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James Madison to Donald Trump: “You’re Fired!”

The Tragic Flaw of the Rule of Law[1]

The events of January 6, 2021, on Capitol Hill evoke Hegel’s famous phrase that the Owl of Minerva flies only at night. The riots and storming of the Capitol Building during the counting by the U. S. House of Representatives of the Electoral College votes by a mob seemingly believing that the election was rigged conjures up images of Goths invading Rome in 410 and the collapse of a regime. Insofar as Donald Trump had whipped up the mob in this belief raises the prospect that he has destroyed, or at least severely damaged, the American Constitution as it had been instituted by its Founders, especially according to the understanding of one of its key framers, James Madison, which he, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay explained in the Federalist.

The U.S. Constitution is essentially Madisonian because its checks and balances system limits political power by granting just enough for government to do its job, but also by diffusing power across a system of interlocking and competing branches: executive, legislative, judicial, as well as the national versus state governments. Its other important feature is that it blends different principles, including merit and egalitarianism, according to and even within different branches. It is representative government that is meant to govern at a “constitutional distance” from the populace.[2] Even so, this constitution is, as Lincoln famously stated at Gettysburg, “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

This system has endured but its foundations have been chipped away for reasons I shall explain. A major reason is that many Americans have allowed the very success of the Madisonian constitution and its institutional checks and balances to lull them into thinking that they do not need to attend to the moral character of their leaders and themselves. They seem to have been seduced by Immanuel Kant’s progressive dream that perfect laws can still “maintain order in a nation of devils,” thereby allowing many in their midst to become demonic. This is the tragic flaw of the rule of law, which can make human beings forget they still need to uphold the laws, both in law and in spirit.

One of the character flaws frequently cited of Donald Trump is that he lacks a sense of “responsibility.” It is noteworthy that James Madison was one of the first to use the term, by which he meant a mixture of obligation and responsiveness. Yuval Levin indicates responsibility is a virtue of leader and citizen when he writes: “The responsible leader takes ownership of his actions and duties and takes it upon himself to act in response to events. The responsible citizen understands that the republic is at some level his to maintain through both action and restraint.”[3]

Madison and his colleagues designed their constitution as a bulwark against demagogues like Trump, but they also recognized that bulwarks can be destroyed and that a liberal democracy, perhaps more than any other regime, depends ultimately on the good moral character of its leaders and citizens. As Madison explains in the 55th Federalist paper: “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind, which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: so, there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.”[4] The Madisonian regime and its system of checks and balances therefore attempts to strike a Goldilocks balance between not relying too much on the virtue of leaders and citizens and needing just enough virtue in terms of responsibility in order to keep factionalism in check.

In what follows I shall outline some of the ways that Goldilocks balance of the Madisonian constitution has become unbalanced not only by leaders and citizens acting irresponsibly but also by those who do not think they need to be responsible. The strength of the laws lulled people at high levels to think they could push the envelope, legally and ethically, so that the code of “if it’s not illegal then it’s acceptable” became widespread throughout leading institutions of politics, economy, and society.

Taking place within a democratic culture that increasingly celebrates antinomianism by treating taboos and norms as arbitrary infringements on individual expression, that pushing of envelopes creates a cycle of one-upmanship where exaggerated and misleading rhetoric swell to outright lying and peddling of conspiracy theories, begetting a sense of victimhood that treats every act by government that one dislikes as a plot of a hidden cabal, be it CIA, the military hiding UFOs, George Soros, Bilderberg, or “deep state.” The truth is not so much “out there,” as the X-Files TV show of the 1990s said. Instead, truth becomes “one’s own truth” and politics becomes “post-truth” where the demagogue who can whip up the biggest spin and Twitter mob defines the narrative. We are now treading in Thomas Hobbes’s state of nature with its “seditious roaring of a troubled nation” (Leviathan Ch. VIII), or if you like, the lower regions of Dante’s Inferno where the most serious sins are the result not just of moral but of an intellectual corruption whereby souls are destroyed by their own lies. So much for Kant’s optimism for strong laws for a “nation of devils.”

