Sunday, May 9, 2021

Liberalism, Religion, Tyranny

Earlier today I was reading a couple of articles that fall, more or less, into the category of political philosophy. However, the implications of these articles go beyond the merely theoretical--they have a lot to say about our current crisis.

Both articles start from the phenomenon of what we could call the crackup of liberalism--the clear descent of liberalism into tyranny. Sohrab Ahmari, an editor for the NYPost, sets the terms of the discussion well in an article for the The Spectator US:

Tyranny is the inevitable consequence of liberalism

Ahmari begins with a simple question: "Are citizens of liberal societies permitted to question liberalism?" In theory the answer should be as simple as the question: Of course citizens can question liberalism--that's the whole point of liberalism! The open marketplace of ideas. And yet that's not the reality of America--not really. Much of the energy of liberal opinionating is expended in attempts to shut down all discussion that strays beyond whatever the current liberal orthodoxy happens to be. This is usually done by a process of demonizing all dissenters from the liberal orthodoxy--a tactic that has become familiar over many decades. As Ahmari observes:

Such tolerance is rarely in evidence in practice, however — a reality illustrated in hilarious fashion by a writer for a Washington magazine who recently decried ‘cancel culture’ even as he insisted that: ‘It’s absolutely necessary to de-platform public intellectuals who object to liberal democracy.’

As an historical matter, the liberal ideology arose as a supposed solution to the intolerance of religious quarrels, which had led Europe into seemingly endless wars. Separation of Church and State was supposed to lead to tolerance in society, a live and let live culture. 

Church and state have long been separated. The ideal is that a new liberal order ushers in a new, rational, tolerant and secular regime: cleaving apart day-to-day politics from religion and metaphysics. So instead of enshrining any one orthodoxy, a liberal neutral ground would be created, one that could be contested by rival accounts of the good life. The religious would be able to live happily beside the unbelievers, with all minorities protected. In this way, the advent of liberalism would — once and for all — put an end to the persecutions of the past.

Not only has this not turned out to be true now, but it arguably has never been true. Liberalism has everywhere shown its true colors, its true religious nature. Its claims to to establish a promised land of enlightened tolerance turn out to have been a ploy. The claim that any society could live and thrive without a philosophical narrative of the good life, of the common good, was always transparent bunk. Liberalism has never been neutral, and as it has gained the ascendancy its essential, inevitable, intolerance has become apparent to all:

But has that really come to pass? Given man’s inclination to worship, to build altars in the public square, our societies will always enshrine some orthodoxy or other (and, therefore, empower some clerisy or other). The only questions are: which orthodoxy? Which clerics? If the past couple of years have made anything clear, it is that there is to be no neutrality. The West must choose.

Ahmari drives his point home with a series of rhetorical questions:

Look around you: when was the last time you felt like you lived in a pluralistic, tolerant society? Does the Free World feel free? Four centuries or so since it was launched, has the liberal project delivered on its promise to make men and women free, by toppling all the old authorities? Or has the downfall of authority left us more vulnerable to more insidious and subtle forms of coercion, by woke demagogues, employers and advertisers?

Look around you: does our marketplace of ideas resemble anything like that promised by the bewigged liberals of the late-18th and 19th centuries? Does truth prevail over its cacophony of nonsense? Set aside the teaching of Genesis, whatever happened to the basic teachings of biology and genetics about the immutability of sex? ...

Ahmari views this deplorable outcome as simply the inevitable result of the working out of the liberal ideology. Therefore, the attempt to restore some mythical pristine state of mutual tolerance is doomed to failure--in theory just as much as in practice. It was never going to work out the way the world philosophes claimed it would. Conservatives need to recognize this truth and figure a way out of this no win state of affairs. Easier said than done, of course.

The second article shares similar views of where we are, of what liberalism really is, but the author--Surit Dasgupta--applies these ideas to the Trump administration and its personnel policies:

The Priesthood of Trump’s Statist Enemies

Dasgupta starts more or less where Ahmari leaves off. Yes, of course liberalism is a religion--and that label includes basically the entire political establishment. Trump's big mistake was his naive view that the Swamp could be drained by applying a healthy doze of competence, modeled on basically corporate practices. He failed to understand that he was taking on what amounted to a religious elite--a priesthood, or (in Ahmari's terms) a clerisy:

Donald Trump didn’t understand he was not dealing with mere corrupt politicians but rather a priesthood dedicated to keeping the sacrificial mechanism running at all cost.

