The View From Olympus 11: How Raids Can Work

Last weekend’s raids in Libya and Somalia by US special operations forces raise a question that has long bedeviled similar raids in Afghanistan. Can they work strategically? That is to say, can they bring us closer to a favorable outcome in our war with the Taliban and al Qaeda?

The answer, at present, is almost certainly no, at least so far as the Taliban is concerned and probably not against al Qaeda. The reason is that operational art, the key linkage between the tactic of raiding and the desired strategic result, is missing. As a result, we have defaulted into the usual approach of a Second Generation military, a war of attrition. The Taliban has too much depth in personnel to be vulnerable to a war of attrition. Al Qaeda, as a much smaller organization, has less depth, but so far it has had enough to make up its losses, including that of Osama bin Laden. We are left playing what the troops call a game of whack-a-mole.

Is there a way we might inject operational art into raiding and thereby make it strategically meaningful? I think there is.

The answer must begin with recognizing that a “spec op” is only a real special operation if it works on the operational level of war. Otherwise, we are misusing the term “special operations” for what are merely the tactical actions of military SWAT teams.

That in turn requires understanding what “operational art” means. Operational art is that link between tactics and strategy. Its practitioner decides what to do tactically, and how to use tactical events (including sometimes defeats) to strike as directly as possible at an enemy’s strategic center of gravity, a “hinge” in the enemy’s force that, if struck, can cause him to collapse. Inherent in operational art is economy of force: ideally, you only fight tactically when doing so is operationally meaningful, i.e., it holds the potential to be strategically decisive (of course, the enemy sometimes makes you fight when you would rather not). Determining why, where, and when to fight tactically on a strategic basis is the essence of operational art.

A campaign or war of attrition is the nullification of operational art. It seeks strategic victory merely by fighting tactically wherever and whenever possible. In contrast, operational art lies at the heart of Third Generation maneuver warfare.

An excellent example of a true special operation undertaken by a Third Generation military is the abduction of Admiral Horthy, the regent of Hungary, by German special operations forces (they coined the term: Sonderverbände) in World War II. Germany had received correct intelligence that Admiral Horthy was about to change sides from the Axis to the Allies. This was a strategic threat to Germany. Not only would a number of Hungarian divisions turn from allies into enemies, Hungary’s Balaton oilfields were one of Germany’s last petroleum supplies.

The German answer was a special operation, led by the famous commando Otto Skorzeny, that kidnapped Admiral Horthy. It involved almost no tactical fighting, but it was decisive. Hungary remained a German ally.

If we apply operational art to raids against al Qaeda (and to a lesser extent the Taliban, who are rapidly becoming yesterday’s problem as we leave Afghanistan), what does it suggest we do? Again, mere attrition of random al Qaeda leaders is not likely to bring a strategic decision. However, more sophisticated targeting of our raids could.

Like all militaries (including our own), al Qaeda has a few competent leaders and lots of less competent or incompetent ones. Putting incompetent or non-competent leaders into key al Qaeda positions could well be strategically decisive because it could lead al Qaeda to destroy itself. Therefore, our raids would become true special operations if we carefully targeted al Qaeda’s competent leaders while intentionally not targeting the incompetent or non-competent ones. Our operational goal would be to create vacancies that would allow the incompetent leaders to move steadily upward in the organization.

Obviously, this requires very good intelligence to know who in al Qaeda is competent and who is not. But we would at least be asking the intel boys an operational question, not merely a tactical one, i.e., where is someone, anyone, we can go after.

Will it work? No one can ever know a result beforehand in war. But operational art at least opens the door to strategic success, whereas its absence leaves us playing whack-a-mole. We have not defeated a Fourth Generation opponent through attrition yet, and there are no signs we are about to do so. Who thinks, wins.

On Libertarian Universalism

Statue_of_liberty

The libertarian worldview is based on the idea that every individual has a set of rights, which no one can take from him/her. This means that the state’s restrictions on individual freedom in most cases are seen as illegitimate. There are several forms of libertarianism; anarcho-capitalism, objectivism, minarchism, individualist anarchism and others, and they stem from different philosophical traditions but reach more or less the same conclusions.

I see these libertarian currents as incarnations of the Indo-Aryan longing for freedom and Norse “individualism”. My Norwegian ancestors were proud, strong and independent, and almost 70 years of social democracy has not been able to change this completely. But just like other incarnations of old ideals, such as nationalism and socialism, libertarianism lacks something from a traditional perspective.

Apoliteia

First we must establish that there are two kinds of traditionalists, two different attitudes towards the modern world. Both assume that the modern world is fundamentally bad, that we are living in the darkest phase of the Kali Yuga. There are however two ways of reacting to this, and Julius Evola expressed both in different stages of his life (James Mason expressed it in the most simple way: “Total Dropout or Total Revolution”). The first reaction is the ksatriya-reaction, full-scale revolt against the modern world, even political. Through his involvement in Italian Fascism and WWII, Evola demonstrated this reaction. The second reaction is more resigned, and was given the name apoliteia by Evola. Here, he contends that the Kali Yuga still has many years left in it, and that it’s unrealistic to try to fight it. The only thing one can try to do is to live a traditional life in the midst of it, and since there are no political movements worthy of support, one should distance oneself from politics (apoliteia).

ride the tiger

I don’t agree with Evola’s later, more resigned analysis. There are many signs that the current world order has developed inner contradictions that will lead to its collapse in relatively short time, demonstrated especially by Marxists such as Immanuel Wallerstein (Third World immigration with its resulting ethnic conflicts, the lack of a hegemony to replace the United States, etc.). Thus, fighting the current system is not only a necessity in order to call oneself an ariya, it is also completely realistic.

Anyway, an interesting question that arises from the apoliteia perspective is which society is the best one to live in. Social democracy, totalitarianism, theocracy? This is where libertarianism becomes interesting, as a libertarian society offers a traditionalist the freedom to be himself and search for enlightenment/initiation in his own way. No thought police will come knocking on the door of the traditionalist when he has dared to express his thoughts on race or gender roles. No thought police will fire the traditionalist as soon as the media has “exposed” him as an anti-democrat (as the libertarian ideology itself is anti-democratic, i.e. opposed to the right of the majority to take away the rights of the individual). No benevolent nannies/politicians will imprison the traditionalist as soon as he, as part of his search for enlightenment, has tried the effects of marijuana.

From this fact, there are strictly practical affinities between a libertarian worldview and a traditional one. In many cases traditionalists will have great use of strong libertarian lobby groups, and in fact the libertarians have use of a number of traditionalists spreading their ideals about mature, honorable, and independent people as well (for freedom to work, the human material must have some degree of quality). As a traditionalist, one can also feel respect for the libertarians when they stand up to the state and the nanny mentality, and say: “I am a grown up, honorable person. I am fully capable of taking care of myself and answer to the consequences of my own actions. I don’t need a nanny state to take care of me”, as this is closer to the attitudes and human ideals of our ancestors.

Revolt against the modern world devolution

Moreover, a libertarian society offers a framework which also traditionalism can function within. But it is just a framework, which can be filled with anything, and there is a great risk that many people will use it to defend their “choices” of purely animalistic lifestyles (“eat, shit, fuck, die”).

Ethnicity and progressive collectivism

But my objection to a libertarian worldview is its anti- or a-nationalism. It sees ethnicity as a non-issue, or a strictly private issue, something which can and should be kept separate from politics (for example, many libertarians defend an open border policy, something which from a traditional perspective would lead to the doom of the people and is thus a very strange, self-destructive and anti-popular position). To protect your kin and people is an important part of tradition, and to silently watch your people march towards certain doom is simply not honorable.

Empirical evidence clearly demonstrates that keeping ethnicity and politics separate is impossible, neither is it possible to, from a “selfish gene”-perspective, “distance yourself” from your group. Geneaologists, who have mapped the movements and fates of different genes throughout history, have found that in-group competition is not the most crucial factor in regards to what genes have survived and spread, it is the competition between groups. Genocide, displacement and silent extinction, this is what history has looked like. Those who want to protect the future of their own genes and their own bloodlines, are forced to protect that of their own people as well. And the research on “ethnic nepotism” also shows that this is exactly what human beings do. We have developed instincts and cultures (“group evolutionary strategies”, for those that have read the works of professor Kevin MacDonald) that makes us feel kinship with those who look like us, as they are also highly likely to share our genes to a greater extent. And those that we feel kinship with, we favor, in order to favor the survival of our own genes (note that phenomena like suicide bombings can also be explained from this perspective. Even if a childless person blows himself up, the genes of his relatives, which he shares, will live on).

identitarian

The conclusion is, of course, that he who thinks he can “distance himself” from his group is in fact sadly mistaken, and has a lesser connection with reality than the “bigots” that he often implicitly wants to distinguish himself from. What consequences does this have for libertarian a-nationalism, when we have established that ethnic nepotism is inborn? Well, first we realize that we can’t be so certain that every group in a libertarian society will “follow the rules.” Groups that are numerous but not as economically well off, will take advantage of their strength in numbers to force advantages for themselves, and then the political arena will be reborn, maybe even the state (and maybe even an ethnic state). This is a very clear tendency throughout history, we can see it in Uganda where native Africans banished Asians which they saw as having become too rich. We can see it in Germany where the Germans turned against the Jews which they saw as “unfairly” successful, or in the US and the entire Western world where “minorities” force changes to their own advantage through politics and/or rioting. Such is the reality of ethnic relations, such is human nature. When people don’t see the rules as being to their advantage, and if they are numerous enough, they change them. Even if I saw ethnicity as a non-issue, there are many people that would disagree with me, and on the contrary see me as an “unfairly privileged Western man”. The circle closes, and those that tried to distance themselves mentally become the socio-economic losers when other, more self-conscious groups take away their privileges.

multiculturalism

This article has been republished from Archeofuturist, a Radical Traditionalist blog from a European perspective.

