Victor Davis Hanson
One day historians will look back at the period beginning with the COVID lockdowns of spring 2020 through the midterm elections of 2022 to understand how America for over two years lost its collective mind and turned into something unrecognizable and antithetical to its founding principles.
“Sovietization” is perhaps the best diagnosis of the pathology. It refers to the subordination of policy, expression, popular culture, and even thought to ideological mandates. Ultimately such regimentation destroys a state since dogma wars with and defeats meritocracy, creativity, and freedom.
The American Commissariat
Experts become sycophantic. They mortgage their experience and talent to ideology—to the point where society itself regresses.
The law is no longer blind and disinterested, but adjudicates indictment, prosecution, verdict, and punishment on the ideology of the accused. Eric Holder is held in contempt of Congress and smiles; Peter Navarro is held in contempt of Congress and is hauled off in cuffs and leg-irons. James Clapper and John Brennan lied under oath to Congress—and were rewarded with television contracts; Roger Stone did the same and a SWAT team showed up at his home. Andrew McCabe made false statements to federal investigators and was exempt. A set-up George Papadopoulos went to prison for a similar charge. So goes the new American commissariat.
Examine California and ask a series of simple questions.
Why does the state that formerly served as a model to the nation regarding transportation now suffer inferior freeways while its multibillion-dollar high-speed rail project remains an utter boondoggle and failure?
Why was its safe and critically needed last-remaining nuclear power plant scheduled for shutdown (and only recently reversed) as the state faced summer brownouts?
Why did its forests go up in smoke predictably each summer, as its timber industry and the century-old science of forest management all but disappeared from the state?
Why do the state’s criminals so often evade indictment, and if convicted are often not incarcerated—or are quickly paroled?
Why are its schools’ test scores dismal, its gasoline the nation’s highest-priced, and the streets of its major cities fetid and dangerous—in a fashion not true 50 years ago or elsewhere today?
In a word, the one-party state is Sovietized. Public policy is no longer empirical but subservient to green, diversity, equity, and inclusion dogmas—and detached from the reality of daily middle-class existence. Decline is ensured once ideology governs problem-solving rather than time-tested and successful policymaking.
In a similar fashion, the common denominator in Joe Biden’s two years of colossal failures is Soviet-like edicts of equity, climate change, and neo-socialist redistribution that have ensured (for the non-elite, in any event) soaring inflation, unaffordable energy, rampant crime, and catastrophic illegal immigration. Playing the role of Pravda, Biden and his team simply denied things were bad, relabeled failure as success, and attacked his predecessor and critics as various sorts of counterrevolutionaries.
Biden rejected commonsense, bipartisan policies that in the past kept inflation low, energy affordable, crime controlled, and the border manageable. Instead, he superimposed leftist dogma on every decision, whose ideological purity, not real-life consequences for millions, was considered the measure of success.
The Caving of Expertise
Entire professions have now nearly been lost to radical progressive ideology.
Do we remember those stellar economists who swore at a time of Biden’s vast government borrowing, increases in the monetary supply, incentivizing labor non-participation, and supply chain interruptions that there was no threat of inflation? Were they adherents of ideological “modern monetary theory”? Did they ignore their own training and experience in fealty to progressive creeds?
What about the Stanford doctors who signed a groupthink letter attacking their former colleague, Dr. Scott Atlas, because he questioned the orthodoxies of Dr. Anthony Fauci and the state bureaucracies—who we now know hid their own involvement with channeling funding to deadly gain-of-function research in Wuhan? Did they reject his views on empirical grounds and welcome a give-and-take shared inquiry—or simply wish to silence an ideological outlier and advisor to a despised counterrevolutionary?
Or how about the 50 retired intelligence “experts” who swore that Hunter Biden’s laptop was not genuine but likely Russian disinformation? Did they really rely on hundreds of years of collective expertise to adjudicate the laptop or did they simply wish to be rewarded with something comparable to a “Hero of Woke America” award?
