In a debate for the hearts and minds of the American people, Ron Paul will defeat Peter Orszag every time. Michale Lind
Lind has an interesting post today at Salon if you're interested in a very ATF explanation for the mindset of the Teapartyers.
We are dealing with a mythological mentality, based on simple and powerful archetypes. Contemporary figures and current events are plugged into a framework that never changes. "King Charles (or King George) is threatening the rights of Englishmen" becomes "Barack Obama is promoting socialism" — or fascism, or monarchism, or daylight saving time.
As in other cases of mythological politics, like messianic Marxism, this kind of thinking is resistant to argument. If you disagree, then that simply proves that you are part of the conspiracy. Inconvenient facts can be explained away by the true believers. It's hard to come up with arguments that would persuade people who think that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are totalitarians to change their mind.
I've frequently written about the power of Mythos over Logos, and there's no question in my mind that Lind is right about this. Mythos defines the framework of possible acceptable meanings and thinking; logic and rationality are simply tools people use to defend the framework or to argue fine points that might be debatable without posing a threat to the basic framework.
I contend that we are living in a decadent period, which means that the overarching mythos or metanarrative that provided the framework for the dominant culture has died. For Americans and Europeans that framework was defined by Enlightenment rationalism. Moribund in the late 19th century and dealt its deathblow by WWI, it no longer possesses compelling or persuasive power when it comes to organizing a culture-wide cultural meaning and values framework that gives most of us a sense that we're all in this together. A fragmented, Balkanized array of subcultures fills the vacuum, and in such an environment, anything goes, and whoever comes up with the most compelling narrative wins.
So what defines compelling? A compelling narrative must provide the culture with a robust sense of meaning and purpose. The left's narrative until the late 20th century was largely rooted in Marxist eschatology, the opiate of the intellectuals, that assumed that a progressive, equality-centric World order was an historical inevitablity. But nobody believes that anymore. The diffident, ironic "whatever" mentality of postmodern intellectuals has replace that earlier eschatological optimism. And let's face, it, that kind of mentality is very "Weimar", and it doesn't have a chance of survival against the more passionate convictions of the radical right.
And if intellectuals are capable of living in existential incertitude, most people are not, and unless they are offered something more compelling, they will just go with the crazy flow, if that flow resonates with certain mythological or archetypal themes, and Lind's post I think accurately identifies what those archetypes are for many Americans.
I've been thinking a lot about Whigs lately (or as in this recent post "Hamiltonians"), and I am convinced that a retrieval by progressives of the Whig spirit is the key to a compelling American narrative for the 21st century. This is a Whig nation (ie, anti-Tory, anti-entrenched power), for better or worse, and we have to work with the archetypes at the heart of Whiggery and to accentuate its most positive aspects. I'll have more to say about this when I have more time, but Lind points us in the right direction:
Against this backward-looking version of Americanism, rooted in early modern British fantasies about the ancient constitution and true religion, progressives must deploy a counter-narrative that is equally rooted in American values. The ideas of natural rights and popular sovereignty are, if anything, more fundamental to American political culture than the idea of political or religious golden ages in an idealized past. But natural rights and popular sovereignty can be invoked on behalf of reform. The history of basing civil rights on natural rights is one of improvement over time, not one of decline. The abolition of slavery by the 13th Amendment and the nationalization of civil rights by the 14th improved the U.S. Constitution, and Franklin Roosevelt's notion of economic rights marks a further advance.
Likewise, the idea of popular sovereignty, though it dates back to John Locke in the 17th century, need not inspire reactionary reverence for existing institutions, much less a desire to restore an alleged golden age. On the contrary, the sovereign people have the right to remake their political and social order every generation or two, in order to achieve their perennial goals in changing conditions.