The View From Olympus 10: 4GW Strengths and Weaknesses

Al_shabab_soldier

Al Shabab’s assault on a Kenyan shopping mall illustrates some of the strengths of Fourth Generation Islamic forces. One, they can carry out acts of terrorism that undermine a state’s enthusiasm for war against them. Second, and more dangerous in the long run, they can push a government into responding to terrorism by moving toward a national security state. Why is that more dangerous? Because a national security state regards every citizen as a potential threat and treats them accordingly. That undermines the state’s legitimacy, and Fourth Generation war is above all a struggle for legitimacy.

I probably don’t need to point out that 9/11 and subsequent (minor) incidents of terrorism have brought a growing national security state to America. It is not a coincidence that Americans express ever-increasing detachment from and hostility toward their own government. Who can try to board an airplane without feeling like a suspect? That diminution of the US government’s legitimacy is a bigger victory for al Qaeda than the damage and casualties inflicted on 9/11.

But if we step away from the horror show generated by incidents such as that in Kenya, we can see a larger narrative of the weakness of most Fourth Generation Islamic entities (there is one exception; Hezbollah): they cannot govern.

In Egypt, a year of government by the Muslim Brotherhood was so disastrous that the people widely welcomed a coup. The September 16 New York Times reported of the funeral of a leading Islamist killed by the military, a funeral in a small, rural town, that

It is customary for the community to gather behind the family for the procession to the graveyard. Mr. Abdel Aal, however, was greeted with epithets—someone called him a dog, someone else an infidel. One family even held a wedding at the same time, something unheard-of.

“Pure” Islam’s failure to govern is weakening Fourth Generation Islamic organizations throughout the Middle East. The French succeeded (for a time, anyway) in Mali because the puritanism of the 4GW Islamic fighters had alienated their local allies. In Syria, that same puritanism has brought popular demonstrations against al Qaeda-allied forces in towns they control, even though demonstrators are often beaten or shot. Al Shabab was driven out of Mogadishu and other Somali cities because the locals so loathed its puritanism that they welcomed foreign troops, something that seldom happens. The American “surge” in Iraq only succeeded because al Qaeda in Iraq had alienated its local Sunni allies, again by its “pure” interpretation of Islam.

The first rule of politics—and like all war 4GW is political, though not wholly so—is “Don’t lose your base.” Over and over again, Islamic 4GW forces win militarily, but then lose because they alienate their base.

Why do they keep repeating this mistake? I suspect they do so because they cannot not do so. The kind of people they recruit as fighters are overwhelmingly puritans. Who else but a fanatic will become a suicide bomber? You cannot tell puritans to moderate their behavior, and the behavior they impose on others, because that would instantly make them “impure.” If the leadership of an Islamic 4GW organization tells its fighters not to enforce their version of Islam, they desert to another, more “pure” 4GW entity. Because of the ever-fractionating nature of 4GW, there is no lack of alternatives.

Puritanism is ever thus, and cannot be otherwise. An exchange between a Royalist and a Puritan during the English Civil War in the 17th century comes to mind. The Cavalier said to the Roundhead, “Ours are the sins of men; drinking and wenching, but your sin is the sin of the Devil; spiritual pride.”

All this is an old story in the Islamic world, and should come as no surprise to those who make American foreign policy, except that they are children who believe they can make the wold anew. In a monograph titled “Terror’s Mask: Insurgency Within Islam,” (Johns Hopkins University APL, May, 2002) Michael Vlahos laid out the age-old cycle. Islamic puritans arise, who accuse the local Islamic rulers of “corruption.” They create and lead a movement to restore “pure” Islam, and succeed in taking power. They then discover that pure Islam cannot govern, and have to compromise. That makes them “corrupt” so the cycle begins anew.

The fact that one 4GW Islamic entity, Hezbollah, has not fallen into this trap should draw our attention. Could this have something to do with the fact that it is Shiite and the others are Sunni? Not being a scholar of Islam, I don’t know. But it is a question scholars of Islam could usefully investigate.

In the meantime, repeated failures of Sunni 4GW entities to govern tells us what we should do to defeat them: leave them alone. They will alienate their base and destroy themselves, if we just give them time to do so. If we intervene, the usual result will be to push the locals toward the puritans in order to oppose us. Even where foreign troops have been welcomed, their welcome usually wears out quickly, and their support for one or another local “government” undermines that government’s legitimacy.

To borrow a wonderful phrase from Admiral Raphael Semmes CSN, we should leave be “the cockatrice’s egg that hatched forth the Puritan.” The cockatrice will foul its own nest soon enough.

The View From Olympus 9: Sea Change

by Carlos Latuff via occupyaipac.org
by Carlos Latuff via occupyaipac.org

Congress did not vote on attacking Syria, but everyone knows the Obama administration would have lost. The last whip count I obtained, on the Friday before Russia brokered a deal, showed 229 House members announced against or leaning against, 25 announced for or leaning for. In the Senate, the majority leader postponed a vote because he did not have a majority.

This marks a sea change of the first magnitude. The opposition to another war in the Mideast was led not by liberal Democrats, but by Republicans. The permanent war party headed by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham was left turning slowly in the wind. This is all the more remarkable because the feared Israeli lobby, AIPAC, was in favor. Republicans had to defy Israel, the neo-cons, and the Pentagon (a friend told me he heard a three-star Army general say a week before the deal, “I really hope this Syria operation is a go because it would help us defend our budget.”), and they did.

What suddenly put some spine into all the Republican jellyfish? The folks back home. Luckily, the run-up to war coincided with a Congressional recess, so Member of Congress were home listening to their constituents. Overwhelmingly, the people said “no more stupid wars in the Middle East that kill our kids for nothing.” Friends on the Hill told me calls and emails were very heavy and ran 96-98% “no.” Some offices received not a single call or message asking for another war.

This is a sea change because it is a major change in outlook by the Republicans’ base. The first rule of politics is “Don’t lose your base.” If you do, you’re done. The base, especially out here in the Heartland, overwhelmingly said “no.” Republican Members of Congress dared not ignore that.

Not only did the permanent war party lose its base, so did the Pentagon. If we are not going to fight more unnecessary overseas wars, why do we need the world’s most expensive military? Were our armed forces sized only to defend us, the defense budget could easily be cut by at least half.

This fact too is now on the radar screen of many Republican Members of Congress. Rightly, they see endless deficits and rising debt as more of a threat to the country’s future than any potential overseas opponent. They know we cannot balance the budget, begin to reduce the debt, not raise taxes and still pour around a trillion dollars a year into the national defense budget function (that’s Budget Committee language for all national security spending).

One big question remains: Will the public’s aversion to an attack on Syria carry over to a possible attack on Iran or war with China? Here in the Heartland, I think it will. We’ve seen too many kids come home in a box or a wheelchair, watched too many trillions (not billions) poured into the sand.

A period of peace and retrenchment could open the door to the military reform our armed services urgently require. We have a couple million good guys trapped in terrible systems, systems that drain away all thought about war, all initiative and moral courage, and reward only the institutional corruption that puts defense budgets above defending the country. Peace could give us a chance to drive the moneychangers out of the temple of Mars.

No Country For Old Politics: Redefining Left vs. Right by Paul Gottfried

The task before me is explaining with appropriate distinctions and qualifications “What is right and what is left?” For those who wish to avoid the harangue of an activist, let me assure them that I do not equate “conservative” with Republican or with the viewing habits of FOX News devotees. Being a Republican and dutifully reciting party talking points is for me no sign of being on the right; nor is a disinclination to do either indicative of being on the left.

A classical or essentialist Right is hard to find in the contemporary Western world, where journalists and other assorted intellectuals rush to denounce its bearers, or even partial bearers, as “fascists.” That may be one reason that such types rarely come into public view, outside of certain European parties that have been able to survive in a multi-party electoral system. Being on the essentialist Right is deadly in an academic or journalistic milieu that is shot through with quintessential leftist values. There are isolated intellectual groups in the US that exhibit evidence of a right wing gestalt, but these groups are usually cut off from the movement-conservative mainstream lest they endanger “conservative” institutes or publications by expressing improper anti-leftist ideas. This is entirely understandable, given the prevalence of leftist influences in Western societies—and given the extent to which the establishment non-left has absorbed leftist values and attitudes that come from existing in a predominantly leftist environment.

The non-left or the official Right pushes what it considers to be distinctive “conservative” positions that often have nothing to do with the essentialist Right and which are often not even true. Since many of my writings deal with this tendency, I won’t bore my readers with more of the same. But in opposition to a widespread misconception, I would argue there is no reason to define the Right as that side that asserts “values” in opposition to the Left, which is “relativistic.” I have never ceased to be amazed at how persistently and even obsessively the Left fights for its “values.” Leftists clearly believe in a certain vision of universal equality and although one might differ with them over their highest value and over the havoc it wrecks on what used to be a bourgeois Christian society, there is no doubt that a moral vision drives the Left. It is also foolish to define the Right as willing to move mountains to bring “human rights” to the entire world. Both the notion of human rights and the mission to impose them universally emerged from the classical Left, going back to the left wing of the French Revolution. The fact that such a global mission is now thought to characterize the Right underscores the utter confusion into which the drawing of right-left distinctions has been allowed to drift.

Finally, one does not join the essentialist Right by wishing to get off the train of Progress just before it arrived at our present situation. As a practical position, one might find the civil rights legislation of the 1960s less intrusive than its later additions or an earlier phase of the feminist movement less offensive than what has been called by its critics “gender feminism.” I would be the last to question someone’s right to choose a less drastic (as opposed to a more extreme) form of government social engineering, given the available choices. But one does not display one’s attachment to the Right by making such choices, save by the standards of a Left, which is perpetually trying to move everything further into its energy field.

