest me) and no worries about the length (I hope I can equal if not exceed you in vociferousness.) Now it’s my turn to apologize, for two things- first, for being late by a few days in my reply, and second, a preliminary apology in the event that what you’re about to read offends. I trust it won’t, as I like to believe that the conservatively-tempered are less prone to reactive oversensitivity than our progressive colleagues, but I’ve pissed off a few conservatives with my RINOisms and thought I should give you fair warning.
Where to begin, where to begin; I grew up in a Navy family (my dad’s a Captain in the Supply Corps) traveling coast to coast every few years as my dad was redeployed to new duty stations. I gained an appreciation for the vastness and beauty of the American continent and the ruggedness of the men and women who conquered it; early on, my heroes were the pioneers, trappers, frontiersmen, and soldiers of the West, reliant upon none but themselves (or so I thought) for the fundamentals of life. I still hold that the greatest Americanism lies not with the inventor nor with the capitalist, but with the rugged explorer, the homesteader, the pioneer who conquers new worlds and lays the progress for civilization in their tracks. The inventor and capitalist make close seconds in the American experience, though overshadowing them all in my now-older mind is the Lycurgus or the Solon- the lawgiver, the empire-builder, the forger of institutions. But now I’m getting ahead of myself- back to Oregon Trail.
It should make sense that I quickly identified Boy Scouting as my favorite activity in youth, given my romanticism of adventure. Sure, I was active in school and sports and I devoured the library books my mom picked up and the 24-volume encyclopedia my dad bought from a door-to-door salesman, but beneath all these pursuits was a burning desire to be a pioneer, a soldier, an American. In Scouting I found my home- self-reliance, public service and citizenship, handicraft and appreciation for the outdoors and the ruggedness that must come with outdoor living, and the like. Incidentally, one of the original patrons of the Scouting movement back in the early 20th Century was President Theodore Roosevelt, a great hero of mine. I can’t be sure whether my adoration of him stems from my love of Scouting or vice-versa. Neo-Hamiltonian (to use the late Samuel P. Huntington’s term) militaristic citizenship like that encouraged by both TR and General Leonard Wood never took off in a Jeffersonian Republic, but it gained a small but loyal foothold in the Boy Scouts of America. And it has done its duty many times over- it produced the greatest public servant alive today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
When I was old enough to go backpacking, I seized upon the opportunity and quickly stacked up mountains and canyons under my belt. Havasupai, the Colorado River Gorge, Mount Whitney, Mount St. Helens, the Olympic Range, northern New Mexico- these were my stomping grounds, where I lay beneath the thousand stars and pondered my existence and my purpose. There’s a certain awe instilled in your breast when you see the sights ancient man once looked upon. I also entered the cult of service in Boy Scouts, a Masonically-based secret society called the Order of the Arrow, and quickly joined the ceremonies team, dressing up (in true culturally appropriatory style, to use a college term) as a Native American and reciting pages upon pages of symbolic poetry for new inductees in some of the most powerful ceremonies I’ve ever taken part in. I still have the lines etched on my heart; I can’t tell you them because of my oath, but I can tell you that the BSA and its secret society have a very, very profound understanding of service, sacrifice, and brotherhood rooted in traditions across the broad swathe of Mankind, and I owe those two institutions everything I think I know about service. Such concerns played a part in my first encounter with the real world, my Eagle Scout Project (carried out while I was still in the innocent years of 15-17) at Kitsap Memorial State Park, near Seattle. With a lot of help from a lot of people, businesses, and the state park service, I built an amphitheater that could seat a hundred people, and subsequently held my Eagle Scout Court of Honor in it. Perhaps the experience engendered in me a bias for public-private-civic partnerships over mere public projects or private contracts; in any case, it taught me that I’m a great dreamer and a terrible doer. I can’t manage people for my life.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that my formative years were spent in Scouting, and to understand the apolitical roots of my political theory, you must understand how it influenced me: a faith in the duties of the citizen to the state and nation; a love of adventure and individualism; a premium on character as the determinant of destiny; and a spirit of service, brotherhood, and sacrifice as the “purifying fire in which the dross of selfishness is cleansed,” to imperfectly quote a Rockefeller.
Equally important is my Roman Catholic upbringing- herein I understand the importance of tradition and the reality of culture, the necessity of hierarchy and traditionalism for social stability, the sheer ugliness of Man, his imperfection, his sinfulness, his crookedness, his flaws, the beauty of forgiveness, redemption, and acceptance of that imperfection, and what other means of correcting all that wrongness than Love itself? Not the love between man and woman, powerful though it is, nor between brother and brother; but the love of a parent for a child, a guardian for the protected, of a creator for the creation. It’s irrational. It’s oftentimes contrary to interests, materially speaking. But it is beautiful, and it is the font from which social trust and social cohesion flows. It is the most wonderful thing in the world, and none exemplified it better than did Jesus Christ.
From my Catholicism I gain a pessimism about human nature, yet an optimism about human salvation and the capacity for every man and woman to be a saint. From my Catholicism I gain a respect for tradition, for hierarchy, for social trust. From my Catholicism I gain a love of Mankind Universal, and despite my Machiavellian political understanding, and my knowledge that tragedy and division is the lot of Man on Earth, I carry in my heart the belief that there is something beautiful about the human that I must not forget. Machiavelli’s good friend Guicciardini said “the statesman must love his country more than his own soul” and this, I believe, is true- if I achieve any of my ambitions, I’ll be doing a good amount of burn time in Purgatory.
So you get the gist of my cultural upbringing- Catholic, Boy Scout, Yankee values, communitarian temperament with an individualist ethos, etc. No illusions about progress or perfection, but a pure, shining hope in the betterment of Mankind’s lot. Moral sadness at the blood that has been spilt and will be spilt so long as mankind dots the Earth, for hatred is in our hearts. A view that politics must harness what is best in us, and control what is worst. Also a neurotic desire to be Jack Ryan, as I had read all the Tom Clancy books as a middle schooler.
I am thoroughly a conservative- but a conservative in a different sense than Russell Kirk or Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater might define it. I don’t espouse traditional values, neoconservative militarism, or neoliberal/Friedmanite ideology, and in fact usually oppose the excesses of all three. To me, conservatism has a far nobler past than the comparatively annoying last sixty years since the founding of National Review- its Bible is not The Conscience of a Conservative or Atlas Shrugged or Capitalism and Freedom. Its Bibles are The Federalist Papers, Reflections on the Revolution in France, Democracy in America- vast tomes of timeless wisdom, steeped in an understanding of human nature that transcends the ages, more a temperament than an ideology. That is my problem with most self-described “conservatives” today- they are sheer ideologists but have the nerve to call themselves a temperament that they most certainly are not- moderate, nuanced, balanced, etc.
I say it again- I don’t see conservatism as an ideology, as National Review and the post-1955 “conservative”movement have made it. I see it as a political and social temperament applicable to ideologies of all sorts. There are conservative nationalists (Hamilton, Disraeli) conservative liberals (Burke, Tocqueville) conservative socialists or semi-socialists (Franklin Roosevelt, De Gaulle) conservative traditionalists (basically every non-Marxist third-world leader of the last century, esp. Lee Kuan Yew) and a thousand other varieties. Only a few American “conservatives” are truly conservative- Yuval Levin, the late Jack Kemp, this kind of person. “Fusionist” is a better term for the post-1955 movement- fusing, as it does, libertarian economics, social traditionalism, and neoconservative strategy. I laugh when demagogues like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and Laura Ingraham talk about “conservative” values, and then go on to expound free markets and lower taxes (historically “liberal” policy ideas!)
So that’s a basic intro to my understanding of conservatism- more to come later. But first, a brief intellectual history of myself, starting at the point, after my Eagle Scout Court of Honor and Confirmation, where I had reached the point of no return in my cultural imprinting-
In 2011, I was very depressed, as my family had moved across the country from Seattle to Virginia (beautiful road trip if you ever get the chance, by the way.) I had lost all my friends and all the world I had known, carrying only what I had with me- my character, my experiences, my ambitions. And my family and my cat Jingles for that matter. There was a a rap I had heard in high school (here is the polished version, now a hit Broadway musical) about the upbringing of Alexander Hamilton and the struggles he went through growing up, and how he used the pain to attain greatness. Being both in pain and neurotically ambitious, the song became the anthem of my life-
“Scanning for every book he can get his hands on
Planning for the future, see him now as he stands on
The bow of a ship, headed for a new land
In [DC] you can be a new man…”
Now bear in mind my political evolution hadn’t started yet at that point. I grew up as an O’Reilly-worshipping, Levin-listening, Fox-watching Fusionist “conservative” inasmuch as I followed politics, which was around the dinner table but not much beyond that (interesting that my life literally revolves around it now.)
In 2011, while I was living in the Virginian suburbs of DC, the Tea Party movement was still going strong, and being me, I decided I was going to be EXTRA self-righteous and go read the works of the Founding Fathers, so I could trash all the liberals with my founding knowledge. It was a beautiful plan. I had just read Atlas Shrugged and expected I’d find in the Founders fancier versions of Rand’s work.
