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The End of the Statesman?

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Published on: January 20, 2015

Many on the right these days have become increasingly skeptical of the traditional, Burkean notion of the statesman, who is elected but bound by his skill, integrity, expertise, and transcendent wisdom to resist becoming a mere delegate of his constituents.  A statesman is supposed to lead his constituents in the best direction, not just express and implement their point of view — unless it happens to coincide.  (Keep in mind that hardly anyone is asking any kind of representative to express and implement his constituents’ point of view uncritically.)   The state legislatures used to appoint our Senators and they made sure that these representatives were good delegates of the states’ point of view, as opposed to national figures supported by out-of-state contributions with a great mind of their own.  They may not have muzzled them, but they could call them home for failing to do what they were told, just as Colorado state legislators were called home by constituents who did not think the former’s gun control laws were all that wise.  This is a good example of how important democracy can be. 

While the left in America is more dedicated than ever to this notion of the elite class, the best and the brightest, leading us to the wisest resolution of all issues, people on the right are more and more explicitly disgusted with elitism and its related vision of the statesman.  The Democratic party has become ironically expert driven and resistant to democracy while the Republican party is now full of voters who are illustrating Russell Kirk’s prediction in The Conservative Mind, published back the sixties, that “conservatives” would have to rediscover democracy in the twentieth century.  This is in order to redress the growth in authoritarian government stimulated by the modern concept of expertise and scientific management which arose in the nineteenth.  The irony of this does not escape Kirk.  It is a turning away from traditional reliance on the republican statesman.  Kirk’s history of conservative thought is often paradoxical as it reacts to the history of western scientistic, liberal government (socialism).  It finally wakes up to the potential of a democratic process for moving the country to the right.   

Those of us who no longer call ourselves conservatives, but remain on the right, are tired of reacting to the left’s aggression toward our freedom.  We are now much more determined to go on the offensive and put the left on the defensive.  And this is done by exploiting the destruction of the rationalist, authoritarian premises of the left, already completed in postmodern thought.  We are more than half way there.  But conservatives remain paralyzed because they cannot decide if they should try to save modern rationality, and therefore most of modern government, or finally reject it.   They have been trying to do both for quite some time now.  They fear that rejecting the modern view of reason will lead to radical relativism.  But, ironically, relativism is what the modern view of reason has already led to as it has broken down. 

It is difficult to get conservatives over their fear of the postmodern philosophical consensus, which is that all accounts of reason are tradition-relative.  They do not understand that it does not follow logically that one traditional view of reason (in this case the Christian view) is not absolutely correct.   And yet prephilosophically, conservatives have always been anti-modern in their critique of reason and expertise.  Conservative behavior has been so inconsistent that it has been completely ineffective in stopping the authoritarian, scientistic, bureaucratic juggernaut.   The right is anti-rationalist (that is, religious) but then keeps engaging the left as if the left’s scientistic account of reason is true.  We argue about things we should not argue about.  We fight over competing sets of facts all of which are supposedly the product of “objective reason.”  This is exactly how the left wants us to waste our time.  It understands that if we were not wasting our energy on this useless debate, rooted in a totally illusory concept of reason, we would be overwhelming them with democratic activity; denying their “truth” with democratic impunity. 

The traditional concern of the conservative about democracy is that it, too, can become authoritarian, overwhelming the rights of the individual, which a republic is supposed to protect.  But, of course, the real republic is spiritual and moral.  If the people have lost the republican tradition in their hearts and minds, the republican government will be allowed, as it is now, to tyrannize individuals, groups, and institutions which threaten the government’s curriculum, policies, and projects.

The republic is rooted in a democratic consensus, practically speaking.  Conservatives have been lazy in assuming that the republic could be preserved by the text of the positive law, which they now admit has been manipulated by the government’s democratically immune judiciary, over and over again, precisely because there is no mechanism and perhaps no consensus (although it might be coming) for overthrowing an authoritarian judiciary in the habit of backing up an authoritarian administrative branch.  But the tremors of a sea change are here, because the idea that the statesman has more insight into justice than his constituents is dead in the hearts and minds of the people.  Many conservatives regret this sociological fact instead of exploiting it strategically and tactically.

How do the scientific experts in government, and the politicians who are so often captured by them, really know what’s best?  They must know more about reason, including the apprehension of justice.  But this modern theme, that the statesman is wiser by virtue of being more rational — autonomous of the passions (i.e. values) driving the constituents — has not worked out very well.  Government corruption, lies, and failure have wounded the image of the statesman to the point where people on the right are demanding the politician be reduced to a delegate.  People who still call themselves “conservative” have become even more democratic than the Democratic Party of the fifties and sixties.  This is simply reactionary, but I respect it.  What I propose is not a return to the inherently authoritarian, rationalist notion of the statesman, but to a new understanding of democracy.  We must not fall into the errors which have made us skeptical of democracy in the past.

