Driven Crazy by Ideology

Driven Crazy by Ideology

Last Friday, Michael Barone, the dean of American conservative political commentators, penned a fascinating column that buttresses an idea we have been noodling over and about which we wrote late last year.  Barone wrote as follows:

Amid news that Donald Trump is about to be indicted by a hyperpartisan prosecutor and of his hysterical responses, and prompted by vagrant reading about the War of 1812 and Woodrow Wilson’s violations of civil liberties in World War I, a thought occurred to me. America seems to go crazy every 50 years or so….

Start with the War of 1812, about 50 years after colonies’ Stamp Act protests. There’s a touch of absurdity here….

Almost exactly 50 years later, the U.S. plunged into civil war….

Fast forward 50 years to the only American president who spent his boyhood in the Confederacy, watching Sherman march into South Carolina, Woodrow Wilson. After Congress, with 56 dissenters, voted to enter World War I, Wilson superintended the overbroad 1917 Espionage Act….

Fifty years ago, America saw a tripling, roughly, of violent crime and welfare dependency in a decade, even as prison populations were reduced and police delegitimized. A rash of hundreds of violent bombings was followed by serious government misconduct….

America was going crazy again, on schedule.

And so it has in the last few years.

You should, as they say, read the whole thing.  And as you do, you should keep in mind that we made a similar argument last December, although we couched it in less pragmatic, more ideological terms:

So, here’s how the story goes, at least as we’re working through it:

First came the Enlightenment, which purposefully destroyed the old moral order, promising to replace it with a new order based exclusively on Reason.  Given that the Enlightenment both caused and bled into the French Revolution, we’ll say that the post-Enlightenment period begins around 1799, with Napoleon’s ascent to power and the end of the revolution.

From that point to when Stirner wrote The Ego and Its Own was 45 years.  From Napoleon to the composition of The German Ideology – which was Marx and Engel’s angry and desperate retort to Stirner (mostly), was 47 years.  And from Napoleon to the publication of The Communist Manifesto was 49 years.  The point here is that it took roughly 45-50 years from the culmination of the Enlightenment/Revolution period for Marx to develop a worldview and program that attempted both to capture the spirit of the Enlightenment and to dismiss the warnings of Stirner.

This completes the first epoch.

We’ll pin the start of the second epoch in 1867 with the publication of the first volume of Marx’s Kapital, his magnum opus.  From 1867 to the publication of History and Class Consciousness by György Lukács was 56 years….

In order to get the Marxist program back on track, Lukacs – plus Gramsci, plus Adorno, et al. – had to fight back against the ascension of the Ego, against the selfish rejection of communism for the satisfaction of the self.  Cultural Marxism and its long march through the institutions constituted the plan for that fight.

Forty-one years into the cultural Marxists’ long march, however, a fellow traveler – Herbert Marcuse – simply conceded defeat.  His book, One-Dimensional Man, was a eulogy for the Long March, a primal scream in frustration at the prescience of Stirner, and, most notably, a blueprint in its own right for advancing the cause and promoting the revolutionary mindset….

Marcuse’s book is now 58 years old.  If we assume that these epochs last somewhere between 45 and 65 years, then end of the current one is nigh.

Barone says 50 years.  We say 45-65 years.  Barone says everything goes crazy.  We say the ideology of the Left runs headlong into reality.  Barone says this is an American occurrence.  We say it is a broadly Western occurrence.

In short, there are differences between what Barone is describing and what we are describing, yet we have a hunch that we’re all attempting to come to grips with the same essential phenomenon.  Barone is recounting its outward effects, while we’re attempting to get to the heart of its ideological and cultural causes.

We don’t think we can make the War of 1812 fit particularly well into our narrative.  And we’d probably struggle for a while to make the case for the Civil War.  We might chalk those up to coincidence.  As for the next three – the Progressive Era’s ideological growing pains, the convulsions of the 1960s, and today’s peak-woke moment – all three are, we’d say, inarguably part of the process we explicate.

Mark Steyn has long argued that when the future history of the current era is written, the British Empire and America’s reign as a superpower will be seen as a single event of Anglo-American global dominance.  We think he’s right.

Likewise, we think that the intellectual upheaval from the Enlightenment to Marx to the rise of the cultural Left to the Marcusian identitarian revolution to our current era of woke (and likely beyond) will be seen similarly, as a single recurring Millenarian fantasy, modified slightly and reenergized every half-century or so.  The impetus for the modification and subsequent re-energization is always the realization that the whole damn mess is a load of hooey.  The fantasy cannot survive contact with reality and is, therefore reborn anew.  Or, as we put it in December, the secular religion born of the Enlightenment, codified by Marx, culturalized by Gramsci and Lukacs, and rearranged by Marcuse finds itself, every 50 or so years, unable to overcome the masses’ egos, to overcome man’s unwillingness to join this religion any more fervently than any other religions.

In other words, the bouts of “craziness” detailed by Michael Barone are, in truth, the external reactions of the ideological true believers to their unexpected contact with sanity and reality.  They are throwing a fit, one that indicates both a failure of their faith and the onset of a reformation of sorts.

How that reformation will progress is anyone’s guess.  All we can say with any certainty is that our kids and grandkids will likely deal with its eruption into nuttiness sometime in the 2070s.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.