American freedom is dying. The defenders of freedom are losing. It is hard not to take a dim view of the world.
However, that is exactly what we must do; but not a “dim” view—a DIM view.
In The DIM Hypothesis philosopher-historian Leonard Peikoff has provided an inestimably valuable guide to cultural history as a guide to life in America today, including a daunting prediction about the near term prospects for America.
“Religious totalitarianism in America—that is my prediction,” writes Peikoff.
Twenty years ago almost no one could have taken such a thesis seriously. America had overcome the Soviet Union in the Cold War. The “free world” was victorious! The exciting potential of the nascent computing industry to unleash a new era of productivity was becoming apparent. We seemed to be entering into an era of peace and prosperity. Any doomsayer then, no matter how erudite, would have been laughed at or ignored.
Today there is little to laugh about, and we can’t afford to ignore Peikoff’s warning.
We don’t have peace. The unfinished Gulf War and America’s refusal to confront the true state sponsors of terrorism led to 9-11 and the “War on Terror,” which spawned the Patriot Act, TSA groping and NSA snooping.
And we don’t have prosperity. The Dot-com bubble was followed by the housing bubble, which spawned the financial crisis, the so-called “jobless recovery” and the long emergency of the world’s central banks flooding the world with digital fiat, and governments everywhere implementing austerity measures, “bail-outs” and “bail-ins.” You don’t have to be one of nearly fifty million Americans on food stamps to pierce the fog of modern journalism and sense that the Greater Depression is just getting started. When someone predicts “doom” today, we can’t dismiss them. Instead, we find ourselves asking: how much worse can it get?!
Religious totalitarianism, says Peikoff.
Is it true?
Those who have undertaken to study Peikoff’s book know that, despite every effort by the author to render the thesis accessible through the most painstaking essentialization, the end result is so vast an integration that it is almost impossible to follow. The prediction is clear enough, but the basis for that prediction is so elaborate that when one tries to trace its logic, one becomes hopelessly entangled in a plethora of historical abstraction.
Peikoff himself anticipates this difficulty. He warns that The DIM Hypothesis covers five different “modes” in four different cultural areas during six different Western periods, using a method based on Objectivism, and especially Objectivist epistemology. To truly grasp the thesis thus means that the reader must be capable of shuttling back and forth between and interconnecting in his mind the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and Immanuel Kant, along with the lesser thinkers who intermixed their approaches—the literary, scientific, educational, and political products of the cultural creators of the various eras whose work reflected the “modes” of thought the philosophers taught—through the various phases of Western history which succeed each other from ancient Greece through to modern America, while applying as a psycho-epistemological “given” the method of Ayn Rand’s thought.
Nobody—except Leonard Peikoff himself, I suspect—can actually do that!
As a professional historian and student of Objectivism for some twenty years, I can’t quite do it.
The difference, I suspect, between me and other DIM readers, is that I know with a high degree of precision where the exact bounds of my understanding are and what to do about it. DIM does not make me feel like Socrates–thinking that I know only that I know nothing!–but more like we’ve all felt when reading Ayn Rand’s fiction. It inspires me to reach for the mountaintop that has become so much more clearly visible to me now.
I do know history inside out, so that’s a start. I can shuttle back and forth between the Peloponnesian War and the “War on Terror.” I can talk about Themistocles and Teddy Roosevelt (and Barack Obama, if I have to) in the same sentence. (Teddy started the “D” mode in foreign policy, by the way. More on that in a follow-up series available on this blog.) I do know, with equal ease, what was going on in 776 BC and 1776 AD.
(So when Leonard Peikoff encounters a serious challenge in type-casting the Renaissance in a DIM framework, I actually know why. In fact, possibly better than he does! The problem lies in an as of yet unknown sub-domain of applied epistemology called “abstract particulars,” of which the specific problem of historical periodization is but one instance. The “Renaissance” as a cultural period, is not equivalent to any of the other periods Peikoff would have us survey, which is basically why it does not exhibit a consistent “mode.” “The Renaissance,” proposed in a preliminary way as a hopeful interpretation of cultural history by modern historians, is in fact an exceptionally abstract integration that I designate, borrowing from a formulation of Ayn Rand’s, as a “periodization from periodizations.” Importantly, this does not invalidate The DIM Hypothesis, in my mind. But it does mean that it still needs work, by someone.)
