The Long View 2005-06-13: The 34th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations (ISCSC)

Hubbert's upper-bound prediction for US crude oil production (1956), and actual lower-48 states production through 2014 – By Plazak - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42670844

Hubbert's upper-bound prediction for US crude oil production (1956), and actual lower-48 states production through 2014 – By Plazak - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42670844

Peak Oil was an interesting idea. I can see how it seemed compelling: it was based on data and experience, and the model fit the data reasonably well. However, the model and it's assumptions always struck me as wrong-headed. It turns out I was right about that, but I can't claim any special prescience about the mechanism that really drove the stake in: fracking

I had forgotten about this reference to Rammstein. For a guy 25 years older than me, he continually surprised me with his cultural references.


The 34th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations (ISCSC)

 

I have been a member of the ISCSC for some years, but the only other annual conference I attended was one held at the Newark, New Jersey, campus of Rutgers University, which is just a few minutes away from where I live. This year's meeting was at the University of Saint Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, on June 9th, 10, and 11th. The only full day I was there was the 10th. I was importuned to come to this one so I could do a stand-up routine about Oswald Spengler. The conference theme was "Civilizations, Religions and Human Survival," so the obvious thing to talk about was Spengler's notion of the "Second Religiousness." Well, obvious to me.

I had never been to the Twin Cities before (Minneapolis-St. Paul). As big airports go, Lindbergh International (which is not to be confused with Humphrey) is not perhaps exceptionally huge, but it certainly looks that way, because the terminals are integrated into a single structure. I did actually check to see if there was an Amtrak route I could use. There is, I found, and it's cheap, but it would take 20 hours from New Jersey. I don't like to fly, but I don't not like to fly that much.

The University of Saint Thomas is a middle-sized Catholic institution. It dates to the late 19th century, but most of the plant seems to have been built since about 1970. It felt oddly familiar. Finally I recognized that it reminded me of Farleigh Dickenson University in New Jersey: both are "urban universities" located in leafy neighborhoods that are not particularly urban. Saint Thomas, however, is just a few blocks from the Mississippi, which is quite spectacular even so far north.

* * *

The ISCSC is in no way a politically radical group. It was founded by macrohistorians, but my own interest in macrohistory has become rare, except among some of the Japanese, about whose country Toynbee spoke so highly. Most of the papers were on aspects of globalization or on regional issues. Nonetheless, there were times during my stay when I found myself channeling Ayn Rand.

Just after I arrived, I walked in at the end of a presentation by an elderly prelate who was talking, as far as I could tell, about the role of religious groups in negotiating an end to armed conflicts. During the question-and-answer session that followed, he said he thought that the United States destroyed the Baathist government in Iraq in order to eliminate a successful model of socialism. Well, one does not heckle elderly clerics, especially when you walk in at the end of their presentation, but I was under no such inhibition at another presentation on "Peak Oil."

It wasn't a bad presentation. The thesis was that world oil production could be expected to peak in a couple of years, and that there would be economic and social disruption as prices rose thereafter. Unlike the topography of St. Paul, however, I recognized right away what this reminded of: I was hearing a scarcely updated version of one of the Club of Rome Reports from the early 1970s.

I have every confidence that an increasing scarcity of oil will have us scrambling to built new power infrastructure in fairly short order, but there is something terribly past-sell-by-date about all this. The imperative need for population control; the organization of resource use on a transnational level; the decentralization and localization of economic activity: all of this needs to begin now, the story goes, by government subsidy and coercion. When I first read this analysis and prescription in The Limits to Growth in 1972, it also sounded plausible to me. The future in Soylent Green looked plausible to me, too. Since then, the statistics have changed, but the story never does. It does not even change when, as in the case of Europe and Japan and China, something very like the Club of Rome prescription has been instituted and the societies involved are actually starting to die.

When you see that a policy prescription stays the same no matter how the facts change, you realize that the prescription is the point, not the problem it is supposed to remedy. Socialism, as the old saying goes, is the name of their desire. The only novelty is that socialism has realized it cannot create prosperity, so now it insists on mandatory poverty.

Thoughts like this make for awkward interventions in a public forum, especially when, as in this case, I was called on last, after a dozen supportive questions. I started civilly enough, though:

"Excuse me, but why would you expect command economics to work any better in the 21st century than they did in the 20th?"

"Well, you are right: it's a difficult issue. Still, I would offer Cuba as an example of a country that has successfully planned the transition to a more organic, low-energy usage society."

"What happened in Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union was not a planned transition; it was a national catastrophe. (Shouting) To made the current state of Cuba a national goal would be lunatic public policy!"

I think I got a little applause at one point. In any case, I went down to the front of the auditorium to apologize afterward. I tried to explain that you don't actually need hot-spots for geothermal climate control.

* * *

One session that might have been of interest to many readers of my blog included a presentation by one Peter O'Brien (of, I believe, San Diego), who argued that America has become sufficiently different from Europe that America must be considered a separate civilization. Among other things, he said that when Europeans said "we," it was a "we" that did not include Americans.

We have blogs so we can offer responses that we did not think of at the time. So, let me mention here that I was recently quoted in a Dutch English-language newspaper, the Amsterdam Weekly, in an article by Paul Burghout about the recent referendum on the European Union Constitution. The title of the article was "They, the People."

And what about that Rammstein song, Amerika? ("We all live in America")?

* * *

After I delivered my own paper, entitled The Second Religiousness in the 21st Century, it seemed at first that I was not going to get any questions. It turned out that the presentation had not produced indifference, but about 10 seconds of stunned silence. Then I got much better questions than I deserved, including one from an old theologian who was familiar with both William Ernest Hocking and Philip Jenkins. I got to quote C.S. Lewis on the potency of religion for good and ill ("Demons are not made from corrupted mice, but from corrupted archangels") and the Talmud on the perils of trying to engineer a religious future ("Do not force the Messiah.") I did wax a little incomprehensible when I tried to explain the relationship of metaphysical immanence to American constitutional jurisprudence, but nobody seemed to mind.

* * *

The ISCSC is meeting next year in Paris, to talk about intercivilizational bridges. I think I will give that one a miss.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Spirit Wars

John Crowley

John Crowley

Now nearly twenty years old, this book review is a pretty good primer of the cultural movements in America that made the Da Vinci Code a best-seller.

So far, the biggest religious revival of the early twenty-first century has been an increasing lack of religious affiliation at all. The Second Religiousness may yet come, but it isn't here yet.


Spirit Wars: Pagan Renewal in Christian America
by Peter Jones
WinePress Publishing, 1997
$18.95, 331 pages
ISBN: 1-883893-74-7

 

A Preview of the Great Apostasy?

 

"Where was it ...said...that in the religious history of the West the old gods are always turning into devils, cast from their thrones into dark undergrounds, to be lords over the dead and the wicked? It had happened to..the Northern gods...who became horned devils for Christians to fear...And now look, the wheel turns, Jehovah becomes the devil. Old Nobadaddy, liver-spotted greasy-bearded jealous God, spread over his hoard of blessings like the Dragon, surrounded by his sycophants singing praises, never enough though...
(John Crowley, "Love & Sleep," pages 499-500)

 

It's a rare American church-goer who has not noticed that at least some of the leaders of his denomination have been talking funny in recent years. The use of gender-neutral language does not prove much, since this is becoming a standard professional-class dialect (failure to use which is in some cases actionable at law). Nevertheless, even the most trusting parishioner has to wonder whether new formulas like "Creator, Savior, Comforter" really mean the same as the old "Father, Son, Holy Spirit." Perhaps more incomprehensible to the folks in the pews has been the dogmatization of ecology, which might seem to some people to be the paradigm case of a prudential issue.

Paradoxically, it is only in the most extreme situations, where pastors speak openly of the Earth as the goddess Gaia and churches invite practicing witches to lead Bible study groups on Halloween, that it really becomes clear what is going on. The bald truth is that a large slice of the American theological establishment has abandoned Christianity as expressed in its traditional creedal formulations and adopted a species of gnosticism. "Spirit Wars," a new book by Peter Jones, currently Professor of New Testament at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, California, is a guide to this new religion, showing how it fits into the intellectual landscape of late twentieth century America and describing in detail its many close links with the classical gnostic heresies of the first few centuries A.D.

Professor Jones writes from an evangelical perspective, though not without reference to the state of Judaism and the Roman Catholic Church. (Regarding the latter, he quotes frequently from Donna Steichen's "Ungodly Rage.") With a masters degree from the Harvard Divinity School and a doctorate from the Princeton Theological Seminary, he is certainly in a position to describe the progressive paganization of the leadership of the mainline churches in America. Though British-born, he seems to have made his way through the great educational institutions of the United States just before the Long March of `60s ideology began. Unlike many of his younger colleagues today, he is therefore still able to be shocked.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the book is the connections it makes between the resurgence of gnosticism and other trends in the academy and politics. The literary technique known as deconstruction, for instance, helped to create the intellectual universe in which the transcendental monotheism of orthodox Christianity became quite literally unthinkable to many people with expensive educations. I might add that, most recently, deconstruction (which turned out to have been founded by Nazis) has been superseded in some institutions by some form of "historicism." As practiced by many prominent theologians, this approach essentially consists of recasting biblical history to fit an ideological perspective. The metaphysical anti-monotheism inculcated by deconstruction still remains, of course, but there has been added to it a profound dishonesty in the use of historical sources.

Even more interesting, perhaps, is Jones's assertion that American gnosticism has begun to serve as the theological underpinning of cultural and even political liberalism. For two centuries, the chief alternative to orthodox Christianity was atheist humanism, or agnostic scientism, or at any rate some way of looking at the world that categorically excluded the supernatural. This is no longer the case. Increasingly, people who oppose traditional ethics and who seek to collapse the human race into the natural world are claiming some sort of supernatural sanction. This trend has entered the mainstream to an appalling degree, as even a cursory familiarity with Vice President Al Gore's preachy eco-feminist tract, "Earth in the Balance," will confirm. In some ways, the people who control the key institutions of American society are more pious than their predecessors were a century ago. The problem is that this piety is directed toward objects that have less and less in common with the religion of the people these institutions are supposed to serve and represent.

The origins of gnosticism are disputed, as is the precise time of its appearance, but it is clear that in the first few centuries after Jesus there was a variety of sects, other than the orthodox church, that claimed to be Christian, indeed to be the true and esoteric Christianity. They changed and multiplied, as their adherents followed after one charismatic adept after another, but a few themes and names stand out. Marcion, for instance, who lived in the second century, essentially threw out the whole Old Testament as the work of the devil and kept only fragments of the New. Others, such Valentinus, tended to keep the scriptures but modified their meaning. As a rule, though, in gnostic speculation the God of the Jews was denounced as a tyrant who had created the inferior world in which we live. His law is folly and his promises are lies. The universe over which he rules is a multi-layered prison in which human beings are confined in ignorance of their origin and destiny. The serpent in the Garden of Eden was seeking to liberate mankind, and Eve was its prophet.

In most gnostic systems, there is indeed a god worthy of worship, but one wholly alien to this world. This god is neither male nor female, neither good nor evil, but beyond all categories even by analogy. The Christ is his agent, but understood primarily as a psychological function. The Jesus of history, to the extent the gnostics were interested in him at all, was an exemplar rather than a redeemer. Human beings contain the "sparks" of the alien god. After many incarnations, these captive souls may hope to attain the "knowledge," the "gnosis" (the words are cognate, by the way) that will allow them to return to their origin.

How did the sparks get there? They are trapped, through "love and sleep," in the mass of the world, into which a fragment of the complex divine reality called the "pleroma" has fallen. This final emanation of the divine is called Sophia, "wisdom." She is conceived of as a goddess whose fear and terror and grief at her separation from the pleroma gave birth to the Demiurge, the false god of our creation. There is a "higher" or unfallen aspect of Sophia who works to undo the enslavement of the divine to matter and to rescue the human race from the world of birth, death and division.

Now, all of this sounds like pretty esoteric stuff, something that only scholars or would-be magicians might be expected to run across. Until a few years ago, that was largely true. Today, in contrast, expressions of gnosticism turn up in the most unexpected places. Consider, for instance, the following autobiographical description of a vision experienced by the author of a recent book that dealt largely with the state of current progress toward a unified field theory in physics:

"...I became convinced...that I was the only conscious being in the universe. There was no future, no past, no present other than what I imagined them to be. I was filled, initially, with a sense of limitless joy and power. Then, abruptly, I became convinced that if I abandoned myself further to ecstasy, it might consume me...With this realization, my bliss turned into horror...As I fell I dissolved into what seemed to be an infinity of selves."
(John Horgan, "The End of Science," page 261)

The interesting point here is that the writer of this passage had apparently never heard of the gnostic doctrine that the world had been created through God's own fear. He mulled over this experience for many years and eventually wrote "The End of Science" to work through the possibility of a downside to omniscience. However, most people do get their ideas about gnosticism from books rather than personal experience. With certain adaptations, all of the themes described above as elements of ancient gnosticism now have modern analogues, expounded in prestigious schools of divinity and, in many cases, preached to actual congregations.

Some things have needed translation, of course. Classical gnostics loathed matter and the structures of this world because they thought there was an immeasurably better world elsewhere. However, though this better reality was absolutely transcendent, they believed the way to find it was by looking within. In modern gnosticism, in contrast, the transcendent is a more muted theme; any appeal to the "beyond" is likely to be denounced as an ideology. The search within continues, however. Instead of seeking union with the alien god, modern gnostics seek their authentic selves. The techniques for this search are therefore more likely to be considered therapy than magic, though in fact rather a lot of traditional hocus-pocus has become fashionable in progressive religious circles.

In any event, today the opposition to the "structures of this world" is at least as fierce as it was in the religious underground of second-century Alexandria. To take the most colorful example: if the God of Genesis said to be fruitful and multiply but otherwise to behave yourself, then obviously the way to subvert his law is to engage in any form of sex that does not result in children. There has always been a real horror of reproduction in gnostics of all ages. This sentiment was well expressed by Jack Kerouac in his declining years, when he regretted that he had fathered a daughter and thereby had added to the "meat-wheel" of the world system. Similarly, both in modern and in ancient times, there has been a strong gnostic tendency to regard homosexuality as metaphysically superior, since it moves beyond the division of gender roles established by the Demiurge.

Modern gnosticism is predominantly feminist, and indeed to the extent that feminism seeks an ontological justification, gnosticism is probably it. However, we should keep in mind that consciously gnostic feminism has as little to do with the actual needs and concerns of most women as Leninism does with those of industrial workers. I, at least, am increasingly convinced that the role of feminism in the critique of the Western tradition is in any case largely instrumental. Notions like "patriarchy" are essentially a form of class analysis, with the genders substituted for economic classes. It is an unfalsifiable hypothesis. Like the term "bourgeois," it is a cuss-word rather than a description of anything. When the whole of art and science and politics are denounced as part of a system of patriarchal oppression, the point is not to draw attention to unjust gender-relationships, the point is to get rid of the art and the science and the politics. Again, the impulse here is fundamentally gnostic, a studied loathing of ordinary life not because it is evil, but because it exists.

A novel aspect of modern gnosticism is its millenarian streak. Ancient gnostics anticipated that the corrupt world system created by the incompetent Demiurge would come crashing down one day, but they did not normally anticipate it happening anytime soon. They were wholly uninterested in transforming the world or in becoming a universal faith. In today's gnosticism, in contrast, there is a strong dispensationalist sentiment. The Age of Christianity (or of Jehovah) is over, they say, and the New Age is about to begin. Among feminist gnostics, the motto "women will destroy god" is frequently met with. There is a high end and a low end to this sentiment. The low end is represented by "witches" who conduct gothic ceremonies in honor of the return of the Goddess Sophia. The high end is represented by people like Joseph Campbell, who held that the global society of the third millennium requires a new global myth, one consonant with modern science and social practice. There is no lack of perfectly respectable people, again notably including Al Gore, who have suggested that the myth of the Goddess Gaia, of the Earth as organism, might serve this function. Thus, modern gnosticism has plans not only for destruction, but for the reconstruction to follow.

On a less global level, vandalism is a good enough description for what has been happening in the Protestant mainline churches and elements of the Catholic Church for the past quarter century. (Actually, in the case of Catholic parish churches, "vandalism" is not a mere metaphor, considering the ghastly effect that modernizing liturgists have had on the ornamentation and design of church buildings.) Church-goers who have been paying any attention at all have had little trouble following the irresponsible mutations that have occurred in the treatment of scripture and liturgy.

Peter Jones is particularly exercised by the proliferation of tendentious Bible translations in recent years. Perhaps the most dishonest exercise so far has been "The Five Gospels," a heavily-marketed translation of the four canonical gospels, plus the "Gospel of Thomas," a work that came to light among the gnostic texts found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945. The "Gospel of Thomas" is simply not a "gospel," both because it is of later composition and quite different in form, a mere collection of sayings attributed to Jesus. Nevertheless, this is precisely the kind of distinction that many modern theologians have been systematically subverting.

The progressive line now is that the gnostics had as much right to be considered Christians as did the orthodox Church. The victory of one faction over the other was a matter of pure chance, the outcome of a power struggle. How Christian orthodoxy, an outlawed religion for three centuries, could have won a power struggle against anybody is hard to see. Syncretistic religions that included elements of Christianity were not illegal; a statue of Jesus stood in the pantheon of the third century emperor Alexander Severus. Nevertheless, in the interests of inclusiveness, "Gnostic Bibles" containing apocryphal literature from Nag Hammadi and other sources have already begun to appear. They find increasing acceptance in seminaries where the whole idea of a biblical canon is under question.

The situation is only exacerbated by enterprises like the "Jesus Seminar," whose participants vote periodically on which elements of the New Testament should be given what level of credence, and particularly on which sayings attributed to Jesus were really his. The sayings they endorse are those that suggest Jesus was mostly interested in finding the inner self and subverting gender roles. The Seminar is, as Jones notes, essentially a hoax perpetrated by people with impeccable credentials. However, it has the backing of Time Magazine, which gives choice bits of its "discoveries" wide publicity every Christmas and Easter.

Just thinking about this subject is enough to invite cosmic paranoia (which is a good definition for gnosticism in the first place). And then, of course, sometimes merely odd stuff happens. As I mentioned, Peter Jones is English, and he hails from Liverpool. In fact, he was a good friend of John Lennon in high school. They parted company when Lennon went to vocational school for the arts while Jones took a college track. Jones pronounces himself mystified as to how, despite this divergence in education, Lennon was incorporating gnostic themes into his later work that Jones knew about only because he had studied patristics. I mention this because, a few hours before starting to read this book, I was poking about on the Web and I came across a site whose author purported to be no less a person than Antichrist himself. Of course, sites purportedly maintained by Abraham Lincoln are probably no less numerous than those maintained by Antichrist. This particular Antichrist, however, had an eschatology that incorporated John Lennon as the final incarnation of Christ, so that Lennon's death marked the beginning of the end of the Christian era. I hate it when this kind of thing happens.

Spirit Wars is in fact fairly free of paranoia and quite devoid of conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, towards the end of the book, Jones does permit himself this observation:

"As she covers her anemic body with a fake robe of Christ, Sophia begins to look more and more like the harlot of the Apocalypse, that startling image of an apostate Church, fornicating with the kings of the earth, drunk with the blood of the saints and the martyrs of Jesus. On the threshold of the third millennium, the `Spirit Wars' have begun in dead earnest, though at present we have only seen the initial skirmishes. Sophia is only at the beginning of her reign."
(Spirit Wars, page 257)

Well, maybe. On the other hand, there are some other points to consider. The big one is the size of gnosticism's actual audience. Peter Jones cites dozens of conferences, books and papers that propound a gnostic point of view (the book has 60 pages of notes; I just wish it had a better index). I am quite ready to believe, as Jones suggests, that gnosticism is now the orthodoxy of many of America's major seminaries. Still, he does overlook one key point about the power of gnosticism: it empties churches faster than stink bombs. The mainline Protestant churches with which Jones is primarily concerned have been bleeding membership for thirty years. They adopted fad after fad in theology and liturgy, so that when gnosticism and feminism came along they had no living tradition of resistance. The result was that soon many such churches also had no members.

On the Catholic side, of course, the saddest case has been what happened to American nuns. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, some few orders made only the modest reforms suggested by the Council, and at this writing they look like they will survive. Most, however, followed essentially the same gnosticizing trend as, say, the Episcopal Church in America. The result is that the scariest academic conferences Jones discusses, in which the God of the Bible is denounced as an idol and goddesses are openly worshipped, are largely populated by Catholic nuns. They are, however, for the most part aging nuns. Their orders do not attract new members. They can solicit contributions from ordinary Catholics successfully only by appealing to old memories of parochial school graduates. Their fate is as clear an indication as one could wish that liberal Christianity has no future.

The churches that are growing in the United States are for the most part those that make some effort to remain theologically conservative, though one might wish that they could combine this endeavor with a higher level of theological sophistication. Some of the mainline churches, notably the Presbyterians, have recoiled from the abyss at the insistence of their local memberships and started firing liberal staff in their central organizations. The Catholic Church in this decade has produced a thoroughly orthodox Catechism that has reached a wide popular audience despite the efforts of liberal ecclesiastical bureaucrats to suppress it. While these developments hardly constitute rollback (a fine old Cold War expression), they do suggest that Sophia is not having things all her own way.

Finally, there is one other point to consider in assessing the prospects of modern gnosticism. The religious future of the West cannot be discussed without reference to the future of the West as a whole. Peter Jones notes the analogies between the religious climate of the early Christian centuries and that of today. Cyclical historians have given this matter a great deal of thought. Jones cites Toynbee on the subject, who says that the twentieth century will be remembered as the time when the "Higher Religion" of the third millennium appeared. You may pick your own favorite historical tea-leaf reader, but mine is Oswald Spengler. Writing seventy years ago, he used the term "Second Religiousness" to describe the cultural state of old civilizations, after their "modern" eras have ended. According to him, it is precisely in this final phase that "fancy-religions" like Theosophy and the cult of Isis lose their appeal. Civilizations return to the forms of their springtimes, which in the case of the West means a form of conservative Christianity. It is not wholly clear that time is on the gnostics' side.

This article originally appeared in the October 1997 issue of Culture Wars magazine. Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Coming World Civilization

William Ernest Hocking

William Ernest Hocking

The most interesting idea to come out of this book by William Ernest Hocking is the 'unlosables', those aspects of a culture that persist even when the society that created them falls into decay. It the unlosables that we speak of when we refer to the Greek or Roman heritage of the West. In many ways, Western Civilization has very little in common with Classical Greece or Rome. The Roman ideal of justice, for example, would be seen as unspeakably brutal by nearly everyone in the United States or Western Europe. Yet, there is a certain something that we do share, that has outlived its creators by millennia.

Hocking wanted to sift out what is unlosable in our civilization. John wasn't entirely sure he got there, but it is much harder to evaluate our own selves in such a way.

There are a couple of really striking paragraphs here:

First, from Hocking:

“We have taken it for granted that the state can deal with crime, as its most potent function in maintaining public order. We have believed that it can educate our young. We have assumed that while leaving economic enterprise largely to its own energies, the state can cover the failures of the system, protecting individuals from destitution, caring for the aged and the ill. We gave taken it as axiomatic that it can make just laws, and provide through a responsible legal profession for the due service to the people.
“We are discovering today, startled and incredulous, that the state by itself can do none of these things.”

And next, from John Reilly:

One does not often come across new ethical principles for the first time, but this book states one that was new to me: only the good man can be punished. Bad men can, presumably, be deterred, and their behavior can be modified in other ways, but the disposition of the individual concerned makes a difference. Rights assume the presence of good will in the citizen. That good will can come only from a pre-political condition, which the state cannot control. That is what religion is for.

These two ideas have stuck with me for a very long time. Perhaps not unlosable, but pretty good. I shan't speculate what might fit that requirement; the only way I know to identify them is after the fact. If you could identify these ideas in advance, that Golden Age scifi conceit of truly scientific social science might become a reality.

Richard Dawkins' memes have not proven to be particularly useful as scientific concepts, but Hocking's unlosables seem to share a family resemblance to memes. In an analogous way to how genes outlast the species in which they evolved, unlosables can persist when a culture has been entirely eliminated from the Earth.  More's the pity that Dawkins never read anything by a real philosopher, it might have helped him shore up his most distinctive idea.


The Coming World Civilization
By William Ernest Hocking
Harper & Brothers, 1956
210 Pages

 

 

This book is about just one feature of the hypothetical coming world civilization: the nature of the religion that civilization will need to undergird it. The gist of the answer is that Christianity is best suited for that role, but a Christianity stripped of mythology, and reconceptualized in existential terms. The book's argument has many similarities to esoteric Tradition, but is devoid of reference to the modern esoteric writers.

William Ernest Hocking (1873-1966) chaired the philosophy department at Harvard University around 1940; Alfred North Whitehead was a colleague. This book is influenced by the Harvard pragmatists friendly to theism, William James and Josiah Royce, whose careers at Harvard ended about the time Hocking's began in 1914. However, Hocking wrote “The Coming World Civilization” when Toynbee was in flower. That was the last time, before the 1990s, when people were inclined to speculate about universal states, the role of religion in world order, and the conflicts among civilizations. Already in 1956, Hocking was trying to view the modern era as a whole, and to imagine what would come after it.

Hocking does not trouble to argue for the inevitability of a world civilization. He simply notes that, though civilizations rise and fall, they never fall below the starting point of the last rise. Civilizations create “unlosables,” technologies and ideas and ethical principles, which become part of the ever-increasing common heritage of the race. Mechanically, the world was already unified by the middle of the 20th century. The problem Hocking addresses here is that a world civilization, like any other civilization, needs something more than a common technology, or even a common politics:

“[T]he secular state by itself is not enough...just as economics can no longer consider itself a closed science, so politics can no longer consider itself a closed art – the state depends for its vitality upon a motivation which it cannot by itself command.”

Hocking's description of the limits of the competence of the state is fascinating for several reasons, not the least of which is that he takes propositions as self-evident that neoconservatives were just beginning to articulate thirty years later:

“We have taken it for granted that the state can deal with crime, as its most potent function in maintaining public order. We have believed that it can educate our young. We have assumed that while leaving economic enterprise largely to its own energies, the state can cover the failures of the system, protecting individuals from destitution, caring for the aged and the ill. We gave taken it as axiomatic that it can make just laws, and provide through a responsible legal profession for the due service to the people.

“We are discovering today, startled and incredulous, that the state by itself can do none of these things.”

One does not often come across new ethical principles for the first time, but this book states one that was new to me: only the good man can be punished. Bad men can, presumably, be deterred, and their behavior can be modified in other ways, but the disposition of the individual concerned makes a difference. Rights assume the presence of good will in the citizen. That good will can come only from a pre-political condition, which the state cannot control. That is what religion is for.

Many Traditionalists, however defined, foresee that the modern age will not last forever. Often they see it as a total loss, and they cannot wait for it to be over. Hocking, too, looks for the end of modernity at no very distant date. (The nearly 50 years since the writing of this book are still no great distance in history.) His endeavor, though, is to discern the “unlosables” that modernity has achieved, and to separate them from the characteristic faults of the era.

Modern individualism, in Hocking's estimation, is one such advance. Unfortunately, it is tinged by the malady of meaninglessness. Because of Kant and Descartes, it has a subjective base, which serves to separate the individual from any greater whole from which meaning might descend.

The problem of modern individuality is solipsism. It cannot be remedied by a retreat to pre-modern religion, not if we are to preserve the depth of modern subjectivity. (The loss of which would mean what? A world without autobiographical novels?) Rather, we must pass straight through modernity, to the other side. The key to that is the recognition that each subject has a common experience: the Thou-art relationship.

The “thou” here is not just other people, but also the experience of a world. A world is far more than a mere collection of experiences. It is coherent in the way that our experience of other people is personal. In fact, the world is personal, if not quite a person. As for the “selves” in this world, we must recognize that we know other selves in much the way we known our own thinking self: the self is a concept, never a matter of direct perception.

