Populism Continues to Grow, Across Party Lines

“The government lies to us, we all know it. The media lies to us.”

“My mission over the next 18 months of this campaign and throughout my presidency will be to end the corrupt merger of state and corporate power that is threatening now to impose a new kind of corporate feudalism in our country.”

~ Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Democratic son of assassinated Democratic Robert F. Kennedy, is out on the stump for his presidential campaign in challenging President Joe Biden. He is beating the populist drum, but he is no newcomer to this. What some might not be used to hearing is this kind of populism in the Democratic Party and coming from a member of a political dynasty, since so long ago the neoliberal DNC elites betrayed the working class and sold their souls to big biz interests. Yet populism, in its mercuriality, has a way of coming from all directions, constantly shifting forms, and soaking into everything.

It’s not quite guaranteed that Republicans will become the new populist party, in this new populist era. Along with RFK Jr., many Democrats are making a run for it: Bernie Sanders, Andrew Yang, Marianne Williamson, etc; with much earlier precedents such as George McGovern, Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader, and many others. But the powers that be have, until recently, kept populists down (Matt Stoller, How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul), as they’ve done with leftists. Also, though progressives have typically opposed populists (Bill Schneider, Class warfare fractures both parties), one can sense that the line between the two is presently blurred, maybe disappearing entirely; as leftward public opinion indicates. Populists have lit a fire under progressives’ asses.

Populism is often a strange mix of fears and hopes. RFK Jr. is an environmental lawyer with a platform of civil liberties, anti-corruption, transparency in government, opposition to military-industrial complex, anti-corporatism/fascism, and economic revitalization, but he is also an anti-vaxxer, the latter more often associated with the alt-right. It reminds one of how Donald Trump made progressive-like campaign promises about infrastructure rebuilding, healthcare reform, fighting corruption, etc, albeit all bull shit; and now is campaigning on protecting Social Security and Medicare, further bull shit. As with progressivism, populism is in the air, and has been for a while now. An old creed of populism has always been a distrust of elites, going back to ancient slave revolts and medieval peasants revolts, then reawakening in the modern era of revolutions and mass movements.

On that note, RFK Jr. has resurrected the conspiracy theories about the supposed CIA’s assassination of his father Robert F. Kennedy and his uncle John F. Kennedy. Even as the accumulated evidence does get one thinking, it’s not verified if CIA agents or other government officials assassinated or were involved in the assassinations; though the government apparently was involved in its coverup for some motive or another. For example, in response to questions and criticisms following the Warren Commission Report, a 1967 CIA memo directed agents to deceptively push ‘conspiracy theorist’ accusations through assets in the US mainstream media; and data analysis shows that the use of the label ‘conspiracy theorist’, that had been rare in the MSM up to that point, suddenly was widely used following. That illegally propagandistic attempt to hide and obscure the truth from the public provides supporting evidence for a potential link of the CIA to the assassination itself, but it doesn’t prove it and at this point, barring further leaks or a death bed confession, we’ll likely never know.

But what is proven beyond a doubt, according to released and leaked CIA documents and assorted other evidence, is that for generations the CIA has assassinated numerous democratic leaders around the world, along with having overthrown democratic governments and attacked democratic groups and movements; in concert with persecution and oppression of the left in general. This is similar to it being proven, according to released and leaked FBI groups, that the FBI used COINTELPRO tactics to attack, weaken, and destroy democratic groups in the US, including actions that involved a FBI asset and led to the assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton by the police that the FBI was working with, but also including other devious ploys like the attempt to blackmail Martin Luther King Jr. into suicide. That is some fucked up shit that most Americans remain unaware or disinformed about, as they’re not going to learn about it by attending school, public or private, or by listening to corporate media, including so-called public media largely funded by corporations.

If our government has done all of this and worse in other countries and here at home, what would stop them from assassinating a standing U.S. president? Certainly, neither morality nor law has been a significant hindrance so far in their covert activities. So, it’s easy to be suspicious when the intelligence agencies of one’s own government have a known long history of political evil, violence, brutality, terrorism, and oppression; even when knowledge of this remains an open secret amidst mass ignorance and indoctrination, causing a sense of free floating anxiety and vague paranoia among the masses. Nonetheless, like Robert Kennedy Jr., many other Americans are becoming less ignorant about abusive corruption and less forgiving toward the purveyors of it (e.g., according to polls, most Americans acknowledge that racism is systemic among police departments and requires reform). That is part of why there has been decades of falling public trust in all major institutions (big government, big media, big biz, and big church; and now the military as well), a situation that is fomenting populist unrest and outrage. It obviously has nothing to do with partisan politics. Many of the same people who voted for Barack Obama stated they would’ve voted for Bernie Sanders, did vote for Donald Trump, and likely would vote for Robert Kennedy Jr.

The argument has been made that, given the admission in polls that many Trump voters said that they didn’t trust Trump to do what he promised, it seems that electing Trump was more of a ‘Fuck You’ to the entire political system; a desperate sense of frustration among a certain segment of the disempowered, disenfranchised, and dispossessed; the equivalent of throwing a grenade into a bunker (the Joker’s philosophy that, in chaos, there is equality). While distorted and misguided by dark fantasies of paranoia, hatred, and bigotry, there was a valid sense of protest, if only a kernel, even in the January 6 MAGA insurrection. With populism repeatedly sprouting up within the Democratic Party as well, this animosity can’t be blamed on just the far right and the politically disaffected. While most Americans have lost trust in major institutions, they also state in polls that they still support the ideal of good governance and want a strong and active government that supports democracy and the public good. For all the moral failure and political evil, the American public hasn’t merely fallen into cynicism, passivity, and indifference. Hence, the reason populism retains its ever stronger appeal, across party lines.

What this anti-elitism and anti-corruption ultimately comes down to is an opposition to high inequality. Such disparity is more of power, position, and privilege than only income and accumulated wealth. This is where it’s important to make a distinction between right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and social dominance orientation (SDO). RWAs aren’t inherently inegalitarian, per se; that is to say not necessarily pro-inequality, in some ways quite the opposite. But that is the case among SDOs, specifically SDO-Es on the SDO-7 subscale. RWAs just want everyone within a given population to conform to the same norms and so in a sense equalize everyone, if inconsistent and hypocritical in practice; whereas SDOs don’t want people to conform at all but, rather, to be kept in their place. In studies, it’s demonstrated that SDOs seek out inequality and, when it’s lacking, will strive to create it. SDOs love rigid hierarchy where power is elevated, concentrated, and centralized within an elite; and hence the subordination and subjugation, suppression and silencing of the masses, the denial of autonomy and agency (i.e., democratic self-governance).

The US has the highest inequality in the world, at a time of the highest inequality in world history. It’s an social dominance utopia, which means a dystopia for the rest of us. Most Americans don’t accept this, even as they are largely ignorant of how bad it is. In surveys, most Americans severely underestimate how vast is inequality. Yet actual inequality is so far above what most Americans, when asked, state is tolerable. Imagine the populist outrage once Americans realize the full extent of the propaganda, indoctrination, and disinfo used to keep them in the dark. And place that in context of the American majority’s ignorance about being a left-liberal majority that is manipulatively divided, another truth that is slowly trickling out into public knowledge, though not yet forming as a shared public identity. If not fully informed, most Americans do get the gist of it. They grok the basic problem and support the policies that would solve it, such as greater democracy, universal healthcare, higher taxes on the rich, stronger corporate regulations, etc. Americans have repeatedly demanded this, as seen with Bernie Sanders having been the most popular candidate in 2016, whereas both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump were the least popular since data was kept, but the elite repeatedly won’t allow majority leftist opinion to be heard or genuine populism to take hold, much less to gain entry into power.

Here is an important point of confusion. The thing is SDO is divided into two facets, that measure distinct and so can be separate in any given individual. Besides SDO-E (inegalitarianism), there is also SDO-D (dominance proper). The latter is about old school bigotry and oppression, with caste systems, ghettos, sundown towns, redlining, apartheid, a permanent underclass, class war, and such; but old school social dominance is politically incorrect at this point and less of a direct threat, though far from gone. So, authoritarians may or may not have high levels of SDO-D dominance tendencies, whether or not they’re high in SDO-E inegalitarianism. For example, when researched, authoritarians overall don’t perceive immigrants and foreigners as a threat, as long as they are portrayed as assimilating. But to SDOs, assimilation of the foreign is to be feared because it undermines the established hierarchical boundaries of division. So, while conservative Republican partisans indeed have higher rates of authoritarianism, it is primarily SDOs, if with the help of authoritarians, that rule the two-party state, which of course includes the corruption of the transpartisan and cross-administration deep state (CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, etc). This is how occasional token minorities and poor individuals can become politicians, presidents, administration figures, Supreme Court judges, intelligence agents, etc; while oppression of the masses remains, actual meritocracy is neutralized, and the banana republic goes on.

Populism, at its heart, is the simple insistence that it doesn’t have to be this way, that something better is possible, must be possible. Now whether populism takes beneficial or harmful form is dependent on how much pushback the elite give it, and dependent on which counter-elites, reformers and revolutionaries or demagogues and reactionaries, will put their support behind it. It’s a powerful force, but disgruntled populists can get lost down dark paths, just as optimistic populists can lead us toward a brighter future. What determines the outcome is not only what the public demands but also what the elite allows, and as well what the rest of us choose, either for or against the public good. To attack populists as mere right-wing reactionaries and useful idiots would only be to harm ourselves, would be to deny that we too are of the people and that we too share the same fate. Never doubt populism is always a movement of hope. Let us maintain that. Populism is a movement of the populace, of the people. And we, all of us, are the people. It’s for us to decide what becomes of it, what becomes of the possibility for freedom and betterment.

The Hobbesean Fallacy of Primordial Individualism

“We might label this the Hobbesean fallacy: the idea that human beings were primordially individualistic and that they entered into society at a later stage in their development only as a result of a rational calculation that social cooperation was the best way for them to achieve their individual ends. This premise of primordial individualism underpins the understanding of rights contained in the American Declaration of Independence and thus of the democratic political community that springs from it. This premise also underlies contemporary neoclassical economics, which builds its models on the assumption that human beings are rational beings who want to maximize their individual utility or incomes. But it is in fact individualism and not sociability that developed over the course of human history. That individualism seems today like a solid core of our economic and political behavior is only because we have developed institutions that override our more naturally communal instincts. Aristotle was more correct than these early modern liberal theorists when he said that human beings were political by nature. So while an individualistic understanding of human motivation may help to explain the activities of commodity traders and libertarian activists in present-day America, it is not the most helpful way to understand the early evolution of human politics. Everything”

― Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution

Looking back on history, from the ancient world on, humans have been fundamentally communal and collectivist. In histories of the ancient world, what stands out is how nearly everything people did was as group activities. And this social way of being remained strong through the Middle Ages (Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets). Individualism was invented and rather recently, and hyper-individualism more recent still. It is a historically-contingent social construction and civilizational development, be it an ultimate achievement or blind alley, not something we are born with as part of an ancient biological inheritance handed down to us from evolution. Systematically and repeatedly, it must be actively reinforced and defended, far beyond merely the initial enculturation and indoctrination of each new generation of children. It’s a collective ongoing project.

When some refuse to submit to and conform to individualist norms, they must be constrained, suppressed, isolated, punished, or otherwise neutralized. There are many examples of this. In the United States, when a communitarian group like the Hutterites become too successful, their jealous individualistic neighbors sought state power to hobble their farming competitors (e.g., outlawing large communal ownership of farmland). Individualism doesn’t win because of free markets, quite the opposite since individualism requires heavily constrained and controlled markets. This had been going on for centuries. Starting in early modernity, there was a concerted push by the elite (e.g., William Godwin) to destroy organic group identities, specifically to eliminate shared freedom (a word cognate with ‘friendship’) in order to make way for modern capitalism and private ownership, including the emerging concept of self-ownership.

Of course, this is part of a larger shift, mostly happening without conscious intent. Though individualism proper has shallow roots, proto-individualism has been emerging for several millennia, apparently a seed planted in the decline and collapse of Bronze Age civilization and then first taking hold in the Axial Age. All of the major elements that would later form individualism were taking shape, if not yet fully assembled as individualism itself. Many theorize that the transformation had to do with innovations and developments of media technologies, specifically written text, but there were also the changes in the foods humans ate and the substances they imbibed, with a particularly interesting observation about the widespread switch from mildly psychedelic groot ales to caffeinated beverages.

The idea that humans aren’t originally, fundamentally, and primarily individualist is obviously an ancient understanding. One can see that by reading ancient texts for oneself or by looking to the philological research on such ancient texts. But that understanding didn’t entirely disappear in the modern West. Though relational dividualism was on the decline, 19th century philosophers like David Hume and Friedrich Nietzsche wrote about the bundled mind. Shortly after that period, in the United States, others began writing about this topic, including Henry Adams who was the great grandson of multiple American founders and presidents. Those like Carl Jung were also expressing a similar understanding of the psyche. Following in those footsteps were many other philologists and psychologists, along with some political philosophers: E.R. Dodds, Bruno Snell, Julian Jaynes, Eric Havelock, Joseph Henrich, Larry Siedentop, Francis Fukuyama, etc. The human reality of the bundled mind doesn’t go away and so the idea of it is continually rediscovered.

