The Dying Citizen cover

The Dying Citizen - Book Summary

How Progressive Elites, Tribalism, and Globalization Are Destroying the Idea of America

Duration: 23:55
Release Date: January 24, 2024
Book Author: Victor Davis Hanson
Categories: History, Politics, Economics
Duration: 23:55
Release Date: January 24, 2024
Book Author: Victor Davis Hanson
Categories: History, Politics, Economics

In this episode of 20 Minute Books, we delve into the compelling narrative of "The Dying Citizen" by Victor Davis Hanson. In this thought-provoking work, Hanson brings to light the potential unraveling of American democracy. He meticulously discusses the impact of globalism, unchecked immigration, and the growing trend of tribalism and identity politics, suggesting that these factors collectively undermine the traditional concept of citizenship.

A scholar of considerable distinction, Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and a professor emeritus of classics at California State University, Fresno. His expertise in political commentary and historical analysis is well-established, with over twenty published works to his name, including the notable "The Case for Trump."

"The Dying Citizen" is a must-read for those who align with conservative ideologies and seek new arguments to understand the dynamics shaping American society. It is equally important for admirers of Donald Trump and his administration, as well as anyone invested in the realms of politics and current affairs. Join us as we explore Hanson's powerful insights on the threats facing the institution of citizenship and what it means for the future of the United States.

Citizenship in Peril: Lose the Foundation and Democracy Crumbles

Ever get the sense that while our society rushes headlong in pursuit of progress, something foundational is being left behind? Across the political stage, voices echo about the need for progress in various facets of life—racial equality, environmental sustainability, healthcare. Yet amidst the clamor, it's easy to lose sight of the bedrock of all these aspirations: democracy itself.

In the pursuit of what's progressive, it may be that the truest form of progress—healthy, functioning democracy—is facing its most significant threats. This narrative explores how democracy and citizenship, as we understand them, are at risk of being undermined. And while the term "progressive" is heralded as a virtuous standard, this account delves into how the movements and ideations under that umbrella might be wielding a double-edged sword that threatens the very principles they claim to uphold.

In a quest to understand the currents reshaping the American political and social landscape, this chapter considers three vital questions. First, why are there rising calls to overhaul the Constitution, a revered cornerstone of American democracy? Second, what is the true extent of the "deep state's" reach and influence? And finally, in what ways is globalization exerting pressure on the integrity and cohesiveness of Western societies?

As we journey through these questions, we'll unpack the complexities of our modern political climate, exploring the nuances of what it means to genuinely progress—protecting and nurturing the democratic values that allow society to thrive. Join us as we examine whether the actions taken in the name of advancement are truly serving the citizens at democracy's heart.

Democracy's Middle Ground is Fading: The Risk of a Collapsing Middle Class

Think back to the birthplace of Western democracy—the cobblestone streets and marble-columned edifices of ancient Greece. The architects of our political legacy were not simply the intellectuals or the affluent, but rather, the often-overlooked middle class. Therein lies a crucial lesson for our modern society: the health of democracy is intrinsically linked to the prosperity of the middle class.

Ancient Greek society was a tripod of economic standing—the affluence of the rich, the struggle of the poor, and the steady resilience of those in the middle. The philosophers of the era held the middle class in high esteem, entrusting them with the preservation of the key tenets of democracy—equality before the law, safeguarding of property rights, and impartial political representation. They observed the idle rich, more concerned with hoarding wealth than nurturing society, and the poor, whose desperation left them vulnerable to the machinations of demagogues. It was the middle class—often prudent landowners basking in the Mediterranean sun's bounty of olives and wine—who struck the perfect balance. They coupled the comfort of sufficient resources with the grit of meaningful labor, finding themselves with enough leisure to engage in the matters of state.

The middle classes were the embodiment of the democratic spirit: industrious, rational, and invested in the civic landscape to ensure that their legacy would endure for generations.

