Political myths bury their undertakers. At the turn of this century, archaic modes of political thought had supposedly been laid to rest forever. The men of the Progressive movement thought of themselves as children of the Enlightenment, armed with instrumentalism and the scientific method, fated to conquer ignorance, break the tyranny of vested interests and usher in the shining future. Now that Progressivism has run its course and reached its time of troubles, it is no wonder that the specter of the counter-Enlightenment should return to haunt it, and that the ghosts of Burke, Maistre and company should be conjured up to mock it. In response, embattled liberals exhume their own departed heroes, and the air is filled with the noise of shades locked in combat, the wail of ghostly polemics, the rattle of old bones.
Among the images dredged up from the counter-Enlightenment is the picture of the body politic as a chaotic mass—”the swinish multitude,” as Burke called it—seething with appetite. Today, this image of the massesas-barbarians is a negative vision, formed in reaction to the Progressive vision of an emancipated and omnipotent People marching inexorably Forward. The involution of this image, made po...
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