Cycle of Mimetic Rivalry

French philosopher René Girard provides a useful lens for understanding political conflict as a “cycle of mimetic rivalry.”[5] The concept is quite simple. I envy your wealth and status and mimic you in order to get the better of you. You respond by mimicking me. The result is that we trap ourselves into a cycle of one-upmanship where each side tries to get the better of the other, while also mimicking one another. It is for this reason that Antifa and QAnon supporters don’t like it when commentators describe them as two sides of one coin.

Mimetic rivalry has only been accelerated by social media in a paradoxical way: it both fuels the mimetic rivalry but depersonalizes it because we aren’t actually present when we see it. We mob, we move on, and the internet keeps a permanent record of the lies we used to cancel the other. Social media also makes mimetic rivalry national/global rather than local because social media has penetrated into everyone’s lives.

The immediate cause of the January 6 incident is Donald Trump’s post-election campaigning that cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election results, and the anger it whipped up. His lack of legal arguments indicates that this was his strategy all along.

In doing so, Trump seems to have understood his strategy of one-upping the “not my president” rhetoric that, along with the Russian collusion narrative, cast doubt on the legitimacy of his 2016 election win. Indeed 57 percent of Democrats were ready to consider the election stolen if Biden had not won and numerous Americans on both sides believe violence is justified if the other side wins.[6] Trump’s tit-for-tat strategy finds a ready audience in U. S. politics already trapped in the “cycle of mimetic rivalry,” with its rhetoric that frequently includes accusations of hypocrisy, double-standards, “whataboutism,” or “the other side started it.”[7] If Hillary Clinton’s team could get away with concocting the Steele dossier and “not my president,” then Trump thought he could reveal the latent hypocrisy of the “deep state” by casting doubts on the legitimacy of Biden, the consummate “Washington insider.”

That Biden was the Democratic nominee is significant. It’s part of the mythology of many Republicans that Washington politics took a sharp turn for the worse during the 1988 Senate confirmation hearings of Robert Bork. Forty years later, Americans expect these nomination hearings to be dirty slugfests, as happened in the Kavanaugh hearings, but the Bork hearing was the first time this happened. To be “Borked” has since been a verb in American political parlance. Well guess who was the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairperson who oversaw and led the “Borking”?  That’s right, Joe Biden.

For Trump, casting doubt on Biden’s victory is payback for “not my president” and the Russia collusion narrative, and for many Republicans I’m sure it was payback for Bork. I emphasize that these are self-justifying narratives that form the factional conflict of contemporary U.S. politics. The Democrats have their own narratives concerning how they viewed Republicans taking first blood, whether it’s the Willie Brown advertisements in the 1988 election or the “systemic racism” many see in the founding and thus the DNA of the American regime. The “1619 Project,” which even its authors claim is not about historical accuracy but about “narrative” of the future, is one such example.

Trying to find a starting point for corruption in a nation’s history—an original sin, as it were—is fruitless and indeed is itself an instance of mimetic rivalry. As Augustine noted in the fifth century in his City of God, which responds to accusations by Roman aristocrats that Christianity corrupted Rome, even the great Roman historian Sallust himself thought Rome was corrupt from the start.[8]

The cycle of mimetic rivalry leads sides to equate politics with war, of helping friends and harming enemies. Since 2016, U. S. politics was characterized by what the ancient Greeks called an “ochlocracy,” rule by the cheering mob. Each side of the demos cheers on its favorite oligarch, much like rabid sports fans— “fanatics”—cheer on their favorite star players, except instead of a hockey arena they play in social media. Leaders manipulate their followers, who respond by cheering for their leader to “destroy” the other side. Now each side has its favorite violent mob. Only total victory will satisfy their lust, which social media does nothing but provoke, and each side is convinced that the other side will set up a tyranny and eliminate the other side.

