Mature citizens of democratic nations who tuned into the U.S. national party conventions this month couldn’t help coming away with some troubling concerns about the level of discord at the center of the free world.
For more than a century, socialist opinion-makers have sought to delegitimize Western institutions, undermine confidence in capitalist economic principles, and prepare us to accept a 21st-century Marxist revolution through the ballot box.
High-stakes global gamblers heading up multinational corporations have also begun to hedge their bets on the survival of the United States as a world leader. Some prefer to bet on China.
A Tale of Two Countries
Nothing illustrates our present cultural divide more clearly than the works of two 19th-century American novelists, Horatio Alger and Edward Bellamy. Both hailed from the state of Massachusetts. While neither achieved an extraordinary level of literary merit, both had a pivotal influence on the dispositions that inform contemporary politics.
Alger was born in 1832 and lived until the final year of America’s fast-developing 19th century. He wrote novels for young adults, mostly about impoverished boys who, through hard work, determination, courage, honesty, and providence, rose to live dignified, secure, and prosperous middle-class lives—lives that might take a poor boy “from cotton to Congress” as U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, might say.
Alger’s novels were generally uplifting “rags-to-riches” stories. He secured a lifetime reputation in 1868 with his fourth novel “Ragged Dick,” the story of a poor bootblack who rose to a respectable middle-class position in American society. That novel and the many that followed sold in the thousands and were thought to have a formative effect on the character of young American entrepreneurs.
Although popular with the common man, Alger’s novels soon became the target of critical analysis among progressive intellectuals. American socialists were convinced that success in a capitalist meritocracy could never be within the reach of the lower born. They maligned the author’s contention that success can be achieved through hope, optimism, virtue, perseverance, and hard work as the “Horatio Alger Myth.”
Bellamy’s Dark Vision of American Capitalism
Bellamy was born in 1850. The son of a Baptist minister, his literary career was relatively undistinguished until 1888, when he published his famous utopian socialist novel, “Looking Backward.” Bellamy’s socialist fantasy is said to have influenced by such prominent “progressive” thinkers as John Dewey, Thorstein Veblen, Eugene V. Debs, and Norman Thomas.
“Looking Backward” was among the most commercially successful books in late 19th-century America. Unlike Alger’s novels, it especially appealed to the growing cohort of “progressive” intellectuals troubled by industrial capitalism in the nation’s so-called “Gilded Age.”
Bellamy’s novel is the story of Julian West, a young Bostonian who is put into a hypnotic sleep in 1888 and awakens in the year 2000 in a socialist utopia. In conversations with the family who takes him in, West discovers he has entered an ideal new society in which crime, violence, personal animosity, competition, and want no longer exist and perfect equality in material wealth has been achieved.
Bellamy’s readers soon learn that the transition from capitalism to socialism took place without violence or convulsion. According to West’s 21st-century hosts, America’s transformation had been long foreseen: “Public opinion had become fully ripe for it, and the whole mass of the people was behind it. There was no more possibility of opposing it by force than by argument.”
America had become a socialist’s dream come true without a shot being fired.
West sadly recalled the capitalist society he grew up in as a “prodigious coach which the masses of humanity were harnessed to and dragged toilsomely along a very hilly and sandy road.” Had Bellamy’s main character awoken in 2020 instead of 2000, he would have fit seamlessly into the program of this year’s Democratic National Convention.
Ready for Revolution?
Socialist fantasies have echoed through modern history for what is beginning to feel like an eternity. When Marxists set out to capture a culture they anticipate that the state will fall like low-hanging fruit. More than ever, young Democrats have been conditioned to accept the premises of socialism and reject the spirit of Alger’s opportunity society.
Throughout the 20th century, Bellamy’s vision of a peaceful transformation to socialism was celebrated by scores of international academics. For example, the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci argued in the 1930s that a Marxist revolution could succeed through a prior “war of position” in the form of a struggle for the hearts and minds of a nation.
Gramsci’s idea of a “counter-hegemonic” struggle, promoting “progressive” alternatives to America’s founding principles, gained broad appeal among intellectuals and contributed to the post-modern contention that knowledge and truth are just “social constructs” that serve to legitimize a flawed capitalist status quo.
By 2020 it was abundantly clear that the Democratic Party had become a vessel for some form of socialist revolution. From Bellamy and Gramsci to Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, AOC, and Joe Biden, that party now looks forward to a complete transformation of America.
Betting Against the American Spirit
Early this year, providence appeared to fortune the left. In one of those operatic reversals of human fortune, the economic success and sense of renewal brought about during President Donald Trump’s first term in office was tragically overturned by plague, recession, unemployment, street violence, and collective anxiety.
Rational observers of world events rightly attributed responsibility for the spread of the CCP virus pandemic and the global economic downturn to the Chinese Communist Party. But for those who believe truth to be a “social construct,” anything and everything could be blamed on Trump.
Up until mid-August, the president and the Republican Party appeared to be on the ropes. In the halls of Congress, academic institutions, Hollywood salons, newsrooms, and corporate HR departments, Bellamy-style illusions about “reimagining” America danced in the minds of power-hungry radical elites.
Then came the 2020 party conventions.
The Democrats, brimming with adolescent overconfidence, convened for a full week of gloom, doom, smug presumption, and deflected responsibility. They trotted out a tired old parade of entertainers, establishment politicians, and progressive pundits to lecture ordinary Americans about the wickedness of Trump and the futility of seeking to “make America great again.”
They blamed the president for everything that has gone wrong since Beijing allowed the virus to spread around the world, and they took no responsibility for the wave of riots, arson, and murder growing out of the racial tensions simmering for decades in Democratic-managed inner cities.
Republicans countered with a completely different vision of America. They understood that for freedom-loving people, who believe that almost nothing can hold them back forever, pessimism is an alien state of mind. Even when institutions sometimes fail vulnerable people, as they most certainly do, Americans are inclined to examine their mistakes, correct their course, and move forward.
One after another, extraordinary American citizens from almost every walk of life came forward to deliver eloquent and moving accounts of personal striving, success, and love of country. The Republican event became a collection of Horatio Alger stories celebrating the achievements and contributions of hard-working, competitive individuals that ordinary people identify with.
As Epoch Times contributor Roger L. Simon put it after the first day of the Republican convention: “It’s the old question of whether you’re a half-full or a half-empty person, and the Republicans are banking on the half-full side of the ledger.”
So am I.
William Brooks is a Montreal writer and educator. He currently serves as editor of “The Civil Conversation” for Canada’s Civitas Society and is an Epoch Times contributor.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.