Twenty-five years ago this weekend, Mikhail Gorbachev took the reins of power in the now defunct, late-but-not-lamented Soviet Union, upon the death of Konstantin Chernenko. It is an open question as to whether or not Chernenko had been alive for long before this, or was he just propped up? And maybe it is just a coincidence that the movie Weekend at Bernie's came out just a few years later. After all, the director was of Bulgarian (Soviet Bloc) descent. Just sayin’.
At any rate, Gorbachev’s rise to power is seen now in hindsight as the moment the tide began to turn in the Cold War, with the at-first slow, then accelerated breakdown of the Soviet machine—a socialist system. Within a few years, a wall came tumbling down and once-enslaved republics broke free from Soviet hegemony. Some began the slow process of converting to a measure of capitalism, though finding it tough going in light of the fact that the resident populations were so accustomed to having everything (what little “everything” was in such places) provided for them—from housing, to, yes—health care.
George Santayana where are you when we need you?
Conservatives don’t worship the past—or at least we shouldn’t—but we do see it as a valid reference point in decision-making about the future. Those who fashion themselves more “progressive” (actually a term with its own past) suggest we should go into the future experimentally and without the safety net of tried-and-true precedence. And when certain ideas and ideals from the past are resurrected in spite of the fact that they have never worked anytime, anywhere—these “visionaries” are convinced that the reason they failed before is because those sincere people way back when were simply not as enlightened as we are today.
We are living in an era of political gnosticism.
The term gnosticism is from the Greek and carries the idea of knowledge—but is especially related to various forms of superior or esoteric knowledge. Basically, a gnostic is a puffed-up know-it-all who has greater powers of insight and discernment than mere mortals. And in political terms these “best and brightest of the best and brightest” flock together just knowing that if they could run things the way Plato envisioned in his Republic—in other words, as a great big, all-seeing, all-knowing, political aristocracy—the world would be a better place.
At least for them.