What was it the Mayans said about 2012? Anyway, about last week: it could have gone better.
Let’s be honest here. The political future is bleak. A good portion of the populace would prefer the sham security of the state to liberty, with all the wondrous uncertainty that it entails. We can try to convince people, but it’s not that they don’t understand freedom; it’s that they don’t want it. It’s not that they don’t see the value of local control; it’s that they don’t want to take the responsibility themselves. As Ross Douthat explains: “Lesson of this election is always bail out, never touch entitlements.”
We took a beating, but that doesn’t end the world. From Deadwood (language alert):
I have no illusions about what Romney or the Republicans would have done if things had gone differently last week. If the Republicans had won we would have faced the same frustration that followed 2004, and 2000, and 1988, and 1984…etc. Things would have continued more or less in the same statist direction. Nevertheless, I do see the election as a clear ratification of statism in a way that a Romney victory was not. Even though Romney offered little in the way of an alternative, it was at least an opportunity for the electorate to say, “Well, to hell with this!” even though they would have to say the same thing in four years. That didn’t happen. If anything, the parties will both shift to the left (an illegitimate political term from the French Revolution, but you know what I mean). Certain encouraging trends that Kelse notes aside, it still means a repudiation of traditionalist and libertarian ideas. I’m happy we have those eight good YAL-endorsed candidates, but we have little else.
However, it is possible that the Republican Party will not shift to the left and become more statist, but more libertarian. It’s a dubious statement given the likely political fallout, but nonetheless it is probable that libertarians will have a larger microphone within the opposition party in the coming years. Neoconservative Bill Kristol affirmed the increasing presence of the Pauls and their type in the future of the Republican Party on Fox News. Apparently a hard pill for him to swallow.
I’m ambivalent as to whether this is a good thing. On the one hand, I like the Pauls for reasons Ben outlined before and I look forward to the increasing presence of Rand Paul on the national stage; on the other, many who claim to support them are fools. So when we say that followers of the Pauls will have an increasing role in the Republican Party, I don’t know that it will be a good thing for reasons that will become clear below.
Everyone, including the talking heads in the video posted above, have asserted that conservatives have lost on social issues. Maybe they’re right. In 1980, two thirds of people defined the family as father, mother, and children. Today, one third or less define it that way. All social conservative values essentially trend around the central place of the family. A decline in the traditional (as in the basic mom, pop, kids) understanding of the family tracks a decline in social conservative values. Many libertarians deny that the changing attitudes are a problem. Like the nineteenth century utilitarians they hate the intermediary institutions that circumscribe the individual, the family most of all. It alone is able to shape individuals from the cradle through all of their formative years. They see the collapse of the family as only one more step in the march of individual freedom. Unfortunately, in my experience, the Pauls pull a lot of support from this brand of libertarian.
The problem that should concern libertarians—and does concern traditionalists—is that the family is the unit that trains people to be self-sufficient and provides them with a financial (and emotional) safety net to keep them free from the need for government aid. Persons without that background will turn to the state to provide that security. If a kid wanted to go to college, the family would rally around and provide the means to get him there or at least co-sign on the loan. If he wanted to start a business, he would turn to his family for the starter loan. At least then, if the kid couldn’t make the payments he would have to work it off for mom and dad or dad’s brother Sam. But what if kids don’t have two parents? What if the only possible back up plan is to stick it to Uncle Sam (the proverbial Uncle Sam, not their actual Uncle Sam) when they don’t get a job or can’t make the payments?
No amount of ratiocination regarding the free market (and I like the free market) will convince them that their lives will be worse without guaranteed healthcare and guaranteed retirement funds and all the rest. The local community composed of family and friends used to provide for individuals financially when times were tough. Now we just turn to Ole’ Uncle Sam. The election is an indication that more and more people see things that way, either because they can’t imagine an alternative or because they aren’t willing to take the risk.
This is another way of saying that persons are more than homo economicus. Libertarians often make the same mistake as Marxists in thinking that people are only their economic interests: appeal to those and you win. The fact is, you don’t. Which is both reason for encouragement and discouragement. On the one hand, we have the trends on filial decline noted above: that’s the bad news. On the other hand, it means that we can still articulate a case for traditionalism and libertarianism and actually have a chance of prevailing.
This is all to say that the pre-political matters for politics. The political outcome of any election will only reflect the possibilities inherent in the pre-political elements already in place. The question then is: how can we influence those?
So let’s turn now to an oldie but goodie, Albert J. Nock’s 1936 essay in The Atlantic, “Isaiah’s Job.” Nock was notorious for his belief that speaking to the multitude was useless. He believed he was speaking to a Remnant who would endure through the contemporary civilizational crisis and rebuilt civilization once it became possible again. He uses the prophet Isaiah as the symbol for the man God calls to minister to the Remnant. Isaiah, however, is confused as to his role. It doesn’t seem like any significant portion of the people will listen to him.
“Ah,” the Lord said, “you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.”
It’s a great article. The problem is that it works from the premise of despair. Whatever traditionalists and libertarians want to say about the Republican Party and its presidential candidate, the election was still a repudiation of our values and ideas. People by and large embrace what Obama offers. This isn’t reason to despair. Renewal is possible among many people, not just a purported Remnant that will rebuild when all has fallen. Historically, it’s happened under worse circumstances.
What are we to do? Remember the scene from Deadwood above:
The world ends when you’re dead. Until then you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man and give some back.
Edmund Burke reportedly said something similar, “Never despair, but if you do, work in despair.” Kelse could be right; renewal could be on the horizon. Either way, whether for the Remnant or for the masses, we’ll keep blogging and attempting to articulate those permanent values that become clearer to us as we study and discuss the traditions of order and liberty we inherited.