Blue Ridge Parkway (Source: theconstantrambler.com)
In Part 1 of this series we addressed the question “Is America a country or a civilization?” and answered it with a resounding “YES!” America is a civilization in its own right, having branched off from Western European civilization and now charting a destiny independent of its parent. In Part 2, we assembled the ‘toolkit’ for analyzing American civilization from the precepts and methodologies espoused by Arnold Toynbee and the Strauss & Howe Generational Cycle. We are now ready to begin the dissertation in earnest.
Buckle up. 🙂
The following discussion will depend primarily on Toynbee’s framework, as its universality regarding human civilization in general offers the longest time frame and, thus, the broadest perspective. The periodicity of the Generational Cycle, however, as well as its particular applicability to American civilization, will prove to be of service as well.
So, to begin: Is America a Growing or Declining civilization?
Even a cursory review of America’s 229 year history (using the enactment of the Constitution as a starting date) reveals its success as a civilization in establishing itself against both physical and human external challenges – the Revolution, the conquest of the frontier, the wars with Mexico and Spain and three world wars (including the Cold War.) A critical fact to recognize is that labeling the United States a “Universal State” for a decaying Western civilization because of these events would be incorrect. After all, in the war against Mexico, America did not incorporate the conquered nation into its territory but released it to resume its status as an independent country and even paid for the tracts of territory claimed from Mexico in what became the American Southwest. The Imperial Russian claims on the NW coast of the North American continent were also bought, not annexed thru conquest. Cuba and the Philippines, both taken in the Spanish American War, were set free from American suzerainty to become nations in their own right. And finally, America did not consolidate Western Europe andJapan into a territorial empire after the 2nd World War, but released them, provided security and helped them get back on their feet. Alexander and Caesar would have had a stroke over such daftness. America is simply not the stuff of which empires are built.
Once a civilization establishes itself, Toynbee asserts that further challenges to a growing civilization will be internally generated and existential in nature, such that a successful response to a challenge will involve a civilization transforming itself in part or in total to overcome it. This transcendence is necessary so that the civilization might remain vital, and is ironically a result of unintended consequences stemming from the resolution of the previous challenge.
What purely internal challenges has American civilization faced in its short history?
The Constitution itself generated the first major crisis. Thru the strenuous rejection of anti-slavery articles in the original draft by Southern colonial delegates and the urgent desire for unity amongst the original thirteen colonies fueling an atmosphere of compromise, a contradiction between the spirit and application of the Constitution drove a wedge between North and South that flowered into the first major war of the Industrial Revolution. This civil calamity led to the loss of 3% of the nation’s population within the space of 5 years and the economic ruin of the South.
This first existential challenge of American civilization was savagely resolved and America became one country again, but legal and social struggles continued for another century after Appomattox. Jim Crow laws and segregation ordnances were enacted in the former Confederacy, reinforced by the savagery of an irregular volunteer militia in the form of the KKK. The final victory over these Confederate ‘rear guard’ actions was realized thru the courts and specific federal legislation designed to enact the objectives of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act.
However, per Toynbee’s thesis, the successful settlement of one challenge plants the seeds for the next. In its triumph over Richmond, Washington D.C. had stamped out the final vestiges of state autonomy left from early post-colonial times. The principles of Federalism enshrined in the Constitution as a check against central government overreach were effectively neutered by the Civil War.
Albert Bierstadt, “Emigrants Crossing the Plains”, 1869 (Source: Wikimedia)
This would be reflected in the evolution of the American political and legal environment at both the state and federal level over the next 150 years. The western frontier was opened, territories were defined, the US Cavalry was dispatched to build forts, protect roads & trails and subdue the war bands of belligerent Indian tribes, U.S. Marshals and Judges were dispatched to bring law and order and, over time, new States were organized and accepted into the Union – all under the auspices and stewardship of the Federal government.
Furthermore, in an effort to populate these new domains as well as feed the tremendous demand for labor in the burgeoning manufacturing sector, the floodgates of immigration were opened to millions of southern and eastern Europeans. There were Italians planting vineyards in the Missouri Ozarks, Basques herding sheep in Montana and Wyoming, Portuguese fishing the Pacific off the California coast, German Ukrainian farmers planting corn and wheat in Kansas and Nebraska, Greek miners in Utah and Swedes starting dairy farms in Wisconsin, in addition to the Polish, French, Sicilian, Irish and other immigrants working in the Pennsylvania iron & steel foundries, the New Jersey clothing mills, the Ohio glass works and so forth. The entire immigration process was vetted and, over time, carefully restricted by Washington.
Edward Moran, “Unveiling the Statue of Liberty”, 1886 (Source: Wikimedia)
Linking the cities and towns of a nation spanning a continent also fell under the control of the Federal government. Railroads, waterways and canals, once the purview of private business interests and individual States, became the concern of Washington in post-Civil War America. Washington’s command authority over the nation’s transportation networks is nowhere better illustrated than by the interstate highway system. In what was once a dominion exclusive to the individual States, the Federal government now compels matching funds from State budgets for the construction and maintenance of interstate roadways.
There were certain benefits to this centralization of political power in D.C. Victory in WW2 and NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs were made possible by the mobilization of necessary resources under central control. Between first beating the Axis and subsequently the Red Menace while concurrently walking on the Moon and sending robotic spacecraft to Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the Great Beyond, it began to seem as if Washington D.C. could do……anything!
It was here, at the seeming Apex of America’s might and glory, that the Yin and Yang of Toynbee’s existential dilemma for civilizations presented itself for a second time to America.
It was the Greatest Generation – the GI’s – that trounced Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany while doing most of the prep work that led to defeating the Soviets (an external challenge eventually completed by the GI’s successors, the Silent generation.) Yet their children – the Baby Boomers – outwardly rejected all their parent’s views and ideas while subconsciously embracing their methods and approaches in general terms.
Boomers are indeed team-oriented, civics-conscious and driven to pursue the Greater Good from the standpoint of concerning themselves with the supposed needs of the Many rather than the needs of the Few or the One. These sentiments, combined with their rebellion against the social and behavioral restrictions imposed by their parents and the growing perception that there was no problem too large or difficult for Federal government to solve, collided head-on with a political, social and economic ideology that had been plaguing Europe for almost two centuries: Collectivism.
The ground-root folly of this piteous philantropy
is thinking to distribute indivisibles,
and make equality in things incommensurable:
forged under such delusions, all Utopias
are castles in the air or counsels of despair. – Robert Bridges, The Testament of Beauty (1929)
The origins of collectivist sociopolitical and economic theory can be traced all the way back to the peak of Hellenic civilization – Ancient Greece during its Classical period. After the conclusion of the Persian Wars, the Greek city states failed to create a pan-Hellenic political union that complemented their already existing economic interdependencies. The failure to constructively address this latest challenge to Hellenic civilization precipitated an extended and calamitous civil war – one that would end after nearly three centuries of slaughter, rapine and destruction with the conquest of Hellas by the Legions of Rome’s late Republican era.
While the opening act of this cataclysm was under way – the thirty year Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens – Plato penned one of his most famous works: The Republic. In a fictionalized debate between Plato’s teacher Socrates and a group of philosophy students, Plato describes the ideal city state in the following general terms:
The state is ruled by a Guardian class divided into warriors and administrators. It is they who are not only the most educated in society, but who decide what constitutes the proper educational curriculum for society. This control includes the right to censor ideas and materials as considered appropriate by the Guardians.
Thru proper education, citizens can be taught to understand their place in society and to pay proper attention to their responsibilities – both to themselves and to their fellow citizens – so that there is perfect harmony.
Human reproduction is the purview of the State. Furthermore, it is the State that raises children and not their parents, so that the State can ensure the child is properly educated.
The ruler of the polity and the Guardian class is a Philosopher-King.
By controlling the education of the entire polity, the Philosopher-King and Guardians ensure that the populace is Good.
Goodness is the ultimate source of Truth.
