A brief post on the American presidential election

The philosophical perspective always tries to see the larger picture, and the outcome of the recent American election, consequently, must be said to be not so much about the candidates themselves (both of whom I personally happen to dislike) as about larger historical forces. If one looks at those, the result is not surprising at all. Trump’s victory is a part of the natural reaction – as was Brexit – against oikophobia* and against the semi-educated bourgeois elite’s betrayal of Western ideals, an ilk among whom only the like-minded are admitted and contrary viewpoints (the essence of debate and rational exchange) are suppressed, where sneers and condescension masquerade as inclusivity, which in any case is only skin-deep. Although there are significant traces of this reactionary force in France and Germany as well, it is no coincidence that it is making its strongest appearance in the English-speaking world, since the Anglo-Saxon common law tradition has a much richer history of rugged democracy and independent dissent than does the Continental-Napoleonic tradition (while France for many centuries was an absolute monarchy, England already saw a healthy jostling for influence between monarch and Parliament). Common law is flexible, develops over time, and therefore represents a people’s collective tradition and accumulated values. In Continental-Napoleonic law, which is continental European and more authoritative, case law is far subordinate to statutory law; that is to say, what the political class ordains is supreme, an attitude that is very foreign to the British and, by extension, American way of thinking, according to which it is the people, by means of the cases they bring to court, who shape legal tradition over time. In other words, and not too simplified, the continental way is the creation of law and tradition from the top down, the Anglo-Saxon way from the bottom up.

A fitting illustration of the Continental-Napoleonic ideal, where a lofty law is ordained to the people from above (painting by Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse).

The election result is thus a manifestation of the reactionary force that always develops against the concentration of Napoleonic-like power in an oikophobic elite that jealously guards its turf and despises those parts of the populace that fall outside of that elite, a posture which in turn only increases the strength of the Reactionaries. The more the Oikophobes isolate themselves and consider their own moral world view of posturing platitudes and pseudo-tolerance to be the only possible one for all of society, an attitude which was predicted by such men as De Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill, the weaker these Oikophobes in fact become. It is will and interest, not moral superiority (whether real or putative), that stands at the beginning of every practical and successful politics, and so the Oikophobes lost the election because they sneered at the Reactionaries rather than trying to engage them. The reason they did this is that they saw politics as a purely moral battle rather than as the battle of concrete diverging interests that it actually is. The election outcome, more broadly seen, was thus a victory for the Anglo-Saxon common spirit, and a defeat for the continental Napoleonic spirit.

The oikophobic forces of inclusivity at New York's Columbus Circle a few days ago.

Nonetheless, despite isolated triumphs, for reasons I have outlined elsewhere (see the following hyperlinks) the Reactionaries will probably not be able to stymie the overall direction of their nations. If previous major powers (Greece, Rome, France, Britain) are any guide, which of course they are, we may draw the reasonable conclusion that the reaction will be able to slow, but not stop, the decline of American power. So to those who are panicking too much, or celebrating too much: The divergence will not be too extreme, in the long run, from the trajectory that the country would have taken in the event of a victory by the Oikophobes over the Reactionaries.

 

* Oikophobia, as the opposite of xenophobia, is the dislike of one’s own civilization and a disregard of the traditions that shaped it. For a more detailed discussion of the phenomenon, see this.