Naturally, the first Founder I read was Alexander Hamilton (given my love for his rap.)
And boy, was I wrong about the Founders.
I saw in Hamilton (I read his speech to the New York ratifying convention, in which he declared that men are reasoning rather than reasonable creatures) true conservatism- true love of country- true pragmatism for a dangerous world- true belief in the power of the individual to shape that world. I was awestruck into hero-worship, and began voraciously reading anything by Hamilton I could find online. Thus began my political evolution, when I discovered the “realist” school of politics and determined to master it, so I could shut down any liberal (or pseudo-conservative, for that matter) in conversation.
I should note two other things- first, I was intent on going into a military career, so I could serve my country and win glory. Because of various mental-health problems, I was deemed ineligible for full-time service (which is just as well- I couldn’t take that kind of bureaucracy full-time) but I am now working at getting into the California National Guard, which is going pretty well. I want to join and serve for the same reasons I did Boy Scouting- excellence, service, ruggedness, a better understanding of human nature and Americanism.
And around the time that I first read my great mentor Hamilton, I had a dream that I was chained to a rock next to George Washington while all my friends were off being commandos. The first lesson I took from this was that despite my misfortunes I’d always find better opportunities; the other lesson I’ve since realized is my true life purpose- to be a modern Hamilton (who was figuratively chained next to Washington for most of his career), an aide to great men, a great intellectual, a great leader, a great warrior- and to work hard, get smart, and make myself worthy of being all these things, that I might best serve my George Washington when I find him or her, and that I might best serve my country through my own personal excellence.
Back to intellectual evolution. I mentioned the “realist” school of politics- this led me to Machiavelli, Hume, Hobbes, and others. I started studying international relations at USC because I viewed it as the most relevant field of study for my career (for the longest time I wanted to join the CIA- and Langley has now rejected me three times…) but my interests remained as eclectic and diverse as political theory, economics, American history and culture, and the like. I am a humanist in the best sense of the word, a thinker who fits neatly into no discipline.
Early on I discovered an excellent writer named Walter Russell Mead and started reading him religiously; not much longer later I discovered Michael Lind and bought and read all his books; Mead is too Jeffersonian for me to be a Meadian, Lind too FDRooseveltian for me to be a Lindian. But I’ve worked for both and the two men have had a huge influence over my thought- the importance of culture, the permanence of politics, the goodness of America and Americans, and the virtues of moderation and intensity- “prudence and vigor,” to quote the first line of my personal ethos.
I read Francis Fukuyama and determined that democracy does not form naturally, but must be preceded by liberal political climate and good institutions. I read Robert D. Kaplan and learned about the tragedy of human nature and the permanence of conflict. I read Joel Kotkin and learned about the beauty of decentralization (and now I’m working for him.) There are so many others- journalists, scholars, public intellectuals, and more. My favorites are David Brooks and Jim Manzi, but there are more. Just too many to name here.
My core ideas, however, have been impressed upon me by Michael Lind and Walter Russell Mead. From Mead, I take the “four-schools” or “Albion’s Seed” theory of American cultural divisions, which argues that most cultural and political divides we see today and across American history can be traced back to the simultaneous settlement of the American continent by Puritans, Quakers, Cavaliers, and Scots-Irish. From Mead I take the idea of the “Blue Social Model”- the notion that the heavily technocratic institutions put in place by the New Deal and the Greaat Society have ceased to work since the 70s and have only grown more decadent with increased globalization, information technology, and automation, and that the key task of reformers today is reinterpreting American principles to forge a “Liberalism 5.0” governing ideology capable of taking the promise of American life into the next century. From Lind, I take the notion of the “Hamiltonian tradition” in American politics- the centrist-reformist-nationalist line of governing that goes from Washington and Hamilton through Webster and Clay through Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, and splits in the 20th Century between the New Deal Democrats and Rockefeller Republicans, and now no longer exists. Hamiltonians favor massive public investments, industrial policy, social moderation, and an economy focused on national defense- and I am in every sense a strong-government Hamiltonian, as is most of the military-industrial complex, the defense establishment, and the intelligence community, to include Robert Gates. Also from Lind I take the “three Republics” theory of American history, whereby the institutions of the Republic decay and are re-forged in great crises- the Founding, the Civil War, the Great Depression and Second World War- and we now near the end of the Third Republic, FDR’s Republic, and it’ll be the task of our generation to lay down a new set of institutions beyond the Blue Social Model and even beyond Reaganism. These four ideas- the Four Schools, the Blue Social Model, the Hamiltonian Tradition, and the Three Republics- are my paradigms for conceiving of American history and politics, and I think they’re pretty damn good ones at that.
Where does that put me in 2016, when I am 22 years old?
I am a centrist Republican in the Huntsman/Pataki/kinda-Kasich RINO camp. I’m supporting Rubio for the GOP nomination because in my mind he’s the least crazy of all those capable of getting the nomination. But if I had power, I would nominate someone who was economically Hamiltonian, politically federalist, administratively reformist, socially moderate, culturally conservative, fiscally prudent, and strategically internationalist.
I cannot be a Democrat for the primary reason that the Democratic coalition includes interest groups that are fundamentally tied to the Blue Social Model- and therefore Democrats will not be the great reformers of our age. I look with disdain upon many elements of the Republican coalition- the radical libertarian economists who fail to realize that their policies inevitably lead to plutocracy, the rabid social traditionalists who occasionally border on the racist line, the neoconservatives who aggressively seek to impose American values on other nations, the Fox Newsies who are occasionally blind to reality. You mentioned Ted Cruz favorably in a recent Facebook post; I personally think Cruz is more dangerous and divisive than any other candidate in the field right now, up to and including Bernie Sanders. (Not that I would vote Sanders in that matchup- I’d throw my vote to the dogs first.) My old mentor, Adam Garfinkle, pretty well summarized the dilemma a moderate thinker like me faces-
I don’t want to go back to 1965 or to 1925. But let me briefly restate my antipathy to both sets of party orthodoxy in somewhat different language before getting to my ten proposals.
The Left in this country, generally speaking, tends to excoriate corporations, even to disparage the profit motive itself, and to think of government as a proper vehicle not only for battling the depredations of capitalism but also for forcing on the nation the kinds of multicultural, politically correct social biases it likes. It has inculcated within itself the old countercultural notion of consciousness-raising, in which it presumes to know more about what’s good for you than you do. It is the self-appointed Robin Hood of our political soul, though its populist pretensions are belied by its elitist ways. The Left displays a blindness to the benefits of a non-distorted market economy, and an even more grievous blindness to the limits of what government can accomplish—especially a government that tries to do more than it should in what has become a misaligned Federal system.
The Right these days, generally speaking, tends to excoriate government, to dismiss the idea of an inclusive and fairly governed national community, and to blame those who are genuinely poor for their own poverty. Much of the Right, having regrettably abandoned its own Burkean heritage, sees through a crude Social Darwinist prism that acknowledges only individual judgment, ignoring the social context in which that judgment is seated.1 It is blind to plutocratic corruption and doesn’t see, either, the widening cultural gap between an isolated elite and those Americans who are falling out of an often recently won and still fragile middle-class status.2 It is particularly blind to the fact that a distorted market system dominated by large corporate oligarchies that deploy increasingly sophisticated advertising methodologies can be responsible for undermining both social trust and the founding virtues.3
Again, there’s no reason to choose between the problems caused by the public sector (a sclerotic, dysfunctional and wildly expensive government) and the problems caused by the private sector (a predatory corporate leadership class, and especially an increasingly powerful parasitic financial elite, that has become an extractive rather than a productive asset for the nation as a whole). Both problems exist, and both are getting worse.
Moreover, these problems are not really separate; they feed one another. Private sector abuses feed the appetite for government protection, but government is too dysfunctional to provide that protection; instead its efforts tend to harm small businesses that lack the arsenals of specialist lawyers and accountants that huge businesses use to evade government attempts to hem them in. You get a hint of this by looking at what the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements have had in common, which is a fair bit more than either group likes to admit.
We need an active and bold Federal government for several key but discrete purposes beyond national security; but we can well do without the nanny-state soft despotism it otherwise drapes over our society. If we need a model, a hero from our past who epitomizes this combination, we have at least three to choose from: Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay and Theodore Roosevelt—Federalist, Whig and Republican.
Nonetheless, I remain a Republican because I am conservative, I am a realist, and I want to serve my country- and serve it through politics I will. Currently I’m working for Joel Kotkin at the Center for Opportunity Urbanism doing centrist market-based policy research, writing columns weekly for the California Republican website Fox&Hounds and now the centrist millennial group Action For America, doing policy work and body man work for U.S. Senate candidate Duf Sundheim, working for the California GOP Associate Delegates Caucus in a newsletter-writing capacity, doing historical research at the Nixon Presidential Library, working on essays to submit to The American Interest and National Affairs, and finding other opportunities. A year from now I’ll either be in DC or California, depending on Duf’s electoral results. But my core mission will remain the same- fighting for the lost Hamiltonian Republicanism, temperamental conservatism, American nationalism, and the like, and working to rebuild dead traditions. I’m a party activist, a political writer, and a real pain in the ass- it’s what I do. And I’m gonna keep doing it.
