It might seem counterintuitive to assert that the spirit of 18th-century American Loyalists lives on in the Left, given that they were the conservatives of their era, loyal to tradition, proponents of gradualism, fearful of mob rule, protective of property, and heavily represented in the upper crust. But things change.
What we have now is somewhat similar to the largely unremarked problem of the two Koreas. Before the north-south division at the 38th parallel, the undivided country was split politically. Whereas every vestige of the Right now has been vaporized in the North, the Left remains in the South, which partially explains the posture of the current Korean administration. We, too, suffer a hidden division, the persistence of Toryism into the present day, detectible in the Left’s preferences and ideology. Whether this is a continuation, imitation, or coincidence is immaterial to what it illuminates.
Like American Tories, the Left looks east—if not to England, then variously to the imagined socialism of Scandinavia; to any country sharply critical of American interests; the Soviet Union during its entire existence; Italy when Mussolini made the trains run on time; Germany during the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact; and France when it raises its hackles whenever the U.S., like France itself, intervenes abroad. In my time at Oxford I discovered that seemingly half of the Americans there disguised themselves as British or Canadian (fake accents included), and were no more patriotic than Rhodes Scholar Bill Clinton as he participated in anti-American demonstrations.
American universities have long inverted Harvard’s and Yale’s dispatch of missionaries to the heathen, and pushed their students to go abroad in pursuit of the knowledge for correcting and reforming us according to the American university’s view, which is that all cultures are equal but ours, until we remake it in the image of those who despise us.
Prompted by the Revolution, Loyalists fled to Canada, Britain, and the empire. During the Vietnam War, the Left managed a pale but credible imitation. Among leftists one can find, even in the highest reaches of government, “citizens of the world” who consider allegiance to the United States insufficient, passé, and embarrassing. Faced with the existential threat of a Republican president, “celebrities” whose tiny heads are filled with not-even-compressed gas declare on schedule that they will move to Canada or France, though, unfortunately, they never do.
Much of what is described above can be attributed to snobbism and the tendency of weak characters to ally with their assumed betters against the deplorable family into which they were born. The Left’s similarities to the Tories, however, go deeper and are of greater import.
In dividing and locking down the spoils according to accidents of birth, how far is our new, Lebanese-style, identitarian politics from the 18th-century British class system? The Left, which used to exaggerate class divisions in America ad absurdum, now eagerly imposes a biologically based hierarchy far more rigid than the one atop which sat George III, a system impossible to escape unless you are Elizabeth Warren, Rachel Dolezal, Hilaria Baldwin, or a college applicant hoping he might be 1/64th Algonquin.
This was the kind of society from which the Loyalists, knowing no other, perhaps understandably did not wish to unmoor themselves and sail into a new, dangerous, revolutionary world. In the Civil War—the Revolution’s second act—their archaic race-and-class-conscious cousins in the Confederacy tried to hang on against the same Declaration of Independence that now their race-and-class-conscious descendants similarly revile and reject.
Not surprisingly, the “living Constitution” favored by today’s Left is a dream of reversion to the British Constitution from which the framers consciously departed so as to guarantee a government not of aristocrats, flighty opinion, or commissars, but of laws. Replacing the king with a document was scandalous enough to trigger a war. A later Tory, Woodrow Wilson, proposed replacing the document with the kind of philosopher kings such as he considered himself, and the Left has signed on ever since.
Which brings us to the greatest similarity between today’s Left and their Loyalist and Tory ideological forbears—tolerance of and even affection for kingly authority. If what you want are predetermined outcomes, what better and more efficient way to achieve them than by royal decree or its modern equivalents in the administrative state? People who know their place and acquiesce in exchange for steady benefits do not have to risk the uncertainties of competition and loss. And the mandarins who determine how everything and everyone are arranged have easier work and reward. Life is more settled and predictable—as in prison.
This brand of stasis was shattered by the Revolution and once more in the Civil War. Yet once again, the lines are drawn. Because the Left takes to the streets and is hostile to—mainly—social and sexual traditions, it thinks itself revolutionary. But it is as counterrevolutionary as its forbears in that it rejects the greatest and most beneficial political upheaval in history—the American idea of liberty, equality, consent of the governed, and natural right. Like its forbears, it rejects America itself. Such opposition then was in favor of the king, and now is in favor of the vision of a static utopia that, because it does not and cannot exist, requires tyrannical authority to establish, sustain, and enforce the illusion that it can.
Then, it was lèse-majesté; now, the de facto abolition of freedom of speech. Then, it was the protection of a rigid social structure; now, the creation of a rigid social structure. Then, it was to preserve without consent the power of the king and his government; now, it is regression to a similar kind of rule and the fanatical re-creation of ancient cantonments for the body, mind, and spirit.