“There is no progress in human history. Democracy is a fraud. Human nature is primitive, emotional, unyielding. The smarter, abler, stronger, and shrewder take the lion’s share. The weak starve, lest society become degenerate: One can compare the social body to the human body, which will promptly perish if prevented from eliminating toxins” Vilfredo Pareto
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5
The debate between Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke is widely regarded as the foundational difference between the left and the right. Thomas Paine regarded politics as similar to any other intellectual endeavor that requires the capacity for deep thought, critical analysis and creative synthesis. Resembling Plato’s Philosopher King, the politician regards the problems of society as that of “applied metaphysics” where solutions to all social ailments can be obtained through the exercise of reason alone. In line with Aristotle’s distinction between episteme and techne, Burke regarded politics as a practical rather than an intellectual endeavor. He rejected the doctrine of Socratic intellectualism that underpinned the Philosopher King thesis, asserting that people who know what constitutes the good are capable of acting in an evil manner.
On an even more fundamental level, Burke categorically dismissed the premise that one can obtain knowledge about any political problem through the exercise of the intellect alone. For Burke, one becomes a competent political decision-maker by learning history of his nation and getting a sense of his people. Just as is the case with any other craft, one becomes an effective political decision-maker through deliberate practice. In stark contrast, Thomas Paine believed that when a person becomes sufficiently intelligent, he becomes capable of making effective political decisions. On this basis, he supported greater access to education and his views are cited in defense of those who rallied behind Horace Mann’s endeavor to create publication education in America.
Throughout much of the history of Western civilization, education was only available to the social elites. Yet, the prosperity generated by the Industrial Revolution created the possibility of public education. At the turn of the 20th century, the left clamored for the “democratization of knowledge” and their endeavor finally came to fruition in the aftermath of World War II. FDR’s GI bill flooded universities with students of rather limited intellectual potential. Slowly but surely, academic institutions began lowering their standards to accommodate the shifting demographics of the student-body.
In line with Raymond Cattel’s forecast about dysgenics, the curriculum increasingly emphasized less abstract subjects by shifting focus away from purely theoretical disciplines and toward the political. As the Great Depression tilted American politics to the left and the new wave of European immigration fostered support for Marxist thought, the Frankfurt school of thought took root in American college campuses. The new generation of leftist pedagogues led their students to believe that class warfare was not only economic in character, but also contained racial and gender components. In stark contrast to the traditional American progressives who followed in the foot-steps of Thomas Paine, the new left viewed social problems from a collectivist rather than an individualist perspective. For these activists, the main purpose of political action was no longer to remove the restrictions to the individual’s flourishing, but to eliminate barriers to the advancement of marginalized groups.
To their minds, white man was the architect of such barriers and Hitler embodied the proof for this assertion. As Malcolm X was to later articulate, the white man was the ultimate enslaver, exploiter and the oppressor. In keeping with Marx’s premise that economic circumstances shape public opinion rather than vice-versa, the academic left maintained that white men created a complicated social structure of oppression. Therein, they exploited not only the poor, but also women and minorities. In their efforts to refute the claim that there were biological differences between genders and ethnic groups, the Ivory Tower activists became skeptical of the existence of human nature.
The more outspoken leftists such as Jean Paul Sartre, categorically maintained that human nature was an illusion and his chorus of aficionados across the Atlantic spawned theories that human nature was merely a social construct. Along with it, gender, race, ethnicity and culture were reduced to invidious social constructs that served white men at the expense of all other groups. In keeping with the Marxist narrative, they interpreted Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” not as an economic treatise on how countries become prosperous but as another white man’s rhetoric for preservation of an oppressive social order. Over decades, this evolved into micro-aggressions which portray anyone who causes offense as one who commits genocide in his heart. That is quite similar to a Christian husband who commits adultery by entertaining erotic thoughts of another woman.
Building on the premise that human nature was a social construct, the thought leaders of the new left’s establishment reasoned that education can resolve many of societal ills. By their lights, the most accomplished of philosophers, artists and scientists were white men because this demographic group enjoyed the most access to education. Therefore, the “democratization” of knowledge should swiftly solve the problem by providing all marginalize groups with requisite resources for achievement of a more equitable society. At the heyday of the civil rights movement, the Marxists progressed from a fringe movement on campuses to a potent force that would emerge as the prevailing academic current in polite society for decades to come.
Similarly to the Jacobin radicals who subscribed to the doctrine of Rousseau’s General Will, the American Marxists promoted the interests of society over that of the individual. If one’s right to free expression had to be sacrificed to achieve that goal; that was an acceptable price to pay to achieve the greater good. Building on Thomas Paine’s conception of politics as applied metaphysics and Plato’s Philosopher King Thesis, the new left had little regard for de-centralization of power. The academic establishment was entrusted with the responsibility to determine which doctrines were conducive to the public good and which opposed it.
With the abominations of the Third Reich fresh in the memory of the European intellectuals who gained influence across college campuses, the relativist philosophical orientation became more pronounced. It was then politically incorrect to criticize any group other than white males. Borrowing from the Christian doctrine that sin originates in thought rather than action, the new left endeavored to purge the collective consciousness of racist, sexist, homophobic and ableist thoughts. Any step toward tolerance of free expression on behalf of those suspected of harboring such notions was seen as a slippery slope toward another genocide. Over decades, this ideological trajectory evolved into a modern conception of a micro-aggression where a person who engages in acts that could be construed as offensive to minorities commits genocide in his heart just as a Christian husband is deemed to commit adultery by entertaining erotic thoughts about another woman.
The culture of political correctness gave rise to the victim culture that directly incentivizes people to portray themselves as members of an oppressed group . As the political correctness movement further gained momentum, the federal government expanded to accommodate the needs of marginalized groups. In so doing, it acquired the requisite political capital to reward businesses that complied with their agenda and punished their rivals who failed to do so. Nonetheless, government aid can only go so far in shaping the economic behavior of market entities. They may pay lip service to the government agenda, yet to maintain a requisite level of productivity, they would be forced to recruit reasonably competent workers rather than beneficiaries of affirmative action. Regardless of how much lip-service businesses pay to the government’s unicorn dreams agenda, the fools will not inherit the earth.
Academic credentials putatively represent intellectual competence, yet grade inflation has been on the rise since the GI bill and this created a rift between what students expect to achieve upon graduation and what they actually achieve. The wealth disparities between white males and the traditionally underprivileged minorities have widened not despite the increased access to education, but largely because of it. As academic standards continue to decline, university curricula become less abstract and more ideologically charged, students become less capable of making meaningful contributions to the economy. Their employers could not care less what they know about LGBT history, sexual harassment, corporate social responsibility or going green. A modicum of common-sense is more than sufficient to allow one to behave appropriately in a business environment and a dozen of classes on these topics will not make students more productive in the real world.
As the new left becomes even more entrenched in the polite society, these trends are likely to persist. Real wages will continue to stagnate, wealth disparities will widen further, the middle class will shrink and Pareto’s words will become prophetic. The self-proclaimed Philosopher Kings will wield a heavier influence over government policy, further stratifying class divisions under the banner of social justice. In response, the plebeians will compete for their status as members of an oppressed group, calling for the government to ameliorate their plights. In the language of Leon Trotsky, the traditional American values of entrepreneurship, self-reliance and individual achievement will be consigned to the garbage heap of history.