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Paranoid style, hyperbole and Christian understanding

Kenneth D. Gough • Apr 29, 2018 at 8:15 AM

“The purpose of government is to protect the average person from the greed of those who would turn us all into slaves” — “Kalinysta.”

“You are going to have an extremely angry electorate when the economy tanks and the dollar collapses” — “Tyrannide Oligarchia”

The comments above were posted in response to my article in praise of liberals that ran on March 11. The reason I bring them to attention is that I think they are very good examples of a problematic style in politics, and display a misunderstanding of governance, culture and history.

Politicians and activists engage in hyperbole, always have, always will. An opponent is always the least-qualified person who ever ran for the office. His policies would be disastrous, his aides are foreign agents, he’s really a closet conservative/closet liberal, depending on the prevailing politics where he’s running. When he’s not dangerously naïve, he’s dangerously cynical. Et cetera, et cetera.

In truth, he’s probably a pretty decent guy, probably has a pretty good marriage and family, probably has a skeleton buried somewhere from which he learned a hard lesson and of which he’s sincerely repented. He’s wrong about some things and right about others. The oddest thing about him is that he desires power and is willing to do what it takes to get it (well, short of committing crimes, usually). And, in truth, in the end he won’t make much of a ripple after taking the plunge into politics. He may make a difference on the margin, but one that only a few historians will have much interest in.

The leaders who truly make a difference – the Alexanders, Julius Caesars, Charlemagnes, Washingtons, Napoleons, Lincolns, Lenins — are few and far between.

Hyperbole to get elected is one thing; paranoia is something else, and dangerous to any form of governance, but particularly to democratic republicanism, which requires mutual trust and respect among the citizens and the political class.

Does “Kalinysta” really think that there are people out there (in Western culture, at least, and American culture specifically) who want to turn the rest of us into slaves? If so, that’s not just mistaken, it’s dangerous. He apparently doesn’t understand that the history of the West includes something unique in human history — a gradual turning away from slavery in all its forms, based on the Christian understanding of the intrinsic worth of every individual.

It took over a thousand years to achieve, but slavery has gone from being the accepted norm (it’s estimated that one-fourth to one-third of the population of ancient Rome was enslaved) to being an unspeakably heinous crime. So, no, at least in the American tradition, it is not the purpose of government to protect us from the would-be slavemasters; instead, our system is designed to protect us from government, which is the would-be slavemaster.

Kalinysta and the left in general have turned the role of government on its head and perpetuated a misunderstanding of capitalism and free-market economics that has done untold damage. (Which, by the way, is not a defense of capitalism as an absolute good, but as being a better economic system than any other in spite of its many faults.)

As for “Tyrannide Oligarchia”, he displays a misunderstanding of how great nations fall. It’s not with a bang, but a whimper. That was true of the Egyptian, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Chinese, British and Russian empires, to name but a few. A more-or-less rapid rise to power and prosperity was followed by a long, slow, uneven decline often taking centuries.

History isn’t destiny, of course, but if the U.S. ever should fall, it’s more likely to follow that pattern than a sudden, catastrophic collapse. That seems scandalous to the patriot, but to the person who takes the long view of history, it’s unremarkable. Nation-states aren’t ephemeral, but they are rarely long-lived. Which is why conservatives are far more concerned with the preservation of culture than the states in which the culture is temporarily housed. (Which is not to wish for an end to America, but a call to preserve what is really important, so that if another state should have to succeed our great experiment, it will be even greater.)

As a matter of tactics, hyperbole has its place in democratic politics, distasteful as it is. But God preserve and protect us from the paranoid, who see a mortal enemy in every opponent and a mortal threat in every movement.

Kenneth D. Gough of Elizabethton is a semi-retired businessman.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed by all Community Voices columnists are their own and do not necessary reflect those of the Johnson City Press.

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