The Long View 2006-07-27: Transitional Parties; Political Despair; Gnostic Novels

There was an entry listed in the 2006 archives page for July 26th, but I seem to have lost it. Thus, we move on to the 27th.

Transitional Parties; Political Despair; Gnostic Novels

A Third Party is almost impossible in America, according to the Prometheus Institute, and in any case ill-advised. Here are five reasons:

1. Any electoral system with winner-take-all voting by district will tend to form two major parties;

2. The alternative voting system, proportional representation, promotes the creation of irresponsible single-issue parties;

3. Third parties tend to be extremist, polarizing and/or pointless;

4. The two parties pander to the new movements, making third parties superfluous;

5. Independent organizations can promote political agendas better than Third Parties can.

This exposition of the matter seems to be directed to Libertarians, who are advised to bide their time until the Democrats come pandering to them. Rather than a Third Party, Libertarians need a few good little magazines, or perhaps websites. National Review, we are reminded, made the Republican Party the Conservative Party; earlier in the 20th century, journals like The New Republic made the Democratic Party the institutional home of crypto-socialism.

To this strategy one might answer that Reason has its audience, but maybe not its electorate.

Be that as it may, though, I note this aside in the discussion under Item 1:

Certainly, resurgent parties can become so large that they push out one of the two existing major parties, as the Republicans did in the 19th century. But such a situation is highly unlikely today, and they will never last in third-party opposition.

The Republican Party was not created from scratch, but assembled from components of the old Whig Party and various anti-slavery and pro-tariff groups, some of which seceded from the Democrats. Such a reassembly or party units could happen today. The result might still be two parties, but they would not be the parties we have now, even if they carry the same names. Before that outcome, however, a party as formidable as the Progressives could be part of the transition.

* * *

Regarding the prospect of political despair, Joseph Bottom at First Things draws our attention to a note that one Professor Geoffrey Stone posted at the faculty website of the University of Chicago Law School:

In vetoing the bill that would have funded stem-cell research, President Bush invoked what he termed a “conflict between science and ethics.” But what, exactly, is the “ethical” side of this conflict? … What the president describes neutrally as “ethics” is simply his own, sectarian religious belief. … [I]n what sense is it “ethical” for Mr. Bush—acting as president of the United States—to place his own sectarian, religious belief above the convictions of a majority of the American people and a substantial majority of both the House of Representatives and the Senate? In my judgment, this is no different from the president vetoing a law providing a subsidy to pork producers because eating pork offends his religious faith. Such a veto is an unethical and illegitimate usurpation of state authority designed to impose on all of society a particular religious faith.

After noting the oddity of making religious or natural law arguments the one class of reasoning that cannot be used in political debate (essentially by defining this class as "irrational"), Bottum goes on to make this point:

I wonder if the people who push this line have ever actually considered how dangerous it would be to win it? Do they really want to convince the large majority of Americans who are religious believers that their faith is incompatible with democratic politics? Do they think that people will, as a result, give up on their faith, or give up on their democracy?

What Bottum is talking about here is the danger of what Stephen Carter calls "disallegiance," which I discuss in a review of Eclipse of the Sun. Carter argues that what caused the American Revolution was not so much that the British government rejected the colonists' arguments as that the government declared argument itself illicit.

While thinking about the First Things post, I first believed there to be an asymmetry in the two sides of the Culture War: when the Cultural Left loses, it does not despair; it just counts the loss as another setback on the Long March to the Universal and Homogeneous Republic (to use Kojeve's expression for the secular eschaton). After a little reflection, however, it occurred to me that the Cultural Left has long since despaired of democracy: hence its reliance on protean constitutional theory and on transnational organizations. The effect of the complete laicization of the democratic public square would therefore be irrelevant: neither side would believe in democracy at that point.

* * *

The Gnostic Novel is getting out of hand. Vexed to nightmare by the success of The Da Vinci Code, publishers have sent shuffling into the bookstores a rough parade of thrillers based on the premise that...well, you know the premise. Here are the websites given by two ads in this morning's New York Times that appear within two pages of each other.

From Kathleen McGowan, The Expected One (The Greatest Story Never Told, we are assured):

Two thousand years ago, Mary Magdalene hid a set of scrolls in the rocky wilds of the French Pyrenees, scrolls that contained her own version of the events and characters of the New Testament. Protected by supernatural forces, these sacred scrolls could only be uncovered by a special seeker, one who fulfills the ancient prophecy of the Expected One.

And there is Resurrection by Tucker Malarkey:

Resurrection draws on actual events surrounding the discovery of the Lost Gospels of Nag Hammadi. Suppressed by officials of the early Church, these sacred texts disappeared nearly two thousand years ago and were rediscovered unexpectedly in the 1940’s in the desert south of Cairo. Around these remarkable events, Tucker Malarkey has crafted a suspenseful and eye-opening tale of love and war, religion and murder.

The surname of the latter author gives me hope that the book may be a parody, but not much.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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