This review was authored by Paul Gottfried for Nomocracy in Politics.
The author of Politics on a Human Scale (Lanham, MD.: Lexington Books, 213), Jeff Taylor, has long been interested in the study of anti-establishment politics. Taylor’s earlier book, Where Did the Party Go?, traces the gradual dissolution of the “Jeffersonian legacy” in American political life from the early nineteenth century, through the populist insurgency of William Jennings Bryan, down to the fading revolt of the American heartland against Eastern power centers in the early twentieth century. Interestingly enough, Taylor sees a person who is conventionally viewed as the consummate New Dealer, Hubert Humphrey, as someone who began his career in an older populist tradition. Since that tradition was vanishing from the political scene by the time Humphrey was gaining prominence, the rising Minnesota star became a typical big government liberal. Taylor argues that all attempts to create political alternatives to consolidated, centralized power vested in a few dominant interests were perhaps irrevocably defeated with the growth of the current managerial state and its constituent power-players. What started out as a series of populist revolts was gradually incorporated into the expanding agenda of a bureaucratic Behemoth and became further justification for extending its control.
In his latest book, Taylor, who is a professor at Dordt College in Northwestern Iowa, provides overwhelming evidence for what is presented in his first work more obliquely. Not surprisingly, Taylor has not been feted by Fox-news as the literary and scholarly equivalent of Jonah Goldberg, nor even mentioned by the GOP press as a worthwhile historian. Clearly he shills for no one, and, by the time one finishes his tome of more than six-hundred pages, it is clear that Taylor has no more use for Rupert Murdoch or George W. Bush than for their apparent leftwing opposition. Much of his book consists of tracing the paths taken by groups that started out as opponents of consolidated government. Each ended in failure. The Southern supporters of Nullification were saddled with the institution of slavery, which kept their call for states’ rights from resonating outside their region and class. The Progressives in the early twentieth century began by stressing the importance of local government and state referenda, but also attached to these ideals a call for political and social changes that could only be achieved by strengthening the federal government. In any case many Progressive intellectuals, including Woodrow Wilson and the editors of the New Republic, never pretended to be anything else but centralizers.
By the time one reaches the New Deal and its various extensions, it becomes evident that the building of a welfare state brought about an increasingly intrusive government. This became true for state governments as well as for the DC establishment. To make matters even more difficult for the de-centralizers, those who favored such projects as income redistribution and the introduction of new social programs became generally committed to a liberal internationalist foreign policy. From the presidency of Woodrow Wilson onward, the Democratic Party went from being a states’ rights party that avoided foreign adventures, to being a vehicle for a world democratic crusade. Both parties thereafter were in varying degrees liberal internationalist in defining American relations with the outside world. Despite some wavering on this position— mostly among Republicans in the late 1930s and early 1940s and, later, among left-leaning Democrats during the Cold War— a missionary, interventionist foreign policy would generally prevail in both parties down to the present time. The national interest, as Taylor explains, would be identified with imposing the “American political and economic system,” sometimes with “military force.”
Such a policy did not first gain ground in the GOP when the neoconservatives, whose bullying and self-promotion Taylor amply discusses, took over the Republican Party and, even more directly, the conservative movement. The GOP was already actively advancing an American empire in the second half of the nineteenth century. The suppression of the “Southern rebellion,” the mass killing of American Indians in the West, and the launching of the Spanish-American War were all characteristic of the expansionist view of America that was already present among Republican leaders even before the twentieth century. During World War I, Woodrow Wilson and the Democrats were far less eager to join the European bloodbath than such Republican worthies as Theodore Roosevelt, Elihu Root, and Henry Cabot Lodge. The Council on Foreign Relations, which was founded right after “the war to end all wars” as the icebreaker for an Anglophile, liberal internationalist foreign policy, drew heavily on Republican leadership. Any second thoughts about America plunging into foreign wars from the elder (but certainly not the younger) Herbert Hoover and Robert Taft hardly expressed the long-term attitude of their party. One should not generalize about GOP foreign policy for the last hundred and fifty years from certain non-interventionist congressmen who were particularly influential for about a decade. More characteristic of the party throughout most of its history has been the foreign policy of TR or George W. Bush. (The particularly quarrelsome GOP presidential nominee in 2008, John McCain, may have represented an extreme version of what is characteristic Republican meddlesomeness.)