Plato’s body of work was one of the very few to survive intact after the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the death of Hellenic Civilization. “The Republic” was intensely studied by scholars, the Catholic clergy and other intellectuals during the Middle Ages. Most found fault with it. Some, however, were quite taken with this sophistic pile of elitist garbage. Among them was Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Born in Geneva in 1712, Rousseau’s formative years and early adulthood were spent amongst successful merchants, upper class families, nobility and educated clergy. Education, class and wealth were always central themes of life in his familial, social, commercial, educational and professional activities. A successful writer, most of his social interactions were with the intellectual, artistic and aristocratic elite of France, Germany and England. Despite the praise heaped upon him by many illustrious personages, in the end he managed to alienate almost all of them, and was known to be egotistical, haughty, contemptuous and quick to anger when challenged by others – especially those he considered his inferiors.
Rousseau’s social, political and economic views clearly owe a heavy debt to Plato. They can be summarized as follows:
Civilization creates inequality, envy and unnatural desires, where man values himself only as others perceive him or as he perceives his status, wealth and/or position in comparison to others. Overall, the material benefits of Science and Progress had been harmful to Man, degrading a natural goodness that was most readily manifested when he was in a state of complete poverty.
The worst damage to the innate goodness of Man came from the institution of private property, which was in Rousseau’s day the primary distinguishing factor between individuals and classes.
Man was ‘perfectible’ in that he could be taught/trained in morality and civic duty to counter his individualistic, selfish instincts and mold him to care primarily for the good of greater society.
Everyone must forfeit individual natural rights and accept duties that subordinate him to the group. This is true freedom, as one is free from care for oneself and one’s position in society, since all are equal and care for each other.
Property can be owned only if cultivated, and only at a subsistence level.
The fruits of the earth belong to all, and the earth to nobody.
Writers started doing dystopias after we saw the effects of trying to build utopias that required, unfortunately, the elimination of a lot of people before you could get to the perfect point, which never arrived. – Margaret Atwood, in “A Progressive Interview With Margaret Atwood” by Matthew Rothschild, in The Progressive (2 December 2010)
A common theme runs thru the course of Rousseau’s life which provides an illuminating contrast to his utopian musings. Disinherited in his youth, Rousseau behaved throughout his life as an elitist that had been unjustly displaced from his rightful position by the vicissitudes of fortune and a crass commercial world that failed to recognize his right to an exalted status due a person of his breeding, education, family heritage and social connections. He believed it is was his inherent privilege to tell others what they should do and how they should live their lives. At the same time, he craved recognition by those he considered his peers – landed nobility, along with premier artistic and intellectual figures.
As Plato influenced his own thoughts, Rousseau in his turn heavily influenced Robespierre and other key figures in the French Revolution, as well as Marx and Engels. From this, one can see a pattern develop in the leading figures of Collectivist ideology. When one catalogs the background of people such as Rousseau, Robespierre, Marx, Lenin, Hitler, Mao and others, the following commonalities emerge:
They prize intellect and intellectual achievement-especially their own.
They hold the perception of having been thwarted of their ‘rightful place’ in society.
They develop a world view that society itself is deeply flawed; that those currently in exalted positions are unworthy; and that they are amongst a great multitude that are being oppressed and/or wronged.
They either seek and adopt an ideology that supports their views or develop one of their own, then embark on a quest to fulfill the promise they believe is offered by this ideology in order to fulfill their destiny and take their ‘rightful place’ in a new society of their own making.
We can all readily grasp why some people who live in deep poverty under authoritarian regimes, unable to change the circumstances of their lives in a rigid social structure, might be attracted to any ideology which offers change. However, for a generation that has grown up with stability, order and prosperity, who are significantly better educated than the generations before them, and who are rebelling against the social & religious constrictions and responsibilities imposed by their parents, wanting to be free of the pressures, personal sacrifice and toil that fell on their parent’s shoulders and are about to fall on theirs as they enter young adulthood, their motivations are quite different. I speak of a generation that yearns to express the wondrous, beautiful, individual uniqueness which they believe to offer, that feels entitled to that recognition but, not finding it from a society which demands effort and proof of achievement before acknowledging their assumed quality, discovers a global Socialist/Communist movement that looks like the perfect vehicle for their rebellion.
The Boomers saw Communism violently rejecting the world created by their parents and challenging it energetically, in every aspect and on every front. International Communism scorns organized religion and offers instead a religion of the State – where embracing its theology makes you smarter, wiser, nicer and better than those who adhere to the old ways. You become special, one of the apostles of this new faith that’s so much more humane and caring than what your fuddy duddy old parents espouse. It’s here, it’s now, it’s new, it’s WOW! And everybody’s into it, man, all over the WORLD! You’re carried away by being part of something way bigger than you are, freed by it as you get lost in the multitude, swept up by its power and historical inevitability, because it’s so real, so evolutionary, so REVOLUTIONARY, so……….PROGRESSIVE.
In addition to this there is the horrible — the really disquieting — prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England. – George Orwell, “The Road to Wigan Pier” (1937)
Western Civilization in Europe has faced the challenge of Collectivism three times. The first was in France during the Revolution at the end of the 18th century. It was beaten, but not defeated, as the ultimate question posed by the challenge – what is a fair and equitable distribution of wealth and privilege across society – was not answered satisfactorily. Thus, a breakdown commenced in Western Europe and the challenge arose again in the manifesto of Marx and Engels. Mussolini and Hitler carried the National Socialist banner very near to victory and the establishment of a Western Universal State in the Second World War. Yet the barriers to social mobility from class and educational privilege, though gravely wounded as a consequence of the conflict, still lingered in Western Europe, opening the way for a third challenge – this one from the Soviet Union, whose threat was, like the previous relapse, both ideological and military.
The menace posed by the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact and the Communist Internationale was somewhat unique in history, as best as I can tell. In this case, the third relapse of the challenge was not posed in the beginning by Western civilization’s Internal Proletariat, but by an Orthodox Christian External Proletariat. The Orthodox Christian civilization, centered in Imperial Russia after the fall of the Byzantine Imperium to the Ottoman Turkish onslaught, itself responded to the threat posed by an ascendant Western civilization in 1917 by adopting the West’s own internally competing ideology – Collectivism – in an attempt to re-organize Orthodox Christian civilization thru centralized control of all resources and mount a cultural ‘counterattack’ in order to equal or overtake Western civilization’s leadership in economic, artistic and technological spheres. This effort by an External Proletariat in turn stimulated the West’s Internal Proletariat to resume its ‘class struggle.’
With a third relapse of the crisis, Western Civilization’s response was, per Toynbee’s 3.5 beat cadence, the weakest of all. Western European governments adopted a ‘soft socialism’ that attempted to combine democracy with a large social safety net and detailed central government management of the economy ‘for the greater good.’ Despite such societal window dressing, the ghosts of elitist domination of the halls of power in government and industry persisted – much more subtly than during the days of Rousseau, but lingering like ghosts nevertheless, as class and privilege still exist throughout Western European society.
It was at this point that the growing distance between the USA and Europe became obvious and America came definitively into its own as a Civilization. NATO was formed to counter the Red Army, but America carried 80-90% of the weight of that alliance. Western Europe formed the Common Market and, eventually, the European Union – the Universal State of Western Civilization finally realized – but the economic, political, technological, military and above all cultural scales tilted ever more towards America, as Western Europe declined into an imitative backwater. The signs were clear then and now, as Western Europe increasingly shirked the necessary expenses to maintain its military capability, preparedness and overall capacity for self defense in favor of ever greater funding thru higher taxes and public debt burdens for ‘free’ medical care, ‘free’ university education and other forms of public dole.
Both Catholic and Protestant Christianity – bedrock institutions of Western civilization – are approaching extinction in Western Europe. The most glaring evidence of a civilization in its Disintegration phase is the continuing infiltration of an African and Middle Eastern External Proletariat who, upon arriving in Western Europe, openly and ferociously express their contempt for its people and institutions. The frontier’s boundaries are not only increasingly undefended; the will of Western European nations to even mount a defense is simply not there, as the Dominant Minority no longer seems to believe that the borders are worth defending. The Internal Proletariat gave up on its leaders some decades ago, and their cynicism is deeper than ever as the Dominant Minority, seemingly oblivious, continues sending its future leadership cadres in politics and business to be trained at Oxford, Cambridge and the “Grandes Ecoles.”
