I want to
I want to
I want to
Events of the past months have sharply brought into focus the need for passable borders. I’m not coming out for fully open borders. That still seems somewhat extreme and too dismissive of borders (which contrary to some people’s opinions definitely are not arbitrary). I just think that keeping borders hermetically closed will exact a moral cost from us that nobody should be willing to pay.
There are tons of arguments in favor of cross-border movement of people. I want to focus on two which are directly applicable to recent crises in the USA and Europe.
Open borders are a stopgap so that we might have international relations that are just. People trapped in a country that offers no prospects should have the option to vote with their feet. Whether they move as war, political or economic refugees, they do so because they really have to.
The flows of these people are an indication of global injustice and at the same time an incentive to do something about it. The people moving about would likely prefer not to have to leave their homes to go to another place where they may or may not be wanted.
We could have done something about the countries these people come from decades ago. Unfortunately most foreign policy and development aid revolves around short-term national interests and the propping up of dictators. Closing borders would remove this final incentive to work towards globally positive outcomes.
Open borders provide everybody an opportunity to become better people. Like we have seen they also provide people an opportunity to become worse people. If you work for an organization that is a modern day equivalent of the Gestapo, like ICE is, then you have lost everything.
Becoming a better person is the ultimate goal in life and as such every opportunity to do so is a welcome one.
This is not just a demand on the people in the receiving countries, it is also a demand on the people migrating. Whatever the reason, their country was and probably still is backwards and broken—otherwise they would not have moved here. Let’s welcome them and transform them into the best person they can be.
Most migrants are already focused on this because they want to work, to educate themselves and to raise their kids in safety. We could make that social contract explicit and truly live it, providing vast and equal opportunities to everybody willing to live by our principles.
In the best possible case, Europe can be a life raft for the world and Europeanness can be an inclusive and expanding idea. Welcome aboard. Here’s an oar. Start paddling.
His design ‘was to write for a tyrant those things that are pleasing to tyrants, bringing about in this way, if he could, the tyrant’s self-willed and swift downfall’.
Pole warned; beware of this two-faced writer. ‘For it is the aim of his doctrine to act like a drug that causes princes to go mad,’ making them attack their own people with ‘the savagery of the lion and the wiles of the fox’.
They become characters on a stage where he, Niccolò Machiavelli, probes their minds, sizes them up, tries to conceal his misgivings, or holds back his irritation for diplomacy’s sake.
When someone’s game is rotten, Niccolò often suggests – even if it looks like the main one in town, the only one where real men can prove that they are winners – don’t let them force you to play it. Better to make and play by your own rules.
Whoever seeks to act according to others, he later tells his more convention-bound friend Francesco Vettori, will accomplish nothing, because no two men who think alike can be found.
The ideal Medici leader had to seem born to rule while also seeming to think of himself as one of the people. His every move needed to project a double illusion: of natural superiority to every other citizen and a total, easy-going unawareness of that superiority.
Soderini, who was among the first citizens of Florence and by far superior to the others, a man whose prudence and authority were known not only in Florence but among all the princes of Italy, responds: What you call a great victory looks to me like a loss. If you’d won over Volterra by treaty and agreement, you would have had advantage and security from it. But since you have to hold it by force, in adverse times it will bring you weakness and trouble, and in peaceful times, loss and expense.
Plots to overthrow governments, Niccolò often observes, are almost always betrayed by one of the plotters.
And don’t rush to proclaim any policy a great success, for often gain is seen and widely praised in policies at first – especially when they appear bold, surprising, risky – even though there is the ruin of the republic concealed underneath.
The struggle to overcome great difficulties teaches people self-discipline and self-knowledge, not least knowledge of their own resources of mind and spirit, which might go untapped if they had it easy. This makes them tougher than those who have too many hereditary advantages: they are thicker-skinned against those who try to pull them down, more tolerant of the setbacks that face everyone at some time or another.
Whatever the quality of their brains, advisers live in constant fear of saying too much or too little, or the wrong things at the wrong time.
The Machiavelli family win the case, proving on a small scale a point Niccolò will make over and over in his writings: weak families, individuals, cities and peoples should never shy away from fighting those who put them down or take what is theirs.9 Even if they lose some battles, their efforts do them proud, and make life harder for their oppressors.
If you want to maintain your state over time, the only sure way is to arm your own people and keep them satisfied; it’s always safer to found yourself not upon fortresses but upon the benevolence of men.
For when one foresees from afar, one can easily find a remedy for future troubles. But when you wait until they come close to you, the medicine is not in time, because the disease has become incurable.
Niccolò speaks from very personal knowledge when he says that freedom, one knows, is often restored in a city by those who have never tasted it but who loved it only through the memories of it left to them by their fathers. And thus, he continues, once recovered, they preserve it with all obstinacy and at any peril.
Founders of new institutions should assume that a large part of human nature inclines most people to behave badly, at least now and then: to take more than their share of power or wealth, to profit from other people’s weaknesses, to cheat, lie, betray promises. Inclinations like these can’t be rooted out of our species; human nature itself cannot be reformed so that more and more people become reliably angelic.
Sheltered by his patrician family name, Agostino can afford not to take seriously men like della Valle, with their popular or recent peasant origins; social rank trumps official rank. While Ser Antonio’s tantrums make Biagio cringe behind the heap of portfolios on his desk, Agostino merely stares at their office superior as if he were a stray farm animal that has somehow wandered into the city and, stumbling into the refined halls of government, panicked and run amuck.
the two essential, unwritten rules of Florentine diplomacy. One: give them words, good words, be a veritable fountain bubbling over with sweet words; but use every industry to avoid offering them deeds. Two: have at the tip of your tongue a ready arsenal of excuses for not spending money.
But the surest way to win esteem, Niccolò writes in the Prince, is to be a true friend and a true enemy.
Nonetheless, it was hardly a civil thing to violate the laws. For if ignoring legal procedures may do good in one particular case, nonetheless the example does ill. And if one sets up a habit of breaking the [legal and political] orders for the sake of good, then later, under that colouring, they are broken for ill.
The French are more eager for money than for blood.
In adversity they are abject, and in prosperity insolent. If you can resist the fury of their first onslaught, you will find them depressed and so entirely discouraged, that they become cowardly like women.
The cardinal has grown indulgent towards this odd young Florentine, who has no air of inherited greatness yet speaks boldly, with the confidence of sound judgement rather than of birth or rank.
He would later advise envoys to princely courts that they should observe the nature of the man: whether he rules for himself or lets himself be ruled; whether he is stingy or liberal; whether he loves war or peace; whether desire for glory or any other passion moves him, whether the people love him.
This matter is very important; there are men who, through being clever and two-faced, have so completely lost the trust of a prince that they have never afterwards been able to negotiate with him.
One needs to be a fox to recognize snares, and a lion to frighten the wolves.
This, for Machiavelli, is the real test of any statesman’s quality: his virtue. And while good fortune can help you conquer states, virtù is what lets you hold them securely.
Those who become princes solely by fortune have it much easier at first, rising to power with little trouble. But when the time comes to consolidate their newfound power, then all the difficulties arise, since these impetuous high-flyers seldom take the time to build up solid foundations for their state. Because of this, princes of fortune tend to be moody, fickle in their policies, even manic – now acting as if nothing could stop them, then losing all confidence at the first failure, as if failure weren’t a normal part of life. Virtuous leaders are far steadier, more trustworthy. They refuse to become arrogant with success or dejected with failure and, if their luck changes for better or for worse, they do not vary but always keep their spirit firm, showing that fortune does not have power over them.
