Michael Prell Reinvents Social Darwinism for the Tea Party

Jun 20 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Conservative columnist and political commentator, Michael Prell has invented himself a term: Underdogma. And in the process, he has reinvented social Darwinism.

Having found a niche for his term, Mr. Press needs to fill it. His chosen method is to attack the “disease” of liberalism by identifying it as not only anti-American but anti-life. The Tea Party is thus proven to be what the Tea Partiers have always said it is, a return to the true American way of our Founding Fathers and their generation, a return to the “real” Americanism of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Ambassador John Bolton, Charles Krauthammer and of course, the Tea Party Patriots.

Michael Prell’s book, Underdogma: How America’s Enemies Use Our Love for the Underdog to Trash American Power (BenBella Books, 2011) is, says Jenny Beth Martin, Tea Party Patriots co-founder and national coordinator, “the first great Tea Party book. All Tea Party Patriots should read Underdogma.”

As for Prell, the bio on under-dogma.com says he is, “a writer and strategist for the Tea Party Patriots. He is a Pollie Award-winning advertiser who has served Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and hundreds of conservative leaders on four continents.”

It is no surprise that his writings “have featured by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and top-linked on the Drudge Report.” That is usually enough introduction for any liberal (or conservative). If those folks like you, we all know where you stand beyond the shadow of any doubt.

What Prell has done in Underdogma is fashion some very simplistic and not very well supported arguments that explain why criticizing your betters is wrong. Underdogma, he claims,

Is to automatically assign virtue to the cowless farmer, simply because he has less, and to heap scorn on the farmer who has one cow, simply because he has more.

Of course, the “underdogmatics” as he calls them (presumably to to differentiate them from the conservative “dogmatists”) are liberals and progressives. And of course, all liberals and progressives think anyone who has more than they do is to be scorned. We all hate people who own cows when we don’t. Right?

A more honest appraisal would be to say we heap scorn on the guy with the cow because he stole it from the guy who has none, and now forces the cowless man to work for him at extremely low and unsustainable wages. But stealing the cow, as Prell would have it, is the American way. After all, by having the cow, the guy with the cow has proven himself better than the guy without a cow. That, for Prell, is the American way: Might makes right. Those who have the money and power have it because they’re better than everyone else and we should just deal with it and become the happy serfs we were meant to be.

Simplistic arguments of this sort appeal to Prell’s audience. In fact, they delight in it. It reaffirms their already existing beliefs with easy-to-understand examples that really prove nothing of the sort.

Here is how Prell defines underdogma:

Underdogma is the belief that those who have less power are virtuous and noble – because they have less power – and the belief that those who have more power are to be scorned – because they have more power.

Underdogma is not simply standing up for the “little guy,” but reflexively standing up for the little guy and assigning him nobility and virtue – because he has less power.

He helpfully explains that Ayn Rand calls this second part “hatred of the good for being good.”[1]

There is a serious problem at the root of this argument. And this is the assumption that the guy with the cow is good – because he has the cow. The guy with no cow can’t possibly be good; he has no cow. Somehow, being virtuous and noble because you have a cow and the other guy doesn’t, makes sense to Prell.

The whole, he says of the two sides of Underdogma, “act like a ‘gag reflex’ to power – against those who have it, and for those who do not. And the evidence of this reflex is all around us.”

And of course, it isn’t the things the powerful do to the weak that earns them this scorn, says Prell. No, in his worldview, “Underdogma reflexively assigns virtue and scorn based on whichever side has more or less power – regardless of either side’s actions.”

The problem is that Prell’s dogmatists do exactly that, reflexively assigning virtue and scorn based on whichever side has more or less power, merely reversing the targets of virtue and scorn.

Arguably, cause and effect have been tossed to the wayside in the entirety of the modern conservative narrative. After all, Rick Perry can’t blame George W. Bush for what happened to the American economy (cause and effect) so he blames God (the act of god thing that means its nobody’s fault and you can’t sue the guilty). God caused the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan; God killed all the birds that recently died in a very common “die-off” and God sent the tornadoes that hit the Midwest.

For Prell, cause and effect don’t exist or are irrelevant. Cause and effect needlessly complicates what is, after all, a very simplistic view of the world.

