When Political Order Breaks Down, No One Wins

When Political Order Breaks Down, No One Wins
“The present political situation reminds one of a carnival.”

The present political situation reminds one of a carnival. There is no other word to describe it. It is a carnival. The world has become a giant stage of political players and the media full of incomprehensible rage and fury.

The problem with carnivals is that everyone tends to play along. Each player responds to the other in a manner to keep the show going. Carnivals are chaotic affairs with no central plot. Rather, there are several sub-narratives without any resolution of the problems raised. Stage dramas are all be make-believe—which makes this one alarming, since this one is quite real.

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Something should be done to stop the carnival but everyone adds to the spectacle. Everyone wants their moment of glory on this stage. And a certain sector of the audience seems to feed on ever more sensationalism.

A Jumble of Irrational and Chaotic Behavior

In normal times, cases like this might be resolved by a calm analysis of the facts. But in this particular case, the facts are tangled in a mess of e-mails and tweets, firings and hiring, declarations and denials that tend to become ever more disorienting.

It is not so much the facts that are the problem, but how they are handled. A random tweet, for example, will needlessly generate a firestorm. A media uproar will suddenly develop around a completely legal act.

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Even all of this confusion probably could be unraveled and explained logically. However, there is no time to decipher anything. People do not have the attention span to listen to a logical analysis amid so much chaotic behavior. In the frenetic intemperance of their daily lives, most people simply don’t understand what is going on—and really don’t want to make an effort to find out. They just follow the latest sound-bite or news headline that is all part of the hype of the carnival.

A Match Without Rules

The internal logic of a political carnival like this one is that if one side breaks the rules, the other is tempted to respond in kind—by throwing all caution to the wind.

The frightening thing is that when this happens, the brouhaha is not about the issues anymore. It is not about the President, Congress, the Democrats or the Republicans.

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It is all about the creating an atmosphere of confusion that will later favor any one of the many participating parties. It is a climate of a political boxing match where there are no Marquess of Queensberry rules. Everything is permitted and no holds are barred.

And that is why the present situation is so alarming.

When there are no rules, it creates the dangerous situation in which the issues are forgotten and order itself becomes the target. Order becomes a restraint that keeps people from breaking the rules of the debate to gain a momentary advantage. This is the danger since, once order is gone, anything, even the unthinkable, is possible.

When People Abandon Order

When order is a target to be destroyed, people do anything to advance their cause and pander to the audience. They are willing to sacrifice the common good for their own; the interest of the nation for a slight advantage. People are even inclined to desire the failure of another for failure’s sake. They need not present solutions. Worse yet, they don’t want solutions. Their object is to facilitate change by making what remains of order ungovernable.

This is the stuff of which revolutions and upheavals are made. When people abandon order, they themselves initiate the process whereby freedom is lost—where economy comes unraveled and where society comes apart.

Alas, disorder brings out the worst in people. It turns them into cowards and opportunists. When things fall apart, wrote the poet William Butler Yeats, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Refusing to Play the Carnival Game

That is why the answer to the present crisis cannot consist in entering into the unruly melee. There must be a refusal to play by the lack of rules of the carnival game, since chaos can never be used in defense of order.

Every care must be taken to leave nothing to misinterpretation. Everything must be clear and disciplined. Rules must be respected, and the other side must be boldly challenged when they break them. Order may seem the more difficult course, but real change can only be guaranteed when secured by such rules. Indeed, the rules of order are also the best defense against those who break them.

However, all this is essential to ordered liberty. It’s the only way to avoid the confusion of the present political carnival. Without ordered liberty, it’s hard for people to resist the temptation to throw up their hands in disgust and demand the overturning of all rules—launching the nation into a yet-to-be-defined alternative. Such “solutions” only create the conditions for further upheaval.

It’s time to stop the carnival and settle down to return America to order and dignity again. The sensationalism of the media must be constantly exposed, lest it degenerate into political bloodlust.

Order Is the First Need of the Soul

That is why a notion of order is so important. Order is found in the moral habits, constitutional framework and political forms that have long preserved the nation from danger. These time-honored institutions are the way in which Americans have always resolved their problems. This same American order can still play its role in stabilizing a nation in distress, but only if it is not abandoned. It must be embraced yet more.

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This is imperative since there is no alternative to order. That is why Americans should also turn to a higher power at the present juncture. Those who grieve for the nation must implore God for a return to order.

There is too much at stake to see everything descend into a carnival. Russell Kirk said it best: “Order is the first need of the soul.” Without order, one cannot be free, continues Kirk. “Freedom, justice, law or virtue are all extremely important, but order is the first and most basic need.”

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