The 2020 US Presidential Election: A Seminal Moment in Western History
By Dr. Hanan Shai BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,716, August 28, 2020
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The US elections will be a contest not just between political figures and rival parties but between opposing worldviews. Biden’s intention to “Europeanize” American democracy would leave the international system bereft of the democracy that saved humanity multiple times from the calamities wreaked upon it by European utopian thought.
President Donald Trump’s declaration in his Mount Rushmore speech of his intention to defend the traditional values of the United States, and Joe Biden’s declaration (backed by Bernie Sanders) of his intention to bring about a transformation of the United States, indicate that the 2020 elections will not be, as in the past, a democratic contest between two personalities and parties but a fateful contest between cultures: the Hebrew-biblical cultural of freedom from which the Anglo-Saxon democracies derived their values versus the Hellenistic culture of freedom from which the European democracies derived theirs.
There is a fundamental difference between the values of the two ancient cultures that formed the crucible of the modern West. The values of the Hebrew-biblical culture were derived from universal logic, the laws of which constitute an absolute and eternal truth and among which a harmony and coherence exists that is designed to foster a similar harmony (social justice) among human beings. The values of the Hellenistic culture, by contrast, were derived from human logic, which asserts that humanity is the standard that determines good and evil, there is no external standard for the moral judgment of human acts, and certain ideas exist that constitute an absolute truth that only elite individuals can discover and impose, by means of “keepers,” on a society that is “chained in a cave.”
European liberalism’s reliance on human logic led to the growth of the Jacobin, socialist, communist, and Nazi doctrines, which were foisted on the masses by authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. Conversely, the forefathers of American democracy (Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Franklin)—some of whom, like John Locke and other British thinkers, read and spoke Hebrew—adopted the values of Hebrew-biblical morality as the basis of the values of the United States.
The fact that in American democracy not only science but also humanism is based on natural law gave rise to a longstanding stability and prosperity, as well as a capability and a principled commitment to volunteer to salvage and rehabilitate the world from the severe calamities wreaked upon it by Europe’s utopian thinkers.
Apparently complacent from its victory over Nazism and communism, at the end of the 20th century American democracy failed to identify the danger of another erroneous theory that developed in Europe: post-structuralism (or progressive liberalism). That theory has penetrated deeply into American culture. Among other things, it claims that the calamities of the 20th century were caused by a proliferation of “truths” that emerged in Europe, and that preventing similar calamities in the future entails denying the existence of a single foundational truth and dismantling rational subjects that constitute a source of stability and authority (such as the family, nationalism and the nation-state, gender, the military, the police, and more) while “critically” examining their historical development. This is because the formation and activity of some of these social frameworks were tied to processes, in some instances very far back in history, that involved force and oppression.
The murder of George Floyd and the zealous protests that followed revealed three painful facts about American democracy as it stands today:
It is suffering severe social disharmony that stems from a longstanding interpretation of the values of freedom and justice that contravenes their original spirit.
The domains of humanism and society have been completely taken over by the ideas of progressive liberalism.
There is no intellectual elite that can mobilize to defend the values of American democracy against the progressive delusion in the manner of the “conservative” intellectual elite of the previous century that mobilized to defend the country against the communist delusion.
Only the reestablishment of American democracy in the spirit of the original values of freedom and justice on which it was based will rehabilitate the American project and afford it further long-term vitality. Conversely, an ideological transformation—i.e., a “Europeanization” of American democracy along the lines that Biden envisages—will put an end to both the successful American project and the democratic framework that saved humanity from the chain of calamities wrought by European liberal thought. This dangerous transformation could also open the door to the next “social project”—whose path to the West is already being paved by China with its “One Belt, One Road” initiative.
What is needed is a massive mobilization that ignores contemporary figures and problematic personality traits. Preventing the 2020 elections from becoming a negative seminal moment in the history of Western civilization is a supreme civilizational imperative.
Dr. Hanan Shai is lecturer in strategic, political, and military thought in the Political Science Department at Bar-Ilan University.