The twentieth century was drenched in blood. Totalitarian governments cruelly slaughtered over 100 million people and consigned tens of millions more to the camps, where their bodies were broken and their spirits crushed. As the years dragged by in that most miserable of centuries, time and again the world convulsed in the grip of a malignant evil that was unprecedented in its scope and brutality.
Yet, for all its horror, as the century came to a close there were reasons for hope and even optimism. Memories of the Nazi horror were fading. The Soviet Union had collapsed not, as many had feared, in a paroxysm of fire and blood, but with a whimper. In China, Deng Xiaoping unleashed the power of free markets to set his country on a path of stunning economic growth that lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, and in the West, it was almost universally believed that political freedom would inevitably follow in the wake of this new economic freedom.
Those were heady times. Who can forget Francis Fukuyama’s famous announcement that the world was on the cusp of the “end of history” and the “universalization of Western liberal democracy”? Fukuyama was wrong, of course, and a mere 30 years later, the totalitarian impulse he believed vanquished has reasserted itself with a vengeance. The euphoria of the 90s has been replaced in this century by a simmering miasma of fear and dread. No one believes we are on the verge of a time of peace and prosperity. Instead, there is a widespread sense that the great evil is stirring again, and the world seems to be teetering on the edge of an abyss of madness and destruction.
The resurgence of authoritarianism was demonstrated with startling clarity a few months ago at the UC Hastings Law School. Professor Ilya Shapiro was invited to speak on campus, and on the night of the lecture, dozens of students showed up to disrupt the event. When Shapiro tried to speak, the students screamed and banged on the tables. After enduring this for nearly an hour with no help from the university dean standing in the room, Shapiro gave up and left. More shocking still, UC Hastings Professor Rory Little who was also in the room endorsed and encouraged the students’ actions. This is not an isolated event. We now routinely hear about students at our elite universities shouting down speakers while school officials stand by and do nothing or, worse, actively encourage them.
Some might argue we have nothing to fear from mere college students. If so, they have forgotten their history. Mao’s Red Guard – his shock troops in the Cultural Revolution – consisted mostly of young people who were led by students from China’s elite universities. Millions died. Never underestimate the power of energized youth to wreak havoc.
Still, if the authoritarian contagion were limited to college campuses, I might be more optimistic about our prospects. But it is not. Campus authoritarians are part of a wider resurgence of the authoritarian impulse in our culture. For the first time in American history, an administration is legally persecuting the prior administration. Who thought taking us down the road to banana republic status was a good idea? That same administration took the nation’s first fitful steps at establishing a Ministry of Propaganda.1 People are being hounded from their jobs for refusing to celebrate the radical transgender agenda. Cancel culture reflects the authoritarian desire to silence opposition. Antifa and BLM thugs riot and burn while ruling progressives tell police to stand down.
All of this is chilling because we are not writing on a blank slate. If the twentieth century taught us anything, it is that from small sparks such as these, an all-consuming authoritarian conflagration can be ignited seemingly overnight. In the 1920s, the Brown Shirts showed up at their opponents’ meetings and shouted them down. A few short years later, they were rounding their opponents up, and those not murdered outright were put in camps. In the 2020s wild-eyed barbarians burn cities and silence anyone who tries to stand up to them. Who is to say what the future holds? History has shown it is but a short step from stamping out a man’s voice to stamping out his freedom, or his life.
In 1935 archeologists digging in the ruins of the city of Lachish found a piece of clay with a message written on it 2,500 years earlier when the Babylonian army was rampaging through the land of Judah. An official from a town near Lachish ominously warned his superior that he could no longer see the signal fires from the town of Azeqah. I feel a certain affinity with that ancient official. He surely knew the situation was dire and was probably going to get worse. But so long as he could see the signal fire in Azeqah, he could cling to hope. Day after day, night after night, he looked out from his watchtower, saw that signal, and knew he had time. Then one night he looked, and the fire was gone. How his heart must have fluttered at that moment when he realized his way of life, if not his life itself, was soon to end. And end it did. The message was found in the pile of ash that was left when the city burned.