A big danger the U.S. faces at this moment of postmodern politics is that, with words untethered from reality, the members of the incoming administration will clamp down on any dissent that they might necessarily define as irrational, conspiracy theory, and violent. There are already calls to place Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley on a no-fly list.[9] Is a social credit system like they have in China next, all in the name of public security? In an ochlocracy beset by illusions and secondary realities, how is the classical liberal distinction between harmful and not-harmful speech to be determined?[10]

Spiritual Disease

The wish for total victory helps explain the apocalyptic rhetoric surrounding U.S. elections, but it serves as a reminder that this political crisis is also a spiritual crisis. It seems many rioters were inspired by QAnon, which has become a kind of millenarian movement with adherents finding a sense of belonging and meaning in the sense of expectation that comes with QAnon’s cryptic prophecies, known as “Q drops,” that—as an immanent form of divine grace— tantalizingly promise a Gnostic saving wisdom that will reveal hidden secrets and bring about national transformation under Trump’s leadership. A large number of evangelicals follow QAnon because they see in it a family resemblance to their own tradition of apocalyptic expectations, while its slogans of “Do your own research. Don’t take anything for granted” offer it the patina of being empirical style. The combination of revealing hidden truths and the patina of science is characteristic of a form of a long tradition of ideological thinking whose main representative is Marxism.[11]

Worth noting though is the most famous of the January 6 mob was Jacob Angeli Chansle, the shirtless “QAnon Shaman” with the furry Viking hat. He states that he grew up Catholic, (quote) “but I was smart enough even as a kid to realize it was a bunch of bull.” Even as a child, he said, he wanted to understand why “the world was so messed up.”[12]

As has been observed of the woke identity politics side of the coin,[13] Chansle did not simply renounce his old-time religion and become secular, but rather has rechannelled religious passions into a political frisson de revolution. Instead of praying for perseverance in the face of what Paul the Apostle calls the “mystery of iniquity,” Chansle and his comrades use violence as a sanctifying device to right the wrongs they see. He aspires to be like Nietzsche’s Übermensch who creates reality, and much in our media and technologically saturated culture induces leaders and citizens to delude themselves into thinking that reality is infinitely pliable and subject to one’s own will. Politics is then seen as the place of solving cosmic and theological questions. Instead of religion intruding into politics, we have political religions.[14]

Like his Doppelgänger in identity politics, Chansle in this purportedly post-Christian era rejects original sin that we all share and reverts the great Russian writer and dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s repudiation of communism by now viewing the line between good and evil as cutting through not every heart, but between those who are spiritually pure and those who are spiritually stained.[15] By aspiring to be Nietzsche’s Übermenschen, these activists have shown themselves to be little more than Manichaeans in goofy costumes, asking mummy to bring them organic food while they sit in jail.[16] In aspiring to be postmodern gods, they become beasts.

Political Crises

So how did we get here? How did the mimetic cycle of rivalry get so bad? To answer this, I’ll distinguish between a political crisis and a regime crisis. A series of political crises, which are particular to the U. S. have harmed that country over the past generation. Conversely, a regime expresses not just a particular country but its general type of government and way of life, namely, liberal democracy. In this sense, what affects the U.S. affects Canada as well, and recognizing that may help us avoid trapping ourselves in a cycle mimetic rivalry.

Let’s start with the series of four political crises that have troubled the U.S. over the last number of years that have corroded trust first in public institutions, and also in fellow Americans. I shall mention four but acknowledge that others could be listed.

