It is part of the absurdity of American life that we decide questions of truth under the guise of settling contests of rights. Which means that we decide questions of truth without thinking deeply or even very honestly about them. Thus, while it is obvious to many that we are living through a profound cultural revolution, it is less than clear just what sort of revolution it is—though with Obergefell and the Obama administration’s recent decree abolishing human nature in response to North Carolina’s “bathroom law,” it takes a real effort not to see. The sexual revolution is not simply an overturning of sexual morality or family law, but a revolution in our fundamental view of human nature that promises to reshape who we are as human beings. What previous generations took for granted—for example, that man, woman, mother, and father name natural realities as well as social roles, that children issue naturally from their union, that the marriage of man and woman is the foundation of human society—all this is now increasingly regarded as obsolete and even hopelessly bigoted.
We will need new archetypes of these basic human realities. Language will have to be purged, education reformed. A concerted effort at stupefaction must be undertaken to ensure that reality does not impinge on thought. Thankfully we have modern education and global media, each rigorously committed to not thinking seriously about the nature of things. We will need new rights and a new morality, rigorous policing of the bounds of acceptable thought and speech, and new mechanisms of surveillance and enforcement for punishing transgressors of the emerging orthodoxy by legal and extra-legal means.
The most stunning thing about the rapid put-down of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) legislation and the spotlighting of the proprietors of Memories Pizza is not the sudden shift in public opinion or the new alliance between big business and progressive politics, arguably the historical norm rather than the exception. Rather, it is the bare fact that it is now possible to amass and project such force almost instantaneously prior to and independent of any decision of the law. Who needs a Stasi when you have a neighbor armed with an iPhone and a Twitter account ready to ruin your life in real time? It is not clear that any actions of the courts or any amount of live-and-let-live tolerance would have sufficed to tame the furies once they were unleashed. The forces of this revolution, once they are set in motion, cannot easily be recalled or contained within the scope of law.
We are unlikely to withstand a revolution that we do not understand, and yet I worry that our American habits of mind leave us unequipped to comprehend this one. Despite our native suspicion of political power, Americans believe deeply in politics as such. Because we have no common faith, history, or culture outside the decision to found the nation on eighteenth-century philosophical principles, we have always looked to politics and the law to perform the work of faith, culture, and tradition in giving us an identity as a people. Politics is first philosophy for us. All real questions are political, and the liberal pretense of excluding questions of ultimate meaning from public deliberation only reinforces this habit of mind. We do not look or think beyond liberal order because for us there is no beyond. There be dragons. Yet the “priority of the political” places a voluntary limit on our thinking that becomes an involuntary limit on our vision, and so we remain mostly blind to the forces deeper than politics that threaten us. Indeed, to suggest that there might be “forces of history” besides those inspired by Adam Smith that govern us more deeply than the rule of law is to incur an anathema sit and branding as a Hegelian traitor to the American tradition of thought.
Yet technology, with its interminable dynamism, is just such a historical force. And the sexual revolution is at bottom the technological revolution turned on ourselves. Technology does not wait on politics, as the Indiana RFRA example shows. Yielding to no limit but the limit of possibility, technological order is essentially totalitarian, eliminating any order over which it does not preside. Technocratic totalitarianism is uniquely “post-political,” however, not because political order or political mischief is at an end, or because political action is no longer important. Post-political absolutism may even inflame the desire for a political absolutism that promises to restore control, a partial explanation for the Trump phenomenon. Technocratic totalitarianism is post-political because liberal order is itself reactive to—and, indeed, the instrument of—technological exigencies that it helps to unleash but cannot finally govern.