The Destructionist Phase of American History

The Destructionist Phase of American History
Thomas Cole's series of five paintings is a time machine of sorts. It shows the rise and fall of man's morality and civilization. “The Course of Empire: Destruction,” 1836, by Thomas Cole. Oil on Canvas, 39.5 inches by 63.5 inches. New York Historical Society. (Public Domain)
Jeffrey A. Tucker

For reasons I do not understand, I happen to be on the Democratic Party email list for donors. Several times per day, I receive notes demanding money. If I give $7, I could get a phone call from Joe Biden! Also, if I cough up for this or that candidate, the party will be well-positioned to spend many trillions more of tax dollars and then fund a police-state operation to seize more money from the American middle class. This way we can save the planet, or something.

It’s tedious or terrifying, depending on one’s mood at the moment. What’s most striking is the complete lack of self-awareness. They are throwing out all settled principles of fiscal responsibility, all embedded values over privacy and property, all concern for constitutional limitations on the state, all science and rationality, all in the pursuit of some wild ideological vision that they share but overwhelming numbers of the rest of the thinking public reject.

How does this happen? For one thing, they happen to have all the power now: Presidency, Senate, and House. They know that this happened for anomalous reasons mostly due to a divisive election and mail-in voting that was made permissible due to irrational disease panic whipped up by national media. Presto, they captured the big prize. They know they will hold this gold ring only for a few more months. They are making the best of it.

Most of us stand back in shock and wonder how any gang of rulers could be so lacking in intelligence, decency, social responsibility, and be so completely devoid of piety toward our history and laws that they would dare do everything possible to shred them in broad daylight. And then dare to raise money based on their good works! It strikes us as bordering on the pathological, along the lines of what one might observe in “The Joker.”

You can almost imagine the movie. The main villain blows up the museum and unleashes every manor of chaos in the streets. Then he looks into the camera and says: “I call this my Inflation Reduction Act.”

Also center stage in American life today is the first-ever federal police raid of a former president’s private residency, searching a private safe, personal closets, and more, taking passports and other documents. All we seem to know is that this is related to materials that the National Archives and Justice Department believe are classified and therefore should be in their possession. Still, the whole thing smells of brutal politics, not democracy but ancient-world stuff.

All of this happens as we close the chapter on the virus, a time when the government complied with the New York Times’ exhortation to “go medieval” on the virus by violating everyone’s rights and abolishing their liberties in the name of a futile effort to stop pathogenic spread. It has left massive destruction in its wake. We are in or close to recession plus inflation for this very reason.

In other words, this point in American history is the perfect storm of chaos that fundamentally threatens every core value of the country, and every core postulate of basic humane values. It’s the destructionist phase.

A good friend of mine, an extraordinary historian, is wedded to the worldview of David Hume. There is no meta-narrative to history, no big themes, no sweeping tendencies, much less mystical tendencies at work. Stuff just happens. We slog from thing to thing, age to age, learn some things along the way while forgetting more, and gradually cobble together a workable life.

That might be completely correct. But I cannot resist at least fitting the pieces into an overall schema. Ludwig von Mises offered just such a model, and it formed the basis of his 1922 treatise called “Socialism.” He charted how millenarian intellectual movements begin in idealism and end in destruction. It could take a year or one hundred, depending on circumstances. But the course is always the same.
1. The Intellectual Stage. A small group of fancy people who imagine themselves to be philosopher kings reimagine how the world should work, targeting various settled institutions as the key problem that is preventing the dawn of utopia of their imaginings. They set out to crush the bad thing to allow the emergence of the great thing, transitioning us from hell to heaven.
2. The Rationale Stage. No egg-headed, salon-dwelling cabal stands any chance of social and political influence without some socially conscious ideological rationale behind it. Thus begins the brainstorming of the propaganda. This will make everyone richer! This will emancipate the working classes! This will make everything healthy and happy forever! Whatever the final result, the point is to disguise the reality that this new ideology is really the creation of a privileged elite.
3. The Trial Stage. If the above stage goes well and the elites gain power as the vanguard of the great cause, they now face the problem of having to prove their concept. They implement various measures, fight among themselves, purge deviationists, and further codify their doctrine and protect it against corruption. They ask for time to show the world the wonders of their theories. And they get to work doing mostly crazy things that make no sense.
4. The Religious Stage. Realizing that not everyone is up for reading their treatises and following every point of their chosen dialectic, they find other means to drum up support. They invade the space that society usually reserves for religious faith. They cobble together a social ritual and liturgy. They lift up and celebrate new prophets and saints. They compose hymns, arrange pilgrimages to holy sites, compel confessions of sins, inspire uniforms, and mandate daily acts of obeisance that enable the dispensing of political grace.
5. The Collapsing Stage. The trouble is that none of this works to bring about the utopia. Quite the reverse: all the ideals seem to be turned on their heads. Promised prosperity turns to poverty. The intended health and well-being become ill-health and suffering. Harmony becomes hate. Stability becomes chaos. People become incredulous and start imagining revolutionary solutions. They turn on the elites who gave birth to this insanity. They swear revenge. The movement grows to a majority and more. The military starts to turn, and the press too. The entire experiment is in tatters.
6. The Destructionist Stage. One might suppose that the elites would feel sorrow and apologize. Humbled by events, they beg forgiveness and let life return to normal. This never happens. And this is for a reason: the elites who concocted the scheme regard their personal superiority as a given. If something doesn’t work, it’s not their fault: it’s the people’s fault, or society, or the natural world, or tradition, or stubborn inability of a corrupt world to adapt.

The final stage is obviously the most dangerous. This is when the ideological elites, and any poor schlubs they happened to have recruited to their cause, seek revenge on the world they tried to reformulate and mold into their vision. Now they hate the place and seek revenge on all the things and people who made them look ridiculous. At this point, all decency and morality are thrown out the window. There is only one goal: to destroy. They develop a death wish for anything and anyone who opposes them.

We might be at this stage of American history. Think about all the ideologies loose on the land that have gone wrong for many decades now. All the claims to improve the world through top-down coercion have failed. Most recently, the war on the virus was a stunning flop and it left massive destruction and chaos in its wake. The schemers and plotters behind that may have gotten rich but the public is furious beyond description.

With the war on the virus came a whole series of implausible claims that are today summarized in the term woke. That’s a cultural agenda but it easily overlaps with the technocratic/primitivism pushed by the World Economic Forum and also with various other movements in power. Under the most honest scenario, they would give up and go home. That’s not what is happening. They will never give up.

Instead, we are in a protracted battle for the soul of man. It’s sad to watch, truly pathetic and often terrifying. Such is the final stage of the evolution of ideology and its implementation. Once you see that now it is all about destruction, you cannot unsee it. The question now is how we go about stopping it.

Jeffrey A. Tucker is the founder and president of the Brownstone Institute, and the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press, as well as 10 books in five languages, most recently “Liberty or Lockdown.” He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He writes a daily column on economics for The Epoch Times and speaks widely on the topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.