Paul Rahe is seriously cheerful. I learned this when I interviewed the Hillsdale historian for Uncommon Knowledge last autumn. Prof. Rahe had just published Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift. The volume argues that “soft despotism,” the tendency, first identified by Tocqueville, to concentrate power in the central government by small, well-intentioned degrees, is all but choking America. Yet as he made his distressing case Prof. Rahe displayed a marvelous ebullience. When I asked why, he explained that the worst was already over. President Obama and the Democrats in Congress were even then in the process of overreaching, Prof. Rahe insisted. Soon enough, the American people would come to, realize what was happening, and push back, good and hard. The election of Barack Obama, Prof. Rahe insisted, represented “a gift to the friends of liberty.”
Which brings me to Ricochet.
Over the last week or so, we’ve been debating a) just how bad things are (general consensus: pretty bad), and, b) the proper way to comport ourselves. Should we wring our hands? (I’m never so happy as when I have an excuse to be gloomy.) Or should we instead buck up, as Claire has insisted with a Thatcheresque elan?
Over the weekend, I thought I’d get in touch with Paul Rahe, inviting him to let us know whether he remains as optimistic today as he did last autumn. Below, Prof. Rahe’s gracious reply. Claire will rejoice.
Paul Rahe writes:
Most conservatives regard Barack Obama’s election as a calamity. I see it as the opportunity of a lifetime. A year ago, in a blog post entitled The Great Awakening, I observed that “one cannot fool the American people for long,” and I predicted that “the real effect of the effort made by Obama and by figures such as Rahm Emanuel will be to unmask the Democratic Party as a conspiracy on the part of a would-be aristocracy of do-gooders hostile to very idea of self-government in the United States.” At the end of that post, I concluded,
We should be grateful to Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Rahm Emanuel. For, in their audacity, they have done what their predecessors feared to do; and, in the process, they have made the tyrannical propensities inherent within the progressive impulse visible to anyone who cares to take notice. What Franklin Delano Roosevelt falsely charged in 1936 is visibly true today. “A small group” is intent on concentrating “into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor – other people’s lives.”
From time to time, in other posts linked to here or archived here and here, I have returned to this theme, suggesting that, thanks to President Obama, we will soon have an opportunity to roll back the administrative state and to re-establish constitutional government and the rule of law within the United States. If the Republicans have the moxie to seize the opportunity that they have been afforded, if they use the current crisis as an occasion for rearticulating the principles on which this country was founded, I am now more confident than ever that such a transformation will take place. All that is required is statesmanship.