As a friend of many years, who has often disagreed with Thomas Fleming, I especially appreciated his perspicacious article, “Topsy-Turvy” (Perspective), in the June issue of Chronicles. For in that article, amid his varied historical analogies and references, he prompted me not only to reconsider in a new light the formal constitutional language of Soviet democratic centralism, but to examine more closely what is now effectively a neo-Bolshevist quota system dialectically defined by “what you are not.” In his deft ironic reference to “the iron laws of social justice” and their currently enforced “dictates,” Dr. Fleming unveils an additionally deceitful, moral subversion: a “pluralistic dialectic” of “Solve et coagula.”
Lest these words appear too abstract, especially to those not so familiar with both Soviet constitutions and their explicit (and deceptive) use of the concept of democratic centralism, I wish to add two testimonies of very gifted and experienced men: one, a now-deceased, former Foreign Service officer (and beloved mentor of mine); and the other, a younger man, later a professor of law and now a federal judge, who was in a prominent position in the first Reagan administration, on the staff of David Stockman.
When, after his retirement from the Foreign Service, Stephen Koczak escorted several well-educated groups from the former Soviet Union throughout the United States during the years 1991-94, he always asked them—young and old, and from disparate backgrounds—what in the United States most reminded them of the Soviet era and Soviet system. He was very surprised by their almost invariant response: “Your quota system.” And they generally added, “It will kill you.”
In effect, those visitors spoke of “the iron laws of social injustice,” and the very embittering and enervating personal experience of such quotas of “arbitrary injustice”—which were often so seemingly desultory or aleatory—of which Alexander Solzhenitsyn has so memorably written, especially when seen from within the Gulag as it broke down the strongest of men. I was, therefore, reminded of all of this when I read Dr. Fleming’s discerning article and admonitory anticipations of how the submission to the dialectic logic of arbitrary “minority” entitlements will turn out.
When Stephen Koczak later heard about the quota system that was quietly put in place for admission to West Point—however variously the euphemisms strove to disguise it (“mainstreaming” and all that)—he was not surprised, but quite cautionary and eloquently against it. When I first learned of it reliably from some of my own West Point classmates, I told him what I had generally discovered, and it went something like this. After women were first admitted as cadets to West Point in 1976, the minority categories gradually became more differentiated and pluralistically expanded. At one point it was the case, as I confirmed, that there were five active-duty officers stationed at West Point whose mission was to recruit that same minority group, especially those who were purportedly among the “gifted and talented.”
But when I asked for a definition of those criteria, and also the essential difference between them, I was given only ambiguity and equivocation. For example, I asked, “What does ‘talented’ mean, in contradistinction to ‘gifted’—and talented in what? Sports? Street smarts? Knowledge of drug syndicates and ethnic gangs?” In my questioning, I was earnest and sincere and not at all sarcastic. Yet I received no clear and trustworthy answer.
After these insights about the nature and effects of a quota system, an unexpected complementary insight about the “devolution of power,” now coming from a younger man, might also confirm Dr. Fleming’s deeper understanding. For when this highly intelligent and vividly intuitive man told me, during our lengthy trip in a car, driving back from a Federalist Conference at Yale University, of his maturing experiences on David Stockman’s energetic staff, he suddenly said that he came to realize that the “evolution of power” has a “very different dynamic” from the “devolution of power.”
When I asked him to be a little more specific, he said that the first Reagan administration was convinced that they had a popular mandate “to get the government off our backs”—especially the federal government—and “to give power back to the several states”; and, moreover, that David Stockman and his staff were to be an important agent for helping to do just that. However, as Stockman’s assistant gradually and forcefully came to see, the state governments and their own bureaucratic nomenklatura did not want more power back from the feds (and thereby to be burdened with more responsibilities and accountability), despite what the citizenry unmistakably wanted, on the evidence of their overwhelming votes and petitions. Moreover, the state governments and their bureaucracies already had their convenient and profitable connections with the feds, and their own special “back channels,” to boot, when needed.
Thus did this discerning young man come to see that what Thomas Jefferson once saw as the great danger of a gradual growth of a “consolidated” government should now be seen, a fortiori, to be an even more intractable and viscous difficulty, convincingly to be recognized when one has tried to unconsolidate the state, as it were—the devolution of power being something distinctive in itself, and altogether a special form of inertia and spiritual sloth (acedia, accidie).
While closely reading Dr. Fleming’s keen-minded article, one of the fine phrases of the great C.E.M. Joad came back to me, from one of his own critiques of democracy: the “revolt of the louts.” Such a revolt, moreover, will be more likely as the “social solvents” and “coagulations” become more corrosive—especially in an increasingly incommensurate multicultural society, with its proud “moral pluralism.”
In addition to what Dr. Fleming said at the end of his article about “what is going to be, what is intended to be, the death-by-starvation of the American republic,” I would add, as well, “the death-by-asphyxiation”—asphyxiation by sophistry and untruth.
Thus we come to see in combination the deceits of democratic centralism, the subversive dialectic of quotas and atomizing pluralism, and the manifold barriers to the devolution of power.
Front Royal, VA