The View From Olympus


This begins a new series of columns on military affairs, as a follow-on to my long-running On War series (I will continue to write a military column for The American Conservative magazine as well). Since I am now retired and take my motto from Augustine (before he became St. Augustine), deificari in otio, I have decided to title the new series, “The View From Olympus.” Olympus isn’t too far from Cleveland. will be the column’s regular home, though websites that often printed On War are welcome to re-publish The View From Olympus as well.

The framework for The View From Olympus will be that of On War, namely the Four Generations of Modern War. I developed this intellectual framework in the 1980s, initially as the Three Generations; the Marines to whom I was then lecturing kept asking what the Fourth Generation would be like, so I answered their question. I first laid the whole framework out in print with some co-authors in the October 1989 Marine Corps Gazette.

The framework of the Four Generations of Modern War fits well with TraditionalRight’s focus on paradigm shifts because it chronicles four such shifts in the art of war in the modern period, which is to say roughly since 1650. Each generation represents a dialectically qualitative change in the conduct of war (not the nature of war, which is fixed and unchanging; retired Army general Jim Dubik has written an excellent paper on this important distinction). Dialectically qualitative changes are somewhat fancier versions of paradigm shifts, of the “bursting dam” variety; see Hegel for a further discussion.

First Generation war begins roughly with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and runs through the American Civil War. Tactically, it was war of line and column, where armies moved in column and fought in line. On the whole, First Generation battlefields were battlefields of order, which in turn created a military culture of order. That culture was inward-focused on drills, rules, regulations and orders; demanded obedience, not initiative; and depended on imposed discipline. The fact that armies were recruited by sweeping the gutters and most soldiers wanted to desert reinforced the need for a culture of order. The main significance First Generation war has for us now is that state militaries came to define themselves by the culture of order and they still do today.

The Four Generations framework is based on land warfare, but it is worth noting that in the second half of the 18th century, probably beginning when Anson became First Sea Lord, the Royal Navy developed and embraced the culture we associate with Third Generation maneuver warfare. By 1800, it was outward focused on getting the result the situation required regardless of rules, fighting instructions, or order; it wanted initiative, not rote obedience, at least from ship captains on up; and at least among officers had moved slightly from imposed to self-discipline. There is a marvelous book on how and why the Royal Navy lost that culture and became inward-focused again in the 19th century, The Rules of the Game by Andrew Gordon.

The First Generation has another, meta-level characteristic that is rapidly again becoming important: it marked the assertion by the state of a monopoly on war. Previously, wars had been waged by many different kinds of entities: not only governments (governments go back into pre-history, but the state is relatively new, dating to about 1500; see Martin van Creveld’s book, The Rise and Decline of the State), but also families, clans and tribes; religions and sects; races; cities and business enterprises, legal and illegal; etc. With Westphalia, states in Europe said, “No more.” After that, non-state combatants, soldiers who did not belong to state armies, were no longer seen as legitimate and were usually hanged or shot on the spot. When state armies met non-state opponents as European power expanded world-wide, the state virtually always won. By 1900, the state system and war between states had a monopoly, at least outside the jungles of New Guinea or the Amazon. As we will see, that is no longer true.

Both the Second and Third Generations of Modern War were born in World War I. In 1914, the armies of the European Powers marched to war looking like, and often fighting like, those of 1814. The result was catastrophic for everyone, with hundreds of thousands of men killed in a few months. In the west, the overwhelming power of artillery and machine guns forced both sides into the trenches. (On the eastern front, lower troop densities allowed both tactical and operational maneuver to continue, at least in some sectors.

The Second and Third Generations were created by the French and German armies respectively. The French army built its new doctrine around a single fact: on the western front, the battlefield was dominated by indirect artillery fire. Overall, about 80% of the casualties suffered by all parties on that front in World War I were from artillery. Summarized by the French army as “the artillery conquers, the infantry occupies,” Second Generation tactics synchronized all arms in a highly choreographed “methodical battle.” Attacks were with limited objective, and defense depended more on maneuvering fires than troops. Overall, Second Generation war was a contest in mutual attrition, where victory was supposed to go to whoever could bring the most firepower to bear.

Second Generation war as developed by the French during and after World War I remains relevant to us in two ways. First, it preserved the First Generation culture of order. Second Generation war remains inward focused on orders, processes, procedures, etc.; it may be thought of as “war by formula.” It wants obedience, not initiative; synchronization and initiative are incompatible. And it remains based on imposed discipline, to the point where between the wars French officers were forbidden to publish anything that contradicted official doctrine.

