Welcome To The Pink Police State: Regime Change In America

It is alleged—and not by libertarians—that the current American era is increasingly defined by a “libertarian moment.” Although some chatter did begin within the liberty movement, as libertarian lawyers found themselves gaining traction at last within the courts, the dominant sense is broader, more nervous, and even hostile. Libertarianism has long been negatively associated with personal recklessness and irresponsibility; now, thinkers Right and Left are shuffling toward a strange new consensus about the culture of irresponsibility that seems to characterize not just our fellow Americans, but our regime itself.

In a searching, pained essay at The New Republic, for instance, Mark Lilla warns that a libertarianism of radical self-entitlement now defines our age. “That is not because democracy is on the march,” he says, “(it is regressing in many places), or because the bounty of the free market has reached everyone (we have a new class of paupers), or because we are now all free to do as we wish (since wishes inevitably conflict).”

No, ours is a libertarian age by default: whatever ideas or beliefs or feelings muted the demand for individual autonomy in the past have atrophied. There were no public debates on this and no votes were taken. Since the cold war ended we have simply found ourselves in a world in which every advance of the principle of freedom in one sphere advances it in the others, whether we wish it to or not.

Lilla correctly intuits that something seemingly virtuous about democracy has led toward something vicious. He also senses that the relationship between the city and the soul, as Plato’s Socrates put it, might well be key to grasping how and why. (In the Republic, Socrates offers several different theories as to how a regime and the individuals within it mirror or pattern themselves upon one another.) Yet Lilla unaccountably downplays the massive contradiction at the center of our inexorable march toward autonomy. It is, of course, the state’s own march toward its own ever-greater—one might say tyrannical—autonomy. For decades, some theorists have fretted that history reveals humans endlessly hunger for more-autonomous conduct. Others have cheered the prospect! Either way, it is time to consider anew that political history reveals a related, inexorable hunger within the regime that rules us all.

The Latitude to Destroy Liberty

That creates obvious problems for libertarianism as a term to describe the age. We, like our government, take broader and broader latitudes. But almost as a rule, we do so at the expense of liberty—at the expense of the political freedom that has atrophied so dramatically under the past two administrations. Oscar Wilde once remarked that socialism would be wonderful, but it took up too much time on a Friday night. Today, millions upon millions of Americans live out a similar feeling toward civic republicanism (with no interest in being witty, or even self-conscious, about it).

What is happening is a coming of age, something one can only understand as an expression of the fullness of time.

That is why other new taxonomies grappling with libertarianism are also unable to apprehend the new reality that characterizes our life and world. At BuzzFeed, Ben Smith’s right-wing typology of “freedom Republicans” versus “liberty Republicans” acknowledges that today’s factional “jargon” of neocons, tea partiers, establishmentarians, and the like is a “mess.” It even apprehends that some Republicans care substantially more about political freedom than, shall we say, other kinds of freedoms. But it reflects the same spirit of the age that it seeks to pin down. The notion that personal freedom can make sense in the absence of political liberty is exactly the contestable claim at stake when we interrogate the present relationship in which our state and our souls or psyches work to define each other.

To conduct that interrogation requires a certain set of tools, including not only a rich theoretical apparatus but a depth and ripeness of personal experience attentive to the changes and transformations wrought since, say, the end of the twentieth century. Dick Cheney infamously remarked that at after 9/11, least some Americans, including some in government, must cross over in some deep sense to “the dark side.” Transposing that fearsome vision into a social and personal key, understanding what is happening to America requires acknowledging that at least some commentators and critics come at the question having been touched deeply by the reigning pathologies of our time.

A Coming of Age

Unfortunately, just about none of our “public intellectuals” know our present age inside out in this way—through experience, memory, and imitation. Not enough of our public critics of decadence have had a personal relationship with decadence. At the same time, those who have—those who would positively revel in what their opponents decry as moral corruption—almost universally lack the philosophical training, the intellectual curiosity, and the sense of civilizational duty that would orient them toward the urgent need for serious critique of soul and city alike.

For guides like these, libertarianism may hold out many things, but a master conceptual frame is not one of them.

That is one reason the current situation is so often presented as a “moment.” In fact what is happening is a coming of age, something one can only understand as an expression of the fullness of time. Historically, the cultural milestone of a coming of age fuses two kinds of deep comprehension into one. To come of age is to come into knowledge by heart on the one hand and carnal knowledge on the other. We are experiencing the maturation of a new regime in America—not simply an administration, movement, trend, or even a historical phase, but an order that repeats its patterns and structures in personal, social, cultural, and political life. In trying to unmask the identity of our new regime, those whose individual maturation has not mixed with the regime in time and space will continue to struggle in confusion.

Our best guides are those who know our regime with the intimate, gestating, but often silent knowledge that precedes mature self-reflection—but who also can recall, however distantly, their lived experience before the onset of the new regime. They will have lived through losing their innocence, illusions, and naïveté. They will have made secret errors and half-conscious choices that today, compounded, have at last begun to register in the pages of elite newsmagazines. For them, the drama of their confused, promising, misbegotten, and squandered young lives is not just experientially but conceptually inseparable from the drama of recent American history—specifically, in the ways that particular themes of sex and violence have come to dominate and define it.

For guides like these, libertarianism may hold out many things, but a master conceptual frame is not one of them. Indeed, rather than straining to pluck an abstract idea out of the clouds, they will instinctively turn to the signposts and symbols of the world to come that they encountered at propitious moments in their personal lives—figures, events, and creations that foreshadowed the rise of the new regime. Rather than seeking wisdom in unsupplemented reason, our best guides to the new American regime will begin where it began, at its origins.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: http://thefederalist.com/2014/07/17/welcome-to-the-pink-police-state-regime-change-in-america/

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