(Update 2: See Comment based on email feedback).
The Existing Gasoline In Our Politics
Long time readers of this site know our basic prism. Since 2001 we have pursued the essential premise throughout the Imperial City that the Administration is a front for disparate strands of radical political thought. Together, these strands represent most of the American anti-rational, anti-Enlightenment authoritarian 'Movement'.
The Stiftung has known the 'Movement' for decades. It is a familiar part of Republican circles since the 1970s. What changed is that by the end of the Clinton Administration, the various strands within the 'Movement' coalesced into a tail that wagged the dog. It was clear to the Stiftung early on that the Administration as the embodiment of the 'Movement' was a different political phenomenon in the American political experience, although it spoke to us through familiar and comfortable mechanisms like the Republican Party.
Even before 9/11 the disdain for liberal democracy and rationality was clear to those who dealt with it. As was the ruthless intolerance for 'deviationism' from authoritarian direction — although this imposition of group think was camouflaged by more familiar notions of 'it is just Bush family loyalty'. If you were on the ground in South Carolina in 2000 you had a foretaste of what was to come.
9/11 conflated all this latent authoritarianism into a national phenomenon. To raise these issues within the Imperial City in 2001 and 2002 was difficult. Mostly it was done via furtive whispered mutterings at cocktail parties, meetings on the Hill or elsewhere. We never did have one conversation about it in the Pentagon, naturally. Such was the fear and overwhelming pressure to conform not only within Republican and conservative circles but across the political spectrum.
Some did speak up, of course. The anti-war movement deserves much credit for its willingness to take on the Administration. But even those opposed to the Administration say in 2002 and 2003 often did not see the mosaic for the tile. Moreover, they didn't want to. The issue was never really 'the war' (or the battle in Administration parlance) but the fundamental political phenomenon of the Administration and the strands within it. Even policy intellectuals opposed to the Administration until recently did not want to think in these terms.
In one laughable instance, a member of a D.C. think tank vented on the Stiftung at length in a monologue about how we should not raise this premise (or even use the very name of Stiftung Leo Strauss). The reason? Because of the death and horror associated with the anti-Enlightenment ideological history. To link such anti-rationalist ideological traditions and history to the 'Movement' and Administration was 'immoral' — the exact word. Then, without blinking, this 'savant' then went on to blast Neocons and the Administration as 'Leninists'. We were, to put it mildly, both bemused and appalled at the ignorance. (He chose to ignore the body count under the Red Flag, the GULAGs, the mass starvations under Mao or Stalin, etc.)
Even as late as 2005 and 2006, intelligent, well-read and nationally known allegedly conservative commentators were unwilling to look at the Administration within the wider ideological trends — probably for career reasons. But now the flood gates are open. Promiment commentators as diverse as Andrew Sullivan, Bruce Bartlett, and Kevin Phillips join the fray using more or less the precise terms employed by the Stiftung (Phillips calls the Administration and the Movement 'disEnlightenment'). We feel some vindication. Talking about the Enlightenment and the basis of the liberal democratic tradition is no longer Old Skool.
Immigration As The Match
The diagnosis is merely the first step. The second is to apply it.
And one topical issue to keep an eye on is how the 'Movement' and its apologists use immigration. Don't be distracted by the split between the Nativist strand of the 'Movement' — Buchanan et al. — and the Neocon internationalist strand. While they disagree over Iraq and international revolution as the basis for sustainable foreign policy, both are united in their contempt for liberal democracy and disdain for actual participatory politics. Both also manipulate and demonize 'The Other' for internal cohesion and as a means to inculcate subordination of the individual to Belief, Authority and Feeling over empiricism.
Illegal immigration and foreigners are the perfect foil as an 'Other'. The failure of 'the law' to deal with the 'crisis' is increasingly invoked as a justification for 'emergency measures'. And of course the whole package is a perfect rhetorical cudgle to attack any who oppose the Agitprop construct speak up as 'Anti-American' or Buchanan's preferred slur of the Davos/Globalist/UN set.
The Administration's incompetence on enforcing immigration law is a double danger to the country because it provides a pretext for the 'Movement' to take matters into their own hands. We saw already how vigilante groups along the border have become 'mainstreamed' by Hannity and others on Fox. Yet these sentiments are not uncommon:
“It should be legal to kill illegals,” said Carl, a 69-year old retired Special Forces veteran who fought in Vietnam and now lives out West. “Just shoot 'em on sight. That's my immigration policy recommendation. You break into my country, you die.”It is true on the policy level that the schizophrenia in the Administration between its 'Movement' strands and its corporatist elements does not help. And the Mexican government is, as documented by Lou Dobbs and others, exacerbating the situation greatly. But the Administration's operational incompetence in securing the borders merely creates pretext for the 'Movement' and groups within it to urge disregarding the law, government and legal institutions to take matters into their own hands.
The Po Valley Lesson
The Po Valley in Italy 1920-22 is a perfect example of the political dangers when activated 'Movement' elements mix with discredited and ineffective government. There, landowners were faced with a labor crisis after the war and the central government refused to intervene. Local authorities were either socialists and thus sympathetic to the labor fronts or too intimidated to get involved. The Black Shirts were glad to step in to this vacuum and provide security and force for the landed interests. But more than force came with them, They began to supplant the government not only as users of force but also as provider of jobs, infrastructure and other social services. The Black Shirts essentially wedged themselves into mainstream life and in effect became a parrallel governmental apparat. This success did much to legitamize the Black Shirts and helped make the March on Rome in 1922 possible and successful.
Immigration as an issue has the possibility of offering openings in the American context. How that expression manifests itself will also have distinctly sui generis elements. Direct historical analogy is both unwise and unworkable. But the cautionary template remains a valid concern. As does the lesson that a liberal democratic state must preserve its legitimacy and monopoly on justice, government functions and force. The Administration's incompetent enforcement and policy equivocation are the worst of all worlds. Paramilitary and vigilante groups seeking to fill this space should not be tolerated. The federal and state governments must maintain their monopoly on law and force.
The Adminsitration is undermining liberal democratic institutions across the board, no question. Most of that is a deliberate and conscious effort to roll back the American Present to the anti-liberal democractic past. The Neocons have their own agenda for doing so, Buchananites another, Christian Reconstructionists still another, and so on. But the common effort remains.
The danger for us all is that history suggests that the Administration, for all of its certitude, could well be merely a transition phenomenon. After all, the Administration is the vehicle. The 'Movement' will endure long after it is gone. And the unintended consequences created by the Administration's activation of the 'Movement' and its opening as now legitimized political actor may be of even more concern. The real danger? Those that come after, building on the possibilities laid open. To help forestall this eventuality, a rational dialogue on immigration that defuses the issue for the 'Movement' is critical. Most importantly, all must seek the exclusion of extra-governmental organizations from usurping legal and enforcement roles. If an indirect beneficiary might be the Administration in the short term, that is a small price to pay for avoiding a Po Valley-esque situation to develop here at home.