Democrat Dilemma: The Failure of Prophecy
Last week I took apart an NRO critique of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s “limitless ideology” on my American Manifesto blog. I said that it is not enough to critique the constant ideological expansion of government. You have to have an alternative. And anyway the key thing about progressives is that their politics is their religion.
But now I want to look at a different aspect of our political moment which expands on the lefty-politics-as-religion theme. It is that our Democratic friends are in the middle of a “failure of prophecy.” If you are a progressive believer the world was supposed to be all tucked up in progressive heaven by now. And yet here we have Trump siccing foreign governments on Deep Stater Joe Biden. The nerve!
Somehow the Prophecy has failed. But how? Everyone who was anyone agreed decades ago that way you bend the arc of history towards justice was with progressive politics. So of course they are all freaking out.
We humans desperately need to know about the future. Will it rain tomorrow? Will there be a drought next year? Will we run out of natural resources? The astonishing human way we try to divine the future is with prophecy. Some techniques of prophecy are extremely effective; I am thinking about science. Some prophecies are not so good. I am thinking about Marxism.
But When Prophecy Fails, according to Leon Festinger et al., the believers don’t just throw up their hands and go back to ordinary life. Instead they intensify their faith and sharpen up the prophecy. The problem, they decide, is that their faith wasn’t deep enough; they didn’t read the texts right. It is not till later that they lose heart and #WalkAway.
For politics the failure of prophecy is investigated by Crane Brinton in Anatomy of Revolution. All the modern revolutions, from the Protestant to the French to the Russian to the Maoist, went through a crisis where the promised heaven on earth failed to materialize. Thus the burning of witches, the Reign of Terror, the Stalinist purges, and Mao’s Great Leap Forward and his Cultural Revolution.
I also regard science as prophecy. Or rather, scientific theory is prophecy. Science that survives Karl Popper’s falsification is successful prophecy. But does anyone really understand science? All we know is that E = mc2 is amazing science. And its prophecies work.
Look at all the failures of prophecy that our lefty friends are struggling with. Worker’s rights: but somehow the workers ended up losing their factory jobs and dying of despair. Free education: but somehow black children just don’t seem to be benefiting. Liberation for women: but somehow men are more toxic than ever. Pensions and health care for the aged: but somehow we are going to run out of money, even without Sen. Warren’s extra $200 per month. How could everything be going wrong? Must be those racist sexist homophobes.
Hey, our Democratic friends can’t even deal with losing normal change election of 2016 without getting into a failure-of-prophecy frenzy.
All over the western world the old political loyalties are breaking up. It’s no mystery. The educated ruling class never cared about the workers, who were always just soldiers, drafted into their political army, cannon fodder for their totalitarian project to make the world anew. Justice, they called it. “A Just Society,” promises Sandy O. In the U.S., the deplorables are deserting the Democrats; in the UK the working class that always voted Labour “because ‘it has always been for working class people’” is attracted to the Brexit Party.
The progressives say they believe in justice. Hey kiddies: “there is no such thing as justice, only injustice.” Power may come from the barrel of a gun or the activist’s cancel power, but not justice.
But because the politics of the lefty ruling class is really their religion they can’t believe that their prophecy of power is not working. Their belief system says that progressive politics bends the arc of history towards justice, and it is inconceivable that it does not. But believers don’t give up right away when prophecy fails. Instead they amp it up. So now lefties are not just fighting racism but determined to cancel every white male supremacist on the planet, starting with President Trump.
Here’s some free advice, lefties. Your problem is that leftism was never really about the working class or women or minorities or non-binary genders. It was always about you, the look-at-me heroism of the intellectual, the revolutionary and the activist.
But if you chaps had ever read a book you would know that, down the ages, the world’s religions have tended to argue that the highest and best human is the Sacrificial Hero, who dies, often uncelebrated, on the border between Order and Chaos so that others may live.