“A system failure is only a matter of time. At some point, what Democrat Erskine Bowles has aptly labeled “the most predictable crisis in American history” will be upon us, as the federal government defaults by one means or another on its unpayable promises…

…A revolt of the betrayed elderly, or of the plundered young, could be the catalyst for Mr. Piereson’s revolution. Perhaps even sooner, one state rendered destitute by reckless government spending and public pensions will attempt to dump its hopeless debt problem on the rest of the union. Which of these scenarios is most likely? Which most dangerous? Could the fourth revolution manifest itself in a separatist movement by states where majorities feel culturally estranged and disinclined to pick up the tab for the extravagance of less responsible states? Could the growing number of citizens professing economic conservatism coupled with libertarian social views be the front edge of a new consensus? No doubt this insightful author can help the rest of us think through these possibilities, but it appears that we will have to await his next book.”, Mitch Daniels, former governor of Indiana (2005-13) and president of Purdue University, ”America’s Next Revolution”, The Wall Street Journal, July 16, 2015

Books

America’s Next Revolution

The U.S. has experienced three earthquakes: the Jeffersonian revolution, the Civil War and the New Deal. Are we on the brink of another?

By Mitch Daniels

The committed contrarians of the Hudson Institute, a think tank founded in the early 1960s, used to say that the old straight line extrapolation was just “the shortest distance between two mistakes.” James Piereson has a special talent for seeing the jagged lines of history. He knows that history is largely defined not by inexorable “trends” or “forces” but by technological, intellectual and, sometimes, political shifts that can trigger earthquakes and upend the existing order. And he thinks he sees one coming.

In “Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America’s Postwar Political Order,” Mr. Piereson argues that America has undergone three earthquakes in its history: the Jeffersonian revolution, which ushered in a long period of dominance of a new anti-Federalist party; the Civil War, which vanquished slavery and set off the ascendancy of northern Republicanism; and the New Deal, which dramatically expanded the size and intrusiveness of the federal government in Americans’ lives. “In each period, an old order collapsed and a new one emerged . . . the resolution of the crisis opened up new possibilities for growth and reform,” he writes. Looking out at our paralyzed and polarized polity, he argues that we are on the brink of yet another collapse—but this one might not have a happy ending.

Mr. Piereson, a hero of philanthropy who faithfully spent the Olin Foundation out of business after supporting the work of think tanks, small magazines and groundbreaking scholars like Allan Bloom and Charles Murray, views the Obama presidency as the beginning of the collapse of an 80-year consensus, forged in the post-World War II years. That consensus “assigned the national government responsibility for maintaining full employment and for policing the world in the interests of democracy, trade, and national security.” Such a consensus, which “is required in order for a polity to meet its major challenges,” Mr. Piereson argues, “. . . no longer exists in the United States. That being so, the problems will mount to a point where either they will be addressed through a ‘fourth revolution’ or the polity will begin to disintegrate for lack of fundamental agreement.”

The postwar consensus, according to Mr. Piereson, began to collapse in the 1960s and 1970s with the Vietnam War, the student protest movements of the left, and the discarding of traditional moral and social values among key elements of the reigning Democratic coalition. If, as in 1860 and in 1933, the next consensus is born out of emergency, the likely elements of the next crisis are not hard to discern: “debt, demography, and slowing economic growth, compounded by political polarization and inertia.”

Photo: wsj

Shattered Consensus

By James Piereson
Encounter, 389 pages, $27.99

So far, so good. But the book pulls up a little short. Between the tantalizing introduction and the epilogue, only one chapter looks ahead to the impending revolution. The other 18—most of which have been previously published in publications like the New Criterion and the Weekly Standard—review important but familiar phenomena of the era the author says is now closing: the rise and decline of Keynesianism; the emergence of a genuine intellectual conservative counterpoint to the prevailing orthodoxy with the work of thinkers like William F. Buckley Jr.; the capture of liberalism and the Democratic Party by factions disdainful of American traditions; the slippage of our academies of higher education into a boring conformity around that posture of disdain. One entire section is devoted to an analysis of the Kennedy-Camelot myth and its impact on subsequent events. Cogent as these accounts are, many readers will find themselves searching for more forward-looking speculations on the nature and consequences of the seismic shock Mr. Pierson predicts in the book’s introduction.

Still, the author incites his readers to reflect for themselves on a host of intriguing questions. How, for example, will the contemporary left resolve the original progressive contradiction, which persists today: Affecting to be tribunes of “the people” and advocates for democracy, in practice so-called progressives demonstrate a dismissive impatience with democracy in favor of rule by the diktats of our benevolent betters, namely them.

In perhaps the greatest irony of the dying era, the massive programs demanded by today’s statists require that the rich they love to deprecate get richer. With the most progressive tax system in the entire OECD—in which the fabled 1% pay 29% of all taxes and the top 10% provide 53% (in the bluest of states, such as California, the burden is even more lopsided)—only more inequality can keep this unsustainable system going a while longer.

A system failure is only a matter of time. At some point, what Democrat Erskine Bowles has aptly labeled “the most predictable crisis in American history” will be upon us, as the federal government defaults by one means or another on its unpayable promises. A revolt of the betrayed elderly, or of the plundered young, could be the catalyst for Mr. Piereson’s revolution. Perhaps even sooner, one state rendered destitute by reckless government spending and public pensions will attempt to dump its hopeless debt problem on the rest of the union. Which of these scenarios is most likely? Which most dangerous? Could the fourth revolution manifest itself in a separatist movement by states where majorities feel culturally estranged and disinclined to pick up the tab for the extravagance of less responsible states? Could the growing number of citizens professing economic conservatism coupled with libertarian social views be the front edge of a new consensus? No doubt this insightful author can help the rest of us think through these possibilities, but it appears that we will have to await his next book.

One night after a speech in Southern California, Ronald Reagan walked into the wings to a thunderous standing ovation. A local worthy gushed, “Mr. President, how about an encore?” “First rule of show biz,” the president replied. “Always leave ’em wanting a little more.” James Piereson has done so. Encore, encore!

Mr. Daniels, the former governor of Indiana (2005-13), is the president of Purdue University.

Posted on July 16, 2015, in Postings. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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