The other way Second Generation war remains relevant is that the US Army and Marine Corps still fight that way, despite the Marine Corps’ official doctrine of maneuver warfare. The US armed forces absorbed Second Generation war from the French during and after World War I, then promptly forgot where it came from. We still practice it tactically, attempting to win wars by putting ever more (“precise”) firepower on ever more targets. And we still embrace a Second Generation military culture of order: centralized, inward-focused, valuing obedience over initiative and relying on imposed discipline.

Meanwhile, back in the First World War’s trenches, something very different was happening in the German army. Already imbued with a culture of outward focus and initiative thanks to the Scharnhorst reforms during the Napoleonic war, the German army solved the dilemma of the trenches with radically new tactics. Attacks no longer sought to push a line forward. Rather, small groups of men flowed like water around enemy strong points, always seeking the path of least resistance and, when they found one, drawing others after them. Attacks were with unlimited objective, seeking to collapse the enemy from the rear forward. In the defense, instead of trying to hold a line, the Germans sucked the enemy in as deeply as possible, then cut him off with counterattacks that left him encircled. These tactics demanded radical decentralization of decision making, with orders specifying only the result to be attained, not method.

During the 1930s, the new tactics of 1917-18 were married with the Panzer divisions to create the Blitzkrieg. Tanks permitted not just tactical but also operational maneuver, making fast, decisive campaigns possible once again. The new tactics and operational art, combined with a military culture that was outward focused, decentralized, prized initiative over obedience and depended more on self-discipline than imposed discipline, gave us Third Generation war, also known as maneuver warfare. When the Second Generation French army and Third Generation Wehrmacht met head-on in 1940, the Second Generation went down to defeat in six weeks—despite the fact that the French had more tanks than the Germans.

Since the mid-1970s, I have endeavored to convince the US military to move from the Second to the Third Generation, with little success. The Marine Corps did adopt Third Generation maneuver warfare as its official doctrine in the early 1990s when General Al Gray was Commandant. It published some quite good field manuals on it. But it changed nothing else, least of all its inward-focused culture of order, so what it does remains, like the US Army, almost purely Second Generation war. For a couple hundred billion dollars a year, we are buying a military museum.

Fourth Generation war represents the largest paradigm shift in the conduct of war since 1648. It reverses what the Peace of Westphalia established, the state’s monopoly on war. All over the world, state militaries designed to fight other state armed forces much like themselves instead find themselves battling non-state entities: again, as before Westphalia, families, tribes, and clans; races and religions; sects and “causes,” i.e. ideologies, which are new since Westphalia but have their parallels in pre-Westphalian heresies; business enterprises including gangs, etc. All things old have been made new again. Unlike in most of the modern age, when state armed forces fight these non-state elements, the state forces almost always lose. The US Marine Corps, the best of the American armed services, is now 0-4 (Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan).

As Martin van Creveld says, what changes in Fourth Generation war (his term is “non-trinitarian warfare,” referring to Clausewitz’s trinity of state, people, and army) is not how war is fought, but who fights and what they fight for. This is a larger change than changes in how war is fought. Van Creveld’s book The Transformation of War is by far the best on the subject.

Not only is Fourth Generation war non-trinitarian, it escapes Clausewitz’s definition of war as politics carried on by other means. Many of the objectives for which Fourth Generation warriors fight are not political (some of course are). They range from having fun and grabbing women and loot through attaining eternal salvation. Much Fourth Generation war is supply-side war, generated by the presence of large number of young men with no jobs, no money, no access to women, and no future. What do such young men naturally do? Fight.

Some commentators have mistakenly defined Fourth Generation war merely as insurgency. This reduces it to just another buzzword and obviously not a paradigm shift. Their error is not looking beyond how war is fought. Many Fourth Generation entities do employ the techniques of insurgency, but these techniques are not the origin of their strength. Their strength is mental and, above all, moral, not physical. It is a product of the causes they represent and as van Creveld has pointed out, of their very physical weakness. They represent David confronting Goliath. In the several thousand years the story of David and Goliath has been told, how many people have identified with Goliath? Over time, Fourth Generation war will affect how war is fought. It has already rendered most of the hi-tech, hyper-priced weapons in the arsenals of state armed forces irrelevant. Why do we need the F-22 Raptor? To shoot down Taliban flying carpets (Chet Richards adds, the fact that so far the F-22 has not bagged a single carpet shows we need a new radar and a new platform to carry it).

