Sunday, March 26, 2017

Chapter 2: The Roots of the Crisis

This chapter begins with an anecdote from an older woman who has gone to six consecutive baby showers in which the expectant mother was unwed.  Illegitimacy rates continue to rise, to the detriment of the children, their mothers, and society at large.  But the point here is made to highlight the collapse of religion among the working class.  How has America, this once Christian nation, fallen so far, and so fast?

What follows is a breezy summary of western thought from the high middle ages through the sexual revolution which continues in our time.  Dreher admits that this is an "incomplete and oversimplified" picture, but argues that it remains important.  This strikes me as basically correct, though the grand narrative does have its shortcomings.  It fails to acknowledge the tremendous accomplishments of men and women who lived authentic Christian lives in challenging circumstances.  We are called to nothing less, whether America continues slouching towards Gomorrah, or whether it experiences another religious revival.

Now let's examine Dreher's narrative.  "The people of the Middle Ages lived in what philosopher Charles Taylor calls 'an enchanted world.'"  It wasn't just that God's existence was clear, as that He imbued all of His creation with His essence.  The divine wasn't something only encountered by holy people on occasion, it was an integral component of the medieval experience.  Even those of us who share their beliefs live in a radically different world.

As Dreher tells it, the first blow to the medieval synthesis came from William of Ockham.  For thinkers like Aquinas, God willed the good because it was good.  Or rather, it was in His nature to will the good, and only the good.  For Ockham, something was good because God willed it.  Ockham argued out of a desire to avoid limiting God's sovereignty.  But in so doing, God could no longer be understood, however imperfectly.  All we could do was to bow before His inscrutable will.

This had significant implications.  For instance, no longer could scientists say, the dry tree erupted into flames when hit by lightning because of properties inherent in the tree and the lighting; instead, the tree erupted into flames because God so willed it.  So much for science.  (As an aside, the main reason the Islamic world has produced so little science is that a dominant strain of philosophy subscribes to an Ockhamite conception of God.)

The next blow--or rather, blows--came in the Renaissance and the Reformation.  The former caused man to become, in Protagoras' phrase, "the measure of all things."  Rather than study God, or His creation, man began to study himself in isolation from his Creator.  Undoubtedly, there was much glory in ancient paganism, and scholars unearthed material that was worthy of study.  The error was to believe that man was sufficient without the assistance of God.

The Reformation also called men back to an ideal.  To Martin Luther, the medieval Church had lost its way; it was too corrupt and had polluted Jesus's teaching with extra-biblical nonsense.  Whatever the merits of his claims, Luther, and reformers like him, tore Christendom apart.  No longer did people from Ireland to Spain, Norway to Italy, live in the same enchanted world.  They lived in (at least) two different ones.

Next came the so-called Enlightenment.  If the claims of religion were incompatible--as clearly they were in a world divided between Protestants and Catholics--philosophers arose who insisted that reason alone would provide the solution to the human dilemma.  Descartes doubted everything, and from this, reasoned that his very doubt proved his existence.  From this thin proof, he claimed to construct his entire philosophy.  Descartes remained Catholic, but centuries later, his followers would construct an entirely different philosophy.  If God was allowed to remain, He was no longer the Christian God Who revealed His Son in the Person of Jesus Christ.   He was simply the divine being, necessary to get the system up and running, who afterwards refrained from meddling.

Tellingly, some of the founding fathers shared these deistic beliefs.  This is worth mentioning, because the Benedict Option makes sense insofar as America is no longer Christian.  Of course, while some of the founders were hardly Christian, the bulk of the nation was; hence, the culture, which came from the masses, was likewise Christian.  The point remains: there were significant flaws even in America's founding.

Dreher next recounts the calamitous nineteenth century.  His account is confusing, as there were too many disparate impulses to file under a single heading.  To be sure, our culture has been influence by: Karl Marx and capitalism; the romantics and Darwin; Nietzsche and the third great awakening.  History can be a real muddle.  Anyway, "the important changes... took place among the cultural elites, who continued to shed any semblance of traditional Christianity."   Mainline Protestantism especially, jettisoned the Gospel for social causes.  Little has changed in this regard today, apart from the causes.