Hemingway wrote of a man who went bankrupt, and when asked how it happened, he replied, “gradually and then suddenly.” The West has been in the gradual phase of its collapse for several decades. When I see rampant authoritarianism and thuggery running through our culture, sometimes abetted by those charged with protecting the vulnerable, I wonder how far off the sudden part can be. Thankfully, I still see the signal fire from Azeqah. People of goodwill are putting up a stiff resistance, but I must confess that I am afraid. When our cities are put to flame and our institutions are overrun by barbarians, I am reminded of lines from Yeats’ most famous poem which seem to have been pulled from today’s headlines:
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The Prophet Hosea declared that his people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. My purpose in writing this article is to hopefully equip the people who are resisting the tyranny with knowledge about how we came to be in this place in history, expose the tactics of our adversaries, and suggest strategies for resisting the evil that has descended upon us.
Men Have Forgotten God
What is the cause of the rise of the new authoritarianism? The answer lies in Tocqueville’s observation that there is hardly any human action that does not originate in some general idea men have conceived about God.2 Such ideas, he wrote, are “the common spring from which everything else emanates.”3 More recently, it has often been noted that politics is downstream from culture which is downstream from religion. This can be shortened to “politics is downstream from religion.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn knew this all too well. In his 1983 speech accepting the Templeton Prize, Solzhenitsyn recalled hearing as a child, older people explaining the great disasters that had befallen Russia with the observation “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Solzhenitsyn continued:
Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’
Lenin declared that “Marxism is materialism. As such, it is relentlessly hostile to religion.”4 In the decades that followed, the Soviet government he founded murdered 60 million people. That is not a coincidence. What does a law student shouting down a speaker have in common with Lenin? They are both thoroughly convinced materialists.5 The overwhelming majority of the intellectual elites in our county (and the world) are thoroughgoing materialists. Our universities, our legal institutions, the media, and just about every other institution in our country are now dominated by people who take materialism for granted. For them, it is hardly even a philosophical theory; it is a settled fact known for certain by all intelligent people.
This should chill you to the core, because, as Stalin and Mao demonstrated with the blood of millions, there is an undeniable link between materialism and the authoritarian impulse. To understand why requires an understanding of what materialism teaches about the human condition. Let us begin by reciting what could be the materialist creed:
In the beginning were the particles, and the particles were in motion, and in the entire universe there is and never has been and never will be anything other than the particles.
Materialism is an anti-god and Carl Sagan is its prophet: “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.”
If this is true, certain conclusions inevitably follow. The first of these is that humans are not, in essence, different from non-living things. The standard model of cosmology posits that the universe began in an infinitely hot dense singularity that began expanding with the “big bang.” As the universe expanded, gravity pulled lighter elements together to form stars, and in the nuclear furnaces at the center of those stars heavier elements were fused. Eventually, some of those stars burned out, leaving the heavier elements behind. Planets were formed from these heavier elements, and eons later on one of those planets a simple single celled living organism somehow spontaneously arose from non-living matter. The descendants of that first simple cell evolved into more and more complex living things until, at last, a species of clever hairless apes arose. Those hairless apes call themselves “humans.”
Many of those humans believe they are special because they have an immaterial spirit, but the materialist says they are wrong. He insists that like everything else in the cosmos, humans consist only of the particles that make up their bodies. Ultimately, like everything else, a human is nothing but an amalgamation of burnt-out star dust.6
What about consciousness (i.e., the state of being self-aware) and free will? Surely even a materialist will concede that these attributes set humans apart from mere particles in motion. Not so says the materialist. The second conclusion compelled by his premises is that “mental” is not a separate category from “physical.” This means that when a person perceives his own consciousness, what he is perceiving can be explained solely by the electro-chemical processes of his physical brain. Everything about us, including our sense of having an inner self and free will, is caused by those purely physical processes. Particles are not aware, and they do not choose.
Materialists do not deny that everyone feels they are conscious, but as famous atheist Sam Harris explains, a person’s experience that he is “an autonomous individual with a coherent identity and sense of free will” is an illusion. Harris’ statement is the ultimate counterintuitive conclusion. But, to his credit, Harris does not run from the conclusions compelled by his materialist premises. He admits that he feels self-awareness like everyone else, but he insists that feeling is a trick played on him by the burnt-out star dust that makes up his physical body.