An example of 4GW changing how war is fought is the advent of the suicide bomber. Suicide attacks have been quite rare in military history. The fact that some Fourth Generation entities are able to employ them routinely show 4GW’s power at the moral level. Suicide bombers have given Fourth Generation forces their own precision-guided weapon, one at least as effective as our drones firing missiles. Against our Hellfires they pit the Heaven-fired. Which is winning?

Fourth Generation war is in its early stages, and will take at least a century to play itself out (talk of Fifth Generation war is nonsense; we cannot see that far ahead). What is at stake is the state system itself, and with it conservatives’ highest good, order. If the state system collapses, the world faces another calamitous century, like the fourteenth in Europe (see Barbara Tuchman’s book, A Distant Mirror).

This is the framework of the Four Generations of Modern War. First laid out in the 1980s, it has been justified by events, or so some observers have said. It continues to unroll in north and west Africa, in the Levant, in Mesopotamia, and the Hindu Kush. One might add, along America’s souther border and in the hearts of her cities. An American government that seeks to bring order to Afghanistan cannot maintain it 1000 yards from the US Capitol after nightfall. Were Washington open to reality, which it is not, that might tell it that something is changing. The Establishment’s attitude is best summed up by the reputed statement of the Chief of Staff of the Italian army shortly before World War II: “If you have a full plate of pasta for life and a little wine, who care about anything else?”

The New Paradigms


What do we mean by a paradigm shift? A paradigms shift is a change in the terms which define a contest. You may think of it as an alteration of the rules of the game, or a move from one battlefield to a new and very different one. Paradigm shifts are defined not merely by new answers, but by new questions.

World War One, the second catastrophe suffered by the West in the modern age (the first was the French Revolution), offers an example. In August of 1914, the Houses of Hapsburg and Romanov were mesmerized by each other. Who would win this latest round in their long contest? Inconceivably in that fateful summer, the winners would be an unimportant American republic and a fellow named Ulyanov sitting in a café in Zurich. History knows him as Lenin.

That was a paradigm shift. Its consequences were vast. As the Marxist historian Arno Mayer argues, in 1914 the United States represented the international left. All the other powers but one, France, were conservative Christian monarchies. By 1919, the United States was organizing the international right. The US had not changed; rather, the international spectrum had shifted around it. The three great monarchies of Austria, Prussia, and Russia had become socialist republics, giving conservatism a blow from which it has not recovered.

It is the view of this journal that more paradigm shifts of similar magnitude are coming. One has already occurred, without the notice it should have received from conservatives. If Western culture is to be successfully defended and restored, it is imperative that the right recognize these paradigm shifts before the left does. In any contest, a time advantage can be decisive, or so the Boyd theory informs us. (Colonel John Boyd, America’s greatest military theorist, argued that all conflicts occur in time-competitive cycles of observation, orientation, decision, and action [OODA loops]. Whoever can cycle consistently faster than his opponents builds a tremendous advantage.)

One of our purposes is to identify coming paradigm shifts early and to discuss how cultural conservatives might best respond to them. It is not possible to identify all the coming paradigms now, because many have not yet begun to emerge. However, we can identify and analyze some, along with ways conservatives might take advantage of them. We can also, in this journal, provide a periscope through which those who are watching may espy new ones. We encourage anyone who thinks he may have spotted one to submit an article or a letter to the editor.

What emerging paradigms are now visible? One has been hidden in plain sight since the mid-1960s. What is it? The adoption by virtually every Western country’s elite of cultural Marxism as the unofficial state ideology.

Cultural Marxism, commonly known as multiculturalism or Political Correctness, is the Marxism developed by the Frankfurt School (formally the Institute for Social Research), building on the work by Lukacs and Gramsci. Very different from the economic Marxism of Moscow, cultural Marxism was the basis of the New Left and the counter-culture of the 1960s. That counter-culture is now the mainstream culture in all Western countries. Its primary objectives, from Lukacs and Gramsci onward, have been and remain the destruction of the Christian religion and Western culture.

