The crisis is ubiquitous, propelled at us from so many directions it is hard to make sense of its magnitude or meaning: an economic collapse steeper and deeper than that of the early 30s; a shameless anarcho-tyranny that applauds looters as it imposes house arrest on those being looted; and the second coming of Jonestown, now on an international scale. Looming over it all is an asphyxiating dread; it is the sure and certain knowledge that the way we live now has no future whatsoever, and that we stand on the edge of a chasm. However did we reach this atrocious moment? A full examination would be longer than is possible here, but these convulsions are nothing if not a crisis of scale, a nemesis wrought on Western Man for the hubris of thinking that he could defy natural limits. In seeking to make himself the sovereign of nature, he has enslaved himself to a machine of enormous, indeed ludicrous complexity. As the engine stutters in front of our horrified eyes, the alarms beat their warnings, the smoke billows and the cry goes up, ‘whoever will douse the flames’?
By ‘machine’, I mean the exponential centralisation and systemising of life across the West since the 17th Century, a process discernible in political thought, economics, technology and demography. Before this point, societies existed within distinct limits on the scale of their activities and on their physical and mental horizons. These societies were a jumbled patchwork of obligations within specific localities: lord and tenant, priest and layman, master and apprentice, artisan and guild. Just as sailors cannot conquer the sea but can live upon it, so the people that made up these societies had to accommodate themselves to their place within the created order, neither controlling nature nor being helpless before it. The hardships of this world were not small, but it was not a joyless place and it certainly was not fragile; 14th Century Christendom endured the most infamous plague in history without social or economic collapse, despite losing over a third of its population. Europe buckled, but it stood. We cannot say as much, quailing as we do before a vastly punier disease.
The machine societies of recent centuries were fashioned for different aims: to marshal, subdue and unfetter. Prodigious urban growth marshalled booming populations into huge metropolises, bending all these lives to the one purpose of massed, standardised production. Exponential advances in technology allowed modern Man to subdue nature, using his newfound knowledge to grasp powers that would have given Francis Bacon a stroke if he could have beheld them. With the Earth and all that was in it at his command, Man could now become a being of unfettered will, tearing down obstacles between wish and attainment, and acknowledging no judge over whether those wishes were sane. Under these circumstances, societies were whittled down to matters of transactions and resource allocation: employer vs. employee and individual vs. the state. Furthermore, those with power, the financial and industrial oligarchs and their managerial servants, no longer felt any fellow feeling for those below them, either as countrymen or fellow Christians. They came to see them as cogs in the mechanism they themselves commanded, parts to be replaced once worn out or thrown away altogether once obsolete. However, machines are apt to break down as their complexity tests the limits of endurance, and that is where we find ourselves.
I can best illustrate this through a potted history of modern Britain, my own country. In the early 17th Century, it was a loose assembly of three different realms under one same sovereign. Within each nation, the strongest loyalties were to the immediate place where people lived and made a living. This was especially so in the Scottish Highlands and the further one travelled from Dublin, but it was also true in England. In Jacobean and Caroline Parliaments, MPs frequently referred to the interest of ‘their country’ or their duties to ‘their country’; they meant the specific part of England that they represented, be it the Weald of Kent or the East Riding of Yorkshire. That provincial, insular world was pummelled away by the Civil Wars of the 1640s, Puritan military rule and the Dutch coup d’etat of 1688. In place of the old Stuart order came a centralising Whig regime in Westminster that claimed authority to remake all in the name of Protestantism and Liberty. It massively increased taxes and public debts to finance its struggles for dominance against France. It refashioned the economy in the interests of the London money markets. It enclosed vast swathes of communally farmed land, turfing families onto the roads and into the burgeoning urban slums. It also used extreme violence to subdue Scotland and Ireland to the mercantile system administered in London.
Oliver’s Goldsmith’s elegy for a fading Anglo-Arcadia, The Deserted Village, could be seen as the sentimentalising of a well-to-do nostalgic, except that the folk whose world he was mourning were acutely aware of what was being done to them. The original rages against the machine, the wild clouts on metal of the Luddites and Captain Swing, were despairing attempts to avoid dispossession from work and land by the first phase of industrial automation. The wreckers knew perfectly well that what awaited them was the unrelenting grind of the new mass society: helotry in factories, mills or pits; the fetid ocean of back-back slums; and gruel in the poor house for those who stumbled. It was a world made Manchester, one that crushed people and provinces into a collective mass for the one aim of dominating nature through technology. When Dostoevsky walked around the most bellicose monument to this new world, the Crystal Palace, he felt something like holy terror:
“You feel a terrible force which has united all these numberless people here, from all over the world, into a single herd; you become aware of a colossal idea; you feel that something has already been achieved here, that there is victory, triumph here. It’s even as if you begin to feel afraid of something. No matter how independent you are, for some reason you feel terrified. ‘Hasn’t the ideal already been achieved?’ you think, ‘isn’t this the end? isn’t this already in fact “a single herd.”
