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.
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 its place.
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 about the hollow state.
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
policing policy, 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.
I suspect my impression of what a collapse of society looks like is heavily influenced by the 1970s TV series Noah’s Castle, which I saw when I was a child.
As I recall, the plot was that this chap saw that things were all going wrong, and moved out to the country and stocked his cellar up with food. The point of the story was the moral dilemma of whether he would keep his stores for his own whiny ungrateful kids or open them up to the hungry mob at his gates.
The purported dilemma seemed almost as inane to me thirty-odd years ago as it does today, but the image of the wild horde begging for the tinned spam in the basement stuck with me.
That’s my excuse, anyway, because looking at the idea now, it’s not all that convincing. Firstly, whether you feel like giving away your hoard is a minor question compared to whether you can hang onto
it. Second, if it really did get to the stage where the existing food distribution mechanisms broke down, or food became too expensive for the masses, we would be looking at a minimum of hundreds of thousands
starving. Third, drastic changes in government would happen before that, so reactionaries who waited for actual anarchy before acting as I recommended recently would be leaving it too late.
So the question is, what are the stages of the collapse of the state?
At what point can a reactionary leader claim to be restoring order rather than opposing order?
I plan to write a few posts looking at the likeliest possibilities, but first there are a couple of other lines to rule out.
Simple state bankruptcy is not the answer. States can and do run out of money, without losing control. As we have seen in Cyprus, the state can simply confiscate what it needs taxation no longer suffices.
Running out of money could very well contribute to a failure of the state, but in itself it does not constitute a failure.
A foreign invasion obviously is a failure, but that’s not a likely scenario for Britain, so that can be ruled out.
My current theory is that democracy probably goes first. Once the progressives have abandoned or bypassed democracy, even as a temporary expedient, it becomes possible for reactionaries to claim that since
the rulers’ position is no longer justified democratically, there is no reason for the people who caused the crisis to remain in power.
I will expand on this later.
I think there may be a flaw in my previous post, in that I don’t have much of a feel for what the collapse of a Western liberal state looks like. It’s one thing to say that if something can’t go on, it won’t, but it’s another to say what actually happens when the government can no longer pay civil servants, or the banks don’t open, or the police arrest the whole cabinet.
Such collapses do happen, but I’m in the dark about the details. I suspect the previous post assumes too much of a disintegration of existing institutional structures — they’re more likely to survive under different control, perhaps decentralised. Does anyone have any suggestions as to what I should be reading? Accounts from the end of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia would seem an obvious starting point.
Update @MikeAnissimov links to SHTF School , a blog about life in the Balkan region after Yugoslavia disintegrated. The emphasis is on personal preparedness (survivalism), but as raw material, it’s just the sort of thing I’m looking for.
Spandrell talks of three groups among the reactionary movement: capitalist, religious/traditionalist, and ethnic/nationalists. He and Nick Land both consider the degree to which the three groups will be able to work together.
The answer, for me, depends entirely on what the work is that is to be done. That depends again on what the path is for getting to a reactionary state, which I am long overdue to pay more attention to.
It has to depend on local circumstances. For Britain, the path that looks most plausible to me is the restoration of the existing monarchy to power. America needs to take some other path: possibly a seccession, possibly a military takeover. The future reactionary ruler could get there by commanding an army or militia, by being stonkingly rich, or a TV personality, or even a prophet.
In any case, what I see as the future goal is not a ruling politburo of reactionary philosophers, whether neoreactionary, othodox, ethno-nationalist or any combination thereof. What seems more likely is someone who gets power by a more practical method, in a crisis, then points at all the reactionary theory and explains that he’s not going form a transitional administration with the goal of free elections in X months because that would be repeating the mistakes of the past. Rather, he is going to continue to govern according to these fine guiding principles which these clever people have worked out, and will rule in a reactionary manner.
The supporters of this regime will overwhelmingly not be neoreactionaries, they will not be ethnonationalists, they will be ordinary people whose reasoning is “Fuck it, maybe this will work, nothing else has”. That’s the key constituency.
For this to happen, some ideas will have to be widespread: that the solution to the problems of democracy is not more democracy, that the obsessions of the lefter-than-thou pharisees of progressivism are insane, that stable government is so much preferable to anarchy that unpleasant policies should be tolerated for the sake of peace.
However, though distrust of democracy and progressive purity are spreading and might easily become widespread over the next decade or so, true apathy — the belief that, like it or dislike it, government policy is not your responsibility — is a much tougher goal. Stirring up apathy, in Lord Whitelaw’s immortal words, is very difficult. That’s why I believe the wheel has to go full circle — we will have to experience anarchy before we can have the reaction. If we are lucky the anarchy may be brief and not too destructive.
Without anarchy, there will still be a progressive party. If a reactionary movement defeats it, it will remain as an opposition and have to be fought at every turn, and the process of fighting it will nullify most of the advantages that reaction brings. The government will have to actively court popularity in order to weaken the progressive opposition, and that dependence on public opinion politicises what should be the non-political aspects of government.
Progressivism needs to be so discredited that the population will view it with revulsion without the state needing to bargain with them to reject it.
