Month: May 2013
What are the Reaction’s chances of success? An answer given by several commenters in
Foseti’s big thread
is: none. The Cathedral is too strong.
“not only does the Cathedral monopolise status (whilst also being
kind of grey and awful in most people’s eyes, I’d say), but things
that identify as ‘right’, and overtly countenance inequality,
authority, tradition etc. have been consistently losing for hundreds
of years. Sensible people steer clear of loser ideologies.” — James G
“there is absolutely no way any contrarian ideas can ever be ‘made
cool’ in today’s world. The Cathedral has an absolute iron monopoly
on manufacturing cool, and trying to counter its propaganda machinery
with your own attempts at ‘cool’ is like challenging all the demons
of Hell hoping that you’ll scare them away by saying ‘boo’ loudly.” —
“The ‘serious people’ are conditioned to run from anything that even
smacks of reactionary thought. The ‘serious people’ would like
nothing better than to see our ideas outlawed. There’s precious
little status to be found here…” — survivingbabel
I think that assessment underestimates both the intensity of actual
practical ineffectiveness of the establishment, and how recent a
phenomenon that lack of effectiveness is. We hold that the underlying
ideological faults in the establishment go back centuries, and the
truth of that should not blind us to the fact that up until a few
decades ago, it was nevertheless practically very effective.
During the time that it was, despite its philosophical flaws, able to
successfully run a civilisation, it was indeed very hard to attract
well-socialised people to a rival ideology. That period is over, and
what was previously impossible is now becoming a realistic goal.
See, for instance, the flourishing of radical Islam within Europe.
Islam is not, in fact, a progressive ideology. True, progressives are
forced by their ideology into giving it more space and encouragement
than they ought, but that is not the same thing as actually wanting
liberal youths to convert to a political belief system that involves
religious law, patriarchy, strictly enforced rules about sex,
etc. etc. Islam wins by exploiting the contradictions in
The liberal ideology is also forced to make concessions to us. They
claim to believe in science, in free political debate, in respect for
the individual. When they defy those principles to attack us, they
And, at the same time, their failures are becoming bigger and more
obvious. Take one example: at some point in our lifetime, it will
become obvious to everyone that the great Global Warming scare was
false. When that happens, the debates that happened, the books that
were written, will still be around in memories and on bookshelves.
This is a new thing — by the time that the failures of, say, female
suffrage or decolonisation had become obvious, the accurate
predictions made in advance had become obscure and mostly
forgotten. After twenty years, the argument over AGW is still current,
and in twenty years time, the scientific establishment will be
completely discredited by it.
There are numerous other areas where things are not only worse than
ever before, but getting worse at an increasing rate. The speed of
disaster is the crucial thing: it outstrips the Cathedral’s ability to
rewrite history. Given enough time between a failed policy and its
results, the policy can be painted as a right-wing aberration
committed against the better judgement of progressives, or else so
totally established that any alternative is unthinkable, despite the
failure of the chosen policy. That works over a scale of fifty years,
but not over fifteen.
The only thing that can save the Cathedral is conservatism, a
moderating of the headlong progressive rush that can slow the rate of
failure down so that the old methods will work. That has happened
before when the rate of leftward movement became dangerous to the
whole structure. But, while the effectiveness of its rule has
deteriorated, the ability of the left to emasculate and marginalise
conservatism has increased. The chances of a Thatcher or Reagan
appearing in the next decade or so to slow the rate of decline and
provide a scapegoat for some of the failures looks very slim.
The worse things get, the more likely it is that some serious
conservatism might appear to staunch the bleeding. If it can’t happen
in ten years, maybe it will happen in twenty. But if it can happen,
that means that the Cathedral’s monopoly of cool, and, more
importantly, respectability, has already frayed. If a long-excluded
conservatism can gain status, then so can we. And if it can’t then the
decline continues to gather pace and the failings of the state
continue to become more obvious.
In the end, we don’t need to beat the left. We only need to beat the
right — a much easier goal. The only thing that can save The
Cathedral is conservatism. We can stop it.
