A confession: I occasionally find myself listening attentively to what Newt Gingrich has to say. I invariably treat whatever offering he has to an artery-squeezing grain of salt, but I do listen because he is the holder of a Ph.D. in European History and often goes out of his way to promote the cause of futurism.
Futurism is innately nebulous because it connotes the wealth of new innovations that will populate Tomorrowland, and its chief proponents tend to be those of an optimistic bent. One of the first noted futurists was a prominent humanist named Edward Bellamy, whose 1888 novel Looking Backward: 1887-2000 foreshadowed a socialist utopian future. In the postscript to the novel he offers what might be the best definition of futurism: “Looking Backward was written in the belief that the Golden Age lies before us and not behind us.” Bellamy’s utopia delivered universal education, health-care, and free food for all. People retired at 45 to full benefits so that they could devote the rest of their lives to noble pursuits like parenting or community service (although one is compelled to note that good parenting is a kind of community service, after all). Technology ensured the efficient operation of this perfect state.
So I am a fan of futurism, even if it does have the habit of donning rose-colored glasses. So when Newt says, as he did at the Conservative Political Action Conference last February outlining his plan for a new environmental policy, that he is a futurist, my ears perk up a bit. But Newt’s futurism is not the idealistic socialism of Mr. Bellamy. It’s more like the “high-tech, low life” world that William Gibson imagined in his masterful novel Neuromancer.
Taking into account Gingrich’s address to the 2011 CPAC audience about the future of environmental regulation one can see the vast differences in character and outcome. The former Speaker would have us abolish the EPA in favor of a new environmental agency whose goal would be facilitating the corporate exploitation of America’s natural resources, not their protection or preservation. He advocated the repeal of President Obama’s remarkably tepid Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which would increase the deficit and also the numbers of uninsured in the United States. Gingrich supported even in February the now infamous Paul Ryan budget—yes, the budget that abolishes Medicare, Medicaid, and privatizes Social Security—defending the initiative as a celebration of the individual’s ability to choose in the free market.
Gingrich also announced his support for a Tenth Amendment Implementation Act, which would affirm the rights of the states to do pretty much whatever they like free of federal intervention. This is the sort of secessionist mindset that America last examined seriously in 1865, and any person who sincerely advocates a return to a complete states’ rights era America is beyond optimistic and simply—but seriously—deluded. Without federal intervention, schools would remain segregated; indeed, the South would be an impoverished region at the foot of a prosperous industrial North. This is the future dreamt of by Dr. Gingrich and supporters of his school: one where a state would be at the mercy of corporations, one where a helpless citizenry would have no real recourse to corporate abuse, a world devoid of welfare, universal health care, and state-run education.
And this is not even the tip of the iceberg. If I had three thousand more words I would write elegies about Gingrich’s absurd abuse of secularists. He seems to derive a pleasure from insulting our patriotism, dignity, and capacity for morality. He warned recently about how “the secular extremists have found new ways to circumvent the court and impose their anti-religious bigotry” and waxed incoherently about the dangers of “a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists.”
Perhaps this level of rhetoric should not come as a surprise. When he was still relevant as a policymaker, Gingrich came out in favor of the death penalty for persons who found guilty of possession of a drug whilst crossing state lines. The only qualification he offered were that it be imposed after the convict’s second sentence. In Newt Gingrich’s futurist America, a California woman arrested twice for carrying her marijuana prescription across state lines would be administered a lethal injection. I implore readers to remember this whenever someone tells you that Newt is a “man of ideas” or a “serious thinker.”
But I think I listen to Gingrich because I’m aware that Newt’s calls for futurism are in fact simply the ill-concealed prayers of a man who admires and emulates the past, not the future. His futurism would set back the American people at least a century in terms of jurisprudence and social justice, and in the meantime would significantly endanger our fellow citizens without healthcare, without employment, and without homes. It is no little wonder that Mr. Bellamy lived in a world far more to Mr. Gingrich’s liking than the present one, and still managed to conceive of a futurism worthy of our praise and admiration. To that kind of futurism, I tip my hat.