That’s another thing about fortune-dependent types: they tend to think that they’re the only shrewd operators in the room. They can easily deceive others, but never be deceived.
For Niccolò, virtù can mean spiritedness, especially in battle. But the highest-quality virtù includes an aptitude for organization, industry, and far-sighted prudence. It further includes an unclouded knowledge of one’s own limits, the wisdom and self-discipline not to overreach them, and the ingenuity to use whatever opportunities and resources one has, however scarce they might be. Virtù doesn’t need good luck, or even much freedom, to work wonders. On the contrary, it is most admirable, even most effective, where there are obstacles to overcome.
Give men secure work that allows them to feed their families and win public respect, in employments that are the nerve and life of the city, and they’ll become its stoutest defenders.
the knowledge that whatever defects you find in a particular set of men, or in human nature generally, well-designed laws and institutions can hold their defects in check and cultivate virtues you – and perhaps they – didn’t know they had.
Everyone wants to be coddled and esteemed, so that is what someone who finds himself where you are has to do.
A statesman needs to know when to use clemency and when severity.
He did not know, Machiavelli would later write, that one cannot wait for the time, goodness is not enough, fortune varies, and malignity does not find a gift that appeases it.
They committed one of the commonest, most devastating mistakes made in politics and war: when peoples do not know how to put limits to their hopes and measure their own capabilities, they are ruined. In this way, the insolence that victory or the false hope of victory arouses makes men lose the opportunity of having a certain good through hoping to have an uncertain better.
A man’s mind, he muses in The Ass, can’t easily be turned against his nature or habits. Though his brain might warn him of the dangers in honest criticism, his nature forces him to see – and point out – human errors in hopes of correcting them. And in the present age so grudging and evil, one always sees bad more quickly than good.
We lie to each other and start believing our own lies. The ones who come out best are the noisiest babblers and flatterers. They spout platitudes and say nothing. For the herd and their herd-masters only hear what is easy to hear, what they think they already know, keep repeating the same badly reasoned blandness to flatter themselves and their herd-chiefs.
For it is not enough to say: ‘I do not care for anything; I do not desire honours or useful things; I wish to live quietly and without quarrel!’ These excuses won’t be believed if they come from a man notable for his quality, even when such men choose the quiet life truly and without any ambition.
Neither money nor sheer numbers of men make strong armies, he tells his readers, but only people who are motivated to fight to the death. And they’ll be motivated only when they have a real stake in the government they’re expected to defend: when they can make a decent living, feel that they’re treated with public respect, perhaps even take part in politics.
In any city, ancient or modern, one finds an enmity between the great, whatever they call themselves – nobles, patricians, the rich – and the people. This arises because the great everywhere want to dominate, while the people want not to be dominated. The people’s desire is more reasonable than the desire of a few to dominate the many. It follows that governments that seek to satisfy the popular desire are firmer and last longer than those that let a few command the rest.
Moreover, to cure the illness of excessive ambition among the people words are enough ; while for curing the prince’s, steel is needed.
So they should indeed never give up. They have always to hope and, since they hope, not to give up in whatever fortune and whatever travail they may find themselves.
Look at the Germans and the Swiss: they live more simply than we do, and are free and well-armed. Our rich Italians live lavishly and aspire to live even more lavishly, but what freedom we have is constantly threatened by unrest from the poor.
Don’t push your luck when you’re clutching at your last desperate hopes, compromise to cut your losses, save what you can; what you lose now you can recover later.
I’ve had a letter from you that has given me the greatest pleasure. If God grants you and me life, I believe that I may make you a man of good standing, if you are willing to do your share. But you must study hard and take pains to learn letters and music – for you know how much distinction is given me for what little ability I possess. Thus, my son, if you want to please me and to bring profit and honour to yourself, study, do well, and learn, because everyone will help you if you help yourself.
Instead of attacking Florence, imperial forces rapidly move to Rome. On 6 May, they sack the Holy City, the bloodiest attack in living memory, with famished German troops shouting, ‘Vivat Luther Papa!’ as they smash sacred relics and plunder houses, shops, banks.
Incontestably, alas, most people are not, in action, worth very much; and yet, every human being is an unprecedented miracle. One tries to treat them as the miracles they are, while trying to protect oneself against the disasters they’ve become.
I was not the same, but they were, as though they had been trapped, preserved, in that moment in time.
They should have known me better, or at least enough, to have known that I meant what I said. But the general reaction to famous people who hold difficult opinions is that they can’t really mean it. It’s considered, generally, to be merely an astute way of attracting public attention, a way of making oneself interesting: one marches in Montgomery, for example, merely (in my own case) to sell one’s books.
This means that one must accept one’s nakedness. And nakedness has no color: this can come as news only to those who have never covered, or been covered by, another naked human being.
This is the way people react to the loss of empire—for the loss of an empire also implies a radical revision of the individual identity—and I was to see this over and over again, not only in France.
Thus, the exploitation of the colony’s resources was done for the good of the natives; and so vocal could the French become as concerns what they had brought into their colonies that it would have been the height of bad manners to have asked what they had brought out.
Not without warning, and not without precedent: but only poets, since they must excavate and recreate history, have ever learned anything from it.
For, intellectual activity, according to me, is, and must be, disinterested—the truth is a two-edged sword—and if one is not willing to be pierced by that sword, even to the extreme of dying on it, then all of one’s intellectual activity is a masturbatory delusion and a wicked and dangerous fraud.
Nevertheless, this learned, civilized, intellectual-liberal debate cheerfully raged in its vacuum, while every hour brought more distress and confusion—and dishonor—to the country they claimed to love.
But they had no right not to know that; if they did not know that, they knew nothing and had no right to speak as though they were responsible actors in their society;
I may have been romantic about London—because of Charles Dickens—but the romance lasted for exactly as long as it took me to carry my bags out of Victoria Station.
Four hundred years in the West had certainly turned me into a Westerner—there was no way around that. But four hundred years in the West had also failed to bleach me—there was no way around that, either
It is power, not justice, which keeps rearranging the map, and the Algerians were not fighting the French for justice (of which, indeed, they must have had their fill by that time) but for the power to determine their own destinies.
One may see that the history, which is now indivisible from oneself, has been full of errors and excesses; but this is not the same thing as seeing that, for millions of people, this history—oneself—has been nothing but an intolerable yoke, a stinking prison, a shrieking grave. It is not so easy to see that, for millions of people, life itself depends on the speediest possible demolition of this history, even if this means the leveling, or the destruction of its heirs.
Everybody else was paying their dues, and it was time I went home and paid mine.
I was old enough to recognize how deep and strangling were my fears, how manifold and mighty my limits: but no one can demand more of life than that life do him the honor to demand that he learn to live with his fears, and learn to live, every day, both within his limits and beyond them.
But I have always been struck, in America, by an emotional poverty so bottomless, and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep, that virtually no American appears able to achieve any viable, organic connection between his public stance and his private life.
It was as though he were wrestling with the mighty fact that the danger in which he stood was as nothing compared to the spiritual horror which drove those who were trying to destroy him. They endangered him, but they doomed themselves.
Every Southern city seemed to me to have been but lately rescued from the swamps, which were patiently waiting to reclaim it. The people all seemed to remember their time under water, and to be both dreading and anticipating their return to that freedom from responsibility.
