How Things Stand

In a democracy the rabble that is always with us can seize political power and drive the nation into the ground. The founding fathers knew the history of Athens, were watching France, and knew how democracies degenerate into tyrannies once that rabble, in its idiot pride, undiscipline, greed, ignorance, and incompetence, had its day. It is why they attempted to establish a res publica, which had democratic elements, but those elements were kept under control by a de facto meritocratic aristocracy, by which only, they knew, a government of, by, and for the people can long endure.

The United States is in fact a kind of practical utopian project, but as the wiser republicans like John Adams knew, the works of men have a natural tendency to degenerate, so that government of any kind is, in the end, only sustained by righteousness, which is not a natural human quality. The founders had also read their Bibles and knew what the story of Babel meant for would-be nation builders. So the Constitution could only be a good try at what eventually must fail, as all nations do—a reform rather than truly a novus ordo seclorum, as the idealists (as in France) would make it.

What is happening in the United States today is based in a breakdown of righteousness, which includes civic righteousness; those constituted structures of merit that hold the chaotic impulses of the rabble Id under control are losing their grip on the national soul. It is no coincidence that a decline in religious observance is accompanied by an increase in lawlessness and civic dissolution at all levels. The leadership, which at least gave uniform lip service to both religion and civic righteousness, is now in such a condition that it is possible to be an unabashed democrat in the old, malignant sense and hold public office. The changes in the Democratic Party since the sixties basically involve the reduction of its working class (under the aegis of the unions as the expression of a collective degenerative will—cf. Michael Moore) to mere appetitive rabble and the surrender of its rule to clevers who attempt to control the masses by ideology, Marxism being the most efficient, slogan-handy, and well-mapped of these.

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S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.

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