Prell does not like his black and white view of the world to be challenged. It is important that the good guys and bad guys be clearly identified. The good guys are wholly good and the bad guys are wholly evil. Any attempt to understand the situation on the ground, the circumstances, context, and background of the struggle, say between the United States and Islamic terrorism is to not only be discouraged but forbidden. His attitude might be compared with a homeowner not troubling himself over why the carpenter ants might be invading his home, but to simply crush them. After all, the homeowner is bigger, it’s his home, and the ants are the invaders.

Never mind that simply crushing ants is not going to get at the root problem of why the ants are in his house, let alone put an end to the problem unless you can kill every ant in the nest (an unlikely outcome)

We should not humanize the terrorists, that is, examine them as human beings rather than demons in human form because this leads, apparently, to sympathizing with them. Prell takes issue with a Washington Post story which said:

“To understand terrorism, we must learn of the suffering it thrives on…don’t lose sight of the suffering, which is systemic and deeply rooted – in colonialism, racism, religious bigotry, and greed.”

Simple cause and effect, something any sane, rational person would recognize.  But we can’t have this, you see. We can’t be looking at terrorists as human beings. Prell seems to want to revert to the halcyon days of Second World War propaganda, where enemies are properly dehumanized to make killing them easier. The problem is that dehumanizing your enemies makes them easier to kill. It made it easier for American farm boys to kill Japanese, it made it easier for German shopkeepers to kill Jews and Gypsies and others.

And Prell’s Underdogma embodies essence of social Darwinism.

Sidanius et al (2004) explain that “the main consequences of prejudice and discrimination” are “systematic group oppression and structural inequality.” Group-based oppression includes categories like “racism, ethnocentrism, classism, sexism” etc.[2] These are, of course, things most liberals and progressives are concerned about. The groups doing the oppression tend generally to be conservative in nature – rich corporations, wealthy white men, fundamentalist Christian groups (also mostly rich, male, and white and generously funded by the government they hate).

[M]any social institutions (e.g., schools, organized religions, marriage practices, financial houses) and many power individuals disproportionately allocate desired goods – such as prestige, wealth, power, food, and health care – to members of dominant and privileged groups, while directing undesirable things – such as dangerous work, disdain, imprisonment, and premature death – toward members of less powerful groups.[3]

We might include in this description taking a man’s cow and calling it your own and then putting the poor fellow to work at less than minimum wage.

As Rutledge M. Dennis explains, people like Herbert Spencer (1874) applied Darwinist principles “to buttress the case that biological evolution could be equally applicable to human societies.”

Spencer reasoned further that human societies, like biological species, operate according to the principles of natural selection, are governed by competition and fitness, and evolve from an undifferentiated (homogeneous) and primitive state to one of differentiation (heterogeneity) and progress. Those too weak or ill-equipped to compete, or those who were unwilling and unable to do so, he reasoned, ought not to be given an artificial boost to keep them on Nature’s battlefield.[4]

In other words, if you are poor, it is because you are inferior. If you are rich, it is because you are better. If you have power, you are better than those who are without. If they were as good as you, they would have power too. Never mind that you very likely inherited your wealth and never did an honest day’s labor in your life. Somebody who labors for their money is inferior, to be scorned, while you, because you are wealthy, have virtue.

You can see where this all ties in to Prell’s ideas about American exceptionalism and why it is bad to try to understand (thus sympathize) with those who are not as good as you. Gays and lesbians shouldn’t criticize how Christians here treat them because the Muslims treat them even worse. We shouldn’t criticize Wall Street tycoons. And we won’t keep our hard edge by being soft. A bully who doesn’t bully loses respect and suddenly finds himself the one being bullied. An America that won’t attack people just because it can, or because it perceives the target might someday be a potential threat, is not an America worth having. The old saying is that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Prell seems to have proven that point, and Underdogma is nothing less than a work of apologetics and a paean of praise for those who hold that power.


[1] Ayn Rand, “The Age of Envy,” The Objectivist (July-August 1971).

[2] Jim Sidanius, Felicia Pratto, Colette van Laar and Shana Levin, “Social Dominance Theory: Its Agenda and Method,” Political Psychology (Dec., 2004), 846.

[3] Sidanius, et al (2004), 847.

[4] Rutledge M. Dennis, “Social Darwinism, Scientific Racism, and the Metaphysics of Race,” The Journal of Negro Education (Summer, 1995), 243-252.

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