Unravel This!
June 29, 2004
By Terry Dyke

It's certainly no secret that the radical right was on the rise for years before it finally found its way into the White House. Those who are dismayed to watch what's happening now also tend to find it baffling: "How do they think they can get away with that - what can they possibly be thinking?"

But there is some welcome clarification to be found in Paul Krugman's new book, The Great Unraveling. It seems that we experience a disconnect when trying to view these actions simply as new tactics in a familiar political game. What's actually happening, Krugman argues, is a "political sea change," a fundamental transformation of the game itself.

Krugman shares some insight he gained from Henry Kissinger's doctoral thesis, a treatise on Europe in the aftermath of the French Revolution and Napoleon. "[T]he first three pages of Kissinger's book sent chills down my spine because they seem all too relevant to current events," Krugman writes. The book examines problems that a stable political system has when faced with a "revolutionary power," one that does not accept the legitimacy of the present system.

It soon became clear to Krugman that

one should regard America's right-wing movement - which now in effect controls the administration, both houses of Congress, much of the judiciary, and a good slice of the media - as a revolutionary power in Kissinger's sense. That is, a movement whose leaders do not accept the legitimacy of our current political system.

"The dominance of that movement," Krugman writes, "changes everything: old rules about politics and policy no longer apply." He mentions a further insight from Kissinger that "explains so well the otherwise baffling process by which the administration has been able to push radical policies through, with remarkably little scrutiny or effective opposition." In Kissinger's analysis, what happens is that members of the established order

find it nearly impossible to take at face value the assertion of the revolutionary power that it means to smash the existing framework. [They] therefore tend to begin by treating the revolutionary power as if its protestations were merely tactical; ...as if it were motivated by specific grievances to be assuaged by limited concessions. Those who warn against the danger in time are considered alarmists; those who counsel adaptation to circumstances are considered balanced and sane... But it is the essence of a revolutionary power... that it is willing, indeed eager, to push its principles to their ultimate conclusion.

It's ironic that "revolutionary" is often taken as a praise-word, something progressive and humanistic. But revolutionary change can also come from the other direction, and this is what it looks like. Typically enough, those who are paying attention get labeled "alarmist," despite the fact that, as Krugman shows, the alarmists have been right every time so far, and the appeasers backed further into a corner. What we're seeing is not just politics as usual, but a concerted bid to overthrow the current system. Once we understand that, things begin to make sense. Krugman develops a few guidelines for trying to make sense of it all:

This puts a whole new light on November 2. It's not just another election to pick the best candidate for President. It is a referendum to decide whether to carry on with the republic as we've known it, or to endorse the revolutionary movement that came to power in December of 2000.

Once this regime gains the legitimacy that eluded it four years ago, there is no turning back - the American republic will have become something fundamentally different. After that, we can assume nothing, not even free elections. Vote well, and you may be able to vote again.