Or what about the 1,000 medical “professionals” who claimed violating quarantine and protective protocols for Black Lives Matter demonstrations was vital for the mental health of the protestors? Or the Princeton creators of a video identifying Jonathan Katz as a sort of public enemy for the crime of stating that racial discrimination of any sort was toxic?
Career Advancement, Cowardice, and Membership in the Club
There can be no expertise under Sovietization; everything and everyone serves ideology. Our military—especially its four-star generals, current and retired—parroted perceived ideologically correct thought. Repeating party lines about diversity, white supremacy, and climate change are far more relevant for career advancement than proof of prior effective military leadership in battle.
The ultimate trajectory of a woke military was the fatal disgrace in Afghanistan. Ideologues in uniform kept claiming that the humiliating skedaddle was a logistical success and that misguided bombs that killed innocents were called a “righteous strike.” Afghanistan all summer of 2021 was to be Joe Biden’s successful model of a graduated withdrawal in time for a 20th-anniversary commemoration of 9/11—until it suddenly wasn’t.
Pentagon decision-making increasingly privileges race, gender, sexuality, and green goals over traditional military lethality—a fact known to all who are up for promotion, retention, or disciplinary action.
How predictable it was that the United States fled Kabul, abandoning not just billions of dollars worth of sophisticated weapons to terrorists, but also with Pride flags flying, George Floyd murals on public walls, and gender studies initiatives being carried out in the military ranks. Ask yourself: if a general during the Afghanistan debacle had brilliantly organized a sustainable and defensible corridor around Bagram Airfield but was known to be skeptical of Pentagon efforts to address climate change and diversity would he be praised or reviled?
The elite universities in their single-minded pursuit of wokeness are ironically doing America a great favor. For a long time, their success was due to an American fetishization of brand names. But now, most privately accept that a BA from Princeton or Harvard is no longer an indication of acquired knowledge, mastery of empiricism, or predictive of inductive thinking over deductive dogmatism.
Instead, we now understand, various lettered certificates serve as stamps for career advancement—proof either of earlier high-school achievement that merely won the bearer admission to the select, or confirmation that the graduate possesses the proper wealth, contacts, athletic ability, race, gender, or sexuality to be invited to the club.
Universities’ abandonment of test scores and diminution of grades—replaced by “community service” and race, gender, and sexuality criteria—has simply clarified the bankruptcy of the entire higher education industry.
Our “diversity statements” required for hiring at many universities are becoming comparable to Soviet certifications of proper Marxist-Leninist fidelity. Like the children of Soviet Party apparatchiks, privileged university students now openly attack faculty whose reading requirements or lectures supposedly exude scents of “colonialism” or “imperialism” or “white supremacy.”
Faculty increasingly fear offering merit evaluation, in terror that diversity commissars might detect in their grading an absence of reparatory race or gender appraisals. The result is still more public cynicism about higher education because it is apparent that the goal is to graduate with a stamp from Yale or Stanford that ensures prestige, success, and ideological correctness—on the supposition that few will ever worry exactly what or how one did while enrolled.
We have our own Emmanuel Goldsteins who, we are told, deserve our three minutes of hate for counterrevolutionary thought and practice. Donald Trump earned the enmity of the CIA, the FBI, the Justice Department, and the IRS. Now Elon Musk and his companies are suddenly the targets of the progressive state, including repartees from the president himself. To vent, the popular Soviet directs its collective enmity at a Dave Chappelle or Bill Maher, progressives who exhibit the occasional counterrevolutionary heresy.
Cabinet secretaries ignore their duties—somewhat understandable given their resumes never explained their appointments. What binds a Pete Buttigieg, Alejandro Mayorkas, and Jennifer Granholm is not expertise in transportation, border security, or energy independence but allegiance to an entire menu of woke policies that are often antithetical to their own job descriptions.
“Diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion” started out as mandated proportional representation as defined by the state allotting spoils of coveted admissions, hiring, honors, and career advancement by race and gender percentages in the general population. The subtext was that federal and state governments imported and incorporated largely academic theories that alleged any disequilibrium was due to bias.
More specifically, racial and sexual prejudices were to be exposed and punished by morally superior castes—in politics, the bureaucracy, and the courts. There was never any interest in detailing how particular individuals were personally harmed by the system or by the “other,” which explains the Left’s abhorrence of racially blind, class-based criteria to establish justified need.
In the last five years, American Sovietization has descended into reparatory representation. Due to prior collective culpability of whites, heterosexuals, and males, marginalized self-defined groups of victims must now be “overrepresented” in admissions, hiring, and visibility in popular culture
As the Soviets and Maoists discovered—and as was true of the Jacobins, National Socialists, and cultural Marxists—once radical ideology defines success, then life in general becomes anti-meritocratic. The public privately equates awards and recognition with political fealty, not actual achievement.
Were recent Netflix productions reflections of merit or ideological criteria governing race and gender? Do the Emmys, Tonys, or Oscars convey recognition of talent, or of adherence to progressive agendas of diversity, equity, and inclusion? Does a Pulitzer Prize, a Ford Foundation grant, or a MacArthur award denote talent and achievement or more often promote diversity, equity, and inclusion narratives?
Consequences of Failing Up
Where does woke Sovietization end once accountability vanishes and ideology masks incompetence and malfeasance?
We are starting to see the final denouement with missing baby formula, epidemics of shootings and hate crimes, train-robbings reminiscent of the Wild West in Los Angeles, Tombstonesque shoot-up Saturday nights in Chicago, spiking electricity rates and brownouts, $7 a gallon diesel fuel, unaffordable and scarce meat, and entire industries from air travel to home construction that simply no longer work.
Everyone knows that the status of our homeless population in Los Angeles or San Francisco is medieval, dangerous, and unhealthy. And everyone knows that any serious attempt to remedy the situation would cause one to be labeled an apostate, counterrevolutionary, and enemy of the people. So, like good Eastern Europeans of the Warsaw Pact in the 1960s, we mutter one thing under our breath, and nod another publicly.
Behind all our disasters there looms an ideology, a creed that ignores cause and effect in the real world—without a shred of concern for the damage done to those outside the nomenklatura.
31 thoughts on “The Sovietization of American Life”
As true today as it was in 1955: as goes California, so goes the nation.
An interesting account of the Russian experiment can be found at: “Suicide Of The Liberals” by Gary Saul Morson, FirstThings.com, October 2020.
This guy falls under the sway of The Conservatives, who are now the do nothing Party of America. Too intensely analytic and intellectual; he does not have a real focus point of totally capturing America’s down fall; only occasionally touching upon a truth, like other intellectuals in America, who at times, understand nothing. I would’ve expected more from a Classics professor. Hope he understands Classical Greece better than the US.
Lee Paxton’s “letter” is a perfect example of Dr. Hanson’s point of “my ideology or you’re wrong”.
Thanks for sending it.
So what then is your view of America’s downfall? What do you expect to read or hear from VDH?
Uh what’s your point don’t you want to point out specifically how he knows nothing and that you do , guess not
your arrogance reveals your ignorance but your damn good at criticism…
Only one factor is missing in your very eloquent summary: us. We have allowed this to progress relatively unchallenged, even though millions know something is very wrong, yet once again we wait for another ( uncorrupted? ) election cycle for remedy. If the much-anticipated “red wave” is allowed to take place, what will change? Nothing as long as McConnell, Mccarthy, and their ilk are the front men for the vampire-like Bush Cabal. I am a 3rd class passenger on the Titanic, and my betters have hit the iceberg and continue to party while I helplessly watch the water rise around me in my locked compartment. If hope depends on the next election, then I have none.
I agree. Our forefathers fought a war over taxation, what would they think about what’s happening now?