The experience of the Thou is the foundation of science, which is identical to the intuition of the existence of God:

“All this is wrapped up in the spontaneous impulsive summoning of one's will to think, the simplest and most general response to the presence in experience of the universal Other-mind.

“The strength and persistence of that response is seen in the corporate and historic edifice we call 'science,' a building surely not made with hands.”

The religion of the coming civilization will mend the link between the modern soul and the Absolute. At any rate, it better. Modern subjectivity and science are among the unlosables. They will become universals. The problem is that, in the West, these advances were predicated on specific motivations and a characteristic morale; the advances meant specific things, and Western civilization developed the reflexes to deal with them. These predicates are not found in other civilizations. If subjectivity and science are not incorporated into a spirituality, the result will be incalculable. That is why Christianity is most likely to play the central role in integrating the world's great faiths in the coming era: the problems of modernity are Christian problems, with which Christianity is learning to deal.

Consider, for instance, the most extreme view of 19th-century science, that the world is nothing but dead matter. Hocking calls that “the Night Vision.” He also argues that it is a great moral achievement. Western science is based on the virtues of humility and austerity: humility before the facts, and the rejection of extravagance in the making of hypotheses. Francis Bacon said: “We cannot command nature except by obeying her.” Science is the willful suppression of self-will. Only thus could the will of God be known, as manifest in the created world.

Hocking also points out that only the purposeless physical world revealed by science could morally become the object of human purpose. Opening the world to human exploitation is another real advance.

The science of Christendom naturally pushed toward autonomy, toward a system of the physical world in which God does not interfere. The tension between this science and the religion that created it haunts modern man, but it is a fruitful tension. Religion rests on a broad empiricism, which understands that the world transcends scientific questions, but which does not challenge science within its own sphere. Much of the modern malaise comes from false science, which tries to put forward metaphysical propositions about meaning and truth for which science offers no warrant.

In Western history, as the arts and sciences were freed from religion, they curbed and instructed Christianity. By removing the historical and cultural excrescences that had made Christianity specifically Western, free thought is making Christianity universal. Christianity is not going to lose its particularity, or the marks of its history. However, if it is to play a universal role, it must be purged and purified and simplified enough to represent universals to the whole world.

Christianity, Hocking assures us, is a religion of induction. This is how Jesus could say that love of God and love of neighbor are the whole of the Law and the Prophets. There are, of course, particulars of Christian ethics, which are often paralleled in other traditions: kindness to enemies; the need for rebirth; the injunctions, not just to do certain things, but also to feel in a certain way. However, this can all be summed up in the Great Induction: “He that loseth his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”

Christianity is not a sacrifice, then, but the will to create through suffering. Its moral code is inseparable from a worldview in which the most real is the all-loving.

Hocking allows for a supernatural only in the sense that not all real questions are scientific questions. Thus, the will, particularly the will to futurity, is supernatural: what the world should be like in the future is not a question science can answer. Similarly, the sense of sin is direct participation in the divine nature. This creedless experience of God is always immediate: at this deep level, there are no disciples at second hand.

Assume that the Christian movement succeeds in purifying itself to its simple essence. It would thereby cease to be specifically Western, and so more fitted for a universal role. But what would the religious system of the coming world civilization look like?

The key is that a universal system can affirm some things without necessarily rejecting everything else. Hocking assures us there is an intuitive recognition of mystic by mystic across the boundaries of the great religions. Thus, the great religions are already united at their summits. This is far from saying that every religion is essentially the same, or that one is no better than another. Indifferentism, relativism, and syncretism betray the search for truth.

The historic faiths will survive in the world civilization, but will not seek to displace each other. Rather, they will share a “reverence for reverence.” The struggle against idolatry will continue, but within each religious tradition, not between them. In much the same way, nations in the coming civilization will retain their value and historical mission. A spiritually and culturally homogenous world would be a nightmare.

* * *

Readers will have gathered that, to some extent, this book is a period piece. At least in the field of religion, I have encountered few other works that appealed so strongly to the authority of experience, while insisting so hard that experience must behave itself. Quite aside from Hocking's unconsidered dismissal of the supernatural as conventionally understood, there is something odd about his tendency to equate “mysticism” with the existentialist's intuition of Being. Agony and ecstasy, much less flaming chariots and the dread of Hell, seem to play no part in the spirituality of the world civilization. Hocking is aware of this himself. He expresses the hope that the East might add healthy fanaticism to the West's maturity. The problem is that all this rather misses what religion means to people at all levels of sophistication.

Hocking's account of Christianity as a system of inductions is fascinating, but it's not Christianity. People bother with Jesus because of the Atonement; Christian ethics is simply a radiation from that core. The ethics is not, frankly, all that interesting. In the early 21st century, a stripped-down form of Christianity does in fact bid fair to become a universal religion, but it has less to do with existentialism than with Pentecostalism.

Nonetheless, this book is full of wisdom. It gives a satisfactory, if not wholly unchallengeable, answer to the problem of solipsism. That “quiet music in the back of the mind” (I think of it as a prosaic hum) that William James described as the everyday sense of the presence of God may not be the Beatific Vision, but it is not a bad place to begin theological inquiry. There is nothing wrong with a phenomenological approach to the spiritual life. That is what John Paul II has been up to all these years.

And what about the central questions of the book? Does a world civilization require a world religion? Can this religion be unified at the top, in the sphere of religious genius, while the spiritual life of ordinary mankind continues in its colorful variety? No, not if the religion is God's doing. God doesn't start at the top. You can look it up.  

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Coming World Civilization
By William Ernest Hocking

The Long View: Nonzero

I'm not any sort of a biologist, but describing the rise of multicellular life as "altruistic" seems a bit off to me. Maybe it is just because I have been reading so much of Greg Cochran's acerbic wit recently, but I think you get a lot more out of evolution and genetics if you take the time to understand the mechanisms by which they work before you write a book on it. Obviously, it didn't hurt Wright's career to speak loosely in this fashion.

It is in fact correct to say that:

Properties, then, tend to be imitated or circumvented by competing organisms over the long run, even though the particular species, lineages and cultures that developed them may die out. Die-offs sprinkle the fossil record, but none yet has sent life back to the primordial soup. Civilizations may rise and fall, but technologies like metallurgy and literacy persist even through dark ages.

I just think you get more out of the idea once you that in some cases the genes that cause certain adaptations can outlive the species in which they originate, sometimes ending up in truly strange places, and also that convergent evolution can come up with the same solution more than once if the payoff is big enough.

Since in a sense genes are information, it probably is interesting and useful to compare this mechanism to the ways technologies and cultural behaviors sometimes outlive the cultures the created them. It is probably also easy to go too far here.

I had clearly read this before, but it is interesting to be reminded that the mid-twentieth century turn against teleology and final causes was initially primarily directed against Marxists. 


 Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny
by Robert Wright
Pantheon, 2000
435 Pages, US $27.50
ISBN: 0-679-44252-9

The Return of Teleology

 

If this book is a harbinger of things to come, Teilhard de Chardin and Arnold Toynbee are back. So, perhaps, are many other features of the universalizing historical optimism of the middle 20th century. Once again, people will think of cultural history as the culmination of biological history. Societies will be ranked as lower and higher, and the latter will be preferred to the former. Morality will be grounded in ontology. World government will be seen to be inevitable. Maybe SUVs will start to sprout 1950s-style tailfins. Even historical determinism allows for some surprises.

Robert Wright is the author of "The Moral Animal" and "Three Scientists and Their Gods." He has been trying for some years to tie together popular genetics, moral theory and public policy, usually to provocative effect. In "Nonzero," Wright provides a witty critique of the "relativism," for lack of a better term, that came to dominate so much of the last century's anthropology and even evolutionary theory. He does this in the context of explaining the implications of a simple mechanism that makes progress (no skeptical quotation marks needed) both largely linear and fairly inevitable. The critique is pretty persuasive. The universal model of history needs work.

By his own account, Wright is in effect trying to rephrase Teilhard's philosophy in mechanistic terms, thus saving it from the mystical vitalism that has made it such a fat target for metaphysical materialists these past forty years. Wright's chosen mechanism is the principle of non-zero-sum interaction, a notion that comes from game theory.

Interactions are said to be non-zero-sum when both parties benefit. Zero-sum interactions, in contrast, are those in which one party wins everything and the other party simply loses. The same interaction can have both zero-sum and non-zero-sum elements. In a negotiated sale from which both parties benefit, for instance, it is still possible for one party to get a better-than-necessary price at the other party's expense. In any case, an effect of non-zero-sum interactions is that the parties tend to prosper and interact again, while zero-sum parties tend to destroy or drive each other away. Thus, says Wright, the key to history is that the area of non-zero-sumness tends to increase over time.

This is just as simple-minded as it sounds, but it is hard to believe there is not something to it. It is obvious enough how this kind of logic applies to the growth of trading networks and political entities. It applies even to war. Two different tribes that are seeking to occupy the same territory might have a zero-sum relationship to each other, but the exigencies of conflict tend to increase the level of non-zero-sumness within each group as it organizes to defeat its rival.

The same principle applies to biological evolution, according to Wright. He says he has no idea how life started. However, once it got off the ground, it benefited organisms with the same DNA to act "altruistically" toward each other, thus forming the basis for the assembly of multicellular organisms and, later, of mutual support among kin groups. The point Wright wishes to emphasize is that biology is a matter of information transfer and feedback, in a sense that is more than trivially analogous to, say, a financial system or the interaction that goes on over time among scientists and inventors.

The means by which non-zero-sumness advances is the discovery, by internally altruistic units, of new "properties" that advance their interests. In biology, these properties include abilities that range from endothermy to flight to the various sorts and levels of intelligence. In cultural evolution, they are "memes," skills and ideas from basket weaving to literacy to the Nicene Creed. These properties are only in part adaptations to a nonliving environment. The environment for organisms consists for the most part of other organisms, just as society is other people. Properties, then, tend to be imitated or circumvented by competing organisms over the long run, even though the particular species, lineages and cultures that developed them may die out. Die-offs sprinkle the fossil record, but none yet has sent life back to the primordial soup. Civilizations may rise and fall, but technologies like metallurgy and literacy persist even through dark ages.

"Nonzero" repeats the critique that Wright has recently made of Stephen Jay Gould's persistent efforts to cast biological history as a pure "random walk," a process with no particular direction that certainly was not likely to produce tool-and-language using entities like ourselves. It may be a rhetorical flourish on Wright's part to say that he, too, would be a creationist if Gould's ideas really represented the best that evolutionary science could do. Still, by marshaling both the factual problems that Gould's interpretations have encountered in recent years, alongside a catalogue of familiar objections that Gould has studiously declined to address, Wright does make the popular-science relativism that Gould has been promoting look very flimsy indeed.

Wright, for his part, does think that evolution was very likely to produce creatures like ourselves. He further thinks that cultural evolution was bound to be a story in which, after a slow start, technology would grow ever more powerful and the size of social organizations would tend to increase. Additionally, patterns of non-zero-sum cooperation would tend to win out against zero-sum oppression within societies and against zero-sum predation between societies. The latest evolutionary property that Wright sees emerging in the world is the incarnation of Teilhard's "noosphere," the global community of mind, in the form of the Internet. We are now, he says, in "the storm before the calm." Patterns of cultural and economic exchange have become planet-wide, while governments are still national or regional. It is one of the laws of history, he tells us, that systems of governance tend to expand to cover economic systems. Thus, though we may be in for some "instabilities of transition," a unified world is not very far in the future, and non-zero-sumness will be all in all.

It is, perhaps, some argument against the hypothesis of history as a perfectly progressive process that universal optimism seems to have grown coarser since the last time Teilhard and Toynbee were in flower. Whatever their other failings, they at least expected some historical sense in their readers, and their theories were informed by an ancient philosophical tradition. Wright, in contrast, has no other resource but to rattle Richard Dawkin's dinky little memes around in an algorithmic tin can. This restriction of the argument to reductionist premises is deliberate. Wright is trying to show that, even assuming a world wholly devoid of spirit or the supernatural, history would still have direction and even meaning. He wraps up his mechanistic model of history with the acknowledgment that the real world is clearly not as threadbare as the behaviorists would have it, and indulges in some theological speculation about what a world that is only potentially good might tell us about God.

Even within the limits that Wright has set himself, there are problems with his model of history as an information processing system. The chief of these is that the book has no sense of non-linearity (or, in older terms, of the dialectic). There are in fact some eras when human beings become more numerous, freer and richer. We are living in such an era now. However, history does not show a smoothly rising graph of any of these things (population included). In fact, setbacks, reversals and long periods of stasis seem to be inherent in history, both human and biological. This is one area in which Wright might have been more patient with the heresiarch Gould, whose idea of punctuated equilibrium really does tell us quite a lot about how the world works.

Though one could add many other reservations about "Nonzero," and even wish that Wright had written the book from a broader perspective, reasonable people may nonetheless conclude that the book's basic thesis is more correct than otherwise. In any case, there is some reason to suppose that this may be a thesis whose time has come.

Wright notes the liberal politics of the 1920s made cultural anthropology skittish about the idea of progressive cultural evolution, and that the revolt that began at midcentury against teleology in all its forms had an anti-Marxist inspiration. (Gould's ideas seem to have been inspired by a fear of religion, but that's another story.) Today, after the recoil into state control that characterized the 20th century, the process of global economic and cultural integration is once again reaching deep into the domestic life of the world's societies. Even people who say they oppose "globalization" usually mean that they want the process to be controlled by universal regulators of one kind or another. Though the sides in world politics are becoming more distinct, they still lack coherent theories. The chance that the politics of globalization will incorporate ideas like Wright's is distinctly nonzero.  

This review appeared in the Spring 2002 issue of the Comparative Civilizations Review, after first appearing on this website. Copyright © 2000 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Coming Caesars

Riencourt's book makes the argument that America is literally the second coming of Rome. In this, he follows the views of many of the American founders. I stumbled on this idea when I was reading about Cincinnatus, the Roman who was twice elected dictator, and twice resigned his imperium. One of the books I read was a detailed study of the art and iconography of revolutionary and post-revolutionary America, and it was pretty clear the Americans saw themselves as Romans.

Also, the form of government selected by the founders was a republic, in imitation of Rome. The founders saw a republic as a mixed government, following Polybius, blending monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. Of course, the Roman Republic eventually became the Roman Empire, which is the transition everyone is interested in, including Riencourt.

In 2003, this book was out of print, but now a new edition is available. In this book review, John talks about keeping track of Spengler's successes and failures at predicting the future. Spengler had a pretty good track record, although some of his successful predictions might have surprised him.

I think the same is true of John. Here is an interesting prediction: American political parties are less ideological constructs than vehicles for charismatic personalities seeking office.Interpret as you will.

Table of Contents

Introduction

From Culture to Civilization

God, Space, & Law

The American Psyche

Russia & Communism

The Necessity of Empire

Tribune, President, Emperor

When the Future Becomes the Past


The Coming Caesars

By Amaury de Riencourt

Jonathan Cape, 1958

384 pages; Out of Print

No ISBN.

 

Introduction

Since Oswald Spengler first published The Decline of the West at the end of the First World War, a main attraction of the comparative study of civilizations has been the prospect of predicting the future. As more and more of that future has passed, this attraction has only increased. It's not that Spengler was a perfect prophet. Even when he was right about the future, he was right in ways he did not foresee. Still, though taking Spengler too literally has never done anyone any good, there is something to be said for keeping track of the successes and failures of the great doomsayer.

The Coming Caesars was published just 40 years after the first volume of The Decline appeared. It was much discussed by the intelligent Right in its day, perhaps in part because Arnold Toynbee's Study of History was still on people's minds. However, The Coming Caesars does not even mention that enormous work. The author, a Frenchman with extensive experience of the United States, adheres closely to Spengler's views and methods. There is one big difference. Spengler hoped that Germany would play the “Rome” of the future. Riencourt makes the most detailed argument I know for the proposition that America does not just have a Roman future, but an essentially Roman culture.

This review was written about as long after the publication of The Coming Caesars as that book was published after The Decline of the West. Surely it's time to take another look. Whatever the book's merits as prophecy, what we have here is the finest collection of alleged American mental problems since Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America.

 

From Culture to Civilization

The Spenglerian model is only incidentally about wars, revolutions, and the evolution of the international system. The transition to what Toynbee called a “universal state” is only one aspect of the general turn of a society toward its final forms. “Civilization,” in Spengler's usage, is the “late” phase in a society's life. It follows the period of “Culture,” when society creates its characteristic science, religion, art, and politics. The French Revolution is roughly the cutoff point for both Spengler and Riencourt between Culture and Civilization in the modern West. In Greece, the Revolution was less localized, since democracies tended to replace oligarchies everywhere. The important comparison is that Napoleon and Alexander the Great are “contemporary” as transitional figures in their civilizations' histories.

The transition to Caesarism began in the Victorian Era, which Riencourt identifies in part with the Hellenistic Age. Both were “the beginning of bad taste and ostentation, of insincerity in art, of pomposity, of grand and ornate pseudostyles”; yet also of “city planning, hygiene, and comfort: of modern pavements, and improved sewers, aqueducts…fast-expanding networks of world-wide economic relations”; not to mention “pedantic scholars, critics, grammarians, commentators, and editors.” The age of Plato passed to the age of Aristotle, as the age of Kant passed to that of Hegel.

Culture is pioneering, aesthetic, and fertile. Civilization is sterile, extensive, practical, and ethical. They are related as systole and diastole. Riencourt multiplies oppositions like that, but here are the important ones: Greece was the youth and maturity of Classical civilization; Rome was its old age. Similarly, Europe was the youth of the West, and America is its old age.

There are complexities here. For the purposes of macrohistory, apparently, America and Great Britain are the same country. Riencourt lays great stress on the fact that America developed, not just under the influence of British ideas, but behind the shield of the British Navy. It is impossible to imagine the United States developing as it did during the 19th century if the country had not been, in effect, a protectorate of the British Empire. In the 20th century, the relationship began to reverse. After the Second World War, Britain has functioned as America-in-Europe.

In outlining the transformation from Culture to Civilization in the political dimension, Riencourt often sounds like many another member of the French Right since 1789: “[E]xpanding democracy leads unintentionally to imperialism and…imperialism inevitably ends in destroying the republican institutions of earlier days…the greater the social equality, the dimmer the prospects of liberty…as society becomes more egalitarian, it tends increasingly to concentrate absolute power in the hands of a single man.”

Riencourt is not forecasting the appearance of a mere Anglophone Napoleon, however. Modernity has a terminus quite different from that of the ancien règime: “Caesarism is not dictatorship, not the result of one man's overriding ambition, not a brutal seizure of power through revolution…It is a slow, often century-old, unconscious development that ends in a voluntary surrender of a free people escaping from freedom to one autocratic master.”

Note that, although this language is cast in terms of a general law of history, it simply restates the history of the Roman Republic. Spengler himself took care to elaborate parallels with other civilizations, where democracy had never been an issue. Except in an Appendix and a few asides, The Coming Caesars treats of parallels only between the ancient and modern West. The bulk of the book, in fact, is a history of the United States, spiked with more or less apt references to supposedly comparable events and persons in Roman history. Riencourt is particularly interested in the evolution of the office of tribune in ancient Rome and that of the American presidency, but we will get to that presently.

 

God, Space, & Law

Every book about America has to deal with religion, and this one is particularly concerned with the American mutations of Calvinism. (Was there a Roman “Reformation”? Indeed there was, in the form of Orphism, which culminated in Pythagoreanism. Go ask Spengler.) According to Riencourt: “But Calvin's doctrine as applied at Geneva was based on a spiritual legalism, mechanical, stern, without compassion and without appreciation for art, inhumanly practical, and in many respects iconoclastic. In Geneva were sown the spiritual seeds of what was to become the New Rome of the West.”

This is not to say that American religion itself has retained these harsh features. After the collapse of metaphysical theology, American religion became notoriously emotional and sentimental. Prayer was replaced by good works, not as payment for salvation, but as a sign of election.

The secular versions of the Calvinist virtues became the bases for American politics and commercial culture. Thus, no matter their confessional affiliation, Americans are like the Biblical Jews: suspicious of beauty, with a characteristic tension between the knowledge of God's will and Man's inadequacy. Similarly, Rome's gods, like Rome's later civilization, were austere and impersonal, unlike Greece's warm pantheon. (Spengler discountenanced this opposition, by the way. He pointed out that the peculiar cult of each polis was darkly numinous rather than colorful. The “Greek Pantheon” was late and literary.)

In addition to religion, every study of America has to consider the role of space. Both America and Rome, in Riencourt's telling, were “frontier” societies, on the rim of civilization. America, famously, could dispense its dissidents to the west. Rome could do likewise, to the north, into the Po Valley and Cisalpine Gaul. In both cases, easy expansion into a sparsely peopled hinterland facilitated political stability at a time that, elsewhere, was an age of revolution and counterrevolution.

The English-speaking world in general is characterized by a tradition of compromise under law. This legalism, like Rome's, is the product of a remarkable sense of continuity. It's not that American's are particularly law-abiding; they are law-minded. Combined with their ancient Biblicism, they have turned the Constitution into a sacred text. The system works because the scripture of the law requires interpretation. Lawyers are hierophants, interpreting the mystery of the law. The effect is conservative: unlike the legal codes of Europe, mere logic is not enough.

America and Rome were both “urban” from the beginning, despite the fact both had overwhelmingly rural populations for much of their histories. Their farmers were not peasants, but citizens. This was somewhat less true of Virginia, with its attempt to transplant England's gentry. However, southern culture was eventually overwhelmed, ideologically and economically. Perhaps more important was that Virginia set the pattern of a conservative, aristocratic east, versus the democratic frontiersmen of the west. The east demanded enough centralization to keep the polity together. The west acquiesced, but only if they were allowed freedom of action: “thus started the fateful, unintentional, and unplanned expansionism which, in less than two centuries, was to establish the frontiers of American security well into the heart of the European and Asiatic continents.” He makes the same argument about Rome's expansion, starting from central Italy.

Unlike the rest of the Classical world, Rome had a knack for the judicious extension of citizenship rights, which Riencourt compares to America's power of assimilation. Rome did suffer the “Social Wars,” conflicts with its Italian allies about the franchise, just as America suffered lapses like the Civil War. He also makes the interesting suggestion that the importation of slaves into Italy was a real immigration. Manumission was normal in the Roman world, so that slave families often became citizens after a generation or two. In contrast, slavery in America resulted in a caste system that has yet to be dismantled.

 

The American Psyche

The key to American psychology is the position of America in world history: “America's destiny is conditioned by the fact it is an old and not a young nation, as far as essential age goes…America represents, in world history, the old age of Europe…This essential oldness is rooted in an eighteenth-century atmosphere where optimism still survives in America and wears the mask of youth, but has disappeared in Europe as outdated.”

According to Riencourt, Americans are naturally conformist, compared to Latin peoples. He even says that Americans are “natural socialists.” In many ways, America is like what Americans say about Japan: “a far higher average than in Greece and Europe, and yet an almost complete absence of great creative personalities.” He says there is an American saying: “To be different is to be indecent.” Americans are self-disciplined; even more so than the Germans, who at least have the option of intellectual “inner migration.” The key to America's tribal collectivism is to be found in the fact that America has come almost full circle in social development. Foreigners often note a strange similarity between Americans and Russians. That is because the Last Man of Civilization resembles the First Man of the pre-Cultural period, which is the state of Russia in comparison to the West.

Freedom in America does not mean what it means in other places, or what it meant in the West in the past. American freedom is a legal notion, unlike the French liberté. “Where, then, does freedom reside in America? Mostly in the fact that the individual American is physically more independent of other human beings than anywhere else in the world.” Americans are notably lacking in jealousy and resentment. Conversely, the rich are rapacious, but not selfish.

There is an upside to this. Americans can make good use of individualistic philosophies, such as that of John Locke, which created chaos in continental Europe. Atomistic English economism, with its emphasis on property rights, soon made the English-speaking world the most conservative area on earth. It is a progressive and enlightened conservatism, however, a sure defense against both revolution and reaction.

None of this should suggest that Americans are gullible or obtuse. “American Civilization is successful because of the remarkable American gift for psychological understanding…When they choose political or business leaders, Americans do so on the basis of their general human qualities rather than their technical proficiency.” Americans have an expert's distrust of all experts.

The author makes a remarkable equation of Americanism with Classical “Romanitas.” Both value organization, efficiency, and earthly success. Also, “in a chaotic world where sensitive men are baffled and often despair, [Americans] are not easily baffled and never despair.” The American mind is not cultural or aesthetic, but moralistic. It deals with extension rather than depth, especially temporal depth, but it eschews abstraction generally: “Americans think in pictures.”

Despite America's non-metaphysical cast of mind, it is far from mere materialism. Riencourt establishes the point with a fine display of non-falsifiable dialectic: “Since every coin has two sides, the necessary counterpart of an extreme utilitarianism bent on concrete achievements is an equally extreme idealism of a more abstract nature than any put forth in the Old World.”

Riencourt returns again and again to the topic of Americans' essential conservatism, for which he finds an explanation in gender dominance: “It is this fundamental conservatism that gives Americans in the modern world a position almost identical with that of the Romans, a conservatism bolstered by the complete ascendancy of the conservative-minded sex – women.” The author makes a great deal of this point: “All this links up with the best-known characteristic of American life: the hen-pecked nature of American men…the childish desire for love that Americans display in their contacts throughout the world is a direct consequence of the absolute predominance of the female principle…[I]ntimacy, familiarity, lack of reverence have become the dominant themes of American life. Nothing leads more implacably to Caesarism than these traits.” Noting that the emancipation of women was also a feature of the late Roman Republic, the author asserts that a democratic electorate tends to become “feminine,” emotional, eager for leadership. A feminine public opinion looks for a virile Caesar.

 

Russian & Communism

In the 19th century, during the age of high imperialism, practically the whole world was controlled by European powers or European settler-states. Again, the Hellenistic empires in the east, and the Greek settlements in southern Italy and Sicily, are often cited as analogies. Riencourt, following Spengler, says that the Greeks did not properly distinguish between the different classes of barbarian societies. Some, like the Egyptians, belonged to ancient, fossilized civilizations. Others were mere primitives. Yet others, in the east, belong to a “young” Culture that would eventually overwhelm the Classical world. Much the same thing happened in modern history: “The Nemesis in the Classical world was the rise of Parthia and the…war against Mithridates – in the context of our won [20th] century, the rise of Soviet Communism and World War II.”

Communism in Russia was a western import that was part of the “pseudomorphosis” of Russian culture, comparable to the superficial and transitory Hellenization of the east that occurred after Alexander. However, the effect of the Soviet Union was to drag Russia back to its Mongolian-Byzantine roots. The origins of the Soviet and Parthian threats were similar, too. The Romans helped to overthrow the Hellenistic empire of the Seleucids, but then simply withdrew, allowing the unhellenized east to recover. This was pretty much what America did after the First World War and the collapse of the Habsburg and Czarist empires. However, this new class of threat is not merely military, and not merely external: “This deep-rooted antagonism that springs outside the area of a given Civilization always coincides with a social disintegration inside it – with a period of revolutions and social upheavals that always accompany the collapse of a Culture and symbolizes the loss of that precious self-confidence of former times.”

The Coming Caesars repeats familiar conservative critiques of FDR's policy toward the Soviet Union: the sick old man was duped by Stalin's oriental cunning. Additionally, since the American mind is analytical rather than synthetic, American statesmen were slow to see the need for a grand strategy to counter the Soviet Union. However, even with the best negotiator and a coherent worldview, the outcome of Yalta and Potsdam might not have been different: “Behind the armed might of Soviet Russia lay another active force in the realm of ideas and passions, the religion-like force of Marxist philosophy extending from France to China…And behind Marxist philosophy a deep distrust of Western Civilization as such. In this the rustic patriotism of the Russians joined the widening revolt of Asia's crippled civilizations against the West.”