This is why they are stagnant; why they no longer create or innovate to any significant extent; why the church is practically dead; why they produce almost no new art or literature of note; why they have no sense of history or sense of self as a civilization; why they won’t defend themselves against Islamic and African invaders or a resurgent imperialist Russia; why they became weaker and weaker during the Cold War; why together they could not squash or even contain the Yugoslav civil war in the 90’s; why 20 years later, the strongest of them working together could not muster the military strength to over throw Muammar Qaddafi in Libya; why their birth rates have collapsed; and why their Internal Proletariat no longer concern themselves with getting ahead or improving their living conditions and economic situation, but instead focus on further reducing their working hours, extracting ever more benefits from their central government and spending their 4-6 week summer vacation in the Greek Isles, Mediterranean Spain or Italy’s Adriatic shoreline, drinking themselves into a stupor and throwing their guts up every night. Western Civilization is a civilization that is very visibly committing suicide, unwilling and unable to firmly confront and resolve a feudal ‘hangover’ in their culture that impedes class mobility.
As the disintegration advances, we will see the Universal State of the EU implode. Separatist movements such as those in Catalonia, Scotland and perhaps Northern Italy might gain strength; in any case, individual nations will either seek their own salvation (as Italy and Austria seem to be attempting at the moment) or simply die (as Spain, France, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Germany and Sweden appear determined to do.)
But what of America?
Particularly on the Left, political thought is a sort of masturbation fantasy in which the world of facts hardly matters. – George Orwell, “London Letter” in Partisan Review (Winter 1945)
The 2nd Turning or “Awakening” of the Generational Cycle burst forth with revolutionary fervor simultaneously with the beginning of a fresh challenge to American Civilization regarding the “reach” of central government power (originating from the measures taken to overcome the previous challenge regarding slavery) during the 1960’s. You can see these early days of the emerging challenge quite clearly by contrasting the speeches of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater to highly receptive audiences at the 1964 Republican Convention against the anti-war demonstrations that erupted across college campuses in the late 1960’s.
The McCarthy era notwithstanding, we are in the throes of confronting Collectivism as an internal, existential challenge to our civilization for the first time. This challenge, however, is of a different nature than the Western European one. Western civilization has been confronted thrice with a struggle between Collectivism and the existing social order, which even today still echoes its feudal past of a rigid class hierarchy. America’s struggle, by contrast, is one between Collectivism in terms of groups and tribes claiming grievances against other groups/tribes and seeking redress, versus the respect for and value of the individual evolved from the broader Germanic cultural tradition that is part of America’s original foundation and enshrined in the Constitution.
In the eyes of the Right, Washington D.C. is guilty of de-facto criminal overreach that violates constitutional limits on federal versus state sovereignty, as well as breaching the effective sphere of control with which the Constitution bounds the federal government in relation to its presence in all aspects of our society. This includes both the lack of enforcement of Constitutional mandates as well as the exercise of power over areas or to an extent which the Constitution prohibits. To put it more succinctly – the Right asserts that the Federal government is operating outside the proper bounds of the Constitution, both in spirit and in fact – as if the Constitution were a ‘living document.’
However, all of the above is, in the eyes of the Progressive Left, not a bug, but a feature.
Secondly there is the fact that the intellectuals are more totalitarian in outlook than the common people. On the whole the English intelligentsia have opposed Hitler, but only at the price of accepting Stalin. Most of them are perfectly ready for dictatorial methods, secret police, systematic falsification of history etc. so long as they feel that it is on ‘our’ side. – George Orwell, Letter to H. J. Willmett (18 May 1944)
If statistics are to be believed, Boomers today are almost evenly split between Right and Left, with the Left side holding a 4 point lead. It is likely, though, that their numerical advantage was significantly higher in the 60’s, which was, after all, the Vietnam era.
Going by Strauss & Howe’s timetable for the current set of generations, the Baby Boomers were born between 1941 and 1960, making the youngest about 58 years old today, with the vast majority of them in their last years in the workforce or already retired as they gradually cede their positions of seniority and leadership in government and industry to the Nomads of Generation X. It is the Boomers’ Leftist members – unconsciously employing their parent’s principles of team effort, civics-consciousness, and suborning the interests and needs of the individual to the Greater Good while concurrently embracing an ideology completely opposed to all that the Boomers’ parents had built and achieved – who executed a “March Thru the Institutions” during the last 3 decades. Their aspiration was to eradicate all the ethical and regulatory norms enacted by their Hero/Greatest Generation and Artist/Silent Generation forebears and replace them with operational axioms, mechanisms and tactics developed to recruit and indoctrinate a younger cadre that was well versed in ‘progressive’ values. Contemporaneously, they strove to prove Rousseau’s belief in man’s ‘perfectibility’ by incrementally converting the rest of American civilization thru a stealthy ‘acclimatization’ into a society based on Marxist collectivist principles. The final objective was to train Americans to become living examples of the “New Socialist Man” idealized by marxist social theorists and polemicists.
The “march” has been manifestly effective to date. Christianity in America – just as much a part of the foundation of our society as it is of our sister Western civilization – is a pale shadow compared to what it was when I was a kid back in the 60’s. It is de rigeur for High School and College students today to pour scorn on Christianity – an attitude instilled in them by a K-12 and college educational system that began indoctrinating students in the ‘evils’ of Christian faith at least 40 years ago. This perspective has been reinforced continually by a mainstream media whose membership is now completely dominated by adherents to the radical leftist canon promulgated by their ‘liberal arts’ professors. Leftist Boomers have also radically changed our laws, our political systems, what is or isn’t acceptable in our culture in terms of art, literature or the spoken word, what we eat and drink, what we do for recreation, how we interact with each other socially or at work, and even our technology choices, both individually and as a society.
Their younger acolytes have gone farther. Social Media has inserted itself into our culture but is under the full control of young Progressives who exercise their unconstrained prerogative over determining the value and/or validity of content, as well as capturing information on us in tremendous detail on a daily basis. Our language is under attack. Our right to speak our minds is as well. The nuclear family has been under assault for decades – parents have lost more and more control over how their children are raised and what they are taught, while the institution of marriage itself has been beaten to a bloody pulp. Even our genetics, skin tone, sexual orientation, ethnic background and gender are subject to scolding scrutiny from self-appointed Progressive ‘clerics’ at universities and in the media, judging what is or is not permissible, acceptable or condemnable, based on the indoctrination they received in their gender/race/ethnic/X – studies college courses.
Progressives continue their Great March relentlessly to this day, rendered inexhaustible from the conviction that they are on the ‘right side of history.’ Behaving more and more like an American version of Mao’s Red Guards who drove the Cultural Revolution, their objective is to smash American civilization as defined so astutely by the Founding Fathers and then build a new world, a ‘fair’ world, a world better than what all previous generations had cumulatively created, where progressives would receive just praise, accolades and reverence for their innate goodness and wisdom and where THEY would decide who merited the fruits of society and to what degree, their cups finally full enough to quench the terrible thirst of their narcissism and urge to dominate others in their thoughts, actions and feelings.
As we have all seen, the divide between the Right and the Left has reached such a level of spittle-flecked vitriol that it has become impossible to initiate a substantive dialogue involving an exchange of ideas and detailed debates on their merits based on facts and logic in order to reach either a decision on the best course of action or to negotiate a workable compromise. Does this internal schism mean American civilization is disintegrating?
While the Internal Proletariat and a faltering Creative Minority in America may be having severe doubts about each other and factionalizing within their own ranks, the surest sign that American civilization has not either broken down or begun disintegrating is the External Proletariat, which in America’s case is the whole rest of the world. American civilization is still a shining beacon radiating far beyond our borders, bringing hope for a better tomorrow to all aspiring immigrants who only ask for a genuine chance to start over while inspiring mimesis of American culture in every corner of the globe.
