By IHE Fellow Emmett McGroarty, J.D.

Over the last 20 years, public discourse has tended toward the shrill and irrational, punctuated with occasional violence. No sharing of opinions. Don’t ask questions.  No discussion of points of view. Empathy is dead. Socialization—an essential human activity—is regulated by the mob, and its walls are shrinking.


Does the form or practice of our government have anything to do with this dystopia?


In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville made a few observations worth mulling.


The structure of our government, he noted, preserved the power of the townships, most notably in New England but everywhere resting on the “same idea.” It preserved the natural order. Man, Tocqueville declared, “makes kingdoms and creates republics; the township appears to issue directly from the hands of God.”


“It is in the township, at the center of ordinary relations in life, that desires for esteem, the need of real interests, the taste for power and for attention, come to be concentrated; these passions, which so often trouble society, change character when they can be expressed so near the domestic hearth and in a way in the bosom of the family.” It is through local governance that the individual “gets a taste for order, understands the harmony of powers, and finally assembles clear and practical ideas on the nature of his duties as well as the extent of his rights.”


“Local freedoms, which make many citizens put value on the affection of their neighbors and those close to them, therefore constantly bring men closer to one another, despite the instincts that separate them, and force them to aid each other.”


As the Catechism observes, participation in civic life “develops the qualities of the person . . . and helps guarantee his rights” (par. 1882).  This subsidiarity—embracing socialization—leads to solidarity.


Given a century of increased centralization—taking more and more power away from local communities, should discord and rancor in the public square and on college campuses be such a surprise?

Emmett McGroarty studies public policies that undermine the constitutional structure and the principle of subsidiarity. He is the co-author of Deconstructing the Administrative State: The Fight for Liberty. He is also co-author of Controlling Education from the Top: Why Common Core Is Bad for America, Pioneer Institute, No. 87 (May 2012); and Cogs in the Machine: Big Data, Common Core, and National Testing, Pioneer Institute, No. 114 (May 2014). Mr. McGroarty is co-founder of, a nationwide network of individuals and organizations that sheds light on the Common Core system and the collection of private data on children and their families. His published works have appeared in, among others, Breitbart, Christian Post, Crisis, Daily Caller, The Federalist,, New York Post, Public Discourse, The Hill, Townhall, USA Today, and The Washington Times. He has testified before state and federal committees and commissions. Mr. McGroarty received an A.B. from Georgetown University and a J.D. from Fordham School of Law.

One thought on “Is a Civil Public Discourse Even Possible?

  1. While my CUA colleague, Mr. McGroarty, is correct that there is a trend toward consolidation of authority at the Federal or even State levels, and I fully appreciate the insights of de Tocqueville, I don’t think this trend is the primary cause of this discord in society, today. It is entirely possible, probable, even, that this centralization trend is compounding the uncivility we find in the public frame, today, but, this is a nearer by-product of two other factors, one, the natural result of the other.

    The first of these is the rise of Social Media, in light of the fact that such media platforms have also been designed to create angst about one’s own popularity, and thus create hyper-sensitivity to one’s own opinions when put forth into the “marketplace of ideas” (to steal from the SCOTUS). This social media problem is further devolved from actual debate by constantly feeding subscribers an echo chamber of opinions and topics that already reflect the individual’s standing biases (via embedded RSS feeds), and thus only harden the original opinions of subscribers. Add to this a layer of automated online trolls (pre-programmed “bots” that are designed to create controversy through the flippant use of denigrating comments apropos nothing of substance), and you have a sort of perfect storm of conditions to remove the intellectual side of discourse and replace it with the worst-on-offer from the emotional side of discourse. Public fora have become simplistic Yes-No-You’re-Stupid chambers compelling a game of high-speed tennis that conceives of itself as somehow playing for keeps, as though all opinions matter.