What about morality? Surely that sets us apart from the rocks. No, replies the materialist, it does not. The third conclusion that follows inevitably from materialist premises is that objective morality cannot exist. Have you ever met an immoral rock? Your body is nothing but burnt-out star dust, and dust is neither good nor bad. It just is. Richard Dawkins assures us that in a universe of blind physical forces, “there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” Of course, every sane person feels strongly that some things are “right” and some things are “wrong.” Again, materialists do not deny that strong moral feelings exist. But, as with consciousness and free will, they insist that anyone who believes that those feelings point to something real beyond physical brain processes is deluded. Morality, like everything else, is the product of blind, purposeless material processes. The moral feelings a person has are an evolutionary holdover, like their appendix. A person has an appendix because at some point in evolutionary history it somehow gave his ancestors a reproductive advantage. He has a strong moral feeling that torturing kittens is wrong for the same reason.
At this point you might think I am exaggerating what materialism teaches. I assure you I am not, and to demonstrate this I will allow arch-materialist William Provine to sum up the materialist worldview. He wrote: “Humans are complex organic machines that die completely with no survival of soul . . . [Their choices] are determined by the interaction of heredity and environment and are not the result of free will. No inherent moral or ethical laws exist, nor are there absolute guiding principles for human society. The universe cares nothing for us and we have no ultimate meaning in life.”7
Stalin believed the road to his collectivist utopia would need to be paved with the corpses of the kulaks, and so he ordered the “liquidation of kulaks as a class.” Millions were slaughtered. History teaches us that authoritarian leftist utopians like Stalin and Mao never hesitate to order murder on an industrial scale when it suits their purposes. How can any sane person command the liquidation of millions with such breathtakingly insouciant disregard for human life? The point of the discussion so far has been to lay a foundation for answering that question. And the answer is simply this: Stalin and Mao were committed materialists who took their materialism seriously. Materialist beliefs, taken to their logical extreme, have consequences, some of which I explained in an article titled Psychopath As Übermensch Or Nietzsche At Columbine”8
Let us assume for the sake of argument that metaphysical naturalism is a true account of reality. What if a person were able to act based on a clear-eyed and unsentimental understanding of the consequences outlined above? If that person had the courage not to be overwhelmed by the utter meaningless of existence, he would be transformed. He would be bold, self-confident, assertive, uninhibited, and unrestrained. He would consider empathy to be nothing but weak-kneed sentimentality. To him others would not be ends; they would be objects to be exploited for his own gratification. He would not mind being called cruel, because he would know that “cruelty” is an empty category, the product of mere sentiment. Is the lion being cruel to the gazelle? No, he is merely doing what lions naturally do to gazelles. In short, he would be what we call a psychopath.
Materialism taken to its logical end effectively turned Stalin and Mao into psychopaths. That is why millions died at their hands. Think about that the next time you see a video of rampaging wild-eyed social justice warriors. Is it so hard to believe that given their passionate hatred for everyone who refuses to toe the DEI line, they would be tempted by a similar impulse?
The “Universal Acid” of Materialist Philosophy
It is impossible to overestimate how radically transformative materialist ideas are if one follows them through to their logical entailments. If it is true that in the entire universe nothing exists but particles in motion, all traditional ideas about practically everything are overthrown. Vocal atheist academic Daniel Dennett puts it this way: Materialism is a “universal acid” that “eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized worldview, with most of the old landmarks still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways . . .”9 Many volumes could be written about how this Universal Acid has corroded the ideas and institutions of Western civilization, leaving a hollowed-out teetering shack where once stood a magnificent edifice. For my present purposes, I will limit the discussion to what happens when the Universal Acid of materialism is poured on our laws and politics.
The Declaration of Independence
The basic principles on which the United States was founded are set forth in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, which famously states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness
For nearly 200 years after the American Founding, it was almost universally recognized that the American form of government rests on two self-evident transcendent truths: (1) All men are created equal. (2) The Creator has endowed all men with certain rights. But the rise of materialism among our intellectual elite in the last several decades has undermined that consensus. Under the materialism they take for granted, Jefferson’s propositions are not self-evidently true. Indeed, they are self-evidently false. If the universe is a closed system of natural causes, there is no room for a creator who creates men with equal moral status and endows them with rights.