There is also the problem of an inflated use of “conservative,” a term that is applied to whomever the media bestows it on. This certification simply increases our semantic problem. Each time I see an adolescent blogger or pubescent columnist introduced to the viewing public as a “leading conservative,” I crack the same joke to whoever is around: “I wonder whether this teenager is a follower of Burke or Maistre.” By now “conservative” signifies whatever a gaggle of journalists or news announcers decide it should mean. Journalists by virtue of taking Republican policy positions are also described as conservative theorists, although I am still struggling to find out what exactly makes such people “conservative” or “theoretical.” Presumably by defending the record of the last GOP president, one gains recognition from other journalists as a “conservative” deep thinker.

On a practical level, I can sympathize with libertarians, who think that we have “too much government,” and I have given my vote more than once to proponents of this stance. Moreover, when libertarians speak of “limited” government and constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, they almost always catch my ear. The problem begins when someone rises to defend libertarian ethics or libertarian anthropology. The notion of individuals defining their values and identities, while inhabiting an imaginary state of nature, has never struck me as convincing. I’ve noticed in opposition to this libertarian worldview the impact that social and cultural forces have had on our lives. These are the forces that we do not choose to be influenced by, but which shape our beings and belief systems. In any case we bring with us a pre-existing context, even if we persist in believing that we create ourselves ex nihilo or by dint of will—and even if we sometimes retain the option of making significant choices.

Even more relevant to my argument, there is nothing right wing or even vaguely conservative about the way libertarians approach the question of liberty. Unlike the essential Right’s understanding of Aristotle or Burke, what libertarians understand as freedom is a universally shared good to which persons everywhere are entitled by virtue of being individuals. Although I would not prohibit others from espousing such a view, I’ve no idea what renders it specifically right wing. The classical conservative and rightist view of liberty (and there is a historical distinction between the two) flows from the legal implications of someone’s standing in a particular society, held together by shared custom and distributed duties.

From this view, which opponents of the French Revolution devised as a defensive argument, came a concept of socially situated liberty that has nothing to do with the current libertarian idea. What libertarians are pushing is a recognizably leftist position, which presupposes or implies the idea of universal equality and even universal citizenship. Those who could appreciate this classical conservative position, such as Russell Kirk, Eric von Kuehnelt-Leddhin, and Robert Nisbet, were understandably turned off by libertarian pronouncements. They contradicted what these thinkers recognized as socially true and which smacked of principles issuing from the French Revolution. Again I am speaking here only about libertarianism as a body of dogma. I have no quarrel with the often salutary results that may arise from libertarian-minded citizens railing against administrative tyranny.

Having gone through this list of what a conservative or rightist would not believe, perhaps I should now indicate the real article. In the preface to his anthology of essays, Liberalism Ancient and Modern, Leo Strauss sets out to define the essentialist conservative worldview circa 1960. Its exponents “regard the universal and homogeneous state as either undesirable though possible, or as both undesirable and impossible.” They do not like international bodies, which they identify with the Left, and “look with greater sympathy than liberals on the particular or particularist and the heterogeneous.” This honest, accurate definition seems all the more remarkable given the fact that Strauss’s disciples have often worked to make American conservatism synonymous with a crusade to spread what they consider universal democratic values.

What Strauss said about “conservatives” would apply to the genuine Right, yet his definition should be expanded for the sake of completeness. The Right affirms inherited hierarchy, favors the particularistic while being suspicious of the universal, aims at preserving social traditions wherever possible, and opposes the Left by every means at its disposal. The Left takes the opposite positions on the first three points out of a sense of fairness, a passionate commitment to the advancement of equality, and a universalist conception of human beings. Whereas the Right believes that what Aristotle defined as the order of the household, marked by elaborately defined distinctions, is “natural,” the Left views non-egalitarian arrangement with revulsion. Leftists are delighted to call on state managers and judges to abolish anything faintly resembling such a hierarchy.

The view that the Left thinks of us as interchangeable individuals, who can be programmed to behave in a certain way, may be a bit of an overstatement. Yet something like this idea informs the leftist project. All good societies from a leftist perspective are what Michael Oakeshott called “enterprise associations,” frameworks of human interaction in which all members are encouraged or forced to think and act alike. The Left seeks to create or impose such associations (the more extensive the better), and not just because leftists crave power. I think much better of genuine leftists. They are committed to removing social, racial and gender inequalities and the more control they can accumulate, the easier it becomes for them to reconstruct or recode those who resist their plan. German social theorist Arnold Gehlen was struck how among younger Germans in the 1960s a common defining characteristic was “hypermorality.” Contrary to the misconception that such youth who frequently turned into militant antifascists had no morality, Gehlen noticed their hysterical moral zeal. This he ascribed not only to their reaction to the Nazis, depicted as German conservatives, which German educational institutions instilled. Gehlen also linked this culture of moral indignation to the detachment of its bearers from any traditional communal association and to the war in Germany, starting with the postwar occupation, against national identity.

Lest there be any confusion on this point, it seems necessary to distinguish here between highest principles and instrumental goods on both sides of the ideological spectrum. In the case of the Left there are many values that permeate its discourse, depending on the circumstances, scientific truth, secularism, freedom, etc. Leftists may in fact value all these ideals but do so in relation to their utility in advancing the Left’s highest good, which is universal equality. Thus “science” is to be promoted to the extent that it can be made to unmask the supposedly reactionary force of Christianity, which sanctions gender distinctions and privileges heterosexual marriage.

In the nineteenth century the Left opposed organized religion because it was allied to the aristocracy, or what it saw as an oppressive capitalist class. Religion, and more specifically Christianity, was also seen as standing in the way of social change that intellectuals were working to achieve. The Left also values freedom, but as Linda Raeder and Maurice Cowles show in biographies of John Stuart Mill, reformers who once embraced “liberty” and science may have espoused them as a means toward a higher end. In Mill’s case (and in this respect he may not have been unusual among Victorian reformers) science and liberty were valued as tools for emancipating the victims of traditional ideas from the shackles of “superstitions.” Mill, as Raeder explains in John Stuart Mill and the Religion of Humanity (2002), looked forward to a world of scientifically engineered Progress, in which women would be “emancipated from bondage.” In this age of perfected humanity, released from the chain of the past, presumably everyone would think like a feminist, social democratic reformer.

But science remains instrumental for the Left in terms of the pursuit of the emancipation of women and other egalitarian projects. If someone today were to point to research evidence about genetic disparities between genders or ethnic groups, the hapless performer of this faux pas would have no future in academic life or government. Biological science may be called on, but only for the proper ideological ends, that is, for those egalitarian purposes that are to be fostered in today’s predominantly leftist political and academic culture. In the same way the theory of evolution is fine for the Left as long as it can be directed against religionists.

But this hypothesis about change in the natural world becomes more problematic as soon as someone turns to a forbidden subject, say, the rootedness of gender differences that have been necessary for the perpetuation of human as well as animal life. I need not dwell on the dogmatic as well as selective character that evolutionary theory has assumed for the Left, a subject about which the philosopher of science David Stove has written an instructive work, Darwinian Fairytales (Encounter Books, 2006). Stove is particularly interested in the mythic as opposed to scientific aspects that evolutionary theory has assumed among intellectuals and journalists. And his book highlights this theory’s value as a polemical tool.

Although not as dishonest as the other side, the Right embraces its own version of an instrumental good. Having sometimes defined itself as the political expression of the doctrine of original sin, the Right has a heavy investment in traditional forms of Christianity, just as the Left does in its (manipulated) conception of science. There is no evidence that many of the great conservative theorists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, starting with Burke, were orthodox Christians. Nonetheless, their political worldviews would have been unthinkable without some Christian theological foundation.

The hierarchy they defended came out of the Catholic Middle Ages, in which feudal relations were intertwined with sacral significance. Worldly command corresponded to the order of the Church, which was ultimately based on the structure of Roman authority. The notion of human fallenness was invoked in an empirical as well as theological fashion to drive home the point that human beings do not have the capacity or right to reinvent themselves and their social contexts. Indeed such experiments were sinful or hubristic and likely to result in disaster. Traditional conservatives were fond of quoting Romans 15 which affirmed that “all authority is from God. It is not for naught that God delivered the sword into the hand of the magistrate.” Needless to say, the “arche” or authority here invoked by conservatives was one that was handed down over the generations.

The Left too benefited to some extent from being rooted in a Christian heritage, and the German philosopher Nietzsche scorned this religious influence as the source of the “slave morality” that animated feminism and egalitarian democracy. While the Right saw in Christianity a justification for settled authorities, the Left drew from it something far different; the vision of a world in which “the first would be last” and “the meek would inherit the Earth.” Such ideas of “social justice” could be derived from the Hebrew prophets, the Gospels, and the sharing of worldly possession in the primitive church. Unlike the Right, however, the Left hid its debt to the Western religious tradition, claiming that what it taught was scientifically grounded or came from secular sources. This denial of paternity has gone so far that Marxists and Cultural Marxists have tried to root out any explicitly Christian influences in their societies. Rarely has one seen a more dramatic working out of the Oedipal Complex. The modern Left, as Christopher Dawson and Mircea Eliade have both observed, would be unthinkable outside of the distinctly Christian (even more than Judaic) matrix in which it was formed.