How has this created a paradigm shift? By reducing cultural conservatives from the vast majority of Americans as recently as the 1950s to an embattled and despised minority, the one minority against whom discrimination is encouraged. How conservatives mights respond to this change of paradigm, and the nature of the ideology that has brought it about, will be a recurrent theme in this journal.

We think the most effective response to cultural Marxism will usually be that recommended by Paul Weyrich in his famous open letter to the conservative movement of the 1990s. In that letter, Paul said attempts to retake existing institutions from the cultural Marxists were unlikely to be successful, rather, cultural conservatives should create their own parallel institutions as the home schoolers have done.

Creating parallel institutions is the most powerful revolutionary act. As such, it leads us to another paradigm shift now underway: an international crisis of legitimacy of the state and the rise of Fourth Generation war—war waged by non-state entities for goals that lie outside the parameters of politics.

All over the world, states are failing as their citizens transfer their primary loyalty away from the state to a wide variety of other objects: gangs, tribes and ethnic groups, religions, ideologies and “causes,” etc. These new entities wage war, and when they fight state armed forces, they usually win. This marks a paradigm shift of vast magnitude, the biggest change in war since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The (non-Marxist) withering away of the state and the rise of Fourth Generation war will also be a frequent theme in this journal. Young conservatives may well live to face a world in which the continued existence of states, including the United States, is in serious question.

A third paradigm shift we can begin to glimpse is an end to economic prosperity in the United States and in other developed countries and an era of widening impoverishment. Because most states now claim legitimacy on the basis that they provide economic prosperity, the end of prosperity and the crisis of legitimacy of the state are likely to be intertwined.

Widening impoverishment has been the experience of much of the American middle class for some decades. The root cause is the doctrine of free trade and the resultant destruction of American manufacturing. Put simply, only making or growing things brings real prosperity; when a country ceases to make things, its middle class becomes impoverished. One of America’s proudest and most unusual achievements was the creating of a large blue-collar middle class. Up well into the 1960s, a man working on an assembly line could give his family a comfortable middle-class way of life on one income. Equivalent families in today’s America can barely meet basic needs on two incomes, with both the husband and the wife working (leaving the children to be raised by the Devil’s babysitter, video screen technologies).

This long-term decline in middle class living standards is likely to accelerate and become deeper as the United States, along with much of the rest of the world, enters into a multi-decade debt crisis. Both private and government spending has been based on increasing debt, and that is not sustainable. Representative Paul Ryan is correct: we will have a debt crisis.

Debt crises are not simply recessions. Not only do both governments and individuals have to eliminate the spending previously funded by debt, their spending must be reduced below what they earn in order to pay off the debt. An economy of which 70% is consumer spending plummets, reducing incomes further, which reduces consumption further, in a vicious cycle we now see in places such as Greece, Spain and Portugal. Those countries today are the US tomorrow.

With one difference: having our own currency, we can print money. The Federal Reserve is already doing so at an unprecedented pace. The result, inevitably, will be inflation, possibly hyperinflation. As Milton Friedman said, inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. Inflation wipes out such savings as the middle class possesses, making everyone “equal” because everyone is equally impoverished. Despite periodic depressions, most of them short, American culture has always reflected an expectation of rising living standards. What will happen when that expectation is replaced by a reality of living standards that fall for decades? Can a government de-legitimized by widespread impoverishment endure? Can the state maintain its unity under such circumstances? These are the sorts of questions raised by paradigm shifts, and the shift from a paradigm of increasing prosperity to one of decreasing poverty is a powerful paradigm shift indeed.

A fourth paradigm shift relates to technology. The advent of seemingly magical technologies that profoundly reshape daily living, from the television and the computer to genetic engineering, have led to uncritical acceptance of whatever new technologies come along. But history cautions that every technological innovation has its downsides. We are beginning to become aware of some of these, in the form of a generation that cannot read a book or hold a conversation, genetically altered crops that our bodies react to allergically, and the replacement of the Christian religion with a variety of new paganisms as a consequence of replacing the word with the image. Expanding our understanding of the negatives as well as the positives of new technologies and discussing how conservatives might protect themselves from these negatives will be another of the paradigm shifts explored in this journal.

Not all coming paradigm shifts will be negative. A welcome one, whose first shoots are already visible, will be the replacement of the global, the vast, and the institutional with the local, the small, and the personal.

Globalism is already failing, as our economy and those of other developed countries are averaged with the economies of countries where wages are many times less. They come up, but we go down. Wall Street makes a mint because most big companies are now global, but the rest of us take an increasingly painful hit. We are beginning to figure this out.

