Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin
Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin write from Brownsville, Minnesota.
Our readers must be familiar, all too familiar, with the recent outpouring of conservative books and articles claiming to analyze American's present deplorable state, and to outline appealingly simple, feasible reforms. They begin with the Founding - we should think every literate conservative must know the Constitution and the Federalist Papers almost by heart now - quickly traverse the 19th century to land in 1932 with the iniquity of the New Deal, then the Great Society, and finally the blatant grossness of the Obama years, followed by a list of must-do reforms. Some of these diatribes are more convincing than others, but on the whole they are unimpressive. They bay at the moon, they preach to the choir, they tell us nothing that we do not already know, and their solutions are wishful thinking.
Occasionally, however, perhaps two or three times a year, we read an essay in one of the many magazines we get that profoundly reorients our thinking about these matters, and in the June issue of The New Criterion, James Piereson's "The Fourth Revolution" shows us a way of considering the contemporary scene in an illuminating way. His argument about our "revolutions" is based on the observation that because our constitutional system "resists preemptive solutions to accumulating problems," and because our dynamic society constantly creates "new challenges to which the political system cannot easily respond," we seem to resolve our "deepest problems in relatively brief periods of intense and destabilizing conflict."
The first revolution was Jefferson's in 1800, caused by the Federalist's 1798 passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, seemingly outlawing political dissent. It led to all-out political warfare against the Federalists and the entrenchment in power of the Democrats until their repeal of the Missouri Compromise in 1854 helped to create the Republican Party and its dominance until 1932, when the Depression effectively ended Republican hegemony. Piereson discusses the times of each dominant era (FDR's: national regulation, public spending, internationalism) and shows how each era has a "regime party" and a "competitor forced to adapt to its dominant position." Even though the latter may win national elections, it is forced "to accept the legitimacy of the basic political themes established by the regime party." That is certainly the history since 1932 of the GOP, despite Reagan's presidency. Note that Democrats still control all the leading cultural and educational institutions, another perquisite of a regime party, forcing conservatives to create their own magazines and institutions. His description of the Democratic party as a coalition of "rent-seekers" (public sector unions, government employees and contractors, beneficiaries of government programs), interested in the distribution of wealth rather than its creation, is no revelation of course, but his analysis of the way such a coalition paralyzes the political process is compelling.
The first part of the essay is about the history of the three "revolutions" and the current standoff between Democrats and Republicans, and it ends with this:
This impasse between the two parties signals the end game for the system of politics that originated in the 1930s and1940s. As the "regime party" the Democrats are in the more vulnerable position because they have built their coalition around public spending, public debt, and publicly guaranteed credit, all sources of funds that appear to be reaching their limits. The end game for the New Deal system and for the Democrats as our "regime party" will arrive when those limits are reached or passed.
The next part of the essay explains why the "endgame" will not be long in coming and these reasons we know: debt, unfulfillable obligations, stagnation and slow growth, political paralysis. There follows a clear, concise discussion of these reasons, familiar to any conservative reader, but not usually set forth with such clarity. By political paralysis he means "the parties will fail to agree on any preemptive solutions . . . . until they reach a point of crisis." So he holds out little hope for proposals like the Ryan budget because he does not think politicians (who helped to create the problems in the first place) will be able to face the necessary economics. What, then, will happen? Because of our spending and debt difficulties, the U.S. is "vulnerable to any number of unforeseen and uncontrollable events." And then "Congress would have to slash spending and renegotiate promises it has made. At that point the U.S. would enter uncharted political territory." And what of the outcome?
If the three previous revolutions offer any lessons then there is every chance that the U.S. will emerge from this crisis with new momentum to develop its economy and provide leadership for the world.
Most of our readers, we presume, are hoping for Romney's victory in November and the swift enactment of presumptive solutions like the Ryan budget, and repeal of Obamacare, and so on, and we join in that hope. But James Piereson may be right - there is a convincing sense of realism in his prognostications - and that vision while immediately grim, is ultimately hopeful. It is certainly obvious that the liberal ideology of the last 80 years is defunct, that it has no answers to our dilemmas except more of its disastrous policies, so however it may come, we are betting on the fourth "revolution."
Those books we mentioned at the beginning are what we call "grumble" books - grumble, grumble, grumble. Their point is that they confirm the reader's feelings, they make him feel he's not alone in his disgust at current affairs. The great value of Mr. Piereson's essay is intelligence. He covers similar ground as the grumble books but with a penetrating analysis focusing sharply on what he deems relevant, bringing our political history to life by revealing patterns we never saw so clearly before, dispassionately and succinctly making the case for regime change. In conception and style it is brilliant. We recommend it to our readers. Send $1 to Fayette Durlin at 12 Angier Hill Rd., Essex, NY 12936. We'll send you a reprint.