Notice how the ex-Warsaw Pact nations of Eastern Europe, now free of Soviet domination, did not turn to their immediately neighboring Western civilization as a potential ally against a resurgent Russia. They approached America, who in their eyes is vastly more robust than Western Europe not just from a military standpoint but as a civilization. Observe as well how the Hindu civilization of the Indian subcontinent aligned itself with the Soviets after independence but is now puzzling over how it can rid itself of its socialist trappings in the least painful manner possible while warming up to America. Even China is feeling the radiating warmth of American civilization. The undercurrents in China’s Internal Proletariat reveal an urgent desire for accelerating the adoption of American practices and concepts in the political, social, economic and legal arenas, as they struggle against a Dominant Minority which still refuses to relinquish its power, privilege and position.
Not even in the Dar Al Islam are we viewed by anyone other than the cadres of psychopathic jihadists as a mortal enemy. Many an average citizen in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Malaysia and Indonesia wants an iPhone so they can stream Youtube videos and the latest Marvel Superhero movie or shop online for blue jeans and Nikes. The great majority of people in the last vestige of the Syriac civilization may have varying levels of resentment or suspicion of America, but very few of them want to destroy it. Instead, they want to emulate its success as best they can.
Astonishingly, even among the jihadi ranks are those who quietly view America with great admiration (and perhaps are not even fully aware of the irony.) Some of you may recall a story by Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis where he relates a series of conversations with a sunni jihadist captured in Iraq who at one point asks him if, when the war was over, he might have a chance to emigrate to America to start his life over.
It is nevertheless plain to see, however, that America is in crisis. Today’s political strife reflects an existential crossroad for American civilization in the form of a struggle between individualist-inspired federalization versus collectivist-inspired centralization of government power. The seeds of this crisis were planted by the North’s choices in its effort to prevail in the Civil War, with these seeds sprouting and flowering (pardon the pun) in the Awakening of the 1960’s. A crucial indicator of the growth of this crisis is provided by the national birth rate, which has now fallen to 1.8 – a record low. We are experiencing a classic Toynbee civilization challenge and a Generational Cycle 4th Turning crisis period in a perfectly synchronous harmony. We are most certainly standing on the cliff’s edge of a breakdown.
“The Gust”, Willem van de Velde the Younger, circa 1650-1707 (Source: sailingwarship.com)
The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard. – Excerpt from a verse in the Katha-Upanishad – 1.3.14.
Are we about to enter a second Civil War?
This question is on the lips of many people on both the Left and Right. We don’t have Senators and Congressmen showing up to congressional sessions with guns under their jackets, as they did in the weeks and months before the Confederacy opened fire on Fort Sumter. Nor have any fistfights broken out yet on the Senate or House floor. The rancor and hostility between the parties in Congress, however, is palpable. The febrile hysteria of the MSM and its blatant propagandizing against the Right are evoking disgust even from some on the Left. Nonetheless, the intensity of the agitprop continues to grow and is clearly intended to provoke unstable and weak minded individuals to acts of violence and mayhem – events which have already occurred multiple times, almost exclusively against public figures on the Right. To my surviving family members who experienced WW2, it has the familiar sound of a prelude to war.
The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human. – Aldous Huxley, “The Olive Tree” (1936)
The secession of the Confederacy from the Union was a definitive line in the sand, and we appear to some extent to be moving in that direction. Campaigns calling for greater autonomy from Washington, separatism or outright secession at the State level began during the 8 years of the Obama administration, initiated by citizens on the Right. The northernmost counties of California, a half dozen eastern counties in Colorado, and the states of Texas, Arizona and Utah saw various such initiatives reach state legislatures, some even reaching ballots for public votes. When the winds of political fortune shifted to the Right in 2010, 2014 and most especially 2016, people on the Left began agitating for autonomy or secession, most notably in California, where they will put the issue to a vote in 2020.
Per Strauss & Howe, this cycle’s 4th turning likely began with the 2008 financial panic. If the cycle holds true, it won’t be until 2028 or thereabouts that the crisis will definitively end. They also note that in each 4th Turning, a potential solution to the current unpleasantness begins to present itself right around the 8th year. Furthermore, somebody steps forward from the crowd and becomes a rallying figure – a member of the Prophet Generation for that cycle who points the way forward to victory. Strauss and Howe call this individual “The Grey Champion.”
Sometimes this champion is two or three people. As an example – the role of the Grey Champion was fulfilled by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams during the Revolution, each of them from their cycle’s Prophet Generation, bringing different but complementary behaviors and approaches to the effort. More often it is a lone individual, such as Abraham Lincoln, also a member of the Prophet Generation of his cycle.
In general, a Grey Champion can be recognized by the following characteristics:
He will have many enemies on both sides of the conflict, all of whom share a deep and abiding hatred of him.
He will be perceived as not truly belonging to either faction of the conflict, but to be above both.
His solutions to current difficulties will be both principled and original.
His manner will be fierce; his commitment unrelenting; his resolve unwavering; his approach uncompromising.
He will instill courage in the souls of those who are despairing of the grimness of the situation.
He will come across to his detractors as a pitiless, egomaniacal narcissist.
His enemies will revel in his setbacks, hurl invective at him at every opportunity, and wish for or even plot his overthrow or assassination.
He will break every rule, norm and standard that gets in the way of his ultimate objective: ensuring that his nation is victorious.
We can identify this Grey Champion readily, folks. He’s already emerged, though he is not actually grey.
This new regime will enthrone itself for the duration of the Crisis. Regardless of its ideology, that new leadership will assert public authority and demand private sacrifice. Where leaders had once been inclined to alleviate societal pressures, they will now aggravate them to command the nation’s attention. The regeneracy will be solidly under way.”–Strauss & Howe, “The Fourth Turning”
There are several things which frustrate Europeans about us to no end. One is that we never quail in the face of adversity or difficult tasks, which European political figures, media and academia choose to view as naivete and adolescent impetuousness. Another is that Americans are driven to solve their problems right away and tire very quickly of the endless talk that Europeans think will magically resolve their difficulties – in effect, waiting for the problem to magically solve itself while they have polite conversation over tiny glasses of sherry in well appointed salons. But one thing in particular about America utterly exasperates Western Europe: the ability of America to reinvent itself time and again.
I do not pretend to be a Delphic Oracle. My ability to forecast whether or not America will settle this existential challenge by force of arms is no better than anyone else’s. Both the Strauss & Howe and Toynbee methodologies agree that these sorts of schisms occurring after a period of 80-100 years of relative peace are most often settled by a major war. Logic would dictate against it, as the geographic position of the Left, concentrated for the most part on the coasts and in major population centers, would make a Progressive military victory a virtual impossibility.
But logic seems to have little hold over the political and social leadership of Progressives nowadays. In fact, their colleagues in academia have extended Progressive doctrine – derived from classic Marxist thought and enhanced by theory, stratagems and practices employed by Soviet, Maoist and other socialist tyrannies, as well as leading Leftist theorists such as the notorious Saul Alinsky – to include the tenet that arguments based on facts, evidence, data, logic and reason are irrelevant if they are presented against a Progressive principle or initiative supported only by emotional commitment. This is further evidence that Progressivism has so distanced itself from the Democratic party of Truman and Kennedy that it can no longer be considered a genuine political ideology, but has instead moved firmly into the realm of theology and religious canon.
All we can be certain of is this: The crisis is upon us, and we have our Grey Champion.
I cannot augur whether the Collectivists or Federalists will triumph, or how the struggle will play itself out. If the Collectivists win, it will indicate that the extant Creative Minority who already has near complete control of our civilization’s institutions will have a free hand exercising its will on the Internal Proletariat, becoming a Dominant Minority in the process. Collectivism is, after all, severely authoritarian, both in theory and practice, notwithstanding the childish lies progressives tell themselves or the hackneyed selling points with which they sprinkle their agitprop. Remember that National Socialism in Italy and Germany arose thru the mechanism of democratic elections, so it would not be out of the question that a similar event could occur here. American civilization, as young as it is, would then enter a Breakdown phase, and we could expect the Dominant Minority to attempt retrieving the support of the Internal Proletariat most likely thru military adventurism, per the general pattern identified by Toynbee.
