DRAFT: For Project Syndicate: Please Read Geoffrey Kabaservice!
It may well be the most important thing you can do to prepare yourself for the politics and political economy of the next decade...
I want everybody—everybody—interested in the well-being of and hoping to assist the United States of America to, right now, stop what they are doing, and go and read Geoffrey Kabaservice’s superb Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party <https://archive.org/details/ruleruindownfall0000kaba>.
Let me explain why:
Around 1600 in Western Europe people woke up, perhaps for the first time, and noticed that history had a direction that was being driven by increasing human technological Capabilities <https://archive.org/details/idealcommonwealt00more>. Before 1600, you see, people had looked back to the past for golden ages of demigods, great thinkers, even massive constructions. When they looked to the future for any form of paradise, it was a religious one—not one to be built by human minds and hands. And when they looked to their own society, it was as though it was much the same, or perhaps inferior, to the past: Henry VIII Tudor and his retinue being a court much of the same mold as those of Agamemnon, or Tiberius Caesar, or Arthur.
Since that day, conservatives who have reacted to the political implications of changing technology and society have gathered themselves into four different types of parties.
The first is that of the reactionaries—those who simply want to stand “athwart history, yelling ’STOP!’”. They see themselves at war with a dystopian “armed doctrine” with which no compromise is possible or desirable. In the fight against this, no possible alliance can be rejected with those who would otherwise be judged evil or found contemptible <https://www.heritage.org/political-process/report/standing-athwart-history-the-political-thought-william-f-buckley-jr> <https://archive.org/details/twolettersaddres00burkuoft> <https://claremontreviewofbooks.com/digital/the-flight-93-election/>.
The second is that of a party of “Whig measures and Tory men”. Technology and society and humanity are changing, in ways that can be turned to human advantage and flourishing, but those who guide the changes must be those who have a keen appreciation of the value of our historical patrimony and of the dangers of leveling all that is to rubble before building anew. “If we want things to stay the same, things will have to change”, says Tancred to his uncle the Prince of Salina in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard <https://archive.org/details/leopard00lamp>.
The third is a type of conservative party found primarily (but not exclusively) in America, a conservative party of a type that has adapted itself to a society that sees itself as overwhelmingly new and liberal <https://archive.org/details/liberaltradition0000hart>. It is a party of a type that Truman’s former Secretary of State Dean Acheson described in the 1950s <https://archive.org/details/democratlooksath00ache>. It is not a party of tradition and inherited status. It is a party of wealth and business—of the application of technology to production, of entrepreneurship, and of enterprise. It is the party of those who were or who were confident they would become prosperous and rich, because they could surf the waves of Schumpeterian creative distraction that technological advance in the context of a market economy generates.
And the fourth is the party of the fearful: those who believe that they will be creatively destroyed by the processes of historical change, and that they are beset on all sides by internal and external enemies who are much more powerful and are eager to deprive them of their place: to “cancel” them.
What I have learned from my reading of Dan Ziblatt and Steve Levitsky <https://archive.org/details/HowDemocraciesDieStevenLevitsky> <https://books.google.com/?id=cfOkDgAAQBAJ> is that democratic political institutions can be stable and countries can be well-governed only if their conservative parties are of types (2) and (3), and not if they are of types (1) and (4). To their many examples, let me add one more. Looking back a centurdy and more ago, Great Britain’s astonishingly rapid political and economic decline from its position as the world’s hyperpower was significantly accelerated by the then-transformation of its Tory Party into a party of types (1) and (4)—the party of Mafeking Night celebrations and armed resistance to Irish constitutional reform—in what George Dangerfield called The Strange Death of Liberal England <https://archive.org/details/strangedeathofli00dang>.
Geoffrey Kabaservice tells us the story of how America’s Republican Party has put itself on an analogous course, so that now when I look out at the world I see very, very few elements of (2) and (3) in today’s American Republican Party, and those are fast disappearing under the desperate struggle by Republican politicians and their tame ideologues to somehow pick up the mantle of Donald Trump. It is very clear that this needs to be reversed, as rapidly and completely as possible. But I am not smart enough to understand how it could be.