No one was more important than Herbert Marcuse to the effort to inject Frankfurt School’s cultural Marxism into the Boomer generation. His book Eros and Civilization, which became the Left’s bible in the 1960s, argued for replacing the “reality principle” with the “pleasure principle”. The result, Marcuse promised, would be a world of all play and no work.
The actual result has been a culture of instant gratification and with it the growing social pathologies now engulfing us. If we want to reverse America’s decline, we must again enthrone the reality principle. The reality principle says that to succeed, our actions must be based on reality, on conditions as they are and not as we might like them to be. This is especially urgent in five areas, where the relativities are:
- State capitalism is failing. State capitalism is capitalism where cozy relationships between business and government change the basis for a company’s success from building a better product at a lower price to getting special deals from government. Also known as “rent seeking”, state capitalism leads to ever-larger and more powerful corporate entities because the bigger a company is, the more money it has to give to politicians, and the more money it gives to politicians the less appetite the government has to rein in bad corporate behavior. State capitalism leads to a society with a tiny, super-wealthy elite and an even-poorer middle class. This is what the “yellow vests” in France are protesting, in what I think is only the beginning of a powerful political movement. There is an alternative to state capitalism: not socialism, which impoverishes everyone, but a regulated market that has strict limits on scale. Most finance, production, and consumption should be local.
- America’s grasp for world hegemony has already failed. After the end of the Cold War, instead of bringing our troops home and minding our own business, the foreign policy elite and the Military-Industrial-Congressional complex (the MIC) attempted to make America the only superpower, “the universal monarchy” as it used to be known when Hapsburg Spain tried the same thing. The result for both countries was mountains of debt, military failure, and economic decline. (The best book on Spain’s experience is J.H. Elliott’s The Count-Duke of Olivares; the parallels are striking). We have ended up force-feeding the flames of Fourth Generation war, war our military does not know how to fight, putting the whole state system at risk, and spurring massive invasions of Europe and North America by barbarians from the global south. There is a plausible alternative: America First, which means bringing our legions home and using them to man the limes, as President Trump is trying to do while the MIC works to block him.
- The civil rights movement has proven to be a false road for America’s blacks. While it has allowed some blacks to integrate into the middle class, it has left a large residue in urban ghettos where they have essentially been written off. Overrun by crime, drugs, illegitimacy, and welfare dependence, America’s urban black neighborhoods, too many of them, are factories of disorder, something no state can tolerate indefinitely without risking its own legitimacy. In the hands of America’s current black “leaders”, civil rights has come to mean little more than endless demands for more handouts. The promising alternative is the philosophy of Booker T. Washington, who argued that instead of saying “We’re victims, do something for us,” blacks should show by their own efforts that they can perform at the same level as whites. I’m willing to bet they can. If not, well, then they are not equal, and future policy will have to be based on that reality.
- Feminism has been a disaster for most women. While it has benefitted a small elite in business and politics, feminism, with its demand for no-fault divorce, destroyed what most women depend on for lifetime security, marriage. Men do better on their own than women, and the Boomer generation’s women find themselves, too often, alone, poor, and without a future as they get older. Feminism’s pretense that men and women are interchangeable has led to growing dysfunction in more and more areas, as women are soldiers, cops, firemen, etc. Can’t do the job but also can’t be let go. The #MeToo movement is leaving young men afraid to approach women, which is building enormous anger in men cut off from sex. When women get angry, they squawk. When men get angry, they kill. For both sexes, the alternative we know works is the Victorian doctrine of “separate spheres”, where women’s sphere, which Victorians considered the higher one, is home and family while the man brings home the bacon and both can look forward to a comfortable old age in each other’s arms.
- Cultural Marxism has proven greater failure than the old economic Marxism of the Soviet Union. Both lead to the loss of freedom of thought and expression, but economic Marxism’s shared poverty was more bearable than the isolation and anomie cultural Marxism creates as every natural relationship is perverted and every difference is rubbed raw. Cultural Marxism makes life in society impossible, which is just what its founders, Lukacs, Gramsci, Adorno, and Marcuse, wanted it to do. Their goal was “negation” or “negative dialectics”, more commonly known as nihilism: simply bringing everything down. Unless we want to live amid the ruins of our civilization, we need to turn to an alternative: retroculture. Retroculture dismisses all ideologies and says, “We’re going to return to the old ways of doing things in our own lives and the lives of our families.” As Gertrude Himmelfarb, the preeminent historian of the Victorians, has written, through the Victorian period the incidence of social problems steadily went down, while since the 1960s the incidence of social problems in our society has steadily risen. There’s a lesson in that.
There are other areas where we need to restore the reality principle; indeed, we need it everywhere if we expect our actions to yield the results we intend. Acting on any basis other than reality leads to randomness of results, disorder, entropy, and collapse. It is John Boyd’s “false orientation”. We’ve been doing it on a massive scale since the 1960s. In each case, there are reality-based alternatives that could work. Maybe it’s time for middle class Americans to start putting on those French yellow vests.
Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.