Where do universal rights come from if not from God? For the materialist, they come from nowhere because they simply do not exist. Instead, what we all “rights” are privileges rulers extend to those they rule, and those privileges can be revoked at any time. To be sure, materialists talk about rights all the time. But it is important to keep in mind that materialists often use the same words the rest of us use while meaning vastly different things. For example, when I say, “murder is evil,” I mean that the act of murder transgresses a transcendent unchangeable objective moral law woven by God into the very warp and woof of the universe. When a materialist says, “murder is evil,” he means his evolutionary programing has caused him to have strong feelings of revulsion by the act of murder.
Suppose a materialist were asked on what basis his subjective revulsion to murder is superior to the Nazi’s subjective preference in favor of murder in some instances? The materialist has no answer, because his principles preclude him from acknowledging the existence of an objective moral code by which to judge between his preferences and the Nazi’s. “Holocausts are not my cup of tea,” the materialist says, “but I cannot explain to you why my tea preferences are superior to a national socialist’s.”
So what do materialists mean when they engage in “rights” talk? Political scientists often say rights are correlative of duties. This means that for any right there is a corresponding moral duty to respect that right. “I have a right to life” is another way of saying “You have a duty not to murder me.” Your right to free speech implies my moral duty not to silence you. But as we have seen, under materialism, moral duties are not objectively real. They are strong feelings caused by evolutionary programing. And these feelings can be discarded where they do not serve the materialist’s purposes.
The materialist says there are no universal moral principles guiding our relations in society. It follows from this premises that the Declaration is wrong when it insists that self-evident universal rights exist. This is why a progressive can assert mutually contradictory positions regarding rights without a hint of irony. For example, not long ago, progressives were the great champions of the right to freedom of expression. Now, howling progressive barbarians try to stifle all dissenting speech. For a progressive, this is not a contradiction. When they were not in charge, they championed freedom. Now that they have power, they crush their opponents. They never regarded freedom of expression as a universal principle to be upheld for its own sake. It is a tool to be used in the power game, and when that tool has served its purpose, it is put on the shelf like a wrench after the bolt is tightened. All that matters ultimately is to have and wield power.
The Declaration derives its logical force from the fundamentally Christian idea of the equality of all persons as image bearers of God. Dennett’s Universal Acid has chewed through this concept as well, and I hope you will pardon a lengthy quotation as we watch atheist Yuval Noah Harari pour on the acid in his international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind:
[T]he American Founding Fathers . . . imagined a reality governed by universal and immutable principles of justice, such as equality or hierarchy. Yet the only place where such universal principles exist is in the fertile imagination of Sapiens, and in the myths they invent and tell one another. These principles have no objective validity.
It is easy for us to accept that the division of people into ‘superiors’ and ‘commoners’ is a figment of the imagination. Yet the idea that all humans are equal is also a myth. In what sense do all humans equal one another? Is there any objective reality, outside the human imagination, in which we are truly equal? . . .
According to the science of biology, people were not ‘created’. They have evolved. And they certainly did not evolve to be ‘equal’. The idea of equality is inextricably intertwined with the idea of creation. The Americans got the idea of equality from Christianity, which argues that every person has a divinely created soul, and that all souls are equal before God. However, if we do not believe in the Christian myths about God, creation and souls, what does it mean that all people are ‘equal’? Evolution is based on difference, not on equality. Every person carries a somewhat different genetic code, and is exposed from birth to different environmental influences. This leads to the development of different qualities that carry with them different chances of survival. ‘Created equal’ should therefore be translated into ‘evolved differently’.
Just as people were never created, neither, according to the science of biology, is there a ‘Creator’ who ‘endows’ them with anything. There is only a blind evolutionary process, devoid of any purpose, leading to the birth of individuals.
Harari’s analysis is remarkably candid. He admits that under materialism, human dignity does not exist; universal principles of justice and equality do not exist; human rights do not exist; liberty does not exist. All of these things are social constructs resulting from entirely contingent physical processes. Is it any wonder that dictators who actually believe this do not blanch at the death of millions?