Riencourt rather doubts that the West will ever be free of the Russian menace. Though the Roman Empire at its height was perfectly secure against Parthia, the East nonetheless eventually overwhelmed the fossilized Classical civilization. On the other hand, a Third World War is far from certain; there really is progress, and the modern world is less brutal than the ancient world.

 

The Necessity of Empire

The coming universal state is not founded on mere degeneration. Speaking of the world after World War I, Riencourt says: “The problem, which no one could as yet formulate, was that the Western world was longing to get beyond an outdated nationalism and a vague internationalism that solved nothing, longing for a new political conception of organic cooperation that would preserve what was best in local patriotism, but transcended it at the same time.”

Sometimes the author equates the 20th century with the 2nd century B.C. In those days, when Rome had no serious rivals but wanted nothing more than to be left alone, it sent commissions all over the world to mediate disputes: Carthage and Numidia, Egypt and Cyrene, plus any combination of Greek states. Since Romans took no responsibility, their efforts often made things worse. When, in the 1st century B.C., Rome finally established regular structures of governance, “Roman domination at first was heavy and harsh, but it was a crude world that could respond only to crude treatment. Our twentieth century is far more sophisticated and the reorganization of our own world has to be carried out with a far greater discretion.” The model imperial official would resemble Douglas MacArthur. Not simply occupiers are needed, but statesmen committed to a long-term, conservative, social revolution around the world.

America had yet to understand its full vulnerability, the author implies. Rome was terribly dependent on the world outside Italy for manpower and grain. America might seem self-sufficient, but in 1955 “the United States absorbs 10 per cent more raw materials than she produces, whereas at the turn of the [19th to 20th] century she produced 15 percent more than she needed.” He suggests that much future history might concern access to Malaysian tin and Arabian oil.

Reviewing Europe a little over ten years after the end of the Second World War, Riencourt is much impressed by the success of the Marshall plan. In contrast, he finds the idea of independent European unity chimerical: “If unity is to come, it will have to be from extra-European sources and take place within a much larger framework. It will have to be based on the only unity that has any concrete reality: the Atlantic Community, the geographical unit of Western Civilization.” Noting the extent to which American and European bureaucracies interdigitated during the postwar emergency, he suggests that something similar might happen in the future: “European political structures will not be brutally abolished; they will simply atrophy and die.”

Obviously, there is considerable opposition to this outcome in Europe, both political and psychological. Riencourt finds it anachronistic: “Instead of looking upon America as she is – the New Rome – the puzzled and embittered Europeans prefer to see a new Carthage – soulless, exclusively dedicated to the pursuit of wealth, vaguely hypocritical, the land of sharp and ruthless Yankee businessmen. They fail to see that America today, and alone in the world, has the necessary ingredients of a stable civilized order: moral ideals and ethical purpose.”

World order is an old dream, the author notes. Different versions of it appear in different civilizations: the Caliphate of Islam; “All under Heaven” in China; and of course the Roman ideal in the ancient West. In the modern West, a new version is likely to have something to do with the United Nations, starting with a universally valid international law.

Before the First World War, the world still had regional empires with universal pretensions. When they disappeared, chaos followed. The League of Nations failed to end the chaos, but it was an instructive failure. The United nations, which followed, was largely an American initiative; certainly it was designed with an eye to American constitutional history. It quickly became paralyzed between two international blocks. The UN, after all, was supposed to institute democratic procedures on a world scale, but one of the opposing blocks did not believe in liberal democracy at all. The fundamental flaw with the UN, however, is that it embodies the parliamentary system in an age that is becoming sick of parliaments. What the world needs, and wants unknowingly, is an international presidential system. This could be democratic: rights under international law would be extended to individuals, even if that diminishes state sovereignty.

According to Riencourt, the UN will probably become the second layer of the “Roman” commonwealth of the future. The core will be the Atlantic Community. Such a world system will work, if the masses are given sound administration. Just as important, the system must give the world's elites full scope for personal development.

Sometimes Riencourt suggests that the final phase of Western Civilization is, in some sense, the final act of history. He points to the similarities between the apocalyptic anxiety of the early nuclear era and of the Mediterranean world around the time of Christ. In both cases, he suggests, people were onto something: “Man…is not merely going through a change of historical phase but…in the coming centuries, he will be stepping out of history altogether into a new 'geological' age…He is becoming, for the first time, a planetary phenomenon.”

 

Tribune, President, Emperor

Riencourt emphasizes the conservative nature of the American Revolution. The Founding Fathers were “men of the transition, a last link to the past, conservative engineers of a healthy reaction.” What would have surprised them was the evolution of the presidency they created, an essentially weak office, into an organ of popular sovereignty.

The mass politics of the Hellenistic and modern eras is a struggle between the people and Big Money. In that struggle during Roman times, the tribunes were created to protect the people. Over time, however, the struggle becomes less and less about class, or even economics. What begins as the struggle of the Populares against the Optimates becomes a contest between the Caesarians and the Pompeans; that is to say, a conflict between personal parties, mere cults of personality and systems of patronage. In contrast to their European counterparts, American political parties were already more like vehicles for personalities seeking office than like ideological organizations.

There was in fact no precise counterpart to the presidency in the Roman constitution, but the office of tribune showed the ability to evolve in that direction. The tribunician power included personal inviolability, the right to summon the Senate and to direct its debates, the right to nominate candidates for some offices, the right to arrest even consuls, and, most famously, the right to veto the acts of all magistrates. This list of negative rights ensured positive power when combined with some other source of authority, such as military command, or even mere popular approval. The tribunate was the legal basis for the office of emperor.

No doubt inspired by the characterization of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a "traitor to his class," the author observes: "Rome's outstanding democratic leaders, from the noble Gracchi brothers to Caesar [a period of about 90 years], whose ancestry was as old as the dawn of Rome herself, were all blue-blooded aristocrats who turned against their narrow-minded peers and led the aroused people against them…Thus, what made the democratic evolution of America relatively peaceful was the self-immolation of the founding oligarchy."

In America, politics are aggravated by a public opinion that is volatile on matters of foreign policy. Thus, American policy lurches from crisis to crisis, throwing up a strongman to meet each new emergency. But again, the authority of the Caesars is only incidentally military. Speaking of the Grant Administration, but with perhaps a glance at Eisenhower's, Riencourt notes that "professional soldiers are not the stuff that Caesars are made of." He characterizes Franklin Roosevelt, the first proto-Caesar, as “like another typical American creation, the master-mind sports coach who bosses his team, devises its tactics and strategy, switches players and substitutes at will.”

Riencourt attributes the role of the presidency in American politics in part to a growing "father complex" in America, though he also observes that, throughout the West, publics are increasingly disgusted with parliamentary incompetence.

To a large extent, the Roman Republic was destroyed by a change in political psychology. The early Caesars kept trying to give real authority back to the Senate, and the Senate kept refusing to take it. Responsible people lost the knack of operating a republican system. Candidates no longer presented themselves for important offices. Finally, all posts were filled by appointment, and became part of the imperial bureaucracy.

After its founding, the politics of the empire will have a predictable trajectory: “The transition from Sulla to Caesar and from Caesar to the absolutism of Vespasian was partly the result of the growing orientalization of Rome and the decline in the prestige of elective institutions. In the modern instance, it is clear that 'democrat' Roosevelt was not half as much repelled by Stalin's views on strong executive power and the absolute supremacy of the great powers as 'conservative' Churchill was.” In the author's telling, the Caesars became monarchs in Rome because they were monarchs abroad. Caesar Augustus, for instance, because he was also the titular King of Egypt, did not dare retire. The Egyptians would tolerate being ruled by him, but not by some bureaucrat in the name of a faceless “republic.”

When the Future Becomes the Present

Speaking of the would of the late 1950s, the author judges that Russia and America were evenly balanced; they were the tiger versus the shark, each safely dominant in its own domain. Inevitably, he cites Tocqueville's famous prediction that the Russians and the Americans each seemed destined to “sway the destinies of half the globe.” He remarks: “Tocqueville would have been unable to forecast the complex state of the world as it was in 1926, yet he was able to prophesy what it would be in 1946, 20 years later.”

That is almost precisely my experience of this book. I first read it in 1982; my marginal comments say that this or that trend will have to reverse if the author's thesis is to hold up. Writing this in 2003, I see that many of them did reverse. Doubtless they could all reverse again. Meanwhile, some new ones arose that he did not foresee. I know of no book that illustrates the limits of prediction better than The Coming Caesars. It bears rereading, at suitably long intervals.

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Coming Caesars
By Amaury De Riencourt

The Long View: The World After Modernity

For a span, John was an unaffiliated but not wholly unrespectable scholar of millennialism. This essay dates from that time. This is a useful précis of John's thoughts on Spengler, millennialism,  and the imperial turn.

The e-book of John's entitled Spengler's Future can be found here.


The World After Modernity

Presented under the Title:
Spengler's Future

At the Sixth Annual Conference of the Center for Millennial Studies Boston University, November 3 to 6, 2001.
Another version of this piece appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of Comparative Civilizations Review.

A persistent and highly influential image of the future appeared in the late nineteenth century. It occurred to a long list of people: I might mention Ernst von Lasaulx, Henry and Brooks Adams, Nikolai Danilevsky, Nikolai Berdyaev and Walter Schubart, and for that matter Albert Schweitzer and Jacob Burckhardt. They all shared the intuition that the Western world had entered a new "Hellenistic" age, and the twentieth century was going to see a recurrence of the less pleasant aspects of Hellenism. (1) These would include such things as demagogic tyrannies, annihilation warfare, and a relaxation of traditional restraints in art and personal life.

Nietzsche had said as much, too, and in fact anyone who entered the 20th century with this modest insight would have met with few surprises. (2) During the 20th century itself, the notion was worked up into great, formal models of history. This enterprise is sometimes called "macrohistory," (3) unless it waxes very philosophical, in which case it is called "metahistory." Either way, the best-known example is still Oswald Spengler's "Decline of the West," the first of whose two volumes appeared just as the First World War ended. The biggest example, in fact the biggest book of the 20th century, is Arnold Toynbee's 12-volume "Study of History," most of which was published in the 1930s and '50s. The aspect of the Hellenistic analogy that chiefly interested them, like us today, is the way the modern era can be expected to end.

To put it more crudely than most macrohistorians do, the idea is that, just as the Hellenistic phase of Classical culture ended in the Roman Empire, and just as the Warring States period in Chinese history ended in imperial unification under the Qin Dynasty, so the modern era of Western Civilization would end in a post-national universal state. For the sake of brevity, and because some of the authors we will consider do likewise, we will call this final phase of historical development simply "the Empire."

We are talking here about the evolution from Alexander to Caesar. Some macrohistorians expected Western modernity to last the same length of time, two-and-half or three centuries. We may note that macrohistorians generally equate Alexander and Napoleon, so, if you like, you can do the arithmetic to see where we are now. (4) If you really like these analogies, we may also note that the societies most often identified as universal states, Han China, the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and New Kingdom Egypt, all lasted about 500 years after their founding by a Caesar-like figure. (5) So, now you know the future. Just try to look surprised when it happens.

Philosophical history of this type gives most historians fits, but it's inescapable. Northrop Frye was not a great fan of "The Decline of the West," at least on its merits, but he also said "we are all Spenglerians." (6) For instance, Spengler can be considered the father of multiculturalism. He treats the eight cultures whose life cycles he considers as all equivalent in some sense. Although he was developing ideas that had long been familiar from German historicism (6), the fact is that he wrote the first history of the world that really was about the world, and not just a chronicle of the rise of the West.

Cyclical historical analogies affect statecraft. Henry Kissinger's undergraduate thesis at Harvard was on Spengler, and he never quite got over it. (8) Former President Bill Clinton's favorite teacher at Georgetown, at least by some accounts, was Carroll Quigley, a follower of Toynbee in the School of Foreign Service. The debates after the Cold War about globalization and American hegemony have, in effect, put the Empire front and center.

Perhaps the most topical model of international relations these days is Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations." He accepts the Hellenistic analogy as a matter of course, though with his own peculiar spin. He tells us:

"[T]he international system expanded beyond the West and became multicivilizational. Simultaneously, conflict among Western states - which had dominated that system for centuries - faded away. By the late twentieth century, the West has moved out of its 'warring state' phase of development as a civilization and toward its 'universal state' phase. At the end of [the 20th] century, this phase is still incomplete as the nation states of the West cohere into two semi-universal states in Europe and North America. These two entities and their constituent units are, however, bound together by an extraordinary complex network of formal and informal institutional ties. The universal states of previous civilizations are empires. Since democracy, however, is the political form of Western civilization, the emerging universal state of Western civilization is not an empire but rather a compound of federations, confederations, and international regimes and organizations." (9)

Among scholars interested in such things, Huntington is a little unusual in rejecting the idea of global civilization. Among people with a basically cyclical approach to history, he is also, as we will see, unusual in assuming the continuing vitality of democracy. On the other hand, he is not at all unusual in considering that the Empire already exists to some extent. This is the thesis of the fashionable book, entitled "Empire," by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri.

According to those authors, the Empire is Saint Augustine's City of God. (10) They themselves are Marxists who write impenetrable postmodern prose and who hope to replace the City of God with the City of Man, but their analysis is worth considering, to the extent they will permit themselves to be understood. Like its Roman predecessor, today's Empire seems to its subjects to be permanent, eternal, and necessary. It has no outside, at least in principle, and internally it distinguishes neither male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free. It does not rest on conquest, but on consensus.

The Empire is the post-historical incarnation of eternal justice. It does not merely happen to exist, like a historically contingent state; rather, it must exist, at least as an ideal. It closes the gap that opened in the Renaissance between the ethical and the juridical. Its wars are just wars, police actions against opponents who cannot make a principled case against the Empire as such. No civil or military stresses remain that might threaten it. The Empire is always in a crisis, so its acts are emergency measures that trump the ordinary law of the sovereignties and corporations that comprise it.

The authors say the Empire is not really a state. It does indeed have state-like organs, such as the UN and the IMF, but it has no center. For that matter, it has no geography: the old divisions between First, Second and Third World have collapsed. The difference between France and India in the world system, for instance, has become a matter of degree rather than kind. The Empire does have a tripartite anatomy, in the sense of an executive, an aristocracy, and a people, like that which the second century B.C. historian Polybius ascribed to the late Roman Republic.

The Empire is imperial, not imperialist. Imperialism, in the authors' analysis, was simply the extension of European nationalism outside Europe. The Empire arose precisely because capitalism could not endure if the divisions between nations were not dissolved. The authors count the loss of national sovereignty, and even of national identity, as no great tragedy. Nations themselves, as well as the Peoples that comprised them, were largely confected for the benefit of early capitalist production.

A retired CIA analyst, Patrick E. Kennon, recently published a witty apology for the Empire as an ideal, entitled "Tribe and Empire." He finds far deeper support for the Empire than does Samuel Huntington, who dismisses the actual membership of international society as a thin crust of what he calls "Davos People." According to Mr. Kennon:

"Now, as we enter the twenty-first century, the future of the nation-state is much in doubt...Indeed, tribalism has revived with a brutal savagery from Rwanda and Cambodia to the newly dissolved USSR and the newly unified Germany...At the same time, a kind of shadow empire...is being embraced by elites around the globe. UN bureaucrats and Greenpeace activists, Carlos the Jackal and Mother Theresa, Toyota and Amnesty International, the Cali drug cartel and the World Bank, people who worry about the dollar-yen ratio and people who worry about the ozone layer, all of these consciously or unconsciously look to empire for their profit or salvation. All of these have largely given up on the nation." (11)

Mr. Kennon attempts to account for globalization and its attendant anarchic backlash in terms of classical Social Contract theory (the very class of theory that Hardt and Negri say is the source of false consciousness in the world today). "Tribe and Empire" argues that the philosophers of the Enlightenment were too pessimistic in relegating international relations to the state of nature. According to Mr. Kennon, there is an ethical trajectory that leads away from the local and toward the universal, from the political and toward the administrative, from predation and toward commerce.

The pure forms of human life, the "tribe" and the "empire," correspond to "community" and "society," respectively. These dualities also correspond to life before and after the Social Contract. The contract turns mere homo sapiens into human beings. In the tribe, everyone is equal, every man is a warrior, and there is the war of all against all. In society, there are no enemies, only superiors and inferiors. Community is familiar and exclusive, governed by a traditional morality that is not subject to analysis. In society, there is ethics rather than morality, and right and wrong are subject to pragmatic reformulation. The most significant thing about ethics is that it is universal in principle: everyone, near and far, should ideally be treated according to the same rules. The political form that has substantially fulfilled this ideal is the "empire," something that has in fact existed at various times and places.

So far we have been talking about the Empire in terms of political theory, but that is not the only aspect of the Hellenistic analogy that interests macrohistorians. They are concerned with the way that whole societies evolve, and this is one of the points about which they have received the most criticism. They tend to speak as if societies were organic wholes, with life cycles like living things. This analogy is no worse than any other, but it is difficult to defend in detail. Burckhardt, in fact, even though he saw parallels between his own late 19th century and late antiquity, specifically rejected the biological analogy. (12) We should note, though, that even those who used organic language most heavily were not necessarily relying on it.

Spengler himself is a good case in point. Though he spoke of the cultures he examined as living organisms, his philosophy was much more sophisticated. "The Decline of the West" is a profoundly Kantian book. In Spengler's view, the course of history is circumscribed by the limits to human understanding that Kant described. According to Spengler, just eight cultures in the history of the world have tested those limits, in the sense of trying to produce final answers to life's questions. Beginning from a unique religious base, each produced its own philosophy, family of arts, and a political style. Spengler said that even the natural science and mathematics of each were idiosyncratic. In any case, all these attempts to express universal truths are failures. Whatever meaning they have is internal to the societies that produce them, and the skepticism of the late culture realizes the fact. However, the attempts are not just failures; they are magnificent failures. The living cultures that Spengler describes die, but in the process produce fossils, canons of art and science and political forms. The period of fossilization, after the end of the culture proper, is what Spengler calls civilization, which he said began for the West at the end of the 18th century. The work of modernity, in Spengler's estimation, is the completion of the final forms.

The German title of Spengler's big book, "Der Untergang des Abendlandes," is not nearly so ominous as its English translation. Literally, it is closer to "The Sunset of the Evening Land." Spengler himself said that he might better have called the book the "The Completion of the West," or even "The Perfection of the West." (13)

All this suggests Francis Fukuyama was essentially correct in saying that the West has reached "the end of history" (14): liberal democracy really is the end of Western political thought. It will never be superseded, and it will never cease to have some effect on the way government is conducted. However, that does not mean it may not someday be honored chiefly in the breach. Spengler wrote this eighty years ago, speaking about a time that could still be a good century beyond us:

"Once the Imperial Age has arrived, there are no more political problems. People manage with the situation as it is and the powers that be. In the period of Contending States, torrents of blood had reddened the pavements of all world-cities, so that the great truths of Democracy might be turned into actualities, and for the winning of rights without which life seemed not worth the living. Now these rights are won, but the grandchildren cannot be moved, even by punishment, to make use of them. A hundred years more, and even the historians will no longer understand the old controversies." (15)

In 1920, it was easy to imagine that some totalitarian system might conquer the world, but it took a measure of imagination to foresee a world in which democracy is simply forgotten. No imagination at all is necessary today, what with the low voter turnouts in the US and the emergence of post-democratic supranational entities like the European Union. The Empire means the end of democracy as anything but a venerable anachronism. Indeed, as Patrick Kennon would have it, it means the end of politics itself. In his view, government by reliable routine has been the distinguishing feature of the Empire wherever it has existed. Politics went on, of course, in Antonine Rome or Ming China, but as self-contained court intrigues and bureaucratic squabbles. It was no longer in a position to derail the essential operation of the state. The same process in the West is far advanced, and maybe this is a good thing. The mandarins in Brussels are often crudely corrupt, and they don't respond to emergencies particularly well. They are, however, quite certain not to lead civilization over a cliff in pursuit of a manifest destiny, something that national societies have done in almost every century.

A recurrent theme in metahistory is that the economic Left always wins. William McNeill, another admirer of Toynbee, has made the observation that governance tends to expand to cover the size of the economy. (16) Where it doesn't, the result is piracy, and often barbarian powers that threaten civilization itself. The Empire, in the form of universal states, can and does facilitate economic activity through the rule of law, or at least through maintaining public order. On the other hand, it is also in a position to tax and regulate universally, which it does in the interests of income redistribution and the prevention of disruption from economic change. So, for example, the expansive, technologically innovative economy that appeared in China during the politically chaotic Sung and Yuan periods was brought to heel when order was restored in the Ming period. By the 18th century, China's manufacturing sector was still huge and sophisticated, but wholly subordinate to the imperial autocracy and gentry. (17)

On the other hand, the cultural Left always loses. The arts under the Empire are well funded, technically proficient, and highly eclectic, but they are rarely new. The art of Old and Middle Kingdom Egypt, for instance, can usually be dated to within a generation, just as the periods of Western art can be easily distinguished from the Middle Ages on down. When you get to the New Kingdom, the age of the Empire, repetition predominates, except for freakish episodes like the Amarna period. The work that survives from the very end of Egyptian civilization is almost impossible to distinguish from that of the Old Kingdom 1500 years before. One might say that Egyptian history ended in a sort of permanent Gothic revival. (18)

The function of art organizations today is generally curatorial. With some notable exceptions, orchestras usually find themselves playing the familiar canon that runs from Bach to Brahms (19). In the 20th century, for the first time in the cultural history of the West, time began to no longer make a difference. Imagine two picture books, one of the famous New York Armory Exhibition of 1913 and the other of the Brooklyn Museum's "Sensation" exhibition of 1999. Now imagine switching the covers. The switched dates would still be plausible. The point is not that the work is bad; it's just that it isn't going anywhere.

What is true of art is also supposed to be true of science, but this question would take too long to explore. The notion is that some areas of rational inquiry can simply be finished. Classical Mathematics, to take the easiest example, was substantially completed in Hellenistic times by Euclidian geometry. It did not advance further, because that geometry answered the questions Classical culture asked. So, for that matter, did Ptolemy's astronomy and Aristotle's physics. Those who apply the analogy to the West note that physics entered the 20th century with quantum mechanics and relativity and spent the century merely elaborating them. A "theory of everything," which would combine the two, may be achieved in this century. If so, it would seem to meet the criteria for one of Spengler's magnificent fossils. (20)

The Empire is a theocracy. In general, macrohistorians have welcomed the prospect of religious revival. The chief example is Toynbee himself, who decided that history was really about the development of universal religions, and only incidentally about civilizations. His "Study of History" became remarkably evangelical in its later volumes. Toynbee's reputation never recovered from the derisive, secularist critique that Hugh Trevor-Roper gave his work. (21) As we know, God severely punished Hugh Trevor-Roper for this through the Hitler Diaries fraud, but that's another story. (22) Samuel Huntington acknowledges the growing role of religion, though he seems less than pleased at the prospect, calling it "la revanche de Dieu." He speaks of "the end of the Westphalian order," referring to those aspects of the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 ensuring religion would be a domestic matter.

An influential argument supporting just this change has recently been offered by A.J. Conyers in his book, "The Long Truce: How Toleration Made the World Safe for Power and Profit." (23) Conyers says the kind of toleration that spread in the West after the wars of religion is actually something of a fraud. It is based on a nominalist metaphysics that brackets the truth claims of each confession as parochial eccentricities. Religious truth-claims must be tolerated for the sake of peace, but merit no deference from the wider world. Conyers says that toleration in the West before the wars of religion, where it existed, had a different basis. Traditionally, tolerance assumed the validity of truth claims, but took the platonic view that specific expressions of them could, at best, be expected to be incomplete. Now that the Westphalian truce is over, Conyers argues, this traditional approach to tolerance should supplant the disingenuous secularist one of the past few centuries.

Some suggestion of where it may lead is offered by Spengler's famous prophecy of the "the Second Religiousness." He tells us:

"But neither in the creations of this piety nor in the form of the Roman Imperium is there anything primary and spontaneous. Nothing is built up, no idea unfolds itself - it is only as if a mist cleared off the land and revealed the old forms, uncertainly at first, but presently with increasing distinctness. The material of the Second Religiousness is simply that of the first, genuine, young religiousness - only otherwise experienced and expressed. It starts with Rationalism's fading out in helplessness, then the forms of the Springtime become visible, and finally the whole world of the primitive religion, which had receded before the grand forms of the early faith, returns to the foreground, powerful in the guise of the popular syncretism that is to be found in every Culture at this phase." (24)

This brings us to the decline and fall of the Empire. Not all macrohistorians say that the Empire is inherently mortal. Hardt and Negri say specifically that, whatever traditional Marxism might have predicted about the fate of the world capitalist system, the Empire has moved beyond those vulnerabilities. The Empire actually thrives on crisis. It is eternal in principle. However, that does not mean that it cannot be overthrown through an act of will. They offer this comparison from a prior incarnation of the Empire:

"Allow us [an] analogy that refers to the birth of Christianity in Europe and its expansion during the decline of the Roman Empire. In this process an enormous potential of subjectivity was constructed and consolidated in terms of the prophecy of a world to come, a chiliastic project. This new subjectivity offered an absolute alternative to the spirit of imperial right-a new ontological basis. From this perspective, Empire was accepted as the "maturity of the times" and the unity of the entire known civilization, but it was challenged in its totality by a completely different ethical and ontological axis. In the same way today, given that the limits and unresolvable problems of the new imperial right are fixed, theory and practice can go beyond them, finding once again an ontological basis of antagonism-within Empire, but also against and beyond Empire, at the same level of totality." (25)

This would be more interesting if the two authors had not excluded religion as a future revolutionary force. One of their few substantive suggestions for undermining the Empire is an absolute freedom to travel and immigration. This also happens to be the only right that Patrick Kennon of the CIA says is essential for the integrity of the Empire. As the French say, go figure.

Spengler, too, was of the opinion that the Empire did not have to end. Fossils can last indefinitely. In his estimate, Classical civilization was destroyed by historical accident. There was no internal reason why it could not have gone on without collapse as he thought, wrongly, that China had done. Spengler in his later work suggested that the imperial phase of Western history was likely to end apocalyptically for the whole world, but that is a question specific to Spengler studies. (26)

Toynbee was of two minds about the future. He thought that either the winner of another world war would create a Western Universal State, or that an ecumenical society would arise peacefully. It would have western characteristics, and maybe a world government, but it would not be a Universal State in the traditional sense. For Toynbee the Universal State was a slow-motion catastrophe that was doomed from the start, even though, as he put it, its citizens "in defiance of apparently plain facts...are prone to regard it, not as a night's shelter in the wilderness but as the Promised Land, the goal of human endeavors." (27) In his view, the Empire's internal proletariat deserts it in favor of a higher religion, in rather the way Hardt and Negri mention, while at the same time the outer barbarians become stronger and stronger. This view is not so different from Huntington's "Clash of Civilization" thesis, which interprets "the decline of the West" to mean the decline of the still-forming Western universal state relative to other civilized societies.

The Empire we have been considering is an archetype. I mean this in a modest sense. It's an inevitable notion that anyone thinking about world history is going to have to confront, even if only to reject. Hardt and Negri do hit the nail on the head: the Empire does look like the City of God, though Toynbee may have been on to something when he cautioned that it is a counterfeit of the real thing. Obviously, there is no way to say today whether the Empire is going to stay in the platonic realm, or whether, as the macrohistorians speculate, it will become incarnate in the light of day. In any case, though the Empire may fall, it never goes away.

References
(1) Staring into Chaos: Explorations in the Decline of Western Civilization, by B.G. Brander, (Spence Publishing Company, 1998), pp. 21-84.

(2) E.g., The Gay Science, by Friedrich Nietzsche, trans. by Walter Kaufmann (Vintage Books, 1974), p. 318 (sec. 362).