But the ferocity of the reaction against encroaching Collectivism has surprised me, and I still have quite high hopes that we will prevail. I believe Trump fits the role of Grey Champion more completely than anyone in America’s history, and is the strongest example of this prophetic figure our young civilization has yet seen. Just as importantly, the necessary qualities of clear-headed reasoning & analysis, command of the facts and the fortitude to effectively deal with reality are glaringly absent in the Collectivist camp, leaving them ill-equipped for the struggle ahead. If they think Revolutionary fervor will be enough to carry them through, they’re in for a rude shock. Jihadists were foolish enough to shake the dragon’s tail in 2001, and have brought death, fire and ruin upon themselves for the last 17 years.
My hope is that the American electorate is just as sick and tired of the tribalism, virtue signaling, victimhood performance theater, “you can’t trust your own lyin’ eyes” demagoguery to distort reality & thwart common sense, campus & media Thought Police and politically correct “Newspeak” as I am to definitively reject Progressivism, both at the ballot box and in daily life. I hold out hope for at least the younger half of the Millenial Generation, who has left me with the impression that they have a very dim opinion of Progressive ideology/theology. In any event, the next 24 months or so will clarify whether my hopes are in vain or not.
We are still in the thick of the fight, folks, and if we prevail, we likely have a good 10 years before we can expect to have it all behind us. Victory for us against this challenge will not bring back the America of the 1950’s or even restore the America of the 1990’s. America will look markedly different – an essential outcome in the growth of a civilization. But I have no doubt that it will be a wondrously beautiful thing to behold.
The following captures the flow of my sentiments on this topic better than any piece I know. I hope you are as moved by it as much as I am.
Let’s begin with a quote from which the rest of this post will naturally follow:
Oddly enough, it is the intellectual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.
– John M. Ellis
Most of my readers are likely personally familiar with this attitude. Debate a Leftist on social media and prepare yourself for a barrage of insults. You are ignorant, uneducated, immoral, hateful, and many other horrible, terrible things. The implication, of course, is that they are not these things. They are superior to you, better than you, more moral, more intelligent, etc…
Some time ago on Twitter, a self-declared Socialist explained to me that my car, a 2015 Mustang, was so plebeian. It was, he declared, entirely common. Anybody could afford the payments, he said (that I disdain auto loans and bought mine in cash never entered his mental calculations). I found this utterly fascinating, for Socialists usually claim to be acting for the common man. How could the word “common” thus be insulting?
Ocasio-Cortez became something of a meme after some enterprising reddit user humorously tabulated the cost of the various high fashion items she was wearing, while representing herself as a woman of the working class:
Because, as we know, the common man (or woman) wears a $3500 outfit. This tied in rather neatly with the Twitter Socialist decrying my automobile as too common. A proper Socialist would undoubtedly only drive a Ferrari or something. Ocasio-Cortez defended this by claiming the clothing was lent to her from the fashion industry. That doesn’t make it any better. Rich champagne Socialists are jumping on her bandwagon and dressing her as one of them? More elitists to tell you that the common man sucks.
The essence of modern Socialism is thus a carefully calculated message: “I’m better than you, neener-neener.” Everything they say is tainted with this. Pull up an article on any Left-leaning outlet and see it for yourself. Michael Crichton coined the term the Gell-Mann Effect to explain how people could be so blind to media stupidity. Perhaps we can coin a new term to refer to the Left’s smug superiority complex.
We could call it the Ocasio-Cortez Effect.
Socialism appeals to the very poor and the very wealthy. The very poor, of course, are jumping on the train because elitist Socialists are promising them a mountain of free shit. We can understand, and to some extent even forgive, their support of the far Left. The wealthy Socialists have a different conception of things, something Thomas Sowell explained quite clearly:
The almost universal disdain toward the middle class — the bourgeoisie — by those with cosmic visions can be more readily understood in light of the role of such visions as personal gratification and personal license. The middle classes have been classically people of rules, traditions, and self-discipline, to a far greater extent than the underclass below them or the wealthy and aristocratic classes above them. While the underclass pay the price of not having the self-discipline of the bourgeoisie — in many ways, ranging from poverty to imprisonment — the truly wealthy and powerful can often disregard the rules, including laws, without paying the consequences. Those with cosmic visions that seek escape from social constraints regarded as arbitrary, rather than inherent, tend to romanticize the unruliness of the underclass and the sense of being above the rules found among the elite.
– Thomas Sowell
Only someone far removed from the reality of the world could truly believe something like Socialism could work on an intellectual level. Marxist thinking is a disease that is precisely tailored to infect the mind of the intellectual elitist – after all, Marx himself was one such. Rationalizing absurdity is the province of an arrogant mind disconnected from the consequences (as Taleb would say, someone without skin in the game), not necessarily a stupid one. It takes someone far removed from the consequences of his actions to believe objective reality could be made subservient to subjective whims.
Socialists are a collective mirror of Xerxes trying to whip the sea into obedience. That’s the sort of thing only a smug, self-entitled, angry, and dare I say childish individual could possibly come up with. But stupid? No, not stupid. No doubt Xerxes had some twisted, self-satisfied rationalization for why the gods would obey him, should he do those things.
Or maybe he was just a petulant child. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between a smug elitist and a child throwing a temper tantrum. When you see Antifas lighting garbage cans on fire and breaking windows while screaming “FUCK TRUUUUUUMP”, know that you’re seeing a lesser version of Xerxes having the sea whipped.
Look at the Socialists out there today, with their Starbucks coffee, Apple iPhones, and mountains of debt. They say they are better than you. They say they are smarter, more moral, more fashionable, etc… They would never be caught dead with a common product, naturally. Nor would they be caught dead with the common working man. Coal miners? Fuck those guys! Plumbers? Electricians? Line workers? So plebeian!
I bet they drive Mustangs. And they probably don’t even wear Gucci! So passe.
Is it any wonder working and middle class folks came out in support of Trump in such a big way? Decades worth of Leftists were shitting on the common working class man, and finally they had enough. Once the Left at least pretended to like these people, to fight for them. Now they only fight for foreigners. Send truckloads of illegals, refugees, and whoever else they can possibly ship over the border and give them as much free shit as possible. Provided, of course, that they vote for Socialists. Socialists with Prada bags, presumably.
That’s always the bargain. If Mexicans voted like Cubans, Obama would have built walls that put Babylon and the Great Wall of China to shame. They’d have been thicker and taller than the Theodosian walls of Constantinople.
Do what your betters say. Obey. It’s an affliction that even makes itself known on the nominal right. Tom Nichols is a big fan of obeying the experts because they are better than you. And by experts, he is really referring to technocrats. Most technocrats, of course, lean Socialist.
I will close with one quote the anointed experts, self-avowed champagne Socialists, and Ferrari drivers should take note of:
Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread.
– Thomas Jefferson
The Founders knew perfectly well the dangers of Socialism… long before it was even called by that name. Government by anointed elitists who know better than you is as ancient as the historical record.
Please share the link with everyone you can. This needs to be brought to the attention of the HHS Department ASAP. There needs to be clear regulation of this atrocity.
Years ago, when I selected Organ Donor as the default on my driver’s license, my father told me not to do it. He said there would come a time, when the rich and influential would kill people just to take their organs.
I agreed to think about it, but, secretly, I laughed about his paranoia. How ridiculous! No one would ever do that.
6th Century B.C. vase depicting Achilles, Athena and Ajax during the Trojan War (Source: historynet.com)
We ended Part 1 of this discussion by posing the following questions:
How did we get to this point?
Where are we going as a civilization?
Is our civilization still growing and evolving, or in fact dying?
A growing plurality of Americans has turned away from organized religion. Furthermore, confidence in our political, economic, legal, media and social institutions is extremely poor and worsening. Have we reached a point of no return? If Yes, what happens next? If No, how do we move forward?
In order to even begin a conversation to address these concerns, we first need to provide ourselves with an appropriate set of analytical tools. As mentioned previously, I’ll be assembling this toolkit from the works of Toynbee and Strauss & Howe.