A closer, long-term look would also be useful for discrediting the empty claim of the Republican Party that they are “getting government off our backs.” This slogan is in no way consistent with the history of a party that rose to prominence as a protector of big business interests and later happily espoused the welfare state measures advanced by Progressive and New Deal Democrats. For anyone who is looking for confirmation that a Reagan Revolution “never occurred,” that “me-too Republicans” and “Rockefeller Republicans” have dominated every Republican presidential administration since the 1960s, and that the difference between a “conservative” Republican Party and a “liberal” Democratic Party is largely media-manufactured, Taylor furnishes about one-hundred pages of densely documented evidence. I must admit that even as an inveterate despiser of the GOP and its neocon advisors, I was shocked by some of his evidence.
Although I had known that Reagan filled his cabinet mostly with Democrats and liberal Republicans, some of whom were close to the Rockefeller family, and that he did very little to shrink the federal government (all of this is heavily documented in Larry M. Schwab’s The Illusion of A Reagan Conservative Revolution), what struck me about Taylor’s account is the laborious demonstration of the gaping gulf between what can substantiated and the confected images churned out by the mainstream media. It should not be a source of astonishment that “conservative” media sponsor Rupert Murdoch is a socially liberal Democrat. Murdoch has backed both Hillary Clinton and Obama with money and enthusiasm, and in 2008 he became worshipfully fixed on Obama as “a rock star.” Since Murdoch claimed to “love” the man and what he was “saying about education,” it appears he was hoping to bring around FOX and its management into supporting Obama for president. Instead, the new president turned out to be bad for “the agenda of the national Republican Party: government promotion of big business [“private sector”], tax cuts for the wealthy [“job creation”] and armed empire [“freedom” and “security”]”. Murdoch has been willing to subordinate his leftist agenda to his alliance with Zionist-minded, global interventionist friends. Taylor may be telling us the obvious about Murdoch’s well-financed channel when he offers this description: “While the content of Fox News seems devoid of serious historical or ideological context, the entertainment-minded and hyper-partisan network is clearly allied with the neoconservative movement. Murdoch was the financial father of both The Weekly Standard and Fox News Channel. William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer are frequent Fox guests. Brit Hume is a contributing editor for TWS.” What Taylor omits to mention here is that the Wall Street Journal and National Review are now equally parts of the Murdoch-neocon feudal kingdom.
As proof that the neocons will embrace anyone who favors their belligerence in foreign policy, Taylor quotes Bill Kristol who happily proclaimed Obama to be a “neoconservative Democrat” when the president pushed the US militarily into the Libyan civil war. Indeed Kristol and Krauthammer, according to Taylor, have both indicated their willingness to endorse Democrats if the GOP strays into rightwing stands that cannot be defined as “security” or the effort to “spread our values” internationally. Fox-neoconservative core values have now come to embrace the gay agenda, as Taylor points out and as suggested by the neoconservative and Fox News assaults on Vladimir Putin as someone who opposes the “West” because he doesn’t accept the advocacy of gay lifestyles in Russian schools.
For neoconservatives, as revealed by such journalists as Jonah Goldberg, the West is now unthinkable without Stonewall, although it would be naive to think that Fox won’t be able to keep Evangelicals in the GOP tent by talking about Israel’s security, “American exceptionalism,” and what are becoming vacuous “family values.” The English journalist Paul Johnson, who for decades has been a voice in his country for neoconservative party lines, may be rallying the GOP base by asserting that “Putin is another Hitler.” After all, both of these anti-democratic menaces occupied neighboring lands. (So too did President James Polk after the Mexican War.) Taylor is masterful in showing how this sleight of hand is carried out in the context of media-hyped revolutions or counterrevolutions that never take place or regional problems that are blown up into a prelude for another World War II.