(3) For an excessively postmodern take on the subject, see Macrohistory and Macrohistorians, by Johan Galtung and Sohail Inayatullah (Praeger Publishers, 1997).

(4) Readers who really, really like these analogies can see them worked out for the next seven centuries in a short book, also entitled "Spengler's Future," at http://pages.prodigy.net/aesir/speng.htm.

(5) Toynbee, more cautiously, notes a common rhythm in the decline of the Empire, rather than a strictly uniform duration. A Study of History, by Arnold Toynbee: Somervell Abridgement Vols. I-VI (Oxford University Press, 1947), pp. 548-554.

(6) On the influence of Spengler generally, see Neil McInnes, The Great Doomsayer: Oswald Spengler Reconsidered (The National Interest, Summer 1997), pp. 45-76. Frye is quoted on page 68.

(7) Prophet of Decline: Spengler on World History and Politics, by John Farrenkopf (Louisiana State University Press, 2001), pp. 77-90.

(8) McInnes, p. 69.

(9) The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, by Samuel P. Huntington (Simon & Schuster, 1996), p. 53.

(10) Empire, by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (Harvard University Press, 2000), pp. 207, 394-396.

(11) Tribe and Empire: An Essay on the Social Contract, by Patrick E. Kennon (Xlibris, 2000), p. 15.

(12) Force and Freedom: Reflections on History, by Jacob Burckhardt, ed. by James Hastings Nichols (Pantheon Books, 1943).

(13) Farrenkopf, p. 167.

(14) "The End of History and the Last Man," by Francis Fukuyama (The Free Press, 1992).

(15) The Decline of the West, Volume II, by Oswald Spengler, trans. by Charles Francis Atkinson (Alfred A Knopf, 1928; German original 1922), p. 432.

(16) The Human Condition: An Ecological and Historical View, by William McNeill (Princeton University Press, 1980).

(17) China: A New History, by John King Fairbank (Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 161.

(18) The Culture of Ancient Egypt, by John A. Wilson (University of Chicago Press, 1951), pp. 294-295.

(19) Art Lessons: Learning from the Rise and Fall of Public Arts Funding, by Alice Goldfarb Marquis (Basic Books, 1995), p. 150.

(20) The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age, by John Horgan (Addison-Wesley, 1996).

(21) Arnold Toynbee: A Life, by William H. McNeill (Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 239.

(22) The Hitler Diaries: Fakes that Fooled the World, by Charles Hamilton (University Press of Kentucky, 1991).

(23) The Long Truce: How Toleration Made the World Safe for Power and Profit, by A.J. Conyers (Spence Publishing Company, 2001).

(24) Spengler, p. 311.

(25) Hardt & Negri, p. 21.

(26) Farrenkopf, p. 214 et seq.

(27) A Study of History, by Arnold Toynbee: Somervell Abridgement Vols. VII-X (Oxford University Press, 1957), p. 4.

Copyright © 2001 by John J. Reilly 

The Long View: Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power

Imperialism is a subject John often returned to, but his interest in the subject was quite different from most others. For John, what mattered were not mere national empires like the British Empire, but the Empire, the universal state into which all political and economic systems seem to eventually collapse.

Even though the process can be justly described as a collapse, it is not primarily negative. For example, one of the reasons the political order collapses into an empire is that the stakes and pressures of governance have become too high for society to bear. The empire is seen as an improvement by most of its subjects; it is genuinely popular.

Despite the differences between an empire and the Empire, you can still find some interesting features of the British Empire that may be reproduced in the coming universal state. For example, the British Empire was cheap, in terms of both money and men. It was also relatively tolerant, and preferred local control whenever possible.

There are also some features that probably wouldn't work well. The British Empire was an extension of national ambition. The universal state is the oecumene, the abode of man. As such, purely national ambition no longer has a way to even be expressed. There are no separate countries, although there might be rebellious provinces. The universal state is also usually not very dynamic. All of the civilizational energy has already been expended creating the universal state, everything you have is everything you'll get. The British Empire at its best was exceptionally dynamic.

At this point, the real question would be how Western will the universal state be? John wrote some interesting speculations about this. We shall get to them in time.

Empire:
The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power
By Niall Ferguson
Basic Books, 2002
392 Pages, US$35.00
ISBN 0-465-02328-2
You might think this book was just an essay about the 18th-century Caribbean sugar-island economy that morphed into a profusely illustrated anthology of The Boy's Own Paper, but you would be wrong. What we have here is part of a concerted campaign (the book is a companion to a television series) to rehabilitate the idea of “empire” in general, and of the British Empire in particular. The author is the oddly ubiquitous Niall Ferguson, the Scottish economic historian. He does not suppress his famous interest in alternative history in this volume: one of the questions he sets out to answer is: “Was there a less bloody route to modernity?” The answer to that may be the key to a larger question, one with implications for the future as well as the past: “Can there be globalization without gunboats?”
The British Empire had a solid genesis in government-licensed piracy. The Spanish in the 16th century beat the British to the plunder of the major civilizations of the New World, leaving the British no recourse but to rob the Spanish. Still, even at that point the British displayed some hidden advantages. The English government was not centralized enough to simply expropriate the funds from its citizens to do its own empire building. By preference, it privatized British activity abroad, both commercial and military. As time went on, England outgrew piracy and turned to the licensing of the great trading companies. The greatest of these, the East India Company, was running India by the end of the 18th century. Strangely, the Honorable Company got India as a booby prize; the Dutch East India Company got the originally far more profitable East Indies. Even so, all that the Company's charter conveyed was a monopoly right to British business with India, provided the Company could do any. They wound up governing the place only because the Mughal empire unraveled in the 18th century; if the Company was going to enjoy any security, the Company would have to provide its own government.
In addition to piracy, there were drugs and slavery. Ferguson gives us a judicious helping of statistics about the “sweet tooth” economy of the 18th century Atlantic. Britain's possessions produced sugar. They also produced coffee, tea, and tobacco. All these things are mildly addictive stimulants. The market for them was bottomless, and the labor for them was largely unfree. Readers may be surprised to learn quite how lethal this labor system was. It is well-known that one out of seven of the prisoners on slave ships died in passage, but the death rate for the crews was even higher. The islands of the Caribbean were immensely profitable; the exports from Jamaica alone were worth more to England than the whole of the exports of America at the time of the Revolution. That was one of the reasons the British decided to let the colonies go. However, the populations of these tropical colonies, slave and free, did not reproduce themselves. Most immigrants from the British isles died soon after arriving, and it was to the Caribbean that most of them went in the 17th century.
Nonetheless, even at its most amoral, the “First British Empire” of pre-Victorian times was a “liberal” empire, if not quite an empire of liberty. It was very keen on the rule of law, particularly law as it related to property rights. American colonial complaints against London really came down to the argument that one's property is not really secure without some say in how much it is taxed. The empire was also tolerant, sometimes shockingly so. The government in London and the trading companies had no interest in spreading Christianity; they also no objection to customs like widow-burning, provided the subjects of the empire kept it to themselves. Imperial libertarianism sometimes extended to disinterest in famines in the areas the empire controlled. On the positive side, the people who administered the empire were sympathetically curious about the cultures where they worked. They adapted to them, cultivating their arts and literature. As a rule, the British co-opted local elites: there was no color bar to social interaction, or even marriage.
Some of this changed with the transition to the “Second Empire” of Queen Victoria's time. The empire became more humane as it became less tolerant. Much of this occurred under the influence of the evangelical revival of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic fought slavery, with greater and much earlier success in the empire. (In America, the effort was stymied after abolition in the northern states; Ferguson suggests that the success of the American Revolution delayed the end of slavery in America by at least a generation.) Despite the protestations of old India hands, the East India Company did begin to make a fuss about widow-burning and female infanticide. The rule of the Company itself was replaced by paternalistic political control from London after the Mutiny of 1857. The imperial government promoted education, public works, and public order. The settlement of Australia was a Monty Python parody of a whole society organized as a Victorian reform school. It was also a rousing success. The British role in the “scramble for Africa” in the last quarter of the 19th century began at the behest of evangelicals, to suppress the Indian Ocean slave trade to the Middle East.
In the 1890s, the last decade of Queen Victoria's reign, the empire was at the height of its power and self-confidence, though not yet of its territory. It controlled a quarter of the world's land surface and roughly the same proportion of its population. Its control of the oceans was uncontested. In Ferguson's estimate, it was the closest thing the world has ever seen to a world government. The empire was characterized by a high degree of local autonomy. Even India, ruled by an autocrat appointed by London, pretty much ran itself. As for the white dominions, they got almost anything they wanted in terms of “responsible self-government” after the 1830s. The imperial center made a point of protecting the rights of aborigines throughout the empire; the chief audience for Darwinian racism was among the colonists on the periphery.
The empire supported free trade: sometimes at gunpoint, and not always with happy results, as the Opium Wars illustrate. Be that as it may, in this laissez-faire empire, the imperial bureaucracy and military were fantastically small. There were fewer than half-a-million members of the armed forces at the empire's height, including the Indian Army. With few exceptions, colonial wars were small, quick, and resulted in few British casualties. There were no more than a thousand members of the “covenanted” India Civil Service, the people who actually ran India. That number is a bit misleading: Imperial India had a fairly large public sector. It was staffed largely by Indians, including some who passed the exam to enter the covenanted Service, just as the bulk of the military in India was Indian. Because the regions of the empire were normally self-sufficient, the structure was cheap for Britain: military expenditures late in Victoria's reign came to 2.5% or 3.0% of net domestic product: not so different from British defense expenditures in the early 21st century.
Imperial mysticism and liberal disgust with the empire arose at about the same time. Kipling and Ruskin and Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts) saw the empire as a chivalric enterprise, the chief pillar of a civilization that made the world better for everyone, everywhere. This was also the view of Cecil Rhodes, the imperial entrepreneur. Ferguson does not dwell on the historical significance of the Anglophile network that Rhodes promoted, though he does note that Rhodes hoped his scholarships would create something like the Jesuit order, with the empire substituted for the Catholic religion. The problem was that the Boer War he provoked was nakedly commercial and not at all cheap, in British lives or in any other way. That event began the turn of enlightened sentiment away from empire. It would accelerate in the 20th century, until the very word “imperial” became a term of opprobrium.
The key to Ferguson's assessment of the empire is his analysis of the circumstances under which it ended. In the first half of the 20th century, the real alternatives to the British Empire were the Third Reich, or the Japanese East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, or the Italian Empire, or even the Soviet Union. Fighting off these alternative and far worse empires justified the British Empire's existence. Similar arguments could be made for earlier periods in the empire's history. The alternative to British India would have been a morbid extension of Mughal India, which would have been no more successful than Manchu China during the same period.
And what about the other colonial empires? The French were serious rivals in India and North America until the Seven Year's War (1756-1763). The Dutch actually got the better of the British during several conflicts in the 17th century; the competition was ended only when the Dutch and British executives merged in the Glorious Revolution (1688). It is possible to imagine a history dominated by a far greater French Empire, with its whitewashed architecture and frigid bureaucratic routine. One could imagine the same of the Dutch Empire, with its single-minded devotion to business. In either case, the British idea of liberty would have been largely absent from the modern world. Ferguson tells us that all the post-colonial states with populations over a million that became democracies are former British colonies. The qualifications in that statement are intriguing, but Ferguson may be onto something. Certainly the regime of free trade that Britain promoted in the decades before the First World War made the world a more economically dynamic place.
Ferguson makes some interesting comparisons between that “First Age of Globalization” and the Second, which he dates to the last quarter of the 20th century (and which he evidently believes is over). Though he does not argue the case in detail, Ferguson suggests that it would be hard to condemn 19th-century colonialism as merely exploitive. The colonial powers made huge infrastructure investments in their colonies. (The Congo Free State of King Leopold the Wicked may have been the chief exception.) India had a small trade deficit with Britain, for instance, but British India was a capital importer. During the Second Age of Globalization, in contrast, most trade and investment moved between developed countries. The income gap between the developed and undeveloped world widened during the Second Age, whereas it narrowed during the First.
Then there is the phenomenon of political fragmentation. The number of independent states tended to decline during the 19th century; around 1910, there were just 51. At this writing, the number is just short of two hundred. The new polities, fragments of old empires, often have tiny populations and economies that don't make much sense in isolation. Nonetheless, each must support the whole apparatus of national government. In the former Soviet area and in Africa, many of them plainly are not up to it. The implication of Ferguson's description is that what the world really needs is for some power to do in the 21st century what Queen Victoria's empire did in the 19th.
One may note in passing that Ferguson believes Britain itself might still have done at least part of this, in a slightly different history. There was talk well into the 1950s of a “Third British Empire,” under which the Commonwealth would function as a federation. There were several reasons this did not come off. One was that the United States was not particularly helpful during the Sterling crises that punctuated the post-war years, thus encouraging the trade patterns of the old empire to break up. Also, the Commonwealth became so big and diverse that it no longer meant anything. A federation of just the white dominions might have worked, in the unlikely event that its non-British members could have been persuaded a Third Empire was in their interests. As things turned out, the only power left to take up the imperial slack is the United States, about which Ferguson has his doubts.
In some ways, America is better positioned for global empire than Britain ever was. The US economy is about a quarter the size of the global economy; Britain at its height represented about 8%. Even at the empire's height, there were theoretical combinations of navies that might have challenged British naval supremacy, and of course Britain did not purport to be a great land power. In the early 21st century, the US has something close to a monopoly of supremacy in every dimension of conventional force. And the US manages to do this with not much more of a percentage of the national product than Gladstone or Disraeli's governments used. One might also add that Ann Coulter is much better looking than Queen Victoria ever was. The problem is that, in some ways, the US position in the world is the mirror image of a proper empire.
Ferguson does not use this analogy, but he might have likened the “American Empire” to the successful Japanese exporting corporations of the 1970s, those uncanny enterprises whose capital structures consisted almost entirely of debt. Quite aside from chronic federal deficits, the US seems to have given up on ever running a positive trade balance again. The country is an immense importer of foreign capital. It is also an immense importer of foreign people. One of the characteristics of the British Empire at every stage was Britain's huge emigration, which created whole new countries. Americans, in contrast, are reluctant even to go abroad on short business trips. As for military power, the American ability to project it is at least matched by the American eagerness to withdraw it just as soon as possible. In fact, the US tends to withdraw before it is possible, or at least prudent. The Widowed Queen would not have been amused.
To Ferguson's critique, I would say this: I like history as much as the next guy, indeed considerably more than most next guys. Pirates, the Raj, explorers, habeas corpus, the Boy Scouts, the RAF: they are all part of quite a story. Ferguson may well be right that it is the story of one of the better possible worlds, if not necessarily of the best. Still, the story is history, just as the age of empire is history. Empire, in the sense that Ferguson uses it, is a projection of the nationalism of some nation or other. The great national empires, like the great absolute monarchies, were possible during only a limited epoch. The United States in the 21st century could not create such an empire, even if it were foolish enough to try.
What the United States can do is anchor a Universal State or, to use Toynbee's other coinage, “an ecumenical society with Western characteristics.” The story of the better-possible-world that the British Empire created may yet continue. The trick is to avoid the temptation to emulate the noble empire's example too closely.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2003-03-08: Terminal Notes

In his 1997 review of William Strauss and Neil Howe's The Fourth Turning, John predicted that a crisis would erupt in the early twenty-first century. In the cyclical historical model of The Fourth Turning, a crisis successfully averted produces a generation of heroes, for example the Greatest Generation who defeated Germany and Japan in World War 2. A failed resolution to a crisis breeds cynicism and a causes a decay of public order, like the decades after the Civil War that brought us Jim Crow, forgettable presidents, and economic inequality.

At this point, it looks very much like the crisis came as predicted, and also that we haven't really successfully resolved it. As John noted, this does not bode well for the next couple of decades. Those who were in power at the beginning of the crisis will likely not be remembered well by history:

We should note that these changes in the cultural weather are not necessarily good news for GWB or the Republicans. To be in power at the beginning of a crisis, like the Civil War or the Depression-World War II era, is to risk historical opprobrium.

Hopefully it won't turn out as bad as it sounds now.

Terminal Notes
 
The president's ultimatum address last night was perfectly adequate, though it was not one of his great speeches. I was puzzled why it was not delivered from the Oval Office. According to the New York Times today, the reason is that the president looks too isolated when he speaks from behind that big desk. He was already isolated enough diplomatically, the Times implied; why emphasize the point visually? I suppose it would be too much to suggest that the president did not want to be seen talking in front of the Oval Office's familiar French Windows.
When the president does speak from the Oval Office, no doubt he will have good news, for which he wants to take sole credit.
* * *
What shall we say of the assessment by Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic Minority Leader in the Senate, that the diplomacy of the Administration had failed miserably? To begin with, the attitude of the Senator and his party essentially recapitulates domestically what the French have been doing internationally. All these parties have been trying to milk opposition to the war for short-term advantage, all the while positioning themselves to profit more substantially should the war miscarry. So, the short answer to the Senator's question is that the diplomatic prelude to the war developed as it did because the Administration was dealing with people like him.
The long answer is more interesting. The truth is that the US has rarely exercised its diplomatic resources more skillfully and persistently. The best possible outcome would have been a unanimous Security Council resolution last November, with an ultimatum date for February. With that kind of pressure, it's quite likely the Iraqi regime would have cracked. The failure of such an outcome to materialize was not due to any failure of skill or patience on the part of the US Administration. The problem is that the international system in which they had to work is a perpetual-motion machine.
The collective security system that was devised at the end of World War II never really functioned while the Cold War was on. In a way, it was like the constitutions the Soviet Union had. They were wonderfully democratic, pluralistic, and humane. They were also dead letters as long as the Communist Party ran the country. When the Party relaxed its grip, however, the most recent constitution started to function, and everyone discovered it did not work. We now see that the same decision, to relax the rule of Communism and end the Cold War, also allowed the "global constitution" to function for the first time. After a dozen years, we have found out it doesn't work either.
* * *
After the address, I watched the analysis on PBS given by four historians, who were moderated by Jim Lehrer. They acknowledged the novelty of the situation, but they did not seem much inclined to second guess the Administration. They were, on the whole, hopeful that the US would gain credit internationally in the long run.
The exception was Howard Zinn. I was reminded of the joke about the old dog who still chased bitches but had forgotten why. There he was, still spouting the Soviet line after all these years. Again, back when people like him thought that the Fatherland of Socialism was the vanguard of history, it made a certain amount of sense to try to frustrate US policy and diminish US influence. Now he is reduced to defending the manufacture of poison gas. His one consolation is that the preparations to liberate Iraq have made the US internationally unpopular. May he have joy of it.
* * *
Maybe this goes without saying, so I will say it anyway: Strauss & Howe's generational model of American history has been borne out remarkably well by these late, unnerving events. They predicted that the US in the 1990s would try to deal with international and domestic disputes one by one, in isolation. The culture then was centrifugal; there seemed to be a thousand problems. They also predicted that a crisis would begin in this decade, when the nation would abandon half-measures. Those thousand problems would become One Big Problem.
George W. Bush is the very image of the implacable babyboomer Strauss & Howe foresaw; so are his principal opponents. All this is happening a bit earlier than they predicted, which is actually a bad sign: the last time a "crisis" arrived a little early was the Civil War. In any case, the model runs true to form. Stories that would have dominated the news during the Clinton years are now just sidebars: compare the relative public indifference to the recent gender-scandal at the Air Force Academy to the witchhunt occasioned by the Tailhook incident. Even if the media wanted to, it could not return to the Clinton-era definition of "military issue."
We should note that these changes in the cultural weather are not necessarily good news for GWB or the Republicans. To be in power at the beginning of a crisis, like the Civil War or the Depression-World War II era, is to risk historical opprobrium. Consider what happened to President Herbert Hoover: a capable, even a brilliant man, who did not realize the rules had changed. This does not seem to be the problem of Bush & Company, but it is very early days.
* * *
A final point: has anyone noticed that the surname of the US commander in the Persian Gulf, Tommy Franks, is the generic Near Eastern term for "Westerner"? The pronunciation is usually something like "firengi," but the etymology is well-known. (Fans of the later Star Trek spin-off series will no doubt recognize the term.) Far be it from me to be sensitive, but maybe someone should have considered that the phrase "General Franks' headquarters in Baghdad" will grate on some ears like "Sultan Mohammed's palace in Rome."
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Permanent Interests

This is a short essay by John, now nearly 20 years old. It bears recollection now. Would that John had remembered this wisdom in the run up to the Iraq War:

The fundamental reality is that Earth is Eurasia. The important parts of Eurasia are its extremities. The rest of the world's territory is important only as it relates to the ancient civilizations that exist on the supercontinent's eastern and western ends. America is endangered if either of these peripheries becomes aggressive, or falls under the control of a hostile power of the interior. Preventing these things from happening is what American statecraft and armed forces exist to do. Everything else, absolutely everything else, is optional.

The important bits of this essay:

  • Any fixed goal of statecraft is not as good as a willingness to respond to objective circumstances
  • The "international community" is an American invention, made possible by victory in WW2
  • Not all things are possible to all countries at all times
Permanent Interests
by John J. Reilly
 
Probably we can do without a general field theory of U.S. foreign policy. At any rate, it would not be a good idea to run the country's foreign affairs according to one. Nevertheless, there should be certain things that are obvious to everyone about America and the world. You don't have to be very familiar with today's opinion leaders to realize this is not the case. Jack Beatty at the Atlantic Monthly thinks that the end of the Cold War frees us to demobilize. Michael Lind at The New Republic supports the single-minded pursuit of national interests. For that matter, Bob Dole speaking before the World Affairs Council in June of 1996 seemed to think that what U.S. foreign policy needs is "men, not measures." It is hard to think of three establishment figures with more different views generally, yet in this area they all still manage to miss the point in almost the same way.
The point is this: American security is a function of the state of the world. It does not depend on the state of American culture or the competitiveness of the American economy. Such things may determine our ability to do what we have to do. However, the domestic life of America does not define our international needs. Naturally, just because we need to do something, it does not follow that we will be able to do it. One can conceive of a world so hostile or chaotic that no level of American mobilization would make us physically safe and let our society flourish. In such a case, some commentators might be tempted to speak of an America that had turned its attention homeward. The reality would be an America that had ceased to be a subject of history and had become an object. The "state of the world" is not like the state of the weather. It is defined by physical and cultural geography, and it changes far more slowly than daily newspaper readers are apt to think. The fundamental reality is that Earth is Eurasia. The important parts of Eurasia are its extremities. The rest of the world's territory is important only as it relates to the ancient civilizations that exist on the supercontinent's eastern and western ends. America is endangered if either of these peripheries becomes aggressive, or falls under the control of a hostile power of the interior. Preventing these things from happening is what American statecraft and armed forces exist to do. Everything else, absolutely everything else, is optional.
As a practical matter, the pursuit of this strategy means maintaining the outcome of the Second World War. The gaggle of international bodies created by 1950 were designed to do this. The U.N. is simply the alliance that won the Second World War, preserved in amber and surrounded by a rabble of international social workers. The other institutional monuments from that era, the International Monetary Fund and NATO and the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (which finally achieved its originally intended form in the World Trade Organization) are similarly American inventions. There is no "international community" to which the United States must defer or against which it must defend its national interests. To the extent there is an international system, it is an American artifact. You neglect its maintenance at your peril.
As a theoretical matter, the nature of this international system was not determined by the Cold War. The combination of the rise of Soviet power and the successful defense against it was simply a particular instance of the system at work. The American interest in a secure Europe and East Asia antedated the Cold War and continues after it. It would have required something like the same level of American engagement even if the Soviet Union had never existed. It requires a comparable level of American engagement now.
This is all you absolutely have to know to keep American foreign policy on-track. Still, there are some other points you might want to keep in mind. For instance, be wary about trying to whittle down U.S. defense commitments to "vital interests." A vital interest is something that, if you don't have it, you are likely to die. A country that will fight only when its vital interests are at stake will only fight when it is fighting for its life. This is not a good idea. Also, beware the notion of the inevitability of a multipolar world. It is based on the false assumption that any political entity will act as a world power as soon as its economy achieves a certain relative size. In reality, not everything is possible to a culture at every point in its history. People who think that today's China is just a larger version of Wilhelmine Germany are in for a surprise rather like that experienced by the enthusiasts for the European Union.
Finally, we may note one other way in which the state of the world has not changed with the end of the Cold War. The Left in the U.S. throughout that period saw its role as more or less the defense of socialism. Thus, they sought to limit the influence and power of the United States. Even with no more Fatherland of Socialism to defend, they still continue the same policy, like a missile defense system that keeps working even after the civilization that built it has died out. When they finally realize that anything they want to achieve in the world will have to be achieved through the United States, we will have a different politics.
End
 
Copyright © 1996 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

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Hope Reborn and Conqueror Book Review

Belisarius

Belisarius

Hope Reborn
by David Drake and S. M. Stirling
Contains the Forge and the Hammer
Baen Publishing Enterprises, 2013
586 Pages, US$13.00
ISBN 978-1-4516-3877-6

Conqueror
by David Drake and S. M. Stirling
Contains the Anvil, the Steel, and the Sword
Baen Publishing Enterprises, 2003
633 Pages, US$25.00
ISBN 978-0-7434-3594-9

In our world, Belisarius was one of the greatest Roman generals, a servant of the Emperor Justinian I, who nearly managed to restore the Roman Empire to its former glory after the Vandals and the Ostrogoths overran the Western Empire. One of the great what-ifs of history is is to ponder how the world might have been different if Belisarius and Justinian had managed to reestablish a lasting Roman presence in Western Europe and North Africa. Despite the dramatic victories of his campaigns, the conquests of Belisarius were short-lived. The Lombards conquered Italy only three years after Belisarius and Justinian died, completely severing the political ties that remained with the Eastern Empire. A century and a half later, the Arabs would ride across all of North Africa, and then into the Iberian peninsula.

David Drake and S. M. Stirling have taken these events and personalities and transported them to the human colony world of Bellevue, 1000 years after a destructive civil war has cast down civilization on Earth and all her colonies. By combining military scifi with alternative history, Drake and Stirling give Belisarius the opportunity not only to conquer the Western barbarians he fought in our world, but also the armies of Islam that ultimately destroyed the Second Rome long after his death.

Since this is a future history as well as alternative history, Drake and Stirling also get to play around with the weapons and tactics available to Belisarius. In our world the core of the Roman army were cataphractii, heavy cavalry armed with lance, sword, and bow. On Bellevue, Belisarius is reborn as Raj Whitehall, a cavalryman as well, but one armed with a single-shot cartridge fed rifle, and capable of calling fire from black powder field artillery. Rapid communications are available via heliograph, and steam power enables train and ship transport to be far more rapid than anything Belisarius could have achieved.

Despite the technological differences, Whitehall's campaigns closely follow those of Belisarius. There is indeed a sense in which war never changes. Where these books differ from history, it is due to Whitehall being more successful than Belisarius was. Whitehall has an unfair advantage over Belisarius: the covert assistance provided him by Center, a battle computer that fortuitously escaped destruction in the wars that ended the prior civilization. Center can provide maps, enhance the senses, detect lies, and provide all of the accumulated experience of waging war from the sweep of human history. If that sounds a little unfair, it is. War isn't fair.

The fun here is seeing the battles of the historical campaigns waged with gunpowder, and with the tactical and strategic commentary provided by Center. The core audience for this kind of book already geeks out over lines of battle and armchair generalship. Added on to that is the gritty kind of war realism that Drake is known for. There is nothing romantic about war in these books. Yet there is the realization that for all that, some men really do love war, and find their fulfillment in it. Raj Whitehall loves war, and he is good at it, yet he does not love the things that war inevitably brings, or the things that he must do in order to win. Whitehall is a hard man, as Belisarius was before him, but not a monster.