Anyone who has glanced at the writing or thinking of former U.S. President Donald Trump can safely conclude that the man is a corporate thinker. A corporate thinker is basically a pragmatist, and that is not surprising when we observe that big corporations generally do not act on ideological instincts but rather are geared toward the accumulation of capital.

Of course the Founding Fathers were perfectly aware of the importance of religion to any society--including the society of the new American republic. However, if the new republic was to embrace all thirteen former colonies--a necessity if they were to maintain their hard won independence--a sectarian federal government was out of the question. The writings of the Founders strongly suggest that they placed their hopes for a unifying public theology on the sort of Deism that was espoused by classical liberals, especially the traditional moral views that underpinned the common law that was inherited from the English past.

That solution worked for a time, but in the longer run it came up against the reality of the state. The state inevitably seeks a monopoly on power in the absence of determined and organized opposition--something that religion in America did not offer, no matter the general religiosity of Americans. Power, to last, must rest on authority, and that flows from a general religious standpoint:

... The state is religious in nature. In ancient societies, the state and religion were one and the same. Take, for example, the Aztec civilization that practiced regular human sacrifices. It did this not in a secret corner but under the watchful eyes of the monarchy and the priesthood. In ancient civilizations like that of the Aztecs, the priesthood and the monarchy shared a mutual dominance over their subjects. The bond that linked their rule was undoubtedly sacrificial violence.


... Some ... might object and say that the modern version of the state shouldn’t be considered a religious institution because the modern state is a “secular” form of governance.

... bear[] in mind ... that even a secular state frequently causes religiosity from within itself. The state, even in its “purest” form, is the highest authority within a nation. When the state takes the form of the highest authority known to man then it bears a much larger influence on a nation than any corporation. ...

When the state's ambition is to be "the highest authority known to man," it has far exceeded a merely secular view of its nature. We see that in the way that liberal politicians adopt overtly religious language to describe themselves, their positions, and even the buildings they occupy:

What Trump didn’t understand was that he was not dealing with mere corrupt politicians but rather he was dealing with a priesthood dedicated to keeping the sacrificial mechanism running at all costs. His rivals ... were people like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who said it was her honor to preside over a “sacred ritual of renewal” and called the Capitol a “temple of democracy.” To people like Pelosi, Joe Biden, George W. Bush, and Hillary Clinton, Trump was a desecrator of their sacred temple. To the sacred priesthood, Trump was the perfect candidate for a scapegoat ritual. 

Thus, the offense that Trump committed went far beyond being an outsider. He had challenged, seemingly without realizing it, the sacred order of America in liberal ideology. It became a question of a ritual cleansing that was necessary: 

When Trump became president, he took to the White House ... a pragmatist and corporatist philosophy and applied it to a religious institution. In doing so, he committed sacrilege of the first order.

As we know, in the drive to purge the White House of Trump's ritually unclean presence--as dictated by liberal orthodoxy--anything would go. All respect for law and the constitutional order went by the boards because Trump was an existential threat to that orthodoxy. Trump must be personally destroyed to save the sacred liberal order. And in this regard Dasgupta draws a fascinating parallel:

... Existentialist Nikolai Berdyaev writes:

The moral and religious question which faces the personal conscience can be put in a very simple and elementary way: is it permissible to execute a single innocent person for the sake of the safety and wellbeing of the State? In the Gospel this question was put in the words of Caiaphas. ‘It is better for us that one man should die for the people than that the whole nation should perish.’ It is well known what sentence was decided by these words. The State always repeats the words of Caiaphas; it is the State’s confession of faith. Statesmen have always given the answer that in the interests of the safety of the State and the increase of its strength, an innocent man may and should be put to death. 

That is the confession of the liberal priesthood's faith in the State as the one true source of authority on earth--the sacred order of State power.

