When the Saints Go Marching In

Beware the social redeemers of our time.

Melanie Phillips, author of The World Turned Upside Down, laments that “it is the intellectual classes—the supposed custodians of reason—who have turned into the destroyers of reason,” as our cognitive avant-garde retreats ever deeper into the realm of disembodied cerebration and reality-disconnect. Proposing one or another blueprint for radical social change or meddling in the complexities of foreign and economic policy, it would seem that these intellectuals and academics have too much time on their hands. After all, they are not required to deal with the grubby details of wrenching a living from a harsh, empirical world, and so are free, like Swift’s pixilated “projectors” in the Academy of Lagado, to spin their crackpot theories and advance their irrational speculations about real-life situations they have little knowledge of.

It is not only in Swift’s Academy that such projectors, “full of volatile spirits acquired in that airy region,” labor to extract sunbeams from cucumbers, spin silk from cobwebs, propagate a breed of woolless sheep, adjust “the annual and diurnal motions of the earth and sun,” strive to “reduce excrement to its original food” and, most pertinently, devise methods to build houses by “beginning at the roof and working downwards to the foundations”—the forte of our standard, top-downing intellectual conventicles.

It is also in the seminar rooms and study carrels of our current intelligentsia that we find comparable absurdities, as for example: professors who advocate rampant spending to neutralize debt (Paul Krugman); teachers who believe that history is a narrative to be manipulated for ideological ends (Howard Zinn); philosophers who affirm that truth is a relative concept, except, of course, for the truth of their own claims (Michel Foucault); writers who promote violence as the road to millennial harmony (Slavoj Zizek), and so on. Indeed, on the major issues of the day—climate change, the war on terror, the free market, Israel, Iran—our “supposed custodians of reason,” pontificating from the Left, get everything backwards, opting for measures that only magnify the problems they affect to settle. As the popular idiom has it, the inmates have taken over the asylum. Clearly, to avoid descent into madness, reason must accommodate itself to reality. Sundered from the world as it is and from men as they are, it generates only caricatures and deformities rather than solutions and practicable recommendations.

Considering the same malformation of thought from a different angle, Robert Harkins muses on the beauty and workmanship of the Waterford crystal goblet as a symbol of the artistry, intelligence and genius of an accomplished civilization. The sequestered intellectual, however, believes that a new world order “may be invented just as easily as one might conjure a crystal goblet from the sand” and mold its symmetry without the slightest knowledge of the craft. The trouble is that “there is not one of them who can work a crystal goblet from sand and the forge.”

Perhaps David Horowitz hits on the aptest analogy when he says, referring to the Democratic Party (though he might just as well be speaking of the Left in general): “These people see themselves as visionaries, as an army of the saints marching through the electoral process opposed by the army of Satan, which is us,” that is, those who adopt a conservative perspective on political life. Horowitz’s soi-disant “saints” are chiefly militant atheists who have substituted a presumptive secular paradise for the Second Coming of the Lord and are busy assembling a new Vulgate for the deliverance of mankind.

They are the gutter messiahs of the time, lashing themselves for the sins of their colonial forefathers while promising to create a new and pristine dispensation for the benefit of mankind, or rather, for that part of mankind deemed worthy of their efforts. Having studied in the cloisters of hermetic university departments and relishing their hard-won ignorance, they will turn the world upside down and pretend that it is right-side-up. They will, so to speak, forge the cultural goblet out of thin air, serene in their false humility and confident of their nonexistent means. And they are committed to the belief, as French sociologist and author of We Have Never Been Modern Bruno Latour argues, that time is on their side, that “Kronos would eat away all that [is] archaic and irrational [by their lights]…sparing only those predestined for a radiant future.”

As I’ve written before, our social and political redeemers refuse to see how their passion for self-flagellation and their assumption of moral rectitude are only the reflex and obverse of their overweening conceit in the hieratic authority they have conferred upon themselves to cense and purify the world. They have become the Fifth Monarchy Men of the modern era, descendants of Praise-God Barebone who gave his name to a parliament dominated by chiliastic fervour and the conviction of sainthood. In the name of “peace,” the “brotherhood of man,” and what the Quakers, to take a resonant illustration, call “the transforming power of love, human and divine,” social, political and economic systems predicated on the liberty of the individual and the principle of a just meritocracy are considered ethically suspicious and ideologically opprobrious. The Left now seems to be quaking to the same carphological rhythms.

The Quakers provide an expository object lesson—what academic philosophers call a mise en abyme, or revelatory inset of the kind we see on the Quaker Oats box—for current political thought. It’s pro forma that the Quakers, that sect of self-professed saints, who in the 17th century threw in their lot with the Fifth Monarchy, the Ranters and the Diggers, have now clutched the leftist creed and project to their bosom. No surprise, then, that the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker branch plant, lauded the genocidal Cambodian dictator Pol Pot for providing an “example of an alternative model of development and social organization.” It does not impact the Quaker sensibility that two million Cambodians found their egalitarian consummation in death, but then death ensures the leveling of the playing field and guarantees equality of outcome.

Is this not what the Left is striving for? Political thought in the contemporary West, while remaining resolutely profane (i.e., “outside the temple”), seems to be converging on the Quaker worldview, exemplified most conspicuously in Noam Chomsky’s still unrepudiated apology for Pol Pot and in his virulent hatred of everything America represents. Chomsky, of course, is not alone in promoting such lethal imbecility; he is surrounded and supported by a veritable New Model Army of leftist agitators and intellectual commissars, many of whom are now in power or ensconced in positions of academic authority.

Unbeknownst to themselves, however, these strangely aggressive pietists are consecrated to a program of self-immolation and a reductive and indigent life for their victims. They are convinced that after an interregnum of cleansing devastation, a brave new world shall be built upon presumably unshakeable foundations and peace will reign over the entire planet, protected by the mystical talismans of the Left and the Sword of Statist Collectivism. But such glorious conclusions are obviously never to be taken for granted by the priests and paladins of the Left. They must remain vigilant against the saboteurs of metamorphic aspirations. They must demonize those whom they consider as their enemies—conservative thinkers, Tea Partiers, supporters of Israel, reputable scientists who present damning evidence countering the global warming scam, scholars who point to the threat of militant Islam, the slender remnant of journalists and writers who still believe in the duty to investigate and report impartially, ordinary citizens who insist upon their democratic rights, and wealth-creating entrepreneurs who wish to retain the fruits of their labors, or at least a meaningful slice thereof.

Regardless of the suffering they cause and the deprivations they inflict, our righteous dabblers and contemporary evangelists—the “destroyers of reason”—are not to be deflected from their goal. It is tantamount to a divinely ordained mission. Having turned politics into an implicit religion, they must continue in their quest to fundamentally transform our lives and thus bring us into harm’s way while assuming the mantle of infallibility. Since the rest of us are either traitors to the cause or poor sinners with undeveloped minds, the elect have no choice but to think and act on our behalf, until we see the light. The saints must keep on marching.