On August 25, 1914, in a spate of disorder, shots rang out from the Belgian town of Louvain, instigating its German occupiers to launch a frenzy of looting and destruction. Crazed soldiers butchered civilians, ransacked buildings, and finally burned the town to the ground, including its magnificent and irreplaceable library. The Kaiser’s truculent commanders were convinced that Belgian citizens had been ordered to resist by those “above” them; that is, by a malevolent cabal of government officials, local burgomasters, and priests, all devoted to a bloodthirsty campaign of resistance. In Barbara Tuchman’s words, “that people could be animated to stop the invader without an order from ‘above’ was inconceivable.” Further, “the Germans saw these orders everywhere. [General] von Kluck claimed that the Belgian government’s posters warning its citizens against hostile acts were actually ‘incitements to the civil population to fire on the enemy.’” The plain meaning of such words was irrelevant, which meant that Belgian citizens were perfidious murderers acting on their superiors’ orders to kill Germans.
This is the perspective of a regime that had gone insane, one whose theory of terror in warfare had clearly put it outside the community of civilized nations. Indeed, Germany’s depredations during its second effort to dominate Eurasia instigated war crimes trials against its leaders. A special irony is that during the first half of the twentieth century, Germans were among the most highly educated, culturally sophisticated, and technologically advanced people on earth. Didn’t matter. Kaiser Wilhelm’s Empire and the Third Reich both perpetrated acts of unspeakable insanity.
The relevance of Germany’s experience to contemporary politics perhaps becomes clearer with an understanding of what a regime is. A regime is a complex of institutions, personnel, and practices committed to the preservation of a ruling ideology. A regime comprises the commanding heights of a political and social system, including public and private bureaucracies, major media outlets, and the academic establishment—all of whose members understand one another, defer to sympathizers’ needs, and devote their professional lives to self-aggrandizement and ideological conquest.
Naturally, not all regimes are alike and therefore do not go insane in the same way. Has the American regime—i.e., our governing political order—gone insane? Some may think the matter is debatable, but I think we may be taking the first steps on the pathway to political insanity.
For instance, the way regime officials and sympathizers have treated Tea Party people is nothing short of despicable, a mere hair’s breadth this side of insanity. Tea Party supporters have been characterized as racists, radicals, fascists, and traitors, none of which of course applies to them, but some of which are fair characterizations of some of those making such accusations. The liberal-progressive regime that has dominated America for the past generation or so cannot fathom a genuinely popular uprising. Regime adherents are cynically familiar with all sorts of fraudulent demonstrations, from their college days to union organizing, and can manage no better response to the Tea Partiers than to project their own race-class-gender-political identity bigotry onto their challengers. This rube-like narrowness of intellect would be amusing if it were not so mean-spirited.
Other growing manifestations of regime insanity are counterintuitive and often grotesque. For instance, would a sane regime member compare American soldiers to death-camp guards or terrorists—“Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some other mad regime”—as did Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill)? Would its minions enact policies whose inevitable trajectory is to bankrupt the country within a decade? Would a sane regime delegate authority to a government agency to regulate practically every puddle of water?
The list of questions goes on, much longer, from immigration to recent defense policy, the latter of which has been characterized by Charles Krauthammer as “incomprehensible.”
And if this isn’t quite at the stage of insanity, it is at least very bad policy.
The question is, what can citizens do about it? Here’s where I’m concerned, because the answer is: probably not much. Unless, that is, citizens reconstruct those institutions and fill their posts with fresh recruits from the ranks of civil society. That would mean ending the tenure of incumbents throughout the regime, in government, media, and academia, which is a tall order, one whose magnitude is likely not fully understood by Tea Party enthusiasts and their supporters. But absent a thorough changing of the guard, the liberal-progressive regime’s walk on the path to political insanity will continue.