Raj Whitehall does fight monsters however, both within and without the Empire he serves. The Western barbarians are perhaps less culpable for their excesses than the decadent aristocrats who grow fat off of slave labor and starve the army while the barbarians mill about the gates. This series of books plays upon the ideas of historical cycles. One thousand years after the interstellar civil war, the civilization that emerged on Bellevue is starting to ossify, slowly losing its capacity to do something truly different. Like the Later Roman Empire, bureaucracy and corruption have become embedded within civilization.

In our world, perhaps that was why Belisarius ultimately could not succeed. The vital force of the Roman Empire was spent, 1000 years after the founding of Rome. Younger, more dynamic societies developed in the hinterlands and then displaced Rome when her internal weaknesses grew over time to eclipse her fading strengths. Whitehall and Center provide an unexpected impetus to break that cycle on Bellevue. Whether the acts of one man could truly restore the energy and power of an entire civilization is perhaps a question to be asked in a different kind of book.

My other book reviews

 

The Long View: Spengler's Future

When I did the site upgrade, John's online book, Spengler's Future, got jumbled up because I had it hosted on separate pages. I rolled everything up into one page, and added it to the navigation bar.

Spengler's Future was an interesting exercise, a book written around a very simple BASIC program, one that correlated contemporary events to the history of four civilizations that exhibited Spenglerian cycles by simply adding a fixed number of years to the date on which any given event occurred:

If E$ = "China" then let H = F + 2300
If E$ = "Egypt" then let H = F + 3547
If E$ = "Rome" then let H = F + 2127
If E$ = "Islam" then let H = F + 626

For so simple an attempt, this actually worked pretty well. This approach is a quick and dirty way to see the kind of parallels in history that have inspired the many attempts to make cyclical models of history. Go check it out, it is worth a read.

The Long View: The Cunning Man

This is why I do this. Coming back to this barely remembered book review after many, many years is much like reuiniting with an old friend. I can see in these paragraphs things I have said, and things I have thought, forgetting their true source. This post is a rich vein of the insights that I have applied over the years.

John liked Robertson Davies for the same reason I like Tim Powers, he was an author you could use to cleanse your palate after reading some modern drivel. There is something disheartening about so much modern fiction, that it is a real joy to read a book that doesn't drag you down. John notes that while Davies was never opposed to modern culture as such, Davies managed to avoid modernity's worst excesses by looking beyond modernity to what is inevitably to come.

Davies' novel is grouped where it is in John's blog because it is thematically related to Tradition, the political embodiment of the perennial philosophy. You could read John's post as an indictment of Tradition, but mostly I think he wanted to draw attention to something that possesses latent power, and his review of The Cunning Man seeks to draw out the good there is to be found in the perennial philosophy, much as Davies looked for the good in modernity.

John felt that the perennial philosophy at its best was far from the worst possible world, but probably also not capable of achieving the best. Graceful despair was how he characterized it, perhaps most memorably embodied in the Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius. However, John clearly also felt that the hermeticism of the perennial philosophy could conjure a world that none [or almost none] of us really want.

Searching for the even better alternative was John's ultimate purpose, and by extension it is now mine.

The Cunning Man

by Robertson Davies

Viking Publishers, 1995
$23.95, 469 pp.
ISBN 0-670-85911-7

 

The Breath of Coming Winter

 

Some years ago, for reasons that seemed sufficient at the time, I read Doris Lessing's great novel, "The Golden Notebook." The novel takes the form of a long, agonized memoir by a progressive young woman in the middle of the 20th century, in which the protagonist tries to come to grips with the political and sexual struggles of her time. This really is a great book. It succeeds like few other works in conveying to the reader the dismay and self-disgust of the modern mind. Then I happened to read Robertson Davies' novel, "The Lyre of Orpheus," the first of his books I had ever encountered. Reading it was like being cured of an abscessed tooth. Since then, I have been reading everything by him I could find.

I don't think that my reaction to Davies is altogether unique. Many people find his prose to have the same curative effect. His books breathe compassion and an intelligent sense of history. In contrast to so much of what goes on in fiction these days, his vision seems to capture the light of sanity. In his latest book, "The Cunning Man," he puts a fittingly old name to this light: the perennial philosophy. (This term has been variously defined, but perhaps Aldous Huxley's book, "The Perennial Philosophy," comes closest to an extended exposition of what Davies means.) Today, many people speak of the end of the modern era, and some even say it has already ended. They call our time "the postmodern age." This is nonsense, of course. Postmodernism is merely a satirical epilogue to modernity. Robertson Davies, though often accounted a somewhat old-fashioned author, shows us in his books one of the spiritual regimes that could actually succeed modernity when it does end. If so, it will be better than we deserve. Even now, however, with modernity still largely undismantled, it is not too early to begin to understand that the perennial philosophy is in essence a form of graceful despair.

"The Cunning Man" consists of a series of reflections and character sketches, held together by a loose account of the life and times of one Dr. Jon Hullah, master diagnostic physician of the city of Toronto. There are three stories here: Hullah's school life and professional career, the growth of the cultural life of Toronto to world-class status, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of orthodox religion. The doctor, like so many other characters in Davies' books, is a wizardly man, a bachelor and a bit of a misanthrope with some odd intellectual interests. After a boyhood in the Canadian north and a tough-but-fair elite boys' prep school, he has an early infatuation with Freudian theory when it was still new and not particularly respectable, at least in Canada. He has some occasion to put this interest into practice while treating "friendly fire" casualties during World War II. Back in civilian life, the doctor develops into a physician in the tradition of Paracelsus. This means that, in practice, he learned the value of just listening. He is, of course, perfectly expert in scientific medicine, but he tends to take his science as a metaphor. There are genuine mysteries in the case histories of his patients. To illustrate this, he has a bas relief of a caduceus on the wall of his waiting room. Its two intertwining snakes symbolize empirical science and "wisdom" respectively, while above both is written the Greek word for "fate."

The health of every individual, the doctor believes, is as unique as each soul, and so is every disease. The point is not that all diseases are psychosomatic; they aren't. However, the conditions to which the body is prone are usually expressions of the mind, and the patient's state of mind is of critical importance to the success of any therapy. Dr. Hullah acquires a quiet but wide reputation as a "diagnostician of last resort," a physician whose results other doctors cannot quite explain and which they usually have the sense not to ask about. His clinic, it happens, is located in a building in close proximity to a high episcopal church.

At the time of the main action of the story, St. Aidan's was a very high episcopal church indeed, with a congregation that provided a good social cross-section of Toronto. In those glory days, its pastor was the saintly Father Hobbes, a man who literally went hungry to feed the poor. We meet him as he sinks in his last years into a pious and well-beloved dotage. Though the pastor was willing to accommodate elaborate ritual practice, the church's splendid liturgies during the late period of his tenure were the work of the parish's sophisticated music directors, and even more so of the curate, Fr. Iredale, one of Dr. Hullah's old schoolmates. The artistic life of the church was greatly enriched by, indeed it really only reflected, what went on next door in Glebe House. This old mansion had once been parish property, but came into possession of two representatives of another stock type in Davies' books, the Lovable Lesbian Artists. Called the Ladies, they were friends with their tenant Hullah (his clinic is located in a building that had been Glebe House's formidable stone stable). Starting first with artistically-inclined people at St. Aidan's, they came to host a weekly salon that attracted most of the musicians and plastic artists of the nascent artistic world of Toronto at midcentury. (The Ladies invited few writers, since writers proved to drink too much.)

Lest anyone miss the moral, this arrangement is supposed to illustrate the fruitful relationship that art can have with religion. The artists themselves are in large part infidels and persons whose private lives do not bear close scrutiny, yet their community is created by the need of the church for music and vestments and sculpture. Once assembled, they develop their art according to its own needs, but the church continues to benefit from the new creations it has neither the funds nor the imagination to produce itself. During the Golden Age of St. Aidan's, faithful parishioners like the Ladies and Dr. Hullah do not of course believe in the tenets of orthodox Christianity. They are attracted to the church because they intuit that there is a dimension of Being beyond the material. They see that the Good is often the occasion for the Beautiful, as illustrated by the beautiful ceremonies presided over by the genuinely admirable Fr. Hobbes. They are, however, too sophisticated to believe that the Good must also be linked to the True. The Gospel taught at St. Aidan's is a kind of significant poetry. To think otherwise is a bit of naivete that might be tolerated in simple people, but which leads to disastrous results in the hands of men with intellect and imagination.

Such, unfortunately, was Fr. Iredale. Everyone agreed that the pastor was a saintly man. His curate, however, inspired by private visions he could not dismiss, came to regard Fr. Hobbes as a living saint in the most literal sense. The book is in small part also a murder mystery, so it would not be appropriate to set out here just what steps the curate took to prepare the pastor for canonization. Fr. Iredale wanted nothing less than that for the late Fr. Hobbes: a shrine, a cult, and finally official recognition of sainthood by the whole Anglican communion. The cult of Fr. Hobbes was to save not only Toronto, but the whole of North America. The problem, the curate soon found, was that the enthusiasm he had whipped up could not be kept within church walls. One of Dr. Hullah's truly psychosomatic patients declared herself cured by the lately deceased saint's miraculous intervention, and began preaching in the little graveyard by Glebe House where he was buried. She attracted dangerous crowds of those whom Fr. Hobbes had helped in life, street crazies, thieves and invincible alcoholics. (The Unworthy Poor are another staple of Davies' fiction. Here they take the Orwellian name of "God's People.") The bishop of Toronto, alarmed at the disorder and credulity at St. Aidan's, sends his favorite hench-cleric to preach on the dangers of ritualism. Fr. Iredale is banished to a parish in the farthest north. There he must listen to the private revelations of his landlady and try to adapt to a poor rural congregation (actually six small ones at various widely-separated churches). He takes to drink and becomes himself one of God's People, eventually dying in Dr. Hullah's care.

We learn of all this as Dr. Hullah explains it many years later to his godson's wife, an investigative reporter in Toronto. (Newspaper journalism, like the theater and the academy, is yet another stock feature of Davies' fiction. He has, after all, had significant careers in all three professions.) Thus, we get to look at these events from their aftermath. One Lady has died and the other moved away. In any event, the artistic life of the city has become too large and too commercial to fit into one of their artistic evenings. St. Aidan's has become a parish of the rich and tonedeaf. Dr. Hullah has stopped accepting new patients. We see him planning a great literary study for his retirement, a compendium of medical diagnoses of the great characters from literature, based on their spiritual conditions as set out in the texts.

We are given various hints that these personal things are not all that is ending. The doctor's indispensable nurse-therapist, for instance, is a great reader of Toynbee and Spengler, especially the latter. The era of classical modern culture with which the doctor literally grew up seems to be drawing to a close with his career. As a doctor, he has less and less faith in contemporary science, even as metaphor. AIDS and cancer research go on and on, costing ever more but yielding few results. Even the old diseases he thought conquered as a young man are staging comebacks. The suspicion grows that the whole business of research is just that, a business, perhaps finally a bit of a racket. One of his old friends discourages him from making a bequest to a university unless he attaches strict conditions. Otherwise, the greedy scientists will eat it up without licking their lips. Like the monasteries of Henry VIII's time, the laboratories have become bloated and corrupt. The time is coming for a cleaning out.

Robertson Davies has never set his face against the trends of the modern world. Insofar as modern culture has had a strong psychoanalytical component, his novel "The Manticore," which deals with a course of Jungian analysis, may someday be seen as one of the key texts. His novel "The Lyre of Orpheus," which deals with a university production of an original opera about King Arthur, is open to the possibility that there may be worth in today's experimental musical styles. In "The Cunning Man," he even manages a few kind words for feminism, of a sort. Though he clearly prefers some cultural usages of previous periods to those of the twentieth century, he has always been willing to acknowledge whatever good the world has on offer. Still, he suggests that modern culture, at least as it has been known in Canada, is drawing to a close. There is no Spenglerian gloom associated with this development. Empires may crumble and the arts go into hibernation, but the wise do not despair. Every historical era is equally far from God, but the perennial philosophy is there to console us in each.

Davies' idea of enlightenment seems to bear a certain family resemblance to that of the English novelist and former Oxford philosopher, Iris Murdoch, who has been promoting a brand of moderate Platonism for years. The reference point of Murdoch's philosophy is not a personal God, but the abstract Good. The Good, of course, issues no orders, but informs every choice we make, even those that deliberately contravene it. It does, if you will, set the agenda. It does not punish, but reality exacts a price from those who do not seek the Good, which is also the ultimately Real. Popular religion provides a form of the Good that can be understood even by people without a philosophical education. For the mass of mankind, the search for the Good can be reduced to a set of crude injunctions. This is at least sufficient for the purpose of maintaining social order. Sophisticated minds, however, will usually find that, as they climb the ladder of moral perfection, they will eventually no longer need a personal God in order to understand the Good. They need not then abandon God, but may continue to cherish Him as a metaphor. Indeed, Murdoch is a great promoter of High Church practices. As limited beings, we need symbols to help compose our minds to higher things. Ritual links us to the past and so to each other; it helps constitute society. Murdoch is the kind of Anglican who cares little whether her priest believes in God, but a great deal whether he reads from a Bible other than the Authorized Version.

There are a number of flaws one might find with an idealism so chilly. For one thing, a lot of people with expensive philosophical educations, such as St. Augustine and C.S. Lewis, found that the Good was a steppingstone to God and not the other way around. In any event, Davies' philosophy (to the extent it can be derived from his novels) is much less desiccated than Murdoch's. Davies has, for one thing, a strong taste for the merely uncanny. Although there is little actual magic in his books, there is great deal of talk about astrology, alchemical philosophy, and archetypes of one kind or another. These factors are hardly an impediment to sales in today's intellectual climate. He does favor his readers with significant coincidences, effective curses, the odd ghost (his last novel, "Murther and Walking Spirits," was a posthumous narrative by a murdered man) and one memorable case of the Evil Eye. One way of looking at the supernatural is that it is just a plot device that got out of hand, but one of Davies' attractions is that his use of it makes his fiction feel more realistic. Some people all their lives, and others during one or more vivid passages, sense a purpose or presence behind everyday life. Modernity, unlike most cultural periods, has been dedicated to dismissing this intuition as an illusion, or to explaining it in material terms. Davies' kind of realism does not do this. His vision, which perhaps reached its clearest expression in his deservedly-best selling book, "What's Bred in the Bone," can claim the designation "perennial" with some justice.

A taste for the uncanny is a long way from a religious perspective, of course. The uncanny can be a source of bad as well as good, of horror as well as illumination. If you believe in C.G Jung's idea of luck, the "synchronous event," then you must believe in the possibility of bad luck and inescapable ill-fortune. The ultimate that we sometimes sense beneath the surface of our lives is not necessarily friendly. Those characters who seek to understand it, like the diabolical old Jesuit in Davies' "Fifth Business," may be merely entertaining. On the other hand, like the nihilist monk Parlebane (another Anglican ritualist) in "The Rebel Angels," they can become formidable monsters. This view is not a kind of Manicheanism, the idea that there are independent and roughly equal forces of Good and Evil in the universe, each perhaps with its own god. Rather, it is the suspicion that God is both good and evil, that He and the devil are the same thing as seen from different angles. A God of this kind might be respected, and probably should be placated. However, it just presents another problem for human life, it is not a solution to anything.

All of this, Evil Eyes and intuitions of Being and so on, may be gross superstition. For that matter, maybe the Good and the cult of the Authorized Version are subtle superstition. The fact is, however, that educated people in most times and places who did not accept the formal theology of a major religion believed something like this. Even the secular Enlightenment of the eighteenth century was suffused with "hermetic" ideas of this type. They are, if you will, the "default position" for the sophisticated human mind, a kind of historically-informed skepticism that gives no special priority to materialism. For over two hundred years, the progress of scientific theory (and only secondarily of the technology incorporating it) has kept these ideas at bay. Today, one may argue, this perennial philosophy is returning. The problem is not that science has failed. It has almost succeeded in everything it set out to do. We understand much of the chemical aspects of biology. Even the progress of cancer research is not quite the shell-game Davies seems to think it is. We may soon have a Unified Field Theory short enough to write on T-shirt. Even before we have complete solutions to these problems, however, we know that they will not be enough.

What is true of physics is also true of morality. Nietzsche promised us a thorough-going reexamination of all values, and damned if we did not get it. Today, the experiments have all been run, and it is pretty clear to all but the most obtuse observer that the only alternative to something like the traditional systems of ethics is no human life at all. The alternatives will simply kill any society that tries to adopt them. We know what we set out to discover, and now it remains only to implement our findings. To this extent, perhaps, the future is not problematical.

What is problematical is the atmosphere in which this reconstruction will occur. It is easy to imagine a transition in which "secularism" gradually ceases to mean materialism and comes to mean something very like the perennial philosophy. This would make sense. The excitement of modernity being over, it only follows that the more relaxed "default" position would kick in. It would not be the worst thing that could happen, but one can't help but wonder whether it would really be the best. The perennial philosophy is, after all, not really very optimistic about the world or about mankind. It is not ambitious to do things that has not been achieved before. Its highest value is order. Of course, in the terminal stages of modernity, order is nothing to be sneezed at. In the final analysis, however, I think that we will finally come to see that order is not enough, either.


Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2002-07-25: An Unexpected Abyss

Baron Julius Evola

This is where you will find John's real view of the Global War on Terror. It wasn't, and isn't, possible for any of the various counter-insurgencies, civil wars, and bush wars currently raging in the world to bring down the United States of America. To think so is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of power in general, and America's power in particular.

The alternatives currently on offer simply cannot fill the mental space that America currently occupies in the world. None of our declared enemies have the ability to bridge that gap, let alone dislodge us from our position. This is not to say that America deserves to be on top because it is better, or that our enemies merit failure because they are wicked.

The argument is simply that civilizations exhibit something very much like a lifecycle, and not all things are possible at all times and all places. This argument at least has the benefit of empirical evidence, although the sample size is small.

However, there is a viable alternative. It is simply not a visible alternative. And that is all part of the plan.

I used to find John's discussions of Tradition rather mysterious. What exactly is this Tradition thing? It is not the people you usually find called traditional, or traditionalists. John often referred to René Guénon and Baron Julius Evola, but they just seemed marginal figures of European history. Who exactly is it that subscribes to the one twentieth century ideology that never had a state? Then I met a man who did.

I couldn't exactly figure what unsettled me about this man until I re-read what John wrote here:

While there are groups that promote one or more aspects of the Politica Hermetica, there is no great conspiracy behind it. René Guénon called it "Tradition," which comes close enough, though even that exaggerates its coherence. In any case, it is a mode of thought that political science tends to overlook. It is characterized by self-appointed elites who represent a cause rather than human constituents. This implicit devotion to hierarchy, however, coexists with a tactical anarchism. This is the world of "direct action" anarchists, but it is not confined to them. No doubt we have all met "conservatives" who would not leave one stone of the modern world standing on another. Their loyalty is not to this world, but to a transcendent realm. If they are conventionally religious, they adhere to some ineffable orthodoxy that excludes most of their nominal co-religionists. To some extent, this is just a matter of personality type. Still, when we find such people, I suspect we will often find some direct ideological influence from writers associated with Tradition or the Conservative Revolution.

Ah. That described him perfectly, and explained why I felt so odd about him. I had read this twelve years ago, and while my memory isn't what it used to be, I doubtless retained at least some faint memory of it. That memory served as a Gestalt, even as faint as it was. This was a man who would destroy everything; he would not leave one stone stacked upon another.

Sometimes you hear that the left-right political spectrum is not a line, but a circle. Tradition is where the two lines meet.

An Unexpected Abyss

 

I don't believe that we are experiencing a crisis of capitalism, or that we could be defeated in the current Jihad. I think this way because I believe that capitalism and liberal democracy are strong. However, many people seem to think that the success of liberal capitalist democracy is assured simply because there is no alternative. The worst outcome they can imagine is a spate of "chaos" until the liberal order is restored. I increasingly appreciate that this is not the case. The outcome might not be chaos, but a quite different order.

Francis Fukuyama was largely correct in The End of History: communism, and even socialism, have been permanently discredited. The events of 1989 really did constitute the end of the line of ideological evolution that began in the Enlightenment. Communism today is not an alternative. However, one might argue that it was not a likely alternative even in the 1930s, which was the last time the real alternative surfaced. It's too simple to call the alternative "fascism." The fascist states of the first half of the 20th century still had mass political cultures; to some extent, they remained parodies of democracies. At their hearts, however, there was the esoteric alternative. For lack of a better term, we will call it the Politica Hermetica (which should in not be equated with the journal of that name and the annual symposium that deals with the subject). It antedates the Enlightenment, though of course it has undergone development over the last two-and-a-half centuries. Nonetheless, it has a content that is not merely reactionary.

I mention this now because bits of the Politica Hermetica keep turning up in the news. There is the esoteric Islamic connection, which had a long history even before the postwar fascist-Muslim links. There is the reunification of Europe, which might seem like a good idea on the merits. There are the increasingly successful attempts to remove the Catholic Church as a public voice. In some ways, the most alarming development is the attacks on capitalism and the market. Though some commentators don't seem to appreciate the fact, the Politica Hermetica has always appeared on the left as well as the right, among Greens as well as Black Metal fans.

While there are groups that promote one or more aspects of the Politica Hermetica, there is no great conspiracy behind it. René Guénon called it "Tradition," which comes close enough, though even that exaggerates its coherence. In any case, it is a mode of thought that political science tends to overlook. It is characterized by self-appointed elites who represent a cause rather than human constituents. This implicit devotion to hierarchy, however, coexists with a tactical anarchism. This is the world of "direct action" anarchists, but it is not confined to them. No doubt we have all met "conservatives" who would not leave one stone of the modern world standing on another. Their loyalty is not to this world, but to a transcendent realm. If they are conventionally religious, they adhere to some ineffable orthodoxy that excludes most of their nominal co-religionists. To some extent, this is just a matter of personality type. Still, when we find such people, I suspect we will often find some direct ideological influence from writers associated with Tradition or the Conservative Revolution.

My own problem with the Politica Hermetica is that I find parts of it intrinsically attractive. The Perennial Philosophy, as explained by Aldous Huxley's book of that name, is a sunny doctrine. It is more or less explicit in the work of writers I admire, such as Robertson Davies. As for its political implications, I think it is one of those "self-evident" truths that government requires some transcendent basis; even democracy is not self-legitimizing. For that matter, I am also one of those people who keep referring to the impending "end of modernity." The Politica Hermetica makes similar assumptions, but then takes them to places where no sane person would want to follow.

What happened in the 1920s and 1930s was that many did follow, because they did not know that there were such places. In those days, when people despaired of democracy and capitalism, they thought the alternative was some familiar form of authoritarian government. Even those who supported "socialism" did not understand what a break with the past it would mean. At the international level, the respectable great powers laid aside their informal policing roles in order to deal with their internal problems. They thought that the worst that could happen would be distant disorders, of little interest in a world of diminished global trade. The scope of the disaster was made possible by a failure of imagination.

There is no great wave of political hermeticism poised to overwhelm Western civilization, but then neither was there one 75 years ago. My point is that, when the system imploded, the result was not Bolshevism, or chaos, or a return to the virtuous past. Rather, an alternative way of organizing the world seemed to appear out of nowhere. In fact, it had been there before. It's still there now.


Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: Dreamer of the Day

Francis Parker YockeyI am astonished that men like Francis Parker Yockey actually exist. Yockey is a reminder that truth is always stranger than fiction. The closest literary analogue that I have read is Tim Power's Declare. Of course, that is a secret history, based on the very real life of Kim Philby. You can't make this stuff up.

For example, Yockey supported himself as a gigolo. I suppose in way he was the dark shadow of James Bond. Yockey really was an international man of mystery. He was certainly a spy, and traveled all over the world in the pursuit of secret goals. Unlike Bond, he was also a man of letters. He had a law degree from Notre Dame and wrote a book that is more cited than read. In the end, Yockey was unmade by a very prosaic method: the airline lost his luggage containing all his fake passports.

Yockey was primarily of interest to John because he was a posthumous prophet of the one twentieth century ideology that never ran a state: Tradition. Tradition is thankfully rather obscure. I had never heard of it until I started reading John's website. You should be glad you've never heard of it, because that means it has not been successful.

It would be easy to paint Yockey as a tool of fascists, but in truth he was a fellow traveler with the communists as well. The movement with which he was associated also influenced the Third World. There are interesting connections between Yockey and his ilk and the modern Islamists that plague the Middle East. He was after something quite different than most of the Nazis, which is why he is so interesting.

John finishes up this review with an aside about Spengler that is most illuminating. John felt that Yockey mis-interpreted Spengler's ideas, but that very mis-interpretation demonstrated a clear flaw in Spengler himself. Toynbee probably understood the nature of universal states better than Spengler, but you had to read a lot more to get there.

Dreamer of the Day:
Francis Parker Yockey and the
Postwar Fascist International
By Kevin Coogan
Autonomedia, 1999
644 Pages, $16.95
ISBN: 1-57027-039-2

 

Francis Parker Yockey was born in Chicago in 1917 and committed suicide in 1960, when the FBI finally caught him. He dedicated his life to reversing the outcome of the Second World War, a project he believed could be accomplished by 2050. From an early age, he identified anti-Americanism with antisemitism and supported both. He opposed early steps toward economic globalization and gave covert assistance to Muslim enemies of the West. He speculated hopefully that an enemy to whom it would be impossible to surrender would eventually attack Americas' cities. He worked to create a pan-European superstate, indeed a Eurasian superstate including Russia, that would displace America's global influence. He expected that the world would someday be ruled by elites for whom hermeticism had replaced Christianity. On the whole, he probably would have been pleased by the state of the world today.

One should not exaggerate the degree to which the recent prominence of Yockey's constellation of enthusiasms is due to his influence. His great ideological tome, "Imperium," has had some currency in fascist and occult circles on both sides of the Atlantic. Still, though extremists from American Satanists to Russian revanchists may sometimes invoke his name today, they generally do so without much knowledge of his ideas. A few references to Yockey himself turned up in the popular press in the 1950s, as a mystery man somehow linked to both Soviet espionage and the world's neofascist network, but Yockey never even rose to the level of infamy. He remained a denizen of the fringe of the fringe. This does not make Kevin Coogan's treatment of Yockey's life and times any less valuable. Yockey's life intersected with 20th century forces and ideas that were often obscure. That is not to say they were not also powerful, and may be more so in the 21st century.

"Dreamer of the Day" wanders amiably back and forth between high theory and very informed rumor mongering. We get useful pocket summaries of the ideas of some of the chief ideologues of the "Conservative Revolution" of the first half of the 20th century, a "movement" that ranged from Martin Heidegger to Ezra Pound. The book continues through the tangle of small organizations and petty conspiracies that maintained this tradition in the second half of the century, after it was eclipsed by the overthrow of openly fascist governments. You have to read the book to appreciate the full sweep of history between the Thule Society of Munich and the Ancient and Noble Order of the Blue Lamoo of Leonia, New Jersey. The book also treats of matters such as Yockey's posthumous effect on Satanism, as well as the sexual ideologies that percolated among Right and Left in the postwar era. Coogan usually manages to relate all this fascinating material to Yockey, but the connections are often tenuous. This is not the author's fault. Even after exhaustive research, we still know little more about Yockey's life than a disturbing outline.

Yockey's family was of the professional classes, though in somewhat straitened circumstances after the coming of the Depression. His people were German, Irish and French Canadian. Coogan does dangle the rumor of a Jewish grandfather, just for the sake of completeness. In any case, the family was Catholic. Yockey himself later drifted into the theosophical Nietzscheanism that characterized his underground milieu.

He was a small man, about five feet, seven inches. There is one picture of him, on the book's cover. Readers may be reminded of Rod Serling, the somewhat funeral creator and master-of-ceremonies of the original "Twilight Zone" television series. All sources agree that Yockey was highly intelligent. He was a concert-level pianist, though he could only rarely be persuaded to play. All sources also agree that he had a difficult personality. Nonetheless, he was able to support his political interests in part as a gigolo and occasional bigamist. He seems to have appealed to slightly older women who liked to talk about Hitler and to be whipped.