Finally, we have the triumph of Eros.  After two world wars in half a century, man had enough of sacrifice, and sought to fulfill his own desires.  Chiefly, these desires were sexual; as Malcolm Muggeridge put it: “The orgasm has replaced the Cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment.”  The birth control pill has facilitated this replacement, but only apparently satisfied it.  In its wake are broken families, stilted relationships, abused children, and corpses of millions of unborn babies.

Thus things stand today.  It's not hard to see why MacIntyre, and Dreher, find the comparison with Rome to be as apt as it is troubling.  Nor is it surprising that St. Benedict and his rule would be seen as inspirational.  The next chapter will examine that Saint and his rule.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Chapter 1: The Great Flood

In the first chapter of The Benedict Option Dreher lays out the landscape of the West, and the United States in particular, to show the necessity of his suggestions.

In essence, the flood of secularism has overtaken the West through the breakdown of the natural family, the loss of traditional moral values, and the fragmenting of communities. These factors have been building for decades but religious conservatives were under the illusion that they could be pushed back, particularly by strengthening their case in law and politics, typically by voting for republicans.

While Dreher does not expressly say so in the book, it would seem that the rise of the post-Christian Right in the Republican party over the past couple of years demonstrates that the cause of the religious Right in the national political war is lost in roughly the same way that Obergefell demonstrated that the culture war is lost.

Returning to those three factors that have allowed secularism to overtake the West – the breakdown of the natural family, the loss of traditional moral values, and the fragmenting of communities – it has become increasingly clear that the third, the breakdown of community, leads to the first two.

The individualization of faith has led to the breakdown of traditional moral values by continually blurring the lines until nothing is clear and all that remains is relativism. With no clear moral values the takeover of the natural family was imminent, as we have seen.

While the loss of faith among the millennial generation is staggering, and is used as one of the indicators that now is the time for the Benedict Option, the fact is that the beliefs of this generation are those of their parents and much of Christianity today – mushy “kumbaya” spirituality where the goal is to be nice and feel good about oneself as a ticket to heaven, involving God only to watch from afar and solve our problems when they arise.

The term used to describe this type of faith is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), and it stands in clear contrast to the core of Christianity which teaches repentance and self-sacrifice to grow closer to God, and even places a deep value on suffering to grow closer to Christ.

As Dreher pointedly notes, “MTD is the natural religion of a culture that worships the self and material comfort.” It only values what feels good, leaving us to amuse ourselves to death a la Brave New World.

He also explores some of the points from Alasdair MacIntyre’s “After Virtue,” which was the impetus for The Benedict Option concept. In particular, Dreher examines the attitude of “emotivism” in which choosing what an individual feels is right becomes the ultimate moral guide. Emotivism breaks down a virtuous society, in which there is a shared objective moral good and a set of “practices necessary for human beings to embody those goods in community.”

A society that has moved toward subjective moral standards and broken down collective objective moral truths can no longer agree on what is virtuous, so the individual will becomes paramount. Moral standards and religiously- or culturally-based norms are abandoned, and individuals distance themselves from community and social obligations.

Dreher argues we live in this society now, and this society in which people answer only to their own will and care not about what they are destroying on their way to power and self-esteem looks a lot like barbarism. As he shrewdly notes, today’s barbarians have exchanged the animal pelts and spears for designer suits and smartphones.

What Christian faith that is left in the West does not have much to stand on in defending a barbaric onslaught. MTD is a shallow form of religion. When it comes upon a challenge, it does not have the roots to stand and fight. In the name of being nice, it gives in. The people raised in a framework of MTD do not have sufficient experience with those practices necessary for human beings to embody the objective moral good. They might know the faith to one degree or another in their head, but they don’t “feel it in their bones.”