Right and Left both have historical identities and essentialist definitions and it may be necessary to go into both sets of characteristics in order to make sense of our reference points. It is usually mentioned in a discussion of this type that the distinction between right and left was formalized during the French Revolution, in accordance with where political factions were placed in the National Assembly. Those who favored further revolutionary change were assigned to the left side of the amphitheater; and those who felt the process of change had gone too far and might have to be reversed sat on the right side. In the (classical) liberal July Monarchy, set up in 1830 and overthrown to make way for the French Second Republic in 1848, there were two major parliamentary factions; a party of resistance and a party of movement. This distinction encapsulates what many see (in an oversimplified fashion) as the basic difference between right and left: one is the party of standing pat or making only necessary changes while the other is trying to push a process of change already initiated that carries us away from the past.

But there was also a more ideologically based division that entered European politics; and it was reflected in what parties in England, Germany, France, and other European countries came to stand for in the course of the nineteenth century. These divisions were socially based and driven by differing visions of the social good, and they separated the parties of the aristocracy, peasantry, and established churches on the right from the self-styled liberal parties of the ascending bourgeoisie in the middle to the socialist and social democratic parties of the urban working class on the left. As the German-Hungarian sociologist Karl Mannheim shows in Ideology and Utopia and Das Konservative Denken, the political-social forces that became significant in the nineteenth century were accompanied by distinctive world views. They were ideal constructions to which partisan positions became inseparably linked. Although it was typically intellectuals who constructed these Weltanschauungen, those for whom they were devised recognized in them their values and interests. Over time these theoretical architectonics came to give meaning to their collective identity.

The traditional Right stood for an agrarian way of life, with a traditional authority structure and was typically allied to the Catholic Church or Protestant state churches and entrenched monarchies. This conservative Right looked mostly to the past for what Richard Weaver calls its “vision of order,” but it was also willing to offer assistance to the urban working class, which was then becoming a “social problem.” The conservative Right felt no reservations about seeking an alliance with those at the bottom of the social ladder; and it did this at least partly in reaction to the leaders of commerce and industry, who were members of an upper middle class that was replacing the aristocracy as the dominant political and social force.

It is not at all surprising that the data Karl Marx cited in Capital to prove the growing impoverishment of English workers came from accounts collected by the Tories. A party of landowners, Anglican clergy, and Oxford dons, the Tories had no qualms about detailing (and possibly even exaggerating) the suffering of those who were subject to their political foes in the Liberal Party. Tories were quite willing to have the state impose limits on the working hours of factory laborers and put child labor on the road to extinction. But, as the career of Benjamin Disraeli proves, standing firm for tariff protection for English grain and the English squirearchy could not damage a Tory political career in the mid-nineteenth century. Disraeli, who styled himself a “Tory democrat,” and who favored an alliance of the English Right with the working class, rose to political prominence in the 1840s as an opponent of the repeal of the Corn Laws, the effects of which was to keep the price of bread higher for the urban poor than would have been the case if foreign grain was available at lower prices.

All political-ideological groupings in the nineteenth century had social foundations without which they were unthinkable. Thus liberalism was the “idea of the bourgeoisie,” just as socialism developed among the working class, with assistance from intellectuals eager to bring about radical social change. Although conservatism has its origin in modern European history as a reaction to the French Revolution, while the Left defined itself initially as a defender of this revolutionary process (together with the rationalist thinking that supposedly fueled the engine of Progress), the sides that were taken were both social and ideological. Indeed these two sources of identity traveled together. Treating the bearers of worldviews apart from the concrete forms they took as social and political groups would have seemed bizarre, except for a reason that Mannheim happily furnishes. Reflective theorists, like Edmund Burke, Joseph de Maistre, Adam Müller, Benjamin Constant, John Stuart Mill, and Karl Marx, created the foundations for what became distinctive ideological worldviews; and as Mannheim notes, these constructions assumed an existence of their own, independently of the historical circumstances that gave birth to them in the early nineteenth century.

Essential to the directions in which the Right and the Left have been moving for several generations, and perhaps since the dislocations produced by the First World War, has been the uncoupling of these concepts, worldviews, and value systems from their original social grounding. Ideas that were once attached to classes and ways of life have been cut loose from their original associations and taken on changing forms within a succession of movements. Sometimes those who invoke what are already untethered worldviews look for the old reference points. Thus Kirk, Nisbet, Weaver and M.E. Bradford all point back to classical conservative societies in which their visions were grounded. Some of these theorists have tried to make at least some connection between their experienced or idealized order and what has survived of the past in our contemporary society. Such attempts however were never entirely convincing and have become less so in the present age, in which social traditions have become even weaker than they were fifty years ago.

There is of course the additional problem that the US was founded in the eighteenth-century as a liberal republic and does not have what Burke called an “ancient constitution” similar to the one found in Europe. The social world that gave birth to classical conservatism was a lot more ancient or medieval than the society that American conservatives set out to defend. One could of course find in the American past some landed aristocracy or clusters of reactionary patricians, but those who owned slaves or indentured servants or who expressed grim Calvinist theology would not be attractive to a society that values Progress and mobility. For good reason most invokers of America’s classical conservative pedigree, like Kirk, Allen Tate, M.E. Bradford, and Richard Weaver, have been men of letters rather than students of political history. They have provided a moral-aesthetic vision rather than detailed histories.

The Left has faced a similar problem to that of the Right, when its worldview became uncoupled from its nineteenth and early twentieth century social framework. The Left has ceased to be a movement of the urban working class, fighting for higher wages or nationalization of productive forces. In the last quarter of the twentieth century the European Left has become occupied by most of the same forces that have come to dominate it here: lifestyle radicals, cinematic celebrities, public sector employees, ethnic minorities, feminists and academics. Cultural Marxists have replaced real Marxists; and the protests of aggrieved feminists and gays have become far more important for the Left than the complaints of unemployed factory workers.

There is no doubt that Communists in power persecuted religious institutions harshly. They did so because they thought independent churches were threats to Communist political power and because Communism, like American liberalism, turned atheism or secularism into a state religion. But the social values of the Communist leadership and the moral attitudes it worked to propagate among its subjects often had a bourgeois appearance. Despite early experimentation in free love, the Soviet Union came eventually to instill in party officials a strict social ethic. Annie Kriegel in what is the authoritative history of the French Communist Party shows a residual Catholic influence in the way the party cadre viewed women and marriage well into the 1960s.

If the traditional French Communist party were still around, its members in all probability would have marched in the demonstrations against the legalization of gay marriage which took place in Paris in early spring. Recently the Israeli Marxist Israel Shamir, who now lives in Paris, denounced in his newsletter (April 2013) the decadent bourgeois supporters of gay rights. At the time I proclaimed to a friend only half-jokingly “This is a Marxist I would vote for.” Shamir praises Lenin for treating dismissively “women’s issues,” and he commends the Russian communists who already in the 1980s were “interacting” with the Orthodox Church “to stop the attempt to enforce the gay agenda.” Next to our “conservative Republican” journalists who have come out for gay marriage, Shamir and Lenin seem almost medieval in their views of the family.

Despite its changing forms, unlike the Right, the Left has remained politically and culturally potent, and a recognizable variant of its worldview has prevailed throughout the onetime Christian West. Part of the Left’s strength, as I began this essay by stating, can be seen in how thoroughly its ideas have seeped into what pretends to be the Right. One encounters the Left’s worldview even in what claims to be resisting its advances.

In the present dispensation, the Left holds all the good cards. Universalism, equality, human rights and managed democracy will all likely continue to be the dominant political shibboleths. Freedom will be allowed to survive to whatever extent it can be made compatible with equality. Christian institutions will be tolerated to whatever extent they teach the required values and instill obedience to a leftist state. This will happen partly because the modern state has expanded its power at the expense of intermediate institutions, including churches and communities. But this takeover has also happened, at least in part, because of the totality of the leftist vision, which embraces and works to reconstruct all aspects of life. The Left strives to expand its power not because its advocates are greedy for government favors, although admittedly there are rent seekers in its ranks and government plums that some leftists hope to see distributed. The true Left, unlike party hacks who simply want jobs or freebies, is profoundly principled. Unfortunately leftists hold principles that become toxic when carried to ever more chilling extremes. And they no longer have to worry about being stopped, if present trends continue to unfold.

The Right is far more splintered than the Left. It has few institutions or societies that it can form or reform; and even worse, it has no identity that all its current would-be occupants could recognize as their own. The Right is not only untethered but has a variety of groups fighting to define it. Although the real or essentialist Right may scorn the media-invented Right, these mainstream dwellers have the advantage of getting into nationally televised discussions. These designated “conservatives” enjoy at least some journalistic acceptance when they appear as the respectable opposition. They do not dwell on abstract concepts but provide sound bites in an age of mass communication. But the success of this artificial Right relative to a truer one arises from other circumstances as well: the non-accepted, non-aligned, or classical Right (call it what one may) cannot agree on what defines its “rightness.” Different groups within this contentious camp are holding on to fragments descended from an original worldview. Further, the warring groups point to different lost opportunities that led to their current marginalization.

It would not be an exaggeration to claim that all these divided groups can claim some association with a primal conservative worldview: cultural traditionalist, rightwing anarchists, imitators of the European revolutionary right, and Christian theocrats. Some elements of the original conservative worldview continue to shape all these groups, although not necessarily the same fragments, together with differing fateful dates for when everything was believed to have gone off the skids. We are not speaking here about the Right in its original context, as the worldview that accompanied the birth of European conservatism. We are looking at the end of a process, the one in which a particular worldview, once having been separated from its original home, was selectively absorbed into a variety of movements.

Although the groups or movements within this Right continue to shun each other like rival Anabaptist or Hasidic sects, they are united by three characteristics. They all reveal some conceptual link to the original conservative worldview, when they defend inherited authority, appeal to (now broken) traditions as the source of community, and emphasize rooted identities. These groups share an instinctive dislike for the Left’s highest value, which is equality, and each is reacting to the lack of restraint with which the Left implements that value. But the marginalized groups on the right cannot agree on a strategy that all of them might pursue to push back what the Left considers to be social “Progress.”

