Totalitarianism, American Style

Editor’s Note: “If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.” With these words, Abraham Lincoln laid the foundation for his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1858.

Today, we need the same clarity that Lincoln was calling for. If patriotic Americans are to chart a course forward, they must understand the challenges they and their country face.  To this end, Glenn Ellmers and Ted Richards ask: Are we in a war? If so, who is our enemy? What does that enemy want? How is it going about getting it?

Many conservatives, say Ellmers and Richards, underestimate the threat, and so denounce the radical, counter-revolutionary calls to action of their more concerned countrymen. The woke regime is an emerging totalitarianism, the authors argue—both in the traditional sense, and in ways unique to America in the 21st century. If we are to win this war, we first must understand that we are in a war.

Tom Klingenstein frequently, and correctly, points out that the first step in winning a war is to acknowledge that you are in one. Similarly, one might say that the first step in resisting encroaching tyranny is to understand what it looks like. 

If the American experiment in self-government is unprecedented (as the founders, as well as Lincoln, believed) then its transformation into something unjust and oppressive would also be unprecedented. To notice the signs of America’s descent into illiberalism—assuming such a thing can be contemplated—it would not be sufficient merely to examine the historical record of how totalitarianism emerged in Europe and Asia. Gabriel Schoenfeld commits this very error, and disparages the legitimate concerns of millions of citizens, in a long essay for Lawfare titled “Is the United States Totalitarian?” 

Schoenfeld’s article was published in May of 2022, but is still relevant because it simply lays out in more detail the same general arguments made more recently by others, including Damon Linker’s New York Times op-ed assailing virtually anyone to his right, and Matthew Continetti’s fulmination over the new right.

Schoenfeld, Linker, and Continetti dismiss the warning signs invoked by writers such as Patrick Deneen, Yoram Hazony, and Adrian Vermeule, along with similar arguments made by several scholars associated with the Claremont Institute. These leftwing defenders of the current regime, who insist that everything is normal, are convinced (without ever quite justifying their conviction) that if tyranny were to come to America it would do so in the “usual” way, following the established patterns of previous despotisms. We will focus largely on Schoenfeld’s essay because it clarifies many points that are simply assumed by Linker, Continetti, and others.

Soft Despotism 

Before meeting Schoenfeld’s argument on its own terms, a few words should be said on the logical sophistry he employs in dismissing his opposition. Schoenfeld relies on a set of criteria developed in 1956 by political scientists Zbigniew Brzezinski and Carl Friedrich. To classify a totalitarian regime, they identified six characteristics: “an all-encompassing ideology, a single party, a terroristic police, a communications monopoly, a weapons monopoly, and a centrally directed economy.” In Schoenfeld’s reassuring estimation, not “a single one of them obtains in the United States” today. 

There is no over-arching ideology to which it is mandatory to adhere. No single party dominates with an autocrat at its head. There is no government monopoly on communications or force. No secret police is hounding dissidents. No central economic planning is in place.

Since these indicators do not describe the current state of America, Schoenfeld concludes that a “segment of the right is infected with arrant nonsense,” and that “supposedly serious thinkers” have been “engaged in a travesty, slandering the United States while simultaneously trivializing the extraordinarily brutal history of 20th century totalitarianism.” 

Schoenfeld proceeds, on the basis of this very shaky foundation, to mock the arguments of numerous commentators on the Right who are alarmed by the disintegration of American constitutionalism. First, he reiterates that there can’t be any totalitarianism in America because it does not meet the criteria of the 1956 political science study he has adopted as his undisputed authority. Next, he critiques conservative writers who seek to alter the definition of totalitarianism with the modifier “soft.” Impossible, he declares! For “soft totalitarianism,” is nothing but “a mere oxymoron, a nonsense phrase akin to ‘gentle terror,’ that serves as a rhetorical grenade to toss in the culture war.” Finally, he descends to picayune perseveration, complaining that Rod Dreher once said it is “possible to miss the onslaught of totalitarianism.” Onslaught, however, according to the dictionary is “a very violent or forceful attack,” and one is unlikely to miss something so assertive as this! The right wing alarmists, Schoenfeld gleefully concludes, are attacking such nonsensical ideas as married bachelors and jumbo shrimp: logically impossible oxymorons.