This is what Trump failed to understand--draining the Swamp entailed the harrying from power of a religious establishment. As a result, he sowed the seeds for his own downfall by uniting the opposition even within his party and inside his administration:

In appointing members of his administration, Trump took the corporatist approach of picking his rivals on the basis of competence. He appointed or nominated people like Mike Pompeo, Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and Nikki Halley, all of whom were allied in one way or another with the military-industrial complex. Trump buckled from his promise to “drain the swamp” and instead chose experienced priests from the D.C. state religion to run his government. As a result, he was undermined at every turn. ...

Interestingly, Dasgupta leaves out perhaps the most interesting figure of all--Bluto Barr. I was one of many who believed that Barr's loyalty rose above loyalty to the DC state religion. We were misled by his reported religiosity and his seeming devotion to the vision of the Founding Fathers.

Be that as it may, Dasgupta concludes with the picture of Trump as sacrificial scapegoat. However, he speculates that by conducting this ritual sacrifice so openly the liberal DC Establishment may have given away their game to the non-believing barbarians outside--the deplorables and bitter clingers outside the beltway whose faith is not in the man-made order of the state:

In true mafioso fashion, Donald Trump became the “button” for the state—the one designed to take the “hit” for the mob bosses. But unlike the ancient Sicilian mafia, which operated under the code of silence, the scapegoating rituals of the state are no longer able to remain hidden from public conscience. This is all the more evident with the state’s increasing desperation to scapegoat a significant number of dissident voices in a chaos of undifferentiation. The question now remains: where will this ever-increasing desperation and chaos lead us?


  1. Interestingly, there again is that looming question I always have / bring up... Why did Trump pick the priests he did? He had convinced many he was going into office with new ideas and fresh minds and quickly abandoned the few he brought with him. Short of a few economic titans, everything else was lost.

    The religious tone I can relate to as I often equate both parties to religious cults. They both loose themselves in theories that make QAnon followers look sane. They remind me yesteryears Catholics and Protestants Waring about who's ideals of Technocracy is more pure. Each side is often so blinded by their mantras that they cant figure out when their own leaders board the church doors and light it ablaze.

    A big part of my current plight towards political atheism is based on trying to gain a more rounded *big picture* view. The hypocrisy in trying to align in any form with either side is painfully impossible, both are extremists in their own rights.

    I will say it makes one very cynical but so be it, I would rather choke on reality than trying to accept someone elses lesser evils.

  2. I don’t think anyone knew it was this bad. The actions of “the resistance” in the senate, and how the GOPe allowed it still astound me. Compare and contrast to the actions of the minority GOP in the Senate now. Or how Paul Ryan blocked most of Trumps efforts for the first two years, not to mention John McCain.

    The Military-industrial complex’s power I see as oversold. The amount of gdp spent there is much smaller than Eisenhower’s time.

    What I see as a much bigger power issue is the elites, that include the deep state snd their allies that control every major institution in the US, especially big tech. This is the cultural issue that Trump did not address till the end.

    The power of the oligarchs that helped defeat his re-election. $500 million Zuckerberg, $250 million Swiss Tycoon against Trump, and others, and pretty soon you are talking real money.

    Trumps great super power was ripping the masks off to show the corruption, politicization, and incompetence of so many people and institutions.

    I’m still in a bit of disbelief on the current state. The Frank Luntz Kevin McCarthy roommates is inconceivable. When I think I have become too cynical, I find I am not cynical enough, and this state of affairs upsets me.

  3. OTOH (and I speak from the experience of a 42 year Federal "civil servant"), if I wanted to "crime proof" my home, would I freakin' hire Mother Teresa? No, I'd try to find a "reformed" thief who could point out the vulnerabilities from a criminal perspective.

    You can talk all you want about Trump's hires, but I can guarantee you that if he brought in senior executives with absolutely no experience with the Federal bureaucracy, the lifelong bureaucrats would run rings around him/her. Saw it in the military time and time again when a new commander showed up at an installation that was entirely comprised of civilians...say for example, a supply depot or an arsenal or a lab. They all came with good intentions, but discovered very quickly that they had to rely on their civilian executive assistant to ensure that the installation continued to run smoothly. The CEA was going to look out for his people no matter what the new commander had in mind because eventually that guy would go and a new one would show up. I have no idea how to fix this, but I certainly do not blame Donald Trump for his choices, especially when he had to get the Senate to approve them.

