Thomas Main: Tracing The Rise of Illiberalism

I’ve been reading Thomas Main’s book The Rise of Illiberalism.

While I have never written anything here before about feminist standpoint theory, I am familiar with Nietzschean perspectivism. Virtually everything that Thomas Main says in this podcast reflects his perspective or standpoint as an establishment liberal who is an academic who lives on a coast in New York City who takes the way things were in the late 20th century as normative.

Where to start?

1. Thomas Main lazily conflates “liberal democracy” with the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. As I have repeatedly pointed out, the Founders saw themselves as republicans who were establishing a federal republic, not a “liberal democracy,” which is a term that only became associated with the United States following the rise of modern liberalism in the 1920s.

2. Thomas Main ignores the parts of the Declaration of Independence which do not fit his preferred narrative like where King George III is condemned for inciting slave rebellions and frontier wars with the Indians. Main wants to have it both ways. He wants to argue that “white supremacy” is illiberal and anti-democratic, but it was a race realist and a white supremacist who wrote the Declaration of Independence. American naturalization law was based on whiteness until the 1950s.

3. The natural rights that are specifically referenced in the Declaration of Independence are the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Slavery is a moot issue in the 21st century. Insofar as any of these natural rights are still being contested today, it is largely over abortion.

4. Thomas Main lazily conflates the natural rights of the Declaration of Independence with “political egalitarianism.” He collapses the distinction between civil equality, political equality and social equality. The Founders did not consider voting rights to be natural rights. The Declaration of Independence is about natural rights or civil rights which cannot be abridged by the government without due process.

5. Obviously, the United States was not founded as a “liberal democracy,” as American citizenship was based on state citizenship until the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Fourteenth Amendment. Federalism has nothing to do with liberalism. Originally, the sovereign states had the power to determine who was and wasn’t a citizen and who had voting rights and who didn’t as well as the power to regulate all kinds of things within their borders. The Bill of Rights restricted the power of the federal government, not the state governments. There was no centralized power that guaranteed “equal protection of the laws” until the Reconstruction era. We didn’t live under a consolidated liberal regime until that time.

6. Thomas Main misreads the Declaration of Independence which is about rejecting a monarchy in favor of establishing a republican form of government based on a few natural rights. He has a major problem with the Constitution. He wants to get rid of the filibuster, the Senate and the Electoral College and pack the Supreme Court. It turns out the Constitution is incompatible with “liberal democracy” which can be defined as the idea that people like himself who live in large metro areas on the coasts don’t have nearly enough political power in this country. Oddly enough, he strangely ignores Thomas Jefferson’s views on that subject who saw these big cities as cancers on the Republic which ought to be discouraged.

7. Later in the interview, Thomas Main makes it clear that he doesn’t believe in free speech or pluralism when he calls for censorship to arrest the decline of the American knowledge regime in the digital era. Once again, it is quite clear that the only thing he truly believes in is preserving and aggrandizing the power of his social class which is now in terminal decline thanks to the internet. Ordinary people need to be told what to believe by “intellectuals” who act as intermediaries with “experts.” Strangely, the PMCs who identify so strongly with “liberal democracy” are precisely the people who are most distrustful of ordinary people building their own platforms and having conversations and making up their own minds without the hierarchical oversight of gatekeepers who protect the political establishment.

8. In a bizarre twist, it is now the “illiberals” who support free speech and open debate and whose tactics are mockery, irony, satire, etc. It is the “illiberals” who traffic in persuading their target audience with compelling arguments and trusting ordinary people to make up their own minds and who are comfortable with differences of opinion and who don’t like to be micromanaged. In contrast, it is the “liberals” who punish any deviance from orthodoxy and who clamor for censorship of “misinformation” and who invoke their credentialed authority while condemning “authoritarianism.”

9. The “illiberal rhetorical style” that Thomas Main complains about was the norm throughout the 19th century. Ever hear of The Democracy as it was called back in those days? Oh, and … remember the greatest populist uprising in European history? The Reformation?

10. Fundamentally, virtually everything that Thomas Main complains about and which he attributes to the “illiberal Right” whether it is conspiracy theories or hyper partisanship or “authoritarian” views on race, sex and gender or culture wars or the partisan press or populism or white supremacy or a dislike of cosmopolitanism … EVERY SINGLE BIT OF IT is inarguably native to this country and has been present since the beginning and especially in that dark place that exists beyond the Hudson River.

11. The funniest part of Thomas Main’s book is when he tries to argue that identity politics and LGBTQ2IA identity is legitimate because it is consistent with “liberal democracy,” but White identity and identitarianism is illegitimate because it is inconsistent with “liberal democracy.” Once again, you can only imagine someone who has Thomas Main’s standpoint of a late 20th century New York-based liberal academic making this argument as it flies in the face of American history and cultural geography.

Just by reading this book and listening to these interviews, you can get a clear understanding of where populism comes from and why it is winning too. It is a beautiful illustration of how utterly out of touch liberal intellectuals have become, how distant they have become from large swathes of the country, how blind they are and estranged from American history, how unfamiliar they are with its culture and how dismissive they are of the rights and viewpoints of their fellow citizens. In “our democracy,” we don’t have to listen to those people who have “no place in America.” And yet, it turns out our system doesn’t work that way and it is like it has been frustratingly conceived to thwart the ambitions of our entitled New York-based overlords who are losing their birthright circa the 1920s to control the national conversation and set the boundaries of the “mainstream” and exclude voices which reject their values.

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Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Occidental Dissent

4 Comments

  1. I’m pretty confident there’s nothing about this WWF style feud with Thomas Main thats meaningful.

    Let me know when you’re about to jump off the top rope and pin him. Everything up to that point is just foreplay.

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