OK. I’m exhausted now. I apologize, I got so burnt out writing my intellectual origins that I couldn’t do justice to my 2011-2016 intellectual evolution. I’ll write a deeper piece on my policy viewpoints later on. Perhaps when we get coffee the next time I’m in DC that might come up; but no matter. You have a basic read, now, on who I am and what I stand for; take what you will and judge as you might.
We’re definitely different types of thinkers, but as you said- party unity is important. In my opinion we need to expand leftward and break the power of the extreme right wing over dialogue (and sometimes policy, as the recent gov’t shutdowns and McCarthy’s fall demonstrated.) I expect in under a decade we’ll both be in positions to fight for the GOP moving forward, and it’ll be interesting to see where things go from there.
I look forward to continuing the conversation. I’ll send a follow-up email with some of my published “manifesto” pieces for you to read if you’re interested; I’ll also send you thoughts I sent to a friend on Ted Cruz.
As I said at the beginning of this message, I apologize if I offend. Looking forward to continuing the conversations.
Report on a Seventh Establishment in the GOP
Note: This piece is based largely on a conversation the author had with Henry Olsen at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in January 2016.
The Six Extant Establishments and the Two Extinct Establishments
It’s become trite to say that the GOP of 2016 is divided between two or more factions- usually “the base” and “the establishment,” or some combination of them. To my eye, it appears that “the base” has an establishment of its own, and that “the establishment” has a base of its own. In fact, I would contend that there are no fewer than six of these “establishments” with bases of their own, each based more upon an ideological conception of conservatism than on traditional factors like economic interests or ethnic solidarity.
The Reagan-Gingrich Establishment
This is the group people always mean when they speak of “The Establishment.” It’s the generation of politicians who came to power under Reagan and Gingrich. They have the backing of financiers and big industries, and policy-wise they are solidly neoliberal tax-cutting supply-siders. The establishment is probably the most socially open of all the groups save the Libertarians, trying as it is to bring blacks, gays, and Latinos into the GOP’s big tent. On foreign policy, establishmentarians are solid neoconservatives. Their ranks in 2016 include Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell, as well as intellectuals like Bill Kristol.
The Rightist Counter-Establishment
The Rightists are the ones who coined the term “Republican in Name Only” and the ones who control the right-wing media establishment. They don’t have much in the way of a policy agenda beyond opposition to anything the Democrats or the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment propose, and their constituent base is more ideological than economic or social. Rightists include Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Sarah Palin. They are in no way a constructive force in the GOP- they are better understood as obstructionaries and channelers of ideological dissent. But their power in the GOP should not at all be dismissed- they maintain huge amounts of influence.
The White Working Class
The White Working Class- variously known, also, as Middle American Radicals, Reagan Democrats, and Jacksonian America- has always formed the core base of American political coalitions in the post-Civil War era, from Lincoln’s Republican Party to the New Deal Democrats to the conservative coalition of Reagan and Nixon. It is the closest thing to a cultural and non-ideological constituency in the GOP today, and its economic and cultural interests diverge sharply from those of the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment. This constituency has an ill-organized establishment, and is mostly fueled by anger at influxes of foreigners, economic stagnation, and American weakness- anger being exploited by members of several establishments, but most effectively by Donald Trump. However, they are not ideological libertarians or supply-siders like the Rightists and Reformocons (though the Reformocons are trying to win them back.) They are perfectly happy with big government when it works in their interests.
The Reformocons are temperamentally moderate, but still ideologically conservative. They are more or less an outgrowth of the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment who, noticing the decadence of neoliberalism, sought to maintain neoliberalism while making it work for the working class. They are still very socially conservative. They have a group of intellectuals by the same name, which includes Yuval Levin, Reihan Salam, and Henry Olsen, and their statesmen include Marco Rubio, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan. Reformocons will not challenge the Reagan orthodoxy, but will reinterpret it and adjust it in the interests of working class Americans.
Libertarians have never been as weak in the GOP as they are in 2016. They are foreign policy isolationists, socially liberal, and extremely economically free-market and supply-sider. Ron Paul was their champion in 2012, and his son Rand champions them in 2016. Without a significant cultural base of support and with their economic and foreign policy ideas being discredited, it is unlikely that the Paulites will have much policy influence for quite some time.
Evangelical Christians made up an important part of the Reagan coalition, but their numbers are decreasing as their votes flee to the White Working Class and Rightist Establishments. The Evangelical Establishment focuses like a laser on social issues and not much else. Its champions have included Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum.
I might add that these establishments change over time; some are born, some die, and some evolve. It’s my contention that the extinction of two establishments, and one in particular, has led to the imbalanced rightward shift in the party of recent decades. Those two establishments have occasional holdouts, but as a whole, neither has anything like the infrastructure necessary to retain electoral relevance among any of the voting blocs in the GOP (or indeed, even among independents and Democrats.)
The Rockefeller Liberals
These are Republicans who are not too distinguishable rhetorically or policy-wise from New Deal Democrats- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lincoln Chaffee, etc. There is little distinguishing them as conservative in any sense of the word. They used to make up a significant portion of big-spending social liberals in the party, including in their number John Lindsay and Nelson Rockefeller. But as Geoffrey Kabaservice notes in the magisterial “Rule and Ruin,” they no longer hold any sway in the GOP, and have almost entirely become Democrats.
These are Republicans who truly fall into the nationalist tradition of Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Jacob Javits. Neo-Hamiltonians are nationalists, and socially moderate, fiscally prudent, and strategically internationalist. They favor strategic industrial policy, regulated central finance, and generally Hamiltonian economic policies. Mitt Romney and John McCain would have been here had they not run for President and been dragged to the Right. Jon Huntsman, George Pataki, and perhaps John Kasich are the main representatives today; none of them are open about it, and they have no political establishment.
What a Resurgent Neo-Hamiltonian Establishment Would Advocate Today
I have argued elsewhere that a new faction of Republicans displaying the characteristics of the Neo-Hamiltonians would be useful for both the party and the nation. There are three main arenas where this sort of Republicanism would be helpful and distinct from the policy agenda of both the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment and the Rightist Counter-Establishment: Economic growth, institutional reform, and grand strategy.
Henceforth, I will refer to this group as the “Neo-Hamiltonians.” I have termed them other names in the past, including Whigs, Progressive Republicans, and National Conservatives. Neo-Hamiltonian, however, best captures the tradition I seek to tie this Establishment in with.
Neo-Hamiltonians combine a respect for free markets with a heavy government role in strategic investments and industrial policy for strategic industries. They are generally more willing to use state power for national economic ends than other Republicans, while having more faith in the power and goodness of markets than Democrats.
In an economy that desperately needs infrastructure and innovation investments, a simplified tax code, a return to financial regulation, and a reformed social contract, experimenting Neo-Hamiltonians would be more inclined to make conservatively-tempered fundamental economic reforms than their counterparts.
Our federal government is sclerotic and dysfunctional in many, many ways. Four of the most dysfunctional institutions, though, are the federal-state relationship, the entitlement system, the bureaucratic system, and the federal debt.
On the federal debt, Neo-Hamiltonians would support a growth investment strategy to raise revenues coupled with entitlement reform to cut spending. They would reform and even re-imagine entitlements as early-life investments in human capital rather than end-of-life rewards, transforming entitlements without having to cut them drastically.
Just as debt and entitlements are interlinked, so are federalism and bureaucratic reform. In the interests of the federal government working more efficiently and effectively, Neo-Hamiltonians would seek to modernize the federal government through management strategy and the influx of information technology; at the same time, they would restore a federal-state balance by embarking on a plan to decentralize key powers to the state level, particularly in the regulatory arena.
On grand strategic issues, Neo-Hamiltonians would be more concerned with preserving than with expanding the liberal world order and the American alliance systems in East Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Emphasis would be laid on preserving the might of the American empire rather than demonstrating that might. A renewed Nixonian balance of power would be in the offing.
Additionally, pre-eminence would be given to industrial and technological investments aimed at making the homefront strong. Military strategy would be geared towards two forms- traditional great-power guns-and-ships competition, and counterinsurgency for the world’s frontier wars. Strategy requires an American intensely active and involved in foreign affairs, but one which uses that strength prudently.
The Balance of it All
Ultimately, Neo-Hamiltonians have the potential to be seen as a more responsible and pragmatic “governing wing” of the GOP than either the populists or the establishment. They can simultaneously be more responsibly reformist than the decadent plutocrats of the establishment or the axe-wielding populists. The penchant for sanity might not be something that can win them a majority; but it certainly is worth rebuilding the tradition, at least, in the GOP. The people are hungry for something new.
Money, Men, and Message
There are three crucial elements to any political establishment- financial, political, and intellectual infrastructure. The more money and manpower a movement has, and the more well-suited its ideas are to the situation and demands of the time, the more likely the establishment is to succeed in attaining and holding power and influence over the narrative and the policy-making process.