Damon Linker, supporting Schoenfeld’s same point in different terms positively declares that the “intellectual catastrophists” (as he calls those with whom he disagrees) are “wrong to suggest the country is ruled by a progressive tyranny, and we can know this because people on the right increasingly say such things while facing no legal consequences at all.” Leaving aside the obvious falseness of this claim (which we address in a moment), this logic suggests that as long as dissidents are not arrested on the spot for expressing their opinions, there is nothing to complain about. 

Refuting such bewilderment over the concept of soft totalitarianism does not take much effort. Let us look at only two prominent examples: Alexis de Tocqueville and C.S. Lewis. 

In perhaps the most famous passage of his renowned book Democracy in America, Tocqueville anticipated a future of despotism under the democratic conditions he observed developing in America. The unique nature of American democracy, however, made him hedge in his description. He could not name it, for “the old words despotism and tyranny are not suitable.” He sought to define it, but it is something never before seen, like America itself. Historical precedent would be extremely imperfect in describing America’s degradation into despotism “the kind of oppression with which democratic peoples are threatened will resemble nothing that has preceded it in the world.”  

Why did Tocqueville have such trouble capturing the phenomenon he dimly perceived?

America the Singular

America set the precedent for all nations that came after. She was established by “reflection and choice,” on republican principles, with a parchment constitution providing a detailed sketch of her new institutions. Nothing like this experiment had ever been attempted before. Furthermore, America was born through a federal compact of several states, closer in character to European countries than to provinces within a single nation, due to their unique cultures, economies, and populations. Unlike most nations—which still often find American federalism bewildering—those states still play a vital role in the unique dynamics of American politics. Both in the founding and today, America is distinctive.

Beyond this, the very idea of a group of the best men coming together to deliberate over, vote on, and write a document officially constituting a new nation, then this same document being presented to the public for further deliberation, emendation, and vote before its adoption, represented a Novus Ordo Seclorum—a new order of the ages. 

To Tocqueville’s credit, he grasped the necessity of a shift in perspective: “a new political science is needed for a world altogether new.” For the same reason that the founders’ accomplishments had to be appreciated as something new, so the threat to those accomplishments would be new. If despotism were to come to the United States, Tocqueville predicted, it would appear in a democratic guise. This soft tyranny, the signs of which he could already see, 

does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces action, but it constantly opposes your acting; it does not destroy, it prevents birth; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, it represses, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies, and finally it reduces each nation to being nothing more than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

Tocqueville’s argument that democratic tyranny “would be more extensive and milder, and it would degrade men without tormenting them” was uncannily prescient, but it is not the whole truth. The impositions of our left wing ruling class certainly have a hard edge as well. (We return to this point below). In any event, Schoenfeld is an educated man, and should be embarrassed by pretending to be unfamiliar with Tocqueville’s famous analysis. The concept of soft despotism he dismisses so flippantly has been in wide use for a long time—certainly long before 1956. 

The idea was obviously familiar to C.S. Lewis, who expressed it in a now shop-worn quote from his essay “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” first published in 1949. You have probably seen it in a book, on Twitter, a Facebook page, or even a t-shirt. Lewis observed: 

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

Lewis envisions a tyrant who conquers with a smile and a 10-point plan for improving public welfare rather than a machine gun and threats of torture or imprisonment. The prevalence of this phenomenon, which James Poulos has cleverly called The Pink Police, is obvious to anyone with eyes to see.

Not Even Wrong

Schoenfeld’s general approach, then, is variation of what logicians call the ignorance fallacy. It is an error which holds that “the absence of evidence is evidence of absence.” Because he sees none of the traditional signs of tyranny, as outlined by two political scientists 70 years ago, Schoenfeld’s fallacious reasoning concludes that all forms of despotism must be absent. This is a wonderful example of the kind of blinkered, unimaginative thinking characteristic of establishment intellectuals. 

Yet even on his own terms, one can reasonably dispute Schoenfeld’s conclusion that none of the identified elements in his definition of totalitarianism are present in the United States to any degree.