Globalism brings more than declining incomes for most Americans and Europeans. Global plagues are already in the news, from Zebra mussels and black tiger mosquitoes to diseases that kill up to 50% of infected humans. Globalism promotes immigration, sometimes of highly skilled and wealthy people, who are welcome, but too often also of masses of poor peasants who burden the economy, debase the public square and pollute the culture of their new homelands (where they have often arrived illegally). Even as it groans under a stifling cultural Marxism, Europe is beginning to resist the immigrant plague. A cleansing of the shire may be in the offing, and a second expulsion of the Moors.

Similarly, the absorption of the small by the large is a trend that may be reversing. Size can produce one benefit, cheapness. But with that come many debilities, in product quality, treatment of employees, relations with communities and awareness of (and concern about) downsides. Conservatives have long been suspicious about big government, and big everything else as well. Too often bigness creates a steamroller that flattens the local traditions and variations conservatives prize. Now the paradigm that has favored bigness since the industrial revolution is shifting. Walmart, agribusiness, and China may be on the way out. Farmers’ markets, local farms and products, and “Made in the USA” are starting to come back. This is a paradigm shift conservatives should welcome.

With it may come what may be the most important/positive change in this list: that from the institutional to the personal. Small size is part of this: Walmart cannot be personal, but the corner grocer can be and is. As technology works to disembody communication, replace the real with the virtual, and condition Brave New World’s subjects to be compliant, a new, growing network of person-to-person relationships offers the promise of restoring reality and encouraging independent thought.

If we add these up—rebuilding upon the ruins of Globalism a traditional society where most things are local, small, and personal—we get a paradigm shift that would empower real conservatism, conservatism not as a political ideology (which real conservatism can never be: as Russell Kirk wrote, “Conservatism is the negation of ideology”) but as a way of life. The 21st century will present conservatives with many new dangers, but with some opportunities as well.

This list is merely a beginning. Again, many of the paradigm shifts that will shape 21st century America cannot yet be seen. They may include the return of such historical experiences as famine and plague, as consequences of genetic engineering. The Middle Ages discovered that when you lose 60% of your population in six weeks, as some areas did when the Black Plague arrived, everything changes.

If conservatives are to protect and restore Western culture in the 21st century, we must be the first to perceive what is coming and we must have a plan of action before it gets here. To those goals our pages are devoted.

Welcome to traditionalRIGHT!

traditionalRIGHT is a journal devoted to “the Permanent Things,” as Russell Kirk called them. But we consider them here in a new context, a context defined not by current paradigms – Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal, legislative battles over gun rights, abortion, gay marriage and so on – but in paradigms now beginning to emerge. These new and radically different paradigms will define the 21st century. They will also determine the battlefields on which the Permanent Things, the truths embodied in traditional Western culture, must be defended, and we intend, led to victory.

traditionalRIGHT wishes to outline what is being called a New Traditionalism. We are inspired by the traditions and ways of life of our ancestors and of the greater Western world. We aim to bring traditionalist thinking and understanding of human nature into the forefront of politics and society.

Our publisher, William S. Lind, knew Dr. Kirk and was also an associate of the late Paul M. Weyrich for more than twenty years. With Dr. William Marshner of Christendom College he introduced the concept of cultural conservatism in two books published in the 1980s. He co-authored Paul Weyrich’s last book, The Next Conservatism (St. Augustine’s Press, 2009). Mr. Lind is also widely known for his writings on military theory and public transportation. He authors a regular column on military affairs for The American Conservative magazine and serves as Director of the affiliated American Conservative Center for Public Transportation.

Our founders are men in their twenties. They conceived this journal, knowing that their generation will face a very different environment from that in which American politics have been conducted since the end of World War II. Paradigm shifts are not small changes.

Hence, again, the purpose of this journal: to perceive these paradigm shifts as early as possible, and to ready the forces of traditionalism to operate and triumph within them. This is no easy task. Many of the paradigm shifts that will make 21st century America a radically different place have not yet begun to emerge.

But as another of our mentors, Colonel John Boyd, stressed, whoever can orient first and most accurately has a great advantage. If traitionalRIGHT succeeds in orienting traditionalists and defenders of the West to emerging paradigms before our culture’s enemies can do so, it will have accomplished all we hope for it.

Who dares wins.