This brings us back to St. Benedict, who kept the faith alive by fleeing to the hills and eventually starting a network of monasteries after Rome was overtaken by barbarians. The monasteries allowed Christians to retreat behind the walls to strengthen and preserve their faith in a way that allowed them to go out and evangelize the barbarians.

In his case, St. Benedict saw that society was too far gone to save, so he built a proverbial ark to shelter the faith in until the flood receded.

Have we reached the same point? Have the waters risen so high that even the strongest rocks of faith are at risk of being carried away? As Dreher points out, “Our scientists, judges, princes, and scholars are at work demolishing faith, family, gender, and even what it means to be human.” The tyranny of human will is omnipresent in our society, and the waters are showing no sign of retreating.

What is the answer? As Dreher is clearly preparing to argue, it is time to build a new ark of some sort. Christians need to find a way to step back from the world in deep prayer and spiritual training so that they can effectively represent a real (small-o) orthodox faith when they are in the world.

Why not stand firm and continue to fight the battle in American politics and hope to take the country back? For one, it is too far gone. The politics reflect where the society has already moved, and what they are reflecting now is a nation that has moved on from Christianity in any real form.

Taking part in the current landscape of national politics will require further compromise. As the two political parties move in opposite directions they move further and further away from the middle ground in which much of Christian teaching resides. Siding with one political party means giving up on some subset of Christian belief in order to try to preserve another.

And, as the book wisely notes, the kingdom of which we are citizens is not of this world. We cannot compromise that citizenship in the name of our worldly citizenship.

While interviewing Dreher on the “Thinking in Public” podcast, Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lousiville, posits that there are four stages to secularism. The first two are secular ascendance and triumphalism, which we have already seen. The third is secular aggression, in which those driven by secular impulses feel validated in silencing Christians and their influence as a human good. This is where we are now.

The fourth step, though, is secular exhaustion. The theory is that since secularism cannot deliver on its promises and cannot perpetuate itself in the absence of a religion against which to battle, it collapses.

When the current cycle of secular aggression collapses it will leave in its wake a lot of people who have been heavily damaged by the culture, and they will need a strong church to serve as a triage center, providing hope, purpose, and structure.

In some respects we may already be seeing the beginnings of the strengthening of the Church for this purpose. Looking at Church demographics and comparing them to those of a few decades ago is a discouraging practice in these times, particularly in the Catholic Church with which I am most familiar: church attendance is down, priestly vocations are down, and religious communities are shrinking and closing their doors. But, as a priest once pointed out to me, it is in some respects a pruning.

Today’s priests, though fewer, are much more effectively trained and went through a much more intense discernment process before ordination. Religious communities are falling off the map, but in many cases these communities had already assimilated to a new-age spirituality that only vaguely represented Christianity anyway. More orthodox and vibrant communities are starting to grow as their orthodoxy stands in contrast to society and becomes very appealing to young men and women seeking a real relationship with God.

Church attendance is down, but (at least in some communities) those that are attending Mass are incredibly committed and have access to resources that generations before would only have dreamed about. In addition, organizations are showing up that are doing evangelization and catechesis the right way. As an example, FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, has church attendance growing rapidly on many college campuses, and a staggering percentage of those students are plugging in to weekly Bible studies.

Today’s millennial generation didn’t grow up with a religion that had any meat to it, but they still have that innate thirst for something deeper. In some respects, they are easier to reach out to than college students were just ten or fifteen years ago, because they have no working knowledge of religion and are curious about it.

On the other hand, the problem facing Christendom today isn’t completely a shortage of good Christians. Orthodox Christianity is quickly becoming viewed as wholehearted bigotry by all of the institutions in our society, allowing them to discriminate against Christians in a widely accepted way just as Mohler’s phase of secular aggression describes.

While Benedict had to start a process to outlast centuries of barbarism, I have to wonder if the cycle that Albert Mohler described might move by in an accelerated fashion with the incredible speed of information and the short memory of today’s society. Perhaps we only need to preserve the faith for decades, rather than centuries. We will see.

