People who “think ahead,” like Prometheus, have always constructed Utopias which are the outflow of their reflections and ideas—in other words, of their ideologies. On the other hand, most Americans who call themselves “conservatives” manifest a hostility towards ideologies and even more towards Utopias.
“Ideology” as a term was invented by Count Destutt de Tracy, used ironically by Napoleon, stuck by Marx onto “bourgeois” thinkers and, finally, applied by Lenin to all systems of political, social, economic, and cultural thought. The Germans, before 1945, called it Weltanschauung, but National Socialism made it an “unword.” It disappeared from almost everywhere, to be replaced by Ideologie, ideologia, ideology. Many people will tell you that ideologies have caused untold harm and been responsible for millions of human deaths. This, unfortunately, is equally true of religions. But there are religions that effectively preach love, others that preach love but don’t practice it, and still others—like that of the Shiite “assassins”—that preach sanctified violence. Ideologies also can be totalitarian, bellicose and repressive, or have tolerance and freedom built into them.
A relative uniformity of thought exists in the English-speaking nations. This consensus is based largely on a common frame of reference that is lacking in the Old World. Yet North America and Britain are not much given to general ideas. The burning genius of Burke does not hide from us his disgust for abstractions: “I even hate the sound of the words which express them.” Even so, it would be a colossal error to believe that “Anglo-Saxonry” is strictly unideological. Man is an ideological creature who creates either streamlined, logically foolproof and consistent ideologies, or sloppily constructed ones with inner contradictions. “American liberalism” is a classic example of the second kind.
In many cases what we might call “Americanism” is a mixture of varying beliefs which almost, but not quite, form an organic whole—a belief in progress, human equality, democracy, a certain anti-elitism and an affirmation of freedom. More often than not, “American ideology” will blend in religion, hardly aware that the Bible contains a solid message of human inequality and that equality and liberty are irreconcilable. When William Dean Howells observed that “Inequality and Freedom” are the basic American ideals, he obviously had in mind sentiments and not an ideological program. Human beings are not equal, least of all in the eyes of God. If Judas Iscariot is equal to St. John the Baptist, Christianity can close shop.
All this has to do with the American Tragedy. To begin with, there never was an American Revolution in 1776, only a War of Independence. Unfortunately, there later came the influence of the French Revolution—1828 marks a real watershed in American history, as Henry Adams noted. Charles Beard told us in so many words that the Founding Fathers hated democracy more than Original Sin. Jefferson’s remark that we are “created equal” is, unfortunately, the words of a slave-owner who merely wanted to point out that “our British brethren” are not superior to Americans and have no right to rule over them. And the continuation of the American Tragedy has to be found in this century, when America is engaged in jihads to make the world safe for a French ideology!
Whittaker Chambers denied that he was a conservative (a term, in America, embracing everyone from crypto-monarchists to anarchists) and called himself a rightist. Allan Bloom, in his Closing of the American Mind, insists that all great Europeans (starting with Socrates) were men of the right. He should have added that this was equally true of the great Americans from Cotton Mather to Orestes Brownson to Henry Adams and Irving Babbitt. Goethe said that legislators and revolutionaries promising equality together with liberty are dreamers or frauds.
Looking at the efforts to realize the Marxist utopia in the USSR, one must admit that for the people born in this godless monastery it is a complete failure. For the West, on the other hand, this “vision” remains a blood-chilling menace regardless of its record. The Soviet leadership has an ideology and thus a mission. We only have a Constitution as a mere frame, with no picture in it. The Communists have a picture, which attracts millions outside the USSR, including willing collaborators from the highest social ranks of the half-educated. Even a wicked picture is better than none.
Talking frequently to people in a variety of countries about Chile, I’ve found so many who insist that Chile should revert to democracy and have free and unfettered elections. “As Germany had in 1932?” I ask, whereupon I get a blank stare. So it is really the frame which is all-important. The democratic ideology—yes, it is, after all, an ideology—is “numeralistic.” While the USSR, led by a global concept of an all-embracing utopia, advances in power, we go on counting noses. What great alternative, what Utopia, has America’s traditional conservatism been offering the nation? Rightism ought to be the apostle of eternal values in the light of divine revelation and the global historical experience, not just a spirited defender of the status quo within a purely local horizon. Hermann Borchardt said in his The Conspiracy of the Carpenters: “For we, too, my friends are partisans . . . We too . . . we Christian conservatives, are, let us hope, an international party; and if we are not as yet, we mean to become one. The difference between the Urbanites and us is not, then, that they are international and we national. I hope not: a national party in our day is about as important as a bridge club or an association of canary breeders. No, the difference is that we are the party of God, while they are the party of Satan, the Lord of the World.”
The trouble with American conservatism is its perplexity about the future, the lack of vision, the absence of radical alternatives. In a lecture I gave years ago at Hillsdale College, I dealt with this great weakness in American conservatism and reproached American conservatives for not having given young Americans a program, a blueprint, a Utopia. A movement that will really succeed needs a pictorial vision for which men and women will toil, make sacrifices, and, if necessary, die. To my delight, I received not only applause but a standing ovation.