People are waiting for God and/or the election and neither is going to help.
Wes, you pretty much have nailed it with your Titanic analogy. I am 3rd class in steerage, right next to the hot and noisy engine room. But I have this feeling everything is about to get cold, wet, and quiet.
Here’s my take. It started by the swamp and the globalists doing everything they could to defeat DJT
A small minority of motivated, disciplined Marxists made a small ideological change, replaced class war with race war and here we are.
Recall how few in number Lenin possessed in 1917 but seeing the objective realities present a revolutionary moment they acted, created chaos, terror and ended up in control of the state. The parallels to the start of the Russian Revolution are ominous
The Democrat leadership ( Chuck, Nancy , BHO & HRC) had no higher purpose than to defeat Trump. In so doing they let the genie out of the bottle.
I remain optimistic that the greatest country ever to exist will find its footing and consign the last couple of years to the dustbin of history.
Do you really think it started with DJT? They’ve been taking steps to put this in place for decades. I remember little things from the 60s and then there were things like the Weather Underground in the 70s, and their leader was involved with Obama from the beginning.
The universities hired people like Angela Davis and other activists that had been on the FBI’s most wanted lists. Obama and Hillary were both fans of Saul Alinsky, but not to worry, communism was no longer a threat.
There’s so much that was going on while people were busy with their lives, feeling secure that our government was taking care of us. What they were doing was getting wealthy and controlling the population with guilt over climate change and fake racism.
I’ve been seeing signs all these years, but I didn’t know if it was communism or the “conspiracy theory” about a New World Order.
The corrupt judges are what scare me the most.
The soviets played a long game and we are the victims of the unexploded cultural ordinance left by the Cold War.
The ‘awake’ among us have recognized for some time now America was being hollowed out from inside by insidious rot, Cultural Marxism.
If you remain oblivious to what Cultural Marxism is, and how by design it was incubated and unleashed on our ‘American Experiment,’ the video that follows summarizes sufficiently.
Sovietization only continues in the absence of a free press. Thus the push to set up a Department of Mis-Information to be sure the proles only know what the State wants them to.
Considering the state of our Media, I wonder why they think they had to work so hard…
2 Chronicles 20:12 NASBS
O our God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”
A perfect summary of today’s America. If only the masses could grasp these facts,
will it take a civil war? or will a complete political victory in November for Republicans/Conservative save us from the Sovietization of America.
RIGHT ON, VICTOR–AND BY THE WAY IF THE LEVEL OF SCHOLARSHIP IN THIS PIECE IS ANY INDICATION, THEN NO WORRIES: YOU’VE DEFINITELY DEFEATED YOUR LONG COVID!
November may help.
Really? Where are our Republican Saviors? Why haven’t they filed a thousand lawsuits against the marxist hack that occupies the white house? Why haven’t they been encouraging their constituents to paralyze DCs phone and email structures?
I’ll tell you why, “republicans” and american marxists have the same goals, the destruction of this country.
The opposite of authoritarian communism isn’t democracy and free markets, it’sis Fascism. They are two sides of the same coin.
In both, the government tries to control of people and the economy for the “good of the state”. Nazi Germany had a four-year plan, the USSR had a 5 year plan.
The U.S. is beginning to look like interwar Germany. Both sides are fighting to push ideology-based one party state at the state which is already taken shape at the state level.
And the real America that was based liberty tempered with some just and practical laws for its citizens (corporate and individual) is like Poland stuck between both.
New York, California, Oregon, Washington, others are essentially one party States, the Democrats. Texas, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, and others are also one party states.
Elections in these are now decided by the primaries and caucuses since the most extremes of both parties turnout for them producing extreme candidates are coming up in both sides.
Liz Cheney(R) may loose her seat in a primary because she bucked the MAGA ideology. Kurt Schrader (D) was a moderate who pushed back on some of President Biden’s agenda and dared to find compromise with the other side.