I wrote before, that while religion can be a force for reaction,
Religion, or at any rate Christianity,
should not be
the primary basis of a reactionary state. There are too many factions
(even within nominally hierarchical churches like the Catholic
Church). If the mechanisms for resolving religious disagreement come
to dictate government policy, that perverts religion and destabilises
The liberal approach to this problem is to separate church and state —
to guarantee the church’s independence from the state. This can be
fairly workable, but it can reach absurd lengths: the currently
dominant interpretation in the USA is that the state cannot act in any
way out of religious motive. No genuinely religious person would
willingly tolerate that, and it has only come about because the
irreligious, or, more accurately, the adepts of a religion that has
managed to classify itself as a non-religion, have taken all power in
the state. (It also interprets a 220-year-old law in direct
contradiction to the way it was understood and followed for the first
150 years of its existence, which is an insult to logic and to the
concept of law, but that’s not important right now).
The problem with separation is that church and state become
rivals. Bishops can become a dangerous example of the kind of
I wrote about two years ago — people with substantial real power that
is not formalised within the state. My recommendation for other
“mighty subjects” is to require them to accept a state position of
honour which puts them under supervision by the sovereign. This is
problematic in the case of a clergyman who can properly claim to be
serving a higher power than the sovereign.
The solution that England found was to put the whole church under the
nominal control of the state. That doesn’t mean that the Queen is the
High Priestess, and she doesn’t routinely rule on doctrinal matters,
but it does mean that in the case of a serious disagreement between
church and state, state wins. If you don’t want an actual theocracy,
that is what has to happen.
In order to work, the relationship between church and state has to go
both ways. If the church is to survive under state control, the
sovereign, and the large part of the leaders of the state, have to be
supporters of the church.
There is still room for religious freedom, but that’s not the same as
all religions being treated equally. If you want to be high in
government, you should be a member of the established church, or else
be very exceptional. If your dissenting religion involves human
sacrifice, or advocates overthrowing the state or the established
church, then it will be suppressed like any other criminal or
It is in the interest of state and society for there to be an
established religion in which the majority of the population
participate. Normal behaviour should include regular religious
There might even be a case for small fines for non-observance. Or
maybe better, the state-backed social insurance / welfare system could
be run through the church — dissenting churches can go and set up
their own. There is great social value in giving the nation a venue of
shared ritual, and atheists can put up with sitting through an hour of
drivel once a week, particularly if they know they are not the only
ones just going through the motions. Just think of all the other
things you sit through for the sake of fitting in socially.
Note that, like many reactionary proposals, this one is targeted at a
particular people in a particular place. The Church of England would
probably not be appropriate for a small
research/manufacturing-oriented colony on a seastead. It is
appropriate for England. The principles underlying the argument are
more broadly applicable, and even the seastead should have some
established pattern of ritual.
Two independent links appeared today, reinforcing the same point: that you can’t discard moral laws in favour of reasonable utilitarianism. Not “you shouldn’t”, “you can’t”.
First, Charlotte Gore. Her workplace has banned electronic cigarettes. They haven’t given a reason, but the assumption is that the reason is that smoking is immoral. Smoking was not immoral 30 years ago, but a determined, rational, effort was made to dissuade people from smoking because it is unhealthy. The result of 30 years of evidence-based pressure is that people now have a mild superstitious revulsion of smoking, or in plainer words, smoking is immoral. Smoking in an office is particularly immoral, because it is something that has generally not been permitted for a long time, and has been actually illegal for a few years. Smoking an e-cigarette is not unhealthy*, and not illegal, but it is the same activity as smoking a cigarette, and so it is immoral. Giving up smoking is an act of willpower and self-denial, and is morally praiseworthy, and simply to change the way you smoke (to not be unhealthy), rather than performing the morally admirable act of giving up, is a moral weakness that should be deplored. This despite the fact that making smoking immoral was something that was decided, within my memory, purely for health reasons.