Modern British history has been an incessant struggle for control of this herd, this piston society, between competing factions of managers and dreamers, all with their own certainties about how maximum efficiency could be extracted from the masses. The pre-modern concept of the three orders (those who fought, those who prayed and those who worked) held that everyone had a necessary place on God’s good earth; none could do without the other. It had its defects as a description, let alone a prescription, but it was essentially true. A crusty snob like John Gower had to acknowledge the brute necessity of the peasantry even as he denounced them as animals for the troubles of 1381. Contrast that with the Social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer, who coined the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ to laud industrial capitalism for weeding out the weak and advancing the species. Contrast it also with the Fabians, who wrote off the working class as cloddish obstacles in the path of socialism; George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and the Webbs all fastened onto eugenics precisely because they saw in it a means to cull the proletarians they so despised. Victorian visions of an enhanced humanity all tended to view the common man as, at best, an object for experimentation or simply as a dead weight to be cut loose. This cast of mind partly fed off the rampant scientism of the day, but it also reflected the morbid giantism the country was undergoing. Business culture was shifting from family ownership towards the managerial, limited liability behemoth. Regional particularities, still evident, were being hammered down into a levelling sameness as a result. In parallel, the emerging state education and welfare systems gave bourgeois radicals unprecedented control over the working class family. Taken as a whole, the magnification of scale fostered a governing philosophy that was quantitative, utilitarian and essentially hostile to normal human life.
I have seen the playing out of this during my own lifetime as the quest for infinite growth led our leaders to take the final step of felling the country as fuel for the fire. When Capital finally won out over Fabian socialism in the 1980s, the banks and pension funds cannibalised what was left of British industry, and the neoliberal state vaunted it as progress. It is still cheering now as automation and the export of manual jobs reduce the nation of shopkeepers to a gang of Tesco wage slaves and dole clutchers. It told us that preserving native skills and jobs was unnecessary and probably xenophobic, so our sustenance now hangs on global supply chains of preposterous fragility. Millions of third world wage slaves have been imported by the Right, which wanted to screw labour costs, and by the Left, which just wanted to screw the labourers for being passé. Now that family life, religion and communal ties have crumbled, the managerial power of the state over the atomised individual has become the defining, indeed only relationship of any real consequence. We seem to be living in an ex-country, a place that once had real life and vigour but which now resembles a grimy old bath sponge: used up, soaked out and thrown away because it is no longer needed by its owners.
This is Britain today. Give or take some variations, it also the rest of the West. If there is a route across this withered heath, some truths about how we got here must be grasped at once. First, reality matters and so do natural limits; dreadful things befall those who think otherwise. The cult of the colossal must be despised precisely because it declares dreadful, demented things to be wise and essential. Among them are that: cartels are benevolent sources of efficiency; transferring our industry to China is a logical division of labour; human flourishing comes through buying things you do not need; and that debt is good for your health. In the real world, the one that actually exists, prodigiously corrupt rackets have devoured entire nations. States are folding because the apostles of free trade could not fathom the meaning of ‘fragile’. Above all, economists declared that usury was a pole vault to the stars, but their magical thinking has shovelled us into a debt crisis deeper than the Mariana Trench.
The cult of the colossal addles more than the wits of Wall Street Journal readers. It destroys populations. It does so by cumulatively removing from them the work, discipline and responsibilities that make someone a mature human being. Passing a rusting steel works in Cardiff last year, I was struck not only by the ugliness of its decay, but by its simple enormity. Great numbers of men had once been assembled here and bent to one single task, excluding all others. Many of their not-too-distant forefathers had earned a living for themselves as farmers, artisans and journeymen in towns and villages across South Wales. What they had not made for themselves, they had bought from men known to them by sight and name. They had married, brought up children and given their sons a tangible inheritance with which they could stand upright, unaided: if not land, then at least some tools, a trade and the habits of mind to put them to good use. The mechanical division of labour, the closest Herbert Spencer had to a personal deity, made their descendants little better than the cogs in the machines they served. Wages for mindlessly repetitive tasks went on mass produced goods churned out by other helots far away. At the close of a life’s worth of toil, there was naught to pass onto children but mere good will. We do not normally associate industrialisation with infantilism, but I think this is a grave mistake. Relieved of responsibility for sustaining themselves by the supervening power of the state and the corporation, men became mentally enfeebled, helpless to fend for themselves when successive waves of automation ended their sole use to the system. If our Eloi rulers despise us, it is not because we are Morlocks but because we have become a kind of Eloi ourselves, chronically unable to do things our ancestors would have considered so basic as to be wholly unremarkable.
