Members of the group RASH–SHARP Santiago ANTIFA (Anti-Fascism Action) attend a march in favor of migrants, organized by the National Immigrants Coordinator, in downtown Santiago, Chile, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
One historical theory holds that the Spanish Inquisition was a reflex to the waning power of Spain and the Catholic Church, a poorly conceived attempt to bolster stability and crush subversive forces within Spain’s borders and within the faith. Jews, heretical Catholic sects, suspected Protestants and foreign spies, political dissidents–all were targeted for persecution in the name of purity and social unity.
The Inquisition (so the theory goes) was a product of institutional fear and collapse, a sort of immune response against chronic and terminal disease.
Black Lives Matter and Antifa bear a striking similarity to the Inquisition in some respects. These two interrelated organizations crusade to clease the country of racial evil and whip up suggestible persons into declarations of faith, public demonstrations of orthodoxy, and cooperation in the defeat of a dubious heresy epidemic (“systemic racism”). Paranoia and hysteria obtains everywhere one turns. White supremacists, fascists, populists, and a dozen other varieties of illiberals lurk in the shadows, BLM/Antifa tell the faithful. The heretics must be discovered and exterminated so that America may bring History’s racially, sexually, and economically just kingdom to earth.
The parallel suggests an interesting possibility: that BLM/Antifa’s vengeful fervor is a reactionary backlash. BLM/Antifa are NOT the minty-fresh revolutionary and radical movements they pretend to be but rather tools of establishment progressivism, funded and supported to do their stick work in the streets.
BLM/Antifa’s antics do not signal the beginning of something–they signal the end of something.
Liberalism in the United States shows every sign of decadence and collapse, as I have written about at length before. Liberalism’s growing tolerance for corruption and hypocrisy, an appetite for authoritarian tactics of suppression, and wholesale manipulation of the public’s reality to keep them in the dark signal disintegration, not ascendancy.
For several years, woke leaders and organizations have been scrambling to prop up their ideology with every fiendish instrument of coercion at their disposal: social media auto-da-fe’s; de-platforming and censorship; bullying of employers to destroy heretics’ livelihoods; confessions of wrongdoing extracted under social torment; and now mob terrorism, burning, and looting by BLM/Antifa partisans intent on intimidating the broader public into cowed obedience.
Why is this? If progressive liberalism is a shoo-in to take over the world, why the fuss? One has to wonder whether progressives’ massive show of intimidation and cruelty stems not from strength but from a dawning awareness of their own weakness and loss of control over the cultural mainstream–a control all but total for the last 50 years.
As with other inquisitions, the hunt for heretics in America has rebounded on the orthodox and the faithful. The wokest of woke Democrat mayors–formerly Chuck-Norris heroes of the Anti-Trump movement–have been booed and heckled to resign. The mob has turned on celebrity allies, accusing them of transgressing nuances of sensitivity or demonstrating less than total purity of mind, prompting slavish apologies, financial penances, and promises to think better thoughts. Just the other day, an editor at the New York Times resigned (NYTs editors don’t get “fired”) for daring to publish an op-ed from Senator Tom Cotton about sending in troops to quell riots around the country–to be clear, an article the editor did not agree with nor write.
Within the progressive fold itself, it seems one literally cannot be too careful, cannot declare one’s faith loudly enough to be truly safe from the legion of self-appointed Torquemadas.
One might think liberals would have learned by now to stay inside, draw the shades, and keep their mouths shut while the holocaust rages outside. Turns out Monty Python was right–nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. No matter how many times the pattern repeats itself, enablers of persecution are surprised when they wind up on the stake themselves.
So much for the fruits of idealism and ideology.
Progressive liberalism was supposed to be like Titanic, a glorious and unsinkable vehicle of the future that no power on earth could stop or turn aside. History itself had anointed progressive liberalism to sweep the globe, woke bishops assured their flocks; victory was only a matter of time and faith. Soon, illiberal regimes as diverse as Iran, China, and Kentucky would join progressives in a unified global Reich, where everyone got to choose zer gender and privileges like social standing and material wealth were allocated based on a person’s victim credentials.
But HMS Progressivism hit an orange iceberg in November 2016. Passengers and crew alike fell into a panic as the lower decks of their ideology began to flood with icy cold water. The collision wasn’t just a surprise–it was impossible, UNTHINKABLE, a violation of the agreed-upon reality, akin to objects falling upward. President Trump’s victory forced progressives and hard-core classical liberals across the West to finally entertain the inconceivable: “History” might move forward with their ideology lying at the bottom of the sea, a curiosity for political archeologists with tiny submarines.
Progressives are keeping up an optimistic and defiant front–a woke orchestra furiously blasting tunes while the deck tilts and their sheet music slides off the stands. The performative flourishes are many and varied: renaming streets; removing statues of Confederate generals and cowboys; painting over historical murals; proliferating diversity initiatives and “safe spaces”; enacting hate-speech codes to criminalize anti-liberal expressions and attitudes. But all of it is rearranging deck chairs, so to speak, a species of busy work to distract from the unspooling catastrophe.
The hull of Enlightenment liberalism–and more specifically its 20th-century heir progressive liberalism–is cracking up. Awesome forces in the world are exposing more and more of liberalism’s contradictions and inadequacies.
The lesson unfolding before us is that our liberal democracy depended on a pre-liberal moral consensus (e,g. religion and/or traditional culture) to anchor social agreement about rights and liberties. A widespread underlying moral consensus restrains the selfish and extreme individualism to which liberalism is naturally predisposed. Without consensus, literally ANY individual desire or preference can be rationalized as a liberty or a right (e.g. pornography rationalized as free speech or the recent push for “pedophile rights” built on the model of gay rights).
Pure and unchecked liberalism quickly descends into cascading moral relativism, thence into social division, conflict, and chaos. Factions of the populace fight over which rights and liberties are the proper rights and liberties for a free people.
The United States no longer possesses any pre-liberal moral consensus, thanks to progressivism’s 150-year war on faith, family, traditional culture, and thick community. Progressive liberals now rely on state power to coerce and intimidate half the country into compliance with the progressive view of authentic rights and liberties–freedom to seek an abortion, the right to be safe from guns and hurtful speech, the right to economic redistribution, the right to seek individual sexual fulfillment regardless of wider social consequences, and all the rest.
It appears political philosopher Edmund Burke was correct when he wrote:
Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
The Woke Inquisition won’t wind down any time soon. More lives and institutions will be destroyed in the name of rooting out and suppressing illiberalism and “oppression.” The state will continue to promote rights and liberties by curtailing rights and liberties, in an Orwellian descending spiral.
But the spiral will end–it must. One cannot feed the walls of a cabin into the furnace for heat forever. At that point, Americans will have to decide what sort of lifeboat they want to climb aboard to escape liberalism’s foundering. Making that decision sooner that later is probably wise.