The Ideological is the Personal is the Political

It’s always curious to see how ideological mindsets, as psychological predispositions, play out on the large-scale of populations and politics, movements and mass actions (Public Health, Collective Potential, and Pro-Social Behavior). But such patterns of behavior, in many ways, are more commonly and easily observed on the small-scale of everyday life (On Rodents and Conservatives; & Orderliness and Animals). Politics proper, in particular, is a small part of an ideological identity and worldview, as socially constructed and interpellated.

Think about some aspects that show up in the social science research. Conservative-mindedness, as opposed to liberal-mindedness, is measured with less tolerance for anything that is unfamiliar, unknown, and ambiguous. One of the traits this shows up with is low rates of ‘Openness to Experience’, closely related to and overlapping with the trait called ‘Intellect’, having much to do with cognitive complexity and flexibility, such as perspective-shifting. On the sociopolitical level, this has to do with high rates of so-called ‘Traditionalism’ or rather norm enforcement, even enforcement of invented traditions (i.e., nostalgic revisionism).

The conservative mentality wants certainty, and will create it or the perception of it when it’s lacking. Studies show, for example, that conservatives are more prone to the backfire effect where the more their beliefs and biases are challenged the stronger their sense of conviction tends to become. Certainty itself is a conservative principle because the need for certainty is so overpowering. This is why conservatism is so strongly linked to religiosity and dogmatism, as studies show; and also why social conservatism increases under the same conditions (e.g., pathogen exposure, real or imagined) that precipitates right-wing authoritarianism, also as studies show.

This can be thought of as morally neutral or, more precisely, context-dependent. It’s an evolved defensive response that promotes survival in the presence of genuine risks and threats. So, it can be beneficial under normal conditions of temporary problems that can be easily solved, resolved, or escaped. But unfortunately, we modern Americans live in a state of chronic stress that can make this temporary state into a permanent ideological mentality. What is potentially pro-social, when deranged from pervasive stress and free floating anxiety, becomes anti-social. Hence, a temporary down leveling of Openness can permanently shut off the ability to change one’s mind, to see other perspectives, to take in new info.

On the individual level, this can manifest in simple and mundane ways. There is a conservative we know who is stereotypical in many ways. She strongly dislikes anything strange or different. How this can be problematic is that she prefers a known and familiar problem over an unknown and unfamiliar solution. A simple example is that she regularly loses her phone and breaks the screen because it falls out of her pocket or she lays it down somewhere to avoid it falling out of her pocket. She could simply carry it in a fanny pack or belt holster, but she refuses to change because she has always carried it in her pocket. She’d rather break and lose her phone on a regular basis, since doing something new and different would feel uncomfortable.

As a personal consequence of personal behavior, that is her choice. But of course, nothing remains merely personal. It also informs all other areas of decision-making, including support of policies that affect others. You could point out the problems of capitalist realism to most conservatives and, in some cases, they might even acknowledge them. Yet they’ll typically struggle to not only imagine an alternative but to imagine a state of mind where they’d prefer a potential solution over the known quantity of an imperfect system. To change anything, even to improve it to lessen suffering and harm, is preferentially interpreted as risk and not potential. This is why, on the Right, there is such staying power of narratives (ideological beliefs, conspiracy theories, talking points, etc).

It’s not merely a lack of knowledge or critical thinking, although it’s not incidental that conservatives rightly see education as undermining conservative-mindedness. The thing is that the social conservatism and right-wing authoritarianism that expresses as a defense mechanism itself becomes the object of defense. Those on the Right become identified with a narrow ideological identity because they come to fear the loss of fear itself. They end up taking fear as the normal condition of human nature, rather than a passing response to a temporary situation. As such, it becomes an absolute conviction that There Is No Alternative (TINA); and any suggestion to the contrary is to be attacked.

In fear, they cling to fear in the wish that it will protect them from what they fear. But over time fear takes on a life of its own, ungrounded from anything specific. Even the possibility of losing fear becomes fearful. This is how they come to prioritize the known and familiar for no other reason than its known and familiar, not unlike how an abused spouse will sometimes refuse to leave their abuser. But to confront this mentality will only antagonize it further into fear. The only way to undo it is to remove the stressful conditions underlying fear. A pathway out of fear has to become a real possibility that is viscerally felt. This sometimes begins with radical imagination slipped past the defenses in a pleasing and entertaining narrative, just for a moment to imagine that, yes, there are alternatives of hope and inspiration.

Francis Fukuyama on Neoliberalism and Liberalism

There is always confusion about ideology, particularly liberalism in a liberal age. Everything becomes conflated with liberalism, often in distorted ways. Even many conservatives call themselves classical liberals, conveniently ignoring early liberals like Thomas Paine who, as egalitarian proto-leftists, often were radicals, rabblerousers, and revolutionaries. But it might be fair for conservatives to also claim a liberalism of sorts, since they obviously don’t want to be openly identified with classical conservatism: colonial imperialism, neo-feudalism, neo-monarchism, neo-aristocracy, land theft, genocide, slavery, indentured servitude, white supremacy, etc; whatever they may, in many cases, genuinely support (e.g., theocracy) but won’t acknowledge. Indeed, one might argue that every modern Westerner to some degree is a liberal at this point, because so much is framed and defined by it, be it progressive or reactionary. As often noted, the average conservative today is more liberal than the average liberal was a century ago (e.g., majority support and mainstream acceptance, even among Republicans, for same sex marriage).

Besides, there never has been a single liberalism. That insight is something many are beginning to struggle with. In a review of a recent book by Francis Fukuyama, Aaron Irion discusses liberalism and gives an overview of Fukuyama’s take on it without once mentioning conservatism (Maladapted Liberalism: A Review of Francis Fukuyama’s Liberalism and its Discontents). The thing is that Fukuyama’s so-called End of History wasn’t a general triumph of liberalism but specifically of neoliberalism, which in the U.S. is identified with the political right as economic conservatism, most infamously as Reaganomics (Starve the Beast, Two Santa Claus Theory, military largesse, creation of the permanent national debt, defunding public good, deregulation, plutocratic tax breaks, corporate subsidies, etc). It’s true that such neoliberalism has also taken over the Democratic Party, but we should honestly admit that the liberalism of the American majority is much further left, specifically about economics, in being less forgiving toward the neoliberal dominance of corporate capitalism and globalized plutocracy, not to mention still supportive of interventionist progressivism (American Leftist Supermajority).

The original neoliberals were FDR Progressives who lost faith in democratic processes, politics, and policies, especially the prioritizing of public good, and so most of them became Republicans and joined right-wing think tanks. Possibly a few well-intentioned idealists aside, most of them saw capitalist realism and corporate rule of the world as their new salvation, with democracy as a mere rhetorical flourish and side effect. It is one of the more illiberal forms of liberalism, that is to say only liberal at surface level and maybe not even that. One could, nonetheless, accept neoliberalism as a genuine kind of liberalism. It echoes the anti-leftist hyper-individualism that, in gaining power during the Cold War, sought to disempower and disenfranchise the political so as to usurp all power within the economic sphere and hence to have corporate-controlled markets replace democracy proper. This has involved two ideas: (1) spending money is voting with one’s dollars; and the corollary (2) money is speech. But what it ignores, as Corey Robin noted, is that “the implication for democracy is clear. There can be no democracy in the political sphere unless there is equality in the economic sphere” (The real problem of Clarence Thomas).

That is the ultimate test. The political right typically won’t denounce democracy entirely, although the early classical conservatives did so quite vociferously. To attack democracy directly these days is politically incorrect and shameful, and hence political suicide. No politician would ever get elected, not even in reactionary America, if they explicitly stated they were anti-democratic. So, instead, the reactionary right will claim to be for democracy, sometimes claiming to be the ‘Real Liberals’; but their purpose is to co-opt democratic rhetoric in order to defang democracy itself, to eliminate it as an effective possibility. Tellingly, neoliberals who want supposed ‘free markets’ to replace democratic politics don’t actually want freedom in markets either. They go bonkers if it’s suggested that markets and workplaces should be democratized, the only way that freedom could operate. As Robin suggests, economic democracy may be more directly important than political democracy, as leftists have long understood that power comes from those controlling material conditions and the means of production; hence the close link between social democracy and democratic socialism.

There is no such thing as limited democracy; no way to have partial self-governance, partial slave abolition, partial suffrage, partial civil rights, partial secularism, partial public good, etc. Either there is democracy in all areas and in all ways or there is no democracy at all. A free market is only actually free if everyone operating within it and affected by it is equally and effectively free (i.e., positive freedom). And such freedom, or lack thereof, is experienced personally and daily. Most people aren’t actively and explicitly involved in politics on a regular basis but almost everyone is constantly and obviously affected by economics every time they go to work and go to the store. But in the end, there is no separation between the economy and politics. Democracy is an entire culture of trust, a way of being and relating. Left-liberalism has always sought a balance between individual liberty and collective action, between private rights and public good. “Perhaps, if we all embrace something like the Last Man inside ourselves, devote ourselves to the struggle, to the hard work of moderation that it’ll require,” as Aaron Irion concludes, “we can struggle not against liberalism, but for a better liberalism and a better world.” That is the only honest issue to be debated.

For Fukuyama, once an advocate of neoliberalism, he has become one of its greatest critics and now largely, if not entirely, points in the opposite direction. In an interview with Sergio C. Fanjul, Fukuyama said that, “I was never opposed to social democracy. I think that it really depends on the historical period and the degree of state intervention. By the 1960s, many social democratic societies had become mired in low growth [and] high inflation. At that point, I think it was important to roll some of that back. That is, in fact, what happened in Scandinavia. Most of those countries reduced tax rates, reduced levels of regulation and therefore became more productive. But I think that in the current period, we need more social democracy, especially in the United States. We still don’t have universal health care, which I think is ridiculous for a rich country, a rich democratic country. My attitude towards social democracy really depends on what period you’re talking about and what country you’re talking about” (Francis Fukuyama: ‘The neoliberals went too far. Now, we need more social democratic policies’).

Social democracy is central to a liberal society. Such a society can only be created through active support, promotion, and defense. All liberal societies,” Fukuyama continues, “have to [be able to] preserve their own institutions. When you get a political party, for example, that is anti-democratic or anti-liberal, that, if it gains power, it’s going to shut down freedom of expression, not going to permit future democratic elections and so forth, a liberal society has the right to defend itself. […] A liberal society must [have the ability] to protect itself from illiberal forces. […] The most severe one is from a resurgent populist nationalism that’s represented by Orbán in Hungary, by Erdoğan in Turkey, by Modi in India, by Donald Trump in the United States. All of these people were legitimately elected… but they use their legitimacy to threaten illiberal institutions. They want to eliminate the independent court system, they want to shut down opposition media, they [weaponize] the justice system to go after their political opponents.” The one and only thing liberalism can’t tolerate is intolerance. Yet the American right has always been fundamentally opposed to tolerance, as it has fought against social democracy.

So, where does Fukuyama’s ideal of ‘moderation’ fit in. Is he suggesting moderation between a fascist elite and a neoliberal elite, or rather moderation between the left-liberal majority and all the elites combined? This may be where Fukuyama stumbles, as maybe he remains anti-populist, paternalistic, and elitist in his wariness toward actual democratic self-governance. His state of confusion, unfortunately common among the elite, leads him to carry forward some of the illiberal views of democracy he held as a neoliberal. Sergio C. Fanjul asked him, “Are liberalism and democracy always fellow travellers?” His answer was that, “They are allies and they support each other, but they don’t necessarily have to exist at the same time. Orbán wants an illiberal democracy, with elections, but without freedom of the press or belief or free opposition. There are also liberal societies without democracy, like Singapore: there is individual freedom, but there are no elections.” *Sigh* There is no such thing as illiberal democracy or non-democratic liberalism. The former is a banana republic, with appearances of democracy only. And the latter is simply Confucian patriarchy and paternalism.

Liberalism and democracy are something else entirely, as expressions of freedom, egalitarianism, and justice; the complete opposite of social conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism, and social dominance orientation. The difficulty might be that liberal democracy, as rhetoric and reality, can seem unsexy and unexciting. In fact, to the reactionary mind and anyone under stress pulled into the reactionary, it comes across as downright boring (Boredom in the Mind: Liberals and Reactionaries). “Fukuyama makes clear,” Irion writes in reference to Fukuyama’s 1990s vision of the ‘Last Man’, “that liberalism may not remain unchallenged. In his telling at the time, liberalism brings peace, stability, and prosperity, but humans may struggle against it anyway. If for no other reason than “a certain boredom,” a desire to “struggle for the sake of struggle” and prove to themselves that they remain free, that they “remain human beings.”” It’s more than possible that Fukuyama too finds it a bit boring, in now giving a weak defense. Only the radical imagination, in narratizing new and inspiring visions, can inoculate against such moral ennui.

* * *

Francis Fukuyama Plays Defense
by Krithika Varagur

For Fukuyama, the big surprise of liberalism’s trajectory after the Cold War has been the scope and impact of neoliberalism—the free-market reforms of deregulation, privatization, and austerity that began in earnest in the nineteen-seventies. He believes that neoliberalism, as opposed to classical liberalism, has tanked liberalism’s reputation among young people today. Although many neoliberal policies started half a century ago, their effects, like excessive inequality and financial instability, are more plainly visible to him now.

Neoliberalism is not a complete theory of justice, morals, or the good life but a narrower set of ideas about political and economic institutions, and how they should work in the service of free markets. It emerged, in Fukuyama’s account, as a valid reaction to bloated mid-century welfare states in the U.S. and Europe, but was then “pushed to a counterproductive extreme.” Internationally, institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank sought to undo capital controls in many other countries, triggering financial crises with “alarming regularity.” Some neoliberal reformers in the U.S. and abroad also rolled back the social-welfare policies that had improved their fellow-citizens’ quality of life. Fukuyama writes all this off as an anomalous hijacking of liberal principles: “Liberalism properly understood is compatible with a wide range of social protections provided by the state.”