Let’s take his criteria one at a time: 

  1. A mandatory ideology

This is perhaps the most ludicrous of Schoenfeld’s supposedly unmet conditions. The almost daily instances of “cancel culture,” and the spiteful denunciations encouraged by online anonymity, alone answer this claim. A person can lose a job quite easily for uttering the wrong things, which naturally leads people to hide what they believe. Isn’t that the textbook definition of a mandatory ideology? Half of today’s college students report that they do not share all their political beliefs in the classroom for fear of backlash. Whether it be about mouthing the official line on LGBT issues, or, more recently, registering one’s support for one or the other side of a foreign conflict (Russian/Ukraine or Israel/Palestine, take your pick), the result of questioning the regime’s pieties can be devastating to one’s career, or even personal safety. Sometimes the effects are more direct, as in cases where dissident voices have been denied access to necessary legal and financial resources. Consider, as simply one small example among many, the intimidating compulsion many businesses feel to fly pride flags or the flags of foreign nations, to display the “Black Lives Matter” logo, or to otherwise express public obedience to the prevailing political culture. 

Much of America’s mandatory ideology comes from what might be termed the “group quota regime.” As the name implies, the regime primarily exists to pursue the unachievable goal of complete social equality. Affirmative action of various forms provides the most prominent and well-understood example of how the regime works. Since equality of conditions (a Tocquevillian term) does not arise naturally, the group quota regime contorts reality to its will. Employment and education, two distinctly meritocratic systems in America historically, are corrupted by attempts to bring about various sorts of equity by fiat, with predictable results. Prominent concerns have been raised about attempts to do so in fields like aviation, a profession that is and should remain purely and unabashedly meritocratic for the sake of the safety of the lives of thousands of Americans.

In order for the group quota regime to thrive it must prove America “systemically racist,” and reeducate its citizens concomitant with such conditions. Those who will not conform are punished in various direct and indirect ways, including those listed above. Affirmative action, reeducation, and punishment of dissidents prove insufficient for the group quota regime’s ultimate purpose of fundamentally changing America’s population, it therefore imports thousands of illegal immigrants to help things along demographically. The group quota regime is mandatory because, whether anyone likes it or not, its influence is everywhere. Nonparticipation is not an option.

  1. Single party with autocratic leader

Years ago, perceptive commentators such as Angelo Codevilla were already referring to the ruling class as “the uniparty” The name itself tolerably defines what many can easily see: on most of the important things the two major parties in the US have come to agree. Leadership shifting from one party to another has become a change of aesthetics and emphasis, not of fundamental aims. This appears both explicitly and implicitly. For example, support for Ukraine has been largely a bi-partisan issue within the Congress. Furthermore, with regard to the ongoing sexual revolution, Democrats and Republicans now essentially agree. Following this same line, Republicans might outwardly oppose the latest and most extreme new demands for unrestrained subjective “values”, i.e. drag queen story hour, “gender affirming care” for minors, etc. However, their approach to such matters nationally has historically tended toward rhetorical resistance through speeches, withheld votes, and public declamations from various media outlets. What this equates to, however, is not a halt in the movement of such measures, but rather an impotent display without any intention of action in support of the words. 

The real ruling “party” in the United States (obscured by the superficial distinction between Republicans or Democrats) is the political and cultural ruling class in Washington DC, Hollywood, Wall Street, media, foundations, security apparatus etc.—which imposes its ideological preferences not just through the power of persuasion and public opinion (as outlined in Item 1 above), but formally and forcefully through its control of all the major institutions of power. The so-called “summer of love” riots of 2020 demonstrate how destructive these forces can be when they come together with a shared, extra-legal goal. 

As for an autocratic leader, well, sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words:

A person standing at a podium with a microphone and a microphone

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When he is cogent, Joe Biden has consistently revealed himself to be a vindictive and unprincipled hyperpartisan, without the charm of Barack Obama or the political skills (and willingness to compromise) of Bill Clinton. 

