No wonder every election seems more and more like some Hesiodic battle of gods and ages. According to Donald Trump, we’re not electing a president to a term, but to a “reign.” That’s what he called George W. Bush’s time in office recently.
It bears repeating. The leading candidate for the GOP believes he’s running to reign. To my knowledge, no other candidates corrected him; no pundits commented on it; and no media figures challenged him on it. I’m probably an odd man out on this, an anachronism who’s failed to accept it: this where our nation is at; our souls have been formatted to embrace autocracy.
Too Much Power in Too Few Hands
Consider the seismic cultural change one or two individuals have sparked over the past eight years. A cornhusker kickback here and a Louisiana purchase there ushered in massive government control over the health-care industry. Justice Kennedy’s feelings on love changed a millennia-old institution, setting with the stroke of a pen the marriage habits of San Francisco or Greenwich Village as standard for Idaho or Kentucky.
It is now considered an obvious point among Democrats that if there is a problem, and the GOP doesn’t solve it the way they want, of course the president has to go solo with executive orders and stomp over any notion of a separation of powers.
Gosh, I hope President Cruz uses that reasoning to address Obamacare, the Internal Revenue Service, entitlements, government spending, and Planned Parenthood. That would solve the problem of Democrats taking back the Senate. Unfortunately, my sarcasm is sound reasoning among far too many people, like Trump supporters. He’ll get things done by sheer force of his personality. He’ll make things happen during his reign. Of course he will. It’s the autocratic governing philosophy President Obama and the Democrats are passing on to future leaders.
With Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, we’re talking Battle of Armageddon stuff. Canada will quadruple in size regardless of who wins, given the number of people pledging to move there upon their candidate’s loss. As every candidate says—with what should be overweening but unfortunately has become justifiable self-inflation—“The stakes could not be higher.”
This ought not be. The election of one man should not be so consequential for a free republic. The fact that so much hope is ascribed to one man suggests a great majority of our citizenry hasn’t advanced beyond the second-grader announcing, “If I were king I’d make recess all day, give everyone Twinkies forever, turn gravity down a notch so we don’t fall so hard, and switch a few more stars on at night.”
Dabbling with laws of nature is, quite frankly, what liberals believe they can do, whether it’s the laws of reproductive nature, the laws of scarcity, or basic rules of mathematics. Obama believed he had the power of the moon to cause rising tides; Bernie Sanders thinks he can provide everyone free flights to Mars by taxing the 1 percent. Now those on the Right are hoping we can, er, trump the liberals with our own second-grader.
The Gnostic Roots of Autocracy
Hand in hand with this second-grade thinking is the fetish for universalism, something grafted in the American DNA around the time the ancient heresy of Gnosticism became the default spiritual posture of our souls. (I see Jonah Goldberg’s next book will be on Gnosticism. He’s an influential conservative thinker, and this will advance the discussion. Federalist readers can say they’re ahead of the curve thanks to yours truly. See here and here.)
According to the Gnostic myth, the entire material realm is evil and unredeemable, ruled over by a lesser god (the Demiurge) and his archons (literally, the “powers-that-be”). These powers set up the earth’s laws, rules, systems, institutions, and even language.
A few elite Gnostics—those who’ve attained a secret knowledge of the delusive nature of this world’s structures—can rebel against this world’s laws and systems, take over the Demiurge’s reign, and work to make the world a better place more reflective of the beyond-this-cosmos, harmonious Pleroma (the fullness; the true supramundane origins of the Gnostic’s spirit). (Technically, I’m summarizing one strain of the Gnostic movement known as Hermeticism, once referred to as “proletarian Gnosticism.”)
How do people wake up to the delusions of this world? Father of depth psychology and self-professed Gnostic Carl Jung is perhaps the most influential thinker for our American influence-makers. He believed the Pleroma, which he rechristened the Collective Unconscious, speaks to us through archetypes and common themes in our literature, moves, music, and other popular media.
Life on the silver screen, or as reflected in the poetry of a pop/rock/hop-hop artist, can become a more transcendent reality than one’s own real existence. The poet or artist, more in touch with otherworldly truths, becomes a conduit for truths we all would know deep down in our hearts, were we not so earthbound or bedeviled by false structures set up by family, church, sex, nation, or even language itself.
The popularity of any particular poet or artist demonstrates the level to which he’s tapped into the divine collectivity. His popularity is the triumph of my inner Self, because at the level of the Collective Unconscious, we are all One.
But first, one by one individuals must tap into the world of images, archetypes, and narratives, and disavow the delusive, logo-centric thought structures of church, state, and traditional cultural institutions. Then the movement can swell and the battle of new (good) gods versus old (bad) gods can ensue. A new age only then will begin.
