America: What will you become?
“Where there is no vision, the people perish”
We all want political change. To be masters of change, we must be students of influence.
So here is an interesting thought experiment: Who has had the most influence over American politics in the past 50 years?
Many people immediately think of our presidents. “The most powerful person in the world.” But perhaps four to eight years of influence is too short term for you. You may think of the epitome of Republican and Democrat ideals, like Newt Gingrich or Nancy Pelosi — but, are they really agents of change or perpetrators of a certain status quo? Or maybe you are more into the Illuminati.
I think all of these are wrong. There is something deeper, more powerful, and more durable — political philosophy. Political philosophies shape the imaginations of politicians and the people. They give us the lens through which we think about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In fact, political philosophies are sometimes so compelling, they lead to radical experiments — Marx and Communism.
So we can reframe the question: Which political philosopher has had the most influence on American Politics in the past fifty years? I think that has to be Ayn Rand, her philosophy of Objectivism, and her political expression — Libertarianism. As one measure of success — no other political philosopher has spawned a new party of any consequence, which is amazing in and of itself. Sixty years later, it feels as if Atlas Shrugged is almost required reading for academically minded conservatives. But like chivalry, Objectivism is dead. Or like disco, it had its moment of cultural zeitgeist, but that day has long past.
We now live in a vacuum of political philosophy. Our generation’s hearts and minds yearn for inspiration and direction, but find nothing. It’s no wonder that thin “end-of-history” philosophies like liberal progressivism or the alt-right have risen.
The next fifty years should not and will not look like the last fifty years. “Make America Great Again” in some sense has the right desire, a desire for greatness — but the most glorious versions of our future are not found in our past.
We need a political philosophy that will break the zero-sum game of politics. It must be distinctly American, and not a blind imitation of Europe or Asia. The American singularity, our unique and unparalleled horizon, is much bigger than national health care or a border wall. We must lean into what makes America special and unique — and not try to snuff out her differences. To break zero-sum games we need generative forces, things that create more than they take. The only two generative forces that I know of are love and technology. Maybe that’s a good place to start.
This is our most urgent task. What’s the next great American political philosophy that doesn’t exist yet? America, what will you become?