Second data point, via Razib Khan. He links to an article on Nature retelling the by now well established fact that the healthiest weight to be is what our expert advisers call “slightly overweight”. Khan understands the underlying dynamic well, though, because his own blog post is titled “Obesity as morality and health”. Again, public health educators are in the morality business, whether they want to be or not.
And while all this health advice is leaking into morality, and starting to become fossilised as moral standards independent of their original underlying health-advice origin, as in Charlotte Gore’s workplace, we are all absolutely required to remember one essential fact of morality: anal sex is not immoral. It is not immoral because people used to believe that it was immoral, and they were wrong. If, hypothetically, homosexuality had been approved by the Church for the last thousand years, and the sacrament of homosexual marriage had had special music written for it by Bach, Mozart and Rutter, I think we would by now be well down the road of anal sex being banned on health grounds by smug lefties. “Promoting homosexuality” would probably already be prohibited from state schools, along with cigarette machines in pubs and cheese-rolling competitions.
I don’t have strong feelings about homosexuality either way. (Well, I strongly don’t want to participate, but you know what I mean). My point behind the above is that the political weight behind gay rights, particularly now, is driven above all by the desire to hurt, piss off and humiliate conservatives and traditionalists. There is no other basis on which a person can, at the same time, support both encouraging people to have anal sex on the grounds of personal fulfilment, and banning salty sandwiches on health grounds. (Don’t miss the cartoon on that story!) I would tend to agree with Peter Hitchens that the tactically sensible course for conservatives when asked about gay rights is to shrug and carry on talking about important things instead.
*I don’t know if that’s completely true, but whether e-cigarettes are harmful or not, the real point is that it is felt they ought to be harmful
In previous articles I’ve looked at several possible paths to a failure of the progressive hegemony, but which either are not feasible by themselves, or are not sufficient by themselves to destroy the existing governing structures.
The vital missing piece, which I believe is the key step after which the old order is finished and the new order must be built, is the loss of faith of the ruling class themselves.
That is what actually finished the USSR, it finished the Commonwealth of England, and for that matter it is what sadly finished off European Monarchism in the 19th Century. The secessions,
the final hollowing-out, did happen, but were consequences of the collapse of belief in the political formula of the state by the rulers themselves.
Do not be fooled into thinking that the dogmas of liberalism are merely convenient fictions to the priests and practitioners of the democratic state. We are ruled by True Believers. If they were cynically parotting the mantras of democracy and equality we would probably be better governed than we are.
Some of the contradictions of the progressive faith are indeed visible to these people, but they live with them as best they can: after all, every faith has its mysteries. The faithful either study them and attempt to rationalise them, or else brush them aside as a problem for other people to solve. The faith holds.
But there could come a time when it does not. A few dissenters here and there are of no consequence: they can be driven out and replaced. However, it can come to pass that it becomes general knowledge that the axioms of the faith are false. Then the true believers will be diluted and finally swamped by the cynical opportunists. They will, for a time, retain the doctrines as empty justifications, but while they rely on them for their legitimacy, without genuine belief they will have no reason to defend them into the future. They become subject to erosion by the normal exigencies of political competition; abandoned bit by bit as tactics demand. The final stage arrives when nobody important genuinely believes them, and also, vitally, everybody knows that nobody important genuinely believes them.
(That last condition is why, though the loss of belief
is gradual, the final collapse is sudden).
At that point, the regime retains the instruments of power, but has lost its legitimacy. But, as Chesterton observed, when faith goes it is not replaced with nothing. It will be replaced with something. The state will be reconfigured, either gradually or abruptly, to reflect some alternative political formula.
If the state is efficient at dealing with internal apostasy, then it will switch its beliefs after the ideas of the broader society. It will absorb the new reality socially, from the community that its members engage with at an intellectual level. That is why I say that spreading our ideas matters, but simple numerical majority is not the goal. The elite don’t care now what the ordinary man believes, and they aren’t going to start. But they care what their peers think — they care what their doctor thinks, what writers think, and what their staff think, and maybe even what television comedians think. That is why it is necessary to project the ideas beyond the obsessives, to integrate theory and practice.