But is neoliberalism really separable from what Fukuyama dubs classical liberalism? The distinction has long been fuzzy; the twentieth-century Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, for one, was both a vocal defender of classical liberalism and a co-founder of the Mont Pelerin Society, the international neoliberal forum, in 1947. And Fukuyama stumbles in characterizing neoliberalism as liberal individualism pushed to right-wing extremes. As the historian Quinn Slobodian has argued, the pioneers of neoliberalism were not focussed on individuals’ rights; they were concerned, primarily, with the institutions of markets. Neoliberalism has not only been about tearing down regulations so that people can buy things more freely but about actively building and reinforcing institutions, like the World Trade Organization, that insulate markets around the world from the vagaries of nation-states and democracies.

After five decades of privatization and austerity around the world, it is nearly impossible to picture any liberal democracy today without its neoliberal institutions. And Fukuyama doesn’t really try, offering only a tepid suggestion to redistribute some wealth in order to offset inequality “at a sustainable level, where [social protections] do not undercut incentives and can be supported by public finance on a long-term basis.” (A colleague of Kristol’s riffed that a neoliberal is “a liberal who got mugged by reality, but has refused to press charges.”) After reading Fukuyama’s chapter on neoliberalism, it becomes clear that the task ahead for liberals isn’t more abstract argumentation but, rather, devising practical ways to curb the regulations and bodies that push democracies to serve markets instead of their citizens.

But Fukuyama has been anticipating certain other problems with liberalism for decades. In “The End of History and the Last Man,” he wondered whether, even after the collapse of rival ideologies like communism, liberalism might contain the seeds of its own decline. “Could we assume that successful democratic societies could remain that way indefinitely? Or is liberal democracy prey to serious internal contradictions, contradictions so serious that they will eventually undermine it as a political system?” Fukuyama wrote, presciently, in 1992. At the time, he concluded that it did not—but he did accurately identify several sore spots: liberal societies tended to “atomize and separate people,” were deleterious to community life, and would continue to harbor inequality. What he had underestimated was the extent to which liberal societies could breed hyper-individualistic consumers, obsessed with “self-actualization” and identity at the expense of politics and public-spiritedness.

Fukuyama is clearly flummoxed by the scale at which these threats have escalated. And he tries to make sense of it by briefly turning the floor over to communitarian critics of liberalism, who grasped such issues much earlier. In doing so, he retraces a major debate of the nineteen-eighties, which followed John Rawls’s seminal liberal treatise, “A Theory of Justice,” from 1971. While Rawlsian liberalism posits that humans are fundamentally autonomous, communitarians like Michael Sandel, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Michael Walzer argue that they are fundamentally shaped by their communities. And whereas liberalism protects individuals’ rights to choose their own versions of the good life, the communitarians countered that states or other communities should take an active role in shaping a common good. Such arguments have recently returned to the public sphere, from both the left and right. They touch a nerve for many in the U.S., who, despite living in the world’s richest country, may still feel they lack community, shared values, or hopeful future.

Fukuyama scrupulously entertains several communitarian critiques, and even repudiates Rawls for his “elevation of choice over all other human goods.” But he never convincingly accounts for the social and moral voids that plague today’s liberal societies. He turns instead to a taxonomy of “thick” and “thin” political visions. (These terms were also trotted out in earlier liberal-communitarian debates; Walzer wrote a book titled “Thick and Thin,” in 1994.) “Successful liberal societies have their own culture and understanding of the good life, even if that vision may be thinner than those offered by societies bound by a single religious doctrine,” Fukuyama writes. He finds the conservative critique that liberal societies “provide no strong common moral horizon around which community can be built” to be “true enough,” but struggles to come up with ways to “reimpose a thicker moral order.” Wearily, he concludes that this “thinness” is a “feature and not a bug” of life under liberalism.

Were Fukuyama really hoping to convince the skeptics, he could have easily reached within liberalism’s own history for examples of how it can enrich, rather than erode, the social fabric. In late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century England, the liberalisms expounded by reformist economists like William Beveridge and J. A. Hobson helped establish the modern welfare state, as the Oxford scholar Michael Freeden has shown. For them, liberalism was not just about protecting free choice but also about actively generating the conditions for individuals to flourish. In the U.S., Progressive-era liberals like Herbert Croly, who co-founded The New Republic, in 1914. saw liberalism as about more than abstract equal rights; it was also about concrete things like higher wages and a social safety net.

Rather than showing how such visions of welfare have been part and parcel of liberal democracies, Fukuyama avers only that liberal democracies “remain superior to the illiberal alternatives.” Alternatives from the left are largely reduced to caricature; Fukuyama’s bogeymen of a “progressive post-liberal society” include the evaporation of national borders, “essentially meaningless” citizenship, and “anarchist” rule along the lines of the short-lived autonomous zones that arose in Seattle and Portland in the summer of 2020. Having summoned such stand-ins for the left on one end, and the more obviously undesirable spectre of right-wing illiberalism on the other, Fukuyama absolves himself from having to truly confront the social and material deprivation of liberalism’s subjects.

Public Health, Collective Potential, and Pro-Social Behavior

This is a politically incorrect topic not only for the Right but often for many on the Left as well, and there is really no way to make it politically correct because it challenges the entire sociopolitical order. Decades of research has strongly and consistently, if variously, correlated together not only social conservatism (SC), right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), social dominance orientation (SDO), ‘traditionalism’ or norm conformity, collectivism, religiosity, racism, xenophobia, enforcement of intergroup barriers, social Darwinism, etc but also, specifically in the context of stressors (cognitive overload, high inequality, social conflict, threat perception, disgust response, parasite load, pathogen exposure, etc), correlated all of those to stunted, compromised, or otherwise decreased neurocognitive functioning and related psychological expression that is often described as ‘higher thought’ (lower IQ, including crystallized intelligence but particularly fluid intelligence involving pattern recognition, unique problem-solving, creativity, imagination, intellectual curiosity, and aesthetic appreciation, with thinking that is divergent, critical, quick, and abstract; higher in dogmatism and rigidity, and so difficulty with perspective-shifting, cognitive empathy, and theory of mind; intolerance of ambiguity, uncertainty, unfamiliarity, and unpredictability, in terms of low openness to experience; need for order, closure, and negative integrative complexity; etc). This is part of what some call the ‘behavioral immune system’, an evolved defense mechanism against biological and social threats, real or perceived.

Liberal-mindedness, on the other hand, is simply the normal or rather fuller neurocognitive and psychological development under relatively optimal conditions of health, where there is generally freedom from chronic and overwhelming anxiety, fear, stress, and sickliness; the kind of basic health that has defined most of human existence and evolution. As average IQ points have increased this past century, liberal views (social, political, and psychological) have spread to such a vast extent that the American supermajority is now overwhelmingly liberal, if the label itself has become a slur, with even the average conservative today being more liberal than the average liberal was a century ago (e.g., broad support of same sex marriage). So, in the United States, pretty much every demographic’s average IQ has been rising, and along with it there has been a decrease of violent crime (Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature); unsurprising as both are correlated to public health problems (infectious disease epidemics, parasitism, severe nutritional deficiencies, lead toxicity, etc) having been increasingly resolved or lessened in recent generations (e.g., the sewage systems and clean water originally ensured by municipal socialists that has since become an international standard in the Western world). This public health progress, if imperfect in other ways (e.g., standard American diet of hyper-processed foods with excess sugar and seed oils), has improved neurocognitive development that has been reinforced by the spread of mass literacy and universal education over the past century. To offer a contrast, the far more malnourished and sickly Lost generation (that fought in the First World War), if tested by today’s standards, would be measured as what used to be called ‘retarded’; not to suggest their concrete intelligence of practical knowledge wasn’t higher (e.g., farming skills). That is how vastly the IQ norm has risen.

There is an interesting relationship between RWA and SDO. RWAs want conformity to social norms, while SDOs want to enforce perceived inherent differences. So RWAs are fine with out-groups assimilating (e.g., ethnic immigrants), but SDOs experience this as a threat to the social order that must be stopped or punished (e.g., putting immigrant children in cages). This is why old school racial oppression is mostly SDO, specifically SDO-D (dominance) of the SDO7 subscale, though situationally RWA often aligns with this as well because of the underlying state of general shittiness. It’s a somewhat moot difference. RWAs tend to be easily manipulated by SDOs as far right leaders. The factors that increase the one will often increase the other; and, as such, they tend to promote and benefit from the same unhealthy conditions. For example, SDOs don’t only thrive and proliferate under high inequality for research shows they’ll actively seek to create rigidly segregationist hierarchies (i.e., high inequality) where none before existed. And that worsening of inequality simultaneously deteriorates the shared conditions of both physical and mental health, which exacerbates the sickliness, violence, and stress that elicits RWA, along with social conservatism. Yet ignoring the population level links of SDO and RWA/SC, any given individual might be high in one of them while low in the other.

Nonetheless, this shouldn’t make liberals get too full of themselves. Such labels are relative. To identify as liberal doesn’t necessarily mean as much as it could, when living in a reactionary right socioeconomic order that is dominated by high inequality, elitism, class war, SDO, and RWA. Consider oppression of gender and sexual minorities, in terms of LGBTQ rights. The American supermajority long ago supported same sex marriage rights, yet it wasn’t until many years later that the supposed ‘liberal’ elite of DNC leaders came around to supporting it and even then only weakly. That is because those liberal-impersonating plutocrats are actually SDO-E inegalitarians, the other distinct trait from the SDO7 subscale — as powerbrokers and gatekeepers, they tend to both punch down and punch left, but they can be accepting with or neutral about social issues as long as they don’t interfere with neoliberal capitalism and corporatist politics, that is to say as long as it’s not acknowledged or at least not emphasized that they’re inseparable from economic and political issues. The reason LGBTQ rights remain under attack is because the reactionary right has disproportionate wealth and power in controlling every aspect of society or at least in suppressing progress. What goes for ‘liberalism’ among the media and political elite within the ruling system is merely relatively less evil, in maintaining plausible deniability about being morally complicit. Sure, we should be grateful for the liberal-minded progress we have made, albeit how meager it might be in the overall scheme of things. But no doubt, we have a long way to go to be considered and actual liberal democracy. Even the most liberal-minded of us are weakened and suppressed as well, if relatively less so, in our vast shared human potential, too often also falling prey to the reactionary mind. Under these unhealthy conditions, all of us are easily prone to the worst demons of our nature. Yet considering how much we’ve accomplished while collectively crippled and demented, imagine what greater things we could achieve, if we ever did more broadly and systemically establish a society of public health and public good.

The SDO-E DNC elite, by the way, is in some ways a better example of social control than the more overtly SDO-D right-wing party elite. This was particularly exemplified by their moving their first presidential primary from low inequality and politically moderate Iowa to South Carolina, the latter in a region of the worst inequality in the county, not to mention an entrenched culture of authoritarianism and social dominance. As a defense against the progressive left, such as Bernie Sanders and the Squad, this demonstrates how public illness is used as social control. The Deep South is infamous for having a profoundly sick population with high rates of parasite load, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, STDs, mental illness, child and spousal abuse, violent crime, hate crime, homicides, suicides, gun ‘accidents’, and on and on — all of the factors that exacerbate the dark political triad of SC, RW, and SDO; as related to the dark personality triad of Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism (including group narcissism, correlated to religiosity). The Democratic leaders used this cynical tactic to control the party with the idea of representing minorities, but specifically in courting the most right-wing demographic of US minorities, Southern blacks with higher rates of religiosity and fundamentalism than the Republican base. Going by the theory of the behavioral immune system, the reason Southern blacks exhibit many traits in correspondence to SC and RWA is because they have disproportionately unhealthy conditions, in being among the poorest demographic in the poorest region. But none of this is to blame Southern blacks who are the victims of a sick and sickening system, over which they have little control or influence. It’s never justified to blame the victims, although that is a difficult and delicate position to maintain when an entire society has been victimized by mass conditions of disease, victimized to the degree that many Americans have fallen into the Stockholm syndrome of identifying with their victimizers.

This is how we’ve ended up with a country that has a left-wing majority but two right-wing parties. For all the health improvements, Americans remain sickly and are getting sicker. Sure, few Americans any longer die of tuberculosis or scurvy, and for the older generations they lived through vast improvements that bettered their lives, but nearly every other variety of disease is on the rise and with every generation getting these diseases at ever younger ages. Starting with Generation X, every new generation is having worst mortality rates along with worse poverty rates. All the progress we had over a century could be entirely lost again, as we slide back into a regressive and oppressive society. Such is the reason it makes no sense to use false equivalency to compare leftists, liberals, and progressives on one side and right-wingers, conservatives, and reactionaries on the other. One is an expression of health and growth, while the opposite represents the symptoms of disease and stunting. In that context, these aren’t ideologies in the normal meaning. Advocating the dark political triad as an ideological worldview is essentially no different than organizing a political movement and party around lead toxicity, as if the conditions of severely debilitating sickness were a mere difference of values and principles (“All of my ancestors were lead poisoned and it’s a traditional lifestyle I’ll defend! MAGA!!”), rather than the reality of an existential crisis to civilization. As a temporary response to stress or threat, the behavioral immune system (like the physical immune system; e.g., running a fever) is part of healthy functioning, and in no way oppositional and detrimental to left-liberalism. But a permanent state of chronic disease is something else altogether (e.g., a continuous high fever being deadly) — it’s not normal, and so we shouldn’t normalize it. We’ve been too long in collective sickness and psychosis that many, maybe most, of us have forgotten or never known what the full blush of health even looks like. It’s all the more reason we need to look for examples of health, as contrast. Even imperfect comparisons such as, in the US, between moderately compromised liberals and severely compromised conservatives demonstrates a difference that does make a difference.

