The Rational Policy Podcast Episode 6 – 2022 Midterm Recap

The 2022 midterm elections were quite eventful, seeing mixed results in the Senate, House, and gubernatorial elections. Listen in to this episode of the show to hear the latest updates, analysis of the various races, and overall takeaways from the election. Will the Republicans dump Trump? Will the Democrats double down on Biden? Will American voters ever have candidates they want to vote for, instead of merely voting against the other guy? Tune in for these answers and more.

https://anchor.fm/rationalpolicy/episodes/Episode-6—2022-Midterm-Recap-e1qlu3p


The Millenarian Midterm: https://rationalpolicy.com/2022/11/03/the-millenarian-midterm/

The King Over the Water: https://rationalpolicy.com/2022/10/20/the-king-over-the-water/

The Millenarian Midterm

American politics is replete with apocalyptic and millenarian rhetoric; this has only ramped up in the leadup to the 2022 midterm election. Thankfully, those who feel this way are dead wrong.


Norman Cohn published his excellent academic tome on European religious apocalypticism, The Pursuit of the Millennium, in 1957. It dealt primarily with groups and events which occurred nearly a thousand years earlier, yet it is just as relevant to modern politics as it is to Medieval heresy. Cohn describes an era that was rapidly changing socially, culturally, economically, and politically; he writes of charismatic prophets, millenarian movements, and revolutionary vanguards. In the Middle Ages in Europe, these changes and the various group responses to them revolved heavily around religion – the center of life for the people of the time. This period was full of religious sects and ideologies which believed in the immediate coming of the end of the world and the replacement of the current society with a new world order[1] – either the Kingdom of God, or a version of Hell on Earth. These millenarian movements were very Manichaean in their outlook; they saw only good and evil, with no area in between. Of course, the members of the in-group were good and fought for Christ, while their persecutors were evil servants of Satan or the Antichrist.

Given this eternal struggle for the future of existence – a future that would, again, be decided imminently – accepted social morality and religious doctrine were quick casualties to the necessity of winning the battle for the soul of the world. One such sect, the adherents of the Free Spirit movement, were spread across Europe over five centuries and, according to Cohn, represented “the only thoroughly revolutionary social doctrine that existed” at the time.[2] Their brand of radical individual salvation led to “an affirmation of freedom so reckless and unqualified that it amounted to a total denial of every kind of restraint and limitation;”[3] everything could be theologically justified. This attitude was embraced by many millenarian groups during the Middle Ages, often leading them into violence, revolt, drastic social change, harsh treatment of dissent, and – eventually – death at the hands of the Church or State. All of this stemmed from the idea that the end was nigh, and true believers had to act accordingly to achieve salvation and defeat the foe which sought to destroy the world God built for His children.

If you’ve been paying attention to politics over the past several years, you may find these ideas and tropes painfully familiar. Our partisan politics – the closest thing modern secular society has to Medieval religion – has been riven by Manichaean thinking, revolutionary eschatology, radical ideologies, and apocalyptic warnings. People on both right and left see their ideological rivals as seriously attempting to destroy the country – if not the entirety of civilization – and claim the current moment as the precipice of either total victory or total defeat for their cause. These stakes are viewed as permanent, with no path back for the losers in the new world created by and for the victors. As such, any actions taken to avert this catastrophe are justified and justifiable. “By any means necessary” is not an uncommon adage to hear in radical political circles. This is all millenarian thinking. And as the 2022 midterms approach, this millenarianism has ramped up to 11.

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The King Over the Water

On the folly of yoking a political movement to a lost cause.


Political parties and movements have often been captured by strong personalities and wild overpromises. One is reminded in this regard of the rise and dominance of the Jacobins of the French Revolution, led by the irrepressible Maximilien Robespierre and driven by promises of utopia and crusades against an ever-changing roster of ideological foes. To borrow a phrase from the counterrevolutionary thinker Jacques Mallet du Pan, the Revolution often ‘devoured its own children’ on its continuing quest to root out wrongthink and redress perceived injustices. The Jacobin Terror destroyed the progressive dreams of its supporters in a blood-fueled spasm of violence, turning the French Revolution in a decidedly more moderate direction that ended with the eventual restoration of the very monarchy it overthrew. Processes like these have recurred again and again throughout history, usually ending in a total rout for groups like the Jacobins; it is quite a bit rarer for the defeated party to hang around afterwards, still siphoning loyalty and attention from its backers.

We are seeing a version of this phenomenon playing itself out in real time in American right-wing politics. As the consequential 2022 midterm elections approach and chatter begins around the 2024 Presidential election (I’m sorry, but yes, it’s already here.), Republicans and conservatives are faced with a stark choice: return to the MAGA fold and embrace Donald Trump, or move forward with new blood and ideological competition. The answer they choose will determine whether the party capitalizes on an historic opportunity to dominate American politics and advance conservative ideas or fails and is forced deeper into the political and ideological wilderness during a crucial period for the nation. As noted, this is not a new occurrence in political history, although it is uncommon. Focusing on past grievances and trying to turn back the political clock generally isn’t a winning strategy, especially when it is paired with overpromises and personality cults. Still, these lost causes have drawn support time and time again. One of the prime historic examples of the power of such a combination to ruin political fortunes and movements comes from 17th and 18th century Britain: the failure of the Jacobites.[1]

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No, Giorgia Meloni Is Not a Fascist

This past weekend, Italy held snap parliamentary elections to replace its unpopular government. Although results are still being finalized, it looks as though the big winner of the day was the right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party. Brothers of Italy received the greatest share of the vote, twenty-six percent, and together with Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, they seem poised to build a government with popular backing.

If you’ve heard anything about the results of this democratic process from the mainstream media, however, it has likely been descriptions of Brothers of Italy and particularly Meloni herself as “hard right,” “far-right,” or even “fascist.” She has been labeled “a danger to Italy and the rest of Europe” by The Guardian, and the New York Times called her “the first far-right nationalist to govern Italy since Mussolini.” Reading those pieces, you might expect Meloni’s views to echo Il Duce’s famous fascist dictum: “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.” In reality, this media framing relies purely on conjecture, guilt by association, bad history, and bias.

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Beware of “Democracy in Danger”

The rhetoric of imminent threats to the political system has been used and abused throughout history to stifle dissent, polarize politics, ostracize opposition, and much, much worse.


Political persuasion has been an art for millennia, going back to the very earliest non-absolutist systems such as ancient Greece and republican Rome. In those days, the targets of persuasion were primarily a socially-homogenous elite oligarchy which controlled politics without real input from the majority of the people. As time went on and these systems evolved (with fits and starts) into their more modern and recognizable forms, bringing more people into the political process, the targets of persuasion broadened. This expansion of the electorate, especially after the democratic revolutions and reforms of the 18th and 19th centuries, helped lead to the simplified messaging, inflammatory rhetoric, and hyperbolized language we are so familiar with today. Perhaps the easiest message by which to persuade voters to your side is the invocation of peril, especially to the political system or “way of life.” Much of the power of this message emanates from the association of the State with the People more broadly; instead of Louis XIV’s formulation “L’état, c’est moi,” we have a more pluralistic – although no more accurate – vision, “Létat, c’est nous.” This binding of People with State makes it possible to expand a narrow political danger to encompass all of society, feeding an attitude of existential menace. This stoking of a feeling of danger to the very foundations of the nation (and thus the People) is a powerful motivator by which to get your way politically; as such, it has been used by governments repeatedly over the past two centuries to achieve their goals – often for the worse.

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