Ordinary educated people have to mention to their ordinary friends and colleagues, over coffee or a pint, that they don’t believe that democracy is worth preserving. That’s the most powerful propaganda there is. The ideas have to be developed further and spread more widely through the obsessives before they can start to enter the culture that way, but I think the start of that phase is not far off, no more than a few years.
When the opinions of what the rulers are forced to think of as “sensible people” become overwhelming, their own beliefs will follow. Then we get the period of total hypocrisy, and after that the final discrediting of the old formula.
All the failures I looked at before — economic, administrative, military — can contribute to the discrediting of the formula, but that belief is the ultimate indicator of whether the structure will hold or fall.
From an activist point of view, once it does fall, it is too late to do anything. The intelligentsia by that stage have long since stopped believing in the old formula, and they almost certainly already believe in another one. Whatever happens on the ground, that new formula will dictate what the new order looks like. It might not be clear-cut, there might be conflict and disagreement, but any conflict will be between people who already have power and already know what they believe.
The best case, for Britain, is that the heresy that quietly spreads through the elite until it has gone far enough to come into the open, is that the Royal Family will do a better job than the democratic system. The best case for the USA, as far as I can see from here, is that there should be some kind of breakup, with regions perhaps adopting different formulae.
Neither looks very likely right now, but the collective loss of faith does not look very close, either. There is still time. Our work is to build a theory that is good enough to win over the desperate, ten or twenty or fifty years from now, when belief in democracy and equality becomes unsupportable. It doesn’t need to be popular today, but it needs to be solid, thorough, adaptable, tested in intellectual debate.
By preparing such a theory, we are not just “waiting for a collapse”. We are both bringing about the end of the present regime (since the old political formula will be discarded more quickly if there is a practical alternative), and winning the battle to succeed it. Once the collapse becomes visible, the die is already cast. The real battle of ideas has already been fought, already won or lost. Attempting to force out the rulers, either by violence or by election, while the bulk of them still believe in their ideals, might conceivably succeed, but it can only be a revolution, not a restoration. The new regime would lack legitimacy except as the representative of the revolutionary movement which created it. If reactionaries were to attempt this, the best they could create would be a kind of revolutionary-reactionary hybrid — in short, fascism.
On the other hand, if the holders of official and unofficial power under the Modern Structure themselves recognise reactionary ideas, then the restoration is the legitimate successor to the present regime. It can demand loyalty from everyone on the basis of defending peace, stability, order and unity in a way that a party-based fascist regime cannot.
That does not mean there will be no violence required to secure the regime, but the holdouts will be self-evidently rebels — not just against the new order but against the old. That will be the time for action and glory — not as guerillas or revolutionaries, but as soldiers of honour: loyal knights of the rightful Sovereign. (I will have an urgent dental appointment that day, unfortunately, but I will wish you fame and victory).
It is also conceivable that the elite could hold out, clinging to the old beliefs after the rest of the culture has rejected them. I do not expect that — none of them have the moral courage it would require. If I am wrong, then a more activist penultimate phase would be called for — the formation of a shadow government or government-in-exile, leading to a final popular uprising. The culture must be won over first, in any case.
There are two things that make it possible now to break the centuries-long trend of more and more extreme liberalism. One is the over-extension of liberalism — its destructiveness is getting more obvious. The other is communication technology. In the past the Cathedral really could swamp out intellectual dissent, and make it invisible. Twenty-five years ago, our important thinkers simply would not have been able to reach an audience. The strength of the Cathedral in the battle of ideas is its obvious dominance: the impression it can give that there are no alternatives. The only way to publicise dissent was through activism — forming parties, pressure groups. That works as outreach, but it is self-defeating, because it crushes the movement between humiliation, caused by playing the enemy at their own game and losing, and compromise, which is necessary to the strategy, but destroys the intellectual integrity of the ideas being advanced.