There are three observations that I would add to Taylor’s exhaustive examination of why decentralism does not and probably cannot take place in the US and why the “small-government” party in the US often acts like the other party on steroids. One, there is nothing like a majority of Americans who would favor decentralized government. From the continued existence of the two centralizing national parties and the absence of any significant alternative that would be committed to moving the country in a different direction, it is hard to imagine how Taylor’s project (which is also mine) could go anywhere. The “Jeffersonian legacy” has grown weak and possibly non-existent because the kind of citizenry that once made it work no longer exists, except in isolated parts of the country.
Two, the major hindrance to scaling back government in the Reagan administration was not the concentration of Rockefeller- and Bush-Republicans in cabinet positions. These figures were business-as-usual bureaucrats and nuts-and-bolts administrators like Donald Regan, Malcom Baldrige, Caspar Weinberger, and William Brock. Those who set the tone during the Reagan years were the neoconservatives in the state department, William Bennett in education, and the growing neoconservative national press, typified by the WSJ and the already half-transformed National Review. Neoconservative spokesmen and philanthropists were also taking over the conservative movement, with minimal opposition, just as they were making their influence felt in Reagan’s administration and in Peggy Noonan’s speech-writing.
I’m also less certain than Taylor that if Reagan had made his administrative picks from “movement conservatives” a takeover from the left could have been avoided. Although there were figures like M.E. Bradford and Pat Buchanan who could not have been bought off and whom the neocons hated for good reason, at least some of Taylor’s examples of incorruptibility were easily suborned. Hardly anyone the neoconservative eminences cultivated refused their overtures—or refused to turn on friends who wouldn’t go along. Reagan’s choice of Rockefeller Republicans or former Democrats for administrative appointments may not have been the worst picks at the time.
Finally, in one of my books that Taylor does not cite, After Liberalism, (Princeton, 1999) there is an extended discussion of the role of the “democratic welfare state” in reshaping what are supposedly warring ideologies. Once a centralized managerial administration took form in the twentieth century, based on an extended mass franchise, national social programs, and “scientifically” trained bureaucracy, all the old ideological polarities would go out the window. Political parties would be organized on the basis of what favors partisan politicians could extract for their constituents from the public administrative class. Obviously neither small government politics nor decentralist parties would be able to thrive in this changed environment.
Moreover, certain hegemonic ideas accompanied this structural development and bestowed on its sprawling presence a moral justification. First there came the identification of democracy in the Progressive era with a “science of government.” Afterwards notions about fairness and social equality entered the superstructure of ideas that justified the ruling class. More recently an escalating “war against discrimination” has allowed state managers and politicians, with an assist from the media and “educators,” to extirpate the remains of academic and intellectual freedom as an instrument of unwanted dissent. Every extension of the franchise has had the same effect, in the short or long run, of increasing the popular mandate for further administrative control of society. The state has used this increase in power to colonize the family, set husbands and wives, parents and children, and races against each other, invariably in the name of advancing equality or fighting “discrimination.”
Unlike traditional states, which to a large extent mirrored the social order, the democratic administrative regime undertakes to divide people in order to reconstruct social and ethnic relations. To those who tell us “this is what the voters want,” a suitable answer would be, “When the state and its allies control education, culture, and, increasingly, family members, then it is the political class that is socializing us. Those who have been trained by these masters express hegemonic opinions that have been drilled into them.” Significant demographic changes further help increase government’s reach. The more different the immigrants are from what had once been the core culture and core population of a country, the more necessary administrators become for “facilitating” adjustment and combatting residual prejudice on the part of the older settlers. Social problems have to be created or exacerbated in order to justify each new inroad of administrative power.
I recycle this bleak picture of the way “liberal democracy” really works because it provides another key to the problem of irresistible centralization that Taylor engages in his book. There may be no solution to this problem because our two barely distinguishable parties do everything they can to make the problem worse. Even more critical for understanding the process is the kind of denatured constitutional government that they serve. These parties are parasitic growths on a fabulously rich society that enjoys being plundered in the name of ever greater equality.
Paul Gottfried is Emeritus Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, as well as a Guggenheim recipient. His recent book, Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America: A Critical Appraisal, is now available in paperback and for Kindles at affordable pricing.