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.