Francis Parker Yockey was involved with organizations of the radical right in the 1930s. This included such groups as William Dudley Perry's Silver Shirts and the various incarnations of the German American Bund. Such connections, however, did not exclude other links, with Stalinists and Trotskyites. His Chicago-area home was a time and place when the semi-fascist followers of Father Coughlin might make common cause with the most radical Progressives. This common front against capitalism was, for radicals like Yockey, also part of the struggle against the Jews.

Yockey for most purposes was a "National Bolshevik," a tendency that in the German Nazi Party was represented by the Strasser brothers, Otto and Gregor. As the term implies, National Bolsheviks supported radical socialism, but for the preservation of the "Volk," the ethnic and cultural unit of the People, rather than for the proletariat. They also supported a policy of alliance with Russia against the West. "Strasserism," as this tendency was also called, was disfavored: after the Nazis came to power, Gregor was assassinated and Otto escaped to Latin America. Still, it continued to appeal to some leading Nazis, notably Joseph Goebbels. He actually took the opportunity to implement some of the Strasserist program right at the end of the regime, in the WerwolfMovement

Rather like the young Goebbels, Yockey pursued an academic career at so many universities that it is hard to settle on a final count. We know that he finished a law degree at Notre Dame and that he qualified to practice. The most important part of his undergraduate career was probably his stint at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. That was, perhaps, the only place in America where he could have been introduced to the ideas of two leading lights of the Conservative Revolution, Karl Haushofer the proponent of geopolitics and Carl Schmitt the jurist.

Haushofer is best known for the propositions that the key to world dominion is the control of Central Asia and that, as the Strasserists said, the proper role for Germany was as the western wing of a great Eurasian power. Furthermore, he argued that Germany was essentially a "have-not" nation. Its proper allies were not in the liberal West, but among the anti-colonial resistance movements of what would later be called the Third World. In Europe, he hoped, Germany would eventually be the center of a hegemonic system that was not quite an empire, but no longer a system of truly sovereign states.

Schmitt is a famous "anticonstitutionalist," whose ideas are somewhat reminiscent of the pragmatic Legal Realists in America during the 1930s. In his view, the real law was what happened at the "Ernstfall," the point of decision where one party succeeds and another fails. He is best known, perhaps, for his definition of "the sovereign" as the entity that can designate who is an enemy.

Between them, Haushofer and Schmitt disposed of the notion of the rule of law both domestically and internationally. There were no principled norms, but simply the exercise of power, which could be more or less predictable. One may note that the Jesuits of Georgetown studied the theories of these two men chiefly in order to refute them; in those days, the Jesuits were less susceptible to intellectual fashions.

By far the greatest intellectual influence on Yockey, however, was Oswald Spengler. Yockey spent his adult life believing that he was implementing the ideas about the future implied by "The Decline of the West." Yockey was also heavily influenced by "The Hour of Decision," a tract Spengler published at the beginning of the Nazi regime. As we will see, Yockey's interpretation of Spengler was somewhat idiosyncratic.

During World War II, Yockey secured an Army commission. Soon afterward, he briefly deserted. Coogan notes that Yockey had many connections with the German sympathizers who probably aided the famous infiltration of German saboteurs into the United States, and that this happened at just the time that Yockey was missing. Coogan makes a plausible case that Yockey was part of a German-American espionage network that lead to the German Embassy in Mexico City. Plausibility is not proof, however. All we know is that Yockey returned to duty after some weeks. He persuaded the Army that he was suffering from a mental breakdown; he received a medical discharge with little trouble.

Through some appalling oversight in the vetting process for federal employees, Yockey landed a job after the war as an attorney with the war crimes tribunal in Germany charged with prosecuting lesser Nazis. He seems never to have actually function in that position; he was eventually discharged for abandoning his post. He would later do the same thing with a job with the American Red Cross, using it to finance another trip to Europe and then simply deserting. Yockey used these opportunities to make contacts with the growing pan-European fascist network.

In a way, the loss of the war liberated international fascism. As we have noted, it was only when the Nazi regime no longer had much of a country to govern that Goebbels was able to give effect to his revolutionary impulses. The same thing happened in Italy. After the Allied invasion in 1943, the Germans rescued Benito Mussolini. He briefly ruled the "Social Republic" of Salò, a rump state in the north of Italy that finally carried out the radical fascist ambition of nationalizing most of the economy. Fascism after 1945 was entirely free of the responsibility for government, and so could pursue the most radical agenda.

It is really as an ideologue that Yockey's chief significance lies. In 1948, working at Brittas Bay on the Irish coast, Yockey produced his masterpiece, Imperium. The book tried to update "The Decline of the West," but in many ways it stood Spengler on his bald head. Spengler, who died in 1936, had not wanted a war with Russia, but neither was he a Strasserist. He feared that Russia and the "Colored World" would make alliance against the West, in collusion with the radical Left of the Western nations. Spengler believed that the West was headed into a period like the Roman Empire, and that the elites of the West needed to cultivate Nietzschean virtues in order to make the transition. Yockey, in contrast, spoke of the need to create what in effect would be a new race to govern the coming Imperium. This notion, as Coogan points out, has more in common with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky's prophecy of the coming Sixth Root Race than with Spengler's concept of "race" as the lineages of cultivated families.

The biggest difference is that anti-Semitism as a major historical force is wholly absent from Spengler's philosophy. For Yockey, modern history was about little more than the cultural distortion caused by the Jews. So great was their effect on the United States in particular, Yockey counseled, that the temporary domination of Europe by the healthy barbarians of Russia was the best short-term goal.

The original two-volume edition of Imperium ran to just 200 copies. There would have been more, but Yockey aliened the British Fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, who had once expressed an interest in promoting the work. Still, it was not without early admirers. The military historian, Basil Liddell Hart, wrote a favorable review. The hermetic Italian ideologue, Julius Evola, also praised it, though he observed that Yockey had misread Spengler. Yockey's book was more a rumor than a source for the fascist revival in the 1950s. It was not until after Yockey's death, when the radical-right publisher Willis Carto brought out a paperback edition of Imperium that the book began to reach a sizeable readership. Still, Imperiumdoes provide some guide to what important fascists were thinking in those days.

Acting in large part under the inspiration of Evola, postwar fascists cultivated ideas that had existed for decades, but that had become muted during the time of fascism in power. Evola was the chief inspiration for a Swiss-based umbrella-organization called the New European Order, or NEO. The group cultivated his favorite themes. These included government by a Platonic, "solar" hierarchy, the notion of sacred kingship, and myths of Aryan origin in the hyperborean north and in Atlantis. On a more practical level, these people were no longer constrained by Hitler's foreign policy. They could deal with the Soviets to oppose Western interests; they could and did deal with the CIA to give radical-right organizations some breathing room, particularly in Italy. (Carl Gustav Jung, also widely considered a Conservative Revolutionary, was CIA chief Allen Dulles's family psychiatrist.)

They were also able to do business with the Third World. A number of exiled Nazis moved through the Muslim capitals, organizing anti-Zionist propaganda. Notable among them was the Strasserist exile, Johann von Leers, who was an important figure in Nasser's Egypt. The network did not neglect Latin America, where the Red and the Brown made common cause on the question of anti-Americanism. Indeed, Coogan makes a good argument that the original post-revolutionary model for Fidel Castro was the Social Republic of Salò.

Amidst all this devilry, Yockey was a jobbing imp. He may well have acted as a courier for Czech intelligence. He may have spent a substantial blank space during the 1950s behind the Iron Curtain. He did work with Leers in Egypt. He even tried to sell the Egyptian government some bogus Argentine nuclear technology. Back in the United States, he worked briefly as a speechwriter for Senator Joseph McCarthy. He lived in New York City for some time, consorting with a strange section of New York's political bohemia. At least one host among his acquaintances kept a frame with a picture of Hitler on one side and of Stalin on the other, the better to accommodate the tastes of his guests. He attended the salon of the right-wing poet, George Sylvester Viereck, who had worked with Aleister Crowley when Crowley was a propagandist for Germany during the First World War. In that set, Yockey may also have met the sexologist, Alfred Kinsey. We know Yockey spent time in New Orleans, writing propaganda for use in Latin America. Coogan takes care to squelch the rumors of a link between Yockey and Lee Harvey Oswald, whose history was not altogether dissimilar.

As Yockey moved across borders, he acquired a bewildering number of identities. The American authorities realized early in the 1950s that whatever this man was doing, it probably was not good. In 1952 they stopped renewing his passport and the FBI started looking for him. His accumulation of false passports was his downfall. Some of his luggage went astray when he flew into San Francisco; his embarrassment of documents came to light in a lost-and-found center in Texas.

The FBI confronted him in Oakland, California, originally planning to arrest him for failure to register under the Selective Service Act. Yockey had in fact registered and served in the military, but the false identity he was using had no such record. The FBI was spared the embarrassment of using this perfunctory device when Yockey tried to run away, injuring an agent in the process.

Yockey was detained while participating in a series of ever less satisfactory immigration hearings. More of his identities surfaced. The list lengthened of things the FBI wanted to talk to him about. In some way that has never been explained, he obtained potassium cyanide. Like the Nazi leadership he so admired, he died by self-administered poison on June 17, 1960.

For me, "The Dreamer of the Day" clarified the Conservative Revolution as a form of existentialism. It began by valuing the clarity afforded by those situations where existence is at stake; it ended with the determination to wager the world's existence. Schmitt's "Ernstfall," Hitler's death-or-glory foreign policy, Evola's faith in lethal violence as the means to individuation, all of this is part of the same cultural moment as Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. For existentialists of all political persuasions, we can experience reality only at the limit, on the edge of the abyss.

This is a terribly distorting way to think. Now that I can recognize the pattern, I see that it is the chief flaw in Spengler's philososphy of history. I would still argue that his insight about a common morphology of cultural evolution is basically correct. The problem was that his existentialism caused him to read history, and particularly Classical history, through a Nietzschean lens. Spengler came to confuse realism with desperation, political skill with ruthlessness. He extolled the improvident genius of Caesar and belittled Augustus's respect for tradition, though in fact Augustus was arguably the most successful statesman who ever lived. Spengler's taste for politics on the edge made him dismiss constitutional forms and the principles of legitimacy as mere "literature."

This, perhaps, is why Spengler paid relatively little attention to the Roman Empire itself, or to any of the final societies that Toynbee later called "Universal States." Spengler's existentialism required him to view those late civilizations as essentially historyless. For Spengler, the Roman Empire was a paradise of will, where unfettered supermen did as they would. In reality, the history of the Universal States displays a morphology as clear as that of any period in a Culture's life. Except in their final decay, they are marked by piety and convention rather than by the antics of supermen. Artist politicians, the high-stakes gamblers, are creatures of modernity. It is a mistake to project them into the future.

The distortions of twentieth-century existentialism are not confined to political history. Those exhortations we have been hearing all these years to turn our attention to marginal people and liminal situations begin to look like a lethal misdirection. This is the nonsense that anarchism, fascism, and every avant-garde for 150 years have had in common. Let us beware of living on the edge. Francis Parker Yockey could still reach up to drag us over it.

 

 


 

Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly

 


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The Long View: World War III

Vault Boy checking the size of a mushroom cloudIn the 1950s, there really wasn't any reason to be terrified of nuclear weapons. The Soviets had them, but they didn't have very many, and it took a long time for a bomber to fly across the Arctic Circle. The strategic planners and civil defense authorities of the day reacted accordingly. With that settled, they could turn to the far more interesting question of, what would happen if Soviet tanks came pouring through the Fulda Gap.

Dropshot was a plan for war written in 1949, drawing on all the practical experience gained during the Second World War. While it was written in 1949, it seems perfectly adapted to the actual President in 1957, Dwight D. Eisenhower. John recasts Eisenhower as a crafty Machiavellian political genius who was far better at playing the Great Game with the Soviets than Kennedy or Johnson. You would have wanted someone sober and experienced at the helm when World War III came.

As such, John decides to have some fun by killing off Eisenhower and having the American people elect Adlai Stevenson over Richard Nixon. When then Soviets do invade, there is a far more excitable Commander in Chief.

Dropshot imagines the worst. The Soviets take Central Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Japan. You can find its like commonly represented in popular fiction, from Kornbluth's Not this August to Red Dawn. However, unlike most of those stories, Dropshot manages to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and it plans for the eventual NATO counter-attack and occupation of Soviet Russia.

The successful conclusion of World War III with an American victory would have meant that the End of History arrived thirty years earlier than it actually did. It also would have enshrined the command economy known as War Socialism into the American psyche. The Sixties would have been cancelled for the duration of the emergency.

Part of the fun of alternative history is trying to figure out what would be the same, and what would be different if some major event or decision went another way. John imagined that we would have ultimately ended up in a similar place once the command economies and sober publics of a post-WWIII era lost their strictures with time, but that the world would ultimately have been worse off for a having fought another war of global reach, even if it were the more limited kind of war Dropshot envisioned.

We might never have enjoyed all the electronic marvels that came out of Silicon Valley, side benefits of the race to build ICBMs. The post-WWII economic growth in America, Western Europe, and East Asia would likely have never happened either. Japan and Korea would still be largely agricultural economies, rather than the advanced technological powerhouses we see today. Growth and progress would still have happened eventually, but the societies that experienced them would be less able to benefit, because demographic transition and cultural change had already occurred decades earlier. The world we live in has some not so nice features, but it far from the worst imaginable world.

World War III in 1957

 

 


Part I


 

 

The year 1957 is not chosen at random. That is the year contemplated by "Dropshot," the U.S. plan for a third world war, which governed strategic thinking for the 1950s. Originally created in 1949, the plan was eventually released under the Freedom of Information Act. It was published, with commentary, in 1978 by Anthony Cave Brown in a book entitled "Dropshot." The war described by that book is the starting point for this article, though my discussion departs from it in many particulars. I would like to consider three topics:

(1) How could such a war could have started?

(2) What would the course of the war have been?

(3) What would postwar history have been like?

A preliminary matter that must be dealt with is the role of nuclear weapons. The writers of Dropshot in 1949 did not think that nuclear weapons would be decisive. Their use would have been optional except in retaliation. Though atomic bombs are devastating if you can transport them someplace where they can do damage, the only means then available was the bomber. This made delivery highly problematical, especially between continents. The writers did note that their assessment would be obsolete if these weapons could be married to rockets capable of flying between North America and Eurasia. As it happened, the era of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) did not really begin until the early 1960s. As late as the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the Soviets were estimated to have only about 50 ICBMs, none in hardened silos. (The Pentagon expressed confidence to President Kennedy that the U.S. could destroy them before they could be launched. Kennedy was not enthusiastic about putting this confidence to the test).

Thus, while Dropshot did anticipate that the U.S. would be able to make successful nuclear strikes at a few Soviet industrial facilities, it judged that these would not be enough to determine the course of the war. Dropshot forecast that the Soviets would be able to drop no more than two atomic bombs on the United States, and that only if they were lucky. It now appears that those "duck and cover" instructional films that were shown in schools starting in the 1950s were less irrational than later opinion has assumed. If you were affected by one of these strikes at all, you were likely to be some distance from ground zero, where precautions against blast and fallout would make perfect sense. We should also note that the relative immunity to atomic attack enjoyed by the United States would not have applied to the European members of NATO. Even in Europe, however, Dropshot did not believe that atomic weapons would be decisive, or even necessarily used at all.

With these points settled, we may begin the discussion proper:

(1) How could such a war could have started? It could not have started by accident. The hair-trigger nuclear response procedures which characterized the later stages of the Cold War simply did not exist during the period in question. There was no need for them, since it would have taken hours for a nuclear-armed bomber to reach its target. Indeed, the leaders of the U.S. and the Soviet Union would have been less constrained than were the leaders of the major European powers in August 1914. The intricate mass mobilization plans devised by France and Germany in preparation for the First World War could not really be controlled once they were started. They were intimately tied to strategic plans of offense and defense which required major battles to occur within days of the start of mobilization. A war in 1957 between the United States and the Soviet Union would have started very differently. The mobilization of whole continents is necessarily a leisurely affair. The plans the newly mobilized armies would have been called on to execute would have been calculated in terms of months or years. Therefore, though accidental skirmishes between East and West might have occurred in Europe or the Mediterranean in the 1950s, an actual war would probably have to have been deliberate.

Since the Dropshot war is defensive, at least in its opening stages, we must imagine a situation in which the Soviets launch a general offensive to occupy Western Europe (and various other places, as we will see below.) This would have required a Soviet leadership that believed a decisive victory for communism was achievable by military means, and a U.S. leadership that was either threatening or indecisive or both. The first requirement would have been met by the survival of Stalin into a vigorous old age. Though Stalin died in 1953, he would have only 78 years old in 1957, hardly old enough to get a driver's license in Georgia. The Stalin whom Solzhenitsyn described in his novel, "The First Circle," planned to fight and win a decisive third world war. Let us then imagine the old tyrant succumbing to delusions of omnipotence because of his overwhelming victory in the Second World War, yet frightened by events he sees happening on the other side of the world.

There is a good argument to made that the United States took as little hurt from the Cold War as it did because the president during the 1950s was that logistics expert, Dwight David Eisenhower. Throughout his presidency, experts from the Pentagon would come to him with estimates of the terrifying strength of the Soviet Union and proposals for huge increases in conventional forces which would be necessary to counter it. Eisenhower, who had been a five star general, knew just how seriously to take assessments of this type. Using his own good judgment to gauge just what the Soviets could or would do, he starved the U.S. military during the 1950s to let give the consumer economy room to breath. It was a risk, but history shows that he was right to take it. (His successor, John Kennedy, lacking this self-assurance, tended to act on the assumption that the most pessimistic assessment was the correct one, which was part of the reason for the Vietnam War.) Eisenhower knew that the Soviets were a real threat, one that had to be contained. In this he was right: the attempts by revisionist historians to ascribe the Cold War to American paranoia are tendentious. He was also right in believing that containment, as distinguished from rollback, could be achieved by feint and threat. He could make threats effectively because he was a known quantity to the Soviet leadership. They knew he was a cautious commander, that he would not start a fight if he did not have to, that he was not easily deceived. Even when they lied to him, they lied within limits understood by both sides.

Let us picture an alternative president. Suppose that Eisenhower is out on the golf links in September of 1956, taking a short break from his not-very-grueling campaign for almost certain reelection, when he has a fatal heart attack. His running mate, Vice President Richard Nixon, was even then a man of ambiguous reputation. Nixon assumes the top spot on the Republican ticket, and he has few if any differences with his boss's sober military and foreign policies. However, people quickly form the impression that he is too young and too opportunistic to be president yet. They therefore turn, with a sigh of resignation, to the Democratic presidential contender, Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson, of course, had many gifts. He was intelligent, well-informed, and articulate to a degree rare among American politicians. Stevenson was a genuine intellectual. Unfortunately, he was also a windbag in the great tradition of William Jennings Bryan and a sentimental internationalist in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson. Sentiment and kindness are not the same thing, so foreign affairs conducted by sentimental statesmen are often envenomed to an unusual degree.

Stevenson's foreign policy is itself a good illustration. John Kenneth Galbraith, who helped write Stevenson's speeches in the early 1950s, has remarked that part of his job consisted of toning down the virtual declarations of war against the Soviet Union that Stevenson usually inserted in his first drafts. Doubtless some of this rhetoric was intended merely to counter the impression that the Democratic Party was soft on Communism. However, it cannot be denied that Stevenson felt the policy of Cold War containment was immoral because it did not go far enough. He did not favor an attack on the Soviet Union, but he did want it pressured from all directions with physical and moral force. This was what Ronald Reagan actually did in the 1980s, with considerable success. However, Reagan and his advisers knew that the Soviet Union had exhausted the growth capacity of a command economy, that the system was strong but brittle. In the 1950s, by contrast, the Soviet Union was growing and confident. Stevenson would not have been deterred by this well-known fact; he had the sort of mind that regarded mere practicality as rather tawdry. His idealism would have been costly. Even a symbolic threat to the Soviet Empire, as it then was, would have brought results quite different from those of thirty years later.

If the parties to the Cold War had wanted a military showdown, they would have had several perfectly suitable occasions in 1956, notably the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian Uprising. Had Stalin still been alive at that time, it is conceivable that he would have started to deal with the peoples of Eastern Europe as he had begun to deal with the peoples of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Certainly some Eastern Europeans believed that Stalin was planning massive movements of populations and the vigorous purging of pre-World War II society. If this happened, an outraged Stevenson Administration might then have announced its intention to send a standby expeditionary force to Western Europe to support any future popular uprisings in Eastern Europe. Less suspicious rulers than Stalin would have been moved to preemptive action in such an event. He would not have been reassured by the interminable flow of moralistic rhetoric that President Stevenson could have been relived upon to produce. There would have been too much of it to read, much less analyze. Stalin could easily have decided that he could no longer wait for his creatures in Western Europe to take power through force or fraud. Hoping for a decisive victory before the U.S. expeditionary force could arrive, he sends his armies across the north German plain to take the ports on the English Channel.

(2) What would the course of the war have been? The Dropshot study is not a belligerent document. It seems to be one of those common bureaucratic plans which deliberately present a scenario so hair-raising that its intended readers will be dissuaded from ever trying it in real life. It does, of course, wildly overestimate anything the Soviet could or would do. In addition to the main thrust across northwestern Europe, it contemplates simultaneous Soviet offensives into the Middle East and Japan. (For reasons wholly obscure, it directs that Hokkaido, the northernmost and least populous of the main Japanese islands, be abandoned.) Its assessment of the early course of the war in Europe, however, was certainly realistic in 1949, and might still have held true in 1957. The gist of the forecast was two months of unrelieved disaster. While the planners hoped to stop the offensive somewhere in Germany, their sober assessment was that it would have been difficult even to hold Britain. Readers of Norman Schwartzkopf's memoir, "It Doesn't Take A Hero," will recall his description of the state of the U.S. Army in the 1950s. At least that part of it stationed in the United States was a hollow force of badly trained conscripts. Its equipment was ill-maintained and its senior officer corps consisted disproportionately of World War II veterans who would not otherwise have had jobs. This was the Army that was sent to fight in Vietnam, with what results we know. While doubtless the emergency of a world war would have quickly brought improvements, the opening phases of the war would have had to be fought with what the U.S. had on hand. What it had was not all that good.

In some ways, an actual world war fought in 1957 would have been fought under even worse conditions than those envisioned in 1949. When Dropshot was being developed, the fate of China was still in doubt. The maps that come with the plan show China with a Communist north and a Nationalist south. The study discusses the country mostly in terms of natural resources and as a bridge to French Indochina. In reality, by 1957 China was a united ally of the Soviet Union. It had a significant military, as proven by the Korean War. As we know now, Chairman Mao tended to needle the Soviet leadership for being too accommodating to the West. By some accounts, he even proposed an offensive war against the West to Nikita Khruschev, offering tens of millions of soldiers and even the union of China with the USSR. Of course, China had (and has) little striking power beyond its own borders, and the Soviet Union could not have come near to supplying the Chinese Red Army with the equipment for offensive capabilities. Still, the Sino-Soviet alliance in a World War would have been a formidable opponent. It is perfectly plausible that some Chinese armies would have fought not just around China's perimeter, but in France and Germany.

The worst case scenario for such a war is available, not in Dropshot, but in a 1955 novel by C.M. Kornbluth, entitled "Not This August." We hear about the war mostly in retrospect, since in the first few pages the president of the United States surrenders to the Communist alliance in a radio address. The bulk of the book is a description of the Soviet occupation, as it affects a single small town. The war lasted for three years, and it was not so different from the Dropshot war. Nuclear weapons were not a decisive factor. The Soviets take all of Europe and, using its resources and Chinese manpower, contrive to defeat the American fleet, make a landing in Central America and work their way north. The U.S. surrenders when the American front in Texas collapses.

It might seem a bit premature to surrender with the enemy only on the southern border, but the author paints a good picture of a society that has already been bled white. All available manpower and industrial capacity have been diverted to the war, and still it is not enough. Dropshot contemplates a comparable degree of mobilization. Thirty million people of both sexes would have been needed to win the war the plan laid out. It would not have been an economically invigorating war, as the Second World War was for the United States. Wars are only invigorating if the economy has a lot of unused potential which would go to waste if not used for military production. This was the case with the American economy in 1940, but not in 1957. Rather, it would have been like the Second World War was for Great Britain, with every warm body either in the service or doing something to support the war effort, and with civilian production at destitution levels. During and after the Second World War, a number of laws were passed giving the president standby authority to nationalize or otherwise commandeer most of the industrial plant of the U.S. in the event of a national emergency. Universal conscription was, in principle, already in place. In the course of the war against the Communist alliance, the U.S. would itself have become a command-economy state.

Part II of World War III in 1957



In actuality, or course, even if the Soviets got to Antwerp, they would be most unlikely to have arrived in Amarillo three years later. Rather than the immediate loss of Western Europe, we must imagine Central Europe becoming a debatable region. After absorbing the initial offensive, Dropshot calls for NATO to hold the line while the resources of the United States were mobilized. Realistically, this could have taken at least a year. During that time, it would have been extremely difficult to keep NATO together. One of the points which "Not This August" emphasizes as a factor in the defeat of the United States is the role of the Communist underground. The state of the evidence suggests that such a concern may be more than simple McCarthyite paranoia. The part played by Communists and communist sympathizers in the politics and culture of the U.S. in the 1930s and 1940s is still insufficiently appreciated. If I had to name a single book to support this point, I would suggest the last of Upton Sinclair's "Lanny Budd" novels, entitled "A World to Win." Published in 1946, it describes sympathetically the adventures of a wealthy American Communist as he moves about the world during and just before the war, helping to organize the fight against Fascism. The author, who made no secret of his own leftist sympathies, describes the pro-Soviet cells which exist everywhere in the U.S., in Hollywood and Washington and the arts. This, of course, was all edifying progressive fiction, but it seems to have been fictionalized rather than fantastic.

The pro-Soviet streak in America politics did real harm during the Molotov-Ribbentrop pack, when it actively impeded U.S. attempts to prepare for World War II. It continued to do harm throughout the Cold War era, up to and including the "Nuclear Freeze" movement of the 1980s, which nearly succeeded in depriving American negotiators of the bargaining power they needed to get the Soviets to reduce the number of nuclear weapons. While this force in American politics would have been as active as possible during a U.S.-Soviet war, they might not have counted for that much, considering the high degree of national unity there would have been. In any event, they would have worked through front groups as much as possible. This would not have been the case in Europe. The powerful Communist Parties in France and Italy were openly and proudly pro-Soviet, indeed pro-Stalin. They could and would have organized work stoppages and mutinies. The peace movements they would have supported would have been particularly persuasive with hostile and at least temporarily triumphant armies only a few hundred miles away. Even if they could not have forced their countries to surrender, they could have made all but the most perfunctory participation in the war impossible.

Still, these political difficulties would have been no more insurmountable than those that had to be overcome to win the Second World War. Assuming, therefore, that NATO holds together while it rearms and regroups, the second phase of the war could begin. Dropshot contemplated an offense that would ultimately result in the occupation of the Soviet Union. Again, however, it did nothing to suggest that anyone would enjoy trying this in real life. The plan considered the various ways that the Soviet Union might have been invaded, and finds all but one of them either impractical, like a drive north from the Middle East, or useless, like an invasion of the Soviet Far East. The only way to do it is the hard way, back eastward across the north German plain and into Poland. Securing the Balkans would be necessary simply to secure this endeavor.

Having defeated the Soviet armies in Eastern Europe, the rest of the war would have resembled the German campaign of 1941, but without Hitler's mental problems. I can summarize the final stage of the war no better than by quoting Dropshot itself:

"22. In the event of war with the USSR, we should endeavor by successful military and other operations to create conditions which would permit satisfactory accomplishment of U.S. objectives without a predetermined requirement for unconditional surrender. War aims supplemental to our peacetime aims should include:

"a. Eliminating Soviet Russian domination in areas outside the borders of any Russian state allowed to exist after the war.