The Blade of Perseus will not work here. He only faced a one head monster. A face a two headed one like, Orthrus. Both heads have cut off. And can do Mythology metaphors all day too.
I assume you are from Poland, and if so congratulations on your attempted grasp of written English, it is not an easy thing to master. I would only argue that there is, in fact, no extreme position or candidate on the “right” in the US. Public policy and the general template of American society has moved further and further left, with the “center” of today being the “leftist” of 2 decades ago. Liz Cheney, unless by means of graft, is not only in danger of losing, she is doomed and irrelevant to all but the manipulative press. She is representative of a failed and phony “right” that is headed for extinction. In America we are soaked, brined, and marinated in the left. There is no escape, nor is there some opposition “right” that combats them in any fashion, much less an “extreme” one. That is the fantastical production of globalist corporate political interests.
Correct. We like to think there is a Constitutional balance brought from the right, but a day of success is a gently-applied brake to our leftward careening republic. Never a full-stop, and never in the other direction.
The battle between the left and right has long passed the century mark. The establishment faction in Western countries represents the right and left wing movements have always been minorities opposing establishment power. Black Americans consistently vote Democrat, with irony as Democrat party policies keep Black people living in poverty and dependent on government. Many Black Americans still hold a grudge against the traditional American majority. Jewish Americans similarly resent the past domination of culture, law and justice by the power structure that primarily represented Christian White Americans. Jewish Americans dominate today’s Democrat party. They enlist the support of Black Americans in their shared desire for vengeance and to seize power. Academia and the media are now dominated by the left. These two institutions persuade or manipulate masses of people who behave like sheep. They do what they are told on the basis of being told what they believe. Jewish lawyers are prominent in the DNC and in the party. The Clinton campaign’s dirty tricks were all run by them, though, of course not exclusively. Thus White Americans are finding out that our justice system is great in theory, but can be hijacked in practice. We are being punished now solely for being White. It is the essence of racism to hate people simply for being White (or male) but the desire for vengeance and retribution from both minority groups is strong. Women are central to the fray.
I agree with VDH’s writings but he is always lacking the critical aspect of the fight – we are in a spiritual battle. That’s is the reason we are attacked on every flank. This isn’t a new fight but one where we must be continually vigilant. I suggest to those who want to be involved in the conversation with students to enroll in the sociology and civic classes in their local community colleges and universities. The professors can only give us a failing grade. Bring it on!
Remember, in this fight the MSM doesn’t publicize our efforts. We are not alone.
Keep up the great work, VDH, and have coffee with my friend, John Stonestreet, at the Colson Center.
Not Jonathan Katz at Princeton … *Joshua* Katz.
Ironically VDH’s pronouncements in recent months and years remind me of thinking of the worst Soviet of them all, Stalin. Lost in his own world of imaginings and paranoia. VDH has an ongoing obsession with an insane narrative largely detached from reality, and he cherry picks facts to support it.
You want to know the root cause of some of America’s greatest problems? Capitalism. Any quick researches demonstrate as capitalism evolves, it’s host society fragments and deteriorates as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And if there’s any political party that champions capitalism, it’s Republicans, certainly not the Progressive wing of the Democrats.
Here’s an actually balanced analysis of some of what ails America:
Modern woke “progressives” are even worse. At least the Soviets largely valued industrialization and economic growth. The modern Left is for degrowth and deindustrialization in the name of “saving the planet”. They are deliberately returning us to the dark ages.
Brilliant, comprehensive, a wide ranging exposition that is factually sound, with pure truth as it’s underpinning. voting this November will stop the capricious, nihilistic immoral behavior that is draining our country . That is the pure beauty of our system, AND voting has never failed. God Bless our Magnificent United States Of America.
You make so much sense, I just hope that it is not too late. I understand that one election won’t do it no matter who wins. Thank you for helping me understand that much of what I have been thinking is not all wrong!!