Creativity in our approach to political debate is often lacking on the right. That’s why when I learned of this book’s Screwtape Letters approach to political battle I was eager to read it. The book is a series of letters to Ramon Purefoy, a candidate for political office from his nameless mentor, each letter a reaction to Purefoy’s questions and obvious political naiveté. No kid gloves are used by this mentor.
I had a variety of reactions as I read through the book. But before I get to those I’ll share some of the flavor of the advice Purefoy is getting:
Your last letter reveals that I must go back to the pre-prolegomena for you. No, the only thing that matters is how well you can persuaded voters that their government is prepared to give them everything the government has until it cannot give anymore. Even then, you must persuade the people that the government is still prepared to give. We as politicians need not lead, but simply follow the wishes of the people in order to lead. By so doing, we convey to our voters that there are onerous objects between themselves and their desires, mammoth obstacles, and only the work of government can remove them. Without telling them so directly, convey to them that without us, they can do nothing.
What I mean is simply that you let people know how little they are in charge of their lives. In other words, there are huge malevolent forces conniving every waking moment to oppress them.
Yes, our whole program lives off of promoting fear—get used to it, and better yet, like it. And better still: manufacture a few new types to use. It works this way. No matter how good anything and everything is going for anybody and everybody, go and find someone—the complaint press is always good for this—who has lack.
Yes, I’m afraid it is more or less true what you say. Our contempt for the masses of American is evident, but we disguise it behind profundities that send the masses ranting about our brilliance instead of our contempt.
Of course we need the hated ones, for they provide our money. We treat them like we treat cigarettes; we hate them in public, and count the taxes they generate for us in the back room like children swooned on Christmas morning.
One thing I especially appreciated was how Mr. Randolph weaved in the power of the cultural influence professions, i.e. Hollywood and entertainment, education and the media and journalism, throughout the advice Purefoy’s mentor gave him. You cannot isolate the power that government wields from the culture that gives it such power.
But alas, we live in a country where a certain portion of the political class believes much if not all of the advice Purefoy is getting. The recent healthcare debate and subsequent law that was passed is testament to that. And I know there is also a certain portion of the politically engaged right that embraces their inner cynicism, believing that America is inexorably on the path of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. I don’t know if Mr. Randolph is one of those, but I would guess he leans that way.
Being a Christian of the Calvinist persuasion you would think I who believe in the Total Depravity (the first of the five points) of the human race would be equally pessimistic about the chances of the American people to embrace self-reliance and personal responsibility, but I am not. There is something in the DNA of the American character, built on the foundation of discontented Europeans who fled the religious persecution of the Old World, which distrusts an all embracing, all powerful, all knowing government. Sure most Americans like their Social Security (mainly because they don’t have a choice and have “invested” in it their whole lives) and Medicare (ditto), but that hardly is an argument, contra the left’s contention, that they embrace European statism.
As I read each letter I became more and more weighted down with the perverted cynicism displayed by Purefoy’s utterly Machiavellian mentor. Mr. Randolph’s objective seems to be to take the Left’s “will to power” to its logical conclusion. One would hope that nobody in our blessed Republic could be so consistently manipulative and ingenuous, but what we’ve seen this last year or so doesn’t give me much confidence.