The Constitution sets forth the fundamental law of the United States. It does so by means of language. It is a text. The words of that text mean one thing and not another. But this commonsense conclusion is hotly disputed, even denied, every time a progressive talks about the “living constitution.” Of course, there is no such thing as a “living constitution.” The progressive lawyers, judges and law professors who use that phase recognize that the text of the real Constitution limits their power to impose their policy preferences on the people. They don’t like that and to get around those limits they created the idea that the Constitution is a sort of magical “living” document whose words may mean one thing today and something completely different tomorrow. A progressive judge is not bothered even a little when he uses this ruse to usurp the power that is reserved to the people.
As Judge Bork noted in The Tempting of America, the moment of temptation for a judge comes when he is faced with the choice between whether he or the people should rule. That choice is fundamentally a moral choice. Given materialism, morality is an illusion, a mere adaptive mechanism foisted on us by blind natural forces. And if a judge really believes that, then shouldn’t he do “wrong” in service of the higher “good” of imposing by judicial fiat whatever progressive policy his progressive colleagues could not get legislatively enacted? When “wrong” and “right” do not exist in any meaningful sense, power is all there is. The “living constitution” is not a method of interpretation. It is a mask progressive judges use to cover their usurpation of power that belongs to the people.
For centuries the English (and subsequently the American) common law was based on the “premise that the law existed before any attempts to express it,” and a judge’s job was not to “make” law but to “find” preexisting law.10 The moral principles of natural law were the preeminent source from which law was to be found.11
The application of the Universal Acid to our institutions usually takes place over a long period of time and involves many actors. This is not the case in this instance. Here, we can identify the man who poured out the acid. Enter Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., perhaps the most consequential judge in American history. Holmes was a convinced materialist who took his philosophy to its logical conclusions. As we have seen, one of the conclusions compelled by materialist premises is that morality is not based on an objective moral code, but is an evolutionary adaptation. Holmes took this view, as demonstrated in a letter he wrote to a friend in which he said “[I] think morality a sort of higher politeness, that stands between us and the ultimate fact – force…. Nor do I see how a believer in any kind of evolution can get a higher formula than organic fitness at the given moment.”12
Holmes did not believe morality was real. Therefore, in a monumentally consequential 1897 article entitled The Path of the Law, he announced that it was time to jettison any notion that the law has anything to do with morality. Holmes wrote, “For my own part, I often doubt whether it would not be a gain if every word of moral significance could be banished from the law altogether, and other words adopted which should convey legal ideas uncolored by anything outside the law.”
With The Path of the Law Holmes founded the school of “legal realism,” which, in a remarkably short time, came to be the predominate theory of jurisprudence in the United States. Legal realism denies the existence of any objective principles of ethics or admitted axioms to guide a judge’s rulings. In other words, the law is not based upon principles of justice that transcend time and place; it is nothing more than what willful judges do.
Untethered from an obligation to any authority other than their personal predilections, progressive judges have wreaked havoc on our democratic norms by substituting their own preferences for actual rules of law. Some judges are remarkably candid about what they have done. Judge Richard Posner, for example, said this about his judicial philosophy: “I pay very little attention to legal rules, statutes, constitutional provisions. . . . A case is just a dispute. The first thing you do is ask yourself – forget about the law – what is a sensible resolution of this dispute? The next thing . . . is to see if a recent Supreme Court precedent or some other legal obstacle stood in the way of ruling in favor of that sensible resolution. And the answer is that’s actually rarely the case. When you have a Supreme Court case or something similar, they’re often extremely easy to get around.”
Of course, by “sensible resolution,” he meant “what I want.” And if that outcome conflicts with a law or legal precedent, no problem, because that is “easy to get around.” This is what happens when the Universal Acid dissolves the tether linking law to morality. Judges routinely violate their oaths to uphold the law and then brag about it. This is not a mere theoretical concern, as Holmes himself demonstrated when he authored his infamous opinion in the case of Buck v. Bell. That case upheld a law mandating sterilization of mentally “inferior” people. Holmes concluded his opinion with the chilling words, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” Holmes’ materialism was on full display.