Because I do not see a “reactionary party” as forming any part in the process, the question of cooperation between the wings of the reactionary movement does not really arise. The work we have to do is to get the theory done, and prepare the ground. We will do that between us, and whether in overt cooperation or in rivalrous competition doesn’t really matter. If the first ruler is there because he wins a race war, then the contribution to theory of the ethnonationalists will be important. If he has raised an army of religious crusaders, the orthodox will be more important. If he has carved a peaceful oasis out of the anarchy by hiring mercenaries with the profits from his data haven business, he’s going to be paying attention to the futurists. The initial political formula doesn’t matter too much, provided that it’s not demotist. The political formula that will stick is, “this is what gives us peace and order”.
You cannot claim that formula if you start out by attacking the peace and order that exists already. That is why reaction has to wait. It has to restore order from anarchy. The standard to initially rally around will not be reactionary theory per se. It will be something that can restore order — flag, crown, cross, or something else. I don’t think it is likely that there will be multiple reactionary choices at this stage. Whatever has the best chance of producing order will attract the support. The reason I emphasise royalty and call myself a royalist is because, in Britain, the Crown looks like the most likely candidate. Religion frankly isn’t at all plausible here — several football clubs have a better chance of concentrating sufficient power than any church does. Ethno-nationalists are also a possibility (the distinction between nationalist groups and football supporters’ groups is a blurry one anyway). Is Tesco in the running too? I doubt it, but who knows?
The old order will fall when parallel power structures start to form outside its control. This could happen first in some localities or it could happen all at once (if the state is no longer able to pay its employees, for example). When it is no longer a case of trying to take over the existing state, but rather to create a new one, it becomes possible for reactionaries to act.
The rivals will be the democrats, the hard left, and Islam. The old hard left has pretty much dissolved into the establishment, and does not look like much of an independent threat. Islam doesn’t have the numbers, even in Luton, though it will probably organise effectively earlier than anyone else. Assuming the actual state institutions are not functioning, the democrats will be fighting on equal terms with the others, but with the aim of restoring democracy. At that point, it becomes OK to fight them, though it would be preferable to ignore them. Immediate tactical necessity is likely to dominate strategy at this stage — that’s why the strategic propaganda work has to already have been done, the narrative that says that democracy and progressivism brought on the breakdown, that it was predictable and expected, and that only those who truly value order can now achieve it, has to already be in place. The failure has to be seen as the failure of the system, not of one party or faction. That will reduce the support that politicians get during the anarchy, compared to other authority figures. Even the authority figures who are gathering forces at that point will not be talking theory, they will be asking for support to create local, short-term order. If the ground has been prepared properly, the traditional conservatives, the Christians, the ethno-nationalists and the neoreactionaries will all support the same quasi-state.
That said, some political formulæ will cause more difficulties than others. The problem with religion is that people will disagree about it, and claim it justifies them in fighting the (new) state. For that reason, I don’t think a reactionary state that fundamentally justifies itself on religious grounds will be successful for long. However, a state that justifies itself on the grounds of protecting Christianity from outside enemies (progressivism, Islam, etc.) should be able to earn the loyalty of the faithful without getting tied up in the theological disputes among them. The arms-length relationship between church and state that we have in Britain seems about right* — the ruler is Defender of the Faith, but not Priest-King.
The facts that we have to spread among the public ahead of time are much less than full reaction. They are just the context in which reaction can take its place:
- There is such a thing as progressivism, and there are non-progressive ideas, not just more and less progressive ideas
- There are otherwise sane people who hold non-progressive ideas
- That some aspects of government are the result of the democratic system, and not of the particular politicians who have been elected
- That a more peaceful and ordered society is possible, and that even the peace and order we still have are at risk
If those ideas are widespread, then reality will do the rest when the time comes.
* bit of a fishy coincidence there, but I can’t see a hole in it. It would make sense to back off a little from “Head of the Church”.
I have a theory about Weimar Germany. It’s unencumbered with much in the way of evidence, but I did cover the subject at school, and I can remember bits.
The popular theory, which I’ve alluded to previously, is that the big event was this chap Hitler. He was some supernatural weirdo from Hell, who, like a false prophet, inspired the normal, liberal people of Germany to give up their democratic birthright and follow his dreams of securing lebensraum for the master race, etc, etc.
Then there’s that slightly odd bit where he didn’t actually win the election, but he did fairly well and it sort of counted as near enough, so he was declared Chancellor and allowed to take over everything in sight. It kind of seems like some sort of dodgy conspiracy, but it’s not obvious whose.
My theory, grounded on the above, is that by — what are we talking, 1933? — democracy had so completely, utterly, failed that nobody, least of all those actually running it, could stomach it carrying on one year longer. The only question was what to do instead? There were communists kicking around, but that wasn’t an attractive idea for the ruling class. And there was this Hitler dude, and while he had a bunch of somewhat fruitcake ideas, he seemed to have support, he was serious about changing things, and at least he wasn’t a commie. What else was there? Even the leading democratic politicians didn’t have any better idea than letting him have a go.
There was one other option, of course. As I linked to once before, it is claimed that President Hindenburg, in his will, indicated a desire to restore the Hohenzollern monarchy.
An interesting irony of history is that this, had it happened, would surely have been seen by the Allies / International Community as an outrageously aggressive, warlike, and unacceptable development. In comparison, the extension of powers held by a prominent politician, in order to deal with a crisis, seemed far less dangerous.
It’s a cool story. I fear that if I had learned my O-level history better, or forgotten less of it, I would see some obvious flaw in it, but I really don’t have time these days to relearn it.