“A very dangerous pre-civilizational pathology is tribalism … I hire my first cousin—and not the other person who’s better qualified—because he’s part of the tribe,” says classicist and historian Victor Davis Hanson. Now, “we’ve gone back in a retrograde fashion to a pre-civilizational mentality,” Hanson says.
In this episode, we discuss his latest book, “The Dying Citizen: How Progressive Elites, Tribalism, and Globalization Are Destroying the Idea of America.”
Jan Jekielek: Dr. Victor Davis Hanson, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Victor Davis Hanson, PhD: Thank you for having me.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, I have had such a good time reading your new book, “The Dying Citizen.” This governance by the expert class that you mention in the epilogue of the book has greatly accelerated in 2020, the annus horribilis, as you call it. At the same time, we’re seeing it failing in real time.
It seems like there’s a lot of people that are becoming aware of this in different areas, be it around coronavirus or critical social justice orthodoxy. There’s a very interesting opportunity at rekindling the idea of citizenship in all of this. Tell me what you think.
Mr. Hanson: I hope so. I tried to write “The Dying Citizen” with the idea of some historical or cultural history and background, and then contemporary examples that reflect those long-standing trends. But I had no idea when I finished the book that we would see this disaster at the border or General Milley or what’s happened in Afghanistan or critical race theory to the same degree. I’d like to think it was prescient.
I’ll give you an example of what you’re talking about. General Milley is not elected, but in the space of about 10 days, we learned that he called his Chinese Communist counterpart, and suggested he would tip them off if he thought Trump would do some sort of preemptive action. Then he said, “Democracy is messy.” I think the Chinese loved to hear that.
He said later, when asked under oath, he didn’t really believe that Trump was deranged or non compos mentis. Then he interrupted the chain of command concerning nuclear protocols, even though the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is forbidden by statute from interfering in the chain of command.
Then we heard that he violated Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice by disparaging his commander in chief—not retired, but an active military officer—when he told a couple of journalists that Donald Trump was Hitlerian or reminded him of “Mein Kampf.” He hasn’t denied that.
Then we go to Dr. Fauci. He still cannot explain to us—he tries, but the more he denies, the more ridiculous he seems—[how] he channeled $600,000 through EcoHealth. Like the fox in the chicken house when it was auditing itself, to tell Americans that there was no problem here. But nevertheless, he channeled it through EcoHealth, who then gave that money to ground zero— the virology lab in Wuhan—which we now know is the source of the virus.
I won’t even get into Hunter Biden or Bill Gates, what they’ve said about China. We have this class of people … Hunter Biden wasn’t elected to anything. I don’t know how he rides on Air Force Two when Joe Biden was vice president or how he navigates with his latest art project. General Milley was not elected, and Anthony Fauci was not elected.
But they all seem to exercise judicial, executive, and legislative powers. For all their ecumenicalism and globalism, they seem to be completely blind to the atrocity that’s the modern Chinese Communist Party.
Mr. Jekielek: I definitely want to talk a little bit about how the CCP has leveraged all this, but I’m very fascinated by this intersection of the administrative state and the critical social justice movement. It seems like the whole ideology, and the movement that’s inseparable from it, they’re almost tailor-made for a large bureaucracy to enact.
Mr. Hanson: Yes, I think so. I kept quoting examples from the McCarthy period or what George Orwell wrote in “Animal Farm” or “1984.” You get the impression that when you have two million federal employees, and a couple of thousand PhDs, MBAs or JDs in the New York-Washington nexus—they tend to be almost organic. Anybody who feeds this unaccountable amoeba, they like and they enlist, whether it’s James Comey, John Brennan or Kevin Clinesmith.
Whoever they are, they feel they’re exempt from all audit, and they’re exercising an enormous amount of power. You see it recently, when we see that Merrick Garland suggested that the FBI look into legitimate protests of parents over critical racial theory.
He said that at a time when it’s a federal crime to harass a U.S. Senator. We had a U.S. Senator in a bathroom who was harangued and actually filmed, which is also a felony in the state of Arizona where it took place, Senator Sinema. Then she was harassed on a federal monitored flight, which is also illegal, when the same protester came up and yelled at her. Yet the FBI was completely uninterested.
I think what people are most afraid of is, they’re just now discovering that the IRS—now they’re going to have access to accounts without a warrant if there’s $600 withdrawn in cash. They’re just starting to see that in this electronic age, the age-old worry about an administrative state has now become critical because they have the technological electronic means of instantaneous connection, communication, and power.
Whether it’s the IRS, James Comey’s FBI, John Brennan’s CIA or General Milley’s Pentagon, they all have one thing in common. They seem to have nothing but disgust for the average citizen. Sometimes they reference white rage. Sometimes, in the case of Joe Biden, they say harassing a senator is just part of the process, or he’s used the word “chumps” and “dregs” to refer to the middle classes.
We had the “clingers” of Barack Obama. We had the “deplorables” of Hillary Clinton. But it doesn’t cease. It just continues as if there’s no downside. Either rhetorically or materially attacking people who suggest any doubt about the legitimacy or the efficacy of these federal governments.
