People purposely segregating themselves based upon their race, sexuality, gender identity; any factor they feel makes them distinct is a bane to society. This identitarian brand of politics seeks to pit one against the other to create a squealing hierarchy of victimhood. But fear not. It will not be the downfall of civilization nor the bell tolling for modern society. For inherent in the twisting beliefs of identity politics is the seed of its own destruction.
In fact, almost any system that relies on politics – and most importantly, people to push the brand – contains within itself the very thing that will ultimately destroy it. Whether that be Socialism, Empires, Dictatorships, and even Democratic Republics, each will be twisted from its beginnings and become a pale imitation of itself, until ultimately it dies away, withered like the stem of a neglected plant.
Unless there is a peg. The peg can be an idea, an ideal, or more often than not, a document that can be handed down generation to generation in a form not so easily corrupted. Without it, we witness the tailspin of ideologies that disintegrate under the weight of their own contradictions.
First, let’s tackle identity politics. Each person identifies with a sub-section of a culture, and in many cases, more than just one. You could be a gay Muslim, a transexual Christian, a black Jew, or a white non-binary, each of which allows you to say you are part of a group, part of a shared identity. Yet there are flaws, some minor and one major. The minors are quite obvious: what if one of your identities clashes with the tenets of another? Do you provide equal weight to your identities? Would one of your identities be considered oppressive by another in your group that does not possess that particular trait? It’s an exercise in cognitive dissonance that leads one down a rabbit hole of half-truths and mental gymnastics.
Yet the major flaw, the one that is inherent in its very structure, is that its logical conclusion is rugged individualism. Imagine for a moment that these divisions continue and continue. Each person finds a new identity, a new class to join with, and ends up distancing themselves even further from just being an American.
How Systems Corrode
Eventually, each of these identities will separate them from being a member of any other group because of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed – because, of course, each identity aspect fits into the victim hierarchy. What you end up with is no groups at all, but just individuals. And at that point, the individuals so wedded to their now unique identities are defending themselves as pure individualists. Eventually, the whole system collapses.
But this is not the only system that will struggle to continue. Let’s look briefly at political systems.
Dictatorships are now widely regarded as a terrible thing, perhaps because we have this modern idea that a dictator “seizes” power. But this was not always historically true. In the Roman Republic, a dictator was appointed; it was a role given to solve a particular problem or set of issues. This appointment involved a three-step process. First, the Senate would agree to nominate someone to the position; it would then be handed to the two consuls to decide who it should be. Finally, the Curiate Assembly would have to confer the powers.
Rome’s history can be easily divided int two segments, the time before Gaius Julius Caesar and the time after. Prior to the founding of Caesar’s Rome, there were numerous dictators, each of whom was offered the position and later resigned once the crisis had passed. This was not a political system of terror, yet that is what it has become.
Nowadays, when we talk of dictators, we do not embrace their coming as a solution to benefit the body politic and society at large; we call it a failing of the democratic process. We use it to scare voters. So what happened? Well, its downfall was inherent in its premise.
In a letter to Bishop Creighton in 1887, Lord Acton famously wrote:
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which . . . the end learns to justify the means.”
Lord Acton is demonstrating that those who would be suitably raised to the position of power are already likely “great” men and that to achieve this greatness, they would already have to be people who could wield massive influence. For these chosen few, dictatorship is the extension of their inherent tendencies, and therefore, may use the granted powers for their own ends.
Perhaps it is like offering a drug addict control of your opium supply because they have vast experience in the field.
And what of Communism? Adherents to the system believe that it is the logical outcome, the foregone conclusion in the human story. And like Lord Acton’s great men, they believe the ends will justify the means. As a concept, at a basic level, few would argue that an equal society where one man’s worth is valued for what he brings rather than for what another can sell his labor for a bad thing. In fact, it’s quite an appealing idea. Yet it is in the detail that the demise of such a system begins.
In Karl Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme, he wrote:
“Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.”
So for Communism, there must be both revolution and dictatorship – but as earlier mentioned, absolute power corrupts, and therefore those who would lead the “dictatorship of the proletariat” would certainly be reluctant to relinquish their position. Indeed, we have seen this in just about very nominally Communist state from North Korea with it’s Supreme Leader to China with President-for-life Xi Jinping, and with the former Soviet Union.
It is a naivety to assume that those who lead the revolution will be happy to hand back the power they have claimed. As President Ronald Reagan once said:
“How do you tell a Communist? Well, it’s someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It’s someone who understands Marx and Lenin.”
And that brings us to Democracy. Surely this system first practiced in ancient Athens and still lauded today proves that systems can survive their inherent flaws? Well, just look around at what is happening today. We see Democrats threatening to bring down the Electoral College for purely electoral gain. We see the same folks threatening to pack the Supreme Court for ideological gain. Democracy is spinning into entropy.
Yet it will survive where other systems fail. It will renew itself – as it has done before – and will come back stronger and better equipped. The question is why.
As we spoke of earlier, there are certain “pegs” that keep things from spinning out of control, and naturally, some hold more steadfast than others. It seems that these pegs are often texts that are the pivots on which society turns.
Democracy, in its modern form, has three: The Magna Carta Libertatum, the Constitution, and to some extent, the Bible.
The Magna Carta (translated as the Great Charter of Freedoms) was written in 1215 by the Archbishop of Canterbury. At the time, it was almost universally ignored and, in fact, led to war. Over the centuries, it was revived and has been called “the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.” Its importance cannot be overstated. It established that all are equal under the law (even the King), that all should have a right to trial by jury, and that all should have the right to justice.
It should be of no surprise that the founders of America used it as a guiding principle.
Next is the United States Constitution. Building upon the Magna Carta, rights were enshrined into the very founding of the nation; it is the rights that make the country, not the other way around, as witnessed in just about every other location on the planet.
And underpinning these two powerful texts is the Bible, or rather the aspects of faith that come with it.
And yes, these documents have changed over time. The Magna Carta was originally meant to protect the barons rather than the everyday folk, and the Constitution, of course, has Amendments. But that is why they and Democracy survive. It is the unique flexibility of delivery, with an inflexible belief in the individual’s innate rights that have allowed the Athenian project to not just flourish, but to become the dominant and most admired system of government the world has ever known.
Edifices will crumble, systems will be torn asunder by their own contradictions or flawed premises, but Democracy will survive when all others fail. For Democracy is people, Democracy is in the heart of every man, woman, and child, whether they recognize it or not. We will save it, and in return, it will save us.
Read more from Mark Angelides.