In a very lengthy piece in New York Magazine Andrew Sullivan looks head on at the growing forces of reaction that are asserting themselves not only in America but also in Europe and other parts of the world. His message is that this trend must be resisted because of the threat it poses to humanity and democracy in particular. One must never forget that a major factor in the fall of the Roman Empire was Christianity - as well as military over extension which America is seemingly replicating - and we see signs of this battle against modernity and knowledge most markedly among the conservative Christians (and their Muslim counterparts embodied by the Taliban and ISIS). As a piece in the Washington Post, right wing Republicans and self-styled leaders of fundamentalist and evangelical Christians - Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and hate group leader Brian Brown are but examples - are increasingly enamored with Vladimir Putin and Russia's autocratic government. And then, of course, we have Der Trumpenführer himself who may have colluded with Putin to win the 2016 presidential election. None of this bodes well for humankind or America in the long run. Rejecting science and knowledge while embracing racism, xenophobia and authoritarian rule cannot end well for most people. Here are highlights from Sullivan's piece:
Look around you. Donald Trump is now president of the United States, having won on a campaign that trashed liberal democracy itself, and is now presiding over an administration staffed, in part, with adherents of a political philosophy largely alien to mainstream American politics. In Russia, Vladimir Putin has driven his country from postcommunist capitalism to a new and popular czardom, empowered by nationalism and blessed by a resurgent Orthodox Church. Britain, where the idea of free trade was born, is withdrawing from the largest free market on the planet because of fears that national identity and sovereignty are under threat. In France, a reconstructed neofascist, Marine Le Pen, has just won a place in the final round of the presidential election. In the Netherlands, the anti-immigrant right became the second-most-popular vote-getter — a new high-water mark for illiberalism in that once famously liberal country. Austria narrowly avoided installing a neo-reactionary president in last year’s two elections. Japan is led by a government attempting to rehabilitate its imperial, nationalist past. Poland is now run by an illiberal Catholic government that is dismembering key liberal institutions. Turkey has morphed from a resolutely secular state to one run by an Islamic strongman, whose powers were just ominously increased by a referendum. Israel has shifted from secular socialism to a raw ethno-nationalism.
We are living in an era of populism and demagoguery. And yes, there’s racism and xenophobia mixed into it. But what we are also seeing, it seems to me, is the manifest return of a distinctive political and intellectual tendency with deep roots: reactionism.
Reactionism is not the same thing as conservatism. It’s far more potent a brew. Reactionary thought begins, usually, with acute despair at the present moment and a memory of a previous golden age. It then posits a moment in the past when everything went to hell and proposes to turn things back to what they once were. It is not simply a conservative preference for things as they are, with a few nudges back, but a passionate loathing of the status quo and a desire to return to the past in one emotionally cathartic revolt. If conservatives are pessimistic, reactionaries are apocalyptic. If conservatives value elites, reactionaries seethe with contempt for them. If conservatives believe in institutions, reactionaries want to blow them up. If conservatives tend to resist too radical a change, reactionaries want a revolution. Though it took some time to reveal itself, today’s Republican Party — from Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution to today’s Age of Trump — is not a conservative party. It is a reactionary party that is now at the peak of its political power.
The reactionary impulse is, of course, not new in human history. . . . Its darkest American incarnation took place after Reconstruction, as a backlash to the Civil War victory of the North; a full century later, following the success of the civil-rights movement, it bubbled up among the white voters of Richard Nixon’s “silent majority.”
What are this generation’s reactionaries reacting to? They’re reacting, as they have always done, to modernity. But their current reaction is proportional to the bewildering pace of change in the world today. They are responding, at some deep, visceral level, to the sense that they are no longer in control of their own lives. They see the relentless tides of globalization, free trade, multiculturalism, and mass immigration eroding their sense of national identity.
This notion of a national culture, rooted in, if not defined by, a common ethnicity, is even more powerful in European nations, which is why Brexit is so closely allied to Trumpism. In the case of Britain, the question of race is framed within a euphemism used by the British government itself: a “visible minority” versus an “invisible one.” “Since 2001, Britain’s ‘visible minority’ population has nearly doubled, from 8 percent to 14 percent today,” Benjamin Schwarz, the national editor of The American Conservative, noted last year. “It is projected to rise to about 38 percent by mid-century.” Is Britain changing so fast that it could lose any meaningful continuity with its history and culture? That is the question now occupying the British neo-reactionaries. Prime Minister Theresa May has not said many memorable things in office, except this: “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.”
Things didn’t start going wrong in the 1960s or under the Progressives. Yarvin believes that the Western mind became corrupted during the Enlightenment itself. The very idea of democracy, allied with reason and constitutionalism, is bunk: “Washington has failed. The Constitution has failed. Democracy has failed.” His golden era: the age of monarchs.
And is it any wonder that reactionaries are gaining strength? Within the space of 50 years, America has gone from segregation to dizzying multiculturalism; from traditional family structures to widespread divorce, cohabitation, and sexual liberty; from a few respected sources of information to an endless stream of peer-to-peer media; from careers in one company for life to an ever-accelerating need to retrain and regroup; from a patriarchy to (incomplete) gender equality; from homosexuality as a sin to homophobia as a taboo; from Christianity being the common culture to a secularism no society has ever sustained before ours.
This, of course, is not to defend the neo-reactionary response. Their veiled racism is disturbing, and their pessimism a solipsistic pathology. . . . how can you seriously regard our political system and culture as worse than ever before in history? How self-centered do you have to be to dismiss the unprecedented freedom for women, racial minorities, and homosexuals? Or the increased security for the elderly and unemployed, and the greater access to health care by the poor and now the working poor? Compare the air we breathe today with that of the 1950s. Contrast the religious tolerance we take for granted today with the enmities of the past. Compare the racial integration of today, incomplete as it may be, with Jim Crow. Observe the historically low levels of crime compared with the recent past — and the absence of any world wars since 1945.
Reaction can be clarifying if it helps us better understand the huge challenges we now face. But reaction by itself cannot help us manage the world we live in today — which is the only place that matters. You start with where you are, not where you were or where you want to be. There are no utopias in the future or Gardens of Eden in our past. There is just now — in all its incoherent, groaning, volatile messiness. Our job, like everyone before us, is to keep our nerve and make the best of it.Sullivan diagnoses the ultimate root of reactionary politics and society: being self-centered. This applies to whites how oppose racial equality. They want to forever maintain their white privilege at the expense of racial minorities. The Christofascists similarly ultimately seek to hang on to their age old habit of persecuting and harming those who hold to different beliefs or threaten to make them think about the myth and legend basis for the house of cards religious beliefs. They perhaps more than anyone save perhaps Islamic extremists are at war with modernity and The Enlightenment's values. In their rush to restore a supposedly mythical, wonderful era, they utterly overlook the horrors that era wrought on so many. Self-centered doesn't adequately describe the selfishness and - if one still believes - un-Christian conduct.