* * *

Conservatism and cognitive ability
by Lazar Stankov

We may conclude that, indeed, Conservatism at the individual level and Broad Conservatism at the country level are related to low performance on cognitive ability tests. These tests are used for the assessment of IQ. There is no assumption about the direction of causality in our findings. One is free to speculate, for example, that Conservatism causes low IQ. Alternatively, the two assumptions mentioned in the Intro-duction are equally plausible. Thus, in accordance with Jost et al. (2003) theory of motivated cognition, less able people cannot see many complexities of the situation and are there-fore threatened by a larger number of events in the environment, becoming more conservative in the process. Or, one can postulate a third cause, common to both IQ and Conservatism that may be in operation. At the individual level, this may be rigidity. At the country level, this may be fundamentalism. At both levels it may be the lack of formal education or, indeed, a common source of covariation between IQ, Conservatism, measures of Failed States Index, wealth, the rule of law, democracy, freedom, and potentially a host of other variables.

Given the existence of significant correlations between measures of cognitive abilities and Conservatism, it is reasonable to ask whether one or the other is a stronger marker of various measures of countries’ success or failure. The data presented in this paper indicate that Broad Conservatism is a stronger marker than IQ of criteria such as the Failed States Index and measures of wealth, the rule of law, democracy, and freedom.

The data at national level are consistent with the assumption that there exists a common dimension, perhaps best understood as affluence/poverty dimension that is the source of aggregate-level differences. This latent dimension is defined in terms of GDP and other macroeconomic measures. It is also defined in terms of subjective measures of happiness(see Diener & Oishi, 2004), measures of investment in education at the national and state level, health (McDaniel, 2006a,b), and sociological and political indices such as those that define post-materialist dimensions in studies of Inglehart (see Inglehart and Baker, 2000). Psychological measures of cognitive ability and conservatism are just a part of this conglomerate and we are at the early stages of trying to understand their role within the network of sociological and political variables and influences.

Constitutionalism: Elitism Versus Populism

The following is part of a CUNY talk about American democracy, as moderated by Katrina vanden Heuvel. In the section shared below, Corey Robin answers a question about the Supreme Court. He talks about the relatively recent change in how the Court is expected to be the official interpreter of the Constitution, something the Anti-Federalists feared would happen, in their defense of true federalism. It’s the accrual of centralized power.

What Robin calls populist or interdepartmental constitutionalism is what’s more commonly known as living constitutionalism, the great enemy of conservatives. As part of the Anglo-American tradition, it comes out of Quaker constitutionalism; in which a constitution is believed to be a living covenant between a living God and a living generation of a specific community of people. That is how Anti-Federalists treated any public document as the basis of governance.

The Quaker-raised John Dickinson wrote the draft of the Articles of Confederation, what was the first constitution of the United States of America; literally describing a confederation of independent and autonomous nation-states. As a living constitution, it was not considered to be written in stone, to be submissively worshipped as a holy text. Under the Articles, any generation of any of the nation-states could at any moment rescind their consent to be governed by it. What was freely given could be freely taken back.

Following Robin’s comments, Jamelle Bouie added some thoughts. He did reference the Anti-Federalist criticism of bowing down to the dead hand of corpses; i.e., the written word of documents and laws treated as absolute, infallible, and unchanging, as if they were divine authority. He also made the Anti-Federalist argument that the constitution, like the government, is made to serve the people; not the other way around. But interestingly, neither Robin nor Jamelle even once mentioned the Anti-Federalists.

Democratic self-governance is the “mother principle” of republicanism, and hence the reason the constitutional order failed from the beginning, as having replaced the Anti-Federalist principles of the Articles. Such was the retrospective judgment according to Thomas Jefferson, writing in 1816 (“You’re the only people alive on the earth today.”). The Spirit of ’76 didn’t survive in the Constitution, as a piece of paper, but in the “in the spirit of our people” and in the “will of the people.”

Today, this way of thinking is mostly limited to the political left. Whereas the right, in their historical ignorance and amnesia, claim that living constitutionalism is unAmerican. In fact, this is the original intent of the original founding documents; the Declaration of Independence written by the Anti-Federalist Thomas Jefferson (influenced by his Anti-Federalist friend Thomas Paine); and the Quaker-inspired Articles of Confederation that was revised by Anti-Federalists. Robin and Jamelle suggest that we should return to our American roots.

Of course, that is a challenging prospect. The Anti-Federalist vision has always been central to American culture, as informing and inspiring the public mind and imagination. Those like Paine and Jefferson thought governance should be direct and local, as close to the people as possible. But neither of the main parties any longer consistently represent this.

Still, there are recent examples that demonstrate Anti-Federalism in action. It is Anti-Federalist when state governments legalize or decriminalize marijuana usage, while the national government enforces a war on drugs. It is Anti-Federalist when local governments declare themselves a Sanctuary City and refuse to cooperate with ICE agents. This is the people and their most immediate representatives challenging the constitutional order, those who interpret it, and those who enforce those interpretations.

This is an old conflict. Many early revolts were about constitutional issues. The Anti-Federalists were all about the problems of taxation without representation; and in fact fewer Americans had a political franchise after the ratification of the Constitution than under the British Empire. This is what motivated such things as Shays Rebellion, in refusing to submit to what was unconstitutional under the prior Articles of Confederation. And when slaves revolted, again and again, they were refusing and refuting the entire basis of slavery explicitly written into the Constitution. Their interpretation was to claim freedom.

There are more mundane examples or at least ones that don’t involve violence, just plain civil disobedience at a community level. When states first passed abortion bans in the late 1800s to early 1900s, many city and county authorities refused to enforce these laws and doctors continued the practice according to local consent and custom. At the time, there was no constitutional decision on the matter, certainly not by the Supreme Court. But it was about the constitutional order, about at what level should such decisions be made.

Each state has its own constitution, after all. And maybe even cities should have constitutions. Jefferson thought that not only the national government but also the state governments were too distant from the people, who should be able to easily and quickly travel to participate in direct self-governance; think of New England town hall democracy. Even many counties were too large for Jefferson’s taste. Basically, democracy is first and foremost about a community of people. Jefferson may have been taking this inclination to an extreme, but one has to admit that the most well functioning democracies typically are tiny countries, smaller than most U.S. states.

In the broad sense of constitutionalism as a living agreement of a living generation, it’s simply what we’ve collectively agreed upon and continue to consent to, whether or not it’s ever been written down and formalized as a law-like document. Even the U.S. Constitution has no direct legal authority, as its more of a patriotic mission statement, a public declaration of shared ideals and principles, commitments and aspirations. It only gains legalistic force with interpretation, upon which laws are written or rationalized.

Also in line with communal civil disobedience, a specific historical case involved Prohibition, definitely a case of the national government and one of the earliest enactments of the war on drugs. In Templeton, Iowa, the local population was close-knit, largely an ethnic immigrant population from the same area of Europe. They were known for making the whiskey called Templeton Rye, and they had no interest in stopping; in fact, they continued to do so right out in the open.

So, they avoided moving their product across the county line and certainly not getting anywhere near the state line, instead having the Mafia do the transportation for them. This kept it a problem of local law enforcement and courts, and hence out of the hands of the Feds. What this meant is that any Templeton resident who was caught and brought up on charges would simply face a jury of his or her peers in that county; that is to say their family, friends, and neighbors would determine their fate. This loyal community repeatedly refused to prosecute, and maintained this stance until Prohibition ended.

This was one of the original reasons for a jury of peers, as a last option of veto power. The Anti-Federalists got their love of a jury of peers from the Country Party ideology of the Radical Whigs. It was an old stopgap on abusive power and overreach. It may be a ruling elite who passes and enacts the laws, but it is the people who hold the final judgment in enforcement. In that context, it becomes apparent the unconstitutional danger of secret prisons and courts (e.g., Gitmo).

What is constitutional, in how the ruling elite interpret it, depends on how far the powerful think they can go, what they try to get away with, and what they are allowed to get away with. The constitution is always under negotiation and that is determined also by how much push back is given not only from local governments but, more importantly, from the people. If the people refuse to cooperate and assent, then there is no constitutional order.

That is how constitutional interpretation happens in the real world, but it’s rarely acknowledged and so remains invisible. Those in power don’t want we the people to know we have final veto power on all constitutional decisions. If we refuse to accept our responsibility as the self-governed, then our consent to be governed means nothing, other than fear of punishment if we don’t obey. This is why the ruling elite find it necessary to use propagandistic media to suppress and silence the leftist moral supermajority, since there is so much Americans wouldn’t tolerate if they realized most other Americans also opposed it.

Such a docile population wasn’t the aspiration of the Anti-Federalists. Jefferson assumed, or rather hoped, that every generation would have its own constitution, and that before long there would already have been multiple constitutions as has been the case in many other Western democracies. There is no such thing as a constitution for all time, one ring to rule them all. Even our present Constitution is jerry-rigged and, in endless ways, contradicts or overturns any number of the various original intents as espoused by various American revolutionaries, founders, and signers.

Effectively, it’s no longer the same constitution, with an overlay of numerous numerous changes through amendments, precedents, and interpretations. And the only power it holds over us is our own interpretation of it. The question is are we freely choosing our constitutional order, through conscious intent, or have we simply been indoctrinated into mindless and cowardly submission. Whatever is the case, the moral responsibility remains in our own hands, we the people, we the living generation.

* * *

Corey Robin:

“There’s been a sea change among progressives in their attitude towards the [Supreme] Court. And I think it’s also generational, actually. I just think among people who are younger than my generation [GenX], it’s much more intuitive that the Supreme is not the friend of freedom, which was not at all the case when I was growing up. There were still those tailwinds from the Warren Court that I think continued up until rulings on gay marriage and all the rest.

“But there are two issues. One is the idea that the Supreme Court is the supreme interpreter of the Constitution. That was up until, again, the Cold War actually, a very contested idea in American politics. Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, they didn’t — although they were careful not to act against the court, they never accepted in public discourse, in political discourse what both Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy said, which is: It is the job of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution and for us to accept the Supreme Court’s ruling. That’s a pretty recent thing.

“So, I think the first thing we have to really try to unpack and get our heads around is what used to be called a kind of either popular constitutionalism or interdepartmental constitutionalism, that we have a system where many different political actors and citizens are in a position to interpret the Constitution. And many of the great reforms of the Progressive era, the wave of constitutional amendments or Reconstruction, that was on the wave of decades of popular agitation, of people reclaiming the definition of the Constitution from the Court; and I think that’s really important.

“And the second thing, I would say, because the first thing is not that controversial anymore. Willie Forbath and Joseph Fishkin had a book last year called The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution. And one of the very persuasive arguments they made is that the real moments of constitutional reform — the big one is Reconstruction, and in the Progressive era there was women’s right to vote, income tax, reform of the Senate, and one other which I’ve forgotten — there was not only a popular constitutionalism, there was an understanding of the relationship between the Constitution and political economy.

“We have gotten into a very strange mode in this country, and I think this is unfortunately the result of the Warren Court and the New Deal where we think of the Constitution and the Court as this, insofar as it is concerned with rights and freedoms, it’s about the rights of the dissenting minorities, the rights of racial minorities, the rights of individuals, and so forth. But if you look at Reconstruction in particular, there was a real sense that what those amendments were about was toppling a racial oligarchy that was supported by all these oligarchic institutions in the economy; and that you need to unite a vision of political economy and the Constitution if you want to have a hope of engendering a popular constitutionalism.

“And one of my concerns during the Trump era was that respect the norms and these kinds of… which we don’t hear much anymore… but I don’t think you can get very far engendering a belief in constitutionalism. I don’t want to say the Constitution ’cause it’s a bit of a disaster. But in constitutionalism, if people aren’t connecting it to the kinds of things that Jamelle was talking about at the beginning about democracy, being a form of collective self-governance and that speaks to the concerns of everyday life.”

L. Reuteri Is Your Friend

A once common microbe in the human microbiome is L. reuteri (Limosilactobacillus reuteri; formerly known as Lactobacillus reuteri). It’s been central to mammalian evolution. But in modern humans, it’s in decline because of widespread use of antibiotics and farm chemicals, in the latter case specifically pesticides like glyphosate that has actually been patented as an antibiotic. “Recent studies have shown that low-level chronic dietary exposure to pesticides can affect the human gut microbiota” (J. Gama, et al, Chronic Effects of Dietary Pesticides on the Gut Microbiome and Neurodevelopment).

This is problematic since L. reuteri is such an important microbe for human health, demonstrating numerous health benefits. You’ll see wide array of scientific studies, articles, and videos that come up if you look at the Google results about several scientifically-supported strains of L. reuteri: DSM 17938, ATCC PTA 6475, ATCC PTA 5289, RD830-FR, and SD-LRE2-IT. It’s gotten a lot of attention in the alternative diet community. Dr. William Davis, of Wheat Belly fame, recommends making one’s own cultured dairy. There are many cheap yogurt makers, and some models of the Instant Pot have a yogurt making function.