Fast forward to present-day America, where the echoes of the Athenian middle class are growing faint. Alarming evidence points to the erosion of this critical demographic, giving way to a troubling resurgence of a 'new peasantry'—a vast swath of citizens who teeter on the brink of financial despair. Nearly half of the population now faces an existence devoid of real estate ownership and the protective buffer of savings, besieged by the economic towers of the wealthy.

A stark illustration of this chasm lies at the heart of Silicon Valley, where the opulent campus of Stanford University houses luxury cars belonging to its well-to-do students. Yet, a mere stone's throw away, a sea of trailers housing countless individuals paints a contrasting picture of impoverishment.

The message is clear: a nation that allows its middle class to wither is a nation putting its democratic soul at risk. As the divisions deepen between the financially fortressed and the economically exposed, we face the pressing question — can democracy truly thrive without the middle ground where it once took root?

The Fabric of Unity: America's Collective Identity Faces Unprecedented Challenges

The story of the United States is a mosaic of varied hues and textures, each piece an immigrant's tale of hope and new beginnings. The nineteenth century saw the country's vast land become a beacon of liberty, drawing seekers from all over the world—Europe, Latin America, and Asia. Their dreams were as diverse as their origins, yet a common desire for freedom and prosperity united them all.

As we ponder the historical tapestry of America, a central question emerges: How did such a multitude of cultures and backgrounds fuse into one cohesive national identity?

In the simplicity of the words of the US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution lies an answer—if all men are created equal, then this equality became the thread weaving together the many into one. Despite a symphony of different languages, faiths, and traditions, immigrants to America were invited into the fold with the promise of equal treatment under a collective identity.

But integration was not without its expectations. These new Americans were asked to accept certain trade-offs as the price of their newfound citizenship. English was to become the language of their hearts and homes, and within a generation or two, the old customs were to make way for new American rituals.

The underlying rationale for such an approach was a pragmatic one. The founding fathers of the United States knew too well the European history of internecine strife—where varying national, religious, and ethnic loyalties often led to bloodshed. They sought to preclude such divisions by fostering common ground among the citizenry, a shared cultural identity that would cement the coexistence of the many as one people.

Now, as the twenty-first century unfolds, the storied concept of American citizenship is encountering new pressures. The streamlined channel of legal immigration has been obscured by the murky floodwaters of illegal immigration. In the years since 1986, the population of undocumented residents has soared from five million to nearly twenty million.

This influx presents a profound challenge to the American ethos. Instead of absorbing the values, language, and customs that have defined the American spirit, many of these residents remain in a limbo of illegality or take refuge in the ambiguous state of residency, where the imperative to integrate and fully embrace citizenship is diminished.

The crux of the issue today is whether America can sustain its treasured sense of unity amidst these new dynamics, which test the principles of shared identity and equal engagement in the fabric of the nation's life.

The Unseen Hand: How the Deep State Influences American Governance

In the lore of the United States, a nation synonymous with democracy, it's a common belief that the citizenry holds the reins of political power. Each vote is a brick in the foundation of governance, enabling the sovereign will of the people to manifest through their elected representatives. But beneath the public theater of politics lies a less visible, yet potent force: the deep state.

This is not the stuff of hushed whispers and conspiracy theories — instead, the deep state's presence is overt, with tentacles in plain sight. It is an amalgam of intelligence agencies, military establishments, senior civil servants, scholars from prominent universities, influential figures in mass media, and financial moguls from Wall Street.

The power of the deep state is both pervasive and perceptive. It shapes the curricula of prestigious educational institutions and sets agendas in leading newspapers. Moreover, it exercises authority through a formidable contingent of non-elected officials—bureaucrats who exert control over the public by dictating regulations that outline what individuals and companies can, or cannot, do.

Take, for instance, the scrutinizing eyes of the Internal Revenue Service or IRS from 2010 to 2013. During these years, the IRS engaged in the targeted examination of nonprofit organizations applying for tax exemptions. Curiously, a spotlight was cast on groups incorporating terms like "patriots," "tea party," or "Constitution" in their descriptions. This selective approach hindered many organizations ideologically opposed to President Barack Obama, hampering their financial capabilities, particularly during the crucial 2012 presidential campaign.

