A review of The Idiocy of Assent by Reid Buckley, P.E.N. Press, 257 pages, $32.95.
If you’re in need of an antidote to the joy that the prospect of a 54-seat Republican majority in the 112th Congress may give you, this fun and fact-filled book is your ticket back home from euphoria.
Reid Buckley is a jolly warrior in the lost struggle against barbarism. He has a bizarre sense of humor and a touch of vulgarity that speak to my soul. He is, however, subject to paroxysmal hissy fits as he contemplates the certain and imminent end of Western Civilization, a development that should not unhinge him as much as it does when one considers how much he enjoys writing about it, and the rare ringside seat we the living have been granted from which to observe its death throes.
I am tempted to say, “Lighten up some, Reid.” Civilizations come and go in geologic time, a process of birth, growth, maturation, decay, and death that is observable only when one takes the cosmically long view. The Isaiahs who proclaim The End of Things are usually old men; Reid is 80. Jacques Barzun will be 103 in a few weeks. Former Senator James Buckley, a beloved older brother of the author, who recently told a dinner guest that only “divine intervention” could save us, is 87.
Still, all ’round us is the overwhelming and irrefutable evidence: a population unable to write coherently, speak clearly, or even think rationally; instant communications which have hyped us along the way toward a mass anti-culture that seeks the lowest common denominator in all things, finds it, and lowers it further still; a national debt approaching $100 trillion when one factors in the unfunded looming liabilities of Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security; the most arrogant and ignorant president in, well, forever, and a universal suffrage composed largely of the Gadarene swine that elected him; a conservative movement revived but led to only a temporary victory by another of Reid’s older brothers, the late irreplaceable William F. Buckley, Jr. (nothing more than a rear guard action in the author’s view, now carried on by a National Review that has suffered a “terminal descent of the magazine’s wit”); and men who wear baseball caps at meals.
It is difficult to disagree with the theses of this short book — 257 pages plus a brief appendix, including a few illustrations, and footnotes and endnotes to which the author developed an early and incurable addiction; it could have been shorter still were he not promiscuous with adjectives.
Looking about for signs and portents that he is wrong, I see in the last half-century only the quantum improvement in the quality of frozen pizzas.
Reid believes that a return to small-government conservatism is impossible, and points out that even the founding fathers discussed the proposition that the republic they birthed and for which we now yearn was workable only in a small country with, the author adds, a homogeneous population. We fit the bill in those days: a population of 2,500,000 mostly rural freemen of primarily Anglo-Saxon stock who were at least aware of the Magna Carta and the freedoms passed down from their ancestors who had wrung it out of King John. Put it plainly: They were proud, you betcha. With the emancipation of the slaves and the mass migrations from continental Europe — especially Eastern Europe — and Asia, our national identity changed with our racial heritage, and so did our expectations of government. Our population is a hodgepodge of racial and ethnic incongruity, and is 124 times what it was when the founders established a government to serve white yeoman farmers.
Life and history do not occur along straight lines, although it is easy and tempting to see them that way. When Whittaker Chambers broke with and fled from the Communist Party in 1938, he felt certain that he “was leaving the winning side for the losing side.” It is now popular to say that he was wrong, but was he? Aggressive, monolithic, totalitarian, international communism is as dead as a beaver hat except in a few impoverished toilets such as North Korea and Cuba. But about 50 years ago Chambers wrote to Bill Buckley that all a man could do now was “carve out a little freedom within the interstices of socialism.” Neither did he see the end of Western Civilization as a looming threat because it was “already a wreck from within.” Barzun marks World War I as the beginning of the unavoidable end of the era that began in the 16th century with the Reformation. Are there any hopeful signs that we won a permanent victory?
The greatest and most immediate threat to human freedom in the 20th century has been destroyed and wholly discredited. But evil abhors a vacuum and new threats appear, fester, procreate, and hasten the growth of others. Winston Churchill warned of the threat that “Mohammedenism” could become were it not for the counterweight of a strongly religious Europe. With apologies to Francis Fukuyama, history has not ended.
We are now burdened with a chastened but uneducable Euro-socialist president who seems truly to believe that a Great Leveling is in order. FDR was a libertarian by comparison. He warns us that the rest of the world will not tolerate us using 25% of the world’s oil while comprising only 5% of the world’s population. Well, what is the rest of the world going to do about it? Besides, we found it, hauled it up out of the earth, put it to good use, and now pay more than a fair price for it. Recall that the Industrial Revolution was a Western undertaking, the product of Judaeo-Christian smarts. Were it not for us, the dirty-necked galoots of the Arab world would be trying to figure out how to render their oil edible.
Obama wants to “spread the wealth around,” as he famously said in a rare unguarded moment, apparently oblivious to the fact that our greatness has resulted from spreading opportunity around. He and the First Lady are the proof but, with the colossal ingratitude so common among us today, they choose to complain about the burden of their student loans which helped get them where they are. How can he not know that if there is a leveling greater than the one already achieved by our welfare state, the people — and the nations — at the top will be worse off while those at the bottom will be . . . . What? Enriched? Saved by trickle up prosperity? He apparently thinks so. That would be “social justice” in his view. But what would actually happen, what has already happened to the extent that such policies are already in practice, is that those at the bottom will continue to dwell there, mired in sloth and indolence, squalor and ignorance, while the top gets lower and eventually we “run out of other people’s money,” meet at the bottom and … Then what? Cannibalism, I suppose.
What militaristic communism could not achieve through conquest we will inflict on ourselves at the ballot box. To a large extent, we already have. As a people we are now addicted to federal largesse. Let’s be honest and call it welfare, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re actually on the dole. While many wring their hands at the prospect of federal gridlock during the next two years, I rejoice at it — always provided, of course, that there be a residue of surviving federal activity sufficient to get my Army pension and Social Security payments into our bank. (Tennessee has not been allowed to print its own currency since 1865 and must therefore balance its budget, so my tiny state pension is secure.)
Aye, there’s the rub. Most of us want to pay taxes at a rate consistent with a virtually libertarian system of minimum government while living off that same government. But, as Prof. Walter Williams recently wrote, a government that steals from its citizens for the benefit of some encourages those citizens so victimized to steal it back, and in so doing to steal from one another. Medicare fraud. Phony workers compensation claims. WIC recipients who underreport their income to maintain their eligibility. People blessed with umpteen-eleven Social Security numbers. And the granddaddy of them all: cheating on your taxes.
If you are not in one way or another the object of government munificence or a beneficiary of your own fraud, you are living in a cave, covering yourself with the skins of freshly killed wild animals that also provide your sustenance, and emitting a foul odor. Take heart. You are unaffected by all of the foregoing. You and your progeny will endure and survive the apocalypse. One day your descendants will venture from the caves, survey the ruins, bathe, find a crumbling copy of The Idiocy of Assent, and perhaps learn to avoid the mistakes documented therein.
And begin the cycle anew. Just don’t let anyone con you into immanentizing the eschaton.
Joseph A. Rehyansky is retired from the United States Army and the Chattanooga, Tennessee, District Attorney’ Office. He is a former contributor to National Review whose writings have also appeared in Human Events Online, The American Spectator, and other publications.