Bringing the arguments into the political arena automatically discredits them. They can only hold the status of an alternative belief system if they are kept out of party politics, where all arguments are required to be judged by their immediate consequences, never by their merits. If, say, HBD is advanced as a reason for opposing a particular immigration bill, then it is automatically false, and cannot be considered further. If it is not associated with one political faction or another, then it remains an “academic” question, which seekers after truth can consider on its merits. Heritage’s cowardice in the Richwine affair is a good thing: as politicians, they are just as damaging to reason as their opponents. It is better that reactionary views are completely driven out of mainstream politics, as that preserves the distance between reactionaries and politicians. There can be no victory through gradual change: adoption of any reactionary ideas must be accompanied by total rejection of the old formula. If reactionary views are banned, that is better still, since it draws that clear line between the present body of thought and the next.
If the present regime is not going to fail through total economic collapse, and is not going away through hollowing-out, maybe it will collapse through secession. That, after all, is a large part of what happened to the USSR and to Yugoslavia. If the breakaway regions then fight, as in Yugoslavia, that would produce a total collapse.
For Britain, that just isn’t going to happen. Scotland looks quite likely to secede, but if it does, that won’t really be a significant event — the progressive UK state would become a progressive rump-UK state, and an even more progressive Scottish state. The continuity of the establishment and its ideology would be total.
Wales might also secede, with the same non-effect, though that seems less likely. However, England itself I cannot see breaking up without a social collapse happening first — there just aren’t regional identities or regional institutions strong enough to become nation-states.
Northern Ireland could return to disorder if the British government lost control. While the actual scale of the Troubles was relatively restricted — even at their height Belfast was less violent than several US cities, and Luton this year (10th shooting yesterday) is running it fairly close — it could conceivable get much worse. Frankly, I doubt it: the concept of nationalism is too weakened in the West now to support the escalation.
Actually, a bigger deal than Scotland seceding from Britain would be Britain seceding from the EU. This seems slightly less far-fetched today, with UKIP running close to the Tories in the polls, than it did a few years ago. It would be a bigger blow to the dominant ideology — European transnationalism is more fundamental to the ruling class than old-fashioned British Unionism.
At the end of the day, though, the ruling establishment could perfectly well regain control inside or outside of the EU institutions, and a British withdrawal might in fact strengthen the grip of the ruling class by suppressing their more unsustainable excesses. Competitive pressure between Britain and the rump EU would make both more effective.
Alternatively, British withdrawal might trigger a partial or total disintegration of the EU, by breaking its illusion of inevitability. That would be a blow to the elite, but I still don’t think it would defeat them. At the end of the day even UKIP and similar forces in Germany and elsewhere are within the progressive consensus, and as they approached power the normal mechanisms of politics would make them more moderate. The net effect would be a kind of 1980s-style retreat and consolidation of progressivism on some fronts, rather than a defeat.
In the US, things may be rather different. There, I think secession is a bigger threat to the progressive elite than it is in Europe. There are regional identities and institutions that could form breakaway nation-states, and which would have to reject more than a couple of decades of “progress” to do so.
The entity of the Union is so closely identified with the progressive ideology that secession is probably a necessary step in an American Reaction. Before reactionary forces are able to take over the whole USA, they will be strong enough to take over a section of it and tear it out of the union.
The main reason for doubting that secession is the first step in the American Reaction is that the Federal Government is strong enough and determined enough to prevent it. An attempt to simply grow a reactionary seccessionist movement in a favourable state or set of states would merely repeat the recent unpleasantness, probably more decisively than before.
The Federal Government has to be crippled first, then a reactionary element can secede. The causes already examined — economic failure and hollowing-out — are not sufficient for this. Something else must happen.
That will be the next article in this series.
I had a minor hit yesterday on Twitter with the observation that difficult political questions are usually not about what government action would be “best” (meaning most just, or most efficient), but rather about what policy can actually be implemented in the only way governments can implement policy, by making them directions to a bureaucracy.
The specific example that brought this point to mind was the suggestion from @AvengingRedHand that illegally obtained evidence should be used in court, but the individuals who illegally obtained it should also be punished for their offence.
That is perfectly just. It is also, as far as I know, the law here in Britain. (If you want legal advice, though, ask a lawyer). Not that I actually recall anyone ever being prosecuted for obtaining evidence illegally.
