How Democracies Perish

Everybody agrees society is in a bad way, but what exactly is the main cause of the badness?

Some people emphasize economic issues’

People like me emphasize cultural issues. If you have 60 years of radical individualism and ruthless meritocracy, you’re going to end up with a society that is atomized, distrustful and divided.

Patrick Deneen ..  new book, “Why Liberalism Failed,”

.. democracy has betrayed its promises.

  • It was supposed to foster equality, but it has led to great inequality and a new aristocracy.
  • It was supposed to give average people control over government, but average people feel alienated from government.
  • It was supposed to foster liberty, but it creates a degraded popular culture in which consumers become slave to their appetites.

.. “Because we view humanity — and thus its institutions — as corrupt and selfish, the only person we can rely upon is our self. The only way we can avoid failure, being let down, and ultimately succumbing to the chaotic world around us, therefore, is to have the means (financial security) to rely only upon ourselves.”

..  Greek and medieval philosophies valued liberty, but they understood that before a person could help govern society, he had to be able to govern himself.

People had to be habituated in virtue by institutions they didn’t choose — family, religion, community, social norms.

.. Machiavelli and Locke, the men who founded our system made two fateful errors.

  1. First, they came to reject the classical and religious idea that people are political and relational creatures. Instead, they placed the autonomous, choosing individual at the center of their view of human nature.
  2. Furthermore, they decided you couldn’t base a system of government on something as unreliable as virtue. But you could base it on something low and steady like selfishness. You could pit interest against interest and create a stable machine. You didn’t have to worry about creating noble citizens; you could get by with rationally self-interested ones.

.. Liberalism claims to be neutral but it’s really anti-culture. It detaches people from nature, community, tradition and place. It detaches people from time. “Gratitude to the past and obligations to the future are replaced by a nearly universal pursuit of immediate gratification.”

.. Once family and local community erode and social norms dissolve, individuals are left naked and unprotected. They seek solace in the state. They toggle between impersonal systems: globalized capitalism and the distant state. As the social order decays, people grasp for the security of authoritarianism.

“A signal feature of modern totalitarianism was that it arose and came to power through the discontents of people’s isolation and loneliness,” he observes. He urges people to dedicate themselves instead to local community — a sort of Wendell Berry agrarianism.

.. Every time Deneen writes about virtue it tastes like castor oil — self-denial and joylessness.

.. Yes, liberalism sometimes sits in tension with faith, tradition, family and community, which Deneen rightly cherishes. But liberalism is not their murderer.



Manhood in the Age of Trump

Donald Trump, whose take on gender is decidedly old-fashioned and fixed. He casts himself — surprise! — as a force of nature with untamable appetites.

.. A real man lusts. A real man rages. A real man doesn’t chip in with domestic duties. That’s not just Trump’s view — he once boasted that he’d never change a diaper

.. plenty of American men live in what some sociologists call the Man Box, constricted by a concept of manhood that includes aggression, hypersexuality, supreme authority and utter self-sufficiency

.. When does Trump feel the most manly? That’s pretty obvious: when he’s salivating over women and styling himself some conquistador of the flesh, as he did repeatedly with Howard Stern and on one infamous occasion with Billy Bush. When he’s belittling and emasculating rivals (“Liddle Marco,” “low-energy Jeb”), as he did throughout his campaign. When he’s vowing vengeance against the House Freedom Caucus, as he did last week. When he’s surrounding himself with generals. When he’s pledging huge increases in military spending while moving to starve wonky research and the arts.

.. Those white crescent moons under his eyes suggest time spent wearing goggles during artificial tanning sessions.

.. men who registered narrow, clichéd instructions about manhood were more likely to act out in self-destructive ways, such as substance abuse, and in outwardly destructive ones, such as online bullying.

.. when you feel compelled to project an unforgiving kind of masculine strength, you end up in a twisted, tortured place. You can call it the Man Box. Or, these days, the Oval Office.