Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of DailyWire.com, has accused Donald Trump of ushering in an age of tribalism in American politics. His supporters, goaded on by President Obama’s willingness to subordinate his constitutional obligations to the demands of sundry members of the Democratic coalition, hanker for a Leviathan state capable of enforcing their grievances. Both sides, Shapiro writes, have abandoned the Lockean social contract, under which government is instituted in order to protect life, liberty, and property rather than to champion the rights of one class of citizens against another.
The decline of Christianity’s influence in the United States facilitated this process. With the disappearance of a moral code that transcended racial, ethnic, class, and family barriers and of deference to America’s constitutional heritage, government became a mechanism by which various groups could rectify perceived wrongs. “White anger,” Patrick Buchanan claims in a sterling example of this phenomenon, “is a legitimate response to racial injustices done to white people.” Trump’s opposition to free trade and the free movement of people is one manifestation of this resentment.
Shapiro’s analysis may be exaggerated. Noah Rothman of Commentary notes that incumbency rates in Congress have remained staggeringly high. In 2010, for instance, 87 percent of House incumbents retained their seats, the lowest rate since 1970. Voters, Rothman suggests, aren’t as angry as the commentariat makes them out to be.
Rod Dreher, the resident medievalist at Buchanan’s American Conservative, shares Shapiro’s outlook on the epochal events currently roiling the American political landscape. So, too, does Josiah Leinbach of the Federalist. Dreher sees the rise of liberal democracy and its insistence that freedom and prosperity are the highest human goods as psychological as well as social and political threats. Western civilization, he writes, has been deprived of meaning. For Dreher this partially explains the rise of radical Islam. Leinbach, for his part, thinks the decline of the Republican Party occurred because it abandoned conservative principles. Both authors share a sense that the discontent currently transfixing commentators is not ephemeral.
Matthew McCaffrey, an assistant professor of enterprise at the University of Manchester, offers a vision of public policy that counterbalances the grievance politics of Trump and President Obama. All laws, McCaffrey writes, involve some element of coercion and, ultimately, the threat of organized violence. If voters were to internalize this fact, he continues, they would prove more reluctant to turn to government as a way to solve problems.
I share James Madison’s views as they were expressed in Federalist 51. The first duty of government is to prevent one citizen from encroaching on the life or property of another citizen. Its second duty is to implement safeguards that it does not go beyond its prescribed boundaries. I am for a conservatism that balances a respect for order with an intuitive understanding that burdensome and prejudicial regulations diminish respect for the law. This is why Tocqueville’s observations on American democracy are so important. Religion, without freedom, begets despotism. Freedom, without religion, begets anarchy.