You can see the psychic drama this sets up. For the Gnostic, the causes of his lot in this world and his despair—the lately much referred to ressentiment—are two-dimensional characters representing pure evil in a grand psychic drama. They are the powers-that-be, the rulers of the world, the Koch brothers, Halliburton, the Jews, Big this and Big that, and all the other establishment characters who set up the laws and systems that control us. Their powers permeate everywhere. Only systemic change can provide any redemption. Only a battle of the gods can produce the cosmic change required.
The Universalism Fetish and the Coming Millenarian Reign
Hence the universalism fetish, and hence the need for a leader, one from among the movement who embodies it, who can take the fight to the bad guys. No room for compromise; no room for varied interests; no room for unique customs or traditions, no tolerance for a federal social pact arranged under a generally agreed-upon rule of law; no room for localism. Universal change of hearts and minds inaugurating the New Age is the only way forward.
The Gnostic mind is a Hollywood tale where there are ever only two categories of people, those on the side of pure systemic good and those on the side of pure systemic evil. They can never fathom that, should they assume the reins of the Demiurge, they would themselves be an establishment just as corrupt as the previous: they don’t have the doctrine of original sin that informed our forefathers’ insistence on a balance of powers.
That naturally leads to autocracy. (So, for instance, they can’t see how establishmentarian Anthony Kennedy and the gay rights champions created Kim Davis. According to Gnosticism, however, Davis is literally of a lesser species who hasn’t evolved or awakened, so her elimination is justified.)
In the Middle Ages, the millenarians believed they represented the advent of the New Age of the Spirit, called by God to inaugurate the thousand-year reign of Christ, which would crush the systemically corrupt Age of the Church. This translated into a series of personality cults, led by leaders claiming to embody the spirit of the people, but who all too easily ended up assuming regal trappings. Some things never change.
As I argue in my book, the Progressive movement was birthed from a Republican Party which itself had nursed on millenarian, revivalistic, and ultimately Gnostic patterns of thinking as described above. They too were leading a cosmic battle of gods. We call that the Civil War, and then later the temperance movement.
Through historical happenstance the Democrats became more identified with the Gnostic mindset as Republicans remained the sole champions of limited government, natural law, federalism, and classical economics. Today’s rifts and trends in the GOP should not be disconnected from its millenarian roots. Even Ted Cruz is said to embrace dominion theology, which is simply an updated form of millenarianism. To what extent he embraces this theology waits to be seen.
What Ever Happened to Federalism?
There is a better way. Republicans should craft a message that could resonate with a nation hungry for a reprieve from Armageddon. It worked for Calvin Coolidge, whose philosophy of “Eh, relax, if ten problems come down the road, nine of them will fall off the side of the road by the time they get to you” introduced a return to normalcy.
Imagine a candidate committing to return to the states vast tracts of national jurisdiction. Imagine a candidate saying, “Hey, vote for me and every four years you won’t have to participate in a cosmic battle of gods and ages. Vote for me and you won’t really care what happens in Washington. No more jurists in black cloaks threatening your speech or business, or attempting to change the fabric of nature. There will be no reason for big business to spend millions to lobby Washington, because there will be nothing to gain. Vote for me and I’ll make sure you’re protected from ISIS and the terrorists, but I’ll leave care of your problems to you and your local or state communities.”
Imagine the competitive value of 50 states handling problems their own ways—Republican states showing the value of the free market, strong families, and the rule of law, Democrat states demonstrating the soul-crushing inefficiency and social pathologies inherent in the welfare state. Why can’t this be? For progressives we know why. Because they’re Gnostics and see problems as systemic defects in nature itself which can only change with universal impositions of new laws crafted by their elites. But why aren’t more Republicans making this case?
Too often Republicans fall for one of the great non sequiturs of the Democrats, that unless you embrace a universalistic solution to a problem, you must not be for solving that problem. I rarely hear Republicans say things like, “I do believe the number of uninsured Americans is a huge and sad problem. But you’re saying the only way I can care about this problem is by embracing your universal, national-government solution. Are you really saying there are no other solutions? No state or even local solutions?”
“We have this wonderful right of free assembly in our Constitution which fulfills a lot of what the national government is not constitutionally empowered to fulfill. Don’t you believe, you Democrats, that people are capable of working together without the national government being the sole instrument by which they do so? Are you really that threatened knowing a poor, fundamentalist family a thousand miles away in North Dakota doesn’t embrace your progressive morality, or that someone, somewhere might be solving economic problems without the guidance of the national government?”
I wonder if federalism could make a comeback after another year of political Armageddon, cultural-altering Supreme Court decisions, and presidents behaving as if they “reign” over a nation instead of preside over a government. Perhaps a Trump win—and the absolute likelihood his autocratic aspirations will fail just as Obama’s did—will be the antidote we need.