The New Criterion is a valuable publication, mainly for its arts commentary, which holds the fort for traditionalism even after the surrender. Someone posted an article from the June issue at Lucianne.com today. By James Piereson, it's called "Future tense, X: The fourth revolution." Subhead: "On the possibility of a forthcoming political revolution."
Pretty heady stuff from a stately, intellectually reactionary magazine. "... What the United States is now facing is not a gradual decline but a political upheaval that will reshape its politics, policies, and institutions for a generation or two to come," Piereson says.
Most of the article is not very original, especially his rubber-stamped description of the economic debacle of the past dozen years. And who doesn't look at the political and social landscape of the United States today and see gaping differences of ideology and an out-of-control financial system?
Still, Piereson offers an interesting observation about the United States:
Notwithstanding its reputation for stability and continuity, the U.S. political system seems to resolve its deepest problems in relatively brief periods of intense and potentially destabilizing conflict. These events are what some historians have called our “surrogates for revolution” because, rather than overthrowing the constitutional order, they adjust it to developing circumstances.
He believes the first three destabilizing and transforming events in American history were the Jeffersonian "revolution" (his word), the War Between the States (or "Civil War," his term), and the New Deal. Calling Jeffersonian politics a revolution seems exaggerated, but I am no specialist in the history of that era. For that matter, I don't profess to be an expert about the 1861-65 war (whatever you call it); but it can hardly be described as a "surrogate" for revolution; it was a revolution, just like the one that created the United States, and -- this is simply a statement of fact, not a value judgment -- it was repressed with savage brutality.
As to FDR's third revolution, or surrogate revolution:
The Democratic Party has gradually evolved into a “public sector party” that finds its votes and organizational strength in public sector unions, government employees and contractors, and beneficiaries of government programs.
The New Criterion cultivates an above-the-battle, anti-emotional writing style -- like The New Yorker and many English writers once did -- which is often a virtue, but this is simply too genteel. Piereson makes it sound like the Democrats' strategy has been little more than offering a helping hand to The People -- "beneficiaries of government programs." It is silent about one of the central results of a decadent, post-New Deal welfare state: the creation of a large population segment whose relationship to society is purely one of taking and being supported, while including a large out-of-control criminal element. America has never before had a purely dysfunctional class, resentful (especially in racial terms) and contemptuous of its benefactors. That was obviously not the aim of the New Dealers, but it is part of their legacy.
Piereson is clear-sighted enough to admit that Republicans in power haven't seriously tried to reverse the federal-government-as-father-mother-and-nanny principle: "Republican governors and mayors, like their Democratic counterparts, continue to make their pilgrimages to Washington in search of grant money and subsidies for their states and cities, just as members of Congress from both parties run for reelection by pointing to the federal funds they have brought back to their states and districts."
But we've reached the two-minute warning. That game is about up, he says, and while hardly a new insight, he is almost surely correct.
The regime of public spending has at last drawn so many groups into the public arena in search of public dollars that it has paralyzed the political process and driven governments to the edge of bankruptcy. These groups are widely varied: trade associations, educational lobbies, public employee unions, government contractors, ideological and advocacy organizations, health-care providers, hospital associations that earn revenues from Medicare and Medicaid programs, and the like. These are what economists call rent-seeking groups because they are concerned with the distribution of resources rather than with the creation of wealth.
The skimming class is, or will soon be, without the traditional bottomless pitcher of the federal government to draw from. A longstanding way of life for millions is disappearing. What surrogate revolution gathers its arrows? Piereson maintains "there is every chance that the United States will emerge from this crisis with new momentum to develop its economy and provide leadership for the world," but perhaps wisely offers no details about how. He spends the last part of his article dive-bombing Obama. As much as I despise Buraq, he didn't invent The System, merely tried to game and expand it to its "inevitable" triumph. By precipitating instead its demise, he may -- after an unpleasant fourth revolution -- turn out to have done us a favor.