    This social media problem, though, is merely an outcropping of the larger, institutional threat to society, called Post-Modernism (P-M). P-M is the dominant philosophy of the day. It arose in the 1960’s and is not a mere by-product of the Counter-Culture Movement, but is in fact the heart and soul of it. Now, there are many academic articles on P-M, but they often erroneously ascribe that this is a sideline or passe philosophy, and new-age commentaries often like to reinvent the wheel by claiming society is in the grip of a new modus operandi of “thought leadership” but in fact, these new trend lines are all rooted back to a core of Post-Modern ideals. This requires that we then know what those ideals are, before we can articulate how it impacts us. But in a nutshell, P-M promotes two main ideas:

    1) Absolute Relativism- Any Catholic philosopher will cringe at the mere mention of this, but, take a good look into P-M’s diatribes, and you will find immediately a determined distaste for any conclusion- no matter how well reasoned- that there are any fixed conclusions. This theory is self-defeating even by its own title, but you’re not supposed to pay attention to the man behind the curtain. Students in public schools are today taught to view all things in the most relativistic format possible so that they do not hold to the foundations of Western society, and are instead willing supplicants to replacement of those foundations with anything and everything else. This is classically reflected in late night talk show hosts that opine on the news of the day while trying to teach the audience about how all the traditional views on sex, drugs, church, morality, and, even the Constitution, are passe and do not matter anymore; this is seemingly the central purpose of the rather popular show, Late Night with Jon Oliver, who screamed at his applauding audience that the Founding Fathers are irrelevant and we should make any direction for ourselves we see fit because #olddeadwhiteguys. And that’s as deep as the P-M argument goes into why we should accept their narrative on Absolute Relativism- because they said so.

    2) Hyper-Egocentrism- This is my title for it, but if the shoe fits… Part and parcel to the above theory, P-M is constantly articulating the viewpoint of the student back to themselves in order to teach them that not only are there no fixed compass points, but that one should pursue one’s own agenda in all things everywhere, and at all times. This thought train devolves the adherent into total hedonism, eventually. And that is reflected in the rise of acceptance of drug use and a general lack of concern for one’s responsibilities to society (like driving without a phone in the hand). This, is ego-centrism in the 21st Century, but ego-centrism is a decisively anti-social viewpoint and behavior pattern, probably the most anti-social theory one can live by. Thus, it should not surprise anyone that the fabric of society is constantly dissolving only to be replaced with individual threads that cannot relate to one another, much less tolerate them.

    Recent Examples of Post-Modernism on Macro-Society:
    A) Public support for WikiLeaks and Snowden. These are dangerous times when the public sides with traitors who spill government secrets to the enemy, and can justify this treason by claiming to champion civil liberties (read: an IHE topic?). I won’t go into long details on these topics, as they are common knowledge, but the public discourse was hijacked by P-M pundits who use sophistry in place of analysis, to sell the view of Snowden as a champion of civil liberties, despite the open fact that he admitted in an interview that he had no idea what he had even stolen until after he opened up the thumb drive alongside [Chinese intelligence agents] in Hong Kong, and that his actions directly aided and abetted the hostile foreign powers of China, and later, Russia, causing billions of dollars in harm to the US, not to mention, putting the civil liberties of billions of human being s in new jeopardy from these civil-liberty-crushing powers.

    B) Apple Refusing to Unlock a Terrorist’s Phone:
    Public support for Apple was less than that seen for the above incidents, but not too far off. Apple, which does engage in a full panoply of business in China, is one of those many American companies that have had its core product raped by the Chinese system of “forced technology transfers”. Of course, this is not something that Apple will discuss publicly, but it includes Apple having handed over their source code, which is what gives China such ease in opening up anything found on an Apple device. And they do. Sometimes outside China. And Apple has shoulder-shrugged its way through this fact, but when asked by the Director of the FBI to help in unlocking an old iPhone from a proven mass murderer (San Bernadino Christmas Party Attack), the company response is the laughable line that they wouldn’t stoop to allowing the government to intrude on individual privacy. Clearly they didn’t mean the Chinese government, who use Apple source code to stomp on any privacy rights they wish, at will, and with no protest from Cupertino. But this frame of argument that a company can/should refuse the FBI help with the aftermath of a terrorist attack on civilians is supported by P-M’s narratives that the foundations of society (FBI, law & order, typical “Westerners” aka white and Christian as those found at a Christmas/”holiday” party) are not to be respected any more. Supplant these things with all things “alt” so, a foreign ideology (sharia), and atraditional Americans with non-European names, which are to be viewed as sacrosanct, beyond defamation, even where such defamation is true. Then combine this narrative with the narrative that Apple should seek out whatever is good for itself, and you have a company that egocentrically protects its sales image as “uncrackable” or “unhackable” and “for privacy”.

    There are far more lines to discuss on this topic, and I think I may write about them over at IPR, but to frame this discussion, I would like to get people’s attention focused on the deep current, not the surface current. It is, after all, the deep currents that change the world; the rest is distraction.

    -Daniel J. Monaco, J.D.
    Fellow, CUA, IPR, National Security Working Group

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