To be sure, freedom loving people never should have been Burkean conservatives, insisting on this inconsistent system of know-it-all statesman and so-called democracy.  This was never a very coherent political vision.  It was bound to devolve into either the authoritarian republicanism we have today, with experts at every level of government trying to organize not just our collective, but individual lives, or unfettered democracy in which a majority votes itself the resources of a productive minority, among other forms of tyranny.  We cannot go back to the statesman and traditional republican rule-by-objective truth in order to get our liberty back.  The modern, “scientific” bureaucracy, including the brainwashing of the government schools, is based on it.  As Russell Kirk noticed so long ago, the strategy on the right has become, of necessity, and paradoxically, democratic.  But exactly what is that strategy?

First and foremost the strategy is to deny that “experts” and “statesmen” are rooted in universal, absolute reason.  This myth is dead in the hearts and minds of the people.  This is just one practical extent to which the postmodern age is clearly here.  The people know that all of these experts and politicians operate from a particular point of view.  They understand that experts and politicians exercise solidarity with various groups, like political parties or scientific subcultures, which are, in turn, rooted in competing traditions about the nature of Reality and in particular about the nature of reason and justice.  As a matter of cultural and sociological fact, the modern vision of universal reason issuing in universal principles of justice, guiding experts and statesman (i.e. guiding governments), is as visibly dead as the constitutional tradition simultaneously based upon it, and this death is horribly underexploited by the right.  Our delegates, on the right, must begin to consistently emphasize the death of this Enlightenment vision of reason and the statesman.  They must campaign on this grave. 

But this is a difficult first step because it requires admitting that our constitution is rooted in naïve, Enlightenment philosophy, with its separation of the government from religious tradition and its anti-democratic bias.  It means that right-wing activists and politicians need to end their public worship of the constitution while explaining its naïve secular assumptions.  If the Founding Fathers actually understood that the republic could only stand on the Christian tradition, then they should have explicitly recognized this in their constitution.  It is this appeasement of the liberal vision — that we can have a national identity and faith in the justice of our government without a shared religious tradition — which has left both Europe and America vulnerable to the Muslim invasion.  The strategic advantage exercised by the jihadists is that they are actually postmodernists while the liberals, both in Europe and America, are still clinging to the greatest fantasy in the history of the world – that the very same standards of rational justification are universally nascent and can establish universal tolerance; that all we have to do is make sure that the wealth is shared in order to make sure that reason is shared.  The Islamic fundamentalists laugh at this liberal myth, and they have made great progress doing so.  We will be able to stand up to them only when we also reject this myth and start fighting for a government that favors the Christian tradition explicitly.  This could be done without taxing anyone for an official church.  America requires a national identity just to survive and there is no national identity which is clear enough and strong enough to defend itself, without a religious identity.  

Secondly, our delegates in the government must push for more democratic process in just one simple and safe regard.  We must give more and more direct veto power to the people.  In other words, we must not push for a direct democratic process which constructs government, but one which the people can use to deconstruct government.  (We should have had the power to veto Obamacare.)  When the people choose not to reverse the government then the battle continues in the legislature where it began.  But from a right wing point of view, in this postmodern age, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain by letting the people dismantle what they will with the exception of the new laws or constitution which gives them the power to do so.  This is a rejection of the libertarian notion that people should be allowed to enslave themselves voluntarily.  The problem here is that they not only enslave themselves, but others, in rejecting democratic deconstructive power.  This power cannot make things worse than they are and may make them better.  

Thirdly, everyone on the right must recognize, and then incorporate into their local cultural and political strategies, a new understanding of what a democratic majority represents.  What it represents is a competing tradition, well-integrated or not.  A democratic majority is to be managed culturally.  Democratic majorities are dangerous when they are rooted in a self-indulgent world-view.  But people can be led and educated; they can be spiritually formed.  There is no substitute for training the democratic majority in the Christian tradition.  Such a majority will be much safer if not perfectly safe for individual liberty. 

Russell Kirk was right.  We now know that we have to use democracy to defeat modern authoritarian republicanism (rule-by-expert).  And we have to use a new understanding of democracy to keep this weapon from being turned on ourselves.  That understanding is that democracy is not the rule of the majority.  It is the rule of the tradition in which the majority is schooled.  It is the tradition which inspires and interprets the law.  And so democracy must be, above all else, the private ownership and control of the means of cultural production.  This implies that our delegates must fight for the end of government education, while the constituents, refusing to wait for that resolution, vacate the government schools and educate not only their own children, but their neighbor’s, privately.  Democracy is the privatization of education
and its dominance by the Christian tradition.  This is a long-overdue dimension of democracy as a process in which the people make up their own minds instead of letting the state do it for them.  Republican forms of government cannot protect individuals for very long when the tradition of the majority is determined by the government itself for its own purposes.

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