In the past, humans could replenish microbes from food and environmental exposure. But commercial brands of probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, and kombucha tend to lack L. reuteri; and, besides, they rarely contain high amounts of any microbe because they typically don’t let them culture long enough. And of course, for most of us, our environments and bodies have been hygienically cleansed. It’s part of the hygiene hypothesis, seemingly underlying the rise of many diseases, especially related to allergies and autoimmunity. This is unsurprising. After all, most of the genetics in the human body originate in non-human organisms.

That is why many people turn to probiotic supplements. There are several high quality and highly recommended products, some for general purposes and others more specific: BioGaia Gastrus, BioGaia Prodentis, and Seed DS-01 Daily Synbiotic (there are other products, but most companies don’t list the strains, CFUs, scientific research, and other info). These probiotic products can also be used to make one’s own cultured foods, which is actually more effective. Every three hours, the number of microbes doubles. So, the microbe count grows quite large by the time a standard 36 hour culture is finished.

According to Dr. Davis, over 90% of individuals in modern industrialized populations have entirely lost L. reuteri. In general, the contemporary microbiome, specifically in the West, is smaller and less diverse than that of traditional people. About L. reuteri specifically, it not only improves the health of gut, skin, immunity, joints, muscles, and much else. More interestingly, it helps the body to release the hormone oxytocin, the love molecule. Research has shown that, once reintroduced, human subjects feel calmer and more relaxed, kinder and more empathetic, closer and more understanding; while sleep and general wellbeing is improved.

Dr. Davis speculates that the loss of L. reuteri might be a causal factor in the psycho-social problems rampant in our society. And if so, he asks if reintroducing it might undo the damage. That fits into our own thinking and that of many others. There was a ketogenic study done on diabetic kids back in the 1940s or 1950s where the researchers noted that, besides health improvements, there were also behavioral improvements. Before that in the 1930s, Dr. Weston A Price observed that what he called moral health (happiness, friendliness, and pro-social behavior) was closely associated with physical health.

Directly relevant to our topic here, one might note that the traditional communities Dr. Price was looking at were eating probiotic foods and were not yet exposed to antibiotics, antimicrobials, farm chemicals, and industrial toxins. This is further corroborated with a wide array of evidence in Alan C. Logan and Susan L Prescott’s book The Secret Life of Your Microbiome: Why Nature and Biodiversity are Essential to Health and Happiness. It’s an intuitive view to take, that humans would be healthiest and act the healthiest when living in the optimally healthy conditions under which humans evolved.

Henry Fairlie’s Toryism, the Good King, and the People

“The king and the people against the barons and the capitalists.” That is the motto of the Tories, according to Henry Fairlie; or at least what he claimed Toryism used to represent for centuries until the Thatcher era. In this formula, the king was seen as representing the entire country and population, not merely one sector such as the ruling and economic elite. The monarchy was perceived, if a romantic conceit, as above petty and corrupt realpolitik. This goes hand in hand with the ideals of noblesse oblige, that with power comes responsibility; having informed early modern ideals of an enlightened ruling elite. Such an image of the monarchy was taken seriously by the recently deceased Queen Elizabeth II who strove to maintain a clear divide between the Crown and all else, signifying that which is morally superior and lasting. Though an obvious myth in practice, it stands in for an ancient impulse toward a good society maintained by a righteous leadership (e.g., King Arthur, as the good ruler who brings healing to the land).

Fairlie was a respected, if not respectable, British journalist and essayist who ended up in the United States; most famous for having coined ‘the Establishment’ (sadly, later reappropriated by Margaret Thatcher, someone he despised). He might be considered ‘conservative’-like by bent, but decried modern conservatives, particularly in his adoptive home; which is precisely why he was an advocate, albeit cautious, of liberal reform. This is partly clarified by High Toryism, as traditional communitarianism, that resists the modernizing force of conservatism, while upholding certain Country Party positions (e.g., opposition to a standing army); a similar distinction Corey Robin makes in describing conservatives as anti-traditional reactionaries. Fairlie pointed out that the Tory tradition was lacking in America, and that so-called conservatives were a sorry replacement.

He hated Ronald Regan, of course, without any quibbling: “the Reaganites on the floor were exactly those who in Germany gave the Nazis their main strength and who in France collaborated with them and sustained Vichy” (‘Mencken’s Booboisie in Control of the GOP’, Bite the Hand That Feeds You). But it was far from limited to Reagan Republicans. Describing American conservatism as “narrow-minded and selfish and mean-spirited,” he explained that, “This is one reason, although it is by no means the only one, why the English Tory feels at home with the Democratic Party, while the Republican party fills him with a puzzlement that gives way to desperation and at last to contempt” (‘In Defense of Big Government’, Bite the Hand That Fees You). That was written in 1976, years before Reagan remade the Grand Old Party into a capitalist whorehouse, although likely Fairlie’s mood was shadowed by the fall of Richard Nixon and Saigon; a low point for Republican pride. Imagine what Fairlie would’ve thought of Donald Trump’s presidency, likely saddened but not surprised.

He wasn’t merely attacking American pseudo-conservatism, for he had his own ideals rooted in British conservatism or rather traditionalism, as he may have felt the word ‘conservative’ had lost its value or else never had any value. “The characteristics of the Tory, which separate him from the conservative,” he wrote in that same essay, “may briefly be summarized: 1) his almost passionate belief in strong central government, which has of course always been the symbolic importance to him of the monarchy; 2) his detestation of ‘capitalism,’ of what Cardinal Newman and T.S. Eliot called ‘ursury,’ of what he himself calls ‘trade’; and 3) his trust in the ultimate good sense of the People, whom he capitalizes in this way, because the People are a real entity to him, beyond social and economic divisions, and whom he believes can be appealed to and relied on, as the final repository of decency in a free nation.” It is because of these defining traits that it’s “not unnatural that he [the Tory] often feels inclined, and in the past 150 years has often shown his inclination, to seek his allies among the Socialists.” Timothy Noah, who knew him, said that, this “description puts Tories well to the left of today’s Democratic Party, particularly when it comes to health reform” (Henry Fairlie, Health Maven).

Indeed, there have been numerous examples of Tory socialists without contradiction (related to the Red Tories that have influenced the Canadian Conservative Party to accept social reform and the welfare state, which makes one think of Abraham Lincoln’s Red Republicans that included Marxists). One might argue that socialism, specifically democratic socialism, is the inevitable or likely culmination of Toryism; if by Toryism we mean holding the public good, the commonweal above all else. According to Fairlie, the problem with American politics is not the threat of left-wing radicalism like socialism but, rather, the wrong kind of socialism. Noting the pervasive power of big government, including in protecting and subsidizing big business, he shared the argument that everyone is now a socialist. It’s just a matter of whether socialism serves the people or the plutocracy.

Modern government stands in for the role once played by the monarchy. So, is it the king and the people against the landed gentry or, instead, the king and the landed gentry against the people? In either case, it is ‘strong government’, as Fairlie put it. He concluded that, “it is time that it was acknowledged that there are now only two choices […] There is no longer a third way.” This is among the oldest of conflicts. Is the government legitimate and, if so, who does it serve? The determining factor, to his mind, was democracy. “It is time that we pointed out to the neo-conservatives that democracy has never been subverted from the left but always from the right. No democracy has fallen to communism, without an army; many democracies have fallen to fascism, from within” (‘Mencken’s Booboisie in Control of the GOP’, Bite the Hand That Feeds You).

To give an American example along the lines of ‘king and the people’, think about how Theodore Roosevelt styled his own presidency. With a genuine sense of noblesse oblige as part of old wealth, he saw his election as giving him the authority to paternalistically act on behalf of the American people and the public good. He not only broke up monopolistic trusts but ensured new ones wouldn’t form, in spite of knowing that it would destroy his political career, as doing right was more important; he aspired to be an enlightened aristocrat, achieving the natural aristocracy and disinterested aristocracy idealized by some in the revolutionary generation, the belief that the independently wealthy could resist the corruption of wealth and so rule fairly and wisely (a distorted version of this ideal was used by Donald Trump). When one robber baron sought Roosevelt’s help in building a transcontinental railroad where every aspect would be owned by him, he denied federal intervention to make it possible because that would give too much power to a single private corporation, potentially greater power than the government itself in being able to control transportation, trade, and hence entire markets across the entire country. In a democratic republic, nothing should be more powerful than the government that serves the people.

That first Roosevelt presidency comes close to Fairlie’s Toryism. The only other Republican president who may have approximated his ideological standards, as a ‘good king’, would’ve been Abraham Lincoln (The Social Importance of Morality Tales); although admittedly Lincoln was rather Whiggish in being in favor of laissez faire capitalism and in being rather corporate friendly. Fairlie wanted a Toryism for the country he came to admire in so many other ways. But is the Tory spirit really foreign to America? Does it need to be introduced by a well-meaning British immigrant? One might argue that we simply need to resurrect America’s own origins. After all, we were British colonies almost as long as we’ve been a separate country. Echoes of Elizabethan English (Queen Elizabeth I) is no longer heard in England and yet persists here in America (e.g., y’all from ye all). Maybe much else persists, if we simply dug a little deeper.

What Fairlie so highly praised might be found precisely where the elite rarely look, in public opinion (American Leftist Supermajority). Going by his definition, one could argue the majority of Americans are Fairlien Tories, with no small inclination toward democratic socialism or else social democracy — Americans haven’t lost faith in the need for good governance, as public polling shows, even as they’ve lost trust in a government that has been corrupted. Maybe this has always been present in the American people, but it was submerged below the bickering of the elite one-party state with two right wings. As Thomas Jefferson came to believe in his elderhood, though the constitutional experiment had failed right from the beginning, the spirit of democratic republicanism lived on in the people (“You’re the only people alive on the earth today.”). That is to suggest that likely more Americans agreed (and still agree) with Fairlie than he realized.

What is this spirit of the people? It is none other than the Spirit of ’76, the revolutionary impulse. To bring things back around, it’s telling that the first instinct many American colonists had, in being oppressed, was to appeal to the king in the hope he would intervene and defend the people against the arrogance of a power-mongering Parliament. Sadly, this was a misunderstanding of the times. Even if King George III wanted to help, which he didn’t, the position of the monarchy had been defanged during the Glorious Revolution. There was no powerful king to stand up to a self-dealing aristocracy and plutocracy, the two beginning to overlap since the establishment of the English East India Company in 1600; later to become the infamous British East India Company that was the greatest foe of the colonists. That is why early American laws placed such stringent restrictions on corporate charters; only to be given to organizations to serve the public interest (infrastructure building, hospital management, etc); and generally to not last beyond the project’s completion or within a single generation, as defined by twenty years. But let’s step back, many centuries.

This failure of the monarchy to live up to the Tory ideal of a united front, the king and the people, was nothing new. During the English Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, the peasants and their allies among the lower classes had, in seizing London, effectively taken hostage King Richard II. But they didn’t want to control the king, only to be heard by him. They thought the corrupt courtly advisers, not unlike J. R. R. Tolkien’s Gríma Wormtongue, were whispering lies into his ears; that if only he heard the truth, he would be won over to their cause. The king, under duress, agreed to their demands of justice and fairness but never honored them, after his troops regained control. The rebels were punished and killed for their efforts. Maybe in having learned this lesson, the next major populist revolt, the more successful English Civil War (AKA Wars of the Three Kingdoms), ended by beheading the king. From one revolt to the next, there was an emerging class consciousness amidst a worsening class war; with egalitarian rhetoric already heard in the 14th century and becoming proto-leftist leveling ideology by the 17th.

The political form this anti-corruption movement eventually took was the aforementioned Country Party, in opposition to the Court Party. The Country Party originated as “a coalition of Tories and disaffected Whigs,” more of a movement than an organized party, having “claimed to be a nonpartisan force fighting for the nation’s interest—the whole “country”—against the self-interested actions of the Court Party, that is the politicians in power in London” (Wikipedia, Country Party (Britain)). Interestingly, the opposition to a ruling elite didn’t form earlier because the aristocracy was still associated with feudal communalism, as distinct from royal officials. But such a distinction became moot over time, as later on the lords spent more of their time not at their estates near their feudal villages, but in the palace and the surroundings of London — a disruptive change detailed by Barbara Ehrenreich’s Dancing in the Streets. Yet the memory of the feudal intimacy between aristocracy and peasantry was still strong enough in the colonies that the two did unite in a common revolution, as they did in France as well. One might note, though, that there is a reason the main leaders of the American Revolution were country gentlemen from Virginia, still acting as paternalistic feudal lords, and not courtly gentlemen from South Carolina, the latter of which spent most of their time in Charleston when not in London.

The funny thing is how the monarchy became symbolic. When the American revolutionaries sought the king as an intercessor, following the example of the 14th century peasants, they were invoking the monarchy as representing English ethno-nationalism. What they were really demanding, at first, was the rights of Englishmen as citizens of England and subjects of the British Empire. The king as ruler of it all symbolized this sense of being part of the English populace, even as many American colonists had never set foot in England, along with many others not being of English ancestry at all. It was an imaginary identity and powerful at that. Likewise, the actual king himself was ultimately irrelevant for, if the king did not represent the people and the country, then he was no king of worth by definition of this Tory principle. This was seen in the English Civil War, “such was the popularity of the monarchy that this was the ground on which it was fought, even when they got to the point of trying and cutting off the head of the king, they really told everyone that they were fighting for monarchy” (The Jim Rutt Show, Transcript of EP 160 – Curtis Yarvin on Monarchy in the U.S.A.). The monarchy was a way of speaking about legitimate government as ultimate authority — actual monarchs be damned!

