Who Rules in America Today?

A Review of Auron MacIntyre’s The Total State

Auron MacIntyre is the tapper of signs and exploder of conservative myths. 

To no one’s surprise, MacIntyre made the most perceptive and penetrating critique of the latest out-of-touch lecture from conservative pundit Erick Erickson. Patiently responding to each of Erickson’s warmed-over talking points, MacIntyre showed how he put the doctrinaire tenets of True Conservatism™ above the very people they should serve. 

MacIntyre rightly argued that elevating “limited government” and “free trade” to the status of principle is a category error that confuses ends and means. Instead, the Right should strive to promote the good of American citizens, not an abstract ideology. 

He also pointed out that the Right must be comfortable with wielding political power. They should not shun it out of a misplaced sense of chivalry, which has resulted in the Left filling the vacuum, helping their own constituency and crushing the Right. 

Above all, MacIntyre told his audience that the Right must recognize that in light of the conservative movement’s endless string of losses on the most consequential matters, we now need to think of ourselves as restorationists since there is not much left to preserve. In the coming years, he argues that the Right must look to build new institutions and form strong local communities rather than attempt to relive the glory days of a long-dead past.

That any of these insights are particularly noteworthy speaks volumes about the present state of certain corners of the Right. 

What Jordan Peterson has done for getting men and women to wake up and be competent human beings who can function in the world, MacIntyre is doing for politics, but shorn of the often impenetrable prose of Carl Jung. He’s transmitting political truths to average Americans, markedly improving their understanding of how politics actually operates given our fallen human nature.

A columnist for The Blaze and host of The Auron MacIntyre Show, he has in short order rocketed from obscurity to becoming the voice of a new generation on the Right. As Martyr Made recently noted on X, MacIntyre “sets the tone more than most prime time cable news hosts.” Fed up with libertarian bromides and a seemingly unstoppable Left, Zoomers and young Millennials are especially flocking to hear his daily commentary, trying to figure out what they can do to promote a healthy civil society.

MacIntyre’s audience will certainly be pleased with his first book, The Total State: How Liberal Democracies Become Tyrannies, which supplies the Right with a critical analysis of who rules in America today. This short work was prompted by his political awakening over the past half decade, which likely mirrors the story of many who now find themselves somewhere on the Right.

Previously, MacIntyre was a true believer in the founding myth of liberal democracy, which is taught in principle by both the Left and Right. That myth goes something like this: the Enlightenment’s smashing of biblical superstitions and oppressive aristocracies of the ancien régime allowed for the rise of liberal democracy. Through revolutions, countries like the United States and France were established on abstract ideas of equality and liberty. Liberal democracies have worked ever since to expand the horizons of liberty to previously oppressed groups, based on markers of race, gender, and sexual identity, and have also been called to spread the blessings of democracy the world over.

Living through wave after wave of national disasters, however, left this triumphalist narrative in tatters for MacIntyre. He witnessed the media’s horrifically biased reporting on Donald Trump, along with the machinations of the Deep State before he took office. MacIntyre saw the effects of the 1619 riots after George Floyd’s death, which were funded by a constellation of leftist non-profits and caused billions in damage in hundreds of cities across the nation. And he watched in horror at the government’s response to Covid-19, which received minimal pushback from institutions that were allegedly dedicated to upholding individual rights and liberties. 

As MacIntyre recounts, 

If we have been told all our lives that we live in an age of unprecedented liberty protected by constitutional limits on government and individual rights but find a government that is ever-expanding, extending its tentacles into areas previously never thought imaginable, then we must be willing to concede that we were sold a falsehood.

Trying to make sense of reality and not finding much help, MacIntyre turned to an array of dissident thinkers, including Samuel Francis, Curtis Yarvin, Carl Schmitt, and James Burnham, to explain how we arrived at our present reality.

The Total State Defined

For MacIntyre, the American story is its transformation from a constitutional republic to the total state. We currently live under the authority of a vast, interlocking network of entities that exist far beyond the bounds of our political institutions. He argues that this cabal encompasses Big Tech, the administrative state, mass media, public education, Fortune 500 companies, sports leagues, and political leaders, or what Yarvin has labeled the Cathedral and others have called the regime

One major benefit of this arrangement is that by making a “nameless, faceless, ever-shifting process the agent of totalitarian oppression,” MacIntyre says that these “rulers can obfuscate the source of power and how it is actually applied.” At the federal level especially, elections are mostly about choosing the figureheads of our decline, not selecting those who are actually responsible for operating the total state. And when candidates who present a true threat somehow win, they are stymied by unelected bureaucrats and officials, the supposed Avengers of liberal democracy. In the infamous words of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, this cabal has “six ways from Sunday” to remove problematic people from public life, destroying their livelihoods in the process.