Then just one last thing. This is all happening at a period of incompetence. So it raises the question, is this woke bureaucracy, this unelected overreach, is it a manifestation that they have their eyes on other things that are irrelevant, and they’re missing the critical issues—whether it’s the American mission in Afghanistan, true information about COVID, or getting tankers in the port of LA into port and the supply chain continued? Or is it just they’re doing all of this because they’re incompetent from the beginning, and it wasn’t a distraction, just never can do things right? That’s more acute, and this becomes a huge veneer to distract from what they should be doing. I don’t have that answer.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s fascinating because it seems in every area at least some of this incompetence that you describe, or lack of a willingness to look at all the options or possibilities, seems to be demonstrated to us. Day after day, there’s a new thing that comes up that showcases this.
Mr. Hanson: Yes. One thing that I think is missing from the equation that I haven’t referenced is that there seems to be a progressive ideological code with all of these bureaucrats. We saw the anonymous person during the Trump administration, the New York Times ran his op-ed.
They only ran it because he said there was a cabal within the government to dethrone Donald Trump. When they magnified his rank, and said he was a key figure in the administration, he was actually a minor figure. Or when we hear James Comey say 245 times he can’t remember. Or Robert Mueller doesn’t remember the two catalysts of his own investigation, Fusion GPS and the Steele dossier.
The common denominator is it all is taking place from a progressive ideological point of view. Whether that is just pure politics or it’s a phenomenon of Donald Trump, or it’s just innate to the idea that the left grows government bureaucracy and redistributes income, and that’s what these people are tasked to do in various manifestations, I don’t know again.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, why do you feel like this progressive ethos—and you document this quite extensively in the first chapter, and throughout—is set against a thriving middle-class?
Mr. Hanson: I think there’s a lot of reasons, one is cultural. The elite feels that those striving to be in the upward income brackets, they lack the culture or the panache of the wealthy, so these are deprecated as poor. They have poor taste, they’re smelly. I’m quoting literally now. The CNN reporter said he went to a Trump rally, and he had more teeth than everybody in the audience.
They feel that they buy Winnebagos or jet skis. They have to be told not to buy a snowmobile or they operate a gas-powered lawn mower. They’re not willing to take mass transit, and live in high rises so that people from Atherton, tthe Upper West Side or Palm Beach can exercise control over them. Then they lack the romance of the poor, and I mean the distant poor—the people that the wealthy romanticize, but they never see.
Then there’s a little bit of envy or anger that the very wealthy and the elite that have positions of influence and power, have an addict mentality. They want to close the trap door, and not let people come up, either economically or influentially, as they do. They really resent the aspirations of the middle-class.
Finally, the middle class. To become middle class, they’re interested in their family, their church, their country, their history, their traditions. The people who are very wealthy feel that they have surmounted the existential challenge or race to survive one more day, and they have the luxury of pontificating on all of these extraneous issues, cosmic issues, transgenderism.
And the people who don’t are smelly, grubby people who are always at the bottom reaching out one more day, “Am I going to get a raise at work? Should I get a Passport or a Pilot Honda?” They feel that they’ve transcended that and they’re philosophers, and these guys are Roman Legionnaires.
They have no appreciation for the muscular classes, it’s clear that they don’t. You really saw that during the quarantine, where the Zoom class just thrived as never before, and acted as if they deserved to thrive. Then all the people, whether they were Amazon drivers or delivery people from Home Depot, gave them all the products that kept them writing and thinking, but there was no appreciation for that, it seemed.
Mr. Jekielek: This raises a very fascinating area. With this obsession on identitarian structure as opposed to, say, class structure, it’s almost like a whole class is being left behind—the working class, as you’ve identified. That cannot be good for a society.
Mr. Hanson: No, it isn’t. One of the things I tried to point out in “The Dying Citizen” is when the idea of citizenship and consensual government originated in Greece, and then later in Rome, everyone—either practically, as we look at ancient constitutions, or philosophically, of people like Plato or Aristotle that reflected upon these developments—said that the mesaíoi, the middle people, were essential because you needed a broad-enough people to check the undue influence of the wealthy that would always try to leverage their influence and power, and yet you did not want a group of people who were dependent on the government.
That was thematic. Modern treatises, like the 19th century, 1835, “Democracy in America” by Tocqueville, said America can make it because they have land and yeomanry, and they’re going to make an autonomous, independent, grouchy, outspoken middle class. It will be large, and it will be more than just the wealthy, and the poor. We won’t have a medieval bifurcation or a binary. Everybody has said that the middle class is absolutely critical.
When you meet middle class people, they combine what is necessary in a consensual society. They have experience with reality because they have to work, and keep working to feed their families, and get shelter, and they understand muscular work. Yet they’re not just brutes, and they’re not dependents.
They’re also thinking, planning, and strategizing for their own interest. So they combine muscular activity, and thought or intellectual activity. That’s the harmony that sometimes the wealthy lose out on—knowledge of the farming, and the oil, the minerals, the steel, the manufacturing that makes America go—and then the poor, who don’t really worry as much about who’s going to pay for all this largesse.
It’s very unpopular to say that, I guess since Marx—that you’re an advocate of this ancient idea of a middle class because they’re the bourgeoisie. They’re the people who have assumed control of society without the proper ideological preparation, so to speak.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, as you’re speaking right now, I can’t help thinking about the raisin farming anecdote that you raised, actually having been a raisin farmer, and some of the fascinating realities of the government control around that. We won’t discuss that here. I’ll let the people who actually read the book find out more about that. But this progressive approach to the world, you make a convincing case that it is regressive to a pre-Athenian Roman time.
