"There should be a science of administration which shall seek to straighten the paths of government, to make its business less unbusinesslike, to strengthen and purify its organization, and to crown its duties with dutifulness. This is one reason why there is such a science." (Woodrow Wilson, 1886)
"Though shalt not sit with statisticians nor commit a social science." (W.H. Auden, 1946)
I agree with those who say that Hillary Clinton lost the campaign when she forgot that the president's job is to govern the people, not to deplore them. She may have forgotten this long before she openly put half the population in one basket and all her eggs in the other. Indeed, she was not at all alone in this forgetfulness. The past few years have seen an intense effort to "purify" our political organisations, not least within the university and it would seem that university students and their teachers are now the least equipped to understand how Trump was able to win the highest office in the land.
I think Robby Soave is absolutely right to suggest that Trump's victory was, in part, a backlash against political correctness, not least the version of it that has been nurtured in the "safe spaces" of America's college campuses. But I think the problem goes deeper. You can't beat a political opponent that paralyzes you with fear simply when he expresses his opinion. It's because the left demonized Trump that they were unable to defeat him. In a word that I hope to give a particular meaning to in this post, they dehumanized him. In that sense, the rise of Trump can be attributed to the fall of the humanities.
And that means that it can also be attributed to the inextricably related rise of the social sciences. For over a century, funded by a network of powerful foundations, they have wrested our understanding of our own selves away from, well, our own selves, and placed it under the tutelage of a confederacy of academics and journalists, a convocation of politic worms, who are more comfortable with ideologies than actual ideas. Indeed, the ideology of the moment is less important to them than subordinating thought to the forces of history.
Thus blinded, the intelligentsia was simply unable to understand what was happening. It had lost the capacity for independent thought. Indeed, it didn't have much of a taste for thinking any longer. An appreciation of poetry was supplanted by the popularization of science. Gladwell replaced Auden; "the clear expression of mixed feelings" was abandoned in favor of "thinking without thinking". Intellectuals were all too happy to sit with statisticians. Much better to commit a social a science than risk committing a thought crime. Organizations were cleansed of their impurities, the living organisms they comprised. Engagements became "interactions". Actual human beings of flesh and blood, hopes and fears, pains and pleasures, became "profiles" to be "situated" on social media "platforms" where they could be "liked" and "blocked" at will. Opposing ideas became threats; reality was deemed offensive. Friends became "allies". Enemies became monsters.
Think of rhetoric as the liberal art of humanizing your enemy, of converting animosity into language.* Not for the sake of your enemy but for the sake of your own moral orientation in the universe. Once you have decided that half your country has chosen a leader to represent only its bigotries, you have lost your way. Your ethics have been compromised by generalities. You have allowed a vague "theory" to overwhelm your data, which you have, I am afraid, taken too much for given. You've been taken in. And now you are living in fear of an inhuman oppressor.
Undermined by "foundations" (e.g., The Clinton Foundation) and overwhelmed by organizations (e.g., The Trump Organization), our institutions lost their footing. With the proliferation of media, we lost the immediate rightness of our conduct. Proudly declaring ourselves "reality-based" we mocked and ridiculed those who questioned our most cherished facts. We socially constructed an objective reality that had no room for the subjective idealities of our fellows.
Perhaps the names of the relevant parties is telling. Perhaps the end of Democracy is the rise of the Republic. The first step is to recuse ourselves from the Empire. Wyndham Lewis talked of "the art of being ruled"; Ezra Pound said "master thyself then others shall ye bear." Make love, not war, said Propertius. Don't say #NotMyPresident. Look in your heart and write, gubernator non sum. You are not the pilot. But have some respect for what pilots do.
I think we may have to face the fact that social science and democracy are incompatible. The social sciences conduct an undemocratic inquiry into society. Democracy is an unscientific way of governing it. It is because psychologists and sociologists have supplanted poets and novelists as experts on who “we” are that we have lost faith in democracy—at a deeper level, we have simply lost faith in each other. Democracy is possible only on a “humanist” foundation. As Pound tried to tell us a hundred years ago, the arts provide the "data of ethics". They are "the permanent basis of all metaphysics and psychology."
*This sentence was originally about poetry. After posting, I decided rhetoric is a better label.