The first crisis is the decline in confidence in democracy itself. Today worldwide it is low, and it has been decreasing among Americans, especially millennials.[17] It took a hit with the Iraq war debacle in the 2000s, which was spurred on by an over-confidence among U. S. foreign policy elites concerning American power and the inherent goodness of liberal democracy. The war represents an Icarus-like moment in U. S. history. The U. S. had been flying high since the collapse of the Berlin Wall over ten years before. That had been a time when George Bush, Sr. declared “a new world order” characterized by U. S. hegemony. The administration of Bush, Jr. seemed to believe in a certain American omnipotence and historical inevitably about democracy when it invaded. Its imperial hubris was captured in its extreme form in an interview by Ron Suskind with a Bush 42 official who proclaimed: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”[18] Creating new realities, or “controlling the narrative,” is the mark of our postmodern politics. Since then, social media “democratized” this ability to “create other new realities.” Instead of a single emperor, U. S. politics now has millions of mini-emperors.[19]

The damage the war did to the U.S. budget leads to the second crisis, which is economic. High public debt burdens Americans unequally. The 2008 subprime mortgage scandal, where none of the Wall Street bankers went to jail, and subsequent recession and loss of many blue-collar jobs convinced millions of Americans of the corruption of their political and economic leaders, and further lent weight to the view that inspires populists that there are rules for the elite, and a different set of rules for everyone else that allows political elites to enrich themselves handsomely.[20] Trump cashed in on this in 2016 with the “lock her up” rhetoric.

Third, back in the early 1990s, legal scholar Mary Ann Glendon wrote a prescient book called Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse, in which she warned that while human rights serve as an important moral and even spiritual framework for conducting democratic politics, too much of a good thing can lead to bad outcomes.[21] In particular she worried that human rights can turn politics into a zero-sum game because rights are absolute and not up for deliberation and bargaining, which are such important features of democratic politics. Not everything, including life, liberty, and dignity, should be up for negotiation, but removing too much from negotiation creates a politics of permanent winners and losers.

The debate over same-sex marriage marks a key episode in this escalation to treating politics as zero-sum. Not only was this controversy about human rights, and both sides demanded that there be permanent winners and losers, but the subject of marriage is both public and private, encompassing our existence both as moral and judicial persons. Marriage and its cult of the hearth was always at the root of ancient cities and continues to be so in our so-called modern societies, despite the rhetoric of commercial contract that characterizes our way of speaking about marriage.[22] Partisans could not help but to take the conflict personally, and view the outcome as fundamentally changing the nature of the regime.

The fourth and final political crisis is the loneliness crisis. It is not so much political as social, but it has important political consequences. Over the last generation, Americans have expressed all-time high levels of loneliness and friendlessness, and this has corroded civic friendship. This is associated too with the hollowing out of civil society institutions—that layer of association between individuals and the state, and that give people a sense of self-agency and togetherness. Civil society is also a bulwark that supports limited government. Political scientists have long understood that tyrants divide and conquer their populations, to make them lonely; they have also understood that the sense of not having a stake in the political system breeds the irresponsibility that produces revolutionary movements. Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam’s 2001 book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community documents the decline of the American tradition of joining-together that has characterized much of its history.[23]

One of the many political consequences of loneliness is “hyperpartisanship” which is the result of what political scientists call “social sorting.”[24]  My claim seems counter-intuitive because we tend to blame parties for this vice, on the assumption that unity and civic friendship will suddenly appear if we only get rid of parties. But the dream of disappearing parties is the same populist delusion that Trumpism feeds upon. Both assume that blessings will accrue if the people can be free of corrupt elites.

Hyperpartisanship, though, reflects the weakness of parties. Normally parties are coalitions of ideologies and interests that compete for power. They succeed inasmuch as they can draw the largest number of people to support them, which requires numerous strategies including above all, negotiation between oftentimes competing views and interests. Instead of being sources of extremism, properly functioning parties are moderating influences because they incentivize cooperation and pragmaticism, while also filtering out potential leaders.

