The consent of the governed has been withdrawn
In the US, a weary nation rejects the warmongering politics of carnival and spectacle
"Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” – Benjamin Franklin
There have been 59 presidential elections in the United States of America since Jefferson penned the now historic axiom in the Declaration of Independence that governments “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
On the cusp of the nation’s 60th election in November 2024, with its politics hopelessly mired in partisan infantilization and trivialization, a historic $34 trillion national debt vs. $26.5 trillion GDP, and a $1.4 trillion military machine enmeshed in unpopular wars across the globe, the governed have clearly and unequivocally withdrawn their consent, resulting in a historic crisis of legitimacy.
A September 2023 survey by Pew Research found that “fewer than two-in-ten Americans say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right, the lowest trust measures in nearly seven decades of polling.” The exact figure is 16%.
When the question shifts to satisfaction with the overall direction of the country, Gallup reports that only 22% say they are satisfied. Gallup data also show a historically high percentage of voters rejecting both parties, with those identifying as “independent” ranging as high as 49% in 2023.
This society wide dissatisfaction and distrust is reflected in the reality that 77 million Americans, one third of eligible voters, did not vote in the 2020 presidential election, More than 63 million who are eligible to vote did not even register.
The elected officials who are running the federal government, irrespective of party, are so corrupt and universally loathed by the people, they’ve essentially become an illegitimate rogue regime seen by large swaths of the electorate as a clear threat to democracy, peace and economic prosperity.
Faced with this historic collapse in their own legitimacy, globalist elites in the US and elsewhere (see Germany) now rely almost completely on apocalyptic fear mongering and coercion to enforce an unpopular, undemocratic transnational agenda aimed at restructuring all political, social and economic life on earth.
The authoritarian schemes aimed at usurping national sovereignty and local citizen-driven democracy vary from Agenda 2030 to The Great Reset to the Global Green New Deal to the Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response Accord being pushed for international approval in May 2024 by the World Health Organization and the UN.
What all of these elaborate schemes have in common is enormous costs of hundreds of trillions of dollars and concentration of money and power upward and more globally.
THE END IS NEARISH
Just before the last millennium in 2000, with rampant end of days fantasies prompting hordes of tourists to trek to the Mayan rainforest for a direct end times experience, and a proliferation of how-to guides for avoiding the Y2K virtual apocalypse circulating online without the slightest sense of irony, Lewis Lapham published a book titled “The End of the World,” a collection of essays written over the centuries by luminaries from Plato to Picasso predicting the end times.
Reviewers described the book as a kind of “portable apocalypse reader,” with one of the essays capturing the perennial apocalyptic spirit with the title “The End is Nearish.” Although this was more than a quarter century ago, the theme could not be more timely.
During and after the Covid pandemic, with incessant lurid headlines about not only the celebrity visus, but an imminent climate crisis and multiple other crises du jour, the survival training market grew at 5.2% annually and is forecast to reach a total value of $13.5 billion by 2027. Americans bought 60 million guns during the pandemic, with 15 million households owning a firearm for the first time. There are now 46 million armed homes in the US.
While the fevered dysfunction of this moment clearly reflects a shocking lack of genuine vision among “elites” at every level of government, it is also worth asking whether apocalyptic thinking is crippling a sense of meaningful political agency among citizens?
In 2023, with the help of a large professional research team, Peter Turchin, a project leader at the Complexity Science Hub Vienna and a research associate at the University of Oxford, built a “crisis database” of hundreds of societies across 10,000 years to understand what caused them to collapse.
One of the key causal factors that Turchin describes is “the iron law of oligarchy,” the tendency for societal elites to usurp and concentrate power in their own hands. Although Turchin believes that oligarchy is far advanced in the US and has already done irreversible damage, he nonetheless concludes that today’s complex civilizational structures have sufficient “resilience” to avoid a catastrophic collapse.
However, that does mean that civilizational survival is a given. In Turchin’s estimation, two drivers of instability loom large and must be addressed urgently.
The first is popular immiseration—when the economic fortunes of broad swaths of a population decline. The second, and more significant, is elite overproduction—when a society produces too many superrich and ultra-educated people, and not enough elite positions to satisfy their ambitions.
Curbing elite overproduction is evidently a messy process. Turchin says.
In order for stability to return, elite overproduction somehow needs to be taken care of – historically and typically by eliminating the surplus elites through massacre, imprisonment, emigration, or forced or voluntary downward social mobility.
The heedless brinksmanship of today’s elites reflects a shocking and dangerous lack of genuine vision at every level of society. The stakes and the potential for enormous violence are palpable to everyone. While buying guns and joining survivalist cults are understandable phenomena at this point, they are not political solutions. If such solutions exist, they need to be reflected in the ways that US citizens are engaged in the quotidian political life of the nation.