Mr. Hanson: Yes. In the first part when I say the citizen is dying, I didn’t say he was dead, so I have some optimism. What I meant was there were forces from the bottom, organic natural forces that we all know from history.
One of them we just talked about was this erosion of the middle class that has been accentuated by globalization that rewarded skills on the two coasts at the expense of muscular skills that could be replaced or duplicated abroad in the interior. But two other things in this first half of the book I thought were also ancient, and they’re very relevant today. One is the idea that we’re making residents of the same status as citizens.
When you have a border that’s just a migratory construct, and two million people in this fiscal year alone are scheduled to come across, then there’s really no point in saying that I’m a citizen and you’re not a citizen. I have responsibilities that you don’t have. I have rights that you don’t have. I have a sacred space where I inculcate a common language, a common history, a common tradition.
But when you have 45 million people that were not born in the United States, or 27% of the population of California was not born in the United States, it becomes very hard to assimilate, integrate, intermarry, and inculcate citizens so they’re on the same intellectual, cultural, physical landscape.
Finally, you mentioned earlier, a very dangerous pre-civilizational pathology is tribalism—whether they’re the Goths or the Vandals, the Ostrogoths or the Huns, or whoever was attacking the Romans, or whether there were people in medieval times that did the same.
The idea that you identify with the person who has superficial affinities with you, i.e., appearance—skin color, hair color, eye color or linguistic commonalities. So I hire my first cousin, and not the other person who’s better qualified because he’s part of the tribe.
It’s very disheartening, 50 years after the civil rights movement and longer, and after the death of Martin Luther King Jr., to hear that it’s the color of our skin, and not the content of our character, or you must be racist to stop racism, or you must be discriminatory to stop discrimination. We’ve gone back in a retrograde fashion to a pre-civilizational mentality.
Mr. Jekielek: Even the concept of rights is something that, today, is hard for people to wrap their heads around. Certain rights come with citizenship, and there are responsibilities that come with the rights, but that’s not necessarily something that’s very understood right now, is it?
Mr. Hanson: It isn’t. One of the things I did in “The Dying Citizen,” I said these are the things that used to be unique to citizenship, and let’s see if they apply anymore. Only a citizen would be in the military. That’s not true anymore. Only a citizen could qualify for entitlements. That’s not true anymore. Only a citizen could vote in an election. That seems to be not true anymore, [now] that we have school board elections where people who are not citizens voting.
Only a citizen can go back and forth without permission of the government across the border once they have a passport. That doesn’t seem to be true. We’re seeing people just come across the border, and go back and forth without any permission in a way that …
If you or I were coming into LAX or JFK and we lost our passport, we’re going to be taken into another room and interrogated. Then maybe, if we have enough ID, we’ll get a temporary passport of some sort to get us home, but we’ll probably miss our flight. That’s not true of the people coming across.
The only thing that I can think of that a citizen now enjoys that a migratory resident doesn’t is the ability to hold office, and that, as we speak, is under debate right now. Why can’t illegal aliens hold office?
When you see an illegal alien go into a public restroom and get in the face of a U.S. senator as she’s going to the bathroom in the stall, then film that when that is a felony—to release into the public domain a picture of somebody using a restroom facility.
Or go in and hassle or disrupt a person’s flight, which is against the law according to the Federal Aviation Administration standard, and that person is here illegally. Then, you want to know what is the difference between the U.S. senator and the illegal alien? There’s no difference in their status. In fact, that person who did that seems to be exempt from all rules.
If the first thing you do is commit a crime when you cross a border illegally, and the second thing you do is reside illegally, and the third, in so many cases, is that you get ID that allows you to justify the first two transgressions, and that’s not against the law, then the immigrant or the migrant says to themselves, “This is a very strange country. I just entered it illegally, I’m here illegally, and I have all these IDs that are illegal, and yet I am romanticized and I’m given exemptions that even citizens are not accorded.” Which begs the question, why is this?
Mr. Jekielek: Absolutely. The high expectations of tolerance, as the one that you just described, being placed on Americans, are uniquely placed on America by Americans, not by anybody else—by the people espousing this ideology.
Mr. Hanson: Yes. I think part of it is it’s more mundane, crass. It’s just the Democratic Party and the progressive movement, and indeed the left in general, is at a crisis because they say to themselves, since the ’60s, we’ve had this long march. We took over professional sports, entertainment, Hollywood, the corporate boardroom, Wall Street, K through 12, academia, foundations, Silicon Valley—and yet we only get 30% to 40% that poll.
Now we know what the agenda is. It’s a globalist agenda in foreign policy. It’s critical race theory, and a tribal agenda. It’s the New Green Deal. It’s open borders. Now they say, well, we only have two avenues to retain, hold or acquire power. One is to change the demography and to destroy the idea of citizenship and borders. Allow people just to migrate in who don’t have the skills, the linguistic experience or the capital so they’ll be immediately dependent upon this federal octopus which we feed, and we’ll expect fealty in return.
Or … that was the second part of the book. We’ve talked about the administrative state. The second chapter of the postmodern attack on citizenship were these evolutionaries, and now they want to change the very system.