    Y'know, over the years, I had officers who had made it to the O6 or flag officer level call me up and ask me to join them at their new command to help them "shake things up a bit." My answer was always the same: "Sir, it would be fun to work with you again and we'd have a grand old time for a couple of years and perhaps make a difference, but then you'd get promoted, go somewhere else, and the long knives would come out" Perhaps a rotational assignment structure for senior executives could be developed...oh wait, there already is one (SES) and the problem is the same - once they learn the ins and outs of a certain assignment, they leave and the process starts all over again, sigh

    I know of one CG who decided to rotate all his GS-15 directors around because he figured they could handle it and it would be a "good experience" for them. Whew, that was a wild was if an airplane pilot was given a train to run, a train engineer was given a battleship to command, a ship's captain was given a Greyhound bus to steer, and so on.

    Once again, as I just fade away, I have no good answers...other than move all the Federal departments outa DC and spread them around the country to take advantage of local intellects and expertise, but hey, what do I know?

    1. All very true. When I hear/read people blaming Trump for not firing/replacing people wholesale I realize they have no clue about the federal civil service--not to mention state and local versions.

    2. So...what you guys are that for an outsider to be effective (Donald J. Trump, for example) he has to surgically pick and choose the targets for change and/or leadership which have a greater likelihood of being effective.

      I think Trump did this in many respects in 2017-2021. A good example is the judges he picked and got confirmed. Not just Supreme Court justices, but hundreds of judges across the federal judiciary. (Of course, not all of them will turn out to be as conservative as he and you might have hoped, but they sure beat the alternative...)

      Another example (not often mentioned) was his ability as Commander in Chief to avoid war. His DoD and generals may not have always scrupulously followed his orders, but they were unable to start or escalate any wars during his term. Which was undoubtedly Trump's desired policy.

      Another example is the bully pulpit (frequently discussed here) which the President controls. For four years Donald Trump told the American people what he thought...about nearly everything...and today its nearly impossible to unhear it. I know I'll never look at China or the Southern Border or the Main Stream Media the same way as I did before PDJT. I certainly will never accept at face value anything Adam Schiff, or Nancy Pelosi, or Chuck Schumer or Richard Blumenthal or John Brennan or James Comey or Diane Feinstein says...ever again. Or for that matter, the New York Times, the Washington Post or CNN or MSNBC. Trump shattered their least for tens of millions of Americans.

      And, of course, Trump shattered the credibility of our electoral system...which was undoubtedly corrupted and broken for decades before he came along.

      I would imagine that Trump will spend many waking moments between now and any 2023 escalator ride pondering and deciding if and how he can be effective enough during the period 2025-2029 to make it all worthwhile enough to try to do it all over again.

    3. @ Hot and Mark,

      My compliments... One of the many things I've pickup from both of you is just that. Real change or firing, hiring and replacing is a 5 million + person problem between civilian, military and Government contractors. There is no easy blanketed path.

      The scope of that issue is oversimplified and overlooked by too many people. I didn't understand it but after digging on the "civil servants" issue and then looking at the others the realities set in.

      Decentralization of DC is a great idea, as is de-funding. But there are no singular or simple answers to reining back.

      Again, it's makes one far more cynical but that's the reality.

      Mark you have a gift for flatly saying "you're an idiot" with out using the word idiot. It does make those who are willing to listen and question "why" better people.

      It's one of the things I enjoy so much about the vibe in this forum and it's user base. There is so much knowledge and it's put towards education vs petty snarkiness.

      I say again... Thanks to all for being here!!

    4. @ Cassander, this isn't a totally black and white case re Trump. I completely agree re his judicial appointments. At the same time I have to wonder whether he could have done better with some of his key appointments. When you look at people like Tillerman, Sessions, Rosenstein, Wray, Mattis--you hafta wonder whether he either picked poor advisers or had--as the article suggests--a somewhat flawed perspective on what he was up against.

      Of course, we weigh all that against his unmasking of the Deep State. Hopefully he's been giving these issues a lot of thought and will find a way to wield his influence for the common good with all this in mind.