This is the background to Fairlie’s Toryism. He doesn’t mention a Country Party because, “The ideology of the party faded away in England but became a powerful force in the American colonies, where its tracts strongly motivated the Patriots to oppose what the Country Party had cast as British monarchical tyranny and to develop a powerful political philosophy of republicanism in the United States” (Wikipedia). So, of course, he didn’t find Toryism, per se, in America. British Toryism and the Anglo-American Country Party parted ways, but retained their shared origin in historical influence. It quickly gets confusing, though, since initially the Country Party in England was identified with Whigs, not Tories or rather only some of the latter: “Country party, which came ultimately to embrace radical Whigs and reconstructed ‘Tories'” (David McNally, “Scientific Whiggism”: Smith’s Political Philosophy, Political Economy and the Rise of Capitalism). The Toryism of that era (1670-80s) was for the divine right of kings, rather than a constitutional monarchy; and hence there was not necessarily Fairlie’s Tory alliance of king and the people; but it could be found in the Whig Party. The more respectable Whigs, however, dissociated themselves from these Country tendencies; and by the early 18th century the Whigs were now the Court Party; though the Whigs came back around to Country ideology later on.

It’s important to note, though, that in the Exclusion Crisis of the late 17th century the Tories and Whigs may not have indicated any coherent set of ideologies, still less consistent membership. The two sides were often using similar rhetoric, such as Tories likewise turning to populist appeals and fears. Jonathan Scott wrote: “there were no whig and tory ‘parties’ in 1678-83 partly because the ‘whig’ (anti-court) majority of 1678-80, and the ‘tory’ (loyalist) majority of 1681-1683 were mostly the same people. … From 1678 to 1683 people remained convinced of an imminent threat to the church and government; in 1681 they changed their minds about where the greatest threat was coming from” (quoted by Tim Harris in: Party Turns? Or, Whigs and Tories Get Off Scott Free; & Politics under the Later Stuarts: Party Conflict in a Divided Society 1660-1715). And: “What must be noted behind this consistency of rhetoric is the consistency of its constituency. In both cases we are dealing with a majority of the political nation. The rhetoric was the same partly because, in many cases, so were the people expressing it. To a large extent, and with the important exception of some hardliners on both sides, 1678’s ‘whigs’ were 1681’s ‘tories'” (quoted by the same).

Some of this might’ve been the case of the successful rhetoric of the early Whigs being emulated and co-opted by the early Tories, a common tactic of reactionaries as a way of neutralizing an opponent’s position. One distinction remained stable throughout this period, Whigs defended religious non-conformists and dissenters while Tories attacked them. There had been a growing religious divide, in the Western world, from the peasants revolts to the Protestant Reformation to the English Civil War to the American Revolution, where in each case heretical critics and leaders stood against church authority, hierarchy, and power; typically motivated by righteous denunciations of political corruption, concentrated wealth, and abusive power within organized religion — the American revolutionary Thomas Paine became an infamous pariah later on for having written Age of Reason, a deist diatribe and jeremiad against organized religion (Nature’s God and American Radicalism); very much a product of Country Party, with its anti-clericalism. It’s the same old conflict that has happened with every new religion or sect that challenged an entrenched theocracy or priestly class, such as with the original egalitarian Christians (Stephen J Patterson, The Forgotten Creed).

“In the same essay [‘Of the Political Parties of Great Britain] Hume points out that this basic difference [of two political temperaments] parallels a similar one over religion: partisans of the Establishment side naturally with the party of monarchy; those of the schismatic or heretical sects, with the ‘republican’ or ‘commonwealth’ party. This idea has also become a commonplace, and most modern writers on party have discerned the origins of the two historic parties in religious differences. [… Keith Feiling] traces the Whig and Tory parties back to the era of Reformation, pointing out that there were originally three parties: a Catholic ‘Right,’ an Anglican ‘Center,’ and a Puritan ‘Left.’ With the virtual disappearance of the sixteenth century there remained only two parties: that of the Church opposing that of the Sects. Ever since, the division between Whig and Tory (and between Liberal and Conservative) has reflected this division between Chapel and Church — Dissent and the Establishment” (Robert Walcott, The Idea of Party in the Writing of Later Stuart History).

It’s amusing that the author of that quote, writing in 1962, referred to Fairlie’s term ‘the Establishment’, coined in 1955; a 20th century idea being anachronistically projected as a frame onto the past. Anyway, by whatever language used to describe it, before the modern era, almost every uprising and revolt involved oppressed and silenced religions, religious factions, and religious cultures; and since the Axial Age, this has often been structured along the lines of authoritarianism (or social dominance) versus egalitarianism. So, about Country Party versus Court Party, all the British views on Crown and Parliament could be interpreted as secondary, as offshoots of religious structures and movements in competition and conflict in how groups sought the legitimacy of authority and authorization. Even today, a country like the United States remains highly religious, all across the political spectrum. How liberals and conservatives perceive politics has much to do with the historical development of religion, with the Roundhead dissenters of the English Civil War having settled in the northern colonies and the Cavalier Anglicans having established themselves to the south. Something to keep in mind.

Having gone into decline in England, the United States was more fully imprinted by the earlier form of the Country tradition, becoming what once was called Anti-Federalism but what today is no longer named at all, though remaining as an ideological undertow. “The writings of the country party were eagerly devoured by some American colonists who came to fear the corruption of the English court as the greatest threat to the colonies’ desired liberties. They formed a Patriot cause in the Thirteen Colonies and used the country party ideas to help form Republicanism in the United States. [James H.] Hutson identified country ideology as a major influence on the Antifederalists during the debate over the ratification of the United States Constitution. Similarly, Jeffersonianism inherited the country party attack on elitism, centralization, and distant government during the ascent of Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists” (Wikipedia). As a side note, it’s amusing that Thomas Jefferson, as a Cavalier aristocrat, narratized the revolutionary conflict as akin to the Anglo-Saxon tribes defense against the Norman invasion that would establish the Cavalier aristocracy; but such Country-like rhetoric appealed to him as a rural landowner, distant from Court power. We still require greater context to understand how Anti-Federalism formed, specifically what allied the likes of Jefferson and Thomas Paine; both, for example, having had advocated progressive land taxes to redistribute what they perceived as wealth and resources stolen from the former feudal commons.

Let’s go to the very beginning of Toryism. It is a word that comes out of old Irish, maybe related to the sense of being sought, pursued, chased, or hunted (from tóir). The dispossessed and displaced Irish Catholics were oppressed, early on under Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads; sadly, since both Irish Catholics and Cromwellian dissenters had been oppressed by the same Church of England. So, these Irish tories allied with the English and Scottish Cavalier’s on the side of the monarchy (similar to why many Native Americans allied with the British Empire during the American Revolution). The term ‘torie’ originally was associated with thieves and bandits, and so it came to refer to the political opposition. But it eventually was associated with the triune of ‘God, King, and Country.’ Right from the start, it had a mix of meanings; and one might sense hints of the odd usage by Fairlie. The Country Party has an even more mixed history, not always clearly associated with any single actual party but more often a term to indicate a coalition of interests. But it too had a meaning of opposition: “dissenters of all kinds will be of the Country party” (David Hume, Of the Parties of Great Britain).

Patriotism, as loyalty to country (ethno-nationalism, the land and the people), was early on synonymous with a Country ideology. One thing that sometimes brought Toryism and Country Party together was a republican idiom, even when not actually opposed to monarchy itself; which is odd since republicanism, by definition, means rule without monarchy. Once again, it’s what monarchy represented, not necessarily monarchy itself. It was, instead, “opposition to the government, the centre of which was the court,” such that the monarchy was seen as something separate and above, the ‘Court’ being what today we’d think of as the bureaucracy, the deep state, and the military-industrial complex (Max Skjönsberg, Patriots and the Country party tradition in the eighteenth century: the critics of Britain’s fiscal-military state from Robert Harley to Catharine Macaulay). In the 18th century, the radical Whig Catharine Macaulay wrote approvingly of the regicide during the English Civil War; and yet also hoped for “a patriot king and a patriot ministry co-operating with the body of the people to throw off the shackles of septennial parliaments” (History of England, Vol. 8) — that is the kind of attitude that likely so incensed Edmund Burke, not fear of regicide in distant France but the regicidal tradition right at home. To confuse things further, “the ‘libertarian’ Country party platform had an imperial dimension, which can be connected with the Tory blue-water foreign policy of the early eighteenth century” (Skjönsberg). That last part touches upon Fairlie’s Toryism, in which his having been far from an anti-imperialist or opposed to big government in general, including when it came to war.

In a more distorted form, one can think of those self-styled American ‘patriots’ who attack the ‘government’ all the while praising the police state and the military empire (what, in the past, would’ve been thought of as support for the king and the king’s army, in distinction from Parliament); or decrying authoritarianism while supporting theocracy, white supremacy, and an aspiring strongman. Such strange ideological tendencies can go off in many directions, some quite contradictory. Out of this emerges modern populism, sometimes right-wing but at other times left-wing, but often inconsistent. It’s dual form took shape early on. In the way the Cromwellian army operated, and in line with the earlier rhetoric of the peasants revolts, the Country Party had a genuine component of egalitarianism: “The Country Party began having regular meetings in London, calling itself the Green Ribbon Club. The Club was an open political and social organization that encouraged membership from all classes, and the members freely mixed to exchange ideas” (Elizabeth Breeden Townes , Contemporary reactions to the Popish Plot and the exclusion crisis). At the same time, many of its leaders found it convenient to incite xenophobia and paranoia. So, there would be simultaneous denouncement of both slavery and Catholicism, expressing fear of oppression and the demand to oppress others — sounds like the present reactionary right here in the United States.

In the century following the English Civil War, this raucous confusion took a particular form on this side of the pond, and with the same force of populist zeal. But when imported to the American colonies, the meanings of words morphed: “Like their British predecessors, the ‘Jeffersonian Republicans’ feared the growing power of the executive and its influence over the legislative power that risked upsetting the constitutional equilibrium. As avid readers of Bolingbroke and Catharine Macaulay, they were steeped in the Patriot and Country traditions. These traditions were called ‘Whig’ in America, but they had in fact been predominantly associated with Tories during the years of Whig oligarchy after the Hanoverian Succession, and they could occasionally unite Tories with opposition Whigs. Jeffersonian accusations against Hamilton of being ‘Tory’ illustrate how this could lead to confusion, as his financial system was modelled on Whig politics against which British Tories protested for decades” (Skjönsberg). Most members of Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party joined the Democratic Party, while a smaller portion turned to the Whig Party and National Republican Party (no association to present GOP); many of the Whigs later joining the present Republican Party. For this reason, outsiders assumed that the Democrats, in opposing the Whigs, must be Tories.

Indeed, the Democrats, in having grown beyond their Anti-Federalist roots (e.g., a strain of abolitionism), became more neo-traditionalist in some ways (e.g., actively defending neo-feudal slavery); where revolutionary liberty was whittled down to that of privilege, even as the political franchise began to expand to all white males. To further complicate, consider that supposed godfather of modern Anglo-American conservatism, Edmund Burke, was a member of the liberal and progressive Whigs. Yet like the Tory Fairlie, his demands for reform were simultaneously strong and moderate, depending on what he was responding to. Burke criticized the British East India Company and initially supported the American Revolution, but once war broke out his loyalty was ultimately to the British Empire. Despite claiming him to support their own legitimacy, the main thrust of American conservatism has been decidedly anti-Burkean, just as much as it has been anti-Tory — Reagan went so far as to quote from the optimistic vision of Thomas Paine, the ideological enemy of Burke. Meanwhile, British conservatism has for the past couple centuries been freely mixing the old elements of both Whigs and Tories. One might throw one’s hands up in despair of making sense of it all, but what is important are the steady and continuing undercurrents.

Of course, we must emphasize again the point that Tory and Whig haven’t had singular unchanging definitions across history. In the 1670s, the radical Whigs challenged the standing army, in favor of local militias, as the military represented the king’s power beholden to no one else; whereas a constitutional monarchy would limit the king’s authority. But over the following 18th century, fear of standing armies drifted over into Tory rhetoric (Lois G. Schwoerer, “No Standing Armies!”). In both cases, this opposition to excessive and oppressive military was a defining feature of the Country Party, a party of no specific party but always shifting. This view on a standing army came to be a major point of complaint among the American Anti-Federalists and other true Federalists. This suspicion of martial power could be seen with the moderate Federalist and reluctant revolutionary John Dickinson, draft author of the Articles of Confederation (revised by Anti-Federalists and so the single greatest Anti-Federalist document); such as with his related argument of Purse and Sword, positing that freedom was not possible if the same ruler, political body, or level of government controlled both taxation and military.

Of course, Fairlie was never against a standing army. But then again, almost no one today would be, not on consistent principle as could be the case many centuries ago. That goes to his argument that we now live in a world of strong governments and hence national militaries, it only being a matter of who is served by them. It’s largely become a moot issue and so a consensus has formed across the political spectrum, although the rhetoric of militias still rings potently, if only among a small reactionary fringe of militant extremists actually takes it seriously. A modern nation-state simply can’t operate without a standing army; and so to oppose it is to oppose modernity as we know it and all that goes with it; and even among the most reactionary, few actually want to return to feudalism, the last time standing armies were rare. On that point, the Court Party has won out, both in practical politics and public imagination.

