Establishment media are again sensationalizing the phrase “Red Caesar,” which has become a popular topic of conversation among conservatives. In the media’s telling, we have a democracy and all such discussions are dangerous fantasies, perhaps even seditious.
The fundamental question, as I see it, is not whether a Red Caesar will overthrow democracy to establish a dictatorship but whether we still have a democracy in the first place.
In a recent story in the far-left Guardian of London, political commentator Damon Linker tells reporter Jason Wilson that the right is moved by a “conspiracy theory” that holds democracy has been “supplanted by bureaucrats and entrenched executive branch departments.”
To which I would reply: Well, hasn’t it?
If Linker or Wilson would bother to take the question seriously, they might discover that for decades, scholars and journalists on both left and right have exposed that whatever we mean by democracy today, it sure isn’t popular sovereignty or republicanism.
In 2010, the late Angelo Codevilla described “The Ruling Class,” a bipartisan group of elites that runs America and wishes to extend its control over practically every facet of our lives. The next year, Chrystia Freeland affirmed the “The Rise of the New Global Elite,” which she described as “a transglobal community of peers who have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home.” In 2015, Michael J. Glennon explained the real mechanisms of “double government” in America: a foreign policy shaped by bureaucratic insiders and a Madisonian government — the rule of our elected representatives we learned about in grade-school civics — that exists just for show.
Increasingly, those who make the actual decisions do not have Americans’ interests in mind. Ralph Nader pointed out in 1996 that in a survey of the top 100 American-chartered corporations, only one corporate board agreed to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The others did not see themselves as “American” — they were transnational corporations.
Nor were these companies concerned for the safety of American citizens. For example, U.S. defense contractors outsourced key components of our military production to China.
All of this came to a head in 2020. While government agencies like the FBI meddled in the 2020 election to influence its outcome, the ineffective COVID-19 lockdowns and mask mandates highlighted how authoritarian — indeed how incompetent, corrupt, and degenerate — America’s rulers had become. When citizens and experts complained, those rulers used the monopoly of big media and big tech to shut down their speech.
But it gets even worse. Under Joe Biden, the ruling class has intentionally admitted at least 7 million more illegal aliens — a number greater than the populations of 35 states. Without popular support, this administration decided to import a different population, one more manageable and pliable. Then it turned around and demanded that the citizenry accept that the harvested ballots of either these aliens or their children were legitimate.
The only reason for the media’s hysterical response to “Red Caesarism” is that all of the above claims — especially our long-standing policy of open borders — are so obviously an indictment of our supposed “democracy” that no one, especially not young Americans, believes in that myth any more.
If we no longer have a democracy, if an oligarchy is calling the shots, then neither it nor its rules are legitimate. This discrediting of American institutions that the ruling class depends upon is more devastating than any call to arms. Americans’ belief is, at some level, necessary to sanction the blob-like force in Washington, D.C.
Once that faith is gone, the regime is already doomed.
As John Adams pointed out, revolution first begins in hearts and minds. We see this in military recruitment, where able-bodied young males are refusing to die or be maimed to defend corporate profits. If the rulers view their subjects as a replaceable, expendable herd, then the people have no reason to be loyal to them.
Now that we have examined the premise of the question, namely, whether there is even a democracy left to subvert, we can rephrase the original question of a “Red Caesar” more pragmatically. The question is: “Since we have lost our status as equal republican citizens, is it better to be ruled by a Red Caesar who might protect our rights or by the petty oligarchs who exist to enrich themselves at their subjects’ expense?”
This is what frightens the ruling class, resounds in the think tanks that it funds, and then passes to corporate media, which, like the Guardian, repeats the lie that “billionaires” are the ones backing Donald Trump while Joe Biden is on the side of “democracy.”
It’s easy to know how America’s founders answered the question of a Caesar. In their view, the end of the political order is to secure natural rights, the way of life of a free people. Republicanism was the optimal way to do this. But many of them pointed out, even at the Constitutional Convention, that republican governments tend to degenerate into oligarchies. To free themselves from the tyranny of a few, don’t be surprised when the many place their bets with a Caesar.
In theory, the answer to our dilemma would be a return to republican rule and policies to restore a large middle-class citizenry. But our oligarchs will not stand for that. And so, as the founders predicted, we move to the possibility of a Caesar. An optimal government it surely is not, but if a “Red Caesar” does arrive, on what grounds would those who endorse our rotting plutocracy expect Americans to stand with them to oppose him?
Kevin Slack is a professor of politics at Hillsdale College, where he teaches political philosophy and American political thought, including classes on American progressivism, liberalism, and radicalism. He is the author most recently of “War on the American Republic: How Liberalism Became Despotism.”