POST-RIOT LIFE in our town is divided into the factions that a historian predicted more than 70 years ago, and we will be lucky to survive when they finally clash.
Granted, nobody reads Arnold Toynbee any more. He is a bit thick, as British scholars tend to be, but his 10-volume magisterial study of the rise and fall of more than 60 civilizations put him on the cover of Time Magazine.
In short, he knows stuff. Here are some of Toynbee’s observations that you may recognize in your community:
- A “dominant minority,” a smart set that today might be made up of the heads of the interstate corporations, hospitals and other institutions, charities, the local media, political parties and government agencies. Toynbee says they follow an earlier “creative minority,” the men and women responsible for dynamic growth.
- The trouble comes when this dominant minority is faced with new challenges that do not yield to old techniques — problems that cannot be solved by mimic, posture or title.
- Next, the yardsticks by which the community once measured approved behavior are abandoned. Anything goes — public obscenity, promiscuity, desecration of monuments, kneeling during the national anthem, facial tattoos, body piercing, etc., (I am using contemporary examples here).
- Then the dominant minority attempts to placate or even emulate a threatening underclass rather than set an example for it. The urbane Dick Lugar, for example, would don flannel shirts and rural attire as his election cycle came around.
- Finally comes a “lapse into truancy,” meaning a rejection of the obligations of citizenship, including (my examples again) lax law enforcement, prolific public spending, malfeasance, cronyism, politicized prosecution and the degeneration of individual rights, particularly property and speech, all marking the beginning of an observable decline.
In my town, radical chic now prevails at the better dinner parties. That means nobody calls any kind of dress “cheap” or “sleazy.” Indeed, only the most politically select kinds of behavior prompt any disapproval whatsoever. The sociologist Charles Murray, writing on Toynbee, called this “ecumenical niceness,” its chief tenet being an unwillingness to judge the proletariat, even in its laggard or criminal elements.
The nominally Republican city council is hyper-sensitive to the policy prescriptions of a social-justice bloc. The bloc recently pushed through a law requiring police to wear body cameras even though the department already had plans for that and there were no credible reports of police brutality.
Posture, you see, is everything. The GOP county chairman last month endorsed a virtual Democrat (she donated to the Bernie Sanders campaign) — an attempt, one supposes, at an ecumenically nicety.
It could be predicted from all of this that the smart set would circulate a Politico article dissing the celebration of their town’s namesake, Gen. Anthony Wayne. A casual reading gives the impression that the celebration was the provincial ritual of white Midwestern rubes, if not racists.
The article followed the lead of the New York Times “1619 Project,” leaning heavily on journalistic group think and only lightly on historic analysis. The point seemed to be that the writer, although growing up in Indiana, was in tune with a cosmopolitan zeitgeist while the poor devils stuck back home were hopelessly out of touch and in need of instruction.
The uninstructed, of course, would be the workaday citizens and families who take dumb pride in their town and its history. But they will be the ones — not the dominant minority, not the criminal proles and not a big-shot writer for Politico — who will decide the next civic election. It is they who have the power to bring this rolling wokeness to a halt and replace a failed dominant minority with a creative one.
Will they? None in the ruling class seems worried about that prospect. Their public stance continues to conform to Toynbee’s tragic model. And if there is a silent majority here it is not letting a pin drop.
But Murray adds that if America’s elites are being proletarianized and our civilization is in fact in decline, the proof will be found in those things that are no longer taken for granted.
Well, precious few things remain that can be taken for granted. And on top of it all is Toynbee’s warning that disintegrating civilizations can always be recognized by their “riven culture.”
In our town, riving is all around us. We can only hope that the electorate has had enough of it.
— Craig Ladwig