I am not sure why yesterday’s post about Andrew Sullivan elicited comments about whether or not he is a conservative. Obviously, it depends on what you mean by conservative. Right now, there is only one true conservative in the presidential race, and, after tonight, there will probably not be any. Among the things that Republican voters are not looking for is … conservatism. It looks as though they are going to get their wish.
For my part I find redeeming social value in Sullivan’s thoughts on Plato’s warning about democracy. Not so much because I agree, but because the description is apt. Besides, it is always good to consider the thoughts of great minds… and Plato certainly counts among them.
Plato deemed democracy to be the breeding ground for tyranny, and, as you know, America’s Founding Fathers were so fearful of it that they established a constitutional republic, one that was not only less likely to fall into the hands of a tyrant, but, was also less likely to fall into multicultural anarchy.
As Sullivan points out correctly, the checks and balances of the constitution have been beaten down. Worse yet, all aspects of everyday life have been politicized. The reason is not so much because we have become more democratic, but because we are being tyrannized by the intellectual and media elite. The cure for this tyranny is a return to the constitution, not an incipient tyrant.
Strangely enough, today's America corresponds to the type of government that Plato would have favored. He did not quite understand that a nation governed by a guardian class of philosopher-kings would resemble what we have now. This elite has reconfigured and reconstructed society to fulfill Platonic ideals of equality and justice.
However much truth lies in the notion that people turn to tyrants to impose order on social chaos, it is also true that people turn to incipient tyrants because they feel that they have been tyrannized by an unelected and often invisible elite.
As for the traditional ways of imposing order on social chaos, we should mention that warfare, especially when it involves mass mobilization, can and has served that purpose in the past.
In Plato’s thinking, Sullivan explains, democracy tends toward the greatest freedom and equality. It is not so much the freedom of free will and fair play as the freedom of the free-for-all. And it does not value the equality of equal opportunity as much as it promotes the equality that erases all differences. Equal means no one is better or worse. Thus, no one need feel ashamed of failure and no one has any incentive to improve.
The inhabitants of Plato’s version of democracy have been dehumanized, deprived of the social ties, their cultural traditions and even their labor. They are living to fulfill an ideal, not living to promote social harmony. We recall that the greatest twentieth centuries tyrannies, Communist governments always claimed to be democracies.
Democracy, for him, I discovered, was a political system of maximal freedom and equality, where every lifestyle is allowed and public offices are filled by a lottery. And the longer a democracy lasted, Plato argued, the more democratic it would become. Its freedoms would multiply; its equality spread. Deference to any sort of authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat; and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would create a city or a country like “a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues.”
In Plato’s ideal democracy, there is no deference to authority and no respect for achievement. Intellectual elites resent the fact that they do not control the means of production, so they vilify and diminish those that do.
After a time everyone is being threatened with reprisals for thinking the wrong thought… so they meekly acquiesce to their ideological overlords.
One of his New York City readers wrote in to say that her 14-year-old daughter had just finished dressing in a city locker room when a grown man stepped from the showers wearing only a towel. Girls as young as seven were present, and they were staring at the man with “concerned expressions.” The reader ends her e-mail with, “It sucks to be a parent these days.”
This is how culture wars are lost: through the slow accumulation of individually defensible but collectively unjustifiable decisions not to resist. It’s the decision that objecting during diversity training simply isn’t worth the hassle. It’s the decision not to say anything when you see a colleague or fellow student facing persecution because of their beliefs. It’s a life habit of always taking the path of least resistance, keeping your head down, and doing your best to preserve your own family and career. The small fights don’t matter anyway, right?
I recently spoke to a mid-level executive at a major corporation who had been forced to sit through mandatory “inclusivity” training. The topic was transgender rights, and the trainer proceeded to spout far-left ideology as fact, going so far as to label all who disagreed with the notion that a man can become a woman “transphobic.” I asked if anyone objected to any part of the training, and the response was immediate. “Are you crazy? No one wants to deal with HR.”
Of course, no culture progresses naturally into the form we are now seeing. Human beings do not willingly give up their freedom. They might be tricked out of it; they might be talked out of it; they might be forced to give it up. Cultures do not just become overly infatuated with ideals.They are transformed when a group of people hijacks the culture and imposes its will on everyone else.
More importantly, Plato’s and Sullivan’s failure to see that this cultural revolution is really a coup d’etat absolves those in charge of all responsibility.
I quote Sullivan’s rendering of Plato:
This rainbow-flag polity, Plato argues, is, for many people, the fairest of regimes. The freedom in that democracy has to be experienced to be believed — with shame and privilege in particular emerging over time as anathema. But it is inherently unstable. As the authority of elites fades, as Establishment values cede to popular ones, views and identities can become so magnificently diverse as to be mutually uncomprehending. And when all the barriers to equality, formal and informal, have been removed; when everyone is equal; when elites are despised and full license is established to do “whatever one wants,” you arrive at what might be called late-stage democracy. There is no kowtowing to authority here, let alone to political experience or expertise.
As I said, the new cultural values are not popular values. They are imposed by a different group of elites. And, as French pointed out, one is obliged to kowtow to their authority. If you don’t it’s bad for your career and bad for business.
In Plato’s democracy, patriarchy becomes a relic, children no longer respect their parents or teachers, no one has a sense of shame, animals are regarded as equal to people and foreigners are made equal to citizens. Does this not sound like what passes for today’s progressive agenda. The only difference is that "progressive" is a misnomer. It is regressive and atavistic. It has nothing to do with progress.
In Sullivan’s words:
The very rich come under attack, as inequality becomes increasingly intolerable. Patriarchy is also dismantled: “We almost forgot to mention the extent of the law of equality and of freedom in the relations of women with men and men with women.” Family hierarchies are inverted: “A father habituates himself to be like his child and fear his sons, and a son habituates himself to be like his father and to have no shame before or fear of his parents.” In classrooms, “as the teacher ... is frightened of the pupils and fawns on them, so the students make light of their teachers.” Animals are regarded as equal to humans; the rich mingle freely with the poor in the streets and try to blend in. The foreigner is equal to the citizen.