In a world where universal moral truths governing human relations do not exist, all relationships are reducible to power dynamics. In other words, in a cosmos where the word “justice” is ultimately meaningless, only power remains. To use Holmes’ terms, differences are resolved by “the ultimate fact – force,” and the strong dominate the weak.
Nearly 80 years ago in his book, The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis anticipated the corrosive effect materialism would have on politics in the West. He envisioned a time when progressives (whom he called “Conditioners”) would simultaneously recognize no abstract limits on their power and no basis other than their own subjective whims for exercising that power. He wrote “the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means . . . the power of some men to make other men what they please.” But what motivates the Conditioners? Lewis’ answer: “The [progressives] must come to be motivated simply by their own pleasure. . . [For] those who stand outside all judgments of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse.”
We are faced with a stark choice. Either the universal moral principles announced in the Declaration are true or they are false. We can have freedom under law only if we choose “true,” because if they are false there is, by definition, no abstract restraint on power. Our politics will degenerate into a bellum omnium contra omnes (war of all against all) in which the weak succumb to the strong. Lewis put it this way:
Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao [Lewis’ word for the transcendent objective moral code], or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses. Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.
Lewis was prophetic. Today, progressives jettison centuries of tradition based on the latest fad that catches their fancy. For example, the latest progressive fad is to insist that parents should be free to have their children surgically mutilated as a sacrifice to transgender ideology. And worse, where parents do not want this outcome, minors should have the right to make that decision behind their parents’ back.
Does anyone really believe that a child has the capacity to decide whether to have radical irreversible gender surgery that will make them sterile and scar both body and mind? Of course not. The mutilation does not reflect the child’s choice. It reflects hyper-progressive certainty, forced on society with no regard for moral debate. This is a pristine example of what Lewis was talking about, and we can recast his thought with minimal changes: “For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means . . . the power of [progressives] to make [children] what they please.” God help us.
How Should We Respond?
Discerning readers will have realized that the title of this article is an allusion to Psalm 11:3. “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” I find it interesting that when the Psalmist asks this question, he does not, as one might expect, provide a plan of action. He does not tell us what to do; he enjoins us to know. He writes, “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.” Do not lose heart when it seems like the whole world is spinning out of control and falling to pieces around you. God is on His throne. He is in control.
Knowledge is key, and this is the main thing we must know about our authoritarian adversaries. They are unconstrained by any commitment to telling the truth, and we must be constantly ready to expose their lies. You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
Here is an example of what I mean. The next time Nancy Pelosi13 stands up and says this or that conservative proposal is a “threat to democracy,” call out the two lies embedded in that one statement. The first lie is implied – that Nancy Pelosi values democracy and means to protect it. Nancy Pelosi cares not one whit for democracy. Indeed, she is working to undermine our democracy by pushing the Democratic Party’s bill mandating a federal takeover of all elections and the elimination of election security. Pelosi wants to eliminate election security because she believes Democrats will win more elections if the integrity of the vote is suppressed. Like all authoritarians, the only thing she cares about is raw power, and she will do anything to hold it, including undermining the very democracy she claims to want to protect. Her actions belie her words. She does not want free and fair elections. It is clear she would prefer communist-style elections in which the Party’s chosen candidate always wins with 99% of the vote.
The second lie in Pelosi’s statement is the more obvious one. Everyone knows that not every policy proposal she disagrees with is an existential threat to our constitutional order. Do not make the mistake of dignifying her lies by engaging with them as if they were anything but what they obviously are. Our response to a lie is not to engage with – and thereby give traction to – the lie. Our response is to call out the lie for what it is and to heap scorn and contempt upon the liar.
The second thing we need to know about authoritarians is that they are very often hypocrites, and we must expose their double standards tirelessly. When John Kerry flies his private plane to Reykjavik to pick up a climate award, mock him mercilessly. When elites mandate masks and throw parties where only the waitstaff are required to wear them, hold them up for the contempt they deserve.