Every white face turned to stone: the arrival of the messenger of death could not have had a more devastating effect than the appearance in the restaurant doorway of a small, unarmed, utterly astounded black man. I had realized my error as soon as I opened the door: but the absolute terror on all these white faces—I swear that not a soul moved—paralyzed me. They stared at me, I stared at them.
One has only to remember that American investments cannot be considered safe wherever the population cannot be considered tractable; with this in mind, consider the American reaction to the Jew who boasts of sending arms to Israel, and the probable fate of an American black who wishes to stage a rally for the purpose of sending arms to black South Africa.
Force does not work the way its advocates seem to think it does. It does not, for example, reveal to the victim the strength of his adversary. On the contrary, it reveals the weakness, even the panic of his adversary, and this revelation invests the victim with patience. Furthermore, it is ultimately fatal to create too many victims. The victor can do nothing with these victims, for they do not belong to him, but—to the victims.
Malcolm considered himself to be the spiritual property of the people who produced him. He did not consider himself to be their saviour, he was far too modest for that, and gave that role to another; but he considered himself to be their servant and in order not to betray that trust, he was willing to die, and died.
She was far safer walking the streets alone than when walking with me—a brutal and humiliating fact which thoroughly destroyed whatever relationship this girl and I might have been able to achieve. This happens all the time in America, but Americans have yet to realize what a sinister fact this is, and what it says about them.
I am astonished until today that I have both my eyes and most of my teeth and functioning kidneys and my sexual equipment: but small black boys have the advantage of being able to curl themselves into knots, and roll with the kicks and the punches.
But everything that might have charmed me merely reminded me of how many were excluded, how many were suffering and groaning and dying, not far from a paradise which was itself but another circle of hell
In the village, as in the ghetto, those who were not dangerous before the search-and-destroy operation assuredly become so afterward, for the inhabitants of the village, like the inhabitants of the ghetto, realize that they are identified, judged, menaced, murdered, solely because of the color of their skin.
The prison is overcrowded, the calendars full, the judges busy, the lawyers ambitious, and the cops zealous. What does it matter if someone gets trapped here for a year or two, gets ruined here, goes mad here, commits murder or suicide here? It’s too bad, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.
Billy spoke the truth, but it’s hard to shame the devil.
White America remains unable to believe that black America’s grievances are real; they are unable to believe this because they cannot face what this fact says about themselves and their country; and the effect of this massive and hostile incomprehension is to increase the danger in which all black people live here, especially the young.
This unhappy failing will prove to be especially aggravated in the case of the American rulers, who have never heard of history and who have never read it, who do not know what the passion of a people can withstand or what it can accomplish, or how fatal is the moment, for the kingdom, when the passion is driven underground.
To study the economic structure of this country, to know which hands control the wealth, and to which end, seems an academic exercise—and yet it is necessary, all of it is necessary, for discipline, for knowledge, and for power.
I know what I would do if I had a gun and someone had a gun pointed at my brother, and I would not count ten to do it and there would be no hatred in it, nor any remorse. People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned.
Angela Nagle’s appalling Kill All Normies, which takes the jaw-droppingly foolish methodology of simply reporting all of the alt-right’s self-justifications as self-evident truths so as to conclude that the real reason neo-nazis have been sweeping into power is because we’re too tolerant of trans people.
This brings us to our second relatively uninteresting question, which is what to do about the alt-right. In this case the answer is even easier and more obvious than the first: you smash their bases of power, with violent resistance if necessary. If you want a more general solution that also takes care of the factors that led to a bunch of idiot racists being emboldened in the first place you drag all the billionaires out of their houses and put their heads on spikes.
The lethal meme, known as Roko’s Basilisk, used the peculiarities of Yudkowskian thought to posit a future AI that would condemn to eternal torture everyone from the present who had ever imagined it if they subsequently failed to do whatever they could to bring about its existence.
I want to be clear, with all possible sincerity, that I love the braggadocio here. I want what he is selling. Yes, Mencius, savagely tear away the veil of lies with which I cope with the abject horror that is reality and reveal to me the awful, agonizing truth of being. Give me the red pill. The problem is, once we get our golf ball-sized reality distortion pill home, put on some Laibach, and settle in for an epic bout of Thanatosian psychedelia, we discover the unfortunate truth: we’re actually just huffing paint in an unhygienic gas station bathroom. Jesus, this isn’t even bat country.
By “crap,” of course, I do not mean “wrong.” Rather, I mean obvious, in the sense of sounding like the guy at the bar watching the news (probably Fox) and muttering about how “they’re all a bunch of crooks.” Liberal democracy a hopelessly inadequate and doomed system preserved by a system of continual indoctrination? You don’t say.
And this really is stunningly weird in the context of all his red pill rhetoric about the corrupt horrors of liberal democracy. Because while there are a great many obvious critiques of contemporary society, “there’s just not enough respect for profit” really doesn’t feel like one of them.
With this, we have a genuinely tricky moment, simply because of the sheer and unbridled number of unexamined assumptions going on here.
But all the same, if you’re going to talk about suppressed ideologies that oppose the interests of entrenched power, you’ve really got to talk about the original red pill: Marxism.
It is tempting to suggest that Moldbug is a failed Marxist in the sense that Jupiter is a failed star, its mass falling tantalizingly short of the tipping point whereby nuclear fusion begins. Over and over again, Moldbug asks questions much like those that Marx asked, and his answers begin with many of the same initial observations. But inevitably, a few steps in, he makes some ridiculously broad generalization or fails to consider some obvious alternative possibility, and the train of thought fizzles into characteristic idiocy.
This sort of “the world can be saved if only everyone listens to me” narcissism belongs in the genre of fiction, where it can accomplish something, and not in the visionary manifesto, where it only reveals its own impotence.
That is not to say they can get away with being wrong, at least not straightforwardly so, but it is to reiterate that the key problem with Moldbug, Yudkowsky, and Land is that they are in key regards uninteresting—that they offer dull and unsatisfying answers to their most compelling questions, of which “hang out with a bunch of racist nerdbros” is merely the worst.
Terence McKenna’s suggestion that DMT is an alien intelligence’s attempt to communicate directly with the human brain
That’s the whole point of the right to exit—a final and decisive rescue of individual liberty at all costs. But exiting requires that people stay behind; if we all go, we’ll just have to storm out again. The entire point of the project is to separate the wheat from the chaff.
He posits that in this situation the “absolute limit to our ability to adequately understand the world at all” becomes increasingly relevant, and observes that this is a frequent theme of both philosophy and horror.
The truth is that, despite Land’s evident fascination with them, the bulk of neoreactionaries are not people one would want to have a beer with, and there’s not a great case for reading their books either.
Yudkowsky isn’t just running from error; he’s running from the idea of authority. The real horror of the Basilisk is that the AI at the end of the universe is just another third grade teacher who doesn’t care if you understand the material, just if you apply the rote method being taught.
Hauntology comes from within us; the Weird from outside.
The red pill, pwnage, and for that matter the horror reading, monstrous offspring, and Satanic inversions all follow the same basic pattern—a sort of conceptual infiltration of someone’s thought in which their own methods and systems are used against them.
It is, after all, the great one-liner critique of Mencius Moldbug: he’s exactly what you’d expect to happen if you asked a software engineer to redesign political philosophy. And crucially, Moldbug basically agrees with it—he just also genuinely believes that the Silicon Valley “disruptor” crowd would be capable of running the world with no problems if only people would let them.