In the meantime, perhaps the Benedict Option can be used to prevent a secular culture from turning a pruning of the Church into a full controlled burn of the entire Christian landscape.

While the focus of this chapter was on the crisis that has beat down our society over the past five or six decades, Dreher insinuates that the roots of the problem actually go back centuries. That is what he explores in the next chapter.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Introduction: The Awakening

The Benedict Option begins with a short introduction.  There was a time when Dreher believed that being a conservative and being a Christian were virtually synonymous.  But the birth of his first child had the affect Mencken attributed to the prospect of hanging: it concentrated his mind wonderfully.  He realized that some of the causes championed by conservatives, especially the free market, actually worked to undermine the family, an essential institution which ought to have been conserved.

These thoughts were sussed out in Dreher's first book, Crunchy Cons, published in 2006.  Tellingly, its subtitle refers to the salvation of the Republican Party.  His most recent effort expresses no such intent.  Interestingly, however, Crunchy Cons did reference the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, whose book After Virtue, concludes with a quotation that inspired The Benedict Option:

“It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages.  Nonetheless certain parallels there are.  A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium.  What they set themselves to achieve instead–often not recognizing fully what they were doing–was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.  If my account of our moral condition, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point.  What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.  And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope.  This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time.  And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament.  We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another–doubtless very different–St. Benedict.”

Whence Benedict and his option.  What changed over the course of the ten years between Dreher's first and most recent book?  There is a simple, though slightly misleading answer.  Two events happened in as many months that exposed the character of our supposedly Christian nation.  First, Indiana passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which sought to provide a legal avenue whereby citizens could defend themselves if sued for discrimination.  Corporations and the media lined up against the bill, denouncing its proponents as bigots.  Not willing to side against their corporate masters, the Republicans of Indiana backed down.  Two months later, the Surpreme Court made gay marriage the law of the land.  The triumphant left, bereft of a cause, turned to transgender rights so as to continue the crusade.

As I said, simple.  But also misleading, because these decisions didn't erode the foundations of Christian culture: they revealed them to be disintegrated.  Obergefell, the Supreme Court decision, was of tremendous symbolical importance.  Whether its members were willing to admit it or not, the secular left was ascendant.  And numbers notwithstanding, committed Christians were a minority--and probably had been for some time.

The book is divided into two parts.  In the first, "[Dreher] will define the challenge of post-Christian America as [he] sees it."  In the second, "[he] will discuss how the way of Christian living prescribed by the Rule [of St. Benedict] can be adapted to the lives of modern conservative Christians of all churches and confessions."

The Benedict Option - Rod Dreher

This post will contain all the links to discussions of Rod Dreher's new book, The Benedict Option.  I may be getting some assistance from a friend on this one.  Otherwise, you're stuck with me.

Introduction: The Awakening
Chapter 1: The Great Flood
Chapter 2: The Roots of the Crisis

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Politicians and Their Crimes

"For I know that counter-revolution, like revolution, could have been avoided, if kings and politicians and capitalists had all confessed their sins before we discovered their crimes." - G. K. Chesterton, Things We Don't Know About European History

It would be an exaggeration to suggest that we are in the midst of a revolution.  But it would not be going too far to suggest that many of the citizens are in a revolutionary mood.  Whatever the case, our politicians and capitalists aren't even remotely ready to confess their sins--even though we have discovered their crimes.

After the banking sector ruined the economy, the political class printed money and handed it out the very people who had caused the ruin.  If the foreclosure rate went up, at least few banks went under.  For all our talk of political divide, the bailout was supported by both parties.  On minor matters, the Republicans and the Democrats quibble, but when it comes to the important things, they agree that the nation should continue to be run at the behest of the financial elites.

The latest Trump scandal, like every one before it, promises to sink the populist candidate.  It seems the real estate mogul, who has twice exchanged his wife for a newer model, was recorded saying unseemly things about women.  I rather doubt if anyone is even remotely surprised.

