The Dying Citizen: How Progressive Elites, Tribalism, and Globalization Are Destroying the Idea of America, by Victor Davis Hanson. Basic Books, 2021. 346 pp.
Defining terms is always a good place to begin a conversation and Victor Davis Hanson’s The Dying Citizen weaves a rich definition of citizenship into his discussion of the current threats to this profoundly Western idea.
The idea of citizenship originated in the 5th century Greek city states, classicist Hanson, reminds us, the concept being nourished by the likes of one, Alkidamas, who wrote, “Nature has made no man a slave.” This was in profound contrast to the rigid stratification that most all societies then and most non-Western societies still maintain: top-down social systems where privileges are awarded to the few by regnant earthly powers as opposed to the God given, inherent rights citizens in the West enjoy.
This truly revolutionary idea of a self-reliant citizenry produced an independent middle class which itself created a great deal of the West’s material productivity and civilized discourse. This vaunted tradition was inherited from the Greeks by Rome and enshrined in those qualified to be called “Roman citizens.” The idea of citizenship advanced further in fits and starts, extending northward to the Italian city states and on to other parts of Europe from which it was bequeathed to the United States where it was codified in our Constitution.
But as Professor Hanson knows, constitutional republics made up of citizens uniting for mutual protection are short lived. Thus, his treatise shows how the blurring of the distinction between “citizenship” and “residency” is proceeding at a dramatic pace as America opens its borders and accommodates these newcomers by the reintroduction of an ethnic spoils system which resegregates citizens into ethnic tribes, duplicating the tribal societies that they are fleeing.
These attempts to fundamentally change the idea of citizenship are engineered forthrightly, even brazenly, by an unelected bureaucracy and more gradually by the courts. Meanwhile the lure of cheap foreign labor and foreign investment has turned the heads of our putative patricians away from their traditional role of protecting the sovereignty of American citizens.
In Hanson’s his first chapter “Peasants,” he writes: “The ancient value of middleness was manifested as the emerging middle-class blue-collar worker and, in the latter twentieth century, as the archetypal suburban, two-car-garage family.” But inflation ballooned up prices, especially for homes while wages did not keep up due mostly to competition from cheap foreign labor. Though, as Hanson points out, during WWII, at Willow Run, Michigan, one B-24 bomber was produced every hour, and no one thought that this could be done cheaper and better outside of America.
Nonetheless, in the aftermath of WWII, economists and “free traders” predicted that America would become a service economy with a concomitant decline in wages. Costs also rose disproportionately for a university education where students are told that America’s geography and greed propelled her to victory in WWII and which were also the reasons for America’s success in settling a continent and assimilating millions of immigrants. Thus, economics and ideology are squashing the middle class back into a modern version of hapless peasantry.
Because of this supposed evil history, the “project was to diversify America in order to remold it along more progressive lines,” meaning opening borders and deploying affirmative action programs. Of course, if America were racist, why would millions want to come here? Nonetheless, the newcomers were also encouraged to trash America as opposed to assimilating, assimilation having become for the conformist credentialed class a threat to ethnic identity instead of a badge of citizenship. As Hanson writes, few nations in history have been so determined to degrade their own citizens and traditions.
Hanson charts the tragic failures of multiculturalism due to the tribalism of ethnic groups which is demonstrated by the fact that each has words for the so-called “other.” Such words as “gringo” as used by Mexicans toward non-Mexicans or gaijin which the Japanese similarly use. Yet, as Hanson writes, “No equivalents of these ethicized and racialized terms now exist in formal American English for the aggregate on non-American foreign peoples.” One could also add that English though sometimes demeaned as “a scavenger language” because it readily assimilates foreign words, reflects the fact that the Anglosphere is a melting pot.
Since most voters reject these suicidal policies, the “Unelected,” the specialists in the bureaucracy impose them on the citizenry. Enter President Trump in 2016 as a representative of citizens wishing to hold on to their rights. But Hillary Clinton, exiting stage left, led “the #Resistance” to Trump. Joining her en masse were America’s security agencies and retired generals like Stanly McChrystal. Retired general Michael Hayden, former CIA director, compared Trump to the Nazis. CNN and other outlets provided protection for these deep state attacks which have no parallel in American history.
The courts also continue the assault on the idea of citizenship, an assault comparable to what Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci called, “the long slow march through the institutions.” Hanson’s chapter “Evolutionaries” demonstrates the steady erosion of the prerogatives of American citizens. For example, it is now assumed that presidents can engage America in overseas wars lasting years without actual Congressional support. Similarly, the president now has the right to make “deals” with Iran and sign on to The Paris Climate Accords while avoiding Senate approval.
Meanwhile legislation is being prepared to effectively destroy the power of the Senate as well as the Electoral College by carving up regions like the District of Columbia into several states. The Warren court performed this trick with its “one man one vote” decision in ruling that California Senate districts should henceforth be based on population and not on territory; this “progressive reform” while advertised as enhancing the power of citizens has, contrarily, disenfranchised the citizens of the less populated rural regions in the state. Thus, California has become a one-party state which progressives envision for the entire country, checks and balances being seen by them as an anachronism from an unenlightened past riddled with conflict.
Hanson closes with a chapter called, “Globalists” where he reminds us that history is littered with a “succession of would-be imperial globalists” like the Islamic Caliphates, the Mongols, the Ottomans, the British, Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler et al. Each of these polities and persons collapsed national borders in order to manufacture a uniform society. But such schemes imploded due to weakness, insolvency, corruption, and fatigue.
Nonetheless, Hanson the historian knows well that times change but people largely don’t. That is, such schemes have been tried with the League of Nations and continued by FDR’s desire that all the world’s people should be guaranteed jobs, shelter, food, education, health care and pensions. Ironically, America’s fascist enemies were promising the same for their own people which made it obvious that to do these things, the rights of their citizens, insofar as they had rights, would be compromised.
So, one size does not fit all, China being the prime example of this. Trying to achieve a trade balance with China when it pays slave wages and denies basic rights to its people is a losing proposition for America despite the chatter about “the world being flat.” Nonetheless, American companies peddle propaganda for China even as it expands its borders and exports a worldwide pandemic. Americans supporting China while ignoring these threats are accomplices in the dissolution of American citizenship.
Dr. Hanson’s writing is invariably enlightening because of his remarkable blend of timeliness and erudition. While writing scholarly books on a variety of topics, he continues to publish topical essays and deliver commentary in a variety of venues. No writer is this prolific and consistently penetrating. Just as the title of one of his many books is A War Like No Other, Hanson can be called, “a writer like no other.”
Terry Scambray writes from the Great Central Valley of California.