Which is to say, Satan opens by negging Eve, accusing her of looking at him “with disdain, Displeas’d that I approach thee thus, and gaze Insatiate, I thus single, nor have feard Thy awful brow,”112 which may be the earliest instance of telling someone they have resting bitch face.
In the face of an ecologically brutal planet, the guys with guns and tribal loyalties are a depressingly compelling bet to stick around.
With Moldbug the sense is overwhelmingly that empathy just never crossed his mind as something to factor into his design. He flat out didn’t think of it. Yudkowsky, on the other hand, thinks about it a lot and cares very deeply about it; he’s just incompetent at it.
The result of this approach is that Yudkowsky, without really meaning to, tends to look at everyone else in the world as inefficient Eliezer Yudkowskys instead of people as such.
Moldbug, Yudkowsky, and Land don’t just “do poorly” with empathy—they represent the most visible and explicit edge of a Cathedral-scaled system of values that casts the desire to listen and try to understand people who are different from you as anathema to reason itself.
This forces us to consider white culture as a set of perpetual ruins—as something that has always been lost, and that can only be apprehended as a tenuous and incomplete reconstruction.
No, what’s really notable here is Moldbug’s doe-eyed certainty that such a thing as an absolute truth service could be built; that there is a general plan of action so self-evidently compelling that if he only expressed it properly everyone would immediately flock to his side. In short, after thousands of words railing against the Cathedral for secretly being a religion, he’s accidentally reinvented religion. And then lost the holy text. You couldn’t parody it better.
They have that marvelous feature of the best gods: perfectly answering a question you didn’t know you had.
And a few, such as Ahania, are genuinely breathtaking in their scope: a pleasure goddess representing intellectual curiosity who is bound in a Persephone-like structure of death and rebirth is a metaphysical/literary construct to rival Milton’s Satan, and one Blake barely scratches the surface of.
And it’s hard not to suggest that the world would be a better place if Yudkowsky had stuck to children’s literature for adult geeks as opposed to starting a weird AI cult that derails efforts to curtail malaria.
And while Gamergate usually doesn’t have a product to sell in quite the same literal way, it’s worth noting how, for instance, two doors down from them is someone like Stefan Molyneux, whose output amounts to 30-60 minute PowerPoint presentations consisting of a by-now familiar sort of low-content dissembling, and whose business endgame is literally a cult.
The Gamergate narrative has always required a vast quasi-conspiracy to function, some story whereby feminists or SJWs or cultural Marxists exercise near-complete control over video games and video game journalism.
Not even a monoculture then—an anticulture, with Vivian James ironically its perfect representation. It’s a desire to befit their worldview, its adamance dwarfed only by its fundamental emptiness. There’s nothing there. There’s never been anything there.
And Gamergate as a whole is scarcely better. It’s always been notable for its near-complete lack of actual discussion of videogames.
More interesting is where his basic inclination towards racial stereotyping originates from: the material realities of New York real estate, its patterns of historical ethnic migrations geologically stratified across the city’s expansion.
He might have had a name. But then he literally built a six-hundred-and-sixty-six foot tower to which he offered up that name, sacrificing it upon its black altar such that the building became a titanic sigil of the sixteenth Major Arcana of the Tarot of the Golden Dawn, symbolizing destruction and ruin, with only the remnants of the man whose name it ate living within the rotting heart of its penthouse.
He sold his name, yes, but what did he get out of the deal? The answer, simply put, is what he would hereafter treat as his most valuable asset: his brand. In short, he became a creature of pure image.
But it also includes the raw allostatic load of living under his rule; the basic psychological wear and tear of waking up every morning in a post-fact world dominated by a bullying narcissist. The act of living in a world where the basic validity of your identity is contingent and perpetually imperiled, where the very definition of “fact” is in dispute, and where a brutish logic of dominance and humiliation pervades the entire social order.
Individuals can act all they want. They won’t make the end of the world go away, any more than their freedom to quit work can make them free to not starve
It helps that one can be against today’s racist wars—though not on the grounds of anti-racism, except of the most specious variety—while quietly accepting and utilising the racial inequities inherited from the racist imperialism of the past. As usual, reactionary thinking is dependant upon amnesia.
It admits that value is a mental construct, but one that is ‘real’ because it has a real social basis and real social effects. Value, for Marx, is neither a thing nor an essence, neither quality nor spirit. It is a social reality because of what humans actually do.
Theoretically detached from the objective and the material, and connected to business as a client, mainstream economics has become—to a large extent—an ideological discourse.
This is how Moldbug and Thiel’s view that democracy is incompatible with liberty arises. A democracy is a society in which the mass of the population—who are, by definition, mostly without property—can shape policy so that it curtails the freedom of the propertied to make their choices. In a free society—by their definition—the capitalists get to make their choices unfettered.
For the Austrians, democracy is to blame for capitalism going into crisis. Democracy breeds special claims by people who are not really concerned with making the choices that regulate the economy. The people without a big stake—the masses—thus destabilise the system.
This is the so-called Austrian ‘Business Cycle.’ Boiled right down: crashes and recessions happen because central banks set interest rates too low. Easy credit results, which screws up market signals. Loaners go crazy. Bubbles inflate and burst. Such lopsided production can only be remedied via letting interest rates rise to their ‘natural’ rate. In other words, the Austrian prescription is: let the crisis rip. It will be harsher but quicker. The only cure for god’s wrath is to wait for the plague to exhaust itself.
Opposition to democracy is entailed by the Austrian view of how capitalism works. Democracy is the rule of the ignorant and selfish public, and the state is their tyrannical arm. Moronic majoritarianism wields unjustifiable power over the propertied and the entrepreneurs who are, for Hayek for instance, almost promethean artists in their special sensitivity and understanding.
The logically consequent idea that emergency dictatorship may be necessary to preserve liberal society from democracy is in neoliberalism’s source code. Neoliberalism, contrary to myth, is an authoritarian ideology, committed to defending property and wealth by violence both physical and structural.
The leaders of Rothbard’s revolution would be the libertarians and the minarchists. The troops would be the masses, spurred to fight the elites. And the spurring would take the form of appeals to racism.
The disproportionate number of former-libertarians in American fascism is revealing because conservatives are far more numerous in America than libertarians, which suggests that libertarianism is statistically over-represented.
The Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory now espoused across the alt-right is a reiteration of what the (actual) Nazis called kulturbolschewismus, an idea central to Nazi dogma, about degenerate art and culture being manufactured by Jewish communists to undermine the unity of the German people. The resurrection and repackaging of this idea across a movement soaked in libertarianism is not surprising, because antagonism to socialism goes right back to the dawn of libertarianism, to the Austrian School’s foundational and self-chosen role as the intellectual foe of Marx.
People might not necessarily formulate their objections to the content of newspapers that way, but they’re nevertheless absenting themselves from daily exposure to one of the main means by which the ruling class produce ideology and public consent. This is at least as big a concern to the people running the media as the need to claw back profits.
In all of these cases, the strategy is to play on insecurities of young men in an age where there are mounting ideological challenges out there—especially on the Internet—to their untroubled social privilege. Coupled with the twin legacies of decades of neoliberalism—increasing ideological and political disorientation, and a future far less secure than that which faced their parents and grandparents at their age—such challenges can terrify the semi-privileged layer of young, white, middle class men, who enjoy all those privileges without also enjoying actual material security.