The Left has a vision, but the Right does not. The Left believes fervently in the triumph of a Religion of Humanity, based on a universal state, in which the human condition can be standardized and homogenized through sensitive management. The Right, by contrast, has no picture of a happy future. In this sense it is different from those conventional Republicans who wish to go back to the halcyon days of Bush Two or perhaps to the glory days of the Reagan administration. The true or essentialist Right simply wants to stop an unfolding process and if possible, reverse it. Although a precise vision of order was inherent in classical conservatism, it has disappeared from the Right and has now been replaced by a sense of desperation.

This continuing loss of ground is disheartening for those who are struggling against a hostile age, and comparable developments have overtaken the independent Right, or those groups that comprise one, in some European countries. In Germany at the time of national reunification in the early 1990s, the national Right vibrated with excitement over the prospect of a unified country. Germans would at last be able to put off their sackcloth and ashes and no longer have to view themselves as a pariah nation. Their defining moment would not be their defeat in 1945, and they would no longer have to hear about the “burden” of their entire history, as a prelude to Auschwitz. They would once again be a proud, unified nation, as they were in 1871, and one that is free of both Nazi and Communist totalitarians.

Never did any Right miscalculate so badly. Former Communist functionaries and agents of the Communist secret police streamed into government positions in the Federal Republic, exchanging their pro-Soviet Communist identities for Cultural Marxist ones. A Party of the Left became a major force in German politics made up of hastily disguised Communists like Gregor Gysi. Indeed even the current chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, turns out to have been an obliging Communist, almost up until the moment when the Berlin Wall fell.* Hoping to protect themselves against the anxieties voiced by Western journalists and politicians about a resurgent German nationalism, German chancellors from Helmut Kohl to Merkel have unstintingly funded a government-organized “crusade against the Right.” This enterprise has been little more than a witch hunt directed by embattled leftists, including longtime Communists. No politician making a career in Germany would express patriotic sentiments too loudly or suggest that he or she is not eagerly awaiting the further absorption of Germany into the EU. Culturally and socially German elites have pushed their country dramatically toward the left, since reunification.

The reason is that even what may start out as propitious moments for the Right can be rapidly turned in the opposite direction without the resources to take advantage of historical situations. Throughout my career I have earned the reputation of being a spoil sport when talking to members of the genuine Right and I expect this presentation will be seen as one more illustration of the obvious. What I would say in my defense is there is value in assessing one’s obstacles before trying to climb a mountain. Today I have called to your attention the obstacle course that lies ahead for those who would forge a rightist alliance. Needless to say, I wish you success, as an engaged observer, in trying to negotiate this Herculean task.

*An explosive new book on Merkel’s career is Das Erste Leben der AM by Ralf Georg Reuth and Günther Lachmann (Munich: Piper Verlag, 2013).

The View From Olympus 8: White House Press Release, December 7, 2016

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President Barack Obama today welcomed to the White House Mr. Ayman al Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda, for the formal signing of a pact of alliance between al Qaeda and the United States of America. The new alliance treaty envisions broad-scale cooperation between al Qaeda and the United States in the cause of destroying states. Following the signing of the treaty, President Obama will direct US government agencies, including the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA to work with their al Qaeda counterparts on projects of joint benefit, including generating phony intelligence to justify American military interventions, carrying out pseudo-ops to create humanitarian tragedies that can be blamed on state leaders, and generally spreading anarchy throughout the world.

In a joint news conference with Mr. al Zawahiri, President Obama said, “This new alliance formalizes the cooperative relationship between the United States and al Qaeda that began with the American missile strikes on the Syrian government and its armed forces in the fall of 2013. At the time, some Americans had concerns about finding themselves on the same side as al Qaeda. But the subsequent fall of the Syrian dictator, Bashar al Assad, followed by free elections in Syria that were won by a coalition of the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda, showed that we had concrete interests in common. America’s war with Iran in 2015, after I had determined that country had also crossed one of my “red lines,” again found the United States and al Qaeda fighting on the same side. The disintegration of the Iranian state, the chaos the United States left in Afghanistan, and the fractioning of Pakistan may have benefited al Qaeda somewhat more than this country, especially in providing al Qaeda with Pakistan’s former nuclear weapons. But I feel confident that out of the stateless chaos now engulfing much of the Islamic world will emerge a more genuine and deeper democracy. I am sure all Americans agree with me that nothing is more important than democracy at home or abroad, regardless of who or what might get elected.”

Responding to a question about the probability the Senate will ratify the American-al Qaeda treaty, President Obama stated, “I know this country had some differences with al Qaeda in the past, but I am confident the Senate will join me in looking not to the past but to the future. Just as the Senate voted for the missile strike on Syria in 2013 that began this alliance, so I am certain it will support me in my efforts now to bomb and rocket the rest of the world into being more peaceful and democratic. I can think of no better partner for destabilizing other states than al Qaeda. I am sending Secretary of State Kerry to the Hill next week, where I am sure his combination of eloquence, intense conviction, and cooked intelligence will make an effective case for this treaty. He will be accompanied by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wearing a paper bag over his head.”

Invited by President Obama to state his views on the new alliance, Mr. al Zawahiri responded, “May the sand fleas of ten thousand camels infest the crotch of your firstborn.”

The View From Olympus 7: Here We Go Again

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Evidence is accumulating that the Russians are right about the source of the poison gas attack in Syria: the rebels gassed their own people in order to spur foreign intervention in a war they are losing. Once again America is being lied into war on the basis of faulty intelligence.

The most important evidence thus far in favor of the Russian position is circumstantial. It makes no strategic sense for the Assad government to take an action likely to lead to an American attack. The Assad government is not desperate. On the contrary, the war is developing in ways favorable to the government. Neither Assad nor his commanders appear to be idiots. The question of why they would act so contrary to their own interests appears to have no answer—and has not been answered by the Obama administration in its push for war.

On the other hand, the rebels do need foreign intervention. They would have no hesitation at all about gassing their own people in order to bring it about. Such casualties are just more “martyrs” in their world view.

The circumstantial case is overwhelming: Assad didn’t do it. But there is more than circumstantial evidence.

A source in London informed me that last week one of the major British newspapers posted an article on its website saying the rebels did in fact launch the gas attack. The article stated that the nerve agent employed came from Libya via Turkey, using a pipeline the rebels have used for many other types of weapons. Libya had such nerve agents in its arsenal. The story is credible. But it was taken down just a few hours after being posted. Why? Undoubtedly at the demand of Her Majesty’s government, which is happy to participate in the Obama administration’s disinformation campaign despite the vote in Parliament. Her Majesty might wish to consider employing a better class of servants.

Another source has informed me that one of the UN inspectors just back from Damascus has also said the rebels were responsible for the gassing. I cannot confirm that report. The Obama administration will be putting immense pressure on the UN not to let the truth come out if any of its observers did come to that conclusion.

If the Russians are right—and they have far better intelligence sources in Damascus than we do—a vote in Congress for war would destroy American credibility everywhere. It would isolate America and make it into a laughingstock.

The question would immediately arise of how such an intelligence failure happened again, despite the supposed “lessons” of the Iraq war. We now know that the Bush administration demanded the answers it wanted from the intelligence community, regardless of the evidence. The same thing may well be happening now, since President Obama has painted himself into a corner. Because every entity in Washington makes preserving and increasing its budget its top priority, the intelligence community is probably just as willing today to cook the books as it was ten years ago. Its failure to address the primary question here, why Assad would act directly contrary to his own interests, points in that direction.

Meanwhile, the prospect of an American attack on Syria has created a strategic dilemma for Israel. An obvious way for Syria to retaliate for an attack would be to unleash Hezbollah against Israel. Hezbollah now has a large arsenal of long-range rockets with large warheads. Some can reach as far as Tel Aviv. Israeli air power can take most of these rockets out quickly—but only if Israel strikes before they are launched. If Hezbollah strikes first, Israel could get clobbered. But if Israel strikes first, it will bear the responsibility for starting another Middle East war. There is good reason why Israel has met Obama’s request to Congress with silence.

Prudence, the uppermost conservative virtue, dictates Congress vote no on President Obama’s request to start another war (one where we will be allied with al Qaeda). Parliament had the courage to do the right thing. Will Congress? Much may depend on the answer.

Real History

“Real History” was originally published as “Alternate History” in the July 2011 issue of The American Conservative magazine. Here Mr. Lind describes a paradigm shift from the Whig, or Progressive, interpretation of history to an understanding of history both more accurate and more conservative. We are grateful to The American Conservative for permission to republish this piece here.

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At any given time, most cultures have a dominant narrative, a collectively agreed upon story that explains where they came from, where they are going, and why. Narratives change over time—modern Italy’s is not that of ancient Rome—and several may be in contention at once. But one is usually dominant.

The contemporary West’s dominant narrative is the story of human progress. It reigns throughout the Establishment—politically, intellectually, economically, even theatrically (which is important in a decadent age). To question the progressive narrative instantly positions a person or institution beyond the pale: a weirdo, kook, or nutcase. Such people do not merit rational discourse; rather, they are offered psychological treatment.

As formidable as it first appears, the progressive narrative’s dominant position may soon be shaken. Just as the Establishment depends on the progressive narrative for legitimacy, so the narrative depends on the Establishment for protection. But the Establishment itself is failing.

Politically, the Establishment—which includes most members of both parties and almost all office-holders—cannot come to grips with America’s decline. It can act only within a narrow range, limited by controlling interests at court that feed off the country’s decay. Its range of action is too narrow to conceive and implement policies that might reverse decline.