The mental distortions of scale are most extreme within the ruling class. The aristocracies of the Old World were indeed self-serving, but their worst instincts were partly checked by their limited means of controlling dispersed populations and by the rooting of their wealth in land, which tied their fortunes to that of actual places. Above all, there was pervasive awareness of death and divine judgement, reminding even the most puissant nobleman that he was God’s villein. None of these apply to our technocratic elites, who, for all their odious materialism, are frantic seekers after gnostic apotheosis. Dostoevsky’s mechanical Babel works chiefly to lift its architects into the heavens, infinitely removed from creaturely limits. Indeed, it is a loathing for normal humanity which runs through our elites’ wretched fetishes: gender-bending, child drag queens, paedophile island holidays, population replacement, transhumanism, et al. By violating natural law and wreaking arson upon the societies that succoured them, they prove to themselves that they have broken free of their too too solid flesh. However, until they achieve full transcendence, they still have the grubby task of pulling the machine’s levers to extract sustenance for themselves at the cheapest rate, all the while keeping the cogs/workers demoralised and supine. Hence the liquidation of Western economies and national heritages and the perpetual wars for control of alternative sources of labour and energy. Hence also the race-hustling games of divide and rule and the engineering of spurious crises to keep the masses scared and meek.
So where does this leave us, in light of the maelstrom of 2020? I hope with neither a black-pilled resignation to the levelling of whatever is good, nor with a fatuous white-pilled certainty that our enemies will collapse before us. Grey-pilled, for want of a better expression. Hope exists, but it will cost us much.
We should not mourn the breakdown of the machine, for obvious reasons. Globalism has been cracking up at least since 2007, and probably earlier. Growth for the sake of growth, what Edward Abbey called the ideology of the cancer cell, produced a world so estranged from reality that it is folding under the weight of its clownish mendacity, not COVID-19. In truth, the numbers stopped making sense a very long time ago, and now the wheels are coming off. The simultaneous withering of oil, aviation, motoring and tourism will permanently hobble international trade. Gargantuan increases in sovereign debt will sap the ability of government to perform even basic functions. The descent of the financial system into naked pillage will cause fists to tighten among the millions left permanently destitute by a disintegrating real economy. I do not say that global trade and the balance of power no longer matter. I do say that Fukuyama and Friedman are not the norns weaving our future. The Western imperium is dead, inshallah.
However, a return of power to the national level is not an unalloyed boon because those responsible for globalism, the oligarchs and the managerial bourgeoisie, are still very much in charge across the West. We were already in a state of corporate feudalism before COVID-19, but the lockdown charade is accentuating this massively by gutting small businesses and yoking the masses to those firms big and corrupt enough to survive. The panopticon thrown up ostensibly to save our lives will not be dismantled. In all likelihood, we will become the objects of psychological warfare, surveillance and engineered dependence on a scale hitherto unknown. The point to note is that these are probable signs of weakness, not strength. The failure of over-scaled societies is not just demoralising to the obsolete plebs but to their masters as well, tasked as they are with controlling a permanently malfunctioning machine. In effect, our leaders are now crunching the gears frantically, even though nothing can undo the cumulative effect of decaying infrastructure, perpetual mass unemployment, collapsing social cohesion and energy depletion. Therefore, one way to view the Great Awokening is as a nervous collapse within a ruling class unable to cope with the business of ruling, one not unlike the delirious abolition of feudalism by the French nobility during a giddy August night in 1789. Of course, the freaks who compose our ancien regime will not give up the controls, but their ability to compel obedience is likely to weaken as state structures and their own minds both degrade.
The fever dream of the modern West was about finding a way out of the human condition and its discontents, at least for the enlightened few. Every facet of our civilisation was bent towards getting ‘us’ there. In the process, we were sapped of life and discarded by a ruling class that came to see us as purely instrumental to its theosophical ambitions. Well, we are now living through the failure of this grand, weird enterprise, and reacquaintance with reality is driving everyone insane. That is not surprising, nor should we expect a better order to appear quickly or before weaponised diversity has caused an awful lot of mayhem. If there is a future worth the having, it will only come by becoming real human beings once again, reclaiming independence from a degenerate managerial class that has syphilis on the brain. This is not a matter of choice. It will be forced on us by the inexorable decay of the state; we shall have to sustain ourselves and our families because no one else will be willing or able. We shall have to reacquire skills worthy of the name: how to grow food, how to fashion the things we need, how to defend ourselves and how to support each other as God intended us to do. In short, the peoples of the West will have to become real peoples again, not interchangeable widgets or dead-eyed marionettes. It will be hard, very hard, with no certain outcome. Then again, whoever said life was meant to be easy?