In his masterpiece “A Study of History”, Toynbee identifies twenty one societies in the roughly 10,000 year history of humanity that fit his criteria of a ‘civilization’, as opposed to just a nation, city or tribe. There are interactions between some or many of these civilizations both in terms of ‘space’ (either by geographical proximity or at least contemporaneous contact thru trade, diplomacy and/or war) and ‘time’ (where an older civilization generates a successor or has some significant level of influence over a later culture.)
Early in his Study, Toynbee decisively rejects historical models that characterize the rise and fall of civilizations as analogous to the birth, growth, maturity, senescence and death of an individual human being. He argues that the history of civilizations is instead commensurate with a group of free climbers scaling a massive and precipitous cliff. Occasionally a climber encounters a physical obstacle impossible to overcome and gets stuck. Others may pause to rest on a ledge for an indeterminate period. Finally, there are those who, perhaps after sliding back to some extent, transform themselves into a stronger climber with a modified set of skills and resume the climb. This last is the most frequent type observed by Toynbee.
From Toynbee’s model one can observe the time scale between the commencement and demise of a civilization all the way to the creation of its successor to be a span of two or more millennia. He breaks this progression into three parts: an establishment and growth phase, an end to growth (which he terms a ‘breakdown’), and a decline & collapse, normally followed by an 800-1000 year ‘interregnum’ before the remnants of the extinct civilization are reorganized and, with new institutions replacing those which had failed, concludes in the dawn of its heir. He likens this last part as symbolically equivalent to the Phoenix of legend which, consumed in its own flame, rises from the ashes of its funeral pyre stronger and more magnificent than before.
I will do my best to summarize the details of each phase below. If the summary proves insufficient, please feel free to consult the original volumes for a more elaborate description, but be warned: as beautifully written and wonderfully informative as it is, Toynbee’s body of work is quite long and the prose is dense with meaning, as well as being gorgeously eloquent and extraordinarily erudite. You will need a full dictionary by your side and will find yourself searching for the meanings of various words in languages other than English – including French, Latin and Ancient Greek. I limited myself to the Sommervell abridgement, which is itself over 1,000 pages, and am satisfied that I have done enough.
We begin with a society that appears in a given region and is distinct from any surrounding societies in at least one cultural aspect (and typically more) – social, legal, economic, political or technological. By coming into existence, this society demonstrates that it has both mastered its immediate physical environment and held its own against any external enemies. As a consequence of these two successes, the society demonstrates that it has established itself and – assuming its energies are not totally consumed by contending with its physical environment or defending its territory from invaders – now has the ‘leisure’ to develop further, thus entering its Growth phase.
Thomas Cole, “Course of Empire – The Arcadian or Pastoral State”, 1834 (Source: Wikipedia)
A civilization that is growing will exhibit the following general characteristics:
Having proved itself against external challenges, the society from then on faces challenges that are primarily internal in nature.
These challenges are, in fact, direct results stemming from whatever solution the civilization developed to successfully meet the previous challenge. (Ex: to survive an invasion, a civilization transforms its government, legal framework, social structure and economy to support the war effort. Once the invader is expelled, the populace wishes to return to a peaceful society in order to both enjoy and benefit from the fruits of victory, but the political and economic leadership that has prospered from their role in the war resists changing their ways, citing ‘the need for order and security.’ A crisis inevitably ensues.)
To meet these challenges successfully, the civilization will either adopt new institutions or effectively modify existing ones.
The individual or group internal to the civilization which successfully addresses a challenge will itself rise to positions of leadership. They will become a ‘Creative Minority’ who serve as an example for the rest (known as the ‘Internal Proletariat’) to emulate/imitate (termed ‘Mimesis’ by Toynbee.) Whatever leadership clique that had been in charge of the civilization before (having achieved their pre-eminence by solving the previous crisis and becoming that era’s Creative Minority) will be displaced by the new Creative Minority.
An ‘External Proletariat’ outside of the civilization’s borders arises. This group may be, on occasion and in parts, an enemy of the civilization, but is more inclined on the whole to admire it and will desire to either join it or emulate it partially or wholly as best as it can. The ‘radiance’ of a growing civilization can spread amazingly far, thus affecting tribes, peoples and nations at surprising distances from the civilization’s actual political boundaries. Thus, an External Proletariat can be quite large and varied, with the strength of the civilization’s ‘glow’ fading gradually over distance.
We can see from the above that further challenges to a civilization once it establishes itself are actually problems that are of their own making. To contend with the problem, the civilization is not struggling with an outside power but with itself. The better this civilization is at confronting and resolving these problems is a measure of its capacity for self-determination.
The “Mechanism” of Growth
Is civilization an individual thing, like a person? Or is it like a collection of ‘cells’ completely subordinate to the whole, like a living organism? In Toynbee’s view, neither characterization is sufficient. He reasons that Civilization is the sum total of relationships between its individual members. These relations arise from the synchronism of their individual fields of action. From this develops a common ground, and this common ground is what we call a society.
Toynbee also points out that society is a field of action, but the source of all action is the individuals who compose that society. An individual or small group/cadre can cause the whole of society to move in a particular direction, once they are all allied to this movement under the inspiration of the provoking individual(s). The trick is for the creative individual or a Creative Minority to both break a civilization’s ‘cake of custom’ themselves in a constructive manner and then convince the Internal Proletariat thru some means (oratory, demonstration, inducing them to pursue the experience of discovery themselves, inspiring the social act of Mimesis/imitation, what have you) to follow the Creative Minority and adopt this New Way. In this manner, a Creative Minority leads the Internal Proletariat and together they solve a civilization’s current existential crisis/challenge.
Finally, Toynbee notes that as a civilization grows, it will further differentiate itself from other civilizations by the choices it makes in successive acts of self-determination, forging its unique future while generating solutions to successive trials. This differentiation can take many forms – religion, art, industry, inventiveness, architecture and so forth.
Thomas Cole, “Course of Empire – The Consumation of Empire”, 1836 (Source: Wikipedia)
As a civilization resolves a crisis, only to be presented over time with a fresh challenge whose generation is attributable to the resolution of the previous one, the cycle of new trials eventually comes to a halt when the civilization encounters a predicament which it finds itself unable to resolve. This is, in Toynbee’s view, a failure of further self-determination. When such an event occurs, internal growth ceases and the civilization’s engine of self-evolution ‘breaks down.’
The characteristics of a breakdown are as follows:
The existing Creative Minority fails to find a resolution to the latest dilemma and instead digs in its heels, resting on its laurels and defending its recalcitrance on the principle of “what worked before is what’s best.”
A new Creative Minority fails to surface to address the issue, either by an accident of fortune, or because the Internal Proletariat fails to be swayed by the upstarts, or because the existing Creative Minority successfully represses them.
The Internal Proletariat loses confidence in the Creative Minority and begins withdrawing their support and Mimesis.
Social unity begins to fray. Civil strife can become common and extraordinarily cruel & sanguinous – as bad or worse than any barbarian invader’s depravations.
The existing Creative Minority begins transforming into a Dominant Minority, ruling less and less by admiration and increasingly by writ of force, seeking to coerce the Internal Proletariat into returning to a posture of Mimesis.
The Internal Proletariat, outwardly obedient, quietly responds with growing hostility to the ruling clique and begins to resist passively (for the most part.)
The External Proletariat begins to lose its admiration for the bordering civilization and grows increasingly hostile towards it – particularly in a military sense. The border between the two consequently begins transforming from a political and/or geographical one into a fortified frontier.
There are obvious examples of this throughout the history of Rome, China, Persia and others. Toynbee’s work is rich with examples from across the globe and thru all historical eras. Such periods are often referred to by later generations as a “Time of Troubles.”
A breakdown is not necessarily decisive. Civilizations do recover from them if a new Creative Minority does find a way to rise and lead its fellow citizens down a new path. The existing institutions which have failed to answer the crisis at hand will either be modified or discarded and replaced, and the civilization will resume its growth vector.
