It is often said that we get the government we deserve. So given the fact that the Obama administration has by now clearly demonstrated that they do not do the bidding of the people, but the elites, and given the fact that even with this fact he still has an undeserved large number of supporters, it now becomes compulsory to ask ourselves, not just whether we got the government we deserve, but whether we even deserve democracy today. When people put themselves in compliance to a party, a personality, or a persona, be it Democratic, Republican, or any party or party leader, especially in a party and leadership that has long since demonstrated its hostility to its people (i.e. Democratic and Republican; Bush and Obama), and in the face of that knowledge either ignore or deny it and continue to support the person or party even as “the lesser evil,” then to that extent we deserve what that party or person does to us while they are in power and against which we do not protest simply because of our emotional allegiances; for example, warrantless spying, drones, assassinations, cuts to education and social fabric programs, tax cuts for the wealthy, favoring corporate leaders over the people (e.g. restructuring the auto industry in favor of its executives concerns), etc.
Arguably, there are at least two mental conditions underlying this phenomenon, and they are interrelated. The first is putting emotion over reason in one’s individual motivations; the second is putting a one-sided commitment to party over commitment to the (universally-motivated) common good (I will call the one-sidedness an emotive/ideological commitment to demonstrate its partiality, and will presume that reason plays a subservient role in its motivation). Both of these issues have a common cognitive aspect. It is important to note that the second issue has two facets, both of which are equally threatening to democracy: emotive commitment to party on the basis of self-interest; or emotive commitment to party as a melding of self-interest into group interest—i.e. entering into a group ideology, the implicit intention (or at least direction) of which is to defeat “outsider” ideologies that are not a part of that group’s beliefs. Both cognitive aspects involve a denial of attempting to be rationality objective, in favor of ideologies that are self-serving for that group, and thereby threatening to both a wholesome individual and to a healthy democracy. We will take each of these aspects in turn.
Before doing that, a quick definition is in order. By “rationality,” I mean a consciousness of the unity, structure, and consistency of propositions as well as their relations to each other in the process of justification (normative-guided inferences on the basis of available evidence), and the primary role of these dynamics as necessary conditions for human thought and communication. Along with this comes a focus on both discrimination of discrete concepts and also a universal quantification that comes with certain judgments, such as in ethics. Thus, rationality is the acknowledgement, by use or by conscious recognition, of a set of objective norms for thinking. The emphasis on the normative dimension of rationality here I take to be relatively uncontroversial. The controversy begins with my assertion of both the objectivity of norms (i.e. innate and universal in orientation), and most specifically the primacy of this understanding of human rationality in discourse, ethics, and politics. However, to blunt this potential controversy a bit, I would simply assert that without something resembling this conception of the structure and primacy of human reason, arguments about the best or most proper kind of politics, and the values such assertions are built on, would all be groundless: one metaphor would be just as good as another, and the only difference between them would be subjective taste. Contrary to that, I have met no one who was politically involved who would hold their perspective to be so groundless; reason surely plays an important role in justifying one’s position. Short of that, the only politics available to us is a power contest between ideologies. But this is precisely where my criticism of both desire-based individualism and party politics comes in, so we are now in a position to continue.
First, to self-dismantle the priority of one’s own innate propensity for thinking rationally by opting instead for emotive inspiration for one’s beliefs, and rejecting the rationally required justification for one’s social beliefs and proclamations, is to allow oneself to be led by individual desire and the cognitive and ethical relativism they respectively stand for. Far worse on this score, to have that relativism advocated by academicians and educational institutions (the “no foundational rules” or “no knowledge” approach to either the learning process itself and/or constituting the template for studying a given subject matter) is to automatically make those who embrace it susceptible to the rhetoric and propaganda of the leaders they are only emotionally supporting. Without a strong emphasis on and priority given to rational structures of thought and justification, one has no basis for either for their own views, or for criticism or critique of persons or parties: one has instead only an empty appeal to others having simply “a different metaphor.”
Second, to deliberately limit one’s considerations, knowledge, thinking, and values to the interests of one party pitted against another, or to what one personally feels good about—i.e. to deny the possibility of cognitive equilibrium by refusing to acknowledge, say, the critical importance of the immense gap between the rhetoric of party leaders and their actions, and/or between the interests of the leaders and that of their members, makes one blindly party-allegiant. This in turn entices the followers of a party to surrender to the interests of those rulers and the mechanisms of state the rulers use to pursue their own self-interests under the rhetorical banner of “national interests” or “the safety of the nation.” The reason for this sorry state of affairs is that, in deliberately opting for desire over reason, for relativism over truth, for the power of one party over another, for self-interest over the common good, and even for party over principle, one has surrendered both a rational (i.e. objective; universally-intended) and ethical (i.e. equal justice) ground on which to stand and a grasp of a set of long-term social goods for which to strive, in favor of individual self-aggrandizement, which is inevitably transient, elusive, and short-term.