Reactionary politics once again takes advantage of having a wide batrachian mouth, both sides of which may be used for talking.
The reason actions don’t lead inevitably to goals isn’t because there are complex material structures of oppression that heavily shape people’s lives, but because we exist in linear time. Not only does Rothbard not connect time to what dominates it for most people in capitalist society—work—but hilariously, he doesn’t even bother connecting time to its ultimate horror and constraint, death.
To quote the monster directly: “Milton produced Paradise Lost in the way that a silkworm produces silk, as the expression of his own nature.” Marx would like all labour to be like that, and sees no fundamental reason why it shouldn’t.
It’s pretty clear that the Austrian School doesn’t even remotely care about this fact, but it doesn’t inherently contradict anything they say. But that is, in the end, the point, and one I’ve made before: they don’t care. That’s clear, in a sense, all the way back in the basic axiom, with its active foregrounding of the heroic individual acting upon the world, as opposed to the state of affairs that most actual people experience, which is mostly being buffeted around by various external forces, whether they be governments, history, or the class system. Indeed, “individual human beings are acted upon” would be every bit as justifiable an axiom as “individual human beings act,” if not moreso.
They have been hugging Marxism on the brink of the Reichenbach Falls for a century and a half, staring into its eyes, but have never really seen it.
Mises’ only invocation of courage is in the context of statesmen standing up to labor unions. Decency only comes up in the context of “laws of morality and decency.” And his sole mention of kindness is a complete and grotesque misunderstanding of the very concept as he declares that “the indigent has no claim to the kindness shown to him,” as if being unearned isn’t the entire fucking point of kindness. It is a conception of human action without a shred of concern for empathy – human action devoid of all humanity.
But the real reason for this is that, more than anyone else, Marx provided an alternative to the charade on which their entire philosophical edifice was constructed. He showed the need for the destruction of that which, to them, gives the world meaning—and a method by which it might be achieved.
Given that no small number of conspiracy theories are, in point of fact, anti-Semitic, any attempt to uncritically synthesize them will be as well.
Icke’s theory is much the same way. We know wealthy elites control our minds. Knowing they’re lizards (or, for that matter, Jews) doesn’t actually change anything. It is, to borrow a phrase, malignantly useless knowledge.
Not only does nothing follow from Icke’s conclusions, nothing follows within the argument itself. Icke does not so much lay out a case for the lizard people as blunder among vague associations, hoping that the aggregate of a bunch of extremely tenuous connections will somehow be persuasive instead of a discombobulated mess of shoddy research and sloppy reasoning.
The history of the world consists of a lot of wealthy assholes sleeping with each other and killing people. Changing up which assholes slept with and killed who doesn’t actually make much of a difference.
Ridiculous arguments, especially ones that recognize their absurdity, are capable of revealing things that do not follow obviously, if at all, from self-consciously serious approaches, but that are nevertheless true and valuable realizations.
So is his inclination to be skeptical of the “official” version of history. The value of this, to be clear, is not simply skepticism for its own sake (an approach that is just as likely to lead to things like climate change denial or creationism as it is to some productive insight), but rather the realization that, as the saying goes, history is written by the victors, and the standard version of history is inevitably the one that most flatters those in power.
It is not entirely clear why monstrous truth must take reptilian form, but just as the weird turns instinctively to tentacles and the hauntological inevitably drifts towards skulls, for some reason awful truth must take the form of a reptile, whether a petrifying basilisk or just a bunch of pan-dimensional aliens.
This is a leftist book, and so must engage in a circular firing squad at least once.
This set a pattern whereby trans rights were repeatedly employed by the gay rights movement as a bargaining chip—as the thing they were pointedly willing to sell out in the name of compromise, as they spectacularly did when lobbying for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which excluded trans people in every version that was brought to Congress prior to 2009.
Thiel’s vision of corporate success is blatantly just the Moldbug/Land vision of how authoritarian capitalism will save us from the Great Filter.
Rather, it’s that once you’re willing to question the basic fact of Thiel’s competence it rapidly becomes apparent that the only actual evidence for this competence is that he has a lot of money.
And his fascination with seasteading numbers him among the litany of people interested in micronations, which is such a rich vein of complete crackpottery that I’d hate to deprive you of the pleasure of Googling it. This borders on the investment portfolio you’d get if you gave David Icke several billion dollars.
Who would craft such a thing as the alt-right? Only a fucking idiot. What other answer were we possibly going to find? It’s been idiots all the way down. And so of course even its billionaire supervillains bankrolling world-conquering AIs, vampiric life extension, and Donald Trump are idiots. This borders on “A is A.” And yet for all its obviousness, it captures what is perhaps the key realization about the alt-right—one that’s been implicit through much of this book, but is worth making explicit as we come to a close: they’re stupid.
I do not suggest this to diminish their horror. Far from it: the essential horror of the abyss is stupidity. That’s why it’s an abyss. The unique and exquisite danger of stupidity is that by its nature, it is beyond reason. There is nothing that can be said to it, because by definition it wouldn’t understand. It is an ur-basilisk—the one terrifying possibility that haunts every single argument that has ever been made. It is a move without response, playing by no rules other than its own, which do not generally include any obligation towards consistency. It is, in its way, the only approach that can never lose an argument. And in the alt-right and its affiliates we have one of the most staggeringly vast nexuses of raw stupidity the world has ever crafted.
One cannot chart a course of social action without understanding the world in which one lives, works, and struggles.
The rise of a system of global supply chains, with their multilayered set of factories, vendors, and transport links, has created a world system in which legal ownership of the forces of production have been divorced from operational control. This shift has generated a system in which accountability for labor conditions is legally diffused and knowledge of the actual producers is far from transparent.
Like the global retailers of our time, they favored free trade, a weak regulatory state, transnational production, and cheap, if not unfree, labor.
Most auto industry foremen took home wages about 25 percent higher than the men they supervised. More important, their paycheck was a good deal more predictable because managers sought to keep a core of experienced men employed even during large layoffs. Such employment stability enabled foremen to purchase solid houses in the better working-class neighborhoods and maintain a standard of living that approached that of the lower middle class.
Freemasonry stood for brotherhood and respectability and propagated a creed of sober self-improvement, conventional morality, and class harmony.
However, on a deeper social and psychological level, the foremen’s union orientation proved a tribute to the ability of a newly mobilized working class to sweep into its orbit whole social strata that in more socially quiescent times might have opposed it.
The Reuther plan nevertheless cast a long shadow, for it contained hallmarks of the strategic approach that was so characteristic of labor-liberalism in the 1940s: an assault on management’s traditional power made in the name of economic efficiency and the public interest, and an effort to shift power relations within the structure of industry and politics, usually by means of a tripartite governmental entity empowered to plan for whole sections of the economy.
Its vision and its power attracted a species of political animal that is hardly existent today: the “labor-liberal,” who saw organized labor as absolutely central to the successful pursuit of his or her political agenda.
The fight for collective bargaining, they argued, had to remain secondary to the more important goal of racial betterment, which could only be achieved by “good will, friendly understanding, and mutual respect and co-operation between the races.”
Others rejected the influence of people who “have always told us what the white people want, but somehow or other are particularly silent on what we want.” “
The union hall, only a few blocks from the Reynolds Building, housed a constant round of meetings, plays, and musical entertainments, as well as classes in labor history, black history, and current events.