Using a phrase of Machiavelli’s, the managers of the total state seek to keep Americans “satisfied and stupefied” through a smorgasbord of soma: instant, 24/7 access to porn and sports gambling, endless streaming shows and pop music that undermine traditional morality, and countless hours of video games. As MacIntyre notes, this is all according to plan: “The state must actively seek to shape the private and public lives of its citizens in order to homogenize influences that could introduce variance and instability.” 

Beyond the wildest imagination of a divine-right king, the total state pursues the total subjugation of individuals by liberating them of any other competing authorities. “By dissolving the bonds and obligations of family, tribe, and religion,” MacIntyre writes, “the ruler can make his subjects entirely loyal to and dependent on the state.” 

Our universities are one such institution that acts as an acid on the ties that bind, looking to produce elites who, says MacIntyre, are “singing from the same hymn sheet.” This goal is not new but has been the aim of American elites for well over a century. As Woodrow Wilson once told the Young Men’s Christian Association of Pittsburgh, the “use of a university is to make young gentlemen as unlike their fathers as possible.” 

In the eyes of the total state, institutions of higher education function as the seminaries that inculcate our state religion. They catechize future elites, along with their foot soldiers and supporters, into believing a set of incontrovertible truths that buttress their continued dominance. Incompatible with the truths taught both by Scripture and nature, this new orthodoxy is an “atheistic theology” that baptizes narcissism, making millions of minor deities whose serve the regime. The total state is a jealous god and will have no other gods before it.

Though it lacks “an official propaganda organ,” MacIntyre writes that the total state protects itself by churning out a constant stream of propaganda through all available channels that is targeted, per Samuel Francis, at reconstituting the middle class. Anti-white racism, transgenderism, and radical feminism should be understood as being useful for undermining the moral and martial virtues that birthed our nation. By tearing down all vestiges of the middle class’s traditions and symbols, MacIntyre maintains that the total state seeks to create “a world in which alternatives to its power seem increasingly impossible.”

Since the total state is given legitimacy by what appears to be the consent of the governed, it must always “further state propaganda” that is aimed to cabin public opinion within the consensus morality. Remember the “Fiery, but peaceful protests” CNN chyron during the riots after George Floyd’s death? This was more than simple gaslighting: it was part of a wholescale movement to alter reality itself, conforming to the movie the elites want us to watch.

Rather than possessing the patriotic, above-board virtues of the lion, our current crop of elites are mostly foxes. MacIntyre defines this basic type of ruler as one who leans “heavily on manipulation of systems along with the subtle control of information and data to maintain order.” After matriculating from the universities, they are then shuffled off to fill various managerial roles in the bureaucratic systems they’ve inherited.

As James Burnham has sketched out in numerous works, the problem is that these managers have been liberated from the concerns of owners. Instead, they presently work to safeguard and expand the technical systems they’ve created, forever insulated in the bureaucracies where they carry out their work. Since their loyalty is to a system rather than a specific people with particular customs and traditions, they aim to homogenize America, and then the world. 

Think of Apple, which stamps its products with “Designed by Apple in California.” This masks the reality that 95 percent of its products are being made in China, which was boosted in large part by that country’s entrance into the World Trade Organization in 2001. Apple’s concerns for what’s good for America and Americans evaporated a long time ago. The same goes for almost every corporate behemoth headquartered in geographic America.

MacIntyre notes that the bureaucracies that make up the administrative state, essentially a fourth branch of government made up of myriad federal agencies and departments, enable “the centralization of power and loyalty by allowing the ruler to manage an ever-larger domain without the need to negotiate with competing political spheres.” As the legislative branch delegated its powers to unelected bureaucrats in the twentieth century, politics became pushed aside in favor of management, efficiency, competency, and technique. For the elites, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Humphrey’s Executor v. U.S. was a godsend, because it was the beginning of a line of cases that severed executive oversight of the bureaucracy, making way for millions of petty tyrants to rule rather than one possible tyrant. 

Unlike some who have let their populism get the better of them, MacIntyre fully understands that a ruling elite will always be present. “A wise ruling class will strike a balance between protecting its own power and allowing for the circulation of new elites,” he notes. A healthy elite will work for the good of the political community. It will also be open for new members to join, some of whom may not always filter up through permitted pathways. This is a far cry from our current crop of elites, who have virtually shut off advancement outside of approved channels. And those elites who rise but then become traitors to their class like J.D. Vance, Elon Musk, and Brendan Eich get treated as the dregs of society. 

What is the total state’s overall goal? Taking a cue from C.S. Lewis’s teachings in The Abolition of Man, MacIntyre writes that “once a generation truly masters human nature, once they understand how to strip man of the sacred and reduce him to a material object, mere inputs and outputs that can be manipulated and engineered, then that generation will become the last that is truly human.” Attempting to perfect mankind through applied techniques, the elites hope to transcend the very bounds of humanity itself, attempting to reach Heaven by way of a new Tower of Babel, this one being made up of piles of androgynous, scarred bodies.

The Chief Myths of Conservatism

Throughout the Total State, MacIntyre takes on some of the prevalent falsehoods that conservatives have been telling themselves for decades, which have prevented them from taking meaningful political action. 