Third, authoritarian “arguments” are frequently not arguments at all but veils covering their exercise of raw power. The next time a progressive says that the right to free speech does not protect hate speech, ask them what they mean by the phrase “hate speech.” Invariably, the answer will be hate speech is speech they find offensive. Let me get this straight, you are all for protecting speech you agree with but want to shut down speech you find offensive? That is absurd. As the Supreme Court has said many times, anodyne speech that offends no one requires no protection. The whole point of the First Amendment is to protect unpopular speech, especially unpopular political speech. Expressing opinions that inflame passions is precisely why it is needed. You are not in favor of free speech at all if you are not in favor of allowing speech you despise. So it turns out that the progressive “argument” for controlling speech is, at bottom, nothing but a mask to cover their exercise of force to silence anyone who disagrees with them. That is why the students at UC Hastings Law School feel perfectly justified when they used fascist tactics to shut down a political debate.
Finally, and most importantly, by definition, authoritarians deny the foundation for universal rights set forth in the Declaration of Independence, and we must stand ready to expose their betrayal of our founding principles. Let us end where we started. “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Our Republic is in tatters and the evil of authoritarianism is reasserting itself because men have forgotten God.
There was a time in our nation’s history when the Judeo-Christian foundation upon which our constitutional edifice rests was unquestioned by the vast majority of people. Nearly everyone took the Declaration seriously when it declared that men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. That is no longer the case. Of all the beliefs, habits and traditions the Universal Acid has dissolved, its most baleful effect has been eroding this understanding of the foundation of our rights. Before the acid was poured out, we rested secure in the belief that our rights were vouchsafed by God. While this is still widely believed by the average citizen, the overwhelming majority of our so-called elites reject the idea as a quaint superstition. What do they propose as a substitute foundation for our rights? Absolutely nothing. As we have seen, for the materialist “rights” talk is just so much babbling by clever hairless apes that ultimately has no basis in any conception of the real world in which we live. For the materialist, the only real thing is power, and as Lewis wrote, the only thing guiding his exercise of power is his emotional impulses.
As I stated before, the Declaration derives its logical force from the Christian idea of the equality of all men as image bearers of God. Once that foundation is removed, the entire structure crashes to the ground. Yes, our opponents talk about “rights,” but they do not believe in rights in any meaningful sense. For example, I take it that most progressives will say they believe in the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children. But just today I read that a progressive Virginia legislator is trying to pass a law to send parents to prison if they refuse to allow their children to be surgically mutilated when a government employee decides that is in the child’s best interest. I am not making this up.
Materialism of one stripe or another has been with us for centuries. When the Judeo-Christian foundation of our Republic was taken for granted, even by our elites, the materialist cancer was an irritant, a nuisance but not a danger. The cancer has now metastasized to stage IV. A person with stage IV cancer sometimes survives, but their prospects are dim. Nancy Pelosi is right about one thing. Our democracy is under assault. But the assault is coming from the opposite direction she claims. It is time to man the barricades.
What does this mean as a practical matter? It means two things. First, we must stop living by lies. Call “transition surgery” on minors what it really is – child abuse. When someone insists that we bow the knee to the transgender gods by using “correct” pronouns, we must refuse! Do not allow yourself to say “Oh, it’s just polite and I don’t want to offend anyone.” The madness will stop only when enough people stand up and refuse to be sucked into the maelstrom. Someone must be first to say, the Emperor has no clothes. Yes, there might be consequences. You might lose your job. But refuse to participate in the lie even if it hurts. And if you don’t? Solzhenitsyn again:
And he who is not sufficiently courageous even to defend his soul — don’t let him be proud of his ‘progressive’ views, and don’t let him boast that he is an academician or a people’s artist, a merited figure, or a general –let him say to himself: I am in the herd, and a coward. It’s all the same to me as long as I’m fed and warm.
Solzhenitsyn was writing in the Soviet Union in 1974. He knew the decision to defend his soul by refusing to participate in lies would have consequences. But he insisted on it nevertheless. He wrote: “It will not be an easy choice for a body, but it is the only one for a soul. . . And if we get cold feet, even taking this step, then we are worthless and hopeless, and the scorn of Pushkin should be directed to us: ‘Why should cattle have the gifts of freedom? Their heritage from generation to generation is the belled yoke and the lash.’”