The activists encouraged the city’s blacks to participate in electoral politics. “Politics IS food, clothes, and housing,” declared the committee that registered some seven hundred new black voters in the months before the 1944 elections.
With almost one hundred thousand black workers organized in the Detroit area, black union activists played a central role in the civil rights struggle.
Soon after the war, the company began a mechanization campaign that eliminated several predominantly black departments.
But most historians came to see the world of working-class politics as a venue in which a genuinely progressive, multiracial ethos had the best chance to realize itself. This was because the unions, for all their imperfections, were sites of racial empowerment, sometimes within a genuinely integrated context, but perhaps even more as political entities in which black caucuses and factions could emerge in an organic fashion, as they did in unions representing workers in the steel, packinghouse, auto, shipbuilding, and railroad industries in years that long preceded the 1960s.
The responsibilities and expectations of American citizenship—due process, free speech, the right of assembly and petition—would now find their place in factory, mill, and office. A civil society would be constructed within the very womb of the privately held enterprise.
During those dramatic years in the early 1960s, when demonstrations and marches led by Martin Luther King and other militants pushed civil rights to the top of the social agenda, the entire discourse of American liberalism shifted decisively out of the New Deal–labor orbit and into a world in which the racial divide colored all politics.
From the early 1960s onward, the most legitimate, and in many instances the most potent, defense of American job rights would be found not through collective initiative, as codified in the Wagner Act and advanced by the trade unions, but through an individual’s claim to his or her civil rights based on race, gender, age, or other attribute.
That’s true, because this recent advance in social legislation arises not out of the potency of the American labor left, which has been in retreat, but relies instead on the enormous political legitimacy amassed by the civil rights movement and its many rights-conscious heirs.
This is because solidarity is not just a song or a sentiment but requires a measure of coercion that can enforce the social bond when not all members of the organization—or the picket line—are in full agreement. Unions are combat organizations, and solidarity is not just another word for majority rule, especially when their existence is at stake. Thus, in recent decades, employer antiunionism has become increasingly oriented toward the ostensible protection of the individual rights of workers as against undemocratic unions and restrictive contracts that hamper the free choice of employees.
As anti-sweatshop and human rights advocates are now rediscovering, no consistent regulation is really possible without hearing from the workers themselves, and their voices will remain silent unless they have some institution that protects them from the consequences of speaking up.
Thus, the same species of rights-conscious liberalism that abolished racial segregation, ended McCarthyism, and legalized women’s rights has also undermined the legal basis of union power and turned solidarity into a quaint and antique notion.
Rights consciousness therefore transfers authority into the hands of another body—a court, a panel, a government agency—to sort out the various claims and strike the approximate balance. Justice may be served for a particular individual, or even an entire class, but not always through a system of participatory debate and democratic decision making.
In the United States workers have used the new workers rights that emerged out of the civil rights movement to democratize gender and racial hierarchies, only to see their real security and opportunities undermined by the dramatic transformation of a working environment over which they have had little control.
First, the unions must themselves champion the rights impulse so that it does not become the presumptive property of the corporations, the free marketers, or even the human rights NGOs. To flourish again trade unionism does require civil rights and human rights and their vigorous enforcement in every global workplace.
Like the socialists of Europe and the industrial democrats of New Deal America, trade unionism requires a transformative vision to sustain its moral and institutional existence, to link individual rights and social purpose.
Like many other American progressives, both were enthusiasts for Mussolini-style corporatism. Fascism’s appeal to such liberals was found in its experimental nature, its antidogmatic temper, and its moral élan.
The 1935 Wagner Act did offer as its key rationale the establishment of industrial peace, but only after providing guarantees that genuinely independent trade unions had the power and solidarity to meet with their capitalist adversaries on a terrain that gave to labor the economic and political power necessary to cut a negotiated bargain.
In a pattern that really did have a fascist character, Southern elites had long figured out how to mobilize a big slice of the white working class in the interest of a reactionary and violently oppressive racial order. Thus the bitter resistance to the civil rights movement and to the implementation of school desegregation, which reached its apogee in the 1950s, was just the most overt manifestation of the reactionary manipulation of popular white sentiment—a sentiment that had first become apparent when Southern elites confronted New Deal statutes covering crop allotments, minimum wages, welfare payments, worker rights, and voting procedures.
In many of these authoritarian states, opposition movements that were defeated in 1968 reemerged a decade or more later, providing the leadership and a good deal of the spirit for the “velvet revolutions” that brought down the Eastern European regimes in 1989.
Mark Lilla has reminded us,
There was a tension between what capitalist society required of its citizens as producers and the habits it fostered in them as consumers. This contradiction, Bell wrote, would leave advanced capitalist societies without the moral basis they needed for continued prosperity and cohesion.
All revolutions, successful or not, link a transformation of the cultural and ideological terrain with a shift in power and governance.
There were culture wars in the 1930s as well as in later decades; one reason FDR was such a polarizing figure was that he embodied in his administration and in his persona the “class treason” that was so hateful to a generation of Yankee conservatives who had been the natural arbitrators of power and taste for so many decades.
The longest-standing argument against public sector unionism rests on the idea that such collective bargaining by workers in the public sector undercuts the sovereignty of government. The second idea is that public sector unionism makes government too expensive and sets a standard that private industry cannot meet. And the third conservative argument, which reflects the rise in recent years of an intense hostility to the very idea of a welfare state, asserts that public sector unions are bad not because they undermine the sovereignty of the state, but because they sustain it, especially insofar as the state, at either the local or national levels, creates a set of public goods, like education, infrastructure, health care, and even public safety, that conservatives seek to either abolish or privatize.
Trade unions oppose the fragmentation of the public school system, they fight the privatization of municipal services, they sustain the Democratic Party, and they politicize and mobilize voters who would otherwise remain alienated and voiceless.
“Many of the new research people,” he wrote in 1946, probably indicating his own feelings, “are disaffected and morally unhappy: they will their minds to people they don’t like for purposes they don’t feel at one with . . . What some of them really want is to connect their skill and intelligence to a movement in which they can believe; they are ready to give a lot of energy to an organization that would harness these skills in the service of the left. And the left to most of them means labor.”
Mills responded, “By intellectual here we mean humanitarian socialist. What the hell else? So I’ll say so in some innocent, hard-boiled way.”
The phrase “political publics” is important to this typology and in Mills’s mind is quite distinct from the more passive, uninformed “public opinion.” The political publics are more self-conscious, more politically alert communities either of ideology or interest that bring to bear a particular sensibility to the issues of the day. They formulate the ideas and programs that operate on the consciousness of the passive, atomized mass.
Not if “the power and the intellect” are united. And that is why Mills found trade union leaders to be “the strategic elite in American society,” even as he also warned on the very last page, “Never has so much depended upon men who are so ill-prepared and so little inclined to assume the responsibility.”
Trade unions are hybrid institutions—half monopoly seller of labor, half nascent social movement—and their leadership is just as mixed, though not always in the same personage: “an army general and a parliamentary debater, a political boss and an entrepreneur, a rebel and a disciplinarian.”
Here they defended the wildcat strikes that periodically erupted, pushed for a labor party, and attacked those in the labor movement, such as the Communists, who subordinated working-class aspirations for a better life and a more democratic workplace to the foreign policy interests of one of the big powers.
Despite high levels of consumption, unionization, and political complacency, Swados would later write, “there is one thing that the worker doesn’t do like the middle-class: he works like a worker.”
