In a speech Wednesday, Attorney General Bill Barr slammed the left for embracing a “totalitarian” philosophy that undermines democracy.
Barr expressed his concern that religion is being driven from the public square by increasingly “militant” progressives who control American culture.
“They want able-bodied citizens to become more dependent, subject to greater control, and increasingly supportive of dependency. The tacit goal of this project is to convert all of us into 25-year-olds living in the government’s basement, focusing our energies on obtaining a larger allowance rather than getting a job and moving out,” he warned in a speech to the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
Barr: liberalism is becoming “totalitarian”
Barr has taken criticism from the Left for a series of speeches candidly criticizing what he calls “militant” secularism and arguing that religion is necessary to the functioning of democracy. His arguments have prompted hysterical, turgid write-ups accusing him of harboring a shadowy right-wing agenda.
In his latest comments on the topic, Barr argued that the current tensions in American politics stem from the clashing of two worldviews: on the one hand “liberal democracy,” which values personal liberty and limited government, and on the other, “totalitarian democracy,” which subjects the individual to “elite conceptions about what best serves the collective.” Barr, who is Catholic, traced the blessings of liberal democracy to St. Augustine, and the terrors of “totalitarian democracy” to the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
The difference between the two philosophies boils down to how they understand human nature and its relationship to the state. Liberal democracy accepts the “imperfect” nature of humans — and the existence of a life beyond this life — and therefore sees government as only a “necessary evil” to maintain worldly order, but totalitarian democracy sees man as good in his natural state, but corrupted by society’s customs. Therefore, it seeks to return man to his natural state of goodness by recklessly tearing down tradition with the power of the state. As Barr put it:
Totalitarian democracy is almost always secular and materialistic, and its adherents tend to treat politics as a substitute for religion. Their sacred mission is to use the coercive power of the state to remake man and society according to an abstract ideal of perfection. The virtue of any individual is defined by whether they are aligned with the program.
Role of religion
Barr went on to describe “totalitarian democracy,” which unlike liberal democracy, takes its marching orders from an “elite” group despite its “democratic” form. He warned of increasingly “totalitarian” liberals who seek to use democracy as a weapon to push a “socialist” and “revolutionary” agenda. Their goal is to enslave people by turning them into dependents — like children of the government — through a form of “soft” despotism. Barr explained:
Over the past few decades, those further to the left have increasingly identified themselves as ‘progressives’ rather than ‘liberals.’ And some of these self-proclaimed ‘progressives’ have become increasingly militant and totalitarian in their style. While they seek power through the democratic process, their policy agenda has become more aggressively collectivist, socialist, and explicitly revolutionary.
The antidotes to this tyranny, he said, are religion, freedom of the press and decentralized government. Religion, he said, helps keep government in check because it instills moral values in the people to help them regulate themselves. But religion also acts as a check on the “hubris” of the ambitious programs of perfection of totalitarian democracy, and it tempers political passions by making “clear that what happens here on earth is only transient –not eternal.”
But the Left, Barr said, has worked to “promote a culture of disbelief” and seeks the “weakening of religion” in the name of the separation of church and state.
The way out
Second, Barr lamented that the consolidation of power by the federal government had introduced a “one size fits all” mentality, in which there is only one national solution for every public problem. The centralization of power in Washington, D.C. has nationalized politics and undercut the natural diversity of values and opinion in different communities, making every political issue into a national contest between “combatants who often do not even comprehend their opponents’ perspective.”
Finally, Barr said that the media today is “remarkably monolithic in viewpoint” and journalists now see themselves as “agents for change” rather than objective reporters, further adding to the acrimony of the times. The consolidation of opinion in corporate media makes it easier to whip up a majoritarian tyranny, along the lines of opinion that the media sets. The way out of this mess, he said, is to celebrate religion, devolve power back to localities, and affirm the diversity of opinions and voices in media.
“This means fostering a culture that is truly pluralistic. It means all viewpoints must be treated fairly – not simply the viewpoints favored by our cultural elites. And it especially means giving our respect to religion as a vital pillar of our society. Religion is something we should celebrate, not disparage,” he said.