Coming Attractions

Godzilla vs King Kong, Trump vs. the Left’s Leviathan?

by Ralph Benko

Hollywood is remaking King Kong vs Godzilla. It’s scheduled for release soon after election day. Per the studios’ breathless teaser:

In a time when monsters walk the Earth, humanity’s fight for its future sets Godzilla and Kong on a collision course that will see the two most powerful forces of nature on the planet collide in a spectacular battle for the ages.

Could there be a better metaphor for Politics 2020?

There’s a rich antecedent to Godzilla. The Bible names the Sea Monster Leviathan.
There’s a political history as well. Thomas Hobbes gave us Leviathan.

We also find Leviathan rhapsodized at the heart of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, the great American novel. Melville:

Here Saturn’s grey chaos rolls over me, and I obtain dim, shuddering glimpses into those Polar eternities; when wedged bastions of ice pressed hard upon what are now the Tropics; and in all the 25,000 miles of this world’s circumference, not an inhabitable hand’s breadth of land was visible. Then the whole world was the whale’s; and, king of creation, he left his wake along the present lines of the Andes and the Himmalehs. Who can show a pedigree like Leviathan?

Leviathan.

Breathless then.
Breathless now.

Our politicos and pundits now set their phasers to “kill” rather than “stun.” Why? Because the stakes are high.

Yet our pundits are failing to convincingly elucidate why.

Let’s help them out.

Michael Bloomberg justified his entry into the 2020 presidential race by calling Donald Trump an “existential threat.”

Trump indeed is just that!
But for which of two diametrically opposed reasons?

From the day that America declared itself independent it embraced one political philosophy. It rejected another.

Is Trump an existential threat to our charter of liberty?
Or is he an existential threat to the enemies of liberty?

Jefferson, in drafting the Declaration of Independence, held among the self-evident truths, “that … Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….”

“The consent of the governed.”

This holds that we have rights derived from Nature (or Nature’s God).
Not privileges bestowed (or withheld) by a ruler.

The “consent of the governed” alludes to the philosophy of John Locke, the founding father of the philosophy of classical liberal (as in liberty) republicanism. America’s founders uniformly embraced the kind of liberal republicanism pioneered by Locke.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Among Locke’s political works he is most famous for The Second Treatise of Government in which he argues that sovereignty resides in the people and explains the nature of legitimate government in terms of natural rights.

So. What was the other, the spurned, path?
Absolutism.

As prescribed by Thomas Hobbes.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy again:

The 17th Century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes … is infamous for having used the social contract method to arrive at the astonishing conclusion that we ought to submit to the authority of an absolute—undivided and unlimited—sovereign power. 

The frontispiece of the book Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes; engraving by Abraham Bosse.

In Leviathan, Hobbes declaimed nature to be “no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Hobbes’s dyspeptic view called for absolute obedience to a supreme ruler to avoid dystopia.

President Trump seems to cheerfully assume his political supremacy is right and natural. He reacts as if any show of independence from his will or whim is an act of lèse-majesté.

Trump thus presents as a manifestation of a Hobbesian absolutism.
If so, yes, that could be an existential threat to the country.

But there’s a twist.

Trump presents not as an existential threat to liberty. (Serious absolutism requires a greater attention span than is in evidence.) Trump presents as, more likely, an antidote to the challenge to liberal republicanism by the older, sinister, Leviathanic force:

Leninism now d/b/a “progressives.”

We observe a battle for existential legitimacy between two implacably opposed political philosophies. One is small government liberal republicanism. The other is Big Government absolutism.

Legitimacy is the strongest force in politics. The Democrats sensing an existential threat to their own political legitimacy have been determined to delegitimize Trump by any means possible.

The fight now under way – in the capital and the media – as a battle for legitimacy trumps the otherwise trivial wrangle over the president’s disposition, competence, and overblown charges of misbehavior and collusion. And better explains the intensity.

The existential battle appears to be between liberal republicanism and absolutism. The highest of stakes. The prevailing erudite hypothesis, that it’s about the Outsiders vs. the Insiders, populism vs. elitism, is penny ante by comparison.