"b. Destroying the structure of relationships by which the leaders of the All-Union Communist Party have been able to exert moral and disciplinary authority over individual citizens, or groups of citizens, in countries not under Communist control.

"c. Assuring that any regime or regimes which may exist on traditional Russian territory in the aftermath of a war:

(1) Do not have sufficient military power to wage a war.

(2) Impose nothing resembling the present Iron Curtain over contacts with the outside world.

"d. In addition, if any Bolshevik Regime is left in any part of the Soviet Union, ensuring that it does not control enough of the military-industrial potential of the Soviet Union to enable it to wage war on comparable terms with any other regime or regimes which may exist on traditional Russian territory.

"e. Seeking to create postwar conditions which will:

(1) Prevent the development of power relationships dangerous to the security of the United States and international peace.

(2) Be conducive to the development of an effective world organization based on the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

(3) Permit the earliest practicable discontinuance within the United States of wartime controls."

This passage is not without relevance to the state of the world in 1995. Let us imagine, however, that all this has been achieved, but the year is only 1960.

(3) What would postwar history have been like?

The burden of Arnold Toynbee's great multivolumed work, "A Study of History," is that our civilization has broken down and that it is now (during the 20th century) in a "time of troubles," like the Hellenistic period in the ancient West and the Era of Contending States in China. Such periods are characterized by "world wars." In the course of them, one great power delivers a "knockout blow" to its main rival, and sooner or later goes on to establish a universal state, like the Roman Empire. The war Dropshot envisioned would have been such a blow. Actually, Toynbee thought that a third world war would probably be started by the United States and won by the Russians, "because they have a more serious attitude toward life." Be that as it may, since we are working with the U.S. war plan, let us consider what the result of a Western victory would have been.

The world of 1960 after Dropshot would have been poorer than the real world of that time. Africa and the great arc of Eurasia around Russia would have collapsed into ethnic squabbling as the reach and attention of the great powers were withdrawn. On the whole, the non-communist countries of East Asia might have been invigorated, as they were by the Korean and Vietnam Wars. However, there would have been no comparable world demand for consumer goods for these countries to exploit. They could well have experienced a war boom, followed by prolonged depressions, as their home markets slowly recovered.

China, we assume, would have been part of the losing alliance. Dropshot did not devote a great deal of attention to it. If the plan had actually been implemented, it is unlikely that country would have been the scene of major U.S. operations. However, with China's attention diverted toward supporting the Soviet war effort, it is conceivable that the U.S. might have backed a Nationalist reinvasion of southern China. It is debatable whether this would have found wide support. The Communist regime did not begin to mismanage the country significantly until the Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s, a program which presumably would have been postponed in the event of a war. However, what with the stresses of a lost war and such resentment against the regime as had already been generated, it is possible that China would have fallen apart, much as it had during the warlord era of the 1920s, and as it may again in the later 1990s when Deng Xiao Peng dies.

The biggest differences between a post-Dropshot world and the actual world of 1960 would have been in Russia, Europe and the United States. Russia and Eastern Europe in the late 1950s were still recovering from the effects of World War II, and the last thing they needed was another war. In some ways, perhaps, the Dropshot war would been less damaging than the Second World War, since it was supposed to be faster and would not have been directed against civilians. The plan called for a war of tanks, fought for the most part on the plains of northern Europe. It would still have been a catastrophe, but one that would not have returned the region to 1945 levels.

Russia in 1960 might have been better able to make the transition to a market economy than it was in the 1990s, for the simple reason there was a substantial portion of the population who were already adults during the last period when free enterprise had been allowed to operate, during Lenin's "New Economic Policy" of the 1920s. It might, for instance, have been fairly simple to recreate peasant agriculture. On the other hand, Russian industry in the 1950s was even more strictly military than it was in the final stages of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Since the military occupation of Russia in 1960 would have been largely concerned with closing down the country's military potential, this would have meant closing down all but a small fraction of the country's industry. The country would have become, at least for a while, a country of peasants and priests. This prospect might warm the heart of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, but the reality might not have been sustainable.

In Western Europe, the 1950s boom would gave been cancelled. Even assuming the Dropshot war did less damage than the Second World War, still it would have been the third major war in the region in fifty years. Maybe that would have been too much. People can only be expected to rebuild so many times before they begin to despair about the future. It is hard to imagine the normal market mechanisms of savings and investment operating at all in such environment. What fool would invest money in a society that seemed to explode every 20 years? Who would even want to keep money? People would try to turn their savings into tangible assets as quickly as possible. The cloud of despondency would ultimately lift, of course, but would be greatly impeded by the factor we will consider below.

Even in America, collectivism would have triumphed. As several historians have pointed out, what we call socialism is simply the institutionalization in peacetime of the command economy measures devised by Britain and Germany to fight the First World War. These institutions would have been greatly strengthened throughout the West, but especially in the United States, by the experience of two world wars so close in occurrence. We should remember that enlightened opinion in the U.S. of the 1950s was that command economies really were superior in most was to market economies. It was universally assumed that pro-market policies could never cure underdevelopment in the Third World. Certainly the literature of the era is filled with ominous observations that the Soviet Economy was growing much faster than the U.S. economy during the same period. If the highly regimented American economy envisioned by Dropshot had actually succeeded in winning the Third World War, this attitude might have become a fixed assumption of American culture, as it did in so many other countries during the same period. Private enterprise would doubtless have continued to constitute a major share of economic activity, but it would have been so tightly regimented as to be virtually a creature of the state. And there would have been no example, anywhere on Earth, of an important country that did things differently.

The '60s, as we knew them, would also have been cancelled. Partly, of course, this would have been because the country would have been broke. Everyone would have had a job with a fixed salary, of course, but there would have been little money for cars or highways or private houses. America would have remained a country of immense, densely populated cities, most of which would have consisted of public housing. The biggest difference would have been the psychology of the younger generation. The young adults of the 1950s, who had been children during the Second World War, could not have conceived of allowing themselves the indiscipline and disrespect shown by the young adults of the actual 1960s. The "Silent Generation" of the 1950s knew from their earliest experiences that the world was a dangerous place and the only way to get through it was by cooperation and conformity. If Dropshot had occurred, their children, the babyboom children, would have been even more constrained in childhood and correspondingly more well-behaved in young adulthood. Doubtless there would still have been something of an increase in the percentage of the young in higher education in the 1960s, but the campuses would have been a sea of crewcuts and neat bobs, white shirts and sensible shoes. The popular music would not have been memorable.

The world after Dropshot would have had certain advantages, of course. Total world expenditures on the military would probably have been much smaller than was actually the case. The nuclear arms race would never have occurred. Indeed, the more alarming types of nuclear missile, those with multiple warheads, would never have been invented. It would have been a world much less cynical than the one which actually occurred. The three world wars would have provided a sense of closure which modern history has not yet achieved. This time, finally, all the great evils of the century would have been defeated. It would be unlikely to have resulted in Toynbee's universal state, at least not during the 20th century. The American people would probably have been as sick of the Adlai Stevenson Democrats after the Third World War as they were of the Roosevelt Democrats after the Second World War. The country would have kicked the victors out of office and sought to turn inward. America would not have been enthusiastic about further adventures for a long time to come.

The exhausted world I have described would doubtless have revived in a few decades. Nations would have broken out of the cultural constraints that the experience of universal conscription tend to impose on a generation. People would slowly realize that their highly regulated economies were not really keeping them safe but were really keeping them poor. There would be an episode of restructuring as technologies developed for the military were finally converted to consumer use, and old subsidized industries were allowed to die. All in all, the world of 1995 after Dropshot might have been similar to the one we see today. Still, it would have been reached at immensely greater cost, both economic and spiritual. We are not living in the best of all possible worlds, but it could easily have been worse.

 


Copyright © 1996 by John J. Reilly


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The Long View: The Prophet of Decline

Spengler with hairOswald Spengler remains of interest in the early twenty-first century because he managed to eerily predict some features of the world today. He didn't get everything right, for example his prediction that the United States would not survive the stress of the Great Depression, but he did manage to foresee both the Cold War and its resolution.

While the Decline of the West is Spengler's best known work, John here looks at the possibility that Spengler's unexpected death prevented him from elaborating on his theory of history [and probably also prevented the Nazis from eventually needing to deal with his anti-Hitler snark]

Arnold Toynbee would later publish a tremendous tome, in twelve volumes, expanding this kind of historical analysis from Spengler's seven civilizations to twenty-six.  While these men were rough contemporaries, the tone of their respective works are very different. The circumstances of their lives could not be more different either. Which makes the parallels between them so much more interesting.

Toynbee became something like the court philosopy of the Kennedy Enlightenment, thanks to Henry Luce. His works were more friendly to the role of religion in society, and more upbeat in general than Spengler's. However, in the end, even cranky old Spengler started talking less about decline [Untergang] and more about perfection [Vollendung]. In science, it is common for multiple researchers to independently converge on the same idea at about the same time. It looks very much like something similar was operating here.

Prophet of Decline:
Spengler on World History and Politics
by John Farrenkopf
Louisiana University Press, 2001
$24.96, 304 pages
ISBN 0-8071-2727-2

The first volume of Oswald Spengler's great comparative study of history, "The Decline of the West," was published in 1918, just as his native Germany lost the First World War. Spengler (1880-1936) has been with us ever since, though often only in caricature. Sometimes his name stands for little more than the sentiment of "historical pessimism," or for the proposition that "history repeats itself." After the Cold War, discussions about the "clash of civilizations" and hegemonic diplomacy raised issues that Spengler had first broached 80 years before. The time has come for Spengler's work to be critically reintroduced to a 21st century audience.

John Farrenkopf, an independent scholar who has labored in the Spengler Archive in Munich, here provides a guide to the current state of Spengler studies, particularly in Germany, as well as provocative conclusions based on his own archival work. "Prophet of Decline" answers many common questions about Spengler's politics. The most interesting part of the book, however, is the thesis that Spengler expanded his ideas after "The Decline of the West" into what is really a second, largely unpublished theory of history. The book even has a picture of the notoriously shiny-pated Spengler with hair. Revisionism can go too far.

Since the last quarter of the 19th century, many people have suggested that the modern era of the West bore significant similarities to the Hellenistic era and the late Roman Republic, a period running roughly from the death of Alexander the Great (330 B.C.) to the assassination of Julius Caesar (44 B.C.) Spengler elaborated this idea in two ways. First, he attempted to work out the analogy systematically. Other writers had noted parallels in the exacerbation of Great Power rivalries. Spengler went beyond that, arguing for parallels in the exhaustion of artistic styles, the domination of both periods by a few great cities, and even claiming that science and mathematics approached final formulations in similar ways in antiquity and modernity. Far more originally, he tried to identify similar patterns of development in seven other "High Cultures." Thus, not just the Greco-Roman World, but Egypt, ancient China, India and other societies had also experienced "modern eras" of two or three centuries. Each had also had its own peculiar "age of faith" (the pyramids, in Spengler's terminology, were "contemporary" with the Gothic cathedrals of Europe) and its cultural climax in a "Baroque."

Despite the many specific examples the "Decline" employs, the logic of the work is not empirical but metaphysical. It accepts Nietzsche's rejection of Kant's historical optimism, but embraces the limits set by traditional German idealism on the power of pure reason. The story of the High Cultures, in fact, is the tale of societies that seek to transcend the power of human understanding and fail. One may not like this kind of reasoning, but the fact remains that Spengler was the first philosopher of world history to really try to write about the world, rather than just dismiss the other great civilizations as a mere prologue to Western history.

Farrenkopf gives us a summary of the enormous critical reaction to "The Decline of the West." The critiques often said that Spengler's analogies were factually wrong, or claimed that Spengler's analogies were so obvious as not to need saying; a few critics said both in the same review. What really exasperated his critics from the first, however, was the fact that Spengler's "morphology" of the history of High Cultures had obvious implications for the future of the West. If the analogy from other "modernities" held, then, probably around the end of the 21st century, the West should collapse into a universal empire, with a culture that would ultimately become as stiff and curatorial as Egypt's during the New Kingdom. In the meanwhile, money and democracy would increasingly hollow out the traditional forms of society, until both collapsed in the face of mere power politics. Wars would reach a climax of technical sophistication and speed, even as nations disintegrated internally. This was a gospel of bad news, but Spengler used the worldwide notoriety of "The Decline of the West" to become its prophet. From the start, his success was mixed.

Spengler conceived the idea for "The Decline of the West" during the Agadir Crisis of 1911, when he realized that a general European war was inevitable. As he put it, the West was entering a period of two centuries of wars for world power, like that between the Battles of Cannae (216 B.C.) and Actium (31 B.C.). Because Germany appeared as a nation state late in Western history, just as Rome did in the Classical world, and because it was an economically dynamic power at the periphery of the ancient core of its wider culture, just as Rome had been relative to Greece, Spengler assumed that Germany would play a role in late Western history like that of Rome in late antiquity. That is, it would overcome the other Great Powers, establish hegemony over Europe, and go on to create an "imperium mundi," a universal empire that might, ephemerally, encompass the whole planet.

Spengler was a man of wide education, with a PhD in philosophy, though his day job had been teaching mathematics in a secondary school. He had quit some years before 1914 to pursue his literary interests, supported by a small but apparently adequate inheritance from his mother. Unfortunately, his property was largely in American stocks, the income from which became inaccessible during the First World War. He spent the war freezing in a Munich garret, working on the "Decline" and hoping his medical exemption from military service held up. Despite his threadbare circumstances, he took time out to compose a "memorial" for the Kaiser, explaining how best to navigate the difficult years that would follow a German victory. Examining this unfinished and happily unposted document, Farrenkopf reports that Spengler was then instrumentally friendly to democracy. Spengler suggested that support for the monarchy would be strengthened if the bourgeoisie and working classes were given real responsibility, which would have required a more democratic franchise than the class-weighted voting system of Prussia. It would also have required giving the Reichstag far more power than it had under Bismarck's constitution. Spengler came close to suggesting that the German government needed fewer monocle-wearing Junkers and more businessmen and labor leaders. Only thus could Germany achieve the degree of national cohesion necessary to carry out the foreign policy tasks that history had set for it.

The "Decline of the West" is not a political tract, or even a mirror of princes, but a densely philosophical work. Nonetheless, even Spengler's philosophical detachment was disturbed by the loss of the world war. Spengler accepted the "stab in the back" theory for the catastrophe: Germany was not defeated on the field, but betrayed by subversives and ideologues. He soured on democracy. In the years between the end of the war and the stabilization of the Weimar economy in 1924, he became involved in the plots among right-wing aristocratic circles to overthrow the fledgling government and establish an authoritarian regime. Farrenkopf relates that Spengler even spoke with army chief General Hans von Seeckt about becoming the minister of culture or education in such a government. (The general ultimately stayed loyal to the Weimar regime.) Spengler was peripherally involved with a prospective monarchist coup in Bavaria that was short-circuited by Hitler's own Beer Hall Putsch. Still, in those years Spengler did not spend all his time making a fool of himself, but elaborated a political philosophy that goes beyond the ideas he expressed in the "Decline."

The chief published presentation of this development is "Prussianism and Socialism" (1919), a short work in which Spengler tried to sketch a final philosophy of governance for the West. There were two options in competition for this role, he suggested. One was the "knightly" tradition, embodied in Prussia, of care for all and the will to plan for even the distant future. The other was the "Viking" tradition of the Anglo-American world. The Viking tradition could operate globally more easily than its competitor, but it was almost purely commercial. Its fate was therefore tied to that of financial capitalism, which Spengler believed to be an extreme and ephemeral characteristic of the modern era. What Germany needed to do, according to Spengler, was to rescue socialism from class warfare in general and Marxism in particular. The socialism of the future ("Ethical Socialism" was his term for it) would not be an economic theory, but a system of morality for the conduct of public affairs. To use a formula Spengler did not use, it would be the "chivalry" of the post-democratic elites of the coming centuries.

Farrenkopf makes some defense of Spengler's ideas about economics. The turn-of-the-millennium euphoria about a world of free-trade liberal capitalism (the "Viking" option) might not survive another systemic crisis, he reminds us. Additionally, one can say that Spengler's presentation of economic history as a branch of culture, subject to styles and "periods," is a refreshingly novel view of the subject. Even granting both points, I would suggest that Spengler's rather mercantilist preferences illustrate his limitations. Spengler spent his public career emphasizing the cultural unity of the West and the inevitability of the end of national sovereignty. Despite this, he seems never to have seen an international institution that he liked, either public ones like the League of Nations or private ones like the global banking houses. It is as if he imagined that the imperium mundi of which he dreamed would have no institutional predecessors.

Far more interesting than his politics, however, were the historical and philosophical concerns to which Spengler turned his attention after it became clear that the Weimar Republic would be around for a few more years.

Readers of "The Decline of the West" are often struck by the questions it does not answer. It does not explain how the group of "High Cultures" arose or what they have to do with each other. Quite the opposite: Spengler's method in his great book is perfect cultural relativism. Each High Culture is equivalent to all the rest. The peculiar ways of looking at the world that each culture develops is true for itself, but fundamentally incomprehensible for the people of the other cultures. While the High Cultures may borrow techniques from each other, they borrow nothing essential, and even what they borrow they put to uses peculiarly their own. (Spengler's best argument for this is mathematics, where he shows how the West put Classical geometry and Magian algebra to uses that were different in kind from those of the societies that invented them.) Historical meaning, in fact, occurs only within each High Culture; there is no truth for mankind as a whole.

In a scattering of unpublished notes, a few essays and one small book ("Man and Technics," 1931) Spengler modified much of this relativism, or at least created a larger context for it. He became deeply interested in the origin of civilized life. Cultures with civilizations (following an old tradition, Spengler reserved the term "Civilization" for the late phase of a High Culture) have existed for only a small fraction of the time that man has existed zoologically. Spengler at last pursued the possibility that all the High Cultures might be part of a larger story.

His researches persuaded him that man as we know him is quite young, on the order of 100,000 years. Spengler discerns four ages in the past, roughly the paleolithic (the bulk of human history), neolithic, precivilization (after the last ice age ended about 10,000 B.C.) and the time of the High Cultures, which began in the Near East about 3,000 B.C. This looks like a pattern of accelerated development, but Spengler goes farther even than that. Sounding more than a little like Arnold Toynbee, he says that the members of the class of High Cultures fall into generations, related by the widespread primitive societies from which they developed. The latter High Cultures are more powerful and profound than the earlier ones, with the West reaching a maximum. Indeed, he says that the final phase of the West opens a fifth and final age of the whole human story. By its end, the physical environment of the earth could be seriously disrupted. Human populations could fall back to the sparse numbers of precivilization. The species could even become extinct.

As Farrenkopf points out, what we see here is Spengler moving from qualified pessimism to full apocalyptic. In these fragments and short works, Spengler is reminiscent of Henry and Brooks Adams, or for that matter a negative image of Teilhard de Chardin. He sounds most of all like H.G. Wells in his last published work, "Mind at the End of Its Tether" (1945). Spengler never worked these new ideas into a coherent system, as he had hoped. (For one thing, he suffered a minor stroke in 1927, which made it difficult for him to concentrate on large projects.) He claimed repeatedly that he never changed his ideas about the pattern of historical development within each of the High Cultures. On the other hand, in his notes, he started to call them "End Cultures," so there was at least a change in emphasis.

In the "Decline," he had voiced an idea not uncommon around 1900, that Russia was a vital but still fundamentally primitive culture that would eventually supersede the West. While he never entirely took back the prediction that Russia wound someday add a ninth High Culture to his historical eight, in "Man and Technics" this becomes a "maybe." He calls the prospective Russian Culture a mere straggler. What clearly interests him far more is the dramatic vision of the High Cultures as a series of ever-greater failures, with the coming end of the West the greatest catastrophe of all.

This vision of ultimate doom, however, still left the question of how to manage the more immediate decline. As Farrenkopf points out, the destiny of the West as a High Culture is not purely pessimistic. As the era of Civilization advances, the West could be expected to produce a "final" version of science, of mathematics, of politics, of ethics, even a measure of universal peace in the imperium mundi. Spengler himself at one point suggested that he was really talking about the "Vollendung" of the West, its "fulfillment" or "perfection." ("The Perfection of the West"; now there's a title for you.) However, his advice about how to approach the terminal state was relentlessly anti-idealistic. The goal would not be achieved by nations and individuals cooperating to establish theoretically correct solutions, but through the unprincipled pursuit of national and individual self-interest.

The term for this attitude in the theory of international relations is "realism," and in fact Spengler's continuing currency rests on the relevance of his ideas to the anti-Wilsonian school of foreign policy. Indeed, one might call Spengler's theory of foreign affairs Social Darwinist, were it not for one thing: Spengler did not believe in Darwin. Part of Spengler's teaching certification required writing a thesis on evolutionary theory, so he was current with the biology of his day. He did not doubt that evolution had occurred, but he was inclined to doubt that it was a teleology of survival. Rather, it was an entelechy of creatures becoming more and more themselves. Thus, man could not make peace with nature by adapting his understanding to it. Man was what he was. As in the drama of the tragic character-flaw, man's story could only be the playing out of the consequences of his nature over time.

As Farrenkopf tells us, this is a far more fundamental objection to political realism than any posed by Wilsonian idealism. Realism and idealism presuppose there is a right answer; they differ only on how the world works. Spengler's apocalyptic realism, in contrast, suggests that, ultimately, there is no right answer. In the end, he counsels a historically informed Stoicism. This is not without practical merit, as we see in his last major work, "The Hour of Decision" (1933) and in his opposition to the Nazis.

Spengler's cranky anti-Nazism may have saved his ideas for serious consideration by future generations, but only barely. During the 1920s, Spengler had continued to hope for an authoritarian, perhaps monarchist successor to the Weimar Republic. He made clear his contempt for the Nazis' demagogy and mysticism. Spengler had complicated ideas about the relationship of the Jews to the West, but he did not think that the Jews were the cause of Germany's problems and he had little patience for anyone who claimed they were. Nonetheless, in the final crisis of the Republic, Spengler voted for Hitler twice, with the cryptic explanation that "one must support the Movement." If Spengler had shared the expectation on the Right that a government of old-line conservatives could restrain Hitler in office, he was quickly disappointed. In fact, he took the rather dangerous course of snubbing invitations from Propaganda Minister Goebbels himself, refusing to attend Nazi-sponsored events or to contribute his writings to Nazi publications. Still, his international reputation was such that he was able to publish "The Hour of Decision" in 1933, one of the few works critical of the regime that appeared during the Nazi period. Spengler's sudden death in 1936 may have saved him from arrest or exile.

Spengler being Spengler, "The Hour of Decision" was not a plea for parliamentary democracy and international understanding. Rather, he wanted to know why there were still all those marches and banners, even after the party had come to power. Did those people know what "government" meant? This book was not the occasion when Spengler made his famous anti-Hitler quip, "What Germany needs is a hero, not a heroic tenor," but the implication is there. Chiefly, though, he complained that Germany had no foreign policy and no military to speak of, this at a time that he characterized as the most fateful in all Western history. Clearly, Spengler said, a second world war was in the offing, one in which Germany faced not just a loss of status, but extinction.

Farrenkopf points out something that had escaped my notice, the extent to which "The Hour of Decision" anticipates the Cold War. Spengler understood the Bolshevik government of Russia to be alien to Russia. He thought it was destined to be overthrown, without much fuss, at no very distant date. However, he also suggested that, in the meantime, the anti-Western regime could use Bolshevism to organize the non-white world (a group among which he included the Russians themselves) against the West. At times, he seems to forget his nationalist realism and urge a united Western front against "Asia."

Spengler's advice here could have saved a world of trouble. He implicitly criticizes the Nazi regime again by advocating a purely defensive posture toward the East. We know from his letters and notes that he thought the idea of seeking "Lebensraum" in Russia was nonsense. In "The Hour of Decision," he emphasized that an invasion of Russia for purely strategic purposes was also unworkable; it would be simply a "thrust into empty space" that would not destroy Russia.

Quite aside from its relevance to the Cold War, Spengler's analysis does look a great deal like the "clash of civilizations" approach that gained favor among the foreign-policy realists of the 1990s. The chief point of difference is Spengler's assertion that old, fossilized civilizations could act only negatively. They could combat Western influence, but they could not become world powers. In contrast, the more recent realists seem to assume that anything is possible to any civilization, given the right circumstances. As Farrenkopf points out, it is still not completely clear who is right about this. Islam is a swamp, and India is a narrowly regional power. Even China could blow up from attempting to modernize. This is not to suggest that Spengler's prescience was ever better than uneven. "The Hour of Decision" contains the memorable prophecy that the United States could break up under stress of the economic collapse of the Great Depression. One successor state might well be a Bolshevik regime in the industrial Midwest, with its capital at Chicago. (Why Chicago? Was Spengler a fan of Bertolt Brecht?)

Regarding the United States, Farrenkopf notes that Spengler never treats it systematically. Sometimes, it is just a peripheral region of the English sphere, of no significance to the fate of the West. Sometimes, particularly in his earlier work, the US is a contender for the possible founder of the imperium mundi. Farrenkopf goes so far as to suggest that the United States actually did create the Western imperium mundi in 1945, 150 years ahead of schedule. Farrenkopf tries to fit the anomaly into Spengler's system by invoking Spengler's late idea of historical "acceleration." This really doesn't work. The temporal quantum in the life of Spengler's High Cultures is the generation, a measure that changes little over time. In any case, there is really nothing to explain. If you must look for an analogy, the situation of Rome after the end of the Second Punic War was not so different from that of the United States after the Second World War. Anyone who wants to see this idea worked out intelligently should read Amaury de Riencort's "The Coming Caesars" (1957).

Probably, though, it is better not to look for a close analogy. Spengler's belief that all international systems collapse into universal states has merit. So do his ideas about cultural "completion." So, more tentatively, does his time scale. Beyond that, the logic of his system does not make many specific predictions. Indeed, if we take seriously Spengler's protestations about the uniqueness of historical phenomena, we are required to resist the temptation to predict the future from analogy (something that, according to Farrenkopf, Spengler himself belatedly appreciated). Spengler's model would be consistent with a wide range of futures, from a distended Hohenzollern Empire to Toynbee's ecumenical society.

Farrenkopf observes that, as time went on, Spengler became less and less concerned with the prospect of universal empire and more worried about German national survival. "The Hour of Decision" is chiefly concerned about staving off mere chaos, another post-Cold War theme that Spengler anticipated. The path to the future that seemed so clear to Spengler when he was freezing in his Munich garret became obscure when he was a respected authority. Perhaps what we have here is not a growth of pessimism, but of a sense of responsibility.


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The Long View 2002-03-15: Kaplan and Spengler

Robert Kaplan is a good example of who, exactly, is part of the Deep State. Kaplan wrote a number of influential books on foreign policy, and was invited to a closed-door meeting by Paul Wolfowitz during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. However, he is also a good example of what the Deep State is not. Kaplan was a vocal advocate for the war with Iraq, but he later changed his mind. The Deep State is not monolithic nor conspiratorial, at least for the most part. It is composed of like-minded individuals who cooperate, or not, of their own free will.

Kaplan & Spengler

Ever a slave to fashion, I recently read Robert Kaplan's, Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos. I also wrote a review of it, which I hope that the journal First Things will publish in due course. Three months after due course, I can put the review on my own site, so I am not going to write another complete review for here. Anyone interested in a full treatment of the book, including answers from the author himself to readers' questions, should look in the Archives of Andrew Sullivan's Book Club. There is a point extraneous to my review, however, that I would like to publicize sooner rather than later.