  1. Government monopoly on communications 

The major social media platforms (with the notable, and recent, exception of Elon Musk’s X) all work hand in glove with the United States government, to the extent that they willingly quash harmful stories around election time such as the Hunter Biden laptop fiasco, disallow certain kinds of “questioning” of the 2020 election results or disapproved perspectives such as anti-vaccine sentiment, and ban indefinitely the presence of individuals whose speech they deem harmful. None of these media giants are “owned” by the government, yet these private organizations have the indelible fingerprints of our despotic regime all over them. This doesn’t even address the well-known bias of the traditional mass-media. All these organizations work in close collusion, if not (as in the case of MSNBC and Fox) under identical ownership. Consider too the strange phenomenon of local news parroting identical language around the country. In most of the larger organizations the presence of independent thought that goes against party perspective is eventually suppressed altogether, as in the case of the dual firings of Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon. Our government’s interaction with the press (and vice versa) both directly and indirectly makes the guarantees in the first amendment seem quaint and unreliable. 

  1. Government monopoly on force

A report published in May of 2023, as discussed in Reason magazine, revealed that 

103 federal agencies not contained within the Department of Defense (DOD) have collectively “spent $3.7 billion on guns, ammunition, and military-style equipment” (all numbers adjusted for inflation). Of those 103 agencies, 27 are “traditional law enforcement [entities] under the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).”

That leaves 76 agencies—including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—without a direct law enforcement purview. As the report put it, “There are now more federal agents with arrest and firearm authority (200,000) than U.S. Marines (186,000).”

This militarization of the executive branch agencies is certainly cause for alarm. 

Although the United States has a specific provision in the Bill of Rights for the “right to bear arms,” recently the breadth of its application has been brought into question. The Supreme Court just upheld a ban on semiautomatic weapons in the state of Illinois (read: any weapon that fires without being cocked, like most handguns). Other states, of course, have much freer gun laws, but the movement to implement greater national constraints on access to and use of guns continues. Congress considering a national “assault weapons ban,” this legislative season demonstrates the direction of things. In some states individuals can go to prison for protecting themselves or others from an attack both in and out of their homes. A government monopoly on legitimized force is well within reach. 

Joe Biden candidly expressed the ruling class attitude in April 2023 when he mocked the idea that an armed citizenry is the best defense of liberty: “You want to work against the government, you need an F-16. You need something else than just an AR-15.”

  1. Secret police hounding dissidents

The astonishing number of armed federal agents, spread across dozens of bureaucracies, have tremendous investigatory powers. Many have access to secret “FISA courts” which allow private warrants for arrest and seizure of property on flimsy “intelligence” grounds. During his campaign Donald Trump was investigated and surveilled by the FBI and DOJ at the behest of the Obama administration and with the permission of a FISA court, on the merits of the infamous “Steele Dossier,” whose claims also supported the launching of investigations into Trump’s imaginary “Russian Collusion.”  Furthermore, the politically charged nature of less specialized law enforcement proceedings has recently become quite pronounced. The prosecution of former President Donald Trump by the Department of Justice and local law enforcement in several states for seemingly inarticulable reasons is the most prominent of such cases. That the national leader of a movement against the aforementioned “uniparty” would be subject to such persecution is unsurprising. The treatment of the January 6th prisoners, however, is another thing—an alarming escalation in the persecution of dissidents (still ongoing) by the unjust enforcers of the regime orthodoxy. Recently, and to President Biden’s point about F-16’s above, one January 6th suspect was hunted down by the militarized, politicized FBI in New Jersey with SWAT and tanks. Another recent case of some prominence, even being featured on Tucker Carlson’s new show, is the recent prosecution of Douglas Mackey, the Trump supporter who was sentenced to 7 months in prison for posting an off-color joke about voting in the 2020 election online. 

These are born of the self-same group quota regime that enforces America’s mandatory ideology. They are but the punishments affixed to resistance to the regime’s efforts to change America permanently. Donald Trump suffered most publicly as they sought (and seek) to prevent his obtaining or using any power whatsoever. 

  1. Central economic planning

It’s no secret that an important part of the younger vanguard (led by their aging hero, Bernie Sanders) in the Democratic party wish to bring socialism to America. The favorability toward free enterprise and capitalism among millennials and Gen Z in both parties is falling. Democrats constantly have some new way to try to nationalize industries. Healthcare and entitlement increases under Obama, student loan forgiveness and the whole suite of “Bidenomics” policies under Biden. Lastly, during the COVID era, wealth and market transfers from small, independent businesses and individuals to giant corporate conglomerates reached astounding levels, and anyone who wanted them (even some who didn’t) were mailed thousands of dollars repeatedly in the form of “direct payments” for relief during the pandemic. Government bailouts of industries, the depletion of social security, the growth of national regulations on the economy, the list goes on. The economy has been nationalizing for years in various forms. 