The second thing we must do is to insist that our leaders support the Declaration. We must ensure that they agree that our rights come from our Creator. We must never support any politician whose principles expose his belief that the Declaration’s rights talk is nothing but soothing noises one hairless ape makes to another. But won’t that violate the separation of church and state? Absolutely not! The Establishment Clause is a restraint on government from establishing a national church. It was never intended to be a restraint on the people. It is inconceivable that the men who wrote the Establishment Clause in 1789 – some of whom were present at the signing of the Declaration only 13 year earlier – intended that clause to prevent the people from insisting that their elected leaders actually believe the principles set forth in the Declaration upon which the Republic was founded.
The materialist rot is well advanced. But there is still hope. The signal fire in Azeqah burns still. But time is growing short. I do not know how much time we have left, but I am certain it is less than many people believe. After the constitutional convention, Benjamin Franklin famously announced that we were to have a republic, “if you can keep it.” We have forgotten God and are a house divided as we have not been since the 1860s. The question of whether we can keep it is very much in doubt. I pray that it is not too late. I pray that we remember the God we have forgotten, and that in Lincoln’s famous words, this nation, under that God “shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth.”
1 They called it the “Disinformation Governance Board,” but in everything but name it was intended to be a Ministry of Propaganda.
2 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Book Two, sec. 1, ch. 5.
4 Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion, May 13, 1909.
5 “Materialism” is a shorthand term to describe metaphysical monism. There are other terms such as naturalism and physicalism that get at roughly the same idea – the physical universe is all that exists. I believe materialism is not merely a false account of reality; I believe it is incoherent. But it is not my purpose in this article to explain why I believe materialism is false. Rather, I am trying to get my readers to focus on the dire consequences that can follow when materialist principles are taken as true and acted on. Of course, I do not know that all of the law students were materialists. I do know that metaphysical materialism is taken for granted in our elite institutions of higher education, and their actions tell me that even if they are not affirming materialists, their ideas have been infused with that idea.
6 I am not claiming that the standard model of cosmology that I have sketched here is unique to materialism or inconsistent with theism. Nor am I claiming that certain theories of evolution are inconsistent with theism. Obviously, however, a strictly materialist theory of evolution that denies the ontological gulf between humans and other things is incompatible with the tenants of Christianity. Indeed, this is the fundamental dividing line between Christians who take the truths espoused in the Declaration seriously and materialists who must only ever give those truths lip service. The Christian believes that every human has an immaterial spirit that is created Imago Dei, in the image of God. The materialist insists that belief is superstitious nonsense.
7 William Provine, Scientists Face It! Science and Religion are Incompatible (1988), 10.
9 Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995), 63. Dennett was speaking of “Darwin’s idea,” but in context, it is clear that Dennett’s “Universal Acid” is not Darwinian evolution as such but the metaphysical materialism underlying that idea. Dennett says that it was always inevitable that materialism would “leak out” from Darwin’s idea and offer answers to questions in everything from cosmology to psychology.
10 Emily Kadens, Justice Blackstone’s Common Law Orthodoxy, 103 Nw. U. L. Rev. 1553, 1557 (2009).
11 1 William Blackstone, Commentaries 46-7.
12 Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. to Harold Laski, May 13, 1926, in Holmes-Laski Letters: The Correspondence of Mr. Justice Holmes and Harold J. Laski, 1916–1935, 2 vols., ed. Mark DeWolfe Howe [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953], 2:837
13 Yes, Pelosi claims to be a “devout” Catholic and it would at first glance appear to be anomalous to lump her in with materialist authoritarians. But her claim is deceptive, and inspired by Machiavelli, who advised the Prince that “There is nothing more important than appearing to be religious” but he must always be prepared to act against religion when he exercises power. Pelosi is the perfect example of the Machiavellian politician, appearing to be religious without actually being so. How can we know that Pelosi is not actually religious? That should be obvious. For decades she has been in scandalous opposition to the Catholic church’s most sacred doctrines, especially those concerning life, marriage, family and the proper ordering of human sexuality. Either she is remarkably stupid and has not noticed the scandal or the scandal does not bother her because she does not take the Church’s doctrines seriously. Nancy Pelosi is many things. Stupid is not one of them. Her actions show her to be as effectively a materialist as the most ardent atheist.