Someone like Fairlie was very much a modern figure, generously borrowing from both the Country and Court traditions. He definitely drew upon that long established egalitarian populism of the Country Party, having formed before any peasants revolts — listen to the libertarian rhetoric of the ancient world, such as inspired the anti-authoritarian messages of prophets and teachers (e.g., Jesus) and numerous anti-authoritarian uprisings (e.g., the gladiator revolt led by Spartacus, his wife having been a Dionysian prophetess, a religion associated with liberty). On the other hand, as opposed to the Country worldview, Fairlie was firmly in the camp of an activist government; drawing upon a liberal progressive strain of the Court ideology, a strain that preceded the American Revolution by more than a century. As representing a Court platform at its best in terms of interventionist government, by the early 19th century when Country-minded egalitarianism had been mainstreamed, “the Whig political programme came to encompass not only the supremacy of parliament over the monarch and support for free trade, but Catholic emancipation, the abolition of slavery and expansion of the franchise (suffrage)” (The Politics of Britain Wiki, Whig (British political party)). As such, Fairlie’s Toryism inherits much from the old radical Whigs. Still, he is clearly a Tory through and through in his detesting laissez-faire capitalism, neoliberalism, corporatism, inverted totalitarianism, financialization, and regressive taxation; old issues that tightly bound earlier Toryism to certain Country inclinations.

Ultimately, he often seems to side with Court ideology, ignoring party labels, in lamenting American conservatives undermining of government and unwillingness to accept political responsibility; specifically in relation to consent of the governed, noblesse oblige, public good, culture of trust, and similar ideals representing a shared society as a moral community. But then again, Country criticisms of government tended to be selective, not sweeping; not necessarily, on principle, opposed to strong or large government, as long as it was good governance. Whereas Republicans dismiss out of hand the hard work necessary to run a modern government, preferring to merely attack and tear down, dismantling it and selling off the parts for short-term profit and self-interest, eating the seed corn so that there can be no next year’s crop; all part of strategy of Starve the Beast. That is the dark side of Country ideology, pushed to a reactionary extreme without any counterbalance of Country virtues. Though there was always a genuine populist impulse in speaking for certain segments of the lower classes, the Country Party too often in practice ended up being a cover for the interests of the capitalist class (merchants and large landowners) who wanted to cut government down to size, small enough that it could be drowned in a bath tub — not so that a more direct self-governance could fill the void but so that there would be no outside restrictions on their own oligarchic dominance, local and/or private.

Think of the original states rights argument of Southern aristocrats which, in opposing federal treaties, sought to steal Native American land; and then justified it with populist appeals of opening the land for white settlers. That is kind of the right-wing populism that so worried the likes of Richard Hofstadter when he wrote The Paranoid Style in American Politics. But that unfairly dismisses millennia of genuine populism, built on an emerging class consciousness that made all of modern leftism possible, no matter how the reactionary right has co-opted it. The merchants and large landowners wouldn’t have taken up such rhetoric, if they hadn’t been preceded by a centuries-long grassroots movement of working class revolt; not merely limited to agrarianism, if sometimes taking that form; much less identical to the extremes of reactionary politics such as anti-Catholicism, antisemitism, and McCarthyism. Hofstadter too came around to admitting he was wrong, that genuine populism was much more diverse and very often radically left-wing in its egalitarianism (Anton Jäger, The Myth of “Populism”).

One wonders if, in following in this ancient pedigree, Henry Fairlie recognized his debt not only to the Court Party but also to the Country Party. Did he understand its importance to the American founding and the potential it has continued to hold? Did he understand how the Country Party and Court Party had intertwined across Anglo-American history, each in its way influencing his vision of Toryism?

The Beastly Word Magic of Law

The imperial court of law, the traditional seat of power where assembled the great offices of the empire, was one of the most majestic of architectural feats, built out of the finest limestone buffed and polished to a sheen. There were two sprawling wings with towers that thrust so high as to seem precarious, and looming above the broad stairway were vast balconies from which, in the distant past, legal proclamations had been made and great speeches given to gathered throngs.

The great temple, having been rebuilt and extended upon in numerous styles, stood some distance behind the court building. There once had been a large open space of lawn and gardens between the two institutions of authority, but now even the remnants of it were buried and overgrown. In approaching the main entrance of the court building, the temple was entirely obscured, as if it weren’t there at all. Standing before the court building, the awe of the edifice, covered in intricate stonework, crowded about with statues and gargoyles, entirely dwarfed the individual’s view. The impression it gave imperial subjects was that law and order had always been and always would be.

But not all was as it appeared. A secret underground tunnel connected the two buildings of the establishment, a passageway that had only ever been known and used by the highest powers of the land. It was a dimly-lit tunnel with water leaking between the settling and crumbling bricks overlaid upon rough-hewn stones, allowing a black mold to cover the walls that glistened in the flickering light. Among the keepers of archaic knowledge, it was believed that the tunnel was older than any other structure, the names of its early builders and their original purpose lost to memory.

It was so well hidden that, over time, fewer and fewer of the respective elites of court and temple realized it was there at all, each realm of power having become publicly treated as separate; if there lingered vague rumors of conspiracies that, of course, were never uttered out in the open among respectable company. Some of the ancient patriarchs, long ago having harnessed the magic of longevity, were the only ones remaining who held the knowledge of how to find and open the concealed doorways deep down in the underground labyrinth of corridors.

Though long-lived, one by one, almost all of the last old nobility died off. Those who survived were the most conniving and dangerous. Yet power had shifted across the centuries, and the old ones receded further into the shadows. The two buildings, facing in separate directions, had become almost entirely isolated in their spheres of activity. Gradually over the generations, the area between them had grown unruly with vegetation and was overtaken by a thick woods. Neither building could any longer be seen from the other, as if they existed in their separate worlds. Yet some of the ancient ones still traversed the passageway, holding their secret close because the fewer who knew about it the greater the power for those few.

What had changed within the imperial bureaucracy was an incoming coalition of young wealth and aspiring reformers, with little concern for entrenched customs. This new governing class knew nothing about the history of the institution they had inherited. Nor did they know the true identity of the old guard. The old ones, having in the past been accepted as aristocracy, increasingly came to hide behind other identities. Few realized how old they were, as living memory no longer reached beyond the buzz of events that occupied the public arena. It wasn’t only that these figures of the establishment were well up in age. The spells of long life had altered them. They were no longer human.

This was the darkest of secrets, around which the wildest of rumors couldn’t imagine. These powerholders hadn’t merely devolved to apes but further back to the reptilian ancestor of all mammals. It took all their guile, sorcery, and enchantment to disguise their true forms. This required so much of their strength and energy that they had little left over for other purposes. Even so, as long as they remained hidden at the heart of power, they could wield their dark magic. And the greatest spells they cast were the laws of the land, not mere codes and rules but words of power.

Without their legislative witchcraft, their masks of human appearance would dissolve and fall away. They didn’t impose laws to control the population but to control themselves, to maintain their false appearance. The most important of these laws, as symbolic incantations, involved animals for that is what they had become, subhuman. There were rules, restrictions, and regulations on which animals could be kept and how, the conditions of raising and slaughtering animals, in the preparation of food and what could or could not be eaten. But more than anything else, the linchpin of their magical order was the anti-bestiality laws, for the beastly lust of the old ones was barely suppressed. The greater control they had, the more they needed a system of control; for they had no control of themselves.

For this reason, though the true believers worshipped at the temple in the respectable formality of traditional rituals, the mainspring of theomorphic power had always been in the court, a place of concealed wizardry where the old gods, forgotten to all others, were still worshipped. The eroding command and authority among these licentious lawmakers was a threat to their very existence. If their dark nature was revealed, their whole charade would end and they would forever fade from the human world, never to again regain their position of dominance. They used every machination they had devised over the eons. But most of all, word magic, underlying the sway of legislative governance, was the ultimate source of their rule.

They did not so much oversee the governing bodies of the empire as they mastered the human mind. If thoughts and identity could be molded and shaped, then those under such influence could be pulled this way and that like puppets. The incantation of words, not only in law books but also in the voices of town criers and decrees etched on stone pillars, was what put the spell on the public mind. They couldn’t actually alter or even hide their scaly skins, their unblinking lizard eyes, the stench they exuded. But they could cause the people to not perceive them as they were, and to not see is to not know. The enforcement of laws in the world was less significant than the imposing of the laws on the human psyche. Appearance was everything. And so they invested nearly all their wealth in spectacles of power.

All of that was to obscure what happened behind closed doors, far uglier than any corrupt dealings and crony machinations. If it was ever discovered the wild abandon of beastly orgies they committed in the bowels of the court building, the last vestige of deception would be undone. What was seen could never be unseen, what became public knowledge could not be undone. Yet their facade of respectability had long ago begun to peel away, had already revealed glimpses of what lay underneath, but only the briefest of peeks and only for those who were looking. Even then, not many could quite believe it for the ruse of word magic was quickly again invoked in comforting stories, even if it left a spreading sense of unease — it could not be true, it was too horrifying to even allow into consciousness.

This put the lizard people in a state of precarity, for eventually the pretense of denying the undeniable would fracture and with it the foundation of their world. In their terror, they pushed ever harder the lever of legalistic power, constantly layering spell upon spell such that it barely held together. It was all they had left. Their sneers of narcissistic confidence belied a fight for survival and, in desperation, their actions became ever more extreme, their word magic ever more obscene. The suspicions that had already floated in whispers were then being spoken out loud, if at first only outside the halls of power. They still held key leadership positions, in having maintained their grip over the court, so as to invoke their public glamor. But for how long could that last?

Our Life Among the Reactionary Right

The Left and the Right in Relationship

We find that, in our location and life circumstances, we are in contact with a variety of people across the ideological spectrum(s), along with across cultural differences. This diverse town is a major medical and research center centered around a liberal state college. The writers workshop here is the oldest of its kind. Though relatively small, the community draws people from all over the country and all over the world; and it’s situated amidst farmland, pulling in many residents and workers who grew up in rural communities and small towns as well; thus balancing out the middle class WEIRDness (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic). But our own bias is mostly that of a local yokel, if someone who at times has lived in other states and regions of the country. Most of our life has been in this town and, though without a college degree ourselves, we fit in just fine with our intellectuality, love of learning, and book obsession. All of that, of course, goes along with our liberal-mindedness.

Yet, as radically left-liberal as we might be, we were raised by conservative parents who are rightward socially, religiously, and economically, if they are somewhat moderate; and we spent our teen years in the conservative, nay right-wing authoritarian, Deep South. Even now in being surrounded by liberalism, for various reasons, we somehow end up spending much of our time talking with those on the right, some more reactionary than others: Republican partisans, fundamentalists, Tea Partiers, MAGA supporters, and alt-righters. Some are family, while others are friends and coworkers. They are a diverse bunch and so they wouldn’t agree on a number of issues, but among them there is a common disconnect that comes up again and again. It’s certainly frustrating, to a leftist, and often just plain strange and disconcerting.

We probably spend more time thinking about such people than they spend thinking about us, and so here we are. Let’s give an example. There is one guy we’ve personally known for a long time. He is an all around conservative Republican trapped in a right-wing media bubble and echo chamber. His views tend toward the conventional, though increasingly reactionary as he ages. He more or less fits the stereotypical profile of demographics and life experience that one might expect, though not relevant for our present purposes. Among our right-wing relationships and acquaintances, he is the one we talk to the most regularly and the most engagingly, for the simple reason we’re around each other a lot. So we are particularly familiar with his worldview and what motivates it. We are informed of his background and what has shaped his life.

He is smart and educated, as is the norm around here, and yet his understanding is so narrowly confined as to give him no larger perspective. Admittedly, he has physically seen more of the world than we have. Intellectually, though, he is less well traveled. Anything that disagrees with his beliefs and biases is often dismissed out of hand. Though retired from the educational field, he simply doesn’t have much curiosity outside of what he already knows or thinks he knows, and having been an expert in his field he is prone to the smart idiot effect, in believing he doesn’t have to research a topic for himself to have a relevant opinion that is to be taken seriously. When point blank given evidence that contradicts his views, he’ll typically refuse to look at it and just digs in further; the standard backfire effect that research shows is more common on the Right, and well-educated conservatives most of all (an interesting phenomenon we won’t discuss further here).

All evidence that doesn’t confirm his bias is asserted as having a liberal bias or is somehow wrong, faulty, or whatever; without any need to prove it (e.g., climatology science is false, manipulated, and corrupt because he read one right-wing book on the topic and so no further information is needed). He won’t offer counter-evidence, just assumes he is right until he is proven wrong, which is impossible to do in his own mind since he already knows he is right. How does one respond to that? Of course, when this anti-intellectualism is pointed out, he gets defensive and asserts that, as someone on the left, we’re just calling names. No, we’re not. We’d love to have a meaningful intellectual discussion with him about many topics, but his intellectual willingness in many cases is not up to match, though not for lacking general intelligence, far from it.

A Liberal Mind Amidst Right-Wing Media

If this otherwise nice fellow were merely stupid, we wouldn’t bother talking to him in the first place or at least we wouldn’t engage with him beyond casual chatter. Yet in having been bottle-fed on early Cold War propaganda, he lacks intellectual defenses against manipulative media. He tends to mindlessly repeat the rhetorical framings, narratives, and talking points he hears from right-wing media and political elites. Unlike us, his media consumption doesn’t extend very far, pretty much limited to sources that conform to the same basic set of scripts. He doesn’t have exposure to any left-wing media or even moderately liberal media, in the way we are constantly exposed to right-wing and conservative media. Part of the reason for this difference is that we have an uncontrollably driven sense of curiosity that ends up leading us all over the place, along with what we inadvertently pick up from the surrounding cultural and media milieu.