You and I have seen it when we’ve talked before about actually wanting to do away by one vote in the Senate, the 233-year-old electoral college or 233-year-old constitutional prerogative of states to set most of the protocols in a national election, 150-year nine-person Supreme Court, 180-year filibuster, 50-state union.
Now they’re even going after the idea, and it’s very common now, that why are senators not proportionally represented? Why does somebody in California have to have 20 million people per senator, and somebody in Wyoming has only 240,000?
If you say to them, as I have, “Because we’re not a radical democracy like Athens. We’re a constitutional republic, and that system was never that we’re just a conglomeration of people. We’re 50 unique states, regional places that are coming together under common associations. But [we] are all skeptical about a federal monstrosity guiding and controlling every aspect of our lives, so we have protections from the states.
It’s in the Constitution that all powers not explicitly defined as the domain of the federal government go to the state. They haven’t even started yet. They really have this idea that they will only acquire and retain power the more radical they get, and that means destroying these constitutional guardrails against demagoguery.
Mr. Jekielek: This is an interesting question. Are the people who have been globalists for decades that are in government today, and believe in this unrestricted free trade, at least on America’s part … All the elements of globalism that you depict in the book, they’re not completely ideologically aligned with the critical social justice movement.
They probably aren’t aligned, but there seems to be this, as you describe, octopus of some shared commonalities among these people. I’m not even talking about the Democratic Party specifically, even though it seems to be beholden to this, but all the people in this unelected bureaucracy and some aspects of civil society.
Mr. Hanson: I think that’s a good point. That’s why I put those two chapters last, the unelected right juxtaposed to globalists. Just think of what we saw in Afghanistan. It’s almost a colonialist or neocolonialist mentality.
We had the U.S. military skedaddling in shame. But that very moment, and I’m talking over the final humiliating weeks in Afghanistan, we had the pride flag on the U.S. embassy, we had George Floyd murals in Afghanistan, in Kabul’s streets, and we had a huge gender studies program at the Kabul University.
So globalism is okay culturally because it promotes a particular view of culture or radical democracy or equity, diversity, and inclusion. Therefore you can impose those values on a traditional society like Afghanistan, even though the left says that would be culturally appropriating their culture, or damning them, or colonialism.
This new version of this hardcore neosocialism, neo-Marxism, transcends all of the other political stances that the left used to have. You can really see what’s happening when the Secretary of State, Mr. Blinken, tells us that he’s invited the UN to come in and adjudicate whether we’re racist or not at a time when, say, China has over a million and a half people incarcerated in a labor camp.
Or we’re supposed to join the Paris climate accord even though our previous natural gas production and usage had ensured that we have fewer carbon emissions than the people, especially India and China, that were in that group. Or the multilateral Iran deal, to obtain the fides of our allies, we had to sneak $400 million at night as a payoff, even though we knew they were violating it.
The problem with all of this world government, and the Greeks started it when they started talking about the cosmopolitan, the citizen of the world, is that it always is subject to the weakest link.
If you have 190 nations, and over half of them are non-democratic, but you believe in democracy as we do, then you have to say even the non-democratic states get to vote. Therefore, there’s going to be a non-democratic either equality or maybe a partisan superiority in every consensus that applies to us.
I don’t want to dwell on it, but the elephant in the room of globalism is China, and China has brilliantly mastered the American mind. The more that it talks about globalism, notice that it also combines what you were talking about.
It combines outrage about racism, so it will say, “We want an ecumenical community of nations, i.e., run by us and which we’re exempt, and we can direct all of the envy and anger at the United States. Then we want to damn it for being the only multiracial democracy in the history of civilization that works, even though we’re a very racist communist party.”
Yet people in the West seem to give China an exemption that they would never give for Russia, as we saw during the Russian collusion hoax.
Mr. Jekielek: The critical part to note here is that China gives itself, under the Communist Party, the biggest exemption in all of this, while doing all of this that you describe.
Mr. Hanson: Yes, absolutely. You can really see it on the left. I’m 68, and as you get older, I know that it’s a tendency of human nature to get cynical.
But when you look at the left today, it has very little to do with diversity, inclusion, and equity. It’s all about self, narcissism, and the retention and acquisition of power. Because if it were not, then these school deans and presidents who are writing these memos about inclusion and all of this, they would be putting their kids in the public school or they would be living in communities that were diverse, and they’re not.
If it were true, they would not be going after minor presidents like John Tyler or somebody from our past and saying, “We’re going to take his picture down.” Who cares about John Tyler? Because he’s racist. They would be going after Che Guevara, who was a racist and a homophobe. We know that because he said that, and he wrote that. Yet they won’t do that.
They’d go after Mao the same way. For them, it’s a selective use of history to create a narrative that the United States is racist and pathological, and somehow we can apply the standards of the present to condemn the past to acquire power in the future.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, I can’t help but think about something that the Chinese Communist Party and the critical social justice movement have in common—which is this idea, “If you’re not with me, if you don’t accept my ideas or my position wholeheartedly in your heart, then you’re the enemy. Then you’re Hitler. You pose an existential dilemma for me.” This is a huge question.
Mr. Hanson: Yes. I try to point out in “The Dying Citizen,” why is that? Why is the left the party of the cancel culture? Why does it, as Barack Obama says, get in their faces, or Maxine Waters, follow them everywhere? Why is it a 360-degree, 24-hours-a-day, lidless eye that never sleeps?