Intellectually, the Establishment has been reduced to parroting the shibboleths of political correctness. Anyone with a contrary idea is not incorrect for this or that reason; he is a “thisist” or a “thatist.” When the only remaining intellectual prop of a ruling caste is name-calling, it is bankrupt.

Economically, the Establishment stands for globalism, which averages the once prosperous economies of the West with those of the rest of the world. They come up, but we go down. And as the middle class in Western countries finds itself impoverished, its wrath is turning against those who stole its bread.

Only theatrically does the Establishment appear yet unchallengeable. At most junctures in history, this would not have counted for much. Today, when many people’s lives revolve around being entertained, it counts for a great deal. By offering entertainment that appeals to the worst elements in human nature, the Establishment has given itself a lock on popular culture. To be viable, a competitor would have to raise the level of public taste, a task the education Establishment guarantees will prove impossible.

Yet beyond the theatrical, the whole vast edifice that is the Establishment is creaking and groaning. The gap between the demands of external reality and what the Establishment labels “possible” grows ever wider. From the hills of Afghanistan to the jungles of Wall Street, the Establishment is failing to produce. Individual crises, starting with the economy, are already upon us. Should many of them gather and snowball, the Establishment will face systemic crisis. That means a change of dynasty: the Establishment falls.

Should that happen, it may carry the dominant narrative with it in ruin. At the least, the progressive narrative would be open to serious challenge. With that prospect before us, it is worth our time to compare the dominant narrative with the alternate narrative.

Enlightenment or Dark Age?

Starting points in intellectual history are ambiguous, but the progressive narrative might be said to begin with Descartes’ “Cogito, ergo sum.” Man, and human reason, should be the measure of all things. Upon this belief the subsequent Enlightenment erected a great edifice, splendid in appearance. It is difficult not to identify with P.J. O’Rourke’s definition of utopia as the 18th century with modern medicine and air conditioning. Alas, not all that is beautiful is true.

The Enlightenment dismissed most of what came before it, excepting elements of the pre-Christian classical world, as “obscurantism.” It particularly loathed the Age of Faith, the Middle Ages. The Enlightenment’s heirs in the education Establishment now tell young people they need to know no history at all. It is merely a dark tale of bottomless evil and oppression.

Beyond Descartes and the primacy of human reason, the Enlightenment set as its foundation stones Lockean sensationalism and Newtonian physics. Locke argued that we can know nothing beyond what we are able to detect with the five senses. Newton depicted a clockwork universe, a model the Enlightenment believed could be extended  to man and society, as in La Mettrie’s Man the Machine. (God has a sense of humor: La Mettrie was working on a second book, Man the Plant, when he died from eating toadstools he mistook for mushrooms.)

A fourth foundation derived from heresies ancient and modern: egalitarianism. Put together, they yielded what remains the framework of the progressive narrative today: by applying reason to observable phenomena, we can mechanistically design and erect a society where everyone is equal, the summit of human happiness.

Its framework established, the progressive narrative then traces its glorious march through history. The French Revolution triumphantly united the ideas of Enlightenment with politics, giving us the Rights of Man—most importantly égalité and license. While it may have shown an excess of zeal, the Revolution nonetheless charted the course to earthly paradise that has inspired all right-thinking men and women since.

In 1814, the dark forces of reaction achieved a temporary success. But the human spirit could not be held down for long. The American Civil War saw progress triumph, while in Europe socialism beckoned oppressed workers and peasants to rise up against feudalism and attain precious equality.

The 20th century, while bloody, confirmed that the march of Enlightened progress was unstoppable. World War I destroyed the reactionary monarchies of Europe—Russia, Prussia, and Austria —and made democracy the wave of the future. The Rights of Man triumphed again in World War II, despite the slight inconvenience, easily glanced over, that the decisive role in the Allied victory was played by Stalin’s Soviet Union.

With the fall of communism in Russia in 1991, history itself came to an end. Liberal, democratic, market socialism with human rights for all was now the unquestionable norm to which everyone on earth would conform. Where necessary, benign invasions and occupations would hurry the process along. We are all Jacobins now. Ain’t it grand?

Faith and Reason

The alternate narrative dares to reply, “No.” Far from believing that civilization began in the 18th century, following 1300 years of inky darkness, this counter-narrative has its feet planted in the Middle Ages. Like the Medievals, this tradition holds that reason without faith is incapable of hopefully addressing life’s central questions: Why are we here? Where are we going? Reason, restricted to what the five senses can detect, offers only a Gallic shrug.

Not surprisingly, after three centuries of “Enlightened” propaganda, almost everything modern people think they know about the Middle Ages is wrong. Medieval society not only represents the nearest man has come to building a Christian society, it was also successful in secular terms. Living standards rose, and with them population. That was true for all classes, not just the nobles. Monarchs were far from absolute—royal absolutism was in fact the latest thing in 18th-century fashion, a system for promoting rational efficiency—and subjects had extensive rights. Unlike the abstract Rights of Man, as practiced during the Jacobins’ Reign of Terror, Medieval rights were specific and real, established by precedent.

Our Medieval ancestors were observant and creative. They invented important technologies: the wheeled plow, the windmill, soap. (Medieval people loved to bathe; it was the Renaissance that stopped.) They had elaborate table manners; latter-day “Medieval feasts” would have appalled them. They made beautiful objects. And they built—oh, how they built! Can anyone visit the cathedrals at Chartres or Salisbury or the now desecrated St. Chapelle in Paris and think these people were primitive? And yes, they knew the world was round.

The Enlightenment’s picture of the Middle Ages, like so much it produced, was a bright, shining lie. We would be wiser to speak of the enlightened Middle Ages and the verdunkelte 18th century.

Empirical Problem

The alternate narrative’s view of what followed is selective. The Renaissance brought advances the High Middle Ages would have welcomed, including Christian humanism and the recovery of many texts from the classical world. But it also laid the basis for secular humanism, a prideful and subversive force that continues to do great damage to societies and souls alike. The Protestant Reformation pointed to some genuine abuses in the Church and also renewed the importance of Scripture. But the shattering of Christendom, the rise of an unsound doctrine of sola Scriptura, and the loss of the sacraments in much Christian worship were too high a price.

With the Renaissance and the Reformation, we come to the beginning of the Modern Age. As Jeffrey Hart wrote in Cultural Conservatism: Theory and Practice:

Sometime during the fifteenth century, the great and glorious project of modernity was launched in earnest. To put it briefly: whereas ancient Greek and Roman culture, with their extension and modification in medieval Christian culture, sought to understand the world and live according to that understanding, the modern project sought not to understand the world in its totality but to control it and use it. The ancient and medieval project issued in metaphysics, which attempted to reach a full understanding of a reality, part of which remained mysterious. The modern project issued in empiricism, which narrowed the focus of inquiry to the world which was available to the five senses and had the explicit intention of mastering it.

The alternate narrative accepts the question that defines the Modern Age, namely, how can man use the forces of nature for practical ends? But it insists that question is second order, not primary as the progressive narrative would have it. The most important question remains what Professor Hart delineated: how can man understand reality in all its dimensions, seen and unseen, physical and spiritual, and live according to that understanding?

The ability of the alternate narrative to answer questions of ultimate meaning is important in a time when technology threatens to master man rather than serve him and when the fruits of empiricism include material abundance but spiritual emptiness. The liberal, democratic, secular state may mark the end of history, but only by serving as its tombstone. Again, Professor Hart:

It is not surprising that empiricism has produced a sense of evanescing meaning, for empiricism never promised to deliver meaning of any sort, let alone ultimate meaning. It had no use for those intuitions and visions and purported revelations that had been taken into account by metaphysics. Empiricism had nothing to say about the foundations of being or the structure of moral authority. … Empiricism promised something else altogether, and speaking both metaphorically and literally, it delivered the goods: material abundance and enhanced physical well-being through the progressive mastery of nature.

The alternate narrative’s framework thus combines two elements: the Middle Ages’ faith and desire to see that faith reflected in society, and modernity’s use of reason to master nature. Because faith takes precedence, the alternate narrative can set limits: not everything possible is desirable. “Progress” can lead to getting things very wrong.

The alternate narrative’s history of modern times suggests that not only can we get things wrong, we have: the misnamed Enlightenment represents a fundamentally wrong turn.

Modern Conservatism

But the alternate narrative by no means rejects the whole 18th century: not Haydn nor Mozart, neither Fragonard nor the rococo, not all philosophers and certainly not reason. On the contrary, it is in the 18th century that secular champions of the alternate narrative emerged, driven by the philosphes’ attacks on what almost all men had for generations held true. In Germany, the residual influence of Leibnitz held the worst excesses of French rationalism at bay. Before the outbreak of the French Revolution, men such as Rehberg and Brandes in Hannover were writing what we would recognize as culturally conservative works, such as Brandes’s refutation of feminism, Über die Weiber, published in 1787.

But it was in England that the greatest defender of the alternate narrative stood forth to do battle: Dr. Samuel Johnson. So vast was Johnson’s intellectual power, so fearless his war on cant, that virtually alone he prevented the errors of the philosophes from sweeping over the British Isles. Without Johnson, the Edmund Burke of the Reflections is unimaginable.

Johnson was no “obscurantist.” If not entirely of the Enlightenment, he was very much in it. No one could confuse The Club with the Spanish Inquisition. Johnson was a man of reason. But he was also a man of deep Christian faith, born of suffering, and of reverence for traditions. Up against the airy speculations of the French and their admirers he set the solidity of the Anglo-Saxon. When Boswell asked him how he refuted the argument of Bishop Berkeley that we could not really know the existence of anything, Johnson kicked a large stone and said, “I refute it thus.”