But in cases where this new savior or team of heroes does not arise, the existing ruling clique will develop solutions which are nothing more than stopgap measures – fixes that utilize existing institutions and only provide partial relief, which in terms of software engineering is often referred to as a ‘kludge.’
These kludges work to a certain degree and for a brief period. In the early part of such periods, both the Internal and External Proletariats are calmed by a seeming return to normalcy, and all seems well. But the rot has set in, and the unresolved issues which constitute the original crisis again assert themselves.
In his analysis, Toynbee discovered a remarkable pattern associated with civilizations in breakdown. There seems to be a rhythm to it – a 3.5 beat cadence of crisis, partial relief, relapse, partial and weaker relief, further relapse, particularly weak relief, and then a final and catastrophic return of the challenge. During each ‘beat’ of the rhythm, existing institutions are damaged and eroded, with some failing along the way. If, in none of the three beats does the civilization sprout a Creative Minority to lead them out of crisis, the final resurgence of the impasse precipitates a permanent slide into decline which Toynbee frames as a ‘disintegration.’
Thomas Cole, “Course of Empire – Destruction”, 1836 (Source: Wikipedia)
In this woeful chapter of a civilization’s history, its attempts at constructively dealing with the last trial have conclusively failed. Instead of a functional solution, the dominant minority attempts to ‘freeze’ everything in place and preserve its inadequate institutions for the sake of order and to maintain a grip on the reins of power.
A rather important lesson to be learned from this is that a civilization’s disintegration is actually a suicide. The wound is a self-inflicted one, stemming from the civilization’s loss or abandonment of self-determination.
What are the ‘symptoms’ of a Civilization that is decaying/disintegrating?
The existing Creative Minority completes its transformation into a Dominant Minority, ruling by force.
The Internal Proletariat is coerced by the brute strength of the State into obedience. Though there may be a temporary reconciliation stemming from the Dominant Minority bringing a final end to the internal civil disorder caused by a ‘Time of Troubles’, it is a brief respite only. Sometimes the Internal Proletariat will openly revolt after a time, but direct action usually fails. The more common response is passive rejection of their rulers.
The civilization becomes highly belligerent and vents its ferocity on the External Proletariat in an eruption of territorial conquest. This begins the Universal State period, where the Civilization extends its territories well beyond the original political borders. This has the temporary effect of drawing the Internal Proletariat and Dominant Minority together.
The Dominant Minority has a transient burst of creativity channeled into military affairs, legislative and administrative frameworks for exerting control over the newly created Imperium, philosophy, literature and art which reinforce the assumed legitimacy of the Dominant Minority, and even some technical innovation in the form of engineering and architectural improvements that originate from military necessity.
The External Proletariat now becomes implacably hostile. A state of war becomes a fixture of the relationship between it and the disintegrating Civilization, and the light of that Civilization no longer radiates past its fortified borders to positively impress the External Proletariat.
The social and economic strains on the Civilization grow worse as the failure to overcome the original challenge that led to breakdown festers like an open wound and the continual state of war causes ruinous taxation, economic devastation and ever increasing hardship. The political architecture becomes poisonous as well as administrative bureaucracy grows in size and reach, becomes corrupt and fatally wounds the Rule of Law. The relationship between the Internal Proletariat and the Dominant Minority worsens until it collapses, and a permanent social schism emerges as the Internal Proletariat withdraws and becomes cynical, bitter and disillusioned.
As the civilization’s least effective and/or completely archaic institutions fail, one that gets cashiered and replaced wholesale in every instance is religion. Having been impressed over time with the External Proletariat by its energy, tenacity and growing success, the Internal Proletariat turns to it for inspiration and imports a theology from the enemy which the Internal Proletariat then makes its own. Art, fashion and civil norms cross the frontier bulwarks as well, to be adopted by the Internal Proletariat.
As total collapse approaches, the Dominant Minority gives up on trying to tug the Internal Proletariat back to them and instead crosses the gap from its side in order to draw closer to the Internal Proletariat. Accompanying this is a steep decline in standards for civility, morals, art and dress. Eventually, all three groups – the Dominant Minority, Internal and External Proletariats – become so similar that their differences are reduced to minor factors.
Eventually, the border barricades collapse. Having lost its military superiority thru inadvertently training its enemies over time how to fight against it effectively, and unable to sustain the war effort further due to loss of social cohesion, an economy destroyed by the ravages of war and the tax burden imposed to pay for it, along with the vitality-crushing load of a bloated imperial bureaucracy, the Universal State falls. The Dominant Minority, Internal Proletariat and External Proletariat merge and, after a period of chaos, begin the task of reassembling a functional society by re-vitalizing old institutions, scrapping useless ones and developing new ones appropriate to the times – including ones that finally resolve the original challenge that the dead Civilization failed to overcome . Thru this ‘interregnum’ of 8-10 centuries, a new Creative Minority gradually emerges to organize and lead this revitalization, culminating in the birth of a new Civilization.
There are several types of ‘false starts’ that present themselves during the decay – attempts by the Dominant Minority to salvage the present by either returning to a mythical past when their Civilization supposedly worked gloriously well (Archaism) or to make a blind leap into the future and start again from scratch (Futurism.) Both of these are doomed to utter failure.
Archaism comes up short because the institutions and practices which may have worked in the past are no longer suited for the present – especially when dealing with the existential challenge whose failure by the then Creative Minority to resolve in multiple attempts precipitated the decline. Furthermore, Archaism attempts to crystallize the Civilization into an unalterable form, resulting in its ultimate sterility.
Futurism seeks to scrap everything currently employed by the Civilization that keeps it up and running (even in its current debilitated condition), wiping the slate clean to create all things from new and in a perfect form. Utopian idealism always fails, however, on its first encounter with reality.
The Strauss & Howe theory has attracted quite a bit of attention and criticism over the last two decades. Supporters believe it to be uniquely insightful due to its focus on the effects of major historical events on peoples and nations and their observed reactions to such events over an extended period. Detractors criticize the methodology as ‘touchy feely’, non-rigorous, overly malleable and non-falsifiable ‘pop culture’ historical analysis.
My own view is that the theory is useful not as a precise surgical instrument with which to analyze history but as a ‘wide angle lens’ providing a general overview. It is not a tool of prophecy or fortune-telling, but a general guide. There can be no question that ‘great’ events can trigger mass movements and attitudinal shifts in populations – the experiences of my father and his Italo-American immigrant family in New Jersey with the Roaring Twenties, Great Depression and WW2, as well as my mother’s experiences and those of her extended family in Italy during the war, shaped their outlooks, how they chose to live their lives and what they imparted to me as life lessons in my formative years.
Let’s look at the main precepts of the Generational Cycle theory below:
The theory works primarily for societies that have dynamic social structures. Any society with a rigid social hierarchy – where one’s destiny is determined solely by accident of birth – does not lend itself to analysis with this toolset.
The duration of a cycle is, very roughly, 4 generations. The length of a particular generation can vary by as much as 20% compared to the equivalent portion of a previous cycle. Estimates of these lengths are, by their very nature, rather qualitative, and are quite naturally influenced by historic events. Thus, a typical cycle can be anywhere from 80-100 years in length and is measured from one existential crisis to the next.
Cycles can be disrupted. As an example: the Civil War resulted in over 1M deaths, roughly ¾ of them soldiers between the ages of 13 and 43, and a total of 3% of America’s population at the time. The social and economic effects were tremendous, especially in the South, driving migration to unsettled western territories. The South did not recover economically for half a century. During the postwar period, a tremendous influx of new immigrants flooded the United States, mostly from non-Germanic nations, whose integration into American life also greatly affected the social fabric. Because of these factors, the cycle did not clearly reassert itself until the beginning of the 20th century.
The role of each of the 4 generations in each of the cycle’s 4 periods (called ‘Turnings’) depends on the average physical age of a given generation in a particular stage of a cycle. The physical age is broken into 4 categories – childhood (where a basic outlook on life is set), young adulthood (where a generation begins emerging into the world and coming into its own), middle age (where a generation takes the reins of political, social and economic leadership in society) and old age (where a generation withdraws from public life into retirement.)
