“When there is a crumbling of major certainties, the unifying principles evaporate and the most absurd things become possible.”
In the scramble to make sense out of the present election cycle, analysts have come up with all sorts of theories. One popular explanation claims that people are hardening in their positions. On the left and the right, all parties are holding rigidly to their agendas, forcing their will upon the rest of the nation making it difficult to get things done.
Thus, people claim the only solution is to smash through all the rigid agendas and just do whatever it takes to get things done, even if it offends traditional orthodoxies. No option is off the table — not even socialism.
Some interpret these hardball tactics as the divisive and inflexible product of the nation’s polarization. Ironically, it actually represents a crumbling of certainties.
One of the certainties at risk is the American consensus that has long been in place by which people generally agreed to follow some rules to pursue happiness around a general prosperity. It is a very practical model and is responsible for the American way of life.
Americans still value this consensus; it is far from over. Significant portions of the electorate still want this model to continue.
However, this American model that promises prosperity and unlimited progress is no longer working as it used to. People simply aren’t following the rules any more. This has created major pockets of discontent that can no longer be expressed by traditional political means. It has given rise to diverse opinions ranging from radicals on the left that question America’s economic system, to anarcho-libertarian elements who see no role at all for government. Above all, Americans from all walks of life sense a spiritual void amid the abundance of the nation’s glutted markets.
From this discontent comes the crumbling of certainties. Doubts abound concerning an American Dream that is in trouble. People are questioning old assumptions. They are experiencing suffering and failure which forces them to either harbor all sorts of recriminations and resentments or to ponder and reflect upon the more important things of life.
That is why the present election cycle is so chaotic. When there is a crumbling of major certainties, the unifying principles evaporate and the most absurd things become possible. The imagination is loosened, and everyone creates their own realities based on their anxieties. Without certainties, there is no need for institutions, processes, or civility. Rather, spectacle and image reign. All this adds chaos, making the present election cycle more difficult and confusing. It is not so much a polarization of society that is taking place but rather a shattering into a thousand poles.
The worst part of this whole scenario is that the very tools needed to correct the situation are sadly missing. This crumbling of certainties is only made possible by the fact that the foundations of society are rotting. Leadership is lacking, honor has gone missing, and godliness is waning. One can no longer build upon religious sentiments because they have become only that — vague sentiments — not firm convictions.
For example, standards of moral outrage have decayed to such a point that the shocking revelations found in the Planned Parenthood videos have failed to ignite a firestorm of indignation in the nation’s majority. Consequently, the notorious abortion provider still enjoys the support and praise of many candidates who do everything possible to keep it running.
Finally, there is the crumbling of that highest “certainty” undergirding the present world order -- the “almighty dollar.” Looming on the horizons are major challenges to this great anchor and, should the mooring fail, the whole world will be set adrift.
And so the nation faces an election in which the likely outcomes promise to multiply uncertainty and further shatter America’s unity.
Is there a solution to this mess? The only way to combat a crumbling certainty is to have recourse to a higher certainty that will bring about a return to order. But this return to order will only come when society faces a rude awakening and the debate is turned back to the moral issues that lead to the Certainty of all certainties — so sidelined in the present debate. That certainty is God, for Whom all things are possible.
John Horvat II is the author of The Return to Order. A syndicated columnist and economist, he is also vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property.