And now abide faith, hope, and politics, these three; but the greatest of these is politics. Or so it seems. Here at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the smothering influence of ideological politics is everywhere evident. It has all too evidently wrested control of every academic discipline, of every cultural trend, of every intellectual impulse, even of every religious revival in our time. From Nazism and Stalinism to Pluralism and Multiculturalism, from Liberalism and Conservatism to Monopolism and Socialism, the modern era has been an epoch of movements beguiled by the temporal seductions of ideological politics.
Nearly every question, every issue, every social dilemma has been and continues to be translated into legal, juridical, or mechanical terms. They are supplied with bureaucratic, mathematical, or systemic solutions. If there is something wrong with the economy then government must fix it. If family values are absent then government must supply them. If health care provision is inefficient then government must rectify the situation. If education is in disarray then government must reorder the system. If a fierce storm brings devastation to a community then government must restore the possessions, rebuild the homes, and stabilize the economy--in addition to rescuing the stranded, relocating the displaced, reestablishing law and order, and reconstructing the infrastructure. Whatever the problem, it seems that government is the solution.
Virtually all social historians agree that this is indeed the most distinctive aspect of our age: the subsuming of all other concerns to the rise of political mass movements based upon comprehensive, secular, closed-universe, and millenarian intellectual systems. Thus, at one time of another, Henry David Aiken, Karl Dietrich Bracher, Isaac Kraminick, Frederick Watkins, Barbara Tuchman, Antonia Fraser, Paul Johnson, Russell Kirk, and Murray Rothbard have all dubbed this the "Age of Ideology."
The name of the ideological game is power. With all the cool detachment of wintry witchery every other consideration is relegated to a piratical humbug. G.K. Chesterton observes, “There is, as a ruling element in modern life, a blind and asinine appetite for mere power. There is a spirit abroad among the nations of the earth which drives men incessantly on to destroy what they cannot understand, and to capture what they cannot enjoy.”
According to philosopher Eric Voegelin, this awful tendency "is essentially the politics of spiritual revolt.” It is, he says, a kind of a "psychic disorientation," a "metastatic faith," a "modern promethianism," a "secular parousianism," or, perhaps most accurately, a "dominion of pneumapathological consciousness."
Elaborating on those notions, political scientist Michael Franz has said, "Ideological consciousness is typified by a turning-away from the transcendent ground in revolt against the tension of contingent existence. In the modern era this revolt has taken many forms, all of which are expressive of dissatisfaction with the degree of certainty afforded by faith, trust, and hope as sources of knowledge and existential orientation. The great ideologists seek to displace Christian revelation by misplacing the transcendent ground within an immanent hierarchy of being, identifying the essence of human existence as productive relations, historical progress, racial compensation, libidinous drives, scientific rationality, or the will to power. Within the intellectual systems constructed around these misplacements of the ground, humanity appears as an autonomous, self-created species capable of assuming control of its destiny through the self-conscious application of new forms of knowledge."
In short, ideological politics is little more than a revived Gnosticism, an abiding Humanism rooted in the naked Politicalization of every detail of life. It is a worldview as thorough and as dominating in our time as was the Faith during the epoch of Christendom.
Thus Jane Addams, the radical urban social reformer during the uproarious teens and twenties, was hardly exaggerating when she said, “Ideology is the modern ecology. It is the landscape we see, the sound we hear, the food we eat, the air we breathe. It is the incarnation of truth for us and the emblem and impress of earthly harmony. It is the essence of modern beauty.”
But this modern notion is a far cry from the kind of worldview the American founders and pioneers maintained. They shared a profound distrust of central governments to solve the grave problems that afflicted individuals, communities, and societies. Certainly they believed in a strong and active civil authority--but only in its proper place. Thus, every brand of Statist ideology was abhorred by them.
Thomas Jefferson warned against the danger of "reducing the society to the state or the state to society." Patrick Henry argued, "The contention that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error." Gouverneur Morris insisted that the everyday affairs of society should be designed to avoid what he called the "interference of the state beyond its competence. While Henry Cabot Lodge insisted, “Government is but a tool. If ever we come to the place where our tools determine what jobs we can or cannot do, and by what means, then nary a fortnight shall pass in which new freedoms shall be wrested from us straightaway. Societal problems are solved by families and communities as they carefully and discriminately use a variety of tools.”
If anything, our modern politicians represent a paradigm lost. In the minds of the new elite, the dilemmas of the modern age are simply too grave to trust to free markets, free communities, and free institutions. The foundations of this great experiment in liberty are no longer sufficient. Instead they insist right along with the mob, "Government must do more."