Writing at Commentary, Noah Rothman has a short, but powerfully insightful, post entitled Republicanism without Principle. The essay is, immediately, about Trump and the Republican party, but it applies as nicely to republicanism as a form of government under the pressure of radical populism. (It’s worth noting that Commentary is a conservative publication; one finds some of the strongest critiques of Trump from steadfast, free-market conservatives.)
Rothman observes the absence of ideology in Trump:
The fatal conceit of any populist movement is that it is non-ideological. It is entirely practical, its advocates insist. It has no use for theoreticians and philosophers. After all, what have they ever produced? The urgency of the present crisis demands of us the resolve to use every tool in the toolbox. What crisis, you ask? And what tools? The questions alone betray a suspicious lack of revolutionary consciousness. They mark the incredulous inquisitor as unfit to share the fruits of the new enlightenment….
Rothman rightly sees the danger – to liberty, to safety, to well-being – in such movements:
A nihilistic detachment from ideology is also the abandonment of principle, and that is a dangerous condition in leaders vested with the kind of awesome power that American presidents enjoy. The ideology that informs principle serves as a check on that power. Pragmatism is its own philosophy, one which justifies every manner of behavior with little regard for its morality or long-term consequences….
If principle grounded in an intellectual framework comes to be seen as an impediment to progress, any manner of remedy to that condition is soon justified in the populist mind. And pragmatism necessitates the kind of ugly remedies that principle often proscribes….
Here we now are, in America. There’s more to Rothman’s essay that I’d easily recommend, about the views of the clique surrounding Trump. (They are, to be sure, men who would set aside concern for any particular meal or view for the sake of a place at the table and a window seat.)
Rothman’s success, here, however, is more universal: a concise description of government without ideologically principled limitations.