Johnson stood for king, church, hierarchy, and subordination: no leveler he. Boswell recounts Johnson as saying, “So far is it from being true that men are naturally equal, that no two people can be half an hour together, but one shall acquire an evident superiority over the other.” On order in society, Johnson opined, “Sir, I am a friend to subordination, as most conducive to the happiness of society. There is a reciprocal pleasure in governing and being governed.”

“Time, sir,” he said, “is the only test of the merits of anything.” He detested oppression—Johnson famously offered the toast “Here’s to the next insurrection of the negroes in the West Indies”—but he regarded as piffle the notion that “natural man,” “uncorrupted” by civilization, was somehow superior to man in society. Dr. Johnson died before the outbreak of the French Revolution, but it is not difficult to imagine that his reaction would have been similar to Burke’s.

That Revolution, which the dominant narrative celebrates as a triumph of “liberation,” is to the alternate narrative one of two great catastrophes of the West in the modern era. With Burke, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, published in 1790 and often considered the founding work of conservative political thought, the alternate narrative finds the revolutionary French republic a wanton destroyer of much that was noble, beautiful, and good in the ancien regime. It unambiguously wears the White cockade.

It is not merely that the French Revolution unleashed 25 years of bloody war on Europe, nor that it brought tyranny, not liberty, in its wake. By mixing the false ideas of the Enlightenment about the perfectibility of man and society with political praxis, setting the precedent for using the power of the state to build an earthly utopia, the French Revolution laid the basis for socialism, Marxism, Soviet Communism, fascism, in short for ideology itself—the word, as well as the phenomenon, was coined during that hellish event. The Revolution opened a Pandora’s box whose evil spirits had, by the close of the 20th century, devoured tens of millions of lives and much of the substance of Western civilization.

In 1814, the three great conservative, Christian, European monarchies—Russia, Austria, and Prussia—closed the box. The alternate narrative celebrates their achievement. But though the box was closed, the poisons it had contained remained loose.

Suicide of the West

As recently as the summer of 1914, less than a century ago, the world restored in 1814 was still recognizable. Kaisers, tsars, and kings reigned. The goodness and rightness of social classes, each with its respective duties, was acknowledged by all but Marxists. The Christian religion, if not universally believed, was generally respected. Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of all values,” in which the old virtues become sins and the old sins virtues, was regarded as the raving of a syphilitic madman.

In that fateful summer, the West still governed the world. Its confidence in itself was high. The 19th century had brought vast progress; more was certain in the 20th. Living standards rose, populations grew, movements such as temperance were bringing social ills under control. Health insurance and pensions, pioneered by Germany, were rendering the working class more secure, while spreading prosperity was beginning its transformation into a new middle class.

Then the West put a gun to its head and blew its brains out.

The alternate narrative sees World War I as the West’s second catastrophe in the Modern Age. As the Marxist historian Arno Mayer has argued, in 1914 America represented the international left. By 1919, America was organizing the international right. America had not changed; the spectrum shifted around it.

The catastrophe of World War I encompassed three disasters. The first and greatest was that it happened. It was not inevitable. Kaiser Wilhelm II neither wanted war nor expected one—so Colonel House, Woodrow Wilson’s advisor, reported to the president in 1915 after extensive talks with the German leader.

A European war probably became unavoidable when Tsar Nicholas II, under great pressure from his foreign minister and war minister, reluctantly ordered general mobilization instead of mobilizing only against Austria-Hungary. That set the clock ticking for Germany.

The worst malefactor in turning the conflict into a worldwide conflagration was probably the British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, who did want war (as did Churchill) and led Germany on, suggesting Britain would stay out until the momentum of the Schlieffen plan became irreversible. Grey said the price to Britain would be little different if she remained neutral or joined the Allies. And so the British Empire bled to death in the mud of Flanders.

The second disaster was America’s entry into the war, engineered by President Wilson after he won re-election on the slogan “He kept us out of war.” Wilson was a progressive, and the progressives knew the only way they could create the vast and powerful federal government they desired was through war. That would allow Washington to seize any power it wanted on grounds of “military necessity” while labeling critics unpatriotic—and jailing them. So began the devouring of the American republic by Leviathan.

The third disaster was that the wrong side won. Had America stayed out, the war would probably have ended in 1917, following the mutiny that year of the French army, in a compromise peace. Such a peace would have been favorable to the Central Powers, but even with France defeated, Germany had no answer to the British blockade. A balance of power would have returned.

A victory by the Central Powers would have meant a 20th century with no Hitler and no Stalin. Germany used Lenin as a weapon of war, but a victorious Germany and Austria-Hungary would never have tolerated a Bolshevik Russia. Unlike the Allies, who attempted to intervene against the Bolsheviks, the Central Powers were placed to act effectively. German troops occupied Russia almost to St. Petersburg and the Austrian flag flew over Sevastopol. Germany and Austria would have restored a tsar—albeit perhaps not the Romanovs; the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha might have bagged another throne. As to Hitler, victorious Kaisers would have no place for a Führer. Hitler had talent as an architect; perhaps he would have helped found the Bauhaus.

In this world, Professor Mayer’s spectrum shift to the left would never have happened. Conservative Christian monarchies would have triumphed. A spectrum shift to the right, while not inevitable, was possible; a defeated French republic might have been replaced with a monarchy. (Le Figaro: “The Estates General, deadlocked among the Legitimist, Orleanist, and Bonapartist candidates, today offered the throne of France to Prince Louis Napoleon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha…”)

It is perhaps too much to hope that the 20th century’s grimmest reaper, ideology, would have found itself in history’s wastebasket. But it would have lost to its oldest opponent, legitimism, and lost badly. It might have been sufficiently weakened to give Europe and the world a century of relative peace, like that following the settlement of 1814.

Instead, the empires of Russia, Austria, and Germany were swept from the board. The poisons unleashed by the French Revolution flooded unchecked around the globe. Totalitarian ideologies conquered Russia, Germany, Italy, and in time others, including China. The 20th century became history’s bloodiest. The Allied victory in World War I brought not the end of war envisioned by the fanatical Wilson but the beginning of the end of the Modern Age. The West’s belief in itself, invincible in 1914, lay dead in the ruins of places like Ypres and Verdun.

A Century of War

From the perspective of the alternate narrative, World War II is less important than World War I. Its outcome confirmed the verdict of 1918. The West’s will to live, mortally wounded in the first war, had a stake driven through its heart by the second. Tens of millions of people died, whole communities were erased, incalculable capital went up in smoke. By 1945, all that was left in Europe was exhaustion.

Because the dominant narrative often accuses the alternate narrative of “fascism,” cultural Marxism’s term for any defense of tradition, clarity on the ideological outcome of World War II is important. The alternate narrative is hostile to all ideologies; as Russell Kirk insisted, conservatism is the negation of ideology. The alternate narrative dares hope for a world governed by tradition, custom, and habit, with wide local variations. It knows, and history confirms, that any attempt to use the power of the state to reshape society according to some set of abstract ideas brings tyranny and social dissolution.

Between fascism and communism, the alternate narrative sees little to choose. In September 1939, Nazi Germany’s concentration camps held just over 20,000 people. That same month, Stalin’s gulag held 1.3 million. Hitler liquidated six million people; Soviet Communism killed 60 million. Hitler’s holocaust was a crime; so was Stalin’s induced famine in Ukraine. Such are the wages of ideology.

The Allied victory in 1945 put an end to fascism, but at the price of Stalin swallowing half of Europe. Goebbels’s Iron Curtain—Churchill borrowed the phrase from him—did indeed run from Stettin to Trieste; behind it, every crime was permissible.

Then followed the third Western civil war in a century, the Cold War. The alternate narrative regards this as a necessary war: the threat of communist world domination was real. But the twilight struggle’s effects on what was left of Christendom—which includes Russia—were again disastrous.

After 1945, America was the West’s great hope. Undamaged by the world cataclysm, she rose to vast heights. But the 1950s proved to be her last normal decade. The counterculture revolution of the 1960s undermined her institutions: the family, the schools, even the churches. (Happy the day when a “gay Episcopal bishop” was one who ended up wearing the lampshade after too many martinis.) Popular culture cut its ties to high culture and became a source of endless moral degradation.

Meanwhile, the globalists exported America’s industry, reducing her middle class to penury. Overextended diplomatically, militarily, and financially, led by a “New Class” of self-seeking incompetents, she is well along the Spanish road to ruin. (Olivares, the White House operator is calling.)

What the dominant narrative presents as the march of progress, the alternate narrative sees as a trail of tears. In less than a century, the West suffered greater losses than at any time since the fall of the Roman Empire. It was stripped of its world pre-eminence, its belief in itself, much of its historic culture, and even its will to live, as its birthrates show.

Postmodern Promise

The alternate narrative has been buttressed from Dr. Johnson onward by many serious works of history, politics, and philosophy—from Edmund Burke to Russell Kirk. It boasts an extensive and impressive historiography and bibliography. The dominant narrative pretends none of it exists.

Dare we hope that the alternate narrative, now largely unknown, unheard, and disregarded, might soon become dominant? Systemic crisis might open the door. If so, what remains of the West may find a solid postmodern footing in the framework the alternate narrative offers. That framework in no way rejects reason, science, or modernity’s mastery of nature. (Some neo-pagan postmodern views, such as Deep Green environmentalism, reject all three.) Rather, it calls for reason to join again with faith on the model offered by our Medieval ancestors and build anew a splendid Western civilization.