    5. Supposedly, Barr threatened to quit:

      Trumps National Security Advisor was taken out, General Flynn. And then the Mueller investigation, eGOP lack of support (Senate on who got confirmed, plus Paul Ryan's delay tactics), and Democratic resistance kept Trump checked in many ways for his first two years. Plus the Never Trumpers that somehow got into his administration, that were focused on sabotaging him.

      Last two years you had an impeachment, and Barr that again was successful in using delaying tactics. And by then the house had flipped to the Democrats, that kept up the pressure on Trump. And the GOP Senate was still playing games on confirmations. And along came COVID. When Trump finally figured out the game and got Ambassador Richard Grenell, which then forced the GOP to allow Trump's original candidate to get approved John Ratcliffe. And how Paul Ryan allowed Devin Nunes to get sidelined.

      With all this going on, I am AMAZED Trump got anything done.

    6. Aaannnddd, ya never know what you're gonna get, no matter how good the vetting process. I think of McMaster for example...I initially was pleased with his selection based upon some of his writings, his combat experiences and seeming willingness to pipe up rather than pipe down, if need be. I thought he was a bit of an iconoclast along the lines of a Hackworth and could whisper in the Emperor's ear, so to speak, and warn him of those with ulterior motives. Unfortunately, a POTUS needs to run thru generals like Abe did until he finds one (or more) who can't be spared, because "he fights". And then your first term is almost over and you've got to run for re-election so the last year is shot. I had hoped that once the Donald won re-election, he could really go to town on the Deep State, but alas, that will have to wait until 2025 :o)

    7. @mark

      "When you look at people like [Tillerson], Sessions, Rosenstein, Wray, Mattis--you hafta wonder whether he either picked poor advisers or had--as the article suggests--a somewhat flawed perspective on what he was up against."


      And, of course, there was Bluto Barr.

      A friend of mine works for Richard LeFrak, who I believe both Trump and LeFrak will confirm are lifelong 'friends'. Both are sons of 'legendary' zillionaire Queens real estate developers.

      When Trump assumed office, I heard from my friend that LeFrak was extremely disparaging. As in: he's not smart, he doesn't read, he can't read, he has zero attention span, he doesn't listen...and on and on.

      LeFrak couldn't have been entirely wrong, although his observations must have been influenced by the overwhelming majority of those around him who were already consumed by TDS.

      Another acquaintance of mine worked for Trump directly at Mar-a-Lago for several years. She told me she had a constructive relationship with Trump after she forced him to listen when he wasn't listening, ignored (what she calls) his narcissism, and pushed back.

      While these anecdotes are hardly definitive, they may have some truth to them. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Trump definitely has a few weak spots, and picking advisers who he could trust may have been a big one.

      But that doesn't change what he accomplished. And may still accomplish.

    8. @ Everyone

      Ray, nice summary. Hotlanta, I was wrong big time re Barr and others but I'm proud to say I was right about McMaster. @ Cassander, no doubt Trump has weak spots--that was clear from his past life. OTOH, who can doubt that his overall agenda was pretty correct? Re LeFrak's disparaging, Trump's record as POTUS belies virtually all of it.

    9. At Everyone

      In light of all the points above, perhaps our best conclusion is that the current government/political system is beyond self-correction. No, single person, even as President, can rein in or seriously reform this Monster. How well I remember 2017 and thinking Trump will never be allowed to carry out his promises to the people. And yet he did manage far more than I thought possible even as the Monster fought him and sought to devour. Even so, the Monster got him and it now drags us toward an abyss.

      I echo devilman's cynicism. But we should use that anger to prepare because we all know, deep down, that this house of cards is coming down. The big picture is collapse. We had best be prepared for it. I realize it's not much fun to talk about preparing for disaster, not like batting around politics and current events, but if we don't come back to reality-- the implacable reality of no food, no currency, no working economy-- we are the proverbial fools building houses on the sand. I pray better for each one here. Let's not lose sight of the clear signs that disaster is just ahead. Forewarned is forearmed.


    10. ``...he's not smart, he doesn't read, he can't read, he has zero attention span, he doesn't listen`...

      Not at all unusual for the executive class.

      My manager often had to make presentations to his senior executive team - in a $500 million company.

      He had to make the presentations only with simple bullet points, no longer than one page in total.

      Because they didn`t read and had no patience.