And that’s the point. The US rule that makes the product of illegal searches inadmissible is not directly beneficial to justice, but it has the intended effect that somebody in the whole process has an actual reason to draw attention to illegal searches — specifically, the defense. The suggested rule may be better, if perfectly implemented, but it just isn’t going to be perfectly implemented.
And that’s it, really. Whatever your goals are in politics — justice, efficiency, kittens and rainbows — it’s no good just working out what everybody needs to do to achieve them. It’s not even enough to think also about how you’re going to get and retain power to make people do what they need to do, though that is also necessary. At the same time, you have to understand that governments, like all other large organisations, works through bureaucracy, and what a government actually does is not “enforce laws”, or “redistribute wealth”, but issue commands to a bureaucracy which will then respond to those commands. And it won’t normally respond to them by obeying them totally in letter and in spirit.
We all fall into this error from time to time, but I consider it the fundamental fallacy of progressivism. Take Rawls’ “Theory of Justice” for example. As an anti-progressive reactionary with libertarian tendencies, what do I think of his reasoning? Actually, it’s not bad. I could maybe quibble a bit, but I won’t bother, because it’s a reasonably sensible answer to an absurd question — the question “what should society do to maximise justice?” Whatever the theory, society will do what it damn well wants. The question of politics is, “what instructions should be issued to a bureaucracy to achieve some kind of acceptable standard of life for society?”
Many critiques of progressivism attack the fallacy, but then fail to notice that it applies also to the critique. Libertarianism correctly observes that socialism doesn’t provide the incentives for individuals to act in a cooperative manner, and identifies market forces as a way of providing that incentive, albeit imperfectly. However, it fails on the grounds that the night-watchman or nonexistent state does not provide the incentives for groups to refrain from political activity. They just say, “groups should not gain advantage at the expense of other groups by political activity”. That would be nice, but who’s going to stop them? They’re left talking about a “new man”, just like the utopian socialists.
To borrow a metaphor frequently employed in biology, politics is not about identifying the perfect form of a cake, it is about finding the best recipe for making a cake, that can be made with the tools and ingredients available.
The next mode of decay of the state to look at is the one where the government
gradually loses day-to-day control of some areas, and other organisations take
The problem with treating this phenomenon as a collapse is that it is obviously
already happening. The usual alternative governments are racially-aligned criminal
gangs, such as the one described by Sudhir Venkatesh in
Gang Leader for a Day,
or the pre-war Italian and Irish mobs in America’s major cities.
I think this is roughly what
John Robb means when he writes
He also includes under this label much of what neoreactionaries call the Cathedral,
the institutions which have de facto but not de jure state power: lobby groups, NGOs,
the legal and banking professions, the universities and so on.
That summary is enough to show why, like insolvency, the hollowing-out of the state
is not a mode of collapse. It is, in fact, business as usual. The “Black Kings” are
not in principle different from the Federal Reserve — they execute functions which
are theoretically under the authority of the arms of government, but in practice are
unsupervised most of the time. In both cases, the central government can, with
tremendous effort, make a show of force and impose its own will, temporarily. But the
costs are high, the benefits are small, and generally the state will negotiate at
arms length rather than seek a confrontation. In practical terms, it becomes
impossible to draw a clear line between what is part of the state and what is not.
The process is a shortcoming of the modern state, and one of the symptoms of
its sickness, but it is not the end.
It’s interesting that the examples that come to my mind for this are all American. I
don’t see in Britain the kind of territorial domination by gangs that I have heard of
in the US. We certainly have as much of the higher-level hollow state — the lobby
groups and professional guilds, the “public-private partnerships” that run hospitals
and so forth. One key difference between the UK and US is that we have a long
tradition of central control — every local government body has always been
subordinate to the national government, with power delegated downward as the central
government chooses. Extralegal gangs merge into local state bodies, but in a highly
centralised state the local bodies can be more effectively controlled, and in the
extreme case simply abolished, from the national level. Thus the only serious
hollowing out of key state functions in Britain happens in Westminster.