People who object to this analysis on the basis of a certain form of pragmatism—i.e. who say that the (two) party system is “the only game in town” and/or that “one must work within the party for change”—are not immune from this critique. There are many parties one might work for that more closely aligns with one’s rational sense of universal justice. Thus, the commitment from a pragmatic viewpoint to a single party or institution which has de facto rejected concerns of equality, justice, and universal inclusion, is no objection. Party pragmatists are bourgeois liberals: liberals who have “made it;” that is, they have made their gains within the confines of the institution(s) as it (they) currently exist, and/or have accepted the dogma that the current arrangement is the only foreseeable or workable arrangement to be had. In either case, in refusing to take on the cognitive disequilibrium that would attend it were they to consider otherwise, they are less interested in working for the universal application of the principles of equality, freedom, and justice if it sets their party-based goals back or if it costs them in their personal comfort. With one of those assumptions, they are able to support what the party or party leader does and says without the claims of conscience intruding excessively on their worldview. The perspective of a pragmatist then, is from the viewpoint of an instrumental rationality, a rationality that is geared toward party-based or party-limited ends instead of an objectively-motivated commitment to justice that would break one out of party limitations and into a vision for a new future for American politics.
No one who is drunk on this potion of party-interest, and its one-sided (i.e. party-supporting) information, individual self-interested desire-satisfaction, irrationalism and its emotionally titillating politics—any combination of these intoxicants—will be able to sort out truth from falsehood, rhetoric from reality, or ethical good from pandering to puffed-up feelings encouraged in their leaders’ speeches and corporate commercials. Only those who have made a conscious choice to value reason, logic, and ethical principles, necessarily attuned as they are to the good of the whole as opposed to their own selfish feelings of good and gain, can raise their heads up enough to see that the fox is in the henhouse; that the lies and the liars are in one’s own head as a result of both the self-destructive irrationalism of self-interest supported by the verbal manipulations of elite party leaders, combined with their secret and not-so-secret nefarious deeds.
The primary emphasis on either self or party results in a deflationary view of rationality and with it the recognition of the need for public, rational justification of positions taken and actions engaged—a discursive process that seeks the best, most rational and ethical perspective. On the other hand, blithely supporting a single party results in an inflationary view of one’s emotionally-supported leaders or party. Concretely, that means that one perceives and over-emphasizes only the minor goods done while ignoring far more nefarious deeds and misdeeds done, while at the same time being elated at “great speeches,” rhetorical flourishes, and engaging metaphors that happen to match one’s own feelings. This is the ideology that comes with an over-attachment to party combined with an unspoken because unacknowledged irrational mode of belief subject to the propagandistic manipulation of leadership—both of which reduce human cognition to a function of metaphorical exchange and judging differences between values as simply differences in metaphor. This give no grounding and no telos to human pursuit or exchange, and reduces discourse to exchange of catchy phrases and its resultant score-card of who (i.e. which party or politician) had the more polished turn of phrase instead of who had the position most in accord with both the evidence available and in conjunction with a moral set of principles that one would maintain is more acceptable for human intercourse. Thus, the overall patterns of leadership action and citizen support become the same, when reason and ethics are surrendered to interests of any other sort but the equal and universal concerns expressed by the principle “justice for all.”
The result of such irrationalities that themselves result in party-allegiance over principle: fascism and totalitarianism, in which individual rationality and objective justification is surrendered precisely for what is irrational. Contrary to the claim of relativists, fascism and totalitarianism did not originate in a quest for universal reason and a focus on rationality. Rather, that quest was overcome and put to use by a much deeper—i.e. unconscious—mechanism of the human psyche; one that caused Freud to be so pessimistic about human nature and the future of humanity. That mechanism is the love of control and power over others—be they another political party or another race or another culture—and the masochistic love of inflicting pain on them that is the inevitable concomitant of the pursuit of power. This is the psychological dynamic that put reason to work to achieve its ends in Hitler’s Germany. It still does today in Obama’s corporate America. (Note: I am not analogizing Hitler and Obama. I am simply arguing that the spirit of fascism did not die with Hitler or the Third Reich, and is very much alive in America today, and for the same reasons it was alive in Germany back then.)
By rejecting reason wholesale, and by putting relativism, the groupthink of a “party first” ideology, self-centered desires, and/or the irrational drives of the human psyche as the fundamental guide of human thoughts and action, the culture of the mid-to-late 20th century West guaranteed the decline of democracy and the ongoing dominance of the fascistic spirit we see so prominently today. It inverted the internal, self-ordered rational individual (and how could psyche have an order/cosmos without reason as guide?) with the desiring individual and thus social chaos (the opposite of cosmos) as atomistic, irrational individuals sought their own means of self-aggrandizement without care or concern for the impact they had on local or distant others and the future state of humanity.
The solution advocated here to this problem is what I would call “post party politics.” It is the recognition that the full-throated commitment to the party system has proved to be an utter failure, as has the commitment to individualism and relativism. Thus, the best solution is to find a political place between the Scylla of the party system (i.e. “the party for the party’s sake,” or “the party over and against all other parties”) and the Charybdis of settling for the solipsism of individualism and/or the intellectual complacency of relativism. That will demand two things: first, to put reason and ethical principles back to our deliberation as primary modes of cognition; second, to engage in public discourse on that basis; and third, to give only provisional support, which flexes and changes, to those persons and groups who put these values as primary in their governing methods, even if they are not able to maintain them at all times and all levels. This entails that one is committed to never allying with groups for groups’ sake, or with one’s self-interest alone as the basis of either voting or political involvement.