Almost every element of Warrior Politics was covered 70 years ago, in Oswald Spengler's The Hour of Decision. That book was published in Germany in 1933, and it is full of old Oswald's crankiness. "No one living in any part of the world of today will be happy," he tells us in the Introduction, the most cheerful part of the work. The Hour of Decision was, famously, the only book critical of the Nazis to be published during the Third Reich. However, his criticism was not that the Nazis were especially brutal, or likely to be so in the future. What bothered him was that they were manifestly incompetent in an age that he correctly understood to be uniquely dangerous.

Spengler and Kaplan have roughly the same model of history, and some of the same political concerns. As in ancient times, an "Era of Contending States" is coming to rest in an Imperium Mundi. There is a clash of civilizations between the West and the Rest. To allow the norms of domestic politics to govern those of international relations is to invite catastrophe. Warrior Politics and The Hour of Decision are short, suitable for harried statesmen to read on a train or plane trip. They even have the same sort of detailed, narrative Contents pages. Spengler is not mentioned in Warrior Politics, and there is no reason to think the later book was modeled on the earlier. I suspect what we do have here is a striking case of parallel evolution.

To a large extent, the differences between the books arise from the fact they describe earlier and later stages of what both authors perceive to be the same historical process.

Spengler was desperate. He knew a second world war was impending and he knew that the Nazis were not the people to handle it. He hoped 15 years earlier, when he was writing The Decline of the West, that Germany would be the organizer of the Imperium Mundi. In The Hour of Decision, he has serious doubts about whether Germany will even survive. Kaplan, in contrast, is past all that. For him, history has made the decisions to which Spengler alluded in the title of his book. The United States is the global hegemon. The question now is how a tolerable world system can be organized.

Spengler's version of the clash of civilizations may seem to readers today to be cast in repulsively racist terms. Still, his observations are not without insight, so much insight in fact that the danger he foresaw has pretty much come and gone. What he called "the Colored World-Revolution" later took the form of what history calls "The Cold War." In his scheme of things, the Russians count as the leaders of the "coloreds," having seceded from Europe when the Romanov Dynasty was overthrown.

Spengler characterized the Marxist ideology that Moscow promoted as a brilliant weapon, one used to manipulate what we still call the Third World, and to foment unrest within the West itself. The acme of this particular Spenglerian nightmare was, perhaps, the Bandung Conference of 1955. In any case, he insisted, Marxism had nothing to do with economics, and certainly the Russians did not believe it themselves. Eventually, they would simply drop the charade. Spengler suggested in The Decline of the West that the Russian Communist Party would be peacefully set aside rather than violently overthrown.

The section of The Hour of Decision that really drags for an early 21st-century reader is the middle third, in the section called "The White World-Revolution." This attempts to explain the state of the class war and its relationship to the economic crisis of the1930s. It is full of little gems, such as "a stock, at bottom, is only a debt," which suggest that Spengler was on firmer ground when he discussed the history of mathematics. Nonetheless, the section is so boring because, as Spengler predicted, the whole subject would be obsolete by the end of the 20th century. In the 20s and 30s of the twentieth century, politics was about "the Worker," meaning the industrial worker in heavy industry. Some people were for a proletarian revolution, and some were against it, but everybody talked about it. It must have been very shocking when Spengler suggested the question was transitory.

Spengler, of course, was often flat wrong. Looking at the prostrate United States of 1933, he doubted whether the country could avoid civil war and social revolution. Perhaps Chicago would become the Moscow of the New World. More seriously, he seems to have believed that politics meant nothing but the preemptive use of force. No one ever seems to have explained to this man that real Realpolitik is about compromise, procrastination, and restraint.

Even with the limits to Spengler's political sense, and even with the passage of time, Spengler and Kaplan are still pretty much on the same page. Kaplan foresees an "aristocracy of statesmen," just as Spengler wanted national elites with global vision. Although Spengler's take on the clash of civilizations was conditioned by the Bolshevik menace, still he understood that the phenomenon was broader than that. Kaplan is patronizing to democracy. Spengler is dismissive or hostile. Neither seems to think it will be the organizing principle of the 21st century.

The model that Kaplan and Spengler employ still has things to say about the future. Maybe in another 50 years, or even 70, another writer could write another book of much the same sort. That will be the last revival, however. The scenario will be played out.


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The Long View: Tragedy and Hope

The Magistra likes to watch period dramas on Netflix. This is a work of the same genre, although Quigley probably didn't know he was writing one at the time. This book is a fossil from that brief and peaceful period in the 1960s before the big cultural upheavals in 1968, which in this case really means something more like the 1950s for most Americans, but more stylish.

That was the time when "liberal Catholic" meant something like Pope Francis, left-of-center politically, but wholly orthodox. It was also a high point of the self-confidence of the West as a whole, and American liberalism in particular. One of the enthusiams of this book is Operations Research, a formal science that emerged out the the Second World War. This is a discipline that does not bulk large in anyone's mind today, but it was the nanotech of its day, capable of solving any problem in principle. John notes that the belief in Operations Research methods was part of what made Robert McNamara think the war in Vietnam could be managed using metrics and scientific methodology. This famously did not go well, although I can think of at least one old OR man who might dispute that interpretation.

Quigley's book has achieved a kind of fame, at least amongst the conspiracy minded, due to his singling out of the Round Table groups founded by Cecil Rhodes. The most familiar of these groups today is the Council on Foreign Relations, but Rhodes also founded the Rhodes Scholarships with the same motivation as the Round Table groups; he wanted to build an international network of public-minded and public-spirited men across the English-speaking world.

The Round Table groups were really just a spontaneous outgrowth of the first period of internationalization, when international trade began to rapidly outpace international institutions, and some mechanism was needed to fill the gap. Industrious Victorians like Rhodes were only too happy to come up with something clever to do just that. As international institutions caught up, the influence of the Round Table groups declined, if for no other reason than they were no longer the only players in the game.

Anglophilia and conspiracy theories are not the main interest of this book, however. Quigley summed up everything he thought was best about the Western world thus:

"The Outlook of the West is that broad middle way about which the fads and foibles of the West oscillate. It is what is implied by what the West says it believes, not at one moment but over the long succession of moments that form the history of the West. From that succession of moments it is clear that the West believes in diversity rather than in uniformity, in pluralism, rather than in monism, or dualism, in inclusion rather than exclusion, in liberty rather than in authority, in truth rather than in power, in conversion rather than in annihilation, in the individual rather than in the organization, in reconciliation rather than in triumph, in heterogeneity rather than in homogeneity, in relativisms rather than in absolutes, and in approximations rather than in final answers. The West believes that man and the universe are both complex and that the apparently discordant parts of each can be put into a reasonably workable arrangement with a little good will, patience, and experimentation. In man the West sees body, emotions, and reason as all equally real and necessary, and is prepared to entertain discussion about their relative interrelationships but is not prepared to listen for long to any intolerant insistence that any one of these has a final answer." [Page 1227]

While at first glance this might seem to be merely to be a summary of the early 1960s liberal consensus, its roots go far deeper. Quigley himself considered this to be an interpretation of Aquinas. That is defensible, there really are ideas like this in Aquinas's thinking. It is also not the only possible interpretation of Aquinas. But it does represent a durable line of thought in the history of the West.

This line of thought may or may not be true, but it has been with us a long time.


Tragedy and Hope:
A History of the World in Our Time
by Carroll Quigley
First Published 1966
The Macmillan Company
(Reprint GSG & Associates)
1,348 Pages, US$35.00
ISBN 0-945001-10-X

 

For reasons that are only partly the author's fault, "Tragedy and Hope" has become one of the key texts of conspiracy theory. Famous for its exposition of the workings of the Anglophile American establishment during the first half of the twentieth century, the book is reputed to have "named names" to such a degree that the hidden masters of the world tried to suppress the unabridged edition. It did not diminish the book's reputation that Carroll Quigley (1910-1977), a historian with the Foreign Service School at Georgetown University, made a deep impression on US-president-to-be Bill Clinton during Clinton's undergraduate years at that university. We have Mr. Clinton's own word on this, so it must be true.

 

If the hidden masters did try to suppress the book when it first appeared, they seem to have lost interest by now; the only problem I had buying this enormous volume was carrying the 15 pounds of it home. "Tragedy and Hope" has no notes, no bibliography, and a very inadequate index. As with the Bible, its sheer size has done something to ensure that it would be more cited than read. For what it is intended to be, a history of the world from about 1895 to 1964, the book is a failure. As Quigley acknowledges, there are insuperable problems of perspective in writing about one's own time. On the other hand, the book's prejudices are fascinating. It was written at the point in the 1960s just before the American liberal consensus began to unravel. Perhaps as important for Quigley, that was also the brief interval after the Second Vatican Council when "liberal Catholic" did not mean someone who rejected all dogma and tradition. Beyond its value as a period piece, however, the book occasionally transcends its time. Its remarks about the future, presumably a future more distant than our present, are close to becoming conventional wisdom today.

 

Quigley's frame of reference is roughly that of Arnold Toynbee: the West, including Europe, the United States, Latin America, and Australasia, has entered an Age of Crisis. Other civilizations, when faced with analogous crises, solved them by entering an Age of Universal Empire. Universal Empires, however, are morbid: they are stultifying at best and eventually collapse in any case. Quigley's objection is not to international institutions, or even to world government. What the West must do, according to Quigley, is end its Age of Crisis without creating a Universal Empire through military conquest. The problem with the 20th century, down to the 1960s, has been repeated attempts by persons and groups to achieve universal power by force or manipulation.

 

This analysis sounds much more interesting than it is. Quigley's tale is pretty much a vindication of President Franklin Roosevelt's administration (1933-1945). By Quigley's account, the failure to adopt the policies of those years earlier in the 20th century led to the disasters of the Depression and the Second World War, while the need of the decades that followed was to expand and perfect the Progressive tradition they embodied. Much of the reputation of this book among conspiracy theorists rests on its account of the world financial system of the 1920s, when the Bank of England no longer had the power to regulate the system, as it had before the First World War. The gap was filled by private institutions acting in collusion with the heads of the central banks, generally without oversight from the world's major governments. A combination of bad luck and stupidity made the system collapse at the end of the decade, so that currencies became inexchangeable, trade froze, and force displaced commerce both domestically and internationally. It's not hard to make ordinary banking practices sound like the work of the devil, and in this book the devil's little helpers are Morgans, Rothschilds, and Barings.

 

One can take or leave Quigley's long, very long, expositions of economic theory. Many readers will be inclined to leave an argument that suggests the whole of history was preparation for the ultimate enlightenment contained in John Kenneth Galbraith's "The Affluent Society," which argued for Keynsian macroeconomics and a mildly redistributive social policy. (Quigley clearly alludes to that book, published in 1958, but does not cite it.) In any case, Quigley described speculative, international finance-capitalism as a feature of the past; he did not think it had any relevance to his own day.

 

What chiefly ensured Quigley's work a lasting place in the pantheon of paranoia, however, was his attempt to provide a social context for this activity. This paragraph appears at the end of a tirade against McCarthyism:

 

"This myth, like all fables, does in fact have a modicum of truth. There does exist, and has existed for a generation, an international Anglophile network which operates, to some extent, in the way the radical Right believes the Communists act. In fact, this network, which we may identify as the Round Table Groups, has no aversion to cooperating with the Communists, or any other groups, and frequently does so. I know of the operations of this network because I have studied it for twenty years and was permitted for two years, in the early 1960s, to examine its paper and secret records. I have no aversion to it or to most of its aims and have, for much of my life, been close to it and to many of its instruments. I have objected, both in the past and recently, to a few of its policies (notably to its belief that England was an Atlantic rather than a European Power and must be allied, or even federated, with the United States and must remain isolated from Europe), but in general my chief difference of opinion is that it wishes to remain unknown, and I believe its role in history is significant enough to be known." [Page 950]

 

"Anglophilia" sounds like a debilitating psychological ailment, with some reason. In its American manifestation, it suggests a preference for tweedy clothes, water sports that don't require surf, and nominal affiliation with the Anglican Communion. The syndrome has a copious literature, much of it concerned with prep schools, but here is all you need to know in this context. The ideology of Quigley's network can apparently be traced to 19th century Oxford, indeed specifically to All Souls College, back when John Ruskin was expounding a compound of Gothic Revival aesthetics, the glory of the British Empire, and the duty to uplift the downtrodden poor. These ideas seized the imagination of Cecil Rhodes during his years at Oxford. He hoped for a federation of the whole English-speaking world, and provided the money and impetus for institutions to link those countries. (Lord Alfred Milner provided the organizing talent.) The best known of these efforts are the Rhodes Scholarships for study at Oxford. (Bill Clinton is among the many well-know recipients.) They also included informal "Round Table Groups" in the Dominions and the US, which sponsored local Institutes of International Affairs. The US version is the Council on Foreign Relations.

 

While the people in these groups were very influential (that is why they were asked to join), Quigley makes clear that the Round Tables never had everything their own way, even in the administration of colonial Africa, where both Rhodes and Milner were especially interested. As with the finance capitalists, the Anglophile network was essentially a league of private persons trying to fill a gap in the international system. As public institutions were created to exercise the Round Tables' consultative and communications functions, the network itself became less important.

 

Quigley makes the increasing marginalization of the Anglophile network perfectly clear, and in fact he does not suggest that it was ever more than one factor among many at any point in the 20th century. Nonetheless, it is his failing as a historian to suggest that a causal nexus can be inferred whenever two actors in a historical event can be shown to have met. Consider this excerpt from a discussion of the history of Iran:

 

"By that time (summer, 1953) almost irresistible forces were building up against [Prime Minister] Mossadegh, since lack of Soviet interference give the West full freedom of action. The British, the AIOC, the world petroleum cartel, the American government, and the older Iranian elite led by the shah combined to crush Mossadegh. The chief effort came from the American supersecret intelligence agency (CIA) under the personal direction of its director, Allen W. Dulles, brother of the secretary of State. DulIes, as a former director of the Schroeder Bank in New York, was an old associate of Frank C Tiarks, a partner in the Schroeder Bank in London since 1902, and a director of the Bank of England in 1912-1945, as well as Lazard Brothers Bank, and the AIOC. It will be recalled that the Schroeder Bank in Cologne helped to arrange Hitler's accession to power as chancellor in January 1933." [Page 1059]

 

I don't quite know what this is supposed to mean; that pretty much the same people overthrew Prime Minister Mossadegh as brought us Hitler? I am reminded of nothing so much as Monty Python's parody of an Icelandic saga, about the deeds of "Hrothgar, son of Sigismund, brother of Grundir, mother of Fingal, who knew Hermann, the cousin of Bob." Maybe this is Quigley's idea of "thick" description. Certainly "Tragedy and Hope" is thick with it; it goes on for pages and pages.

 

"Tragedy and Hope" is a fossil, perfectly preserved, of the sophisticated liberalism of the Kennedy era. Quigley takes a partisan position in the debates about nuclear strategy that began in the 1950s. (He sat on several government commissions on scientific questions, including the one that recommended creating NASA. The book explains the physics of nuclear weapons in some detail; Quigley does not just name names, he names the weight of fissionable material necessary for a bomb.) Thus, he praises Oppenheimer and condemns Teller, deplores the cost-cutting strategy of "massive retaliation" embraced by the Eisenhower Administration and supports tactical nuclear devices suitable for conventional war. "Tragedy and Hope" has prose poems to "Operations Research," the application of quantitative analysis to military affairs, which he ranks with Keynsian economics as one of the pillars of modern civilization.

 

Though it is not entirely fair to criticize even a book such as this for failing to foresee the immediate future, still I cannot help but remark how many of these ideas were tested in the 1960s and found wanting. The number-crunching military philosophy that Quigley endorsed was essentially that of Robert McNamara's Pentagon; as much as anything else, it is what lost the Vietnam War for the United States. Quigley covers Vietnam up through the assassination of President Diem in 1963, but gives no greater prominence to the conflict there than to other Cold War trouble spots. This book is good evidence, if any more were needed, that even the Americans who knew most had not the tiniest idea what they were doing.

 

The problem with the Kennedy Enlightenment is not that elements of its conventional wisdom were wrong; that is true of all eras. The great flaw was its totalitarian streak. Quigley expresses this attitude perfectly:

 

"The chief problem of American political life for a long time has been how to make the two Congressional parties more national and more international. The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies, one, perhaps of the Right, and the other of the Left, is a foolish idea acceptable only to doctrinaire and academic thinkers. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical so that the American people can 'throw the rascals out' at any election without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy. The policies that are vital and necessary for America are no longer subjects of significant disagreement, but are disputable only in terms of procedure, priority and method..." [Page 1248-1249]

 

Quigley was aware that there was a substantial number of persons in the nascent conservative movement who did not think that all issues had been settled yet, but he regards their opinions as not just erroneous but illegitimate. Quigley has fits of class analysis, so he tells us that the traditional middle class, considered as a cultural pattern rather than an economic group, was evaporating because of growing prosperity and feminization. (His description of contemporary students as promiscuous, unkempt and unpunctual suggests he had some inkling of just how annoying the Baby Boom generation was going to be.) The Right, however, was dominated by a parody, also destined to be ephemeral in Quigley's estimation, of the disappearing middle class. The Right was "petty bourgeois" (he actually uses the term), grasping, intolerant and careerist. They were ignorant, even the ones who tried to get into top colleges on the basis of good grades, since those grades were achieved by unimaginative drudgery rather than by any real engagement with the life of the mind. The Right even came from unfashionable places, principally the Southwest, where they made fortunes in dreadful extractive industries, like oil and mining. The Right, particularly as manifest in the Republican Party, is merely ignorant. It must be combated, but need not be listened to.

 

Let us think less harshly of Bill Clinton hereafter, if these were the opinions he heard from the Wise and the Good of his youth.

 

The infuriating thing is that Quigley knows better. He was well aware of the totalitarian trajectory of the respectable consensus of his day, and he was not pleased by it. Consider this paragraph:

 

"Because this is the tradition of the West, the West is liberal. Most historians see liberalism as a political outlook and practice founded in the nineteenth century. But nineteenth-century liberalism was simply a temporary organizational manifestation of what has always been the underlying Western outlook. That organizational manifestation is now largely dead, killed as much by twentieth-century liberals as by conservatives or reactionaries...The liberal of about 1880 was anticlerical, antimilitarist, and antistate because these were, to his immediate experience, authoritarian forces that sought to prevent the operation of the Western way. ...But by 1900 or so, these dislikes and likes became ends in themselves. The liberal was prepared to force people to associate with those they could not bear, in the name of freedom of assembly, or he was, in the name of freedom of speech, prepared to force people to listen. His anticlericalism became an effort to prevent people from getting religion, and his antimilitarism took the form of opposing funds for legitimate defense. Most amazing, his earlier opposition to the use of private economic power to restrict individual freedoms took the form of an effort to increase the authority of the state against private economic power and wealth in themselves. Thus the liberal of 1880 and the liberal of 1940 had reversed themselves on the role and power of the state..." [Page 1231]

 

Quigley strongly suspected that, whatever else may happen to the West, democracy was likely to be a decreasingly important feature. In part, this was for a reason that would gladden the hearts of defenders of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution: the disarming of the citizenry, at least in comparison to the military. Universal male suffrage was partly a side effect of the dominance in the 19th century of the rifle-armed mass infantry. Firearms were cheap and great equalizers; governments could use such armies only with a high level of consent from the citizens who composed them. In the 20th century, however, the new weapons were beyond the means of private parties or groups, and they could be operated only by trained experts. In a way, the world came back to the era knights and castles, when the bulk of the population figured in politics chiefly as silent taxpayers.

 

Quigley did recognize that the trends of the 20th century up to his day might not go on forever, and at this point the book becomes positively disconcerting. He saw no end to the standoff between the US and the Soviet Union, except to the extent that their economic and political systems might be expected to converge in an age increasingly dominated by experts. ("Convergence": now that's a buzzword that brings back memories.) On the other hand, he did think that the lesser countries of each block would be able to operate more independently from the US and the USSR, and even to relax internally. He makes remarks about the possibility of balkanization and decentralization that might almost have been made by Robert Kaplan and Thomas Friedman, who are perhaps best known for their recent writing about chaos and disintegration in the world after the Cold War. Like other people writing 40 years later, Quigley also suggests that, simultaneous with increasing disorder and complexity, new international institutions would also flourish, so that the nations of his day would lose authority to entities both greater and smaller than themselves.

 

"Tragedy and Hope" suggests that the future may look something like the Holy Roman Empire of the late medieval period. [Page 1287] In principle, the empire was a federal hierarchy of authorities, but the principle was scarcely visible in the tangle of republics, kingdoms, and bishoprics that composed it. The Imperial Diet was as multichambered as a conch-shell, while the executive functioned only on those rare occasions when the emperor, an elected official, managed to persuade the potentates of the empire that what he wanted to do was in their interest. Actually, Quigley did not have far to seek for this model. The early European Economic Community of his day already was starting to look like just such a horse designed by a committee. Its evolution into the European Union has not lessened the resemblance. Quigley seemed to expect a parallel evolution of institutions universally, through the UN system, for which a united Europe would stand as a model. He is not perfectly clear on this point, however. As is so often the case when people talk about transcending national sovereignty, it is not clear whether they are talking about the evolution of the West, or of the world, or of both.

 

To broach a final topic, one of the things that struck me about "Tragedy and Hope" was Quigley's lack of interest in intellectual history, except for science. His treatments of ideology tend to be cursory, misleading or wrong. Lack of interest is his privilege, of course, but to write a 1,300-page book about the first half of the twentieth century without liking ideology is like owning a candy store and not liking chocolate. The only point when the matter seems to fully engage his interest is when he is speculating about the ideology that might help the West to emerge from its Age of Crisis. What the West needs to do, he says, is to hold fast to its special intellectual virtues, which he summaries like this:

 

"The Outlook of the West is that broad middle way about which the fads and foibles of the West oscillate. It is what is implied by what the West says it believes, not at one moment but over the long succession of moments that form the history of the West. From that succession of moments it is clear that the West believes in diversity rather than in uniformity, in pluralism, rather than in monism, or dualism, in inclusion rather than exclusion, in liberty rather than in authority, in truth rather than in power, in conversion rather than in annihilation, in the individual rather than in the organization, in reconciliation rather than in triumph, in heterogeneity rather than in homogeneity, in relativisms rather than in absolutes, and in approximations rather than in final answers. The West believes that man and the universe are both complex and that the apparently discordant parts of each can be put into a reasonably workable arrangement with a little good will, patience, and experimentation. In man the West sees body, emotions, and reason as all equally real and necessary, and is prepared to entertain discussion about their relative interrelationships but is not prepared to listen for long to any intolerant insistence that any one of these has a final answer." [Page 1227]

 

At first glance, this might seem to be just another instance of the Kennedy Enlightenment assuming that its own parochial ideas are all the ideas there are. Certainly this laundry list looks more than a little like John Dewey's pragmatism. Pragmatism has its virtues, but is hardly the thread that runs through all Western history. However, that is not where the summary comes from. On close examination, Quigley's "Way of the West" has more content than is characteristic of pragmatism, which is a philosophy about procedure. What we have here, as Quigley tells us himself, is a take on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.

 

Aquinas has been credited and blamed for many things. In the 20th century, he had been called "the father of science" and "the first Whig." There really are features of his ideas that are friendly to empirical science and to limited government with the consent of the government. On the other hand, if you need a detailed account of the physiology of demons, he is your man. A "liberal" Thomas is not the only possible Thomas, but such an interpretation would have appealed to a Catholic scholar like Quigley in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, where the ideas of John Cardinal Newman on the development of doctrine seemed to carry all before them.

 

There is an obvious pattern in Quigley's ideas about the future. Consider the specifics: the end of mass warfare and mass democracy, the disintegration of the nation state into both a universal polity and local patriotisms, and a global intellectual synthesis that is willing to entertain any idea that is not contrary to faith and morals. (Aquinas was rather more honest about that last part than was Quigley.) What we have here is a vision of the High Middle Ages with International Style architecture. This vision may or may not reflect the future, but it certainly has a long history. Let us let Oswald Spengler have the last word; I suspect this is where the citation-shy Quigley got the idea in the first place:

 

"But neither in the creations of this piety nor in the form of the Roman Imperium is there anything primary and spontaneous. Nothing is built up, no idea unfolds itself - it is only as if a mist cleared off the land and revealed the old forms, uncertainly at first, but presently with increasing distinctness. The material of the Second Religiousness is simply that of the first, genuine, young religiousness - only otherwise experienced and expressed. It starts with Rationalism's fading out in helplessness, then the forms of the Springtime become visible, and finally the whole world of the primitive religion, which had receded before the grand forms of the early faith, returns to the foreground, powerful in the guise of the popular syncretism that is to be found in every Culture at this phase."

 

The Decline of the West, Volume II, page 311


Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: Constitution of the Ecumenical Empire

John was very interested in the form the future might take. He wrote a book that was his attempt to limn the future by means of a program he wrote in BASIC and the ideas of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. Like myself, John felt that the idea of cycles in history does not preclude free will or moral agency. We might hope, tentatively and with great humility, to influence things for the better. Following William Ernest Hocking, John posited the idea of "unlosables", technologies and ideas and ethical principles, which become part of the ever-increasing common heritage of the race. This entry is intended to illustrate some of those ideas in political philosophy.

As a lawyer, John was well-positioned to draft a constitution. He knew that the failure of most modern constitutions was due to their complexity. The most successful modern constitutions, the American, and the Swiss [which is based on the American] are relatively brief. This is his attempt at a constitution for the Ecumenical Empire, his term for the universal state into which the world is likely to collapse sometime in this century.

This document was originally posted to an Alternative History newsgroup. It may not be a proper "what-if," but it is likely to interest alternative history buffs.

Every so often, I come across a model "world constitution" by groups or individuals who are interested in the question. These proposals are all non-starters. They are too legalistic, too complicated, and most of all too long. The draft constitution here is supposed to be more realistic. I imagine it coming into effect late in the next century, when the traditional international system has collapsed because of war and progressive economic integration. Like the Roman Empire, it is essentially a police measure. Feel free to propose amendments.

JR -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Constitution of the Ecumenical Empire

Preamble
This Constitution describes the structure of the Ecumenical Empire.
The Ecumenical Empire is the final stage of human political evolution.
This Constitution is unchangeable.
The Empire's operations and functions must be further defined by legislation.

The Empire
The Ecumenical Empire possesses every power which a human government may possess.
The jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Empire is universal in space.
The Ecumenical Empire may permit Subsidiary States to exist.

The Emperor

The Emperor may hear all final appeals in judicial matters from whatever source.
The Emperor is the Commander in Chief of the Ecumenical Army.
The Emperor is the Director of the Ecumenical Civil Service.

...

The Transition to a Traditional Society

Since I have an interest in the metahistorical theories of Spengler and Toynbee, I have an expectation that modernity is close to its natural end. Not forever, just for now, because modernity is not unique, but is something that reoccurs in human history. My friend John Reilly has noted that the transition to a traditional society that occurs at the end of modernity is the triumph of the economic left and the social right.

What he means by that is the social safety net becomes more important than economic efficiency, and traditional morality becomes unquestionable again. If you want to see why this is the case from an economic point of view, you should read this post by John Michael Greer. Greer provides historical arguments bolstered by economics, or the other way round. I especially like them because Greer points to the value of public order for the proper functioning of society, and that this public good is only provided by the government.

Greer analyzes the value of the medieval guild system as a bulwark against starvation, but also as the economic engine that provided the innovations that modernity depended upon. Ensuring that the common good was served by a sufficient quantity of skilled labor was the gift of the guild system. The guild system is inefficient from a modern perspective, but it also guarantees quality and provides sufficient leisure for the most skilled technicians to be able to concentrate on new ideas.

Greer is coming at this from the point of view of a committed proponent of Peak Oil. I remain less than convinced by the Peak Oil hypothesis, which seems to be a case of mistaking the map for the territory, but I find it interesting that Greer is describing a state of affairs that has been predicted by other men long ago. The final state of society after modernity has ended seems to have an inevitability that transcends the mechanism posited to cause it.

h/t Jerry Pournelle's Mail