Confronted with the financial and political strength of the most powerful American corporations, the UAW tempered its fight against job dissatisfaction, unemployment, and racial discrimination.
As early as 1945 and 1946 the Communists were overwhelmingly defeated in Western Zone trade union elections by those who remembered the disastrous role played by the Reds during the immediate pre–Nazi era (the Communist slogan then was “After Hitler Us!”).
Thus Lovestone helped erect the ideological Iron Curtain that walled off the unions from an entire generation of New Left activists and civil rights militants whose energy and talent was essential to the health of a truly “free” labor movement.
Some were now union officers and staffers: their resistance, equivocation, and hypocrisy fueled Herbert Hill’s outrage for the rest of his life. Nothing infuriated him more than the complicacy, condescension, presumption, and outright racism that he found in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). In 1960 the ILGWU still traded on its socialist roots, its pioneering role in the New Deal, and in some circles its Jewish and Italian communitarianism. Yet anyone who bothered to look could also see that a stratum of aging Jewish liberals was presiding over a trade union that systematically excluded African Americans and Puerto Ricans from advancement in both the shop and the union hierarchy.
Hill wrote that she “denies the record of union racism in order to sanitize labor history,” along with many other labor historians who “find it necessary to minimize or deny racism in the labor movement because its existence conflicts with the useable past that they are constructing as labor history.”
Hill condemned what he called the “revived populist neo-Marxism that advanced the ideology of working class consciousness and solidarity against the social realties of race.” And as he put it in his critique of Gutman’s study of the late nineteenth-century United Mine Workers, “The attempt to dissolve race in class thus emerged in the ‘New Labor History’ as a modern version of the old socialist dream: that the class struggle, joined by united workers, would in time resolve the persistent and ideologically vexing issue of race by rendering it irrelevant.”
Organized labor is embattled, and not just at the bargaining table, but in a fundamentally ideological way that calls its very existence into question. In this context, academic intellectuals play a vital role as defenders, legitimizers, and even spokespeople for a movement that no longer quite knows how to explain itself to a larger public.
It mattered little to which class or race they belonged; the subordinate peoples of the world keenly absorbed the deeper implications – moral and psychological – of Japan’s triumph.
They had failed to notice the intense desire for equality and dignity among peoples whom Europe’s most influential thinkers, from Hegel and Marx to John Stuart Mill, had deemed unfit for self-rule – thinkers whose ideas, ironically, would in fact prove highly potent among these ‘subject peoples’.
During their long and eventful lives the Asians discussed in the book manifested all of the three main responses to Western power: the reactionary conviction that if Asian people were truly faithful to their religious traditions, which were presumed to be superior to those of all other civilizations, they would be strong again; the moderate notion that only a few Western techniques were required by Asians whose traditions already provided a sound basis for culture and society; and the vigorous determination, embraced by radical secularists like Mao and Atatürk, that the entire old way of life had to be revolutionized in order to compete in the jungle-like conditions of the modern world.
Islam was as much a universalizing ideology as Western modernity is now, and it successfully shaped distinctive political systems, economies and cultural attitudes across a wide geographical region
Two centuries later, al-Jabarti seems to stand at the beginning of a long line of bewildered Asians: men accustomed to a divinely ordained dispensation, the mysterious workings of fate and the cyclical rise and fall of political fortunes, to whom the remarkable strength of small European nation-states would reveal that organized human energy and action, coupled with technology, amount to a power that could radically manipulate social and political environments. Resentfully
The Chinese themselves remained perplexed by the apparently unappeasable greed of the British.
The British were beginning to replace their economic and political regime of pure plunder, as had existed in Bengal, with monopoly interests in shipping, banking, insurance and trade, and administrative structures. They enlisted native collaborators, such as the middlemen who expedited the lucrative export of opium grown in India to China, but these tended to be Hindu, Sikh or Parsi rather than Muslim.
European forms of political and military mobilization (conscript armies, efficient taxation, codified laws), financial innovations (capital-raising joint-stock companies) and information-rich public cultures of enquiry and debate fed upon each other to create a formidable and decisive advantage as Europe penetrated Asia.
By 1900, a small white minority radiating out from Europe would come to control most of the world’s land surface, imposing the imperatives of a commercial economy and international trade on Asia’s mainly agrarian societies.
Secret British government reports from Kandahar and Kabul in 1868 describe al-Afghani as having arrived from India in 1866, a virulent anti-British agitator and likely Russian agent, a slender man with a pale complexion, open forehead, penetrating azure eyes and goatee, who drank tea constantly, was well-versed in geography and history, spoke Arabic, Turkish and Persian (the last language like a native of Persia), not visibly religious and with a European rather than Muslim lifestyle.
Most of Istanbul’s population was Christian, and parts of it – the western quarters of Pera and Galata – resembled, superficially at least, a more cosmopolitan version of Berlin or St Petersburg.
Many Muslim reformers in his time spoke of following the West, but it was not easy for most ordinary Muslims to follow the ways of infidel peoples whom they feared or hated or knew nothing about.
With European bondholders and moneylenders practically running the country, al-Afghani was becoming less discreet than before about the dangers of Western encroachment.
The correspondent did admit that the expulsion ‘may not seem consonant with English ideals as to the free expression of opinion’, but added that the ‘peculiar circumstances of the country must be considered’.
Modernization, it was clear, hadn’t secured the Ottomans against infidels; on the contrary, it had made them more dependent.
India had originally alerted al-Afghani to the advantages of Western science and knowledge; India also served as a warning against those advocating drastic, total Westernization.
In the same vein, he also argued that linguistic ties were more profound than religious ones (a lesson Pakistan was to learn when the Bengali-speaking Muslims in East Pakistan seceded to form Bangladesh in 1971).
The Indian visitors were keen to learn about the Mahdi, then the kind of minatory figure to Westerners that Osama bin Laden was to become later.
Renan attacked Islam in terms similar to those he and other European freethinkers deployed against Catholicism: with its claims to supernatural revelation, it was an affront to reason, and a violent persecutor of free thought.
The masses do not like reason, the teachings of which are understood only by a few select minds. Science, however fine it may be, cannot completely satisfy humanity’s thirst for the ideal, or the desire to soar in dark and distant regions that philosophers and scholars can neither see nor explore.
That Islam needed a Reformation, with himself as Luther, was gradually becoming a favourite theme of al-Afghani.
He confessed he was worried about British influence in Afghanistan; the British, he said, always crept into countries as advisers before becoming their masters. This could also, he added, be proved true in Persia, where the shah was beginning to make major concessions to the British at the expense of Russia.
Budding revolutionaries usually have one shot at success. Al-Afghani had had several, but he had nothing to show for his efforts except a wide network of friends, sympathizers and fellow conspirators across three continents.
Like many other despots, he was interested in modernization only in so far as it strengthened his apparatus of surveillance and control, and made him look enlightened to foreign investors.
The imperatives for reform and science were contained in the Koran, which was perfectly compatible with modern science, politics and economics. He stressed a clear and modern reading of the Koran; no traditionalist interpretation of the holy text, he seemed to argue, should stand in the way of Muslim unity.
‘The entire Oriental world,’ he told the German journalist who visited him in Istanbul, ‘is so entirely rotten and incapable of hearing the truth and following it that I should wish for a flood or an earthquake to devour and bury it.’
More drastic, and popular, revolutions from below were needed; and they needed to shatter the bases as well as the superstructures of oppression.