As a liberal-minded liberal, it’s hard for us to imagine not wanting to know other perspectives. Besides, even when trying to mind our own business, it’s impossible to ignore right-wing media when it’s constantly in our space, such as televisions playing in the background and newspapers laying about. Keep in mind that all corporate media has a right-wing bias, if only in terms of the capitalist realism and class war of the ownership class (i.e., the super-rich elite who own most of the corporate media that is concentrated in a few transnational corporations). Also, consider that, if you go anywhere in the United States, the most common channel to be playing in any place of business (restaurant, bar, hotel lobby, etc) is Fox News. This isn’t a right-wing country, at least not in terms of supermajority public opinion, but we are ruled by a right-wing elite, media and otherwise.

That is the thing. In our having liberal-minded thin psychic boundaries, it’s not part of our capacity to block out what is in the world around us, whether or not it would be our preference. We are hyper-attuned and sensitive like a staticky shirt picking up lint everywhere we go, the kind of cognitive tendency that comes up in studies on what distinguishes liberals and the liberal-minded. It’s an expression of high openness to experience, and it has other affects as well, in terms of the dual trait openness/intellectuality. Though we may be an extreme example in our roving curiosity, surveys show that liberals in general consume more conservative media and alternative media than do conservatives of liberal media and alternative media; partly because liberals are on average younger and spend more time on the media-diverse internet. Then again, it’s hard for a liberal to do otherwise, of any age group, as right-wing media is pervasive, while leftist media is mostly excluded from the ‘mainstream’.

Anyway, it’s just in the nature of liberals to be liberal-minded, that is to say motivated by intellectual curiosity and cognitive complexity, and so seeking out a greater variety of views and sources. One of the strengths and weaknesses of the liberal-minded personality trait openness is that the boundaries of the mind are thin and porous, that is to say the opposite of highly focused and narrowly confined. To the degree one is liberal-minded one would not be content and satisfied listening to the same set of opinions over and over, hearing talking points parroted. With wandering and sprawling minds, curiosity tends to get the better of liberals. We on the left are vulnerable to being drawn into the corporate-controlled media environment, just because we’re curious and that is mostly what is available. It takes a lot more conscious effort and intention to look for underfunded leftist media.

Let’s consider some specifics. For instance, according to audience data, a liberal is more likely to watch Fox News than a conservative is to listen to NPR, even though the former is much further right than the latter is to the left; as even NPR is mostly privately-funded (i.e., corporate-funded) and, according to one analysis, gives more airtime to right-wing think tanks (an analysis that was already biased in labeling centrist think tanks, to the right of the American public, as ‘liberal’). To find a leftist equivalent of the extremist rhetoric heard on Fox News, one would have to look even further left to alternative media, but such media territory is a complete blindspot for most conservatives, as well as for many liberals. It’s hard to imagine anyone in the United States who is not intimately aware of Fox News, what it spouts, and the effect it has. It’s strange considering most Americans, on most issues, are to the left of the political elites, including the DNC elite. Yet majoritarian left-liberal views are so silenced in ‘mainstream’ media, even supposed ‘liberal’ media, as to be treated as near non-existent.

This is part of a larger pattern of ideological divide. Similarly, someone on the left is more likely to be familiar with genetic determinism than someone on the right is to be equally familiar with epigenetics, and the same for numerous unequal disparities of knowledge: leftist knowledge of corporate capitalism versus rightist ignorance of Marxism and communism (or even ignorance of the anti-corporatist capitalism of the American founding generation), leftist knowledge of neoliberalism versus rightist ignorance of anarchosyndicalism (or any other similar variations of socioeconomic leftism), leftist knowledge of right-libertarianism versus rightist ignorance of left-libertarianism (despite left-libertarianism being the original meaning of ‘libertarianism’), leftist knowledge of fundamentalist apologetics versus rightist ignorance of pagan parallels in Abrahamic religions (the latter of which was written about by Thomas Paine, the main inspiration for the American Revolution), and endless other examples.

So, one side is always coming to the table with greater familiarity with the other side, but it is not mutual to an extreme degree. Instead of knowledge, right-wing rhetoric turns leftists into inane cartoon characters. In listening to Fox News, one lady we know is always saying how absurd and crazy is the political left, by which is typically meant the DNC elite. Indeed, if one were to mostly watch Fox News and little else, it would be hard to not be shocked by leftist politics that, as portrayed, makes absolutely no sense. But what doesn’t occur to the indoctrinated reactionary mind is that maybe it’s the media caricature, not the target of derision, that is absurd.

Getting to Know the Reactionary Right

Because of a lifetime of such a media environment, and because of being liberal-minded in our curiosity, we have become quite conversant not only with conservative ‘mainstream’ media like Fox News and The Wall Street Journal but also have gained long familiarity with more alternative stuff: Reason Magazine, Epoch Times, Imprimis, etc; along with the websites, blogs, and Youtube channels of religious apologists (e.g., Stephen J. Bedard), racists (e.g., Richard Lynn), white supremacists (e.g., Steve Sailer), genetic determinists (e.g., HBDchick), anarcho-capitalists (e.g., Stefan Molyneux ), and on and on; ad nauseum. Also outside the bounds of respectable society, we’ve listened to the likes of Alex Jones, Stephen Bannon, and Jordan Peterson long before most on the Right had even heard those names.

After seeing him in Richard Linklater’s movies in the early Aughts, it was from Alex Jones that we first learned of the concept of a false flag operation; that was when he had yet to go full Looney Tunes, if he was already teetering on the edge of sanity. As that decade ended, during the Obama administration, Stephen Bannon came out with a documentary on generations theory that we saw; and we quickly recognized it as propaganda. Our parents were watching a lot of Fox News at the time and Glenn Beck became a common presence in our life. On our own, around then or maybe earlier, we checked out the largely unknown Greg Gutfeld on his late show on Fox News, but found it boring; and now he is the new primetime comedian commentator to fill Beck’s absence. It was during that period when we first came across talk of Jordan Peterson, his not having been politicized back then and, instead, mostly known for his 1999 book Maps of Meaning. It was actually a Canadian liberal who introduced us to him; prior to his having embraced the alt-right, having become an IDW (intellectual dark web) figure, and having turned his life into political spectacle.

In the past, we used to actively seek out such interesting and intriguing, sometimes bizarre, stuff and would look into almost anything, as we felt morally obligated and intellectually compelled to understand what was going on in the world, including what was bubbling up in the reactionary mind. At times, depending on our mood, we could and still can be openly curious to almost any alternative view, if sometimes just for shits and giggles. The most extreme paranoid fantasies and rantings, in the more innocent times of decades past, could be taken as mere entertainment; because there was no mass movement and corporate media pushing them to the extent seen now, and certainly there had yet to be a Donald Trump presidency and a MAGA insurrection. Our alternative-loving mentality has had a way of leading us down strange, sometimes dark, paths; a habit we blame on our tender young psyche having been imprinted upon by Robert Anton Wilson and Art Bell; what once were gateway drugs for the curious liberal.

We don’t regret our past explorations. It made possible for us to follow all the lines of influence that eventually formed into the present deranged reactionary right, though it would’ve been hard to have predicted what it was to become in its full glory. We were right there at the beginning and it’s fascinating to think back on it. We came of age in the ’90s and viscerally felt the changes in the air. When still in high school, while down in South Carolina, we’d sometimes catch the early right-wing radio talk shows, such as Laura Schlessinger and Rush Limbaugh, along with occasionally listening to fire-and-brimstone preachers as they can be mesmerizing. Following that, we spent several summers in the Bible Belt region of North Carolina, where we worked at a Christian camp and, also while dating a local girl, got to know far right fundamentalists up close and personal.

All in all, the world of the reactionary right is not alien to us, even as it will always be something outside our own mentality. We’ve lived with it, grasped what it is, watched it develop, felt its impact in our gut, and seen what it does to others. It influenced us as well, if only in determining what we didn’t want to be. Now we’re in a different place in our life. We’ve tried to learn to be more discerning in what we put into our mental space, as we’ve found too much of the crap out there to be torturous and usually pointless, not worth wasting one’s time upon. Concern for mental health required us to stop such bad habits of wide-open curiosity, if we still prize an open mind. Nonetheless, it’s not like we can isolate ourselves. Even now, we know the exact talking points that are popular right at this moment on Fox News. We absorb it all like a sponge, all the more reason to set clear boundaries.

No Shared Knowledge, No Mutual Communication

To get back to the conservative guy we mentioned, for all the above reasons and more, we know where many on the right are getting their thoughts and ideas from, whereas few on the right have any clue about where those of us on the left are coming from. It’s a immense chasm to cross, and so it makes actual and mutual communication a rarity, but it can happen at times and that is what motivates us to reach out to the right-wingers within our personal world. Frustration aside, we do enjoy dialogue with those of other views, and that is why this particular conservative has occupied so much of our attention. When not taken in by right-wing fears, he actually is capable of nuanced thoughtfulness and so talking with him is far from a waste of time. Plus, we simply value our relationship with him on a human level; not everything is about overt ideology.

Because of our larger perspective with a broader knowledge base, we are able to sense our way into his worldview; and so we sometimes can couch our own views in the language, ideas, and frames that make sense to him. Yet he can’t return the favor, as it simply is not in his capacity. Our holding all the responsibility for translation can be tiresome. Even then, only on occasion do we successfully manage to lure him out of his reality tunnel of ideological realism and groupthink. At those times, he is able to be somewhat clear-minded and critical, if only briefly for he soon falls back into a more comfortable stance. The only reason we’ve been able to reach him at all is because the political right is fractured and the cracks offer opportunities for light to shine in, creates weak points to gain leverage and wedge open just enough before the openings snap shut again.

In contrast to his GOP partisanship, we are an equal opportunity critic of the entire two-party duopoly. This is useful in that we can get him to lower his defenses by our attacking the DNC elites, particularly the Clintonistas, of which we despise all the more as they stand in for the entire Left on corporate media spin, while in reality third way politics mostly triangulates itself between the moderate right and the corporate right, with some liberal sugar to help the poison go down. In talking to him, we can segue from such criticisms of Democrats into even harder hitting critiques of the totalizing corruption of both parties within a common power structure that dominates society. This usually works in drawing out his semi-libertarian streak, but his defenses return at the slightest hint of ideological threat. We have to be cautious in not being too provoking, and our success is spotty at best.

Still, we can often get him to agree, surprisingly, with rather leftist views (on the problems of neoliberalism, excessive CEO pay, near monopolies, externalized costs, harmful inequities, culture of trust breakdown, monied corruption, etc). That is as long as we don’t point out that we are expressing leftism. The main challenge is that, no matter what, he will always mentally still be living in the early Cold War. A McCarthyist battle against authoritarian Stalinism and in favor of authoritarian fascism will never end in his Burkean moral imagination, and no non-authoritarian third option is quite possible as a viscerally real choice, despite his being able to intellectually conceive that non-authoritarianism sounds nice as an ideal and in theory. Basically, like most on the reactionary right, he has no actual understanding of democracy or genuine concern about it. How could he when all he hears is anti-democratic rhetoric on right-wing media?

Democracy is just a word to be bandied about and, in reactionary style, defenders of democracy get caricatured as attacking ‘democracy’ (i.e., the status quo of the Establishment). Yet, since he is part of the respectable classes, he can’t admit that he is anti-democratic (i.e., right-wing authoritarian) and anti-egalitarian (i.e., social dominance orientation), if not entirely (like many Americans, he is ideologically schizoid). Such an admission would be politically incorrect, even on the political right. This is the double bind we are caught in as a society. Many individuals can’t openly declare and commit to what they actually value, believe, and uphold. Another obvious example is how racists these days deny being racists, whereas in the past they’d have been proud of their racism, to the point of open supremacism and eugenics. This goes hand in hand with the political right co-opting the label of classical liberalism, while eschewing the ugliness of classical conservatism, but eschewing it in name only.

Reaching Out to the Closed Mind

To this conservative guy, old school neocon President Joe Biden is a communist or else he is a communist puppet under the control of Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders. And the corporatist Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare) is likewise communist, despite it increasing the wealth and power of the private oligopoly of insurance companies, and despite it having originated in a right-wing think tank and having been first implemented by the Republican Mitt Romney (it would make more sense to call it Romneycare). Everything that isn’t far right is communist, or anything that is right-wing but then adopted by the Democratic Party. And whatever you do avoid the topic of postmodern Marxism, a complete oxymoron since postmodernists and Marxists are historically bitter enemies, to such an extent that declassified records show that the CIA intentionally promoted postmodernism to combat Marxist influence. Such facts are irrelevant, though, in speaking to those on the Right.

In not knowing themselves, in refusing to know themselves, right-wing reactionaries know the other side even less and know the larger world not at all. So, lost in such darkness, they are prone to frightening nightmares, where what they project outward is cast back upon them as shadows; with all the shadow boxing that entails, wild punches being blindly thrown and haphazardly landing upon the innocent. Their only sense of the entire Left is a fantastical phantasm that would instantly dissipate in the light of self-awareness, but that would require them to lift it up into open-eyed scrutiny. How does one talk to someone on the Right when their words drop off into empty air filled with the insubstantial imaginings and frightening specters that only they can see? Yet in being part of the same society, how can we not talk to these others, how can we not attempt to reach out? After all, they are our family and friends, our neighbors and coworkers. They aren’t really other, even if that is how they perceive us or rather how the media they consume portrays us.