When the scandal eventually came to light, the IRS issued an apology. Yet, accountability seemed elusive—for no one was held criminally accountable. And concerningly, this appears to be but a symptom of a growing issue. As of 2019, an extensive network of 450 federal agencies staffed by approximately 2.7 million unelected bureaucrats wield the ability to enforce a staggering 175,000 pages of federal regulations—none of which were directly sanctioned by voters.

This unbridled expansion of bureaucratic power lays bare the reality that, in the American political arena, there are forces at play far beyond what is cast by ballots. These are the unelected stewards of policy and influence, shaping the nation's course in ways unseen and often uncontested, live wires of authority with a quiet but undeniable hold on the governance in the land of the free.

The Perils of Fragmentation: America's Drift Toward Tribalism

There was a time when the answer to the question of tribal affiliation, for most Americans, would have been clear and singular—the United States. However, the national tapestry is fraying as society increasingly segregates into factions predicated on ethnicity, religion, and race. An exploration of tribalism's grim past reveals why this regression into old patterns should ring alarm bells.

History instructs us that long before the concept of the nation state, humanity was organized into tribes, groups bound by shared appearance, language, and proximity. This archaic form of social structure was marked by constant strife and rivalry. Tribalism was synonymous with a narrow definition of belonging that recognized only those who mirrored one's own reflection. It was, in essence, an echo chamber of the familiar, casting all others as foes.

One of the most malignant features of tribal societies was the abandonment of meritocracy. Leadership and success didn't necessarily arise from skill or knowledge, but rather from tribal affiliation. This system didn't just stunt the growth of individual and collective potential; it planted seeds for discord, violence, and at its darkest, genocidal impulses.

The potential savagery of tribal division is not a forgotten chapter of history but is underscored by chilling modern examples. The American South's endorsement of race-based tribalism yielded the Jim Crow laws; Germany's ethnic-based division led to the terrors of the Holocaust; and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans targeted Muslim populations. Each instance exemplifies the catastrophic consequences of surrendering to tribal identities.

Alarmingly, modern-day America reveals the creeping shadows of tribalism anew. Progressives, historically the champions of integration and equality, are paradoxically spearheading a revival of racial and ethnic consciousness. A striking symbol of this shift is seen in Bernie Sanders' endorsement of racially isolated living spaces on campuses, a statement in stark contrast to his earlier stance against segregation. Moreover, the University of Chicago's insistence that English department applicants commit to studying Black authors suggests an institutionalized preference based on racial categorization. These instances unveil a trend where, it seems, the shade of one's skin is again becoming a determining factor for opportunity and inclusion.

What we're witnessing is a potential U-turn from years of struggle for an inclusive, color-blind society. The lines that once were blurred are being redrawn, as the specter of tribalism re-emerges in educational and cultural spheres. Thus, the call to examine what progress truly means grows ever more urgent, lest the strides taken toward a unified nation become trampled beneath the resurgent march of tribal instinct.

Constitution at a Crossroads: Progressives Challenge America's Founding Document

For over 200 years, the US Constitution has been the keystone of American democracy, guiding the nation through changing tides. Yet, in today's political climate, there's a growing chorus arguing for a departure from this historic document. It's a call that, if heeded, could unravel the democratic fabric and the rights of citizens.

The contention with the Constitution springs from a misunderstanding—or perhaps a disagreement—with the founding fathers' original intent. The document was crafted with a laser focus: to enshrine personal freedoms, liberty, and property protection. It was not explicitly designed to advance egalitarianism or ensure equality in outcomes.

Some modern political thinkers and activists assert that the Constitution is a barrier to progress in equality. They argue it restricts the government's ability to take necessary actions on contemporary issues such as climate change, immigration, and wealth redistribution, suggesting that only by diminishing the Constitution's authority and expanding presidential powers can true progress be attained.

But beneath the surface of this anti-constitutional stance is a more radical and contentious objective. To these progressives, the founders' identity as long-deceased, white men nullifies their relevance to today's multicultural and multifaceted society. They envision a seismic shift—from a nation built on the equality of opportunity to one focused on enforcing equality of outcomes.

Fueling this push is often the politics of resentment. In a land where the American Dream allows an 'ordinary Joe' to ascend the ladder of success rapidly, the sight of others' triumphs can become a bitter pill to swallow for those who don't rise as high. Rather than acknowledging that success may stem from a blend of talent, hard work, and ambition, it may feel easier to fault societal structures for personal shortcomings.

This is the crux of the progressive movement's argument for increased equity in outcomes: an inability to accept that disparities can still exist in a landscape of equal opportunity. Thus, the US Constitution becomes the target of their frustrations, a symbol of an older America they are eager to remodel into a vision premised on socialist principles and outcomes, with potential ramifications for the democracy that has long withstood the tests of time.

Globalization: Is Worldwide Unity Fracturing American Identity?

In our ever-shrinking world, the concept of global citizenship is frequently touted as the pathway to the future. Yet, this final probe into globalization examines its implications on national identity—specifically, how it reshapes the American experience. At its core, the pursuit of globalization is about nations placing the global community's needs on a par with, or even above, their own.

While the sentiment of universal solidarity may appear altruistic, the reality may not be so benevolent to the nation-state. The finite nature of resources means that their division across broader spectrums invariably leads to dilution of value within the originating country.

For America, the stings of globalization come in various forms. Take, for example, the migration of American manufacturing overseas—a move that, while perhaps beneficial on a global scale, often leaves American workers disenfranchised and undermines local economies. Similarly, when affluent American business leaders pour investments into competing superpowers like China, it might bolster the recipient nation, but it simultaneously erodes the competitive edge and values of the investor nation. They become less inclined to criticize policies and ideologies at odds with American principles for the sake of financial interests abroad. Furthermore, when international bodies seek to impose environmental regulations on the US without democratic consensus, it chips away at the fundamental political structures at the nation's core.

There's a case to be made that these sacrifices might be a noble price for global cooperation, peace, and progress. However, the gloss of globalization's promise is often superficial, belying the deep-seated persistence of unique national laws, cultures, and traditions. When tested by crises, the divergent values of countries become starkly apparent.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example. The response of China's government, with its umbrage at openness and a heavy-handed approach towards its citizens, displayed a tacit adherence to values distinctly out of step with American ideology. Despite an interconnected global economy, shared corporate interests, and environmental accords, the cultural core of each nation remained unchanged, unaffected by the homogenizing aims of globalization.

As we grapple with the unfolding narrative of our era, we must ask whether this push toward global citizenship compromises the sovereignty and identity of nation-states. Can America, or any nation, fully embrace global unity without forfeiting the essence of what makes it distinct?

Democracy at the Crossroads: The Tumultuous Path of Modern America

At the heart of these explorations is an alarming assertion: American democracy is navigating treacherous waters. The nation, once celebrated for its melting pot of cultural diversity, is retreating into a landscape fractured by ethnic and racial divisions. This trend is mirrored in the shifting patterns of immigration; the surge in unauthorized migrants poses significant challenges to traditional models of American integration.

Compounding these internal schisms is the force of globalization, which has quietly shifted power away from the many and into the hands of a few. The export of jobs and the outward flood of capital are reshaping the economic and social fabric of the country. As elite power brokers reallocate resources across global borders, they compromise the stability and well-being of the American workforce.

This culminates in an era where the very pillars of the nation's democratic identity are placed under immense strain—the twin pressures of internal division and external economic forces forging an uncertain future for the United States. The struggle at play is a delicate balancing act: sustaining the fundamental democratic spirit amidst forceful currents of change, both from within and without.

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