Editor’s Note: “First Drafts” are attempts to work through tensions in our own thinking in real time, with you, the crowd, as our interlocutors. Please feel free to challenge us in the comments. If you like this post, consider becoming a member to support our work.
A pre-emptive alarmism had already been evident, but it only intensified after the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18. What her death highlighted wasn’t any increase in the likelihood of American autocracy from a mere week before (nothing had changed institutionally) but the fact that the stakes of elections, already quite high, had become even higher. Instead of feeling exhausted by this new state of affairs—who really wants another endlessly polarizing fight around Supreme Court appointments?—we found ourselves with warnings of “fascist coups” and “Reichstag fires,” Mussolini comparisons from eminent historians, and even explainers on what it’s like to live through a civil war. In all of this, there was an odd sense of if you will it long enough, it will be. There was a desire—or perhaps a need—to be in a constant state of alarm. There is something thrilling about living at the end of the world.
Presumably, most normal people are okay with being bored. That’s, I suppose, what makes them normal. Elites and intellectuals—including the ones editing Wisdom of Crowds—adore the appearance of something being at stake. Mark Lilla, as we have discussed on the podcast, wrote an entire book about “The Reckless Mind,” stories of otherwise brilliant people who were tempted towards darkness.