I think they feel that, like French revolutionaries under the Jacobins during the Reign of Terror, that equity is the most important thing, that even though we’re born into the world as different people—some of us are going to have better inheritances, some none. Some of us are going to be healthy, some poor health our entire lives. Some of us are going to be lucky, some unlucky. Some slothful, some lazy, some brilliant, some stupid …
There’s so many variables that most political philosophers throughout history said, don’t try to outsmart human nature, or God, or the way the world works. Just make a framework so you have an equality of opportunity, and then make a social [inaudible 32:28] that encourages the wealthy and the winners to help the poor.
But when you come in and say equity, not equality, equity—that is, equality of result on the back end. Then you say, “I need all of this power to ensure that people are equal, so they all die the same way they were born. Therefore, I’m going to be the architect of it, and I need this power.” If I’m John Kerry, I need to go on a jet plane with a high carbon emission rate to stop carbon emissions.
When I was a student, all we heard was “any means necessary,” and that was quoting Sartre or Fanon, or even Malcolm X. Then it became “the noble ends justify the means,” however sordid. The point was I never thought I’d see those resurrected because they were so logically fallacious, and nobody really thought you could run a society by justifying any type of behavior.
But when I saw that clip the other day of the harassment of Senator Sinema, and then you hear what people are doing, going to people’s homes and siccing the FBI on legitimate criticism, you do get the impression that the left now feels that they have a superior morality, and therefore they’re not accountable in a symmetrical way.
By that I mean, if they destroy for 120 days $2 billion in property, 28 people die, looting, arson, protests, torch two federal courthouses, that’s not the same as a January 6th riot, which was deplorable on the side of right.
But in one case, you don’t dare put federal troops. That would be fascistic to restore order in Washington when they try to burn down, indeed, torch, the St. John’s Episcopal Church. But you know what? Even though we’re leftists, let’s get 25,000 troops out there in the streets of Washington to monitor mythical white supremacy demonstrations that will follow—which, of course, none did.
That’s what’s scary. I think that’s what you were saying. You can’t argue with these people because it’s almost a religious cult, and they believe in faith, not empiricism. “We are better than you because we believe in a radical equality of result, and therefore we have to have the power and the means to do anything to achieve it—because you’re guilty, or you’re white, or you’re selfish, or you’re poorly educated,” or something.
History is full of these periods when these people take over, whether it’s Stalin or Mao, and they’re just as dangerous as the far right—more dangerous because they are much more adept at government control.
Mr. Jekielek: Two things I’m thinking. One is that anyone that’s attracted to power would definitely be attracted into working in this structure. I can imagine how that might work. The second thing is this higher morality. I think of Marcuse’s repressive tolerance idea.
Mr. Hanson: Yes. Of all of the Frankfurt School, he was the most honest in saying that, “We’re not going to be symmetrical. We’re not going to be even-handed. We are going to decide what can be tolerated and what is not to be tolerated.
Because we’re revolutionaries, and we start with the deductive premise that we are morally superior, and our goals are morally superior, and they’re not subject to empirical audit or censure.” Once you have that attitude, then what do you stop at? Mao’s 60 million dead, Stalin’s 20 million dead, Pol Pot’s three million dead.
Donald Trump said if they start tearing down statues at night without a vote of the city council, they won’t just stop with Confederate mediocrities; they’ll go on to Jefferson or Frederick Douglass or Lincoln. And they did exactly that.
Now we’re in fear of them. Nobody will ever put up a statue as long as they’re around because they know they’ll tear it down for whatever particular moral excuse that they provide. It’s almost Orwellian.
I mentioned in the book, one day I went during the lockdown to my office at the Hoover Institution. I looked down at Junipero Serra Plaza. It was named after that great Catholic missionary of the late 18th century that founded the California mission system, and introduced a lot of agriculture and settled development.
He was a man of his time, so he’s now ridiculed for trying to bring in an alien religion to indigenous people, et cetera. But the next time I came back, I said, “Where’s the plaza?” The name had been taken off. I don’t know what happened, but it was almost as if you were in the 1930s with Trotsky, and all of a sudden his name disappeared.
Then I noticed that one day I wrote Boalt Hall in a column, and the guy said, “It doesn’t exist anymore.” Then I thought, “Wow.” And the Wilson School of Diplomacy at Princeton no longer exists.
Insidiously, as you and I talk, these sleepless people are constantly recalibrating us into a year zero mentality, 1619 not 1776 or 1783. We’re not going to have any more names named. The San Francisco City Council is renaming schools. How do you fight that when these people are absorbed with it, and they have the support of all of our institutions?
I’m not trying to be alarmist, but when you have the CEO of Delta, the CEO of American Airlines, respectively, from Georgia and Texas, and they tell the country that providing an ID at an election under these recalibrated election laws, is racist. And you think, “Wait a minute. To get to your airline, I’ve got to have an ID to get through security or you won’t let me fly.”
I just called up the Delta helpline, that was six hours of waiting. Don’t you have to worry about that? Or in the case of American, the last two flights I had taken at the time when he said that, we headed in the opposite direction to find fuel because there was no fuel at the airport to give us enough aviation gas to get to our destination.
These are strange things, and they tell you why systems like communist China under Mao or the Stalinist Russia failed. Because they had these commissars everywhere and people were so scared of the person over their shoulder. They were virtue signaling all the time and they weren’t doing their job, and they weren’t accountable.