How could it be that Trump could be a force for liberty? Isn’t Trump’s attitude of personal supremacy antithetical to the ideal of a liberal republic?  Classical liberal republicanism had a great, vast, worldwide run especially from 1945 until fairly recently. It worked brilliantly as a force for human flourishing.

Is there a resurgence of Hobbesian absolutism from both left and right? (Hobbes portrait by J.M. Wright.)

Is it over? Is there a resurgence of Hobbesian absolutism from both left and right? Is this a pause in the course of America’s exporting the “Empire of Liberty”? Or are we encountering a secular reversal of the liberal republicanism tide and an incoming tide of absolutism?

I believe that the rise of absolutist forces is a reaction to the coy totalitarianism of the left. The left’s relentless push for the primacy of “government at every level” has grown more virulent since the days of the dreadful Woodrow Wilson or the rascally FDR.

Add to the forces of Big Government social media thought-policing, cancel culture, and the bigotry that is leading to the persecution of bakers and florists for their religious creed. The left was out to stamp out liberal republicanism and replace it with a strange new, totalitarian, cultural hegemony.  Trump confounded them.

Progressives have carried on a sustained and alarmingly successful “long march through the institutions.” The left’s purpose is to impose its brave new, totalitarian cultural hegemony on us.

The left desires to replace the extant Judeo-Christian classical liberal republicanism cultural hegemony. It made big gains.

Then the electorate fielded a wildly improbable Leviathan of its own, Donald Trump, to fight fire with fire.

Trump proved improbably effective, if not consistently dignified, in thwarting the left’s grab for absolute power. As TIME covered him, “a wrecking ball.” Trump taking down the monstrous state.

This seems to me analogous to how the United States of America grew its tiny federal government to gargantuan proportions a century ago. Big Government was not as an end unto itself. Our citizens conjured a Leviathan to fight even more gargantuan, grotesque, regimes: imperialistic, fascist, communist. We won.

Upon winning, Hobbes’s sly apostles, who had taken up residence in government agencies — Democrats on the civilian side, Republicans on the military side — kept this new Leviathan central government well fed.  And then….

How will this epic epoch end?

The emergence of a seemingly Hobbesian force in the cradle of classical liberty seems a paradoxical counterpunch to the left’s relentless, veiled, quest for absolute power. And a good strong counterpunch it proved although esthetically marred by irritability and dodgy etiquette.

Trump’s Hobbesian quality thus presents as neither interregnum nor trend. It is, rather, a  political counterfire set by a determined electorate to cancel out the political forest fire threatening to burn liberal republicanism to the ground.

So. Which of the two existential threats is Donald Trump?

Must we send a scout to check St. John the Baptist cemetery in Derbyshire, England where Hobbes’s remains are interred. Spinning in his grave? That would augur that Trump is an anti-absolutist force.

To save plane fare we could instead judge Trump by his enemies.

Once Trump-as-Leviathan has served the electorate’s purpose — countering the left’s far more pernicious Leviathan — politics will settle down. The American electorate remains classical liberal republican.

Absolutists of various stripes, left and right, are always with us. They are a malcontent minority. Not a dominant faction.

Thus, I predict that America will return to its vital liberal republican roots.

On November 3rd we will be shown a spectacle “that will see the two most powerful forces of nature on the planet collide in a spectacular battle for the ages.”  Pass the popcorn!

Then, a little over two weeks later, we’ll go out to watch Godzilla vs. King Kong.  

See you at the movies?

© 2020 Ralph Benko

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Ralph Benko, a Reagan White House junior official, Kemp-era supply-sider, founder of the Prosperity Caucus and the Prosperity Coalition, and editor-in-chief of the Supply Side Blog, is the co-founder and chairman of The Capitalist League and co-author of The Capitalist Manifesto. Ralph is an advisor and regular contributor to The Transpartisan Review.

(Featured Image (CC BY-SA 2.0) – Wikimedia Commons.  Other images sourced from the public domain.)

Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.