The most efficacious way for the Neo-Hamiltonian Establishment to finance itself and its activities would be not simply to court donors and ask for donations, but to identify a cultural or economic constituency capable of forming its base and its donor class.
It’s unclear that any of the major American regional cultures (expertly depicted by David Hackett Fischer, Michael Barone, and Colin Woodard) align very well with the Neo-Hamiltonians’ values system and political priorities, but blue-state Republicans- “conservative Yankees,” we might call them- are probably the most aligned, and best fit as intellectuals and spokesmen for Neo-Hamiltonianism. Unfortunately they make up a very small minority in both the Yankee states and the Republic as a whole; most Americans of the Yankee culture subscribe to a sort of devolved Puritan progressivism rather than a Rooseveltian or Adamsian sense of civic duty.
Temperamentally moderate “midlanders” in the Pennsylvania-Ohio-Illinois strip align about halfway, but tend to be both more isolationist and more socially conservative than Neo-Hamiltonians. The Scots-Irish tradition is too individualistic and fiery to fit the bill, though the interests of the Scots-Irish White Working Class, interestingly, tend to align with those of the industries Neo-Hamiltonians support. And old-line Cavalier libertarians already dominate the GOP Establishments. They’re not particularly helpful. Smaller regional cultures and later immigrant groups, too, hit the Neo-Hamiltonian middle ground here and there, but never enough to become core constituencies.
Lacking a significant cultural base, it would be wiser for the Neo-Hamiltonian Establishment to appeal to economic interests and class interests as its primary support. The Democratic and Republican Establishments are dominated by the neoliberal globalist class of financiers and international traders, while other wings of the parties are representatives of unions and small business. But the mass-employment “productivity industries” of manufacturing, energy, construction, and shipping are not particularly well-represented by any national faction. They also tend to have interests more national than international; public-private partnership with them, then, makes sense for the Hamiltonians. In terms of values and national orientation, the military-industrial complex industries and the intelligence community would make worthwhile allies. Therefore, Neo-Hamiltonians ought to craft policies with productivity industries and the defense industry in mind, seeing as they would be their primary clients and constituents and their best allies in terms of crafting national economic strategy. They would be the constituency of fairly-regulated and innovative big industry in partnership with the federal government. Incidentally, given the high rates of employment of the White Working Class in productivity industries, this partnership might tie Jacksonian America to Hamiltonian industry.
Having this economic base and cultural elite constituency would likely distinguish the Neo-Hamiltonians as a powerful counter-establishment in their own right. It would take wooing and outreach, but bringing productivity industries, the military-industrial complex, working people of all races, and conservative Yankee leaders into the fold would present a formidable coalition.
There are two main manpower requisites for the Neo-Hamiltonians’ endurance as a political force- a significant grassroots network capable of organizing and mobilizing for political action, and one or more charismatic and effective national leaders to provide the face of the movement. Lacking grassroots, the movement will be as impotent as the Bloomberg presidential campaign’s prospects; lacking charismatic leadership, it will go the path of any number of moderate Republican organizations in recent years.
On the grassroots side, the Neo-Hamiltonians would have to do what all successful political movements do and establish a network of organizations capable of carrying out tasks like voter registration, fundraising, candidate training, and others. Given, though, that a Neo-Hamiltonian would only be a faction, it would probably be more fruitful for it to focus resources on social clubs, candidate-support committees and fundraising organizations, simply because candidate training and voter registration would likely be better handled by official GOP organizations directly.
Neo-Hamiltonian social clubs and candidate support/fundraising committees would preferably be peppered across the nation, but realistically they are more likely to sprout up in areas where the Neo-Hamiltonian constituencies reside- centers of industrial activity, and suburban rings around major metropoles in blue states. Neo-Hamiltonians would be wise to dispatch emissaries to these regions and have them build up social groups and political associations, to lay the framework for national support in the areas where Neo-Hamiltonian candidates are most likely to see electoral victory.
There are a couple of candidates for the “champion” position, and though all are well-known, none are particularly charismatic. Governor Jon Huntsman, Governor George Pataki, and Governor John Kasich all stand out. Another candidate might be a self-described Rockefeller Republican war hero, like General David Petraeus or General Colin Powell. The main task of such a champion would be to articulate a message on the national stage and serve as the face of the movement, just as Sarah Palin, Elizabeth Warren, and Donald Trump have done with their respective movements. One would hope, however, that the Neo-Hamiltonian champion would be far more Washington-esque and dignified.
Movements are nothing without defining ideas around which they can coalesce. It would be important for Neo-Hamiltonians to develop a coherent policy agenda and temperamentally conservative governing philosophy to distinguish themselves from Democrats and, more importantly, from the GOP’s other establishments.
To this end, the establishment of some sort of Neo-Hamiltonian policy shop is crucial, bringing together political leaders, intellectuals, and representatives from constituent groups with expertise in relevant policy issues. A think-tank would be ideal, but absent that, a journal or magazine and an informal association of thinkers not unlike the Conservative Reform Network would suffice.
There are a few thinkers out there who are temperamentally conservative, economically and strategically nationalist, and generally in line with the TR-Ike-Javits tradition. David Brooks is perhaps the most famous, though others, like Jim Manzi, Robert Atkinson, and Geoffrey Kabaservice, are equally insightful. And others outside both the GOP and the Neo-Hamiltonian tradition can provide much wisdom, including Walter Russell Mead, Michael Lind, Joel Kotkin, Yuval Levin, Henry Olsen, Michael Shellenberger, and Ted Nordhaus. Borrowing good ideas from other traditions is perfectly acceptable.
The Goal: Reclaim the GOP from the Right, and Reclaim the Word “Conservative”
The overriding purpose of the work of the Neo-Hamiltonian Establishment is to build up a center-right counter-establishment in the GOP that can oppose both the globalism and neoconservatism of the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment, and the pseudo-conservatism and ideological populism of the Rightist Counter-Establishment. It is a task not unlike that the Reformocons have embarked upon, but it approaches the way forward from a very different set of premises than those the Reformocons hold.
Ultimately, the Neo-Hamiltonians would either infiltrate, assimilate, and convert the majority of the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment, or defeat it decisively for leadership of the party. It would hopefully fully marginalize the Rightist Counter-Establishment, as well as the Libertarian and Evangelical wings. It would ally with the Reformocons on policy reform, in the interests of bringing the White Working Class into the fold.
But beyond playing intraparty power politics, the Neo-Hamiltonians would seek to craft an agenda that builds a stronger, more prosperous America, replete with opportunity for all and a tolerance of differences. The task is, in the end, service and homage to the greatness of the American nation.
But that requires playing politics first.
Where is a Progressive Republican in 2016? What do Progressive Republicans Need to Do in 2017?
Progressive Republicans posture somewhere between True RINO’s (people who jumped ship and became Democrats like Charlie Crist and Lincoln Chaffee, or people who pander to Democrats like Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Establishment Reaganite-Gingrichite Conservatives (like Jeb Bush, George W. Bush, John Boehner, and Paul Ryan.) Blue-and-Purple-state Republican Governors like Mitt Romney, Chris Christie, and George Pataki, and John Kasich would probably qualify if they weren’t pulled rightward and elite-ward by their presidential campaigns. So would true mavericks like Jon Huntsman and John McCain (admittedly, Jon Huntsman is probably the closest thing to a committed Progressive Republican with national power nowadays.)
Policy and philosophy-wise, Progressive Republicans are Centrist, Reformist, and Nationalist. They tend to be economically Hamiltonian nationalist, administratively reformist, fiscally prudent, socially moderate, temperamentally conservative, political federalist, and strategically internationalist.
At the same time, Progressive Republicans are neither Rockefeller Republicans nor Reformocons. As many historians have pointed out, there was little meaningful difference between Nelson Rockefeller and John Lindsay on the one side, and Lyndon Johnson and Scoop Jackson on the other side. Both sets were big spenders and socially liberal. Even Jacob Javits, greatest of the recent Progressive Republicans, did not characterize the Rockefeller wing as the heir of the Lincoln-TR-Eisenhower tradition, but of the Wilson-FDR-LBJ tradition.
And Reformocons like Reihan Salam, Peter Wehner, and Yuval Levin are similarly not quite Progressive Republicans, although they are indeed doing good work. They are still enamored with basic supply-side Reaganomics and the power of market forces to solve everything- they do not question Establishment conservative ideology.
Progressive Republicans continue to take their cues from the tradition of Dwight Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln- and further back, of Henry Clay, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington. This is a tradition that shares some- but not all- characteristics in the 20th Century with FDR and Truman and Kennedy’s New Deal Liberalism, but is yet distinct.
The task of Progressive Republicans in 2016, moving forward, is three-fold:
-We must articulate, through blogs, op-eds, essays, and books, as well as conversations, what Progressive Republicanism is and how it fits in to the current political climate. A think-tank, journal, or other policy shop is in order.
-We must build up a national grassroots network of supporters, both individual citizens and established political figures, capable of organizing into a political force and engaging in political action at the state and federal levels. A political association is in order.
