In Arthur Koester's novel Darkness at Noon the character N.S. Rubashov expressed his misgivings about the party he had dedicated his life to. He declared, "all our principles were right, but our results were wrong." He asserted, "this is a diseased century," and, "we diagnosed the disease and its causes with microscopic exactness, but wherever we applied the healing knife a new sore appeared." He continued, "Our will was hard and pure, we should have been loved by the people. But they hate us." He asked himself, "Why are we so odious and detested?" He concluded, "We brought you truth, and in our mouth it sounded a lie. We brought you freedom, and it looks in our hands like a whip. We brought you the living life, and where our voice is heard the trees whither and there is a rustling of dry leaves. We brought you the promise of the future, but our tongue stammered and barked. . .”
This was the lament of a compassionate man who believed in an elite's ability to regulate every aspect of human existence for the betterment of mankind. It is also the lament of the current administration. They have only the best interests of the American people at heart. Why are they not loved? Apparently the people do not understand their beneficent proposals. Yet the more they explain their plans the greater the opposition becomes. Perhaps this opposition is the result of the failure of their fundamental beliefs: the failure of Modernism. Rule by expert; this is the essence of modernism. Modernism was defined by Vaclav Havel, the former President of Czechoslovakia, as the belief that the world is "a wholly knowable system governed by a finite number of universal laws that man can grasp and rationally direct for his own benefit." It asserted that, “Man . . . was capable of objectively describing, explaining and controlling everything that exists."
In his speech before the World Economic Forum in Davos, Havel dated the end of the modern age at the fall of the Soviet Empire. Architect Charles Jencks placed it much earlier: at exactly 3:32 P.M. on July 15, 1972. This was the moment that the Pruitt-Igoe housing development in St. Louis, was demolished. Like the East Falls Housing Project is Philadelphia, demolished in 2000, and the Cabrini-Green public housing project in Chicago, the Pruitt-Igoe housing development was an example of the thousands of housing projects constructed throughout the industrial world. Their functional design made them perfect "machines for living in." Unfortunately they shortly became uninhabitable. These housing projects were representative of the failure of the modernist concept that experts could design a system to improve human existence on a massive scale. The physical wreckage of these well intention schemes is easy to observe. The psychological wreckage is more difficult to discern.
These housing projects were inspired by the work of architects like Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier worked for years to promote a plan to demolish a large part of Paris and replace it with a logically designed layout. He was the man with a plan. He wrote that, "The despot is not a man. It is the . . . correct, realistic, exact plan . . . that will provide your solution once the problem has been posed clearly. . . . This plan has been drawn up well away from . . . the cries of the electorate or the laments of society's victims. It has been drawn up by serene and lucid minds." These "serene and lucid minds" are the same people described by Edmund Burke: "Nothing can be conceived more hard than the heart of a thorough-bred metaphysician ... It is like that of the principle of evil himself, incorporeal, pure, unmixed, dephlegmated, defecated evil."
Modernist plans always entail sacrifice. "You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs." The novelist Upton Sinclair defended Soviet collectivization by saying, "They drove rich peasants off the land - and sent them wholesale to work in lumber camps and on railroads. Maybe it cost a million lives - maybe it cost five million - but you cannot think intelligently about it unless you ask yourself how many millions it might have cost if the changes had not been made." But as the British philosopher Isaiah Berlin pointed out, "The eggs are broken, and the habit of breaking them grows, but the omelette remains invisible." In the 1980s sociologist Eva Etzione-Halevy pointed out what is becoming increasingly obvious: “the years in which the influence of the social scientists on policy has been growing have also been the years in which policy failures have been rife and in which a variety of formidable social problems have been multiplying." Malcolm Muggeridge sarcastically remarked, “As more and more money is spent on education, illiteracy is increasing. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it didn’t end up with virtually the whole revenue of the western countries being spend on education, and a condition of almost total illiteracy resulting therefrom.”
What is the alternative to rule by “serene and lucid minds?” It is a system that has proved successful for over two hundred years. It is government by practical people untainted by the theories of the metaphysicians. Irving Kristol has pointed out that, “The common people . . .are not uncommonly wise, but their experience tends to make them uncommonly sensible. They learn their economics by taking out a mortgage, they learn their politics by watching the local school board in action, and they learn the impossibility of ‘social engineering’ by trying to raise their children to be decent human beings.” They are busy taking care of their small section of the world. And for the most part, they do it responsibly. As Thomas Hobbes wrote, “A plain husband-man is more Prudent in the affaires of his own house, than a Privy Counselor in the affaires of other men.”
John Dietrich is a freelance writer and the author of The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy, Algora Publishing.