Schoenfeld, it is probably fair to say, is living in a bubble, where plain facts evident to the rest of us are obscured or inverted. Thus he claims, “in whatever direction one looks, the left-wing progressive agenda is in retreat.” The facts outlined above contradict both this preposterous assertion, as well as his overall assessment of American totalitarianism.

It’s No Longer the 1950s

In addition to ignoring all the evidence outlined above, which meets his own 1956 criteria for emerging totalitarianism, Schoenfeld fails to grapple with several ominous new features of contemporary life—developments that even Tocqueville did not anticipate.

Thinkers as diverse at Martin Heidegger, Leo Strauss, Winston Churchill, and Michel Foucault noted the profound transformation of the world that unfolded in the 20th century, above all through the astonishing (and alarming) developments in technology. In his long and vigorous debates with the French Stalinist Alexandre Kojeve, the political philosopher Leo Strauss envisions the emergence of a scientific global regime ruled by a “universal tyrant.”

Thanks to the conquest of nature and to the completely unabashed substitution of suspicion and terror for law, the universal and final tyrant has at his disposal practically unlimited means for ferreting out, and for extinguishing, the most modest efforts in the direction of thought… [T]he coming of the universal homogeneous state will be the end of philosophy on earth.

There are at least three distinctly modern phenomena that characterize the totalitarianism that seems to be emerging in the 21st century, not just in the United States, but across the world. 

  1. A global elite.

The leftist attacks on “nationalism” effectively mean subordinating the interests and independence of the United States to an international order, ruled by a global elite, in which American sovereignty becomes insignificant. Those who fly to Davos in private jets for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum share common opinions and interests that far outweigh any connection they have with their fellow citizens. 

This rejection of national sovereignty is apparent in the effectively open border policy with Mexico implemented by the Biden administration. U.S. border agents have identified people from all over the world pouring into the United States at this uncontrolled entry point—including 28,000 Chinese just in the past year.

Another striking example can be seen in the way the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and other international institutions have used the COVID epidemic to enhance the authority and control of the global ruling class. As discussed in a recent issue of the Claremont Review of Books

This May, the Rockefeller Foundation announced a new multi-million-dollar partnership with the World Health Organization’s Berlin-based Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence. The funding is intended to enhance international coordination for treating climate change as a public health crisis. Even putting the most benign interpretation on this “coordination,” such efforts reveal a widening chasm between how the international ruling class and the American people understand the very idea of “public health.” 

These developments corroborate the concerns of many Americans that the leftist ruling class is not really interested protecting the natural rights of American citizens. All those not on board with the woke agenda are regarded as “deplorables”—essentially illegitimate de facto or potential “insurrectionists” who are disloyal to “our” (i.e. “their”) democracy.

This is the social or demographic aspect that would characterize a new totalitarianism. 

  1. Mass society and expert control

A year before the 1956 political science essay that Schoenfeld relies on, Martin Heidegger (a man with terrible political judgment, but a keen critic of how technology affects human life) wrote a rather more perceptive essay, “Discourse on Thinking,” in which he worried that our instantaneous access to unlimited entertainment, information, and communication was undermining the authentic human connections that develop in local communities. He called this a spiritual homelessness. “The power concealed in modern technology,” Heidegger wrote, “determines the relation of man to that which exists. It rules the whole earth.”

A few decades earlier, Winston Churchill (a man with much better political judgment) had already noticed what he called “The Mass Effects of Modern Life.” Churchill asked: “Are not our affairs increasingly being settled by mass processes? Are not modern conditions at any rate throughout the English-speaking communities hostile to the development of outstanding personalities and to their influence upon events?”

In part we are conscious of the enormous processes of collectivization which are at work among us. We have long seen the old family business, where the master was in direct personal touch with his workmen, swept out of existence or absorbed by powerful companies, which in their turn are swallowed by mammoth trusts. 

We are witnessing a great diminution in the number of independent people who had some standing of their own, albeit a small one, and who if they conducted their affairs with reasonable prudence could live by no man’s leave underneath the law. 