The press continues to belabor under the misconception that the American people are ignorant Trump's character.  Hence their insistence on offering sordid details about his personal life as evidence of his shortcomings.  But the case for Trump has very little to do with his virtue.  Instead, the support has much more to do with Chesterton's quote above.  The petulant children who run our country need to be punished.  Trump is the best stick with which to whack the political class.

For that class continues to maintain that they have done no wrong.  The masters of the universe are governing well, and we ought to be grateful for their disinterested service.  After all, the abstraction known as the economy is doing well.  The government manipulated unemployment rate has fallen.  Sure, labor participation rates are near historic lows, but GDP and the stock market are up.

Apparently the plan is to help carry Hillary over the finish line so business can continue as usual.  To this end, the political class, the capitalists and the fourth estate known as the media are united.  The last in particular has brazenly jettisoned any pretense to objectivity.  So long as Trump is stopped, the journalists will have done their job.  The assumption seems to be that if Trump is defeated, the forces he has summoned will dissipate.

What the elites have not considered is what happens if they do not.  As long as the plunderers fail to confess their crimes and sin no more, it seems unlikely that the people will be placated.  On the contrary, if Trump fails, they will turn to an even worse fellow to break a system which no longer serves their needs.  It seems strange to say, but après Trump le déluge.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Black Lives Matter

They're at it again.  Here in St. Paul, they blocked 94, the main freeway that comes out of Chicago, through Wisconsin by way of Madison, and cuts through the twin cities.    This isn't the first time local provocateurs impeded traffic.  Two years ago, they marched on 35W, the western half of the 35 split that runs through Minneapolis and down through Dallas.

I have no idea if I read the tea leaves right, but I can't imagine this is the best way to ingratiate oneself to non-partisans.  It's certainly not how I'd go about it.

Tangentially, it's also an interesting example of the spurious nature of white privilege.  It's almost impossible to think of a time that any other group would be brazen enough to shut down a major freeway.  The cops supposedly hate black people so much they've taken to murdering them, but we can't get even get them off the streets.  Logic is not a strong suit with this sort.

On the one hand, it's not as if BLM doesn't have something of a point.  Cops aren't held accountable for their actions.  Like secretaries of state.  Or teachers.  Or even priests for that matter.  Those who reflexively defend cops are missing the point.  Police do shoot innocent victims and although the next of kin may win a handsome award (courtesy of the taxpayer), bad cops are almost never charged and prosecuted for felonious behavior.

On the other hand, BLM is based on two rather large lies.  First, "hands up don't shoot" never happened.  Well, it might have, some other time, but not with Michael Brown.

Second, blacks are not being shot with impunity by the police.  More whites than blacks are killed by cops.  Since there are significantly more whites than blacks, more to the point: blacks are killed in approximate proportion as the rate of black violent crime relates to that of non-blacks.  Because the blacks crime rate is roughly seven to eight times that of whites, the former are proportionally more likely to die at the hands of cops than are whites.  Once the disparity in crime rates is accounted for, this supposed anomaly disappears.

Besides, even bad behavior on the part of the civil authorities doesn't allow one to block of major thoroughfares and throw debris at the constabularies.  The pro-life movement is standing on higher moral ground (think of all the black lives that haven't mattered to the abortion industry), yet we -continue to march peacefully on sidewalks in front of clinics.

This doesn't look like it's going to end anytime soon, so we'll leave matters here for a bit.  Look for cops to avoid policing in black neighborhoods; crime will increase concomitantly.  Look for BLM to continue protesting, often violently, no matter the facts relating to the particular incidence of outrage.

It would seem we are in store for a very interesting summer heading into election season.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Immigration Thought Cliches

In the age of Twitter, we seem incapable of complex thought.  Instead, we paper over complexity with triviality.  Many examples could be furnished.  I shall illustrate three from the public discourse surrounding immigration.

Thought Cliche the First: We are a nation of immigrants.

