There was a time when those least cynical among us might think that the left’s ruination of the West was the result of unintended consequences, perhaps of the Wilsonian variety; that bleeding hearts led to deoxygenated brains; and that those left with diminished faculties could not comprehend the fallout of the half-baked ideas possessing them and prompting them to disfigure America. If that were the case, then those observant optimists and others on the right could help their fellow citizens out with the conversational or pamphlet equivalent of an oxygen mask. Together, and notwithstanding irreconcilable ideological differences, we might be able to repair the damage caused heretofore and salvage the Republic for which even the most Twitter-radical champagne socialist might still truck some sentiment. The center might hold and all things might not fall apart.
Where the provision of oxygen masks is concerned, some of Arthur C. Brooks’ recommendations in Love Your Enemies come to mind. Even though One came along before Brooks’ time commanding some of the same—albeit with infinitely greater authority—in his 2019 book, Brooks applies a number of these timeless and noble prescriptions in hopes of treating the contempt broadening the fault lines in today’s America.
Brooks points out that America is addicted to political contempt. There is, he argues, an “outrage industrial complex,” where grifters of various sorts (e.g. politicians, elements of Big Media and Big Tech both, grievance industry lawyers, nonprofits, etc.) hook audiences on contempt by telling them “what they want to hear, selling a narrative of conflict and painting gross caricatures of the other side.” What we’re left with looks at times like quarrelling siblings and at other times like a couple on the brink of divorce. Sure, the love is gone, but the hate filling the resultant vacuum was largely manufactured by malcontents with vested interests in the split. Siblings can, however, be reconciled and estranged lovers reunited.
Brooks appears convinced that to unify this country or at the very least make it a semi-functional social whole, we must first jettison our culture of contempt. Brooks offers five rules to subvert the culture of contempt: refuse to be used by the powerful; escape the bubble; treat others with love and respect, even when it’s difficult; disagree better; and disconnect from the unproductive debates. Again, where bridging or at the very least temporally remedying a cultural disconnect is concerned, these are worthwhile. Think of those instances where affable pinkos Jimmy Dore and Glenn Greenwald went on Tucker Carlson Tonight; where Tommy Robinson made his case on the Rubin Report; where Christopher Hitchens debated Chris Hedges or G.K. Chesterton debated George Bernard Shaw: the engagements between these persons were enjoyable and fruitful because the participants naturally followed the five rules listed above or at the very least tried to. On a personal and individual basis, Brooks' are proven remedies where countering contempt is concerned, and it is not vain to hope that such individual efforts might make a cultural difference.
If it were only a matter of America suffering a culture of contempt, then Brooks’ recommendations on how to find common ground (i.e. with moral arguments concerning values we all share) might succeed in bringing about some modicum of unity. The trouble is not only that the left’s thought leaders today are explicit about their rejection of any moral value we might have previously held in common—having joined the Bolsheviks in rejecting bourgeois morality, the post-moderns in rejecting truth, and the new identitarians in embracing identity-based justice—and about their loathing for what might have previously been staked out as a common ground or the good in finding some. Owing to their successful capture of the majority of our society and political systems’ power levers and platforms, they have institutionalized the culture of contempt.
Simply framed as a problem of culture, the solutions would be cultural as Brooks supposes. Since it is now a legal, political, spiritual, and financial matter with the sides horribly unbalanced, the prospect of dignified engagement and negotiation seems as dismal as it is untenable. After all, you cannot love your opponent into amenability if your opponent is the federal government. It is similarly unlikely that you will be able to love the mob into complacency or the secret police to common ground.
Consider how our skewed system of contempt has been paraded before us in recent weeks and months:
Biden’s nominee for Comptroller of the Currency is a Soviet Marxist-Leninist who graduated from Moscow State University on a Lenin scholarship in 1989, and to this day believes that the Soviet economic system was superior to anything in the West. Saule Omarova desires to “centralize America’s financial institutions so that all financial transactions can be controlled and directed by the federal government.”
Lt. Col. Matthew Lohmeier, Space Force Commander up until just recently, has been fired and is under investigation for criticizing the perversion of the US Military by Marxism. Throughout the military, the same divisive hodgepodge of bigoted and identitarian nonsense being taught in public schools—‘Critical Race Theory’, which terroristic leftists like Marcuse and Angela Davis would be proud of—is now being peddled from top to bottom. Dissent is of course verboten.
The American revival of Stalin’s communist terror group ANTIFA continues to wreak havoc while statists on the Hill downplay the consequences, with some like Jerry Nadler even going so far as to deny their existence.
Illegal border crossings are at record highs, and the Biden regime is exacerbating the influx of foreign nationals, and with them wage suppression and class warfare, by incentivizing such criminality with the promise of welfare, amnesty, and other benefits owed only to American citizens.
