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Tuesday, November 01, 2005


judge samuel alito

a commenter on the previous post regarding the rescinding of the miers nomination felt sufficient unease with the process to ask

Why does this all make me so uncomfortable?

i submit to you, dear commenter, that this is probably why.

the bush administration yesterday selected federal judge sam alito as its replacement nominee for the supreme court.

while there are more volatile possible selections, this is nonetheless a nomination from a social archaist's short list and a sure spark to an ideological/political firestorm the dimensions of which cannot yet be ascertained -- but which carries the perhaps small but insidious possibility of spilling over into political violence.

alito represents an opening shot in a social battle fired out of weakness and a major step for the militant right, on top of already impressive gains, within a potentially sensible republican constituency. the administration, apparently rattled by the discord in its activist social conservative base (to which, unlike prior centrist administrations from both parties, it has tied its viability from the start) and facing political impotence without their allegiance, necessarily reverted to the politics of base excitement and nominated one of the heroes of supposedly-archaist revolutionaries -- giving them a window on the open political and social war they've been dreaming of in ever larger and now biblical terms since newt gingrich in 1994, since 1980 and reagan, truly since 1968 -- an attempt at the third stage, the manifestation of a metaphysical dream of the world, a conservative stab at revolution, conquest and impossible utopia.

this movement may not be, articulated in these terms, a popular revolution by any means, but neither can it be dismissed -- motivated militant moonbats on the warpath are very dangerous in an open society even as a small but active minority. moreover, they draw upon a broad and deep base of social discontent with postmodernity which permeates all western societies in our decline which permits them to operate in the open and with significant populist support -- making empty promises to turn back the clock to a golden age to which we cannot return to any more than we can our youth and which never existed as it is now envisioned in the first place.

alito is, unlike miers or even roberts, prima facie an excellent technical candidate for the court, with a long judicial record of opinion and one of the most experienced and best vetted candidates in the last century. he represents a major change in a prior white house strategy of conflict avoidance through secrecy. this will make him difficult to derail in the senate confirmation hearings, as american government has been maintaining in response to the growing fracture of our society on cultural issues a consensus to refuse (with small exceptions) to argue the ideology of a candidate or position so long as the technicality of its existence is sufficiently beyond reproach. like a dam behind which a growing body of water and the force of its weight rises ever higher, this consensus not to deliberate the essence of what it means to be american in the core deliberative body of american society -- giving rise to the most legalistic society on the planet, embodied in stubbornly static unresolved controversies like 1973's roe v. wade or the civil rights movement, which have grown into albatrosses around the neck of the society -- is merely accruing enormous social pressure from both sides, which falsely imagine themselves to be pushing simply one against the other when they are in fact both pushing egregiously against the maintenance of civil order. both sides now field socially subversive units in the form of militant political parties that place the advancement of political ideologies vastly ahead of any consideration for legality or the health of institutions of government which they consider to be misshapen, broken, useless and inhibitive.

nearly four decades of building pressure must in time seek an outlet -- breaking the dam. few observers of american society have missed the growing polarization on political and cultural issues that is the product of this enormity as the water rises. in recent years, as any listener to talk radio or reader of what passes for political literature in america knows, civility has been abandoned at the fringe -- holes in the dam, impeding ever further toward the limit beyond which social integrity can not endure. we are now, it seems to me, at a point where even relatively thoughtful and educated members of society -- who were once the moderating forces essential to the existence of a government by cooperative consensus -- have abandoned their critical egalitarian seamanship of these treacherous political waters to instead flow and ebb with this or that partisan tide, becoming mindless marchmen in one or the other of what i can only see as budding political armies of near-spiritual passion.

ultimately, the flood must come -- this is the lesson of ten thousand years of the history of civilization. this same pathetic situation of managerial stagnation and fundamental deterioration punctuated by periodic civil chaos was exemplified in a tenuous roman republican government within a dessicating hellenic civilization, with populares and optimates playing out the roles of now held by our democrats and republicans, both working against the legalists as much as each other. the roman solution, after more than a century of intermittent internal warfare, was the installation, by a patrician condescending to populism, of an imperial autocracy modeled on spartan lines. many once-vital city-states had previously taken on the spartan model of totalitarian dictatorship in the interests of arresting decay and fractiousness, including athens itself after the death of pericles -- rome was merely the most materially successful among them in applying the concept of arrested decline to the entirety of the hellenic world. but the solution proved to be nothing of the kind, it must be noted, and did little to delay the extinguishing of the light of classical civilization -- and perhaps even accelerated it. in the final analysis, dictatorship is not and can never be a sufficient substitute for concordia.

to the extent that the nomination of alito represents as much an indulgence of these most barbaric and retrograde aspects of the american conservative character as sulla's performance at the colline gate did the roman, his confirmation will be an event which, like several before it -- notably the recent narrowly-averted disaster of the abandonment of the filibuster in the senate, a legalist compromise that may also pass away in the alito confirmation process -- may finally be that one impassioned rainstorm too many which breaches the dam of byzantine management and plunges america into violence and a powerful abdication of the rule of law.

I do appreciate the response.

As I see it, the balls are all racked for an ugly confrontation between the almost-completely disenfranchised minority and the scandal-weakened majority. There are huge risks for both sides if, as I foresee, the filibuster is launched, followed by Frist's "nuclear" counterstrike. But in spite of the risks, I'm anticipating this little armageddon with some eagerness.

Seriously, what have the Democrats got to lose if they allow the debate cutoff rule to be triggered? Spun effectively, it could actually help them next year to position the Republicans as totalitarian ideologues, strengthening the argument that the majority's far right wing has dragged the country too far toward the radical fringe, from which the only way back is to cede at least a house of Congress back to the more rational-sounding Democrats, if only to counterbalance the excesses of the White House.

Your historical perspective is always intriguing. I don't command enough history myself to gauge its relevance to the current mess, but clearly American democracy has thrown a rod. I hope all these little kleptocratic allies-of-convenience we keep trying to force-feed Jeffersonian principles are paying attention to how well it's all working over here.


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