      They`re not like the rest of us.


    11. @Frank, we may assume that's because they don't read. I think the reality is that they read quite a lot and have so much going on that they don't have time for rambling BS.

    12. @Anono, I'm with you. I came to prepper world late, now I'm furiously playing catchup. My biggest concern is no power: there's a reason Zhou opened the power grid to China. I'm sure that's the payment they demanded for services rendered. America cannot be defeated in a direct attack, but taking out the grid would destroy us within 6-9 months.

      My civil servant friend in energy security told me that we only need to hold out for six months because that's how long it takes to expedite replacement of one of the big transformers. But when I asked him who makes them, he replied they come from Germany, to which I responded "your plan depends on Germany?" Then he asked me for a reference to my solar generator research.

      I know every generation does this, but...I've been studying Revelations, and we bear a striking resemblance to Mystery Babylon. There's not space to enumerate the many literal similarities. But I'm fascinated by the fact that she sits on the scarlet beast (v17:3) but the beast hates her and will devour and burn her up (v17:16); for all her power and luxurious splendor, she will be taken down in one day (v18:8) and the world economy is devastated by her destruction (vv18:11-19).

      I'm close to concluding that this describes America, or rather the America that is emerging from the globalist-establishment cabal that has stolen our republic. But how long do we have? I'm not sure that America can yet be described as having shed the blood of the prophets and saints (18:24) but that day, which once seemed remote, now looks like it could break out tomorrow. But the seventh king only remains a little while (17:10).

      Like I said, every generation does this. I know it, and so I've ignored it for thirty years. Revelation is tricky ground. You have to be heavily steeped in Old Testament prophecy to make any sense of it. Even then, what is the line between symbolism and reality? We know that we cannot know the day or the hour, but that does not mean we cannot recognize the season that we live in.

    13. The government--as well as the scientific world--is full of people with glib responses like that.

  4. McMaster, Mattis, and I believe Kelly came recommended by Condoleeza Rice. Or so I read. Some seem to forget or disregard the fact that the good news was that President Donald Trump was a Beltway outsider and the bad news was that he was a Beltway outsider. He knew the territory in NYC. He came into office not knowing the territory in DC. He had to rely on “trusted others” to help him with cabinet and other appointments. He was effectively at their mercy.

    HH, when I was a baby bride working in the office at the Marine Corps Supply Depot in Barstow (CA), we used to watch lieutenant colonels come and go, just as you describe. I was only there a year until my husband was discharged, but I saw and heard a lot. Continuing education.

  5. A writer at American Thinker disputes use of the word "liberal" and makes a VERY good case that the word "progressive" instead--thus, it is not Liberalism which leads to tyranny but Progressivism. It's still a God-less system, which would disturb Plato, Aristotle, and every other real Western political thinker.

    As to whether Trump was 'dumb' and 'didn't read'--one only has to refer to GWBush who, according to his worshipful allies "read a lot of books" and was "very smart." OK, then. /sarc.

    A religious revival will re-orient this country in the right direction, and they have happened a few times in our history. Whether atheists like it or not, the remedy to Totalitarianism (the actual threat/tyranny) is a prevailing recognition of God, 'separate' from the State but superior to it.

  6. And yet through all of this, Biden, if we can believe the lickspittle press, is a popular president, a 'nice guy.' His programs and initiatives are completely insane, the man is an actual wrecking ball, and the average American, some 70-odd million of them, or more, still don't get it.

    That's the hill we have to climb. Noxious as the media and Deep State are, none of it would be happening without a largely complicit population.

  7. Titan, oh I think everybody gets it. Deep State is playing the race card to hold everything in suspended animation. Nobody wants civil war 2.0, never mind how likely that is (not very likely at all). Everyone is coming to grips with the Meaning of Trump. The Meaning of Trump is this- President Obama is a myth. Radical Leftist Obama is the man. In order to properly appreciate the achievement and consequence of the actual man (his true place in history if you will, as the first African American President, as well as in and by his true accomplishments in office for good or ill) we All need to let go of the myth of Obama The President. Trump has come along to try to help the nation do that, to demystify the office, and the role, and the progressive man who occupied just before him. But we're resisting that demystification, aren't we? Mark A