In the United States, this loss of individualism, and the massive increase in government control, has been called the Administrative State  A gigantic federal bureaucracy of self-appointed technical experts now oversees and regulates virtually every aspect of American life.  According to America’s first progressive president, Woodrow Wilson, the scale of modern “mass life” meant that the old constitutional restraints had become outmoded. As political scientist R.J. Pestritto explains, Wilson believed that modern government required

a professional class of experts, instead of a multiplicity of politicians with narrow, competing interests, to handle the complex business of the modern state. To the objection that entrusting administrators with such discretion might not comport with the Constitution’s distribution of power, Wilson responded that administrative principles and constitutional principles were distinct and, thus, that constitutional limitations could not easily be applied to the exercise of administrative authority. The constitutional principle of checks and balances, for example, interfered with efficiency and should not be applied to the exercise of administrative power.

This is the institutional side of the emerging totalitarianism. 

  1. Postmodernism and the truth as a “construct”

As we saw in the recent testimony of several Ivy League college presidents (as well as the plagiarism charges that hounded and led to the resignation of former Harvard president Claudine Gay) the truth in today’s academy is a slippery thing. The displays of blatant antisemitism and perverse celebration of Hamas terrorism has shocked some people, including some prominent donors, but in truth America’s elite universities have been at war with western civilization for quite some time. 

This rejection of our western cultural inheritance includes (perhaps most strangely to the average person) a rejection of the very idea of objective truth. In the words of one recent academic paper, “Only if Western science is toppled from its pedestal and understood in a cultural way can it engage with other sciences at eye level.” What does this require? 

To decolonize science thus means to undo the past and present racist and colonial hegemony of Western science over other, equally legitimate, ways of knowing.

This strange attack on objective truth is not new, and was articulated perhaps most incisively several decades ago by the French postmodern thinker Michel Foucault, who explained that truth is literally a creation of what he called the “power/knowledge” narrative or construct:

We are subjected to the production of truth through power and we cannot exercise power except through the production of truth….  Power never ceases its interrogation, its inquisition, its registration of truth: it institutionalizes, professionalizes, and rewards its pursuit. In the last analysis, we must produce truth as we must produce wealth, indeed, we must produce truth in order to produce wealth in the first place.

This may seem nonsensical to the average reader, yet it is the dominating belief of our elite universities. Worse, its influence now reaches into the oppressive ideology promoted by the entire network of establishment opinion. What started out in the academy as a fringe belief has now spread to the corporate world and even the military, in the form of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training. According to this official propaganda, systemic white hegemony, which emphasizes racist (yet arbitrary) “values”—such as due process, scientific objectivity, and the division of human beings in male and female—must be replaced, or “decolonized,” with new narratives reflecting a more politically acceptable “truth.”

Who determines the new truth? Well, as Foucault explained, power determines truth. If you’ve sometimes wondered why Leftists pursue political power so fanatically, and seem to be driven almost insane by any threats to their established authority, it is because of this belief (however deranged it might seem to some of us) that power literally shapes reality. 

This is the intellectual side of what seems to be a growing totalitarianism.


Schoenfeld, Linker, Continetti, and other defenders of the current regime insist that although things are not quite normal, there is no real threat to America’s constitutional principles or its citizens’ natural rights. The brief refutations we outline above could easily be expanded to include many examples, but they suffice to show that the danger of an emerging tyranny—combining both older and newer elements—is quite real. It is not too late to stop this growing authoritarianism, which threatens not only our political liberty, but even the freedom of the mind. That requires, however, that we honestly confront the seriousness of the situation. 

The observation made by political scientist John Marini in 2018 is still true today:

It remains to be seen if the American people understand or will come to understand themselves as political citizens of the nation-state, or as administrative subjects of a rational global order. Much depends upon whether the American people have become so dependent upon the administrative state that the overthrow of the established order is not merely difficult, but undesirable. In that case, political self-government, and individual freedom, will cease to be important elements of the American regime.

Glenn Ellmers is the Claremont Institute’s Salvatori Research Fellow in the American Founding, and the author, most recently, of The Narrow Passage: Plato, Foucault, and the Possibility of Political Philosophy (Encounter Books).

Ted Richards is a research associate at the Claremont Institute.