A Gerontocracy of Blowhards

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. visits Fox News Channel in New York City on April 2, 2024. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

The phrase “Year Zero” is often credited to Pol Pot, which is not exactly a credit to the idea. For Pot, the idea was to erase the past and start fresh. This required, alas, the genocidal murder of a lot of people. The idea of Year Zero is of course much older. Indeed, it’s probably better understood as an urge: The desire to start from scratch, or have some great do-over, is at the heart of every radical revolutionary and totalitarian movement and ideology going back to Plato’s Republic. The Jacobins talked about “Year One,” but the idea was the same: Erase the blackboard, turn the calendar back to the beginning, remake society from the ground up. 

(Of course, Jesus’ birth is a Year One event, but in defense of Christianity, the idea was invented five centuries after his birth and didn’t really catch on for another four centuries. But that’s a digression I’ll explore another time.)

Because it’s both a human urge as much as an intellectual concept, this desire is central to countless non-genocidal movements, too. I learned from Tom Wolfe that the slogan of the Bauhaus school was “start from zero.” It was also the motivating passion of many ‘60s radicals. “The hippies, as they became known, sought nothing less than to sweep aside all codes and restraints of the past and start out from zero,” Wolfe wrote. “At one point Ken Kesey organized a pilgrimage to Stonehenge with the idea of returning to Anglo-Saxon civilization’s point zero, which he figured was Stonehenge, and heading out all over again to do it better.”

I’ve written quite a bit about Year Zero thinking as an ideological imperative. It’s basically the TL;DR of radicalism: Tear it all down and start over. And I’d be perfectly happy to write another “news”letter on this. And maybe I will. But not today.

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