From Carl Schmitt, MacIntyre learned that the quaint idea we can somehow remove the political from politics is false. The comfortable notion among some on the scholarly Right that politics is about a cordial exchange of ideas through a series of orderly debates had in moderate tones, voices never being raised. But this is simply not reality. MacIntyre argues that instead of this utopian view, human nature dictates that politics will always be largely based around groups who see the other as fundamentally a political enemy, and thus work to negate each other’s way of life.

MacIntyre, however, would have done better to go beyond Schmitt’s ultimately faulty understanding of the friend-enemy distinction to the view of the classical philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. Ben Crenshaw made the case at The American Mind that unlike Schmitt, whose project was undermined due to eschewing “all moral, aesthetic, economic, and judicial criteria for defining friend and enemy,” the classics instead “distinguished friend and enemy according to a philosophic (and religious) understanding of courage, justice, moderation, and wisdom—the cardinal virtues.”

Another patent untruth is the myth of the neutral institution, which even someone like Woodrow Wilson would have smirked at. After all, the political theory behind the modern administrative state, based in large part on Wilson’s reading of German state theorists like Johann Bluntschli, along with his own rather poor understanding of Georg W.F. Hegel, was founded on explicit moral conceptions. Bureaucrats were taught a moralistic view of historical progress that was to be their only star and compass. It was their mission to guide humanity toward perfection through the applied techniques of the new science of politics. Quite simply, there was never anything neutral about this project.

MacIntyre points to a particularly eye-rolling conservative folly: always sputtering about the Left’s hypocrisy, noting that they would never get away with doing the same thing. He argues that it’s about hierarchy rather than hypocrisy, a teaching that conservatives still have a difficult time accepting. Conservatives have “failed spectacularly because they had assumed they were competing on a level playing field with opponents who had a similar moral framework,” MacIntyre rightly contends. But shame doesn’t work when the opposition is completely and utterly shameless about helping friends and harming enemies regardless of what the law says.

Finally, MacIntyre calls into question the seemingly conservative idea that the American people deserve all the blame for the mess we are in. While this may be true historically, because the true sources of power are hidden from view—Schoolhouse Rock! is light years away from the way power is exercised in America today—citizens have few, if any, ways to hold the total state to account. But no matter, its apparatchiks conveniently shift all the blame to voters, sitting in their penthouses as they bemoan the sad state of poor whites in Appalachia, and joined by conservative pundits who pile on even more bile.

Charting the Path Forward

Constitutional conservatism won’t get us out of this situation. Invoking the right magic incantations is useless. Trying to make the federal government stay with prescribed constitutional limits through an Article V convention is a fool’s errand. Calls for instituting a flat tax and establishing economic freedom zones do not come close to matching the gravity of the problems we face. 

Compounding this is that those who talk about returning to the Constitution typically overlook the inconvenient fact that republican government requires a virtuous citizenry. Mere parchment barriers will never be sufficient to reign in a degenerate people, a position shared by all of America’s founders. Article XVIII of the Declaration of Rights in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 summed up their consensus view: “a constant adherence to those of piety, justice, moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality, are absolutely necessary, to preserve the advantages of liberty, and to maintain a free government.” 

Rather than hobble along into perpetuity or wait for a strongman who will right the ship of state, MacIntyre expects a gradual decline that could even feature skirmishes between the central authority and the separate states or regions that have gone rogue. Though life will become worse in noticeable respects, including featuring “political instability and a reduced standard of living,” communities could gain some measure of needed independence, thereby giving them the opportunity to rebuild strong communities and good government over time. 

MacIntyre writes that citizens at that future time—and also now—should be “forming strong families, taking on responsibility of caring for our loved ones, and sacrificing some degree of leisure for the duties that come with independence.” Communities should be forged that are defined by hard work and “dedicated citizens willing to bind themselves together and better the lives of their neighbors.” 

No government—not even the total state—is eternal. Even managed decline will eventually give way to a crack up. The cycle of regimes will continue. Are you prepared? Do you have what it may take in the coming years and decades ahead to survive and pass on your heritage to the next generation? Because the only way out is through.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Mike Sabo

Mike Sabo is a Contributing Editor of American Reformer and an Assistant Editor of The American Mind, the online journal of the Claremont Institute. His writing has appeared at RealClearPolitics, The Federalist, Public Discourse, and American Greatness, among other outlets. He lives with his wife and son in Cincinnati.

2 thoughts on “Who Rules in America Today?

  1. Great article. My belief is that there will absolutely be major conflicts between State and National government. Ultimately, the National government is beholden to the interests of “the regime”, “the cathedral”, or whatever you choose to call it. The State governments still haven’t been fully captured, and still have to maintain some semblance of loyalty to their own interests. As our political situation is unraveling and becoming more openly hostile, these interests are going to come into conflict.

    We need to pay more attention to who our state governors are and make sure that they have a spine.

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