It has been a torturous process to reach this level of historical literacy. Along the way, it has become one of my professional aims to try to understand why history in general has been so inaccessible to modern students, and to correct the problem.
I believe I have solved the puzzle of history’s disintegration, and I will try to help readers understand it in further blog posts by means of a DIM history of history. But, more importantly, in my forthcoming book “History is Dead. Long Live History!”—the first chapter of which is now available as a PDF and podcast at: http://www.powellhistory.com/historyisdead — I believe I have provided the first dose of an antidote that can be applied on a cultural scale.
If history can be made accessible and deployable, then The DIM Hypothesis can become a weapon of mass creation, and there is a chance that the course of modern cultural history can be reversed.
In teaching the History At Our House program I have seen how powerful an effect the proper study of history can have on the minds of young children. I also know how it has affected me. I still wonder just how much it could enhance the abilities of all of the advocates of reason and rights out there, if I could just help them wrap their minds around it. And I dream of the possibility of an America where millions of students are actually taught history properly.
Perhaps, with this very blog post, a new and significant cultural process will have begun. Starting with History is Dead, a new generation of historically literate and historically-minded activists will arise, much more powerful than those of previous generations.
Within the short span of this particular article, and in subsequent articles on history, education, and DIM theory, it is my hope to indicate, in some small way, what is at stake, and how pressing the problem is.
We are running out of time.
Freedom is waning at a frightening pace.
It may not be long before the monitoring of every communication by every American becomes the modification of any communication. Why could an NSA, using a hive supercomputer not do that? Imagine the methods of digital disinformation that the government could conjure. Imagine the possibilities for digital entrapment. Leonard Peikoff has long warned that freedom of speech is the key issue in protecting a free society. Once we cannot communicate freely, the game is up. Since the Internet is near to being transformed from a mechanism of freedom into the ultimate weapon for control, a turn-key totalitarian state is almost available.
Barack Obama may not intend to do it. Tracing the “ominous parallels” between America and Weimar Germany, I would say that he is more of a Gustav Stresemann than a Hitler. But Stresemann and Hitler were but a few short chancellorships (presidencies) apart, America. It’s not enough to think of America’s political trajectory as a rear-guard action from presidential election to election. We don’t have the luxury of thinking in such a limited manner. We need to start thinking about our cultural path in a more integrated way, using history as a guide.
For one, American nationalism, as German nationalism once was, is on the rise. American socialism is on the rise as well. The merger of the two has a historical name that should fill us with terror. How long will it be before Americans ask the government to relieve them of the “burden” of their freedom? How many already have already begged for that release? How many already would embrace the transformation of America into a selfless army, perhaps to rid the world of Islam?
So what did you do today to stop the collapse of America?
I’m not talking about the modern concept of community service. I’m not asking about “what you can do for your country.” I’m asking about what the other George did and would do. When George Washington dreamed of freedom, he didn’t retire to his country home in frustration because it was so hard to secure. As he retreated into Pennsylvania late in 1776, Washington wrote to his brother: “I think the game is pretty near up…You can form no idea of the perplexity of my situation. No man, I believe, ever had a greater choice of difficulties and less means to extricate himself from them.”
And yet, extricate himself, he did. At this very moment, ours is an intellectual Battle of Trenton, and we can win it too. We must “cross the Delaware” and then we can go on to win the war for the hearts and minds of Americans, if we have the daring and the perseverance of a Washington.
In upcoming posts in this blog, I will be undertaking to facilitate such a campaign.
I hope you will enjoy and be empowered by these writings. I hope you will take full personal advantage of the possibilities they promise, or at least sponsor my work from afar by helping to make the History is Dead. Long Live History! course a success. (There are many attendance and sponsorship options at: http://powellhistory.com/historyisdead/?page_id=51 ) Please consider contributing, if not attending.
As Patrick Henry said, “millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as we possess, are invincible by any force.”
To overcome the odds we face, there is only one course for us to take. Please join me in this quest.