THE FUTURE IS ALSO NEARISH
For many Americans, Washington, DC and the vast army of 4.5 million government employees flung around the nation and the world look as remote and disconnected from the currents of everyday life as the royal court of King George III at the time of the revolution.
We need a new American Revolution, but what would it look like? Arguing from a conservative point of view in City Journal, Christopher Rufo, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, articulates the need for a “counterrevolution” against today’s vast federal administrative state.
Today’s counterrevolution is not one of class against class but takes place along a new axis between the citizen and an ideologically driven state. Its ultimate ambition is not to replace the new “universal class”—the heirs of the 1960s cultural revolution, who have worked to professionalize it and install it in elite institutions—or to capture the bureaucratic apparatus that the universal class currently controls; instead, it seeks to restore the nation’s founding principle of citizen rule over the state.
Is the restoration of even a rough semblance of citizen rule remotely possible today? With the noisy echo chambers of elite controlled global media pushing a divisive and dispiriting mix of dystopian fearmongering and transnationalist propaganda 24/7, the question is urgent.
Yet Americans looking for fresh approaches to self-governance are already more united in their vision of the nation than is commonly understood. For example, the non-partisan America 250 initiative charged by Congress with planning for America’s 250th anniversary, conducted a series of surveys in 2021 that found:
92% of adult Americans want to make America a better place to live
83% believe in the American dream of working hard to achieve their goals
79% would rather live in America than anywhere else
81% associate America with freedom
80% associate America with opportunity
74% associate America with diversity
Further, there is a quietly emerging renaissance of civil society in the US. Citizens across the nation are forming voluntary associations and non-profits to work for various forms of direct democracy, community banking, citizens juries, lifelong civics education and local control in areas from diversified family farming to digital democracy to fundamental electoral reform and urban planning. There are thousands of such citizen-driven initiatives working outside of both parties and government.
Can this native optimism and longing for community be harnessed for positive change short of a violent revolution or civil war? What is seen on cable television, social media and in the permanent political theater being staged in Washington, DC, is badly out of alignment with a deep undercurrent of positive belief among the people in both the possibilities and the reality of the United States.
There is a profound popular desire for productive unity that rejects the sham, elite blood sport politics of money and power concentrated in permanent Washington, and also rejects the two completely corrupt wings of the entrenched Uniparty.
AMERICA’S OPTIMISTIC PESSIMISM
The nation is passing through a historic crucible. The central question is whether regular citizens can rise to the challenge of changing course and restoring “citizen rule over the state” without the country descending into anarchy.
Apocalyptic visions abound; but writing in the Atlantic, historian Fintan O’Toole cautions that the situation may be more complex than is commonly imagined.
“feverish talk of civil war has the paradoxical effect of making the current reality seem, by way of contrast, not so bad. The comforting fiction that the U.S. used to be a glorious and settled democracy prevents any reckoning with the fact that its current crisis is not a terrible departure from the past but rather a product of the unresolved contradictions of its history.”
These unresolved contradictions loom large, the unfinished business of our own uniquely conflicted history. They serve to remind us that revolution is an ongoing historical process, not a static one time event. Pulitzer Prize winning historian Alan Taylor characterizes the American Revolution as “our first civil war, rife with divisions, violence and destruction.” Like today.
Given the seeming intractability of the nation’s problems, many of today’s leading political theorists caution against an outdated Enlightenment belief in progress and extol the virtues of philosophic pessimism as a hedge against groundless optimism. Amid today’s fevered populist excitements, such cautionary thinking seems like sound political advice.
Yet popular conceptions of philosophic pessimism mistakenly see it as a psychological disorder caused by an excessively gloomy and negative outlook. It is defined as a disease that needs to be treated, either with drugs or therapy or both.
In truth, pessimism properly understood is nothing of the sort. Its essence is humility, a liberating core belief in the limits to what humans can know and foresee. Citizens of the early American republic exuded this humility. Outside their affirmative public statements and proclamations, Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin were haunted by profound doubts about the future of the new nation. They understood the enormous risk and uncertainty of the revolutionary project. The people were also decidedly ambivalent, including many who fought in the war.
Yet both revolutionary leaders and citizen activists of the time shared an abiding belief in the power of the individual. With a vast new continent to explore, this belief in democratic individualism quickly morphed into a kind of lived de facto optimism. Whitman’s poetry is bursting with this sensibility, magnified by an erotic attachment to life that got him fired from his US government job at the Bureau of Indian Affairs for indecency when he published Leaves of Grass.
Not everyone needs to share this outlook in order for it to have powerful political agency. At its peak, no more than 45% of American colonists supported the revolutionary war. An even smaller core propelled the war forward against daunting odds.
Perhaps the uniquely American character is that of an oddly optimistic pessimism, embracing the challenge of the unknown while energetically and fearlessly working together to forge a new and equally unknowable future.
There is ample evidence that enough Americans still share this outlook to drag the country back from the brink.