But properly-functioning parties need a healthy civil society in which to operate and depend on a citizenry who also have habits of moderation, cooperation, and negotiation. When people “bowl alone,” to use Putnam’s phrase, it means their political skills at cooperation and negotiation, and simply getting along with other people, are stunted. Loneliness breeds not just poor health but also poor moral health, including irresponsibility, the opposite of what the Madisonian constitution requires. Putnam blamed the decline on TV, but now social media probably makes things worse. Today’s parties have become little more than franchises, shell organizations that provide political entrepreneurs, and now demagogues, a platform to appeal to “socially sorted” and lonely crowd, with no incentive to negotiate, be moderate, or be responsible. I will note that Manhattan, home to America’s business, journalism, and entertainment elite, is the most socially sorted district in the country.[25]

The Regime Crisis

Now I turn to what I call the regime crisis of America, whose nature and symptoms are not limited to America itself but to the very form of liberal democracy, which Canada shares.

Trump is a reminder that we must be careful what we ask for. In particular, Trump is the outcome of the progressive dream for a more egalitarian and indeed more parliamentarian politics. American progressives since Woodrow Wilson have wanted a more effective executive power, and more democracy, than James Madison and friends provided in the constitution. Wilson criticized the Madisonian separation of powers because it provided too many obstacles to the presidency. He wished for a more parliamentary fusion of powers where, as in the Canadian system, legislators depend upon the political executive. He had in mind party discipline and the power to enforce it.

With both Republicans and Democrats adopting primaries in the late 1960s and 1970s, progressives found their means of promoting Wilson’s desire for a strong executive. As political scientist James Ceaser demonstrated back in 1979 in a book called Presidential Selection, primaries were egalitarian devices to promote more democratic means of selecting presidential candidates.[26] Progressives hated the so-called “smoke filled backrooms” because they were seen to be anti-democratic. Better to have primaries where the general party membership—now including anyone who shows up at the door and pays the minimal membership fee—chooses the leader.

Ceaser warned that the primaries would hollow out parties as filters of candidates and as institutions that broker differences. He warned that primaries would make parties vulnerable to populists whose authority would be a personality cult. This explains Trump. It also explains the behavior of Republican members of Congress like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley whose power base is no longer independent of the president—as the Madisonian constitution would have it—but is linked to Trump’s personality cult. Finally, it explains the impotence of Congress for the past couple of decades to advance and enact its own legislative agenda. It is notable that the federal institution that Americans have trusted the least over the last twenty years is Congress. Faced with a fickle and impotent Congress, presidents such as Trump and Obama before him, have acted primarily through executive decrees—Obama’s famous pen and phone.

Obama’s pen and phone exhibit executive power that makes an end-run around the Madisonian system of checks and balances, especially Congress. In 2016 Trump campaigned against the so-called “deep state,” which refers to what political scientists call the administrative state, the bureaucracy.[27]

The hollowing out of the Madisonian Constitution has led to a point where, with Congress largely paralyzed in its legislative capacity, governing now takes place within the executive, which explains why everyone focuses on presidential elections. Within the executive, the administrative state is supposed to obey president’s orders. Under Trump many members of the administrative state viewed themselves as checks on the president himself. The most famous of these was Department of Homeland Security official Miles Taylor, who published the anonymous New York Times editorial in 2018.[28] However the issue goes beyond simply resisting Trump. The problem with the administrative state is that it makes its own claims to govern, according to technical efficiency which checks not just Trump, but the people. This conflicts not only with the Madisonian constitution but with Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Those of you who recall the 1980s British sitcom, Yes, Minister, will recognize what I mean. That show portrayed Sir Humphrey Appleby whose amoral Machiavellian counsel ruling over the cabinet minister Jim Hacker. The show’s writers knew what they were doing. Previously one of them had published a book claiming that Machiavelli’s Prince was the first book of modern management.[29] While Yes, Minister was a brilliant TV show, it expressed a twofold problem of democratic governance that Trump manifests and exploits. First, by providing amoral expertise rather than wisdom, claim of the administrative state of serving the public good is questionable. Bureaucrats have their own interests which can be at odds with voters.