Biden has undone many of the gains made under President Trump, killing American energy independence and throwing every imaginable caltrop before natural American industrial growth.
Never mind the executive regime’s vaccine mandate, the threat of a $3.5T enrichment of the swamp’s special interests, and the destruction of both public and higher education by leftist indoctrinaires; there’s also the lockdowns, mask requirements, and vilification of persons who rightly argue that our rights do not come from the government but are merely secured by government.
It’s hard to get through that short list without feeling a little fatigued, a little disenchanted. You might think that disenchantment a side-effect: a byproduct of the left’s institutionalized contempt for a free America. It is not a side-effect. It is a milestone: a goal: a means to an end.
In Rules for Radicals Saul Alinsky reasoned:
Men don’t like to step abruptly out of the security of familiar experience; they need a bridge to cross from their own experience to a new way. A revolutionary organizer must shake up the prevailing patterns of their lives—agitate, create disenchantment and discontent with the current values, to produce, if not a passion for change, at least a passive, affirmative, non-challenging climate…A reformation means that masses of our people have reached the point of disillusionment with past ways and values. They don’t know what will work but they do know that the prevailing system is self-defeating, frustrating, and hopeless. They won’t act for change but won’t strongly oppose those who do. The time is then ripe for revolution.
Contempt is not just “an act of despising, scorn for what is mean, vile or worthless.” It’s a form of beating, both conceptually and etymologically speaking. Institutionalized, the left’s contempt for all obstacles to its aims will be and are subject to a beating-down.
Beating down the opposition and all that it ultimately loves and holds dear (e.g. family, freedom, God, country, etc.), at least according to Alinsky, makes everything ripe for revolution. If your statues have been torn down, your churches closed, your military perverted, your families divided, your borders opened, your history revised, your virtue tied to immutable characteristics contra actions, your political bodies filled with cancers, and your freedom taken away, what kind of fight will be left in you? Broken and divided people are easily conquered. So ripened, the revolution can be completed, such that all will be within Leftist America, nothing outside it, and nothing against it.
Brooks’ rules work on an individual basis, Alinsky’s on a collective, systematic basis. The objective of the former is some semblance of cultural harmony, while the objective of the latter is total disenchantment. What Brooks’ recommendations lack, extra to an insight into the pathologies of the left and its institutionalization of contempt, is the greater context afforded by the Source of his pop morality.
The Son of God, consubstantial with the Father, did indeed tell us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Christ also told His Church that the gates of hell would not prevail against it; that He did not come to bring peace, but a sword. In the case of the gates of hell failing to prevail, we are called to be a proactive and combative force for good. (Gates are stationary; for them to prevail means for them to succeed in repelling an attacking force.) The meek may inherit the world, but the brave will secure it for them. The sword imagery suggests more of the same. This to say: for culture, we can have Brookian conversations. For the soul of this nation, we must fight.
Institutionalized contempt is four-pronged: legal, political, spiritual, and financial. The objective is our disenchantment. The means is severing us from our “past ways and values”—to force us across their bridge to “a new way.” Out of love for our neighbor and for our enemy (whom Chesterton suggested are oftentimes one and the same), we ought to first see to the defense of our kingdom, then make our own bridges, and finally besiege the gates of hell.
If they want to divide families, strengthen yours. If they want to shutter churches, fill yours. If they seek to revise your history so that you might become ashamed of it, know your history better. If they want to peddle lies, spread the truth. If they want to squeeze virtuous people out of politics, find and support a robust candidate. If they want you to shut up, raise your voice.
Steve Bannon’s local takeover strategy is an example of successfully countering disenchantment by breaking the political prong of institutionalized contempt. President Trump’s 1776 Report was another such effort—combatting the New York Times’ effort to disillusion Americans about their past. There are countless instances of priests and rabbis refusing to lockdown their houses of worship, refusing to help the revolutionaries ripen their flock, and refusing to be made instruments of disenchantment, all despite catastrophic legal consequences. There are great patriots like Kyle Rittenhouse who answer the call to stand tall when most others are happy to kneel or crawl. There are great publications, American Greatness and First Things key among them, that extol the virtues, values, and beliefs that underscore the value of human life, the importance of living virtuously, the grace of God, and the exceptionality of America.
That the left, notwithstanding its incredible temporal power, needs lies and subterfuge for its institutionalized contempt to have its desired effect reveals three things: truth is the antidote; courage is soul-saving; and living not by lies is effective as well as contagious. Truth, courage, and fortitude are how we'll break the left's spell of disenchantment.
Yes, Brooks is right insofar as we ought to build bridges where possible in our individual dealings. Where confronting institutionalized contempt is concerned, however—when bridges are laid before us to a “new way” that is as rotten as it is unfree—we must know when a bridge is just a bridge, and when its’ the Milvian.