To which one answers: so?  Harvard is a college of students.  The sentence is descriptive; it does nothing to assist us in developing a coherent immigration policy.  Shall we have open borders?  Should Harvard let in every student who applies?  We are no nearer to formalizing the best means by which immigrants should be selected from a pool of candidates.  Perhaps they should be chosen haphazardly.  Perhaps Harvard should throw out the SAT and GPA and letters of recommendation and...

Thought Cliche the Second: Immigrants are here to work hard.

Considering no one is certain whether the number of illegal immigrants, to say nothing of the legal ones, number twelve million or thirty, one is dubious that all motives have been accounted for.  Even supposing they had, it remains totally unclear why good motives should override the desires of those who set immigration policy.  To stick with our analogy: those who apply to Harvard possess good motives.  Ought the university therefore be required to grant admission to every applicant?

Thought Cliche the Third: Immigrants do jobs Americans won't do.

Perhaps.  But the cliche is missing an important qualifier: at the wages Americans prefer to work.  That immigrants from poorer countries are willing to work for less money than Americans is, though not universally true, a reasonable conjecture.  It does not follow that in the absence of immigration, the work would remain undone.  Employers could raise wages until the market clears.  The argument would be stronger if unemployment were low and wages were generally rising.  Neither is true.

There is nothing simple about mass migration.  It is no trivial task to create a policy that benefits the citizens of the immigrant's destination, as well as those of his former land.  And, of course, the policy must benefit the immigrant himself, as well as his family.  The policy, moreover, must be enforceable.

To gloss over such complexity does no one any favors.  But there are those who are well served by the thought cliches that don't so much calcify our debate as ensure it does not take place.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Another failed socialist experiment

Three years ago, the intrepid progressives at Salon praised socialist president Hugo Chavez and his economic miracle.  Somewhat surprisingly, the link to the article is still up.  A fool named David Sirota observed:

When a country goes socialist and it craters, it is laughed off as a harmless and forgettable cautionary tale about the perils of command economics. When, by contrast, a country goes socialist and its economy does what Venezuela’s did, it is not perceived to be a laughing matter – and it is not so easy to write off or to ignore. It suddenly looks like a threat to the corporate capitalism, especially when said country has valuable oil resources that global powerhouses like the United States rely on.

Meanwhile, in the worker's paradise:

A hamburger sold for 1,700 Venezuelan bolivares is $170, or a 69,000-bolivar hotel room is $6,900 a night, based on the official rate of 10 bolivares for $1. 

But of course no merchant is pricing at the official rate imposed under currency controls. It's the black market rate of 1,000 bolivares per dollar that's applied. 

But for Venezuelans paid in hyperinflation-hit bolivares, and living in an economy relying on mostly imported goods or raw materials, conditions are unthinkably expensive. 

Even for the middle class, most of it sliding into poverty, hamburgers and hotels are out-of-reach excesses.

So much for that economic miracle.  We eagerly await Sirota's follow up piece, How Progressive Ideology Led Me to Write One of the Dumbest Articles on the Internet.

Contrary to Sirota's assertions, we don't see socialist experiments as cautionary tales.  We learn nothing.  This summer, the TSA lines are longer than ever.  Officials attribute congressional budget cuts and staffing shortage.  Perhaps would be workers are off doing something less demeaning than molesting senior citizens and small children under the guise of protecting us from terror.

No one expects the TSA agents to be competent.  We simply want our hard earned money to be utilized in a way that makes us seem safer.  Security theater is the game, but the Feds can't even handle that properly.

And yet, you still hear calls for universal healthcare.  It is asserted that our broken system can only be fixed by allowing the same bumbling bureaucrats who staff the TSA to allocate medical treatment. Whatever could go wrong?

We have learned nothing from Venezuela.  One doubts we ever will.

Book Review

My review of Rod Dreher's excellent How Dante Can Save Your Life was published in the latest issue of the St. Austin Review.  I encourage you to read Dreher's book and consider subscribing to Joseph Pearce's wonderful magazine

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Decadence and prophecy

"When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent. The term is not a slur; it is a technical label." - Jacques Barzun

The term decadence implies a falling off, a situation in which "there are no clear lines of advance."  It has long been an argument of this blog that we live in such times.

