If Ted Williams bats third in the Red Sox lineup on opening day at Boston’s Fenway Park in A.D. 2115, then Peter Augustine Lawler’s worst nightmare will have been realized.

Lawler, a professor of government at Berry College in Georgia, has written Aliens in America as a jeremiad against the brave new biotech revolution that began with Prozac and cloned sheep at the end of the last century and may culminate in baseball idols and Walt Disney thawing out from their cryonic cocoons sometime in the third millennium.  Humanity, or what remains of it in suburbia, can avoid this ghastly fate only if America’s religious, ethical, and constitutional underpinnings are able to reverse what the author describes as the “libertarian and therapeutic drifts in American life.”

The villains of the book are Carl Sagan, Richard Rorty, and Francis Fukuyama.  The title is derived from Walker Percy’s Christian perspective, enunciated by Scripture and elucidated by Saint Augustine, that we are truly pilgrims or aliens on this planet, as our true home lies elsewhere.  Percy questioned why Sagan was preoccupied with scanning the heavens for aliens when “beings stranger than any extraterrestrials we could imagine are right here on earth.”  Like public broadcasting’s apostle of atheistic scientism, who somehow contrived to write a history of science without acknowledging any contribution from Pascal or other Christian thinkers, Rorty is another popularizer of noxious ideas, hell-bent on making us forget our true, limited (because mortal), and, consequently, alienated selves.

Rorty, allegedly “America’s most influential professor of philosophy,” would reduce his fellow Americans to automata concerned solely with comfort and pleasure.  Since “cruelty is the worst thing we do,” and hierarchy begets cruelty, the American project, under the tutelage of a civil religion that borrows heavily from Abraham Lincoln, must, perforce, be the ceaseless leveling of all distinctions.  Where once it was thought a bad thing to end up as Nietzsche’s “last man,” now it is the acme of civilization.  Rorty anathematizes Platonists, Christians, “rightist demagogues” such as Pat Buchanan, and even Marxists for being obsessed with the pursuit of truth.

Forgetting truth is the wisest course of action, said Fukuyama, now that we are either at, or near, the end of history.  (He is somewhat less assured today that we have attained liberal-democratic, global-capitalist nirvana than he was in 1989, when he was all the post-Cold War rage.)  Lawler brands Fukuyama a “teacher of evil,” citing his belief that liberal democracy is “completely satisfying to human nature.”  By “completely,” Fukuyama means that we can dispense with God.  In fact, all seekers after ultimate truth are dispensable.  Lawler says that Fukuyama 

wonders what the careers of tormented geniuses like Blaise Pascal or Nietzsche himself would have looked like had they been born to American parents and had Ritalin and Prozac available to them at an early age.  

For Fukuyama, social capital can never be lost, as it is rooted in nature, not tradition.  (With all of Fukuyama’s reductionism, is it not high time to quit referring to him as a “neo”—or any other type of—conservative?)

In subsequent chapters, Lawler casts about for something in the legacy of the Founding Fathers to stop this headlong rush toward oblivion.  However, he is not able to perform the trick in any coherent fashion because he regards all Straussians other than Fukuyama, from the late Allan Bloom to Harvey Mansfield to James Ceaser, as angelic (though Bloom’s reputation is beginning to unravel of late).  Two remarkable passages, however, indicate that Lawler has begun to stray: “The Declaration’s progressivism, its theology of liberation, is most unreasonable.  It is manifestly less reasonable than the Christian account of the Fall . . . ”; and “Perhaps, Lincoln’s identification of American religious passion with a merely political enterprise contributed to the nearly fatal weakening of American religious thought and sentiment we see now.” 

Might Lawler be lurching toward an assumption, implicit throughout the middle portion of the book, that, however great the Founding Fathers may have been, their handiwork, the federal Constitution, has likewise failed to provide a reliable political framework?  After all, during the early 19th century, John Randolph had pronounced it a “dead letter,” and everyone remembers back in 1987 how doddering Warren Burger tried vainly to rouse any interest in the bicentennial of the old document.  Justice David Souter does not care about it, does not reason from its premises, so why should you?

Lawler claims that, among America’s elite, the state appears to be withering away, a trend predicted by both Marx and his mid-20th century epigone, Alexandre Kojève.  Loathing nationalism, and obsessed with economics and lifestyle choices, bourgeois Americans “do not think of themselves much as citizens” and tend to avoid public service entirely.  Too bad for them, contends Carl Schmitt, for what they desire is a world of entertainment, devoid of seriousness.

A definitively pacified globe [Kojève’s “universal and homogeneous state”] would be a world without politics.  In such a world there could be various, perhaps very interesting, oppositions and contrasts, competitions and intrigues of all kinds, but no opposition on the basis of which it could sensibly be demanded of men that they sacrifice their lives.

(Leo Strauss himself recognized that, for Schmitt, “the affirmation of the political is ultimately nothing other than the affirmation of the moral.”) 

Aliens in America is unevenly written.  The writing in the first portion of the book flows well, displaying Lawler’s often-mordant wit.  Other sections are less felicitous.  For example: “And so the ironic philosophers or intellectuals humanely give ordinary people linguistic therapy.”  (Socrates ministering to Valley Girls, or those afflicted with Brooklynese, perhaps?)  This, like “postmodern” after “post-modern” cluttering up too many pages, attests to the effect of a misplaced concern for compressing complex ideas.  I was also taken aback by Lawler’s suggestion that Tocqueville was not a believing Christian.  Readers of The European Revolution & Correspondence with Gobineau, edited by John Lukacs, know that the Christian commitment of that great aristocratic visitor to Jacksonian America is incontrovertible.  Yet these are cavils.  Lawler has shown how the misinterpreters of Hegel—and they are legion—can devastate a great country.  And he has begun his long march through Straussianism, possibly never to return.


[Aliens in America: The Strange Truth About Our Souls, by Peter Augustine Lawler (Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books) 350 pp., $24.95]