Nobody on the left said, “Thank you, American Airlines. You got everybody safely again today on time with fuel.” “Thank you, Delta Airlines. You have a very efficient online and phone service for people to change their flight when they’re canceled.” Instead, they say, “Oh my God, they didn’t say anything about the new voter law.” That’s what they’re afraid of. We’re living in the era of intimidation.
Mr. Jekielek: You just made me think about something else. Are we living more in “1984” or more in a “Brave New World”-type scenario?
Mr. Hanson: That’s a good point because the “Brave New” … Huxley’s novel emphasized the technological threat, and Orwell was the ideological threat. Although, of course, he said that technology was central to the big brother philosophy. So they’re both similar.
But I always go back to Orwell because he made this point again and again, that for a totalitarian regime to take and maintain power, they have to have the ability to intrude into every aspect of your life. With technology, he felt in 1947, when he wrote that … I think ’48, he started it, and it was published after his death. But he saw that this new communications that came after World War II might make the Soviet Union even more dangerous than it had been.
If I hang up and I go on a search and I buy something on Amazon, I’m going to get ads pop up all day long for related products. Or if I go to New York or to Santa Rosa and I open my computer, I’m going to see something about, “Wouldn’t you like to go to the Santa Rosa something or this New York bar?”
How do they know that I’m there? They have no idea, except for the inadvertent or the planned communication of the computer that I own, that I control. But yet it’s on its own, like it’s a maverick communicating with its master, Amazon.
Or when I go for searches and I say Russian collusion hoax, I’ve got to go through about 100 of them to find out the story. The rest of them is that the Russian collusion hoax was real. They order Google searches. Donald Trump can’t tweet. Okay, he was kind of crude. But the Taliban can, and the Iranian mullahs can? This electronic ability to change, filter, manipulate and warp our very thoughts and experiences, they tell the citizen, “Your ancient system is not surviving this.”
You have 102 million people who voted not on election day, and the error rate on absentee ballots, which was usually 2% to 4%, went down to 0.2% to 0.4%. That’s almost Orwellian. Give me more things to do, more ballots, and I’ll be more accurate. That doesn’t make sense, and yet that’s what we’re dealing with every day.
Then when you add the coercive element that we just talked about, that they feel they’re morally superior. In your case, General Milley—preposterously, he denied it, but not very strongly did he deny it—that The Epoch Times was a terrorist organization. Why would he say that? Because you’re doing an interview with people like myself, who question the orthodoxy, and yet they’re considered enemies of the people.
It’s really weird. Donald Trump, he’s exactly like that figure Emmanuel Goldstein in “1984,” that you put his picture on the theater screen, and then for two minutes everybody hates him, and then when something goes wrong, it’s him. Joe Biden can’t finish a sentence without saying, “Trump did it. Trump did it. Trump did it.” They ask us for these enormous leaps of confidence.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris say, “I’m not taking a vaccination with anything to do with Trump.” They downplay what they, at the time, said could have been life-saving for many people.
Then they almost talk it down, so that when they appropriate it, Operation Warp Speed, and then you’re supposed to just clear your memory banks and say, “Anybody that questions the efficacy of vaccination is a Trumper.” You think, “Well, Donald Trump’s project created it, and you damned it for political purposes.
Now you’ve stolen it and said it’s yours, and damning the people who were saying what you said.” It doesn’t make any sense, but it has this overriding moral agenda that they can do this because they’re so much better people than you and I are.
Mr. Jekielek: What you’re just describing is repressive tolerance at work, essentially.
Mr. Hanson: I was an undergraduate at 18 at UC Santa Cruz, and Norman O. Brown was a professor there. He was very sympathetic. He was a very famous cultural icon at the time. I had him, oddly, for Greek classes, and he would quote Marcuse.
One time, Marcuse came by at his home when we were there. The funny thing about all these people, they were traditional bourgeois people. They were finely dressed. The place where we met him, at Norman O. Brown’s home, was at Pasatiempo Golf Course. There were nice cars. Again, part of the cynicism that we have for these leftist agendas is we don’t think that these radical philosophers ever intend to experience the ramification firsthand of their own ideology.
Mr. Jekielek: Actually, let me mention this. General Milley did say he absolutely doesn’t believe that The Epoch Times is all those things that were alleged in the Woodward book. I can’t remember exactly what he said. But I’m glad he said that on record.
Mr. Hanson: He did say that, but do you remember when he was asked specifically, “According to the Woodward-Costa book, you wrote down a series of terrorists in your notes, I think, and one of them was Newsmax organization and Epoch Times,” and he said, I have no recollection of that. I don’t recall that?” All he had to say is, “That’s a flat lie and slander. I would never do that.” He didn’t do that. His denial was less than persuasive.
Anytime James Comey says he can’t recall 245 times under oath, or Robert Mueller says he has no idea, yet he can’t recall what Fusion GPS or the Steele dossier are, and yet that prompted his investigation and all James Comey did for two years, I just don’t… I’m not just saying that.
We’re getting back to the deep state again. When John Brennan says there is no way in the world that the CIA ever spied on Senate staff computers, and there’s no way in the world that any collateral damage or deaths occurred as a part of the Obama spy program. And then later said, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell the truth.”