The difficulty in making such a proposition is that one cannot demonstrate a general falling off by mere anecdotes.  It must be pervasive.  And even in decadent times, there are positive developments, which are often reactions against that decadence.  Thus we have a resurgence in craft brewing and movements to support local agriculture. 

But on the whole, our culture is decadent.  As a certain presidential candidate reminds us, we just don't win anymore.  That could be the epitaph for the Bush and Obama administrations.  We remain bogged down in an utterly pointless war in Afghanistan, one which the President will not end to ensure that the inevitable blowback will be blamed on his successor.  Such are the absurdities we accept as normal.

To choose another example, real median family income has not increased as compared with almost two decades ago.  Historically, a few decades of wage stagnation are not abnormal.  But we do not live in normal times, and economic growth has become an assumed part of our experience.  We did experience a recession in 2001, as well as a more substantial one in 2007, but the jobless recovery has not benefited the average American.  That the rich might grab ever larger shares of an expanding pie is one thing; to do the same for a pie that is not expanding is quite another.  To make matters worse, the very banks whose reckless lending fomented the housing bubble (aided and abetted as always by the Federal Reserve) were bailed out by the taxpayers in a stalwart example of bipartisan cooperation.  Another perfectly normal absurdity. 

Which brings us to the present and Donald Trump.  Comparisons to Hitler are, frankly, ridiculous, but there is a strong whiff of Caesarism about his campaign.  This, to borrow from Barzun, is not a slur; it is a technical label.  Our government, like our other institutions, seems utterly incapable of doing the bare minimum to maintain the support of the masses it purportedly serves.

The State does not consistently enforce the law: it blatantly allows some--those who run banks, politicians like Hillary Clinton--to violate it with impunity, while those without political connections are punished for violating its smallest jot or tittle.  The State does not protect the citizenry from invaders: it insists that preventing unrestricted immigration is an affront to decency; its chief executive is utterly derelict in his duty to enforce that law, while the Congress makes no effort to hold him accountable.  The State does not mint honest money: the supply is fraudulently debased at the behest of the banking sector, and the populace is surreptitiously taxed through inflation. 

In short, the government is completely and totally corrupt.  And the citizens, who have also learned to embrace absurdity, have turned to a thrice married, narcissistic, sophistical billionaire as the best chance to reform the government.

The remarkable thing is that they are probably right to do so.  Not that Trump will necessarily arrest the decline, but that he is the right type of tool for the job.  Just as Caesar was required to shock the moribund Roman Senate, Trump, or someone like him, will be required to chastise our governing class.  That Trump does not have the character of Caesar is beside the point.  He remains the only Caesarian figure in the race.

Prophecy is a difficult art, but I can think of four possibilities for what follows:

1) Trump wins the Presidency and proves capable of reforming the government.  He bends the corrupt plutocracy to his will.  He builds his wall.  The State is reinvigorated and continues to be reformed in the years following Trump's presidency.  We rise a bit from decadence. 

2) Trump loses the race for the presidency.  It is difficult to see how either the people or the elites would learn their lesson from such an event.  The elites would probably try to run another establishment candidate under the guise of electability, while the people would search out another, more effective, Caesar. 

3) Trump wins, but proves either incapable or unwilling to reform the government.  I suspect this plays out just like number 2.

4) Trump wins and goes full dictator.  As much as I wish to discount the possibility, there's always that option.

I consider number 4 least likely.  When everyone is screaming that you're a dictator, you don't tend to be able to dictate many things.  Caesarian candidates can always theoretically become dictators, but there are a lot of people who depend on the status quo with whom Trump must contend before he can assume that kind of power.

Number 3 strikes me as most probable.  Trump has tapped into a deep dissatisfaction.  If he cannot quench the desire for something better, the masses will turn to someone who can.  Those who are scared of what President Trump might do should be much more frightened if he proves unable to deliver on his promises. 

Who comes after Trump?