Republicans have greeted Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts with the sort of relief expressed by Winston Churchill when he learned that Pearl Harbor had prompted America to finally enter the war; for the first time in years, he “slept the sleep of a redeemed man.” Thus it has been with those Republicans opposing “Obamacare” and other administration initiatives:
The Brown victory will “send a message” to the Democratic elite, declare conservative pundits.
Progressive Scions of Sauron, beware! There may be a pesky, career-wrecking hobbit in your future, especially considering the Supreme Court’s recent decision on campaign advertising that give corporate Gandolfs more say than they’ve had since the darkness of restricted speech and the sclerosis of safe seats gripped Congressional Middle-Earth.
As scary as this short-term scenario sounds for Democrats, the prospects of progressivism continue to be positive, for at least two reasons.
First, a statement made by President Obama in an interview with George Stephanopoulos shortly after the election reveals, perhaps unintentionally, the philosophical soul of modern progressivism, one that is untroubled by short-term setbacks. In answer to a question about policy tactics, the president said, “We lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values.”
Did you get that? It is not the job of leadership to represent Americans’ core values; rather, the president’s task is to explain to the country what its core values are.
Likewise, the president’s press secretary mouthed the same sentiment the following weekend. Regardless of what Scott Brown campaigned on—affirmed the press secretary and his president—the voters of Massachusetts sent him to Washington for differentreasons.
This is all pure Rousseau, that imp of the French Enlightenment who scorned modernity and contributed to one of the most pernicious ideas in Western thought—the assumption that regardless of what ordinary people think they want, elites know better. Rousseau made a distinction between the “will of all,” such as decisions registered in elections, and the “general will,” an ethic that by definition embodies what is best for everyone, whether they like it or not. The general will cannot be represented by votes; in fact, as intellectual historian George Sabine stated: “A well-regimented minority, whose members are persuaded of their own inspiration … has proved an almost perfect organ for the general will.” Armed with this philosophical bludgeon, elites may insist that ignorant masses are “forced to be free;” that is, to obey the general will.
The assumption of elite omniscience and popular incompetence has fascinated intellectuals from the time of Robespierre through Marx’s concept of the masses’ “false consciousness” and onward to progressives’ rule by expertise. Obviously, not all elites have been as brutal as those who ran the gulag or death camps, but most have been as arrogant.
In short, expect the Brown victory to generate tactical retreats by some progressives who value their jobs; but do not expect a major reevaluation of their philosophical assumptions that would result in policy changes. They’ll simply wait for the mob to cool down, and then get on with the progressive agenda in another few years or so. Sorry, Senator-elect Brown; you’re just a passing fancy.
A second reason why the future for liberal progressivism looks bright is that progressive assumptions have been built into the institutions of governance and culture for at least the past three generations. Do Republicans, conservatives, Madisonian constitutionalists, tea-party patriots, and traditionalists of all stripes have any idea of the daunting nature of their tasks—that is, if they truly endeavor to try to stop the progressive agenda? Not likely.
Consider the challenge of tax reform, just to get started: Go ahead and attempt to eliminate that monstrosity known as the Internal Revenue Service and replace it with some form of the flat tax, under the radical assumption that how Americans spend and invest their resources is none of the government’s business. How far do you think that proposal would get?
Let’s try some others: Demolish the Department of Education, return some of its functions to the states, and rent the buildings it once occupied to The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
The list goes on: Privatize and/or abolish Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and prevent any future government agency from taking on such cutesy names, much less such huge power. Deny federal aid to any college or university that grants tenure, which guarantees unlimited job security for radical academics. Slash budgets of every agency responsible for “discretionary spending” and don’t spend an additional penny on anything until the national debt is at least cut in half. And just for the fun it, fricassee a few spotted owls and deliver them au jus to whatever agency is in charge of protecting critters whose survival is deemed more important than the welfare of human beings.
In short, a change in personnel in Washington—Scott Brown included—means little to the future of the republic unless more is done besides simply giving pause to the engine of progressive expansionism, which dominates government, media, and academia. The question is whether a future Congress is up to the task.