The ‘New Normal’ and the Assault on Reason

Our political situation is so chaotic and strange right now that we can’t take anything for granted—including what is normal. So it’s often necessary to explain what may seem obvious to readers of American Greatness, but is regarded as strange or almost incomprehensible to other people. 

For example, it is obvious to me, and probably to you, that today’s “progressive” agenda is actually pushing our country back to a more primitive past. 

Consider some of the most urgent priorities of woke ideology:

  • Reinstituting racial segregation and replacing individual rights with group rights.
  • Abandoning poor and minority neighborhoods to lawlessness by defunding the police and decriminalizing many offenses.
  • Eliminating opportunities for women in sports by forcing them to compete against men.
  • Impoverishing working-class American citizens by enriching a global oligarchy while flooding the labor market with illegal aliens.
  • Eliminating due process and the rule of law by resurrecting pre-trial detention, extra-legal punishment, and the presumption of guilt for “political enemies.”

In each case, this agenda represents a return to a less civilized, even barbaric, past. More precisely, it is the return of tyranny—the default political system for most of human history, and the constant danger lurking in the shadows of freedom, threatening to overtake those who fail to guard their liberties. 

It took two millennia for Western civilization to implement the revolutionary principles of limited constitutional government, equal natural rights, and the impartial administration of justice. Now those hard-won achievements are being swept away by a fanatical ideology which, ironically, is convinced of its own moral superiority and devoted to overcoming America’s allegedly racist, unjust history. Somehow, these bizarre and regressive causes have come to define the Left, which not that long ago prided itself on standing for “liberalism.” 

In some cases these policies, such as racial segregation, evoke the relatively recent decades of the mid-20th century; but with some you have to go back to the Middle Ages, or even prior to the dawn of civilization, to find historical precedents. Even the Roman empire, for example, punished jury tampering with the death penalty—for obvious reasons. (There’s no point in having a trial if the jury can’t deliberate honestly and fairly.) Yet as we saw in the recent Kyle Rittenhouse case, public threats against members of the jury were tolerated and even celebrated by our ruling class. 

Even as evidence grows that the FBI was suspiciously and perhaps illegally involved in instigating the January 6 “insurrection,” many American citizens caught up in the riots have been held in jail for months, sometimes in solitary confinement, awaiting trial, while others are being prosecuted—at enormous public expense—for such minor infractions as trespassing.  

If you are sane, these developments are shocking and even a bit confusing. But if you are under the spell of woke ideology, this is all perfectly normal. In fact, if you live in the delusional leftist bubble, what’s shocking is that anyone dares to question this regressive and illiberal agenda. 

The confusion sown among those of us who still dwell in reality is intentional. Psychological warfare is a common tool of tyranny. After all, most people don’t want to be slaves (presumably), and so have to be beaten or threatened into submission. Degradation, gaslighting, and arbitrary rules become standard tools of control. 

What is more surprising—in fact, breathtaking—is how few Americans are being targeted with intimidation, and how many have instead become enthusiastic supporters of this new fanaticism. 

Propaganda, of course, is another great tool of tyrants. But has any despotism in human history ever persuaded so many people, so easily, to accept doctrines that are obviously irrational; to change their opinions instantaneously and without question on command; to deny the evidence of their own eyes, ears, and common sense? 

Let me add one more item to the list above—which is perhaps the most astounding example of successful woke indoctrination. For several centuries, at least since John Stuart Mill, the Left has defined itself by its commitment to freedom of speech. This was practically the sine qua non for calling oneself a liberal. Yet some time around 2019-20, in the historical blink of an eye, free speech was simply . . . dismissed. It became obligatory on the Left to support systematic control of our public discourse by a handful of massive tech companies, in cooperation with the government. Liberals moved as if with a single will and became enthusiastic supporters of official censorship implemented by a corporate oligarchy. And yet only a tiny handful of (excommunicated) intellectuals on the Left have dared speak against this Great Leap Backward.

Can this assault on reason and nature last? The historical evidence is mixed. The Soviet Union brutalized its people for decades. But this current woke madness is so strange and internally inconsistent—so unprecedented—it’s safe to say no one really knows what will happen. 

On the one hand, the woke tyrants lack many of the advantages the old Soviet commissars had, including iron discipline, intellectual consistency, and a deranged if sincere moral courage. Moreover, there are still millions of Americans who understand, for now, the difference between the truth and a lie, between the normal and the preposterous. 

Commenting on one of his heroes, Winston Churchill, my teacher Harry Jaffa once wrote:

Human nature possesses an irreducible—or, if you will, an irremedial—capacity for resisting domination. We humans will not accept an harmonious arrangement of our lives that denies us all freedom to act as individuals. . . . We will not recognize as good any course of action that annihilates our sense of responsibility for the course of our lives. We cannot care for a world, however ostensibly good, in which we cannot recognize ourselves, or any whom we love.

This does not mean all tyrannies are destined to fail—certainly not in the short-term. Nor does it mean that freedom can be maintained without effort and cost. But it does mean that nothing in human life is preordained, except perhaps by God whose will we cannot fathom. 

What is ordained is that every human being retains the power to love what is noble and good. Each of us is free to live well, to speak the truth, and to uphold our moral convictions. 

“Never give in,” Churchill proclaimed in 1941.

[N]ever give in, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

Good advice, especially in these abnormal times. 

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About Glenn Ellmers

Glenn Ellmers' new book, The Narrow Passage: Plato, Foucault, and the Possibility of Political Philosophy, will be published by Encounter this summer. He is the author of The Soul of Politics: Harry V. Jaffa and the Fight for America and the Salvatori Research Fellow of the American Founding at the Claremont Institute. He is also a fellow of the Center for American Greatnsss.

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