Two cheers for exit-as-threat, or dialectical lumpenconservatism

I sure hope Elias Isquith is right about this:

… the Tea Party’s philosophy of government (again, as understood by Salam) has embedded within it an aversion to basic democratic principles that goes far beyond a typical contempt for Washington, politicians and pundits. … He’s describing a childish and essentially anti-political belief that a return to an Articles of Confederation-style U.S. order — in which each state is more of a sovereign unto itself than a member of a larger American whole — will produce 50 mini-nations where everyone basically agrees.

It’s strange to me that someone would object to a pluralistic world in which he could wait months for medical procedures in Bennington while I stock up on assault weapons in Sedona. Call it a patchwork, or an archipelago, whatever you call it we’re dealing with an ambi-ideological concept. Anyway, it must be crushed:

If the basic, irresolvable questions of identity that each generation must answer for itself — What do we value? Whom do we respect? What do we want from each other? What do we demand of ourselves? — are no longer contested, then, really, what’s the point? Just appoint a CEO of State for life, a charismatic technocrat to make sure the trains are running on time, and be done with it.

That isn’t a bad suggestion, but perhaps he doth protest too much. See, it’s not dictatorship he finds so distasteful, it’s that people could peaceably agree to disagree about those questions he says are “irresolvable.” Almost, you know, the opposite of a dictatorship. I asked him on Facebook what he thought about the Hawaiian independence movement, which despite containing the only significant royalist sentiment in America today, is generally supported by the academic left because of its anti-colonial sympathies. I haven’t gotten an answer yet.

Perhaps I don’t deserve one, because someone who considers concepts like this isn’t just wrong, or unpatriotic per the thrust of his essay, they are pathological:

…the animating spirit of Teatopia is also, at its core, childish. It reflects a psychological makeup that privileges certainty, loathes ambiguity, celebrates purity and is awash with a mild but persistent sense of vulnerability and fear.

*****

Now, let’s acknowledge that it’s perfectly reasonable to fear a modern thought-complex, for which Mr. Isquith serves as a reliable conduit, that is quite explicit about its need to eliminate any alternatives. As the American regime continues to deteriorate, this ideological enforcement can only get more intense.

There remains a large number of flyover country denizens who don’t cotton to this sort of Yankee bullying. My working theory is that as the liberal order grows more intolerable, they will react in increasingly dramatic, more exit-driven and anti-democratic ways. Matters of geography or demographics or sovereignty don’t even enter into the center-right conversation, so there’s bound to be a struggle there too.

There are four steps; at the moment the tea party is between one and two:

  1. Primary challenges
  2. Article V convention
  3. Nullification and interposition
  4. Secession

The shift from number one to number two is the most important conceptual awakening in the process. It involves an awareness that the country they wish to see will never exist without the threat of withdrawing consent. That’s what an Article V is, reclaiming the authority of we the people, which at least according to the letter of the Constitution, is the highest authority in the land.

Antony notes in one of his recent essays, that “if you are only using your exit as a threat to gain more voice, you’re not using exit, you’re using voice. In that case, you’ve already lost The Game.” Maybe so, but consider this: Every constitutional amendment passed so far has gone through Congress, but often under the threat of state-level action, petitions in the works, and so on. In the short-term, this is how amendments are likely to come. In the medium to long term, as the Democratic Party increasingly controls national politics and conservative strength continues to concentrate at the state and local level, you’re more likely to see a proper Article V.

A good liberal like Isquith should bear in mind that this is definitely an optimistic — I’d be the first to admit perhaps overly so — vision for the path America’s lumpenconservative movement is likely to traverse. It’s certainly better than the alternative; as we know, #NotAllRightWingPopulists seek to withdraw.

*****

What are the stakes of this? Well, if you ask Micklethwait and Wooldridge, quite high. The Economist editor and right-hand man really do see Chinese authoritarian capitalism as an existential threat to the Western way of life. They’re very much on the side of liberal democracy, and want to play the part of the coaches who help us “get fit,” to quote the phrase Micklethwait when Mark and I saw him at AEI. I have major doubts about whether that’s going to happen at all, and more troubling for someone like Isquith, sometimes the Reagans and Thatchers behind what they call this “Fourth Revolution” look more like Powells and Modis.

The deeper question is whether or not the only meaningful way to compete with Chinese authoritarian capitalism is with Western authoritarian capitalism. This is why the free cities project is important.

But on the basic level of political organization, I’m not sure why someone with Isquith’s political commitments is so resistant to the idea of a polycentric order. He is sincere, but misguided; the gods of the copybook headings will have their way, and they care much less than Economist editors whether the fixer is a Modi or a Reagan. Wouldn’t it be better to find a way out from under them? Wouldn’t that be better for the left’s goals too?

Or would he rather have an American Pinochet?

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2 comments

  1. I doubt the Tea Party will make it past step one. Nullification and secession are artifacts of the 19th century more than viable political programs. Article V sets ridiculously high barriers to constitutional amendment, so constitutional change occurs rarely, through informal protests and social movement, as constitutional scholars like Sanford Levinson, Larry Kramer, Akhil Amar, and Bruce Ackerman note. The Tea Party’s best hope is to keep the social movement/electoral strategy.

    Still, a provocative piece

    Like

  2. I think we’re seeing a lot more of #3 than #2 right now. Cliven Bundy, the protests in Marietta, and numerous legal challenges to the authority of the federal government, are all forms of #3. Trying to block the actions of the government, or limit its authority, are somewhere in between Voice and Exit – particularly in States’ Rights or localist formulations; they’re using Voice to engineer a partial Exit.

    Like

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