The 4 periods of a cycle are known as a High (Society has solved/survived the last crisis and a period of order, prosperity, organization and community optimism prevails), an Awakening (where public institutions and the order they bring to the community come under attack for suppressing individualism), an Unraveling (where public institutions, now fatally undermined from the Awakening, are widely distrusted and the individualism that sprouted from the Awakening is ferociously embraced), and a Crisis (where all institutions are destroyed – a very dangerous period often including a major war or severe civil strife. In this, the Generational Cycle agrees with many historians, including Toynbee, who have observed that a people or nation is highly susceptible to engaging in a major military conflict every 80-100 years – as if a given nation or people has forgotten what war is really like, as there is no one still alive to remind them.)
The 4 generations, each born into a particular period of the cycle which shapes their outlook, are called Heroes (the children of a Prophet generation whose childhood occurs during an Unraveling and who, as young adults, encounter and solve the subsequent Crisis), Prophets (the children of a Hero generation whose childhood is spent in the peaceful, tranquil order and group cooperation environment of a High and who, as young adults, rebel against that order in favor of individual expression and personal freedom), Nomads (children of an Artist generation who in their early youth observe the institutional degradation of an Awakening and, distrusting those same ineffective or damaged institutions, enter young adulthood knowing they must rely on their own resources and cut their own trail thru the wilderness of the future – a feeling that I have known all my life (see the prologue of the 1st installment of this series)), and Artists (born during a Crisis from Nomad parents and overprotected by them, they enter adulthood as conformists, consensus seekers and compromisers, and are highly supportive of and deeply impressed by the Hero generation which precedes them.)
For me, a simple way to understand the underlying principles of the Generational Cycle is to remember that, by and large, each generation thinks it’s smarter than their parents. 😉
The interactions between each generation during a given period, when they are all at different stages of their lives and have different social standing with respect to one another, is what creates the events and outcomes of that period of the cycle.
In order to provide a focus for the discussion, let’s capture the main characteristics of the generations in our own time using the Strauss & Howe tools:
Baby Boomers – a Prophet generation and children of the (Hero) GI Generation, born 1941-1960 (approximately.) As young adults, they rebelled against their parents, called themselves ‘Hippies’, advocated ‘Free Love’ and ‘Flower Power’, and adopted a “Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out” attitude to life. They are now approaching or are already in retirement. It is this generation who gave birth to the Millenials (the next ‘Hero’ generation) and who are supposed to generate a ‘Grey Champion’ that, with a voice of fire and brimstone, rallies the young Heros and points to the path which they must follow in order to resolve the Crisis and restore the polity to the kind of order and prosperity which they remember from their own childhood.
Generation X – that would be MY generation, folks: the Nomads. Born from 1961-1981 and children of a “Silent” generation of Artists, we are self-reliant and wary of authority. Fundamentally pragmatic and rising into positions of power at this point, we are expected to provide the practical guidance and mission directives to Millenials thru the Crisis.
Millenials – born 1982-2004, whose parents are the Boomers. It is hoped that this will be this cycle’s Hero generation which will triumph over the Crisis and establish a new Golden Order; a generation that is supposed to be self-confident, team-oriented, civics – conscious and driven by concern for the Greater Good.
My own experience has been more….nuanced. Some millenials I’ve met have a despicable sense of self-importance, narcissism and entitlement with a strong elitist tint. Their mere presence is a divine gift, their self-awarded greatness based not on achievement but on the mere fact that they draw breath, accompanied by an obsession with receiving continual validation and exercising control. They are, in short, the worst possible products of what is now a very ‘progressive’ educational system heavily based on ‘participation’ awards. There are other millenials, however, who I have found to be stunningly humble, genuine, honest, driven to prove themselves, anxious to achieve worthwhile things and quite eager to learn. As best as I can tell, the dividing line between these two general types of millenials is age. Those born, say, from 1982-1993 seem more likely to exhibit the negative traits, while those born later hold promise. There seems to be a genuine divide between them as well, as I’ve seen the two groups clash heatedly.
Generation Z (the Homeland Generation) – beginning in 2005, those of this emerging generation are the Artist children of Generation X. Early data suggests they will play their usual support role to the Hero generation of Millenials, though I suspect they will align themselves with the younger half of that group.
And now that we have our full set of analytical tools, what does their application to our current situation tell us?
I’ll begin a step by step analysis in the next post. 🙂
One of the fascinating claims I’ve heard lobbed around political debates on social media is this: “women never lie about rape/sexual assault.” This is sometimes qualified or modified to be “women rarely lie about rape/sexual assault.” That happens most often when someone brings up something like the Duke Lacrosse case, or something like this. If challenged, the Leftist (this is claim is most common among them) will attempt to back up the statement with statistics like this bit of research conducted by Stanford. The meat of the study is that only 2% of rape accusations are proven to be false.
At first glance, this would appear to support the Leftist assertion. But it really doesn’t. First off, while I cannot verify Stanford’s claims, let’s operate under the assumption that the stats are true. Here’s another statistic you may or may be aware of. According to RAINN, out of 310 reports made to the police (i.e. accusations), only 11 cases are referred to prosecutors, and only 7 result in felony convictions. This means that only about 2% of rape/sexual assault accusations are proven true.
What does this mean, if all these stats are true? It means that 96% of rape cases are indeterminate. We don’t know if the accuser is lying, or if the accused is guilty. Neither is proven true. Furthermore, given the fact that human memory is not infallible, and that human interpretation/perception can result in one participant believing it is a rape and the other believing it is not, there are permutations where both are speaking truthfully. There was some speculation to this effect with Kavanaugh, especially given that the alleged incident was both 36 years old, and involved copious amounts of alcohol.
In other words, the Leftists are either lying or are ignorant of the facts. Fact is, rape accusations are proven to be lies at roughly the same rate as they are proven to be true, but the vast majority are unproven either way.
That puts a different spin on the notion, doesn’t it? That means, if there is no supporting evidence, you may as well flip a coin as to whether or not the accusation is bullshit, and whether or not the accused is actually a rapist. A coin flip doesn’t support destroying a man’s reputation.
And that’s what all this is about. By claiming that rape accusations are rarely falsified, the Leftist is implying this is itself a form of evidence. The Leftist is saying, without having to actually back up the claim, that the accusation means there is now a 98% chance of the accused being a rapist. It is a tacit method of getting around the presumption of innocence.
The whole thing is flimsy rhetoric. It’s a bald-faced fallacy. The accusation doesn’t change the actual odds. Either the rape happened, or it did not. Consider also that, even if the Leftists were right about a 2% lie rate, it doesn’t take into account that humans cannot be governed by anything like the Kinetic Theory of Gasses. Asimov was wont to speculate on the possibility that such analysis was possible, that a psychohistory could be made to work. It cannot. Think about it very carefully. If you’re a woman who hates a particular man, for whatever reason, and you know that people will say only 2% of rape accusations are lies, you can intentionally and cynically use this to make the man look guilty. People are willful, and can defy the statistics whenever they choose to do so. Statistics do not govern individual actions. And even Asimov said in Foundation that psychohistory could only work if people were unaware of its application, and so could not willfully sabotage it (that happened anyway in Foundation & Empire).
Using statistics on the accuracy of accusations to determine probability of individual guilt is thus a category error to begin with. I’ve been very confused with people treating it as if this had any meaning whatsoever. Guilt or innocence is independent of accusation. People aren’t molecules in a cloud of gas. Probability and statistics has some utility with large human groups as a whole, but psychohistory does not exist, and the accuracy of the generalization does not apply to the individual in any case. These things are not hard to understand, and yet everywhere I look, people are thinking about this thing backwards.
I’m of the belief that you need to talk to/read about your enemy by getting up close and personal with them. Most people are more truthful than not, if you seem to care about them. One way that you can learn about the Resistance is to use search tools to uncover the strategies and tactics that they post in plain sight.
One that we’ve seen recently is Bird-Dogging. It’s following a politician around in public, and harassing him/her about a position or vote. Recently, this has moved from appearance at official events, to ANY time that person steps outside of their house or office.