In his book Freedom and Domination, Alexander Rustow, in relation to 19th century German philosophy, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, and what Kant descibed as "A despotic reign over the reason of people through shackling to a blind faith", wrote:
At length this secularized theology, devoid of conscientious earnestness and a sense of responsibility, at last deteriorated to the dexterous juggling of a kind of intellectual Ping-Pong. Indeed the authors of these systems do not mean to be taken fully seriously: they indulge in an intellectual game, the rules of which the reader is asked to accept; and it would be rewarding to formulate the latent rules of the games. Yet there is not only an epistemological but also a sociological aspect to this theological or quasi-theological character of romantic philosophy. It is almost like a doctrine of an aristocratic priesthood--hence of intellectual superstratification and a sublimated form of the lust for domination. The practioners of this philosophy claim to dwell in the "higher regions" high above the heads of the vulgar public, and thus to be exempt from the bothersome compulsions of the laws of the "lower," everyday forms of thought. Everything is permitted, and these self-appointed kings in the realm of the spirit hold indeed that "The king can do no wrong."
This influence lingers today. In many respects, partisanship is irrelevant to the mindset, so prevalent today, which was, and is, a reaction to Enlightenment-influenced classical liberalism.
Original liberalism was a byproduct of the Enlightenment, and Romanticism was the reaction to what many, including Rousseau, thought of as a destructive progression of science, industry and reason. The Romantics lusted for a return to nature and the primeval past, humble peasants living simply under the care of benevolent Lords, playing music, reciting poetry, free from rationalization, the domination of science, massificiation and the evils of industry and soul-stealing markets. Although both the Enlightenment and Romanticism have gone through transformations, we still see the vestiges of the original conflicts. The Romantic/conservative reaction to original liberalism started in the 19th century and gained national dominance in the 20th century, although classical liberalism also held sway with many as we progressed under steadily perverted capitalism and relative freedom from State domination -- however, the "self-appointed kings" were advancing.
The Romantic influence in the 19th century and on until now has been mostly secular, but faith-based as much as its sister reaction which is now known as conservative -- the Romantic-influenced reaction eventually split into a conservative/religious formation and a secular/socialist formation. The only "liberals" left from the orginal, now called "classical", liberalism are the group of thinkers who chose libertarianism to distinguish themselves from the secular/socialist formation who started calling themselves "liberals". The modern liberals fall somewhere between the conservatives and the progressives who moved closer to European socialism, although modern liberals are moving closer today toward the progressives. Statism is what connects the right and left, the conservatives and the liberals and progressives -- each group uses statism to achieve different goals -- they all have been a reaction to a classical liberalism which supports a limited, minimal government, or private alternatives, and a free market.
I say that both left and right have been faith-based, and Ayn Rand described it as statism expressed through the rule of the Christian God on the right and the God of State on the left. On the right, heaven is promised after death, and on the left, heaven is promised on earth after the establishment of social justice and equality based on a kind of egalitarianism -- both require a strong coercive State to achieve their goals. There's a faction of conservativism which has called for limited government and a free market, but when in political power, so far, they have increased the power of the State.
I set all this up, and it is far from nuanced since it's not a book, to talk about where I see the nation at this point and what separates us as a people and what might unify us. The spirit of the Enlightenment was a powerful human awakening in the service of freedom and reason, but it's been severely weakened through the centuries from recurring attacks by various forces of domination that have plagued human beings from the beginning.
The Enlightenment spurred the English and American Revolutions, and the world waited in hope as movements in France started toward liberalization and away from feudalism, but Louis XIV defended the feudal powes and resisted the advice of Turgot, Lafayette and Mirabeau, creating a premature revolution that devolved into terror and chaos, setting the stage for Napoleon -- this force of domination, which resisted, or in Napoleon's case, perverted, the freedom movement, caused Germany's attempt to synthesize the Enlightenment's rationalization with Romanticism's humanizing empathy to then devolve into irrationalism, nationalism and eventually the totalitarianism of Hitler and Stalin. A disillusioned people trained in submission soon accept powerful solutions -- the modern State became monstrous. hardly anyone can imagine a montrous American State, but then neither could the Germans.
America, better than most countries, kept the principles of the Enlightenment alive, relatively, through the original liberalism of individual rights, limited government, free market, religious tolerance, free speech, etc., but at the end of the nineteenth century, the conservative reaction to liberalism changed America into a statist nation -- the intentions were described as honorable, as defending freedom in the world, but the results have been a creeping domination, until today government has more control in America than ever. We're told that the sacrifice of some freedoms is necessary for the general welfare. America's State domination is a friendly domination, a paternalistic pragmatism that gains and exerts control with benevolence and goodwill. But the overbearing interference is crippling the economy, destroying freedom, and creating an unhealthy dependence on government assistance.
Our government is a mixture of corrupt power-mongers and well-meaning representatives who believe they are helping people in a sometimes harsh world. America is at a crossroad with two basic directions ahead -- toward total statism or toward anti-statism and private sector solutions to societal problems.
The mixed approach has not worked, because as long as the State, through government agencies, has a monopoly on coercion and its power is not strictly limited, it will grow in power until domination is complete -- this is the nature of government and bureacracies. Our love affair with the idea of enlightened technocrats benevolently planning and leading the way has failed. Central planning in any form, total or partial, doesn't work -- neither does social engineering, but both Republicans and Democrats have been complicit in the statist approach. We need a synthesis.
Our national goals are similar -- peace, prosperity, a clean environment, good schools, equal opportunity, security, insurance against emergencies, freedom, privacy, free-flowing information -- but our methods to attain these social goods are in conflict, although the majority appears to think the government is responsible for offering most of these goods. One problem is that our government/nation is broke and heading toward financial collapse -- another problem, a bigger problem, is that we are giving up our freedoms for these social goods. Government is confiscating a large amount of private wealth and redistributing the wealth according to a central plan determined by a relative handful of people. The plans are not working, and government will be forced to confiscate larger and larger amounts of private wealth as more people become dependent on government, creating a situation where the producers of wealth will be discouraged from producing, leading to financial collapse or forced labor. This direction cannot be sustained.
Our challenge is to maintain the provision of all these social goods, but change direction and the methods to private sector provision of the goods. This will require privatization of the welfare state and education and a reliance on rational and objective mediating agencies/courts to protect individual rights. It will require major changes in how we save for retirement, how we pay for our healthcare, how education is provided, how our military is set up and used, how assistance to the poor and disabled is provided and how we deal with maintaining a clean environment. Seeing as how the free market, the private sector, deals with problems in an organic, flexible manner based on supply and demand and principles of competition and innovation, there's no master plan that can be drawn up, but millions of minds working on solutions in a competitive, innovative environment is superior to top-down, centralized domination and management. This is bottom-line distinction that has to be accepted if we are going to change -- if this is not accepted the best we can do is try to sink slower.
This is our challenge if we are to avoid economic stagnation, misery and eventual collapse. We should carry on the principles of classical liberalism and not allow the forces of domination to win in this century. Is this also blind-faith? I say No -- it's the release of reason and the creative minds of people to take responsibility for their own problems with eyes wide open.