Patrick Buchanan’s new book The Death of the West identifies a social problem of the first order, and it deserves the widest possible readership.
To identify a problem, even a big one, is not in itself a noteworthy achievement. What makes Buchanan’s contribution remarkable is that he identifies a problem that the ruling elites tell us does not exist, or is not a problem but a blessing. In today’s intellectual climate, it requires independence of mind and even courage to say what Buchanan does. And the book’s bestseller status indicates that there are still plenty of people who have retained their good sense.
Buchanan argues that the West — the lands of Christendom — is doomed. Birthrates everywhere have sunk below replacement levels. At the same time, masses of third-world immigrants have infiltrated the West, where they rapidly outbreed the indigenous populations. Within just a few decades, the West and its treasures will be taken over, without a fight, by people alien or hostile to Western civilization. Our children will be minorities in foreign lands.
This suicidal development is the culmination of a cultural revolution that Buchanan describes as the de-Christianization of the West. Promoted from within by leftist intellectuals, and associated with the ideas of secular humanism, feminism, egalitarianism, moral relativism, multiculturalism, affirmative action, sexual liberation, and hedonism, the revolution has eroded man’s will to live a productive life, to multiply, and to affirm and defend his own culture.
The evidence Buchanan presents in support of this thesis is impressive. Unfortunately, his answer concerning cause and strategy is not. In a nutshell, his proposed counterrevolution consists of making him or someone like him president.
He proposes to reinvigorate the Republican party by adopting a program of sharply selective immigration restrictions, the exit from and defunding of a host of international organizations, and the withdrawal of troops from most foreign lands. All to the good. On the other hand, he wants a government family policy. Revenue-neutrally funded through taxes on consumption and various imports, this policy would eliminate the inheritance tax for estates worth less than five million dollars, provide for a three thousand dollar tax credit per child, and establish tax incentives for employers for the preferential hiring of parents vs. non-parents and single vs. dual family earners. Buchanan would also appoint like-minded Supreme Court judges, of course, and decentralize the public education system.
There is no need to examine the details of this program and its many inconsistencies. Its flaw is fundamental and obvious as soon as it is realized what it does not involve (hence, what Buchanan must believe not to be responsible for the problem he wishes to solve). He believes that the counterrevolution can be carried out within the institutional framework of a modern, centralized democratically organized nation state complete with its core "welfare" institutions of social security, medicare, medicaid, unemployment subsidies, and public education.
But this thesis stands in contradiction to common sense and elementary economic and political theory, which point directly to the democratic welfare state as the cause of the problem.
Democracy — majority rule — necessarily involves a compulsory income and wealth redistribution, i.e., the taking from some — the havers of something — and giving it to others — the non-havers. The incentive to be a haver is reduced and that of being a non-haver increased. And since what the havers have is something "good," and what the non-havers suffer is "bad," the result of any such redistribution is to stifle the production of "goods" and stimulate the production of "bads."
More specifically, in relieving individuals of the obligation to provide for their own income, health, safety, old age, and children’s education, compulsory government "insurance" is a systematic attack on personal responsibility and the institutions of family, kinship, community, and church. The range and horizon of private provision is reduced, and the value of family, kinship relations, children, community, and church diminished. Responsibility, farsightedness, civility, diligence, health, and conservatism (goods) are punished, and their opposites (bads) promoted.
To revive the West, these debilitating institutions must be abolished and security returned to private provision, insurance, and charity.
But it is not just democracy that is at fault. More fundamentally, what lies at the root of the problem is the institution of the state, i.e., a compulsory territorial monopoly of ultimate decision making and arbitration complete with the power to legislate and tax.
For one, one can only ask how it was possible that the ideas deplored by Buchanan of secularism, feminism, relativism, multiculturalism, etc., could become more than the privately held views of some isolated individuals? The obvious answer is only by virtue of the power to legislate, i.e., to impose uniform rules on all inhabitants and their private property within a given territory. If these ideas had not been incorporated in legislation, they would have done little or no harm. And it is only the state that can legislate.
More fundamentally, however, the state is not merely an instrument but an agent in all this. Public education and welfare, and the ideas of secularism, moral relativism, etc., did not have to be "forced" upon the state. Rather, the state has its own interest in promoting such an agenda.
Predictably, if an agency is permitted to legislate and tax, its agents will not only use these powers but show a tendency toward increasing their tax income and range of legislative interference. And because in so doing they encounter resistance among their subjects, it is in the state’s agents’ interest to weaken such powers of resistance. Such is the nature of the state, and to expect anything else of it is naive.
For one, this means disarming the citizenry. But it also means eroding and ultimately destroying all intermediating institutions such as the family, clan, tribe, community, association, and church with their internal layers and ranks of authority. Even if only in some limited area of jurisdiction, these institutions and authorities rival the state’s claim as ultimate territorial decision maker. The state, in order to enforce its claim as ultimate judge, must eliminate all independent jurisdictions and judges, and this requires the erosion or even destruction of the authority of the heads of households, families, communities, and churches.
This is the underlying motive of most state policies. Public education and welfare serve this destructive purpose, and so do the promotion of feminism, non-discrimination, affirmative action, relativism, and multiculturalism. They all undermine family, community, and church. They "liberate" the individual from the discipline of these institutions, in order to render him "equal," isolated, unprotected, and weak vis-a-vis the state.
In particular the extension of the multicultural agenda to the area of immigration so lamented by Buchanan is thus motivated. After the erosion of familial, communal, regional, and religious affiliations, a heavy dose of foreign immigrant invasion, especially if it comes from strange and far-away places, is calculated by the ruling neoconservative-social democratic elites to destroy whatever remains of national identities and attachments in order to promote the ultra-statist goal of a US-led multicultural One World Order.
Even more radically, reviving the West requires that the central nation state be whittled away, and that the restrictive-protective institutions of family, community, and church be restored to their original position as parts of a natural order composed of a multitude of competing jurisdictions and ranks of authority.
None or little of this should be news to conservatives, yet Buchanan appears to be unaware of it all. To be sure, he offers a few criticisms of democracy, but does not put forward a principled argument. In fact, he claims that "if America has ceased to be a Christian country, it is because she has ceased to be a democratic country." This is an astonishing pronouncement in light of the fact that neither the family nor the Christian church are democratic institutions (and to the extent they are, they are in trouble).
In any case, Buchanan does not pursue his criticism to an end. There is no hint of anti-statism in his book. The status quo of a central democratic nation state is accepted unquestioningly. The struggle is between Republicans and Democrats, the solution is to come from Washington DC, and Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan (and to a lesser extent Robert Bork, John Ashcroft, and George W. Bush) are "good guys." Buchanan does not conclude what common sense and theoretical reflection suggest: that both parties, the congress, the supreme court, and the president (and all of his good guys) — the democratic system — may have something to do with the death of the West.
Nor is Buchanan’s failure entirely surprising. One need only recall his attacks on the classic free trade doctrine and the "dead Austrian economist" Mises, or his protectionist pleas to "buy-American." The same ignorance of economic theory displayed in these instances prevents him from penetrating to the essence of the matter at hand.
Throughout his failed presidential campaigns, Buchanan posed as a revolutionary. In fact, as a statist to the core and life-long fixture of Washington, DC, he is part of the establishment (although he may be its enfant terrible). It is not likely that he will now learn what he has not yet learnt. Instead, he will continue to waste much of his great talent in counter-productive political campaigns and maneuverings. Yet, his Death of the West could become the catalyst for the creation of a genuine counterrevolutionary movement to revive the West, if only the brightest and most curious among its readership recognize the role played in the demise of the West by the state and democracy.