-We must determine which interest groups in American society have the most at stake in the soon-to-be-defined Progressive Republican agenda, and actively court them. A look at our pro-growth economic ideology and our nationalist social-political philosophy suggests that we might look into the housing, energy, manufacturing, and shipping industries, as well as the military-industrial complex and civic associations. A fundraising entity is in order.
So there is plenty of work to be done at all ends.
If the forecasts of several experts prove to be true and the GOP nominates a right-wing extremist like Trump or Cruz, and proceeds to get crushed in November, the GOP will be shut out of the Oval Office for another 4 years. Historically, parties left in the presidential wilderness for twelve years or more moderate themselves nationally, as occurred with Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and Bill Clinton in 1992. This is because they enter a period of soul-searching and redefining themselves, wondering what went wrong.
If the GOP is smushed in November, a similar situation will arise, and reformists will have added power over redefining the narrative. You can bet the Reformocons will advocate a pro-working class neoliberalism, with both the Establishment Reaganites and the Cruzite populists taking policy ideas from them. The Libertarians will probably offer their own prescriptions.
If there is any time for the Progressive Republicans to resurge and show themselves on the national scene, it’ll be January 2017- a month to demonstrate that Reaganite ideology is stale and exhausted, and that the GOP need do more than be nice to Latinos and Gays- it necessarily must re-examine its basic assumptions about economic and administrative policy. An Eisenhower-wing resurgence could open up that discussion.
Our job would be to work on establishing and growing a 7th GOP Establishment to join the power-struggles with the other 6 GOP Establishments. These are: the Reaganite-Gingrichite Neocons under Bush, the Ideological Purists under Cruz, the Libertarians under the Pauls, the White Working Class Populists under Trump, the Fusionist Conservatives under Rubio, and the Social Traditionalists under Huckabee. Note that Pataki and Huntsman have no home.
If we set out to build up a counter-establishment for January 2017- articulate Progressive Republicanism, recruit supporters and leaders, ally with funders and interest groups- we can join the fight for the soul of the party in a time when the party’s soul is lost. The first step to building a New Republican Coalition is building a New Republican Establishment to lead it.
Two prominent GOP intellectuals took aim at the Trump phenomenon from different angles in their recent columns.
In the Financial Times, Peter Wehner, a former Bush Administration official and frequent writer, indicted the populist rhetoric and ideological passion of the GOP for providing a fertile nursery for the likes of Trump to rise:
“He is the product of certain intellectual and political habits that have taken hold over the years: a lazy anti-government ideology, prizing emotivism over empiricism, and conflict in pursuit of lost causes. This is not conservatism; it is splenetic, embittered populism. “
Meanwhile over at the New York Times, the columnist Ross Douthat chided the centrist political establishment (including the Republican establishment!) for growing increasingly disconnected from the real concerns of Middle America:
“Finally, freaking out over Trump-the-fascist is a good way for the political class to ignore the legitimate reasons he’s gotten this far — the accurate sense that the American elite has misgoverned the country at home and abroad.”
While Wehner blames the populists for Trump’s rise and Douthat blames the establishment, it seems to me that both are looking at different aspects of the same story. The Clinton-Bush elite is incorrigibly decadent and invites a populist backlash; the Sanders and Cruz wings of the major parties are vehemently intolerant and impractical and can easily be radicalized.
So your average Joe voter is presented with a less-than-savory list of least-bad options on Election Day. On the one hand, they can go with political “professionals” who are bought and paid for by a variety of moneyed interests and advised by coteries of Washington insiders insulated from the “Real America.” On the other hand, they can go with “grassroots” populist candidates, Left or Right, who spout vague partisan platitudes chock full of impracticality and oftentimes laced with hate.
This dynamic will likely continue on Election Day 2016. Voters will be forced to choose between Hillary Clinton, Crown Princess of the Establishment, and either 1) the Trump himself as GOP nominee, 2) a moderate GOP nominee alongside a third-party Trump, or 3) another GOP populist pulled so far to the Right by threat of a Trump third-party run as to render them basically a Trumpista.
A decadent elite and a throng of mad-as-hell populists. Which is less bad?
Other options would be nice. What about a movement- or a single candidate- with the moderation and centrism of the establishment wings of the Republican and Democratic Parties, yet with the reformist fire and popular appeal of the populist insurgencies dominating the airwaves? A “radical centrist,” if you will, to borrow a term from the early 2000s.
One thing’s for sure- that candidate or movement isn’t going to emerge from AEI’s or Brookings’s networks, for reasons of temperament. We need someone fiery and anti-establishment. And they’re not going to emerge from the Heritage or CAP networks, for reasons of policy innovation. We’re not looking for an ideologue, but for a pragmatist. We’re not looking for Hillary or Jeb, but neither are we looking for Goldwater or McGovern.
Perhaps one figure to look to for inspiration might be President Theodore Roosevelt. He rose to power in an age of a decadent established elite and populist demagoguery on both ends of the political spectrum, and put in place reforms that cooled the looming crisis and set the nation on a path towards world power and national unity. A latter-day Bull Moose from California- centrist, reformist, and innovative, all in the name of the American project and national unity- could do great things in forging the next set of American institutions. Incidentally, TR’s 1912 running-mate was a son of California- Republican Governor Hiram Johnson.
So here’s a proposal for my fellow California Republicans. We shaped the party with a maverick presidential candidate twice in the last fifty years, two great American presidents who united the populist and establishment wings of the Grand Old Party and went on to make great and necessary reforms in their leadership of the nation as a whole- Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Their achievements have been immortalized in the national conscience and memorialized at Yorba Linda and Simi Valley.
Why can’t we do it again- find a leader, shape the party, transform the nation? In Sacramento, at the Jesse M. Unruh State Office Building, Sam Walter Foss’s immortal admonition from the land of the American West to its sons is inscribed- “Bring me men to match my mountains.” Nixon and Reagan stand in the national conscience, arguably, with preeminence similar to that of Half Dome, El Capitan, or Mt. Whitney- giants among giants, the most prominent summits amidst a range of glorious peaks. Where is the next son (or daughter!) of California, hungry to lead America?
Why don’t we look, as a state party, for someone to groom for high leadership in the state- the Governor’s office, perhaps, or a Senate seat- some champion of California-style reformist conservatism who can represent the state and the party on the national stage. Someone, to quote the Hamilton musical on Broadway these days, who is “young, scrappy, and hungry,” with a first-rate intellect and charisma and, beyond that, a principled vision for the country tempered by a realistic understanding of human affairs and American culture. Preferably an older Millennial, a bit of new blood for the electorate to taste.
Of course, this’d be a multi-year process with no quick or guaranteed results. It would take time to bear fruit- the next Nixon or Reagan won’t be decided by lot and spring out of a state convention ready to take on Hillary Clinton next year. Things like this take time.
But, alongside other plans the California Republican Party has to expand its base, propose alternatives to the Democrats’ green-and-blue policy consensus, and elect officials to local and statewide positions, would it not be smart for the state party to prepare for the next decade’s worth of fratricidal national intraparty squabbling by recruiting a champion or champions to rise above the fray and lead the party and nation in the future, and training them for such roles? Nothing, after all, can grant an organization leverage quite like charismatic, visionary national leadership.
Again- California and the California Republican Party have led future trends nationwide since California’s rise in the early 20th Century, from the reforms of Governors Hiram Johnson and Earl Warren to the policies of Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. We can do it again. But we must first get our own house in order, define Republicanism for the 21st Century (and pray it doesn’t look too much like Trumpism or the establishment’s incoherent mash of policies,) and find a champion willing to bear the burden of leading such a movement later in their career.
The least we could do for our fellow citizens across the country is work to give them such an option in 2020 or 2024.
Forging the Fourth Republic
“Bring me men to match my mountains, bring me men to match my plains
Men with empires in their purpose, and new eras in their brains…”
-Sam Walter Foss, “The Coming American”
A foreboding sense of gloom is thick in the air as America approaches the elections of 2016. At home, our bureaucratic institutions are a mess, a plutocratic elite precludes any hope of real reform, a stagnant economy offers no real prospect of a revived American Dream, and the sense of national mission and national purpose has all but disappeared. Abroad, monsters and highwaymen lurk, from the fields of the Ukraine to the East Asian Littoral to the scorched battlefields of the Middle East. American leadership for the last two decades or so has been increasingly problematic and uninspiring. The people crave a change, and reformist movements and demagogues are now familiar sights.
Are we approaching the end of the Republic? That question can be answered with both a yes and a no. The short answer is “no-“ America will go on and neither split asunder, nor come under some foreign yoke, nor betray its ideals and slide into tyranny. In that sense, the Republic will go on.
But in another sense, the Republic- or more specifically, the Third Republic of the United States- is indeed approaching its demise, and is already thrashing about in its death throes. This “Third Republic” is the unique set of political institutions, elite structures, economic systems, and a social contract that have defined American life since the 1930s. That Republic rose when the Second Republic fell; the Second Republic, in turn, replaced the First Republic. Each of these Republics was characterized by a distinct and evolving set of political institutions, elite structures, economic systems, and a social contract, and each was forged in time of crisis. Each fell to its own internal decay.
Before we delve into the history of the three Republics of the United States, it’s important to note that the “foundings” of each were not clear, concise moments in time. Indeed, I consider the foundings to have lasted almost two decades each time- 1775-1791, 1854-1876, and 1929-1947. And even after these great epochs, statesmen continued to put new institutions in place, albeit at a less grand scale. But one thing is clear- the Republics were forged at the convergence of great domestic and strategic crises, and the America that emerged from the crises looked different in fundamental ways than the America that went in. These Republics fell when their institutions no longer functioned in the new realities of the world, and were swiftly replaced by better institutions.
And despite the very real differences between the men who forged the institutions and between the institutions that were forged, in the case of all three Republics- Washington’s, Lincoln’s, and FDR’s- two strains of American political thought were dominant. The first was what Michael Lind calls the “Hamiltonian” nationalist tradition of activist government. The second was what Walter Russell Mead calls the “Jacksonian” tradition of populism in the interests of a mass middle class. These traditions have been fundamentally at odds throughout the course of American history, and indeed, Washington and Lincoln waged war upon Jacksonians while FDR opposed them while in office. But when the energies of nationalism and populism have fused, the ideas that emerged have created powerful new institutions that have stood for decades in each case.
All this is important when considering what the Fourth Republic of the United States will look like. We’re building it right now; we could use some guidance.
With that, let’s take a look at the history of the three republics, and then, informed by the past, speculate on the future Fourth Republic’s broad contours and shapes.
Pre-Revolutionary America, it was widely acknowledged, could not long continue under British rule after the French and Indian War. The imposition of some excessive British intrusions onto the colonists’ self-governance inspired several mass revolts across the diverse realms of the thirteen colonies, and by 1775 the Revolution- and the Crisis of the Founding- had begun.
Between 1775 and 1791, several major strategic and domestic goals were met, all in the atmosphere of international crisis and internal division. Strategically, the colonies gained their independence from Britain through the long struggle of the Revolutionary War. They would affirm their independence after the crisis ended, in the Quasi-War with France and the embarrassment of the War of 1812. The new Americans also guaranteed some degree of sectional unity by uniting under the Articles of Confederation and then the Constitution during the 1780s- and continental unity was perhaps the most important strategic checkpoint over the course of the next century. Domestically, the Constitution assured that there would be a strong but not overbearing national government. And finally, Alexander Hamilton’s economic program, put in place under the Washington Administration nearly in full, assured a dynamic mixed economy.
With a strategic and domestic climate amenable to American independence and nationhood, the institution-building could begin.
The bulwark institution of Washington’s First Republic was the planter elite. Washington, himself a planter and a slaveowner, embodied this dynamic. The planter elite was not always the governing elite, but it was the upper-middle tier social grouping from which power in the First Republic flowed. As such, it largely dictated the shape of institutions and the methods of governance, while offering some degree of stability and unity for a good amount of time. There were other elites, of course; the chief rival of the planters was Hamilton’s financier elite based in the northern cities, and in time an industrialist counter-elite would begin to rise. But it was the Southern planters who largely called the shots and determined the norms in the First Republic, and their favor was crucial for just about any politician trying to get something done.
Despite the sheer power of the planter elite, there was also significant government support for the rudiments of a mass middle class- a “social contract,” primarily economic in nature, that gave ordinary citizens a stake in their own government and paved the way for economic opportunity. This first social contract was based off of two federal policies- Hamilton’s financial system, which opened up opportunities for even the lowest rung of society to gain access to capital and improve their station, and the land grants in the Old Northwest, by which the federal government sold land to farmers relatively cheaply. Easy credit and cheap land were a very simple social contract compared to what would follow, to be sure; but they set the standard that the federal government would set up institutions to help the little guy.
But even as the government offered up opportunities for class mobility, the political institutions of the First Republic were solidly aristocratic. Party structures were set up in solidly aristocratic ways, in what Morton Keller terms a “deferential-republican regime.” Property ownership was necessary for political participation, as was some degree of social status. This would begin to change under the Jackson Reformation, but even then, the presence of great orators who littered their speeches with classical allusions was testimony to the fundamentally elitist character of the political institutions of this time.
Finally, there was Washington’s American System, an economic arrangement that would be carried on by Thomas Jefferson and Albert Gallatin, Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams, and many other Republicans and Whigs. The economy of the fledgling nation was structured around three main pillars: a national bank and centralized financial system, protections of “infant industries,” and federal support for “internal improvements” to bind the nation together. This national economic strategy favored all sectors of the economy, allowing planters and farmers to transport their goods, giving support to infant manufacturing industries, and keeping a stable financial system attractive to foreign investment. By the 1830s and 1840s, American economic strength would be recognized as among the foremost in the world.
Despite its clear effectiveness, the institutions of the First Republic would soon begin to decay under their own weight and in response to American expansion. The people would notice, and a new reformer- General Andrew Jackson- would rise up and reform, without revolutionizing, the institutions of the Republic.
Two trends in particular in the early 19th Century brought the largely aristocratic institutions of the First Republic into a state of decay, and they were both aided and abetted by particular institutions contained within the First Republic. These were continental expansion, abetted by the government’s sales of land to farmers and including such adventures as the Oregon purchase and the Mexican War, and the First Industrial Revolution, which the federal government helped to bring about by investments in technologies and protections for infant industries. The continental expansion brought about a sort of economic democracy, with a mass middle class demanding representation. The industrial revolution began to change the balance of power in the American economy and tilt it decisively towards industry, while setting up a newly empowered industrial elite.
Amidst these changes, the planter elite still held power, though it increasingly came under pressure from the rising Jacksonian masses and the newly ascendant industrialists. The invention of the cotton gin and subsequent re-affirmation of slavery’s economic power bolstered the planter elite, and over time it grew more and more reactionary and hostile to the policies of the north. But it still generally called the shots in national policy.
Against this, President Andrew Jackson rode in on a populist wave, fueled by the growing Jacksonian middle class. He and his populist successors improved and expanded on the previously existing “land sale-easy credit” social contract through two main measures- supporting a system of state banks, and drastically increasing the amount of land available to farmers and settlers through Indian Removal, the Mexican War, and the purchase of the Oregon Territory. (Jefferson had done the same through the Louisiana Purchase.) Jackson thereby expanded and preserved the First Republic’s social contract, without fundamentally rethinking it.
But in terms of political institutions, President Jackson and the Jacksonian movement made drastic changes. The 1830s saw nothing less than a transformation of the deferential-republican regime into a populist one, based not so much on aristocratic pretensions as on increased popular participation. Universal manhood suffrage and other reforms were fueled by anger at a system that common people believed excluded them in its oligarchic ways, an anger empowered the more due to the apparent decadence of the planter elite. This trend would repeat itself throughout American history- anger at an elite would inspire populist reformation of America’s political institutions, while the elite would quietly continue to hold power.
The American System of the First Republic fostered a new industrial elite in the eastern cities whose interests were increasingly inimical to those of the Southern planters. By the 1850s, the parties had divided among regional lines, and the seeds of crisis were inevitable. Jackson’s Reformation had preserved the First Republic for a few decades longer; but it did not resolve its internal contradictions, and the rise of the industrial elite would add fuel to the coming crisis.
By the 1850s, the nation had divided over the issue of slavery- the planter elite squabbled with the new industrial elite, public opinion followed the winds, and after the election of President Lincoln, the slave states started splitting off. The Crisis of the Union had begun.
The Crisis of the Union, which lasted roughly from the mid-1850s to the compromise of 1876, saw a number of strategic and domestic goals achieved by American populists and nationalists. First and foremost, the Union was preserved by Northern victory in the Civil War- and the preservation of the Union was the overriding strategic imperative of the 19th Century. Second, the Civil War and its aftermath saw the Union’s complete hegemony over North America, which would allow the United States to compete at the same level with the European powers. Aside from these strategic accomplishments, two crucial domestic achievements were made- first, the aristocracy was totally broken and replaced with an industrial elite. Second, Hamilton and Washington’s constitutional vision of an activist government was validated, making further state-building and government activism possible. The institution-building began during Lincoln’s tenure in office and would continue throughout the 19th Century. But the basic character of the regime was unduly influenced by Jacksonian democracy.
Lincoln’s policies and the northern victory put in place a mass industrial elite- the “robber barons” or “captains of industry” of the late 19th Century. These men, leaders and major stockholders of the great corporations and combinations in the steel, oil, railroad, and other industries, were not necessarily politicians themselves. But they did hold immense power, and most politicians built operations off of their foundations. This elite, like all elites, was not necessarily malign- the great corporate leaders did a lot to increase American wealth and employed millions of laborers. And on top of that, they were oftentimes quite philanthropic. But like all elites, they had a tendency to overreach.
Despite the mass industrialization of American society and the flight of many Americans to the cities, a majority remained on the family farm throughout much of the era of Lincoln’s Republic. And correspondingly, Lincoln and his congress passed legislation that amounted to a totally new social contract for the burgeoning American middle class- the Homestead Act, which gave free land in the West to farmers willing to maintain it, and the Morrill Land Grants, which created a series of agricultural colleges and cemented the federal government’s role in assisting public higher education. This new social contract, based on providing education and opportunities for the burgeoning middle class, overlapped with the new American System Lincoln institutionalized. It signified a greater commitment on the part of the federal government to act “for the people.”
The political institutions of this Second Republic were based on mass participation in the party-boss machine system, beautifully depicted by George Washington Plunkitt. Money, rather than social prestige, became the chief arbiter of political power, as it would remain throughout American history. But the party boss system tended to rely on informal trust networks and personal relationships as a distributor of benefits, rather than simply going to the highest bidder. As such, party bosses were relatively independent of the Gilded Age elites, while remaining interconnected with them. These institutions were strongly influenced by the party reformations of the Jacksonian era.
Lincoln also institutionalized a new American System in this timeframe. The former “infant industries” of the antebellum period had grown up into titanic leviathans, and government policy now tilted towards allowing them to flourish rather than propping them up. This included heavy protectionist tariffs. Congress embarked on a further ambitious infrastructure plan, passing legislation giving support to the railroads and generally financing internal improvements. And the National Banking Act recentralized finance, providing a stable investment climate and finance for various enterprises in the United States.
This system made America a power on the world stage and created hitherto unprecedented prosperity. Americans were now quite self-confident as a nation. But the excesses of industrial capitalism and the inequality they spawned would lead to populist revolts throughout the late 19th Century, giving rise to another great reformer- Theodore Roosevelt.
The overseas expansion of American interests, the Second Industrial Revolution, and the development of the financial sector created huge amounts of wealth, making many Americans very, very rich. These forces were abetted by the institutions of the Second Republic. Incidentally, they had the effect of hollowing out and corrupting those very institutions, and by the 1890s corruption swallowed the government and combinations swallowed the economy. The American people grew polarized, and reform movements like the Populists and the Progressives rose up in opposition to the swift rate of change and the seeming decadence of the industrial elite and establishment politicians. Amidst all this, Theodore Roosevelt ascended to the Presidency when President William McKinley was assassinated, and began implementing a reformist program.
The industrial elite had, by the turn of the 20th Century, incurred the public’s wrath. Public perception of elite control of politics belay the reality that the increasingly constricted combinations and big businesses were doing well, without producing any apparent benefit for the nation as a whole. This was plutocratic parasitism at its finest.
President Roosevelt made a point of expanding access to the American Dream and saving the Homestead Act social contract by cracking up some of the major trusts and working to open markets and opportunities for the common man. He also pioneered the rudiments of the progressive state, largely unsuccessfully, in the interests of making middle-class living more tenable. But Roosevelt’s largest contribution to maintaining the Homestead Act social contract was in cowing the large combinations and industrialists, and by being something of a populist, encouraging the perception that the federal government would protect the common man from the trepidations of the industrial elite.
To that end, Roosevelt, throughout his Presidency and 1912 presidential campaign, encouraged various progressive reforms in governance. These included some economic measures, but primarily consisted of political measures like recalls, referendums, and open ballots at the state level. It was believed that measures like these would give the masses a direct hand in governance and create another check against the power of the industrial elite. TR’s populist reforms did not wholly undercut the power of the industrial elite, but like Jackson’s populist reforms, they created the perception that the government served the interests of the people rather than those of the special interests.
This progressive reformation planted the seeds of progressivism in the United States, one tenet of which was rational public management. Though some bureaucratic reforms had been made during Reconstruction, the Progressive Era sw the proliferation of the new bureaucratic state and a corresponding elite that would one day challenge the industrial elite. TR’s reforms preserved the Second Republic through the intense international conflict of the First World War and the decadence of the 1920s. But the overbearing industrial elite would collapse with the crash of 1929, and a new generation would get to work at forging the institutions of the Third Republic of the United States.
The global Great Depression, combined with Soviet, Japanese, and Nazi militarism and expansionism throughout the 1930s, amounted to what might be called the Crisis of the World. Economic uncertainty and international chaos created a situation no American statesmen had yet known, and into the fray stepped President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The Crisis of the World, like the Crisis of the Union before it, resulted in the realization of a few main strategic and domestic goals. Strategically, first off, the United States survived the ravages of war- a feat no other combatant power managed to do so successfully. This put the American economy in a favorable competitive position in 1945. Additionally, the United States gained control of the global trading system and wrote the rules of that system with the Bretton Woods accords. This granted it a degree of power it had never before known. On the homefront, the Depression swiftly eroded public trust in the industrial elite, and new, rationalistic bureaucratic elite road FDR’s coattails through the New Deal to dominate American politics. Aside from the new elite structure, the Depression and Second World War created a mandate for an effective and powerful federal government even moreso than the Crisis of the Union had required. So between 1929 and 1947, Franklin Roosevelt and a coterie of other politicians had broad authority to re-forge the Republic, creating a unique set of institutions.
The bureaucratic, or “managerial” elite, as James Burnham described it, had been born in the Progressive Era. And through the new management structures of the New Deal, it came to dominate the federal government, eventually becoming what would be described as a “Fourth Branch” of government. This professionalized civil service would exert more and more of an influence over policymaking over the course of the century, while becoming less and less efficient and effective. But in the 1930s, it served its purpose well.
FDR and his congresses crafted a new social contract, one no longer based off of land grants for farmers willing to work the land, but on universal entitlements and various public services. The Social Security Act provided Americans with publicly-funded pensions in their old age, and all were eligible for it. Meanwhile, the federal government assumed a weightier role in providing for public education and job training, and the Housing Act subsidized the cost of homes. Aside from these, a network of various welfare services provided citizens with a last resort. This model- universal entitlements and public services like education and job training- would form the basis of the Third Republic’s social contract, and FDR’s heirs would expand upon them throughout the course of the 20th Century.
The rationalistic bureaucratic institutions of governance staffed by a career civil service were formed at this time, too, and politics adapted. Though a civil service had existed for decades in place of the old spoils system, it was now more formally institutionalized and normalized in governance. The parties continued to operate under variants of the boss system, but governance itself was solidly bureaucratic.
The old American System of Lincoln’s Second Republic was also revamped for the realities of the 20th Century. The Federal Reserve had been managing central banking for a few decades already, since the Wilson Administration, and it was empowered further under the Roosevelt Administration. Large monopolies in various strategic sectors were allowed to flourish, protected from nimbler competition by the bureaucratic elite’s regulatory regime. And the Roosevelt Administration and its successors embarked on a program of heavy public spending in areas like infrastructure and technological innovation, helping to propel the economy further into the century.
The bureaucratic and centralized institutions of the New Deal era worked well for a few decades. But in time, American global expansion- globalization- and a new information technology revolution would undermine the foundations of FDR’s Third Republic, and make reform necessary
The global expansion of American corporate power, so heavily supported by postwar presidents, began chipping away at American job security significantly in the 1970s. Meanwhile, the Information Technology Revolution, which had been funded and nursed by the federal government’s involvement in scientific research, began to revolutionize governance and render the old bureaucratic way of doing things less relevant. In this climate, the centralized and rationalistic institutions of the New Deal appeared more corrupted, while the bureaucratic elite appeared inept. Against this apparent stagnation rose the conservative movement and its charismatic leader, President Ronald Reagan.
In particular, the bureaucratic elite had been stagnating for several decades by the 1970s and 1980s. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society had drastically expanded the size of government and the power of the bureaucrats, but its atrociously uninspiring results and the ensuing social crisis of urban America eroded public trust in the professional civil service. Against this backdrop, a conservative like Reagan could more or less accurately say, “Government IS the problem!”
Despite rhetoric about decreasing the size of government, Reagan’s policies focused on deregulation and tax cuts. The core of the New Deal’s social contract- massive federal entitlements’ was largely maintained, and indeed expanded. In fact, Reagan’s reforms of the federal government are better viewed as attempts to preserve the public’s trust in the New Deal’s social contract, than as attempts to roll back or revolutionize governance.
In that light, Reagan did probably the least of any of the great reformers to democratize governance and institute populist reforms. But his rhetoric stood as a commitment of the President to stand against the decadence of the bureaucratic elite in the interests of the mass middle class, which thereby did much to restore public trust in government. Without fundamentally changing the institutions of the New Deal, Reagan reformed them in the name of the mass middle class.
It is interesting to note that Reaganite policies, particularly big defense spending, helped to employ and finance the burgeoning tech sector of the day. Information technology, beginning around the start of Reagan’s presidency, would begin to be more pervasive in American society, and in time its creators would begin to exert political influence on their own. But the fundamental unsustainability of the New Deal social contract, the decadence of the bureaucratic elite, and the increasing salience of the IT revolution would soon bring the Third Republic to the point of national crisis. And that’s where we are now.
The Fourth Republic of the United States
It would appear that we have entered the next Crisis of the World, or are otherwise close to it. The crash of 2008, the biggest since the Depression, exposed the fundamental contradictions of our economic system, while worsening gridlock and hyperpartisanship gives lie to the instability of our political institutions. Meanwhile, we approach strategic crisis abroad, with foes lurking in all corners of the Earth and new ways of war being pioneered by our adversaries. While the especially dramatic portion of the Crisis has not begun yet, nor has the intensive institution-building, it can be foreseen that those are nearing. When the dust settles, the American leadership must have accomplished four objectives.
First, two strategic objectives. Like in the last Crisis of the World, we must ensure the survival and sovereignty of the American nation. And aside from that, we must maintain a dominant position among the nations of the Earth.
Domestically, there are two more objectives. First, the bureaucratic elite must be fully replaced by the rising information elite of Silicon Valley, in its revolutionizing of society and governance and its general influence over American political life. Second, a strong but limited government capable of nation-building activities must be validated, and it must get to work crafting a new social contract and American System.
The information elites of Silicon Valley have already revolutionized American social life and business through the power of technology, and it is important for the improved competitiveness of the Republic that our political institutions follow suit. Tech-transformed governance could conceivably be more responsive and efficient than the current paper-pushing bureaucratic model, and such a new model of governance would require people who could speak the language. The replacement of bureaucrats with programmer-servants, and the corresponding power over governance given to tech executives, would be the final end of the bureaucratic elite and their replacement in power by the information elite and its particular interests and eccentricities.
This would have implications for political institutions and political participation, too- a digitally reformed government would offer different and broader avenues for participation to concerned citizens. That, in turn, would have profound impacts on democratic governance, perhaps super-empowering the public voice and the moneyed interests that inform public opinion.
A new social contract would have to be formed, too, one far more sustainable than the present universal entitlements model. One suggestion might be to hybridize the Civilian Conservation Corps, GI Bill, and Homestead Act models, and create a universal youth entitlement premised on a national service system. Under this system, young Americans would participate in national service of some form or other for a period of years, and upon the completion of their service time would receive a block of funding they could invest in college, homeownership, starting a business, or the like. Like Social Security, it would be universally available; unlike Social Security, it would potentially provide returns, and thus be fiscally sustainable. It could be combined with increased federal support for education to forge a new social contract based on national service and access to opportunity.
And the Fourth Republic will require a unique American System attuned to the realities of 21st Century life. Like the previous American Systems, it would include central banking, protections and partnerships with strategic industries, and a massive program of federal investments in infrastructure and technology. In the 21st Century, this would mean updating the mandate of the Federal Reserve, our existing central bank. It would include an identification of those industries considered necessary for American warmaking success- including energy, aerospace, defense, heavy manufacturing, IT, and biotechnology- and institute favorable policies for those industries to stay headquartered in America, including tax breaks and research partnerships. And it would develop a strategic infrastructure plan geared towards building the new infrastructure of the 21st Century- so aside from repairing old ports and roads, building a new nuclear energy grid, providing autonomous vehicle credits, and the like. This renewed American System would be built to expand and enhance American productive capacity and creative power.
This new set of institutions and policies can form the backbone of the Fourth Republic of the United States, but policy wonks on both sides of the aisle will need to get thinking creatively about our problems, informed by knowledge about the other three “Foundings” of the United States. So what can they learn?
Advice for the Next Great Leader
More likely than not, the coming period of great reforms will happen under the shepherding of a charismatic, visionary, uniting leader not unlike Washington, Lincoln, and FDR in stature and character. It does not appear that that leader is present in the 2016 field at the moment, so the country may have to wait a few election cycles for such a person to arise.
But that leader, once in the Oval Office, will find a grave crisis on their hands both strategically and domestically, and will have to respond with boldness, firmness, creativity, and hope. The future of millions of Americans yet unborn will be in their stewardship, and they will have to work to both preserve a divided nation and give it institutions that work. They will have only history as their guide; they will bear an unimaginable burden.
The first thing they can do is look to Washington, Lincoln, and FDR, and see what those great Republic-forgers had in common.
The primary takeaway here is that all three lawgivers were Hamiltonian in the best sense and Jacksonian in the best sense- they were willing to use the power of the federal government to forge institutions beneficial to the mass middle class. They were all intensely charismatic and devoted to national unity and integrity above all other concerns; yet despite their realpolitik, they never lost sight of the fundamentally moral cause of the American Republic. They communicated both realities to the American people through crises domestic and strategic.
In terms of getting through the domestic and strategic crises, two fundamental imperatives stand out: Preserve the American union against internal division, and preserve its sovereignty against external domination. These leaders brought all the nation’s resources to bear against those threats to the Republic, and so must the next great leader in time of crisis.
Despite the requisite public-spiritedness of the great leader and their followers, it is by no means guaranteed that the elite of the Fourth Republic will be so selfless. Therefore, it is imperative that in navigating the crisis and forging new institutions, the great leader tie the elite’s particular interest and reputation to the fate of the Republic, just as Lincoln did with the industrialists and Franklin Roosevelt did with the bureaucrats. This can be done by tying in the elite’s particular modus operandi with the governance of the nation- in the case of the early 21st Century, building a governing process based on tech.
In forging the institutions of governance, the next social contract, and the next American System, the great leader should bear in mind what those of the past looked like and the purposes they served, and build something for the 21st Century with roughly similar contours.
The Fourth Republic will not be crafted in one fell swoop, with a preplanned design in mind and a flawless execution. It will be the result of fits and starts, new initiatives informed by existing ideas, lessons of the past misapplied onto the problems of the present. But in the end, especially provided that some overall unifying vision informs the instincts of the leader and elites crafting it, the Fourth Republic will be discernably unique, yet still well-within the American tradition of strong government intervention in the public interest.
And this Republic, too, will face its own decline- its internal contradictions will cause its decay, its elitism will enrage the populace. But it will provide the structure of American governance and public life for roughly the next century- and that means that the policy decisions and rhetoric of the next decade and a half or so will be crucial, in this “founding” moment, for informing the debates of the coming decades.
Greatness awaits those who seize it, and the crisis of the present moment is no different. We have, now, the opportunity to lay down the institutions of the Fourth Republic of the United States, with ample precedent before us in the three prior foundings. Let’s get to work.
“I walk alone, I walk alone, I walk alone, EXCEPT FOR THESE TWO GUYS RIGHT NEXT TO ME”
OK, great opportunity for me to explain why I never do any of this “social media solidarity” stuff regardless of whether I agree with the cause.
What if anti-immigrant riots open up in France and more people-refugees this time- die? What if the French expel all their refugees? What if Marine le Pen’s neo-Nazis win big and start passing exclusionary legislation?
My heart bleeds for the French in the aftermath of the recent act of pure evil committed against them by the vile Islamic State, and may al-Bagdhadi burn in Hell. But human beings are human beings, with a thirst for vengeance and with an amoral complexity to their politics. Put yourself fully on the side of an emotional populist movement, and you become affiliated with it in all its behavior and stances, good and bad.
That’s why I didn’t and don’t stand by the UMissouri protestors in solidarity, even though I agree with them that their administration should have stepped up against lingering anti-black racism long ago. What happens when those protestors start shutting down journalists? What if they overreach and try to bring down their administration? Hell, social justice protests have gotten violent before. What if these ones do too, god forbid, and they get violent and destroy property- or worse- lives? (Not expecting they will- much much much more likely that’ll happen in France.)
So how else would I recommend action be taken against grave injustice and evil? Frankly, I don’t have an answer right now for that, aside from that those already in power should adopt reformist social agendas- not radical ones or reactionary ones- to address these sorts of issues before they explode. When they do explode, it makes perfect sense that movements rise up in response- I can’t blame those who join them for it, especially if they are personally affected.
But there is a cost to all political action, especially when it radicalizes. I suspect elements of French society will begin to radicalize soon, just as elements of the Black community have partially radicalized now and as college activists have definitely done for years. And in my observation, radicalization tends to divide people, cause more injustices to be committed on BOTH sides rather than the original oppressors, and morally complicate formerly morally simple situations. And it makes a just arrangement and reconciliation that much harder to get, because the opposing forces now hate each other more.
Also, the French people-ISIS situation carries MUCH more moral weight, I think, than the Missouri racists- Missouri protestors situation does.
Anyway, some might call me a coward. I would rather consider myself a complex moral thinker (and bear in mind, I am an unashamed, unabashed American nationalist in my political loyalties, and few entities have as much blood on their hands these days as the American state.) But long story short- I don’t go solidarity, because I would rather not be associated with the swirling passions of the masses of the people. You don’t typically serve anybody well by agreeing with their emotional mindset (which is why so many social justice causes would be much better fought for by non-social justice warriors.)
May principled moderation prevail, may the injustices at home and abroad be corrected, may we one day see the world where no one holds a gun and no one drags a chain (hint: that’s Heaven.) In the meantime, we need coolheaded leaders to get us through the complex evil of the world we inhabit without perpetrating greater evils.
That’s why statecraft is the hardest thing ever, and especially so in democratic polities like the good ol’ USA.