The View From Olympus 6: Time to Change Sides

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Napoleon supposedly said that the only time Italy ends a war on the same side it began it on is when it changes sides twice. While Italy’s historic twists and turns may not have covered it with glory, they have shown Italians have not forgotten Machiavelli. When a wise prince finds he has entered a war on the wrong side, he does what his interests direct. He changes horses in midstream.

It is time for America to change sides in Syria and in Egypt. The “side” supported by the children who make American foreign policy is that of liberal, secular democracy. But such people—they could all fit comfortably in one hookah parlor—are not a “side.” They are few, weak, and irrelevant. Whatever the final outcome in the Middle East, it will not be liberal, secular democracy. That’s just as well because what that really means in the code spoken by the Washington elite is Brave New World.

The real options in Syria and Egypt, and many other places, are three. The most desirable is a secular dictatorship. Less desirable is an Islamist democracy, i.e., tyranny of the majority. Least desirable of all, and most dangerous to America’s interests, is a failed state, a new stateless happy hunting ground for Fourth Generation entities.

Unfortunately, America’s current actions in both Syria and Egypt support option three. If there is any chance of restoring a state in Syria, it is represented by the Assad government. Such a government would be what it was, option one. That is the most desirable outcome. So what is Washington doing? Shipping arms to the rebels and preparing to shoot cruise missiles at Assad’s forces. That puts us in the position of de facto ally of al Qaeda. Brilliant.

In Egypt, the military represents option one. If it fails, Egypt could well become a failed state. Yet there we are cutting arms deliveries to the military government, condemning them for violating the harlot “democracy” and allying de facto with the Muslim Brotherhood. If there is a way to oppose our own interests more effectively, I can’t see it.

Should adults suddenly return to take the conduct of our foreign policy back from the kiddies, it is obvious what they should do: change sides. We should back Assad in Syria and the military government in Egypt. How might we do that? By doing nothing.

There are few things that would more damage Assad in Syria or the military in Egypt than overt American endorsement and support. The coin in such conflicts is legitimacy, and at least in the Middle East America has no legitimacy to confer. Anyone we support loses legitimacy thereby.

That does not mean cutting off aid to Egypt’s military. It means status quo ante. We provide neither more nor less aid than we did before. We honor existing contracts for weapons. Behind closed doors, we urge other countries to be realistic too. But our official line is that we do not meddle in the internal affairs of other states.

This is the line that both Russia and China are taking. It is working well for them. Their interests in the Middle East have not greatly suffered from the region’s turmoil. They have not lost thousands of troops and trillions of dollars there. They are not widely hated by the region’s people. They have not served al Qaeda and other 4GW Islamic entities by destroying states.

Changing sides may not be honorable, but it can be smart. In the amoral arena that is international relations, smart beats honorable every time. Just ask Machiavelli.

Downsides

The following is a piece Mr. Lind published previously in The American Conservative magazine, originally titled “Rage Against the Machine” (January 13, 2003). Here he discusses the numerous negative paradigm shifts likely to be consequences of society’s uncritical embrace of new technologies. We are grateful to The American Conservative for permission to republish this piece.

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Russell Kirk, who may have been the only conservative in the post-war American conservative movement, forbad the importation of television sets into his ancestral manse, Piety Hill. One day, in his absence, his wife and daughters smuggled one in. Dr. Kirk discovered it, and they in turn soon discovered him, high in the tower with television in hand, pitching it off the roof.

Television, like all virtual realities, comes from Hell. (The author of this piece, having hosted several television programs, knows how difficult it is to use the medium for good; in effect, one has to do bad television.) Earlier generations of conservatives knew instinctively that machines could be Hellish, and they regarded innovative technologies with distrust.

It is perhaps a measure of how much conservatism has withered away that most American conservatives now welcome any new technology that comes along. They love cell phones, which destroy what little is left of the public space. They gush over genetic engineering, which will create weapons that bring back the Black Death. Most of all, they embrace computers and all their progeny even though, all around us, our fellow subjects of Heaven are using them to create virtual realities they can inhabit almost full-time. (Fortunately, they still have to eat.)

The first Christian principle, and the first principle of Western civilization, is that there is and can be only one reality. If there can be multiple realities, we lose both Jerusalem and Athens. If there can be more than one reality, there can be more than one God; so falls Jerusalem and monotheism. If there can be more than one reality, what is logical in one means nothing in others, where logic itself may not hold; so falls Athens and reason. All things are indeed relative where realities proliferate.

Hell has always hated reality, for in the real world, Christ is King. Old Screwtape’s problem, for millennia, was that philosophy made a poor weapon against reality. Even Hell’s most sophisticated philosophical device, ideology, fell sure prey to reality, seldom lasting more than a couple of generations. His Wormship knew that he needed a more powerful and enduring weapon than philosophy could provide. He needed convincing but false images of the true: virtual realities.

Virtual realities existed, to be sure. Nero’s Domus Aurea was one; Marie Antoinette’s life as a shepherdess another. Military headquarters were often wonderful generators of virtual reality. (We now flood ours with computers, making the problem worse.) But these took great power and vast resources to create and were also impossible to sustain.

If Hell were to triumph over reality and make it stick—which comes very close to triumphing over God—it needed to find a mechanism that could create powerful, compelling virtual realities, proliferate them widely, and enable people to live in them, self-convincingly, most of the time. And then, brilliantly, Hell’s workshops begat the cathode ray tube and the video screen.

It is clear that many modern people live lives where the video screen, in all its many variants, is the dominating reality. (Perhaps we should borrow here from Derrida and write reality.) Televisions are on and squawking throughout the house, from rising through going to bed. The children spend countless hours with their video games; sunny days are irrelevant. The adults’ version is the Internet, whose most common use is for pornography. All offer alternate realities, an ever growing variety of them, all getting better and better in their ability to seem real. First they are alluring, then satisfying, and finally compulsive. Snap! Go the jaws of Hell.

If most conservatives were still conservative, they would find this troubling. Some do find the content of many virtual realities discomfiting; the Roman arena begins to pale in comparison. But few seem to see that the Reality Principle (Marcuse’s old enemy) is itself at stake. Is watching a Mass on television the same as going to Mass? No. Is knowing that it is a fine day in Ouagadougou the same as enjoying a fine day in the park? Again, no. Is watching people on a video screen the same as knowing actual people? No, indeed. But in more and more lives, the virtual is replacing the real.

And the image is substituting itself for the Word, the Logos. The West spent three thousand years struggling to substitute the Word for the image. The war of the Word against the image is perhaps the most basic theme of the Old Testament. Thousands of Christians gave their lives in that fight. Now, thanks to the video screen, history is running backwards because on video screens images are far more powerful than words. Not surprisingly, paganism is on the rise, beyond and within the Church.

If conservatives cannot see the danger in the thing itself, in the substitution of the false for the true, one would expect they would at least, be alarmed that all virtual realities are subject to manipulation. Today, in America, most of them are manipulated, deliberately and systematically, to serve the ideology of cultural Marxism, a.k.a. political correctness. Thus we get endless television programs and video games where men are puny and women strong (they beat up the men), muggers are white and doctors are black, and the only normal-seeming white males are homosexuals. Thanks to virtual realities, the entertainment industry has become the most powerful force in American culture, and it is largely owned by the cultural Marxists. Through it, cultural Marxism does what it is supposed to do, psychologically condition. Soon enough, in any life where virtual realities hold sway, anyone who dares think that maybe Western civilization really is superior looks in the mirror and sees “another Hitler.” Does the prospect of Brave New World not bother conservatives anymore?

The answer to all the above, from many technology-addicted conservatives, is that computers and their ilk provide wonderful sources of information. That is undoubtedly true. But it raises a further, very conservative, question: is information itself all that wonderful?

I often lecture to young people, college grads, usually on military topics. They are adept at the information technologies, having imbibed them as their mother’s milk. The problem, to put it bluntly, is that most of them cannot think. They cannot think because of information, not because of a lack of it.

An Amish friend of mine, David Klein, put it well as we talked under the trees of his Wayne County, Ohio, farmyard this past summer. Using information technologies, he said, is like trying to build a car by reaching blindly into a vast dumpster and using as parts whatever comes to hand. That is how these young minds work. They cannot grasp any sort of intellectual order or framework. All they have ever encountered are bits and pieces of this and that, spewed randomly out of some cosmic, universal vending machine. It is not simply that things do not make sense; these young people have no concept of things making sense. As Ortega warned would happen, they have become technologically competent barbarians.

Again, an earlier generation of conservatives would have understood. When life is, in effect, an endless process of interruption, thought, as we traditionally knew it, becomes impossible. Western thought is linear, but “information” is chaotic. More, thought requires being alone with your thoughts, something the technologically dependent can neither attain nor abide.

Just as intellectual chaos is normal to the information generation, so is their lowly status as humble servants to lumps of beige plastic. I will confess that a year ago, I was browbeaten by my office into putting a fax machine in my summer home in Ohio. It was more demanding than a cat. Unless I met its every beeped and coded wish, and they were many, it refused to work. (Even a neglected cat will still catch mice.) This summer, I realized I was the servant and it the master and resolved this inversion of the natural order in Kirkian fashion, by taking a sledgehammer to it. Its human replacement, a FedEx courier, does the same job with far less trouble.

But rebellion of this sort lies far outside the ken of those who worship the computer and its siblings. They cannot imagine lives without their machines, even though we lived such lives (quite nicely, too) just a few decades ago. No sabot in the gears for them; without their calculators, they cannot even add. Go to the bank some fine day and ask the young teller to do something that “isn’t in the computer,” and she will look at you with great, cow eyes.

Conservatives used to know that information does not equal knowledge and that knowledge does not equal understanding. (T.S. Eliot had something to say on the matter.) The transitions require thought, and computers, in both their informational and virtual reality guises, are enemies of thought. Thought only works if it is unplugged.