A generation of educated Japanese, some exposed to Western societies, came to occupy powerful positions in the Meiji Restoration. They recognized the futility of unfocused xenophobia, shrewdly analysed their own weaknesses vis-à-vis the West as scientific and technical backwardness, and urgently set about organizing Japan into a modern nation-state.
The brisk rout of Chinese naval and land forces not only resoundingly proved the sturdiness of Japan’s military and its industrial and infrastructural base. It also showed that, as Sohō put it, ‘civilization is not a monopoly of the white man’.
At the risk of lèse-majesté, Kang now told his fellow students that China had degenerated so much that it resembled Turkey, another once-confident and now-feeble country carefully maintained in its infirmity by exploitative foreigners.
The Chinese resisted, and in the war that ensued the French destroyed much of the Chinese navy.
Even Italy, a latecomer to Chinese affairs and expansionism in general, demanded territory (although it was successfully rebuffed).
They all faced the task of having to generate a new set of values that ensured survival in the modern era while respecting time-honoured traditions – of appearing loyal to their nation while borrowing some of the secrets of the West’s progress.
the sick men of Asia were better alive than dead, for they held chaos at bay, and could also be bullied at will.
Singh particularly blamed the Russian and French soldiers for the mass killings, arson and rape inflicted on the Chinese. Some of the soldiers tortured their victims purely for fun. ‘All these sportsmen’, Singh noted, ‘belonged to what were called “civilized nations”.’
As he saw it, corporate interests played an insidious role in American politics. Frequent elections made for policy short-sightedness and cheap populism. People entering democratic politics tended to be third-rate; far too many American presidents had been mediocre and uninspiring.
Invoking their ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, the French authorities in Vietnam had rounded up some 100,000 peasants and artisans and shipped them to the battlefields of France. In return, France was to consider self-rule for their country at some unspecified point in the future.
It is hard to exaggerate the impact of Atatürk’s success on opinion across Asia – the greatest victory of the East since the Battle of Tsushima. ‘The truth’, Muhammad Iqbal wrote, ‘is that among the Muslim nations of today, Turkey alone has shaken off its dogmatic slumber, and attained to self-consciousness.’
Indian philosophy and literature – which only Brahmans in possession of Sanskrit could read – had been a closed book to a majority of Indians; it was the European discovery, and translation into English and German, of Indian texts that introduced a new Western-educated generation of Indian intellectuals to their cultural heritage.
‘Whatever is to their interest,’ Mukhopadhyay wrote about Europeans, ‘they find consistent with their sense of what is right at all times, failing to understand how their happiness cannot be the source of universal bliss.’7
According to him, the Industrial Revolution, by turning human labour into a source of power, profit and capital, had made economic prosperity the central goal of politics, enthroning machinery over men and relegating religion and ethics to irrelevance. As Gandhi saw it, Western political philosophy obediently validated the world of industrial capitalism.
Okakura had been alerted to Japan’s cultural heritage by his American teacher Ernest Fenollosa, an art historian and philosopher who believed that it was Asia’s destiny to spiritualize the modern West.
And, he added, ‘the unbridled tyranny of the white races exists because there are no powerful people other than the white races. By breaking through this condition, we can make a positive contribution to all mankind.’
In this programme of eradication, Japan succeeded beyond the most garish militarist fantasy. In about ninety days, beginning on 8 December 1941, Japan overran the possessions of Britain, the United States and the Netherlands in East and South-east Asia, taking the Philippines, Singapore, Malaya, Hong Kong, the Dutch East Indies, much of Siam and French Indochina, and Burma with bewildering swiftness to stand poised at the borders of India by early 1942. There are few examples in history of such dramatic humiliation of established powers.
The Japanese had revealed how deep the roots of anti-Westernism went, and how quickly Asians could seize power back from their European tormentors.
However, everywhere they came up against the new communal identities forged during the long war, when the Europeans were absent or slaving in prison camps.
Accustomed to deferential natives, European powers mostly underestimated the post-war nationalism that the Japanese had unwittingly or deliberately unleashed. They also misjudged their own staying power among populations unremittingly hostile to them. This led to many disastrously futile counter-insurgency operations and full-scale wars, many of which still scar nations across Asia.
The prominent Malay nationalist Mustapha Hussain spoke for many Asians when he said that, ‘Although the Japanese occupation was described as one of severe hardship and brutality, it left something positive, a sweet fruit to be plucked and enjoyed only after the surrender.’
The revolutions that succeeded in Muslim countries were launched in the name of Islam not Marx or Paine. Liberalism, defined in the broadest sense, had a tenuous hold in the Muslim world.
A further devastating blow to the reputation of the West was the creation of the state of Israel on Palestinian lands in 1948
New urban elites emerged from modern educational institutions and bureaucracies, and they tended to have little time for traditional sources of authority. Many of them enriched themselves at the expense of the rural poor. A reservoir of discontent built up, especially among the people most marginalized by this process, such as the clergy, small-town merchants, provincial officials and men from semi-rural backgrounds – the kind of people who hung around al-Afghani.
Relations between the Arab world and the West were never so fraught as they were between the two world wars. Muslim intellectuals who stressed Western ideologies of nationalism, secularism and democracy felt cruelly betrayed by Europe’s refusal to support their aspirations for national independence.
In the war that followed, the Zionists defeated the combined Arab armies, expelled hundreds of thousands of Arab inhabitants of Palestine, and proclaimed an independent state. This constituted a radical defeat for Egypt in particular – the most modern of Arab nations – and Israel became, and has remained, a symbol of Arab impotence against Western power.
This was where Qutb first began to develop his larger critique of Western civilization as unhealthily obsessed with material and technological progress to the detriment of moral freedom and social justice.
He freely employed the words ‘white man’ as an epithet thereafter: ‘We must nourish in our school-age children sentiments that open their eyes to the tyranny of the white man, his civilization, and his animal hunger.’
Qutb extended a conventional critique of corrupt Middle Eastern regimes and failed modernization into an indictment of all those Western ideologies – whether nationalism, liberalism or socialism – that banished religion and morality from the realm of politics, and exalted human reason above God.
The attempt to push Iran into the twentieth century created a small middle class, but it also uprooted millions of people from their traditional rural homes and exposed them to the degradations of urban life. Inequality increased as a small urban elite prospered and acquired the symbols of a modern consumer economy.
However, a visit to the then new nation-state of Israel in 1962 impressed upon him the power of political solidarity built upon a shared religion: ‘I as an Easterner [prefer] an Israeli model over all other models of how to deal with the West,’ he wrote in his diary.
In many countries, especially in the Middle East and South Asia where modernization failed or was not even properly attempted, hundreds of millions of Muslims have long inhabited a netherworld fantasy of religious-political revenge. Trying and failing to enter the modern world defined by the West, they ended up not only uprooting themselves but also hating the West – the source of so much upheaval and trauma in their lives.
Turkey is the first Muslim country to have developed a model of indigenous modernity that not only does not depend on the original Western one but also seems to rival it. Furthermore, this Islamic modernism is rooted in lived experience rather than, as has been the case elsewhere, pure imagination. Western ideas remain important but they are now assessed on the basis of their effectiveness, rather than simply swallowed whole. And a certain abject attitude towards the West has been replaced by a renewed pride in Turkishness.
But Turkey itself shows that Atatürk’s political and cultural experiment succeeded only partially and that some selective borrowings from Western modernity cannot relegate Islam to the private sphere – let alone ensