The Cycle

Michael Anton on why the Founding was corrupted.


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Eric Blair said...

Ugh. That was a lot of wind.

Grim said...

Heh. I don’t think you and Anton would like each other much. :)

Tom said...

TL;DR Version

Reader Question: "Why did American self-government fall apart so easily? ... If the Framers designed something truly aligned with human nature; if they created very thoughtful, carefully crafted institutions; if they made provision for cultivating virtue, strong families, and education; if they had sound theory as well as sound statesmanship; why did it all crumble within a few decades of the first foreign assault?"

Anton Responds

[Note: Due to length, I will do about 1/2 now and 1/2 later today.]

1. It didn't "fall apart"; it was taken apart by leftists because it interfered with them achieving their goals.

2. It wasn't easy taking it apart, either.

3. Progressives did do a few good things: Immigration restriction after WWI increased American wages and kept the Great Depression from being worse. Competitive civil service exams were good, too, until they were killed in the name of diversity.

4. Still, "something has clearly gone wrong and it’s reasonable to ask why".

5. "My pat answer used to be: 'modernity, mass immigration, and the cycle of regimes.' While my understanding of this triumvirate has undergone some revision, especially on the first point, it still more or less captures the likely culprits, or at least the lines of inquiry we must think through."

6. The 'cycle of regimes' is a kind of law for politics. "The basic idea is that—absent any external forces—men, and hence political regimes, ascend from bad to good and degenerate from good to bad in an endless cycle." Although dismissed in the more recent past, we should reconsider and adopt it again.

7. On Progress: "Everyone (except a tiny number of dissident thinkers who object for religious and/or philosophic reasons) takes for granted that the thought of the present is always and everywhere superior to that of the past. Tomorrow we will be wiser than we are today, and the day after that wiser than tomorrow, and so on, ad infinitum. ... Thus does Hegel supplant Rousseau; Marx, Hegel; Dewey, Marx; Rawls, Dewey; and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Rawls." For progressives, this applies to the implementation of justice as well.

8."This notion is laughable to the classics and not born out by history".

9. Anyway, according to the 'cycle of regimes', the original American government / regime could not have lasted forever, and it has already changed. It is now an oligarchy that depends on the support of part of the people, the poorer, more marginalized part. The formula is top + bottom vs. middle.

10. Can the cycle be overcome? Modernity is an attempt to do so, to create an eternal, ever-improving regime.

11. Discussion of Strauss, West, and statement of the Enlightenment's general antipathy toward "Biblical religion", Locke being an exception.

12. "[S]everal centuries of atheistic philosophy" were important for current Western irreligiousness.

13. The Founders didn't see this coming, and we shouldn't blame them for that.

14. Yes, the US is more religious than the rest of the West, but that's a low bar, and "modern religiosity tends to be sanitized, stripped of its power to inspire obedience and fear".

15. Yes, religion can have bad effects, but on the whole it has been positive in the West.


Tom said...

16. (Going back a little:) The Founders designed a system for a religious people, which is why increasing lack of religion presents problems.

17. "Given how bad things are in Europe—in so many ways, much worse than here—we must wonder if there is something deeply wrong not just with the American regime, but with the sect [he is referring to the civilization America is a part of] itself, with the West. We must question modernity’s self-assertion to have conquered the cycle, to be a self-perpetuating sect that will never end. We must also ask ourselves not just where we are on the sine curve of the cycle of regimes, but of the cycle of sects [similar to the cycle of regimes above]."

18. "The classical political philosophers famously warn against any attempt to rationalize politics. Their argument is twofold: it’s impossible, and even if it weren’t, the outcome would be disastrous. Too few men are sufficiently rational to make reason a sound basis for politics and inevitably some will be so certain in their own minds that they alone have the answers that they will seek to impose the cruelest tyrannies in reason’s name."

19. Maybe the Founders' error was to ignore this warning and build a regime on reason.

20. However, they had little choice in the matter given their historical situation.

21. The third cause is the elites having changed the composition of the American people by both ignoring the law and shaping the law to do so, and the American people have let them, at least until now.

22. People can be unsuited to a republic. The same people can later become suited, and then later become unsuited again.

23. "Our founders therefore argued for strict controls on which foreigners the American government would admit to citizenship and in what numbers."

24. "Moreover, the founders believed in and argued for a certain degree of commonality in the citizenry as a blessing."

25. "Our immigration policy—official and tacit—has for more than fifty years been directly contrary to these two ideas. Strauss said that a principal cause of Rome’s fall was that 'many men who never knew republican life and did not care for it . . . became Roman citizens.' We Americans have allowed into our country millions upon millions who have never known republican life and do not care for it. Is it any wonder, then, that as the composition of the American nation changes, our government drifts further and further from liberty?"

26. The Final Point: "Thucydides intimates that one reason Athens lost the Peloponnesian War was that the frank amoralism of the Athenian elites—on display most spectacularly in the Melian dialogue—demoralized the Athenian people. It undermined any sense that they were fighting for a just cause. It prevented them from believing, deep down, that they deserved to win and even caused some to wonder if they deserved to lose."

27. "Something similar has happened to America, the roots of course being slavery, but also the treatment of the Indians, Jim Crow, property requirements for voting, lack of women’s suffrage, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and a long list of other sins, real and imagined. Lincoln saw the problem with perfect clarity, as his Second Inaugural vividly shows. He hoped that the great sacrifice of the war would exorcise the demon, and it did, for a while.

28. "But our sense of hereditary blood guilt is back with a vengeance and has been for some time." We must acknowledge that "it’s currently strangling our political and intellectual discourse, that it has led to decades of disastrously bad policy, and that the Left understands all this and deliberately enflames it for its own perverse ends".

Tom said...

Well, I hope that helps. I also hope that I haven't mangled his ideas too much in quickly summarizing them.

Joel Leggett said...

I thought it was an interesting piece. That said, I could not disagree more when the author says that the founding fathers built our system of government on pure reason. Nothing could be further from the truth. Contrary to his dismissive comment regarding tradition, tradition most certainly was a major influence on the constitutional system they created. The vast majority of concepts underlying the Constitution derive from both the British Constitution and their own experiences in colonial self-government dating back to before the 1620's. Our legal system continued the British Common Law tradition. The French Revolution was based on pure reason and you see what that produced. Our system was based on tradition and experience and that is why it has lasted , to the degree it has, so long. I would refer the author to M.E. Bradford's "A Better Guide Than Reason."