Sanctimonious and Cool: Why Our Rulers Hate Politics
The great French philosopher, Pierre Manent, wrote in A World Beyond Politics that the temptation to pursue universalism would always be part of the western character. Universalism comes from successful enterprises in our past, such as the global nature of the Christian religion (“neither man, nor Greek,” “Disciples of all nations”), the implications of Greek Philosophy (reason being common and fixed to man), or the cross-cultural exactitude of the Bacon’s scientific method.
Yet, although the west has had success in the exporting the ideas which now shape the world, Manent recommended caution for those who assumed similar success with western democracy.
Democratic advocates, he wrote, “wildly exaggerate the docility or plasticity of the peoples of the world.” The universal implications of western ideas are even met with limits embedded in western thought itself. Aristotle, for example, called man a universally political animal, implying that men are united in a natural affinity for division—into cities, states, and peoples.
In spite of these limits, today’s western elites now aspire to a universal harmony between all people. Ancient city-states and modern nation-states, since they failed in achieving this end (often by descending into war or devolving into tribalism), are now seen as obsolete, even evil. The western project promises both universal humanity and a clean “exit from politics.”
To one degree or another, democratic elites aspire to overcome both “national accidents” and “accidents by birth,” achieving an unlimited recognition between peoples. Blocking this are the forces that make humans and nations distinct. Between nation-states, it is differing customs, religious beliefs, or societal hierarchies. For individuals, it is dynamics like marriage, gender, sexuality, the family, and age.
To this end, western elites manifest, as Manent writes, an “immediate presence of humanity beyond forms,” or to put more simply, they are “cool.” You know, the “shirt without a tie, open collar” type of cool, signaling that one is “humane, compassionate, caring,” not merely “concerned with the interests and grandeur” of his own political community. The sanctimonious Beto’s and Obamas of the world are really just caricatures of what our secular rulers aspire to be.
Yet these same elites continue to run into problems. Take humanitarian intervention, now a routine sacrament of American globalism. When our country enters a foreign emergency undirected by a political goal, our benevolent rulers have three options: bring down the malefactor, avoid civilian losses, or keep losses low for our own armies.
In the end, American leaders always favor their own at the expense of humanitarian priorities, killing many civilians and few malefactors. This happens out of political necessity. We spend trillions, accomplish little, and leave soldiers planted in intervention quagmires like Syria, Libya, or Iraq with no end in sight.
Compared to the aimless interventionism, President Trump saying “Go in, and take the oil,” or “bomb the S**T out of ISIS,” sounds remarkably fresh. The recent resolve to pull all military forces from Syria has an odor of common sense that we have not seen or heard in decades. This is because Trump’s resolutions are a living, breathing, rebuttal to the post-political aspirations of our rulers, who sank America into wars against nature that could not be won.
The utterances of President Trump somehow remind us that we are stuck with the political nature we have and the limits it will always impose. The ideology of a borderless humanity has reached its wall—no matter how much we whine that it not be so. Soaking in those realities and forming a political regime accordingly would be the next step of a responsible ruling class.