Too many conservatives, too many Americans believe that with the Constitution of 1787 and the democratizing (“gallicizing”) Amendments our political wisdom had reached its fullest and final maturity. However, as Disraeli declared, “Finality is not the language of politics.” We must bear in mind that foreign affairs and defense—once mere footnotes to the American political scene—are today key problems of our physical survival. In 1952, Dean Acheson, Truman’s last secretary of state, told a friend of mine that it had been his tragic task in an atomic age to form and fashion the foreign policy of a superpower that still had the constitution of a small farmer’s republic dating back to the 18th century. Acheson did not mention the “French connection” of America’s constitutional development, which brought the US the most government of the lowest quality. Of course, the Founding Fathers wanted minimal government of the highest quality. Andrew Jackson naively declared in his first presidential message that “the duties of all public officers are, or at least admit of being made, so plain and simple that men of intelligence may readily qualify themselves for their performance.” Unfortunately, the results of this highly democratic conviction have been disastrous.
Both the masses and the experts are unanimous in their opinion of the “peoples’ representatives” all over the globe—the words “politics” and “politicians” have universally assumed a highly negative character. Unavoidably, the abyss between the scita and the scienda, the actual knowledge and the necessary knowledge for reaching sound political decisions, increases by leaps and bounds. This is equally true of the voters and of those they elect. In the end, the uneducated elect the quarter-educated who, in turn, receive in total confusion the conflicting advice of the half-educated. The lack of knowledge and resulting conviction create a parliamentary race of men and women whose single purpose in life is to be elected or reelected, even at the price of sacrificing everything—sanity, integrity, conscience—for that one purpose.
Parliaments, we must remember, were created as legislative, not policymaking bodies. They might best be replaced by lobbies honestly and openly arguing in dialogue with the government. Democracy (mentioned neither in the Declaration nor in the Constitution) is not rational. Not a single tenet of democracy can be verified scientifically, and its only future can be its evolution into a secular religion. There can be little doubt that a metamorphosis in that direction has already taken place, vide the violent indignation of closed minds if the dogmas of democracy are challenged. As dogma, however, it is bound to fail, because such a “faith” has to deliver its goods right here on earth.
The German example shows that the ideological fabric of liberal democracy was (and is) terribly brittle. In the free elections with proportional representation from 1930 to 1932, the German liberal democratic parties disappeared almost totally, because their supporters and the habitual nonvoters turned “brown.” The strictly ideological or religious parties kept their devotees to the bitter end. Marxists, monarchists, and Catholics often paid with their lives for their convictions, while Jews paid for their race, and Catholic Jews for both. But there were no liberal democratic martyrs in the Third Reich. Who in Russia fought the Bolsheviks in the civil war against overwhelming odds? Christians, monarchists, and anarchists—certainly not liberal democrats!
Genuine liberals in Europe have always realized that a total lack of ideological conviction is, in the long run, incompatible with the human condition. Ludwig von Mises shuddered at the possibility that the masses might choose the wrong ideologies. Friedrich August von Hayek told us that without an ideology no society can exist longer than 24 hours, and he regretted that real liberalism was unable to produce a utopia. James Buchanan, another Nobel laureate, demanded the creation of a “mild” utopia. No sensible human being, in his younger years at least, can dream of a full life without a fairly concrete vision of what he wants to become, to achieve, to represent, and of the world he wants to inhabit. No nation can organically survive without envisioning a specific role, a real task, an honorable mission.
What will we in the Western world do when democracy comes to an end? When people realize that the answers to the momentous problems facing them no longer can be objectively and satisfactorily explained by television? When they reach the conclusion that their “leaders” are as confused as they themselves? When they find out that democracy is dominated by a Gresham’s Law? (Are we not all “elitists”? Don’t we, if gravely ill and able to afford it, call for the very best physician and not for the most popular?)
A sudden end of democracy? The Middle Ages were characterized by an absolute contempt for an ignorant, stupid, lazy, and immoral clergy—a situation taken for granted and contemplated with complete equanimity even by pious souls. This went on for centuries, until one nice day Martin Luther banged on the table, shouted his protest, and the Catholic Church lost all its northern domains (which were only partly recovered by the Counter-Reformation based on the Council of Trent). Only now we should expect not another Luther but another Hitler.
Quite a number of American conservatives are “populists” and believe in the superiority of intuition over the ignorance that characterizes so many people in the media, the administration, and at Ivy League universities. Modern industry and science, as well as the rapid shrinking of the globe, render rank amateurism in government not only obsolete, but a deadly threat. Thus technocracy and real expertise become more and more inevitable. Even Rousseau (one of the fathers of modern democracy) admitted in a lucid moment that to make democracy work properly, people ought to be gods.
What we need for the entire Western world is an ideology and a utopia, a vision for a possible good and right order for the requirements of our age, one that is based on eternal truths and values, recognizing the uniqueness of every human being—in other words, freedom. This implies, once again, minimal government of the highest quality acting with authority.
It is hard to envisage how such an organic ideology and Utopia could exist without a religious foundation. It should not be a mere manifestation of human “constructivism” (to use Hayek’s word). An intercontinental ideology ought to be neither a mere umbrella for rainy days, nor a straitjacket. There must be guaranteed liberties for the nonconformists, coupled with genuine freedom of expression—without, however, privileges for select groups; this would be a prescription for long-term ruin.
At present, unfortunately, we are facing The Enemy in utter nakedness. If we are to be spared a global war, we will have to resist intellectually, spiritually, and “sensitively.” The life-and-death struggle in this case will be between ideologies and Utopias. This is not an attractive prospect for an anti-ideological and anti-intellectual America, but sometimes we have to go against our own grain. Let us adopt the optimism of D.H. Lawrence, who told us: “Democracy is the utter hardening of the old skin, the old form, the old psyche. It hardens till it is tight and fixed and inorganic. Then it must burst, like a chrysalis shell. And out must come the soft grub, or the soft damp butterfly, of the American-at-last.” Let us make an effort to prove him right.