September 28, 2016


The Age of Reaction (David Brooks, SEPT. 27, 2016, NY Times)

Today, as the Columbia political theorist Mark Lilla points out in his compelling new book, "The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction," reactionaries are in the saddle.

Reactionaries, whether angry white Trumpians, European nationalists, radical Islamists or left-wing anti-globalists, are loud, self-confident and on the march.

Reactionaries come in different stripes but share a similar mentality: There was once a golden age, when people knew their place and lived in harmony. But then that golden age was betrayed by the elites. "The betrayal of elites is the linchpin of every reactionary story," Lilla writes.

Soon, they believe, a false and decadent consciousness descended upon the land. "Only those who have preserved memories of the old ways see what is happening," Lilla notes. Only the reactionaries have the wisdom to turn things back to the way they used to be, to "Make America Great Again."

"Reactionaries are not conservatives," Lilla continues. "They are, in their way, just as radical as revolutionaries and just as firmly in the grip of historical imaginings. Millennial expectations of a redemptive new social order and rejuvenated human beings inspire the revolutionary; apocalyptic fears of entering a new dark age haunt the reactionary."

Reactionaries are marked by a militant, apocalyptic mind-set, a crisis mentality. They are willing to take extreme, violent action to turn back the clock. In their narcissism, they think they alone understand the crisis and are in a position to reverse the trends.

It's understandable that we would be living in a reactionary moment. The periods after financial crises are always bumpy politically. Whether it was the 1890s, the 1930s or today, such periods often thrust up ugly, backward-looking ideologies.

Well, that may permanently get Fox Butterfield off the hook.  What Mr. Brooks seems to have missed is that the reason the reactionaries on the Right and Left are so worked up is because the elites are so thoroughly dominant throughout the Anglosphere.  There is so little difference between our Third Way presidents and prime ministers since the End of History that historians will find it difficult to differentiate between them and it is hard to see how swapping Bill Clinton for David Cameron or W for Tony Blair would have made any significant difference to our respective nations.  

And not only is another new elitist indistinguishable from the rest in the series already in power in Britain but one soon will be here.  Meanwhile, the reactionaries--Donald and Corbyn, likewise indistinguishable--are laughingstocks.  

Suffice it to say that no reactionary to the party elite won a single Republican congressional primary this year.  The notion, therefore, that this is a reactionary moment is patently absurd.

Posted by at September 28, 2016 4:44 PM