Or James Clapper said there’s no way in the world that the NSA has ever spied on the American people. And they said, “Well, you said that under oath.” “Well, I gave the least untruthful answer I could.”
All of these people know one thing, unlike you and I. If we lie to a federal agency, we’re not going to end up like Andrew McCabe, where he lied on two or three, maybe four occasions to federal investigators. He was the acting head of the FBI, whether he was an agent of leaking information to the media.
He said he couldn’t recall. If he did, he just couldn’t recall. I take all this as a great insult. Not until somebody says, “I never said that. I never wrote that on any occasion,” would I believe them. And he didn’t quite do that.
Mr. Jekielek: I keep thinking as I was reading and as we’re talking, is this idea that the media—which indeed we’re very much trying to do at The Epoch Times—is supposed to be truth to power. Yet so many media, especially that seems to be caught up in this octopus, as you describe it, are very compliant or very credulous to anything that comes out of that system. It’s a huge issue.
Mr. Hanson: It is a huge issue because it affects everyone. As a writer and an academic, you associate with like kind.
You will hear people say to you, “I would like to review this book, but if I review this particular book and say something nice about it, I will be criticized and maybe I won’t be as successful getting my book published.” Or “I would have to deal with a lot of people that I would not want to deal with.” Or “if I write a book, it will not be reviewed in the New York Times or the Washington Post.”
There’s these insidious realities that the left encourages. I’m trying to, in a hypocritical fashion, suggest we shouldn’t be conspiratorial. But my book came out seven days ago and it was number three on Amazon, and within 30 hours, it was supposedly out of stock. It’s never been in stock, as I speak.
[I’ve] done all this media, and you talk to the publisher, “Well, we sent them thousands of copies.” Then you look at the other top 15 books. No, they’re all in stock. I don’t think there was anything conspiratorial, but when people keep writing to me every moment, “How do I get your book? It’s out of stock. It’s not deliverable,” and that happened within a day of publication, it’s an example of how we’re all getting …
We don’t believe in these institutions anymore because they have been culpable, and we don’t know what’s true and what’s not. We feel that there’s these insidious pressures all around us.
I know that people have written to me and said, “Would you blurb my book? Would you review my book? Could I have coffee with you?” I do it, and then somebody else comes to me and says, “Why did you talk to that person? That person is toxic” or “You can’t do that.” That makes you want to do it more.
They have a way of, I guess the word would be prepping the battlefield, so that you always operate under their premises. They have a system of fear that we read about in the Soviet Union or in a totalitarian society where, once the ball is set in motion and rolls on its own, the rules are known to everybody, then everybody takes in.
It’s like the concierge in Cold War Poland. Every time you walk into your apartment building, they’re monitoring you. You know that, and you act in a way that the government wants you to act like, because they know they don’t have to tell you that there are certain things that will hurt your career or they’ll damage you or they’ll call you certain names.
Most people say, “I’m tired of being called a racist, a transphobe, a homophobe, a sexist.” That’s what they want you to do. They want us to be in a collective fetal position, saying, “Please, please just leave me alone. I’ll do whatever you want. I can’t take any more.”
Mr. Jekielek: In response to these kinds of realities that you’re describing, this is deeply concerning to me. I’m what you would call a fierce American exceptionalist. I believe there’s something really amazing here, and it’s also very important.
There’s a lot of dark places in the world, and without America being here, I feel a lot of that darkness will get larger. Yet we’re seeing people talking about, in response to these kinds of realities that you’re describing, a national divorce, for example. They seem to be talking about it seriously.
Mr. Hanson: Yes. I think what’s most disturbing to me are people who write to you and they’ll say, “I’m in Europe,” or “I’m in Africa,” or “I’m in Latin America. Where would we go or what would we do if the United States joins the crowd, the mob? Because we expect such trampling of freedom or free expression in our societies, but we always look toward an honest view coming out of the New York Times or National Public Radio or PBS, and we’re not getting that.
We’re afraid to come to your country. We know that crimes are prosecuted depending on your tribal affiliations, or there’s asymmetrical hiring or admissions based on your tribal identity. This is what we don’t want. This is what we do in our society.” We’re the last best hope.
I’m very worried about it because I feel that this country has always been such an enormously attractive and wonderful place, and yet the people who are exercising the institutional powers are telling the world, not only is it not, and never was, but they’re going to operate in a fashion that’s contrary to the founders. It’s really depressing.
I thought, at 68, that these battles had been won in the ’60s. Then I realized that in the ’60s, they were throwing rocks at the Pentagon. They were marching into the dean’s office. They were blocking the doors of the mayor, et cetera. Now the Pentagon is running things from the leftist point of view. The dean is on the side of the leftists. The mayor is leftist, the prosecuting attorney …
While everybody thought the Reagan Revolution or George W. Bush was reelected or the country is conservative, they were just quietly, systematically, continuously, and incrementally, insidiously, absorbing these institutions, so much so that if I asked you to look at a Tony or an Emmy or an Oscar award 50 years ago, and look at one now, nobody would believe it. Or a pregame festivity at a National Basketball Association game, the flag or National Anthem …
They have controlled these institutions, and now people are waking up and saying, “My God.” It’s so funny what people are saying that would be complete absurdities just 20 years ago.
Should I answer the phone when the IRS calls? If the FBI ever calls me about being a witness, should I step forward? Am I going to be on a video when I … If somebody is looting, and I say something, should I do that?
I’ve had people say to me, “I have a gun in my house for protection. If somebody breaks in and tries to threaten my family, and I shoot them, should I just let them shoot me and hope they wound me, because I’ll be seen as the villain?” It’s a topsy-turvy revolution.
I tried to say that … That’s why I said in the book the citizen is dying, and yet we’re having this conversation. I hope people listen to things like this, and this in particular. We’re not dead yet. We have the system. The Constitution is self-correcting, but we have to exercise in a much more vigilant fashion our citizenship.
Mr. Jekielek: What do you say to people that are thinking about things like national divorce or getting another passport or many other similar ideas?
Mr. Hanson: We’re always looking to history. We look at 1855, and there are disturbing similarities, especially this nullification of federal law that sanctuary cities are doing in the fashion of pre-Confederate states.
But I think it’s more likely that we’re starting to see something like the third and fourth century in Rome, where gradually, because of the challenges of a multicultural, multiracial global empire and an inability to defend the border in the West—first, Diocletian and then Constantine decided to not be at war with each other, but emphasize the different types of Romanity,. So we have this new city of Constantinople.
Given these pressures upon this long Roman tradition, people in the West thought that they didn’t need a border, or they couldn’t defend it. Or former colonialized people in Gaul or Britain or northwestern Europe didn’t need to be fully assimilated in the way they had in the past, et cetera.
But in Byzantium … I understand we make fun of Byzantium. We got the word Byzantine from it. It’s backward. But they said, “These are times that call for more orthodoxy, that we’re going to honor. Hellenism is going to be the basis of our civilization—the Greek language, the Greek tradition, Greek history, Greek literature, and a different form of Christianity. Then we’re not going to have the schisms and the fighting.”
Very easy caricature, but while the West was disintegrating, people were actually moving in Eastern Europe toward the confines of the Byzantine Empire. They were the ones that gave us the Justinian Law Code, and Hagia Sophia, the biggest church in the world until the Vatican was built, and a lot of very good things. They lasted a thousand years beyond the Western Romans.
I’m very skeptical of using such models, but I think what’s happening is the red states are starting to go Byzantine and the blue states are starting to get looser and looser, and fewer borders, orthodoxies and traditions, and they’re starting to be dysfunctional. I say that very literally.
If I go to Seattle, which I did recently, or I go to Chicago, which I did recently, or to Washington or New York, and then I compare that to what I see in Knoxville or Salt Lake City, there are just different premises on how to run a city.
Or if I look at certain highways, or I look at the degree of homelessness or how crimes are treated, I see a Byzantine model and a Western Roman model. One is crumbling, and so people are trying to seek refuge.
Not all of us are mobile, but the degree a person has capital and skills and can move, it’s not going the other way. People are not leaving Tennessee or Florida or Utah to flop to California or Illinois or New York, or at least urban New York or urban California. They’re leaving.
I think it’s much more likely, rather than have a civil war, we’re going to gradually have two manifestations of America. One is going to be enduring and solid, maybe not as exciting, but it’s going to be tradition bound, more religious. It’s going to have more of a common language and culture. And the other is going to be more freewheeling, more cosmopolitan, globalist, maybe more exciting, no borders, but ultimately unsustainable.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, it’s been excellent speaking with you again. I wish you the best of success with your book. Any final thoughts as we finish up?
Mr. Hanson: Well, I don’t want to end on a pessimistic note. As I said earlier, I wrote a book, and some people said, “Well, why didn’t you give us a blueprint?” I don’t have a blueprint to restore civilization as we knew it, or citizenship in particular. But I did suggest in the book that things were going wrong, and we just needed to do the opposite.
Remember, if we had this conversation, I think we had a couple of them two years ago. For all the foibles of Donald Trump, we were not talking about an open border to the degree we are now. We were not talking about a collapse of American military projects overseas like you saw in Afghanistan.
We were not talking about the same degree of fear that we do now that’s been inculcated by things like critical theory, critical legal theory. For the first time in my life, we were more aware that China poses an existential threat to us.
I think there were people in the government that had been elected in the House, the Senate and the administration that were saying, “Something’s going wrong.” They didn’t have all the answers. What I’m getting at in this wordy fashion is we do have a self-correcting mechanism if the citizens exercise their constitutional rights and go out and vote, and be vocal.
I applaud people that [are] peacefully objecting to critical race theory in the schools, objecting to open borders, and objecting to this strange idea that you print money, and therefore new monetary theory says you’ll be wealthier the more money you print.
There are people that are stepping forward, and for the first time in years are saying we have a pathway forward. It was under attack, and it was sometimes foggy or misty, but we knew where it led and we were on it.
Then this annus horribilis or terribilis came—panic, pandemic, lockdown, recession, George Floyd, riot, looting, arson, the strange way we conducted the 2020 election, January 6th. All of that conundrum was a crisis that the left said is just too serious to waste. They took advantage of it in a way that we had seen them brag about with Rahm Emanuel earlier in 2009, but never had they been so effective to seize power based on people’s fears over these unusual developments.
I think that was an aberration. I have to believe that. If I don’t believe it’s an aberration, then we’re through. I think the dying citizen can be resurrected.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Victor Davis Hanson, as always, such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Hanson: Thank you for having me again, all of you at Epoch Times.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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