Second, the power of the administrative state hinders democratic self-government. But the problem is thorny because democratic government is messy and, as COVID as shown us, there is demand in the political marketplace for rule by experts. Alexis de Tocqueville who knew lots of French aristocrats and officials in positions first established by Louis XIV, defended democratic self-government by pointing out that, yes, democracy produces a lot of mediocre politicians but it has the advantage of distributing political experience and thus expertise across a wider cross-section of society, which also gives citizens incentive to have a stake in the system and therefore produces stability and general political intelligence.[30] In other words, the Madisonian constitution both depends on but also produces political intelligence in the populace. Tocqueville emphasized the importance of the humblest of its democratic forms, including municipal politics, jury duty, civil society service organizations, churches, and clubs.

When the Madisonian constitution encourages people to come together face-to-face to cooperate, resolve differences, and solve common problems—to be responsible to one another—they are more likely than selfie-taking social media stars or “QAnon Shamans” to develop respect and practice civility with one another. Who knows, perhaps they might even become friends with someone on the other side. Tocqueville summarizes this education in his famous claim about moral development in democratic participation, that “feelings and ideas are renewed, the heart enlarged, and the understanding developed only by the reciprocal action of men one upon another.”[31]

The crises of American politics that may have culminated in the events of January 6 are the result of a process that Tocqueville warned about 180 years ago. This process has hollowed out intermediate public institutions, and unsurprisingly, has harmed people’s capacity for relating to one another, both as responsible citizens and in personal terms. My own scholarly work on the politics of friendship is in part inspired by this crisis.[32]

If January 6 teaches us anything, it should teach us that the problem and its solution is not restricted to the United States. Its roots lie in all of us as modern democratic human beings living in a technological age, with social media and other factors corroding intermediary institutions and democratic forms. Let us not mimic American partisans and assume the problem is all on the other side.


Permit me to conclude on a positive note. The challenge for Americans is to dial down the temperature and at least to mitigate the Girardian cycle of mimetic rivalry. The coming days and weeks will see whether calls to impeach, censure, or indict Trump can do that. But perhaps the solution that might best heal divisions in the US is right in front of them: the election results. If the election was about Trump, then Trump not only lost the presidency, but also both houses of Congress. Trump defines goodness with winning, and on his one and only moral standard, he is a loser. Trump got trumped.

James Madison says to Donald Trump: “you’re fired!”



[1] Thanks to Lee Trepanier, Steven McGuire, and Ken Boessenkool for comments on previous drafts. Errors are my own. An earlier version was presented to the Southern Alberta Council for Public Affairs, January 14, 2021:

[2] Harvey Mansfield, “Final Days: Trump Leaves the Scene on a Dark Note,” City Journal, January 11, 2021,

[3] Yuval Levin, “Trump’s Rebellion Against Rebellion,” The Dispatch, January 7, 2021,

[4] Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison, The Federalist, edited by George W. Carey and James McClellan, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001), 291.

[5] René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, trans. James G. Williams, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001).

[6] Hoang Nyugen, “Republicans and Democrats Think a Rigged Election Would be the Main Reason Their Candidate Lost,” YouGov, October 28, 2020, See the data cited by Larry Diamond et al., “Americans Increasingly Believe Violence is Justified if the Other Side Wins,” Politico, October 9, 2020,

[7] On “whataboutism,” see William Voegeli, “About Whataboutism?,” City Journal, January 12, 2021,

[8] Augustine, City of God, II.19.

[9] Darragh Roche, “Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley Could be Put on No-Fly List, Homeland Security Chair Says,” Newsweek, January 12, 2021,

[10] On the limitations of classical liberalism’s distinction in an era of ideologies and “secondary realities,” see Eric Voegelin, “John Stuart Mill: Freedom of Discussion and Readiness for Discussion,” in Anamnesis: On the Theory of History and Politics, trans. M. J. Hanak, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, volume 6, (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2002), 297—311.

[11] On QAnon, see Adrienne LaFrance, “The Prophecies of Q,” Atlantic Monthly, June 2020, and Matt Alt, “The Flashing Warning of QAnon,” New Yorker, September 26, 2020, On the character of ideological thinking, see Kenneth Minogue, Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology, (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2008).

[12] Ryan Mills, “The ‘Q Shaman’ on Why He Stormed the Capitol Dressed as a Viking,” National Review, January 8, 2021,

[13] See Joshua Mitchell, American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time, (New York: Encounter Books, 2020), Part One and Mark T. Mitchell, Power and Purity: The Unholy Marriage That Spawned America’s Social Justice Warriors, (Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway, 2020). Both books identify the Nietzscheanization of politics as the key contributing factor.

[14] On the concept of political religion, see Eric Voegelin, “The Political Religions,” in Modernity Without Restraint: The Political Religions; The New Science of Politics; and Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, volume 5, edited by Manfred Henningsen, (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 10—73.

[15] “And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains… an unuprooted small corner of evil” (Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918—1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, III—IV, trans. Thomas P. Whitney, (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975), 615.

[16] Jesse O’Neil, “Rioter in horned helmet is refusing to eat non-organic food in jail,” New York Post, January 11, 2021,

[17] Foa, R.S., Klassen, A., Slade, M., Rand, A. and R. Collins. 2020. “The Global Satisfaction with Democracy Report 2020.” Cambridge, United Kingdom: Centre for the Future of Democracy,

[18] Ron Suskind, “Faith, Certainty, and the Presidency of George W. Bush,” New York Times Magazine, October 17, 2004,

[19] On the relationship between political sovereignty and the contemporary “sovereign self,” see Jean Bethke Elshtain, Sovereignty: God, State, and Self, The Gifford Lectures, (New York: Basic Books, 2008).

[20] On this as a moral crisis, see Richard Avramenko and Richard Boyd, “Subprime Virtues: The Moral Dimensions of American Housing and Mortgage Policy,” Perspectives on Politics, 11(1) (2013): 111—31.

[21] Mary Ann Glendon, Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse, (New York: Free Press, 1993). See also Elshtain, Democracy on Trial, CBC Massey Lectures, (Toronto: House of Anansi, 1993).

[22] See Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges, The Ancient City: A Study of the Religion, Laws, and Institutions of Greece and Rome, trans. Willard Small, (London: Dover, 2006).

[23] Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001).

[24] See Lilliana Mason, Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018).

[25] Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960—2010, (New York: Crown Forum, 2013), chapter 3.

[26] James Ceaser, Presidential Selection: Theory and Development, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979). On its importance for the Trump era, see Emma Green, “The Downside of Democracy,” Atlantic Monthly, May 29, 2016,

[27] John Marini, Unmasking the Administrative State: The Crisis of American Politics in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Ken Masugi, (New York: Encounter Books, 2019).

[28] Michael D. Shear, “Miles Taylor, a Former Homeland Security Official, Reveals He Was ‘Anonymous,’” New York Times, October 28, 2020,

[29] Antony Jay, Management and Machiavelli: An Inquiry into the Politics of Corporate Life, (Washington: Pfeiffer and Co., 1994).

[30] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, volume II, ed., Eduardo Nolla, trans. James Schleifer, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010), Part II, chapter 6 (“What are the Real Advantages That American Society Gains from the Government of Democracy?”), pp. 375—401.

[31] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. III, Part II, Ch 5, p. 900.

[32] John von Heyking, The Form of Politics: Aristotle and Plato on Friendship, (Montréal-Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2016) and Comprehensive Judgment and Absolute Selflessness: Winston Churchill on Politics as Friendship, (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2018).

John von HeykingJohn von Heyking

John von Heyking

John von Heyking is a Board Member and Book Review Editor of Voegelinview as well as a Professor of Political Science at the University of Lethbridge in Canada. He is author and editor of several books, including The Form of Politics: Aristotle and Plato on Friendship (McGill-Queen's, 2016) and Comprehensive Judgment and Absolute Selflessness: Winston Churchill on Politics as Friendship (St. Augustine’s, 2018).

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