Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Are Political Cycles Unnecessary?

We in the West that think that the US is exceptional and that the Western Way is irreplaceable are feeling a little pessimistic these days.

Why wouldn't we when America and much of Europe is governed by men and women that don't seem to "get it." Maybe it's just the civilizational cycle.

Victor Davis Hanson writes that it is all so unnecessary.
Bounty to boredom to decadence to panic to reawakening to ascendance has always been the cyclical way of the West.

Its curse has been that the cycles of nihilism are as long as they are unnecessary.
Well, I'm not so sure about that. Given that the central fact of life is the cycle of conception to birth to growth to reproduction to decay and death and repeat, I'd say there is something necessary and sufficient in the great cycle of generation.

In other words, things can't go on in some Panglossian best of all possible worlds. On the contrary, the old is always getting flushed out, and that's the way that the world gets renewed.

And there always seem to be opposing and opposite forces. In the last two millennia we had the church and state as rival power centers. And probably a good thing too, because we know what happens when church and state get united as in Stalinism and Hitlerism and Castroism.

In our day it seems that there is an endless argument between the constant renewal of the Great Enrichment and the constant critique of the socialist reactionaries that want to return the West to the pre-individualism of the feudal estate or even the hunter-gatherer tribe.

For me as an individualist -- experiencing individualism as a new and remarkably social way of life -- it is hard to deal with the constant backward force of the progressive. The progressive talks about Change but actually wants to pour society into a concrete form, there to set for all eternity.

The problem with all the old empires is that their central political elites were too powerful. They had the power to stop change all over the empire.

But the innovation of the West, intensified in the US, is that change, by the very nature of the market economy, is baked right in. The market is pitiless to old established economic interests. As soon as a new and better idea comes along it relegates the old dominant actors to the sidelines. They can yell and scream and get politicians to pass subsidies and privileges for them, but in the end it doesn't matter. There is no escape from renewal and the verdict of the market.

And yest, contra Hanson, at some point in the cycle there is nihilism. People on the down cycle, in a culture or a market past its prime think there is nothing good in the world, and they tell everyone how awful everything is, and how right and proper it all was when they were young.

(I am experiencing that feeling directly myself as I am reading Nevil Shute's A Town Like Alice about how everything was young and fresh and new in Aussieland in the years of renewal after World War II).

And the glorious cause for hope in 2015 is that President Obama has been such a hopeless president that anyone except a New York Times reader and an NPR listener feels it in their bones and right now is fit to be tied about America and its prospects.

Really, if you wanted a Republican resurgence after the election of the nation's First Black President in 2008 what would you figure it would take?  Something like a stupid "stimulus," a stupid expensive Obamacare, a stupid Dodd Frank to mew up the financial system with regulatory bureaucrats, a stupid green energy program to raise energy prices on the poor. But, you would say, the Democrats can't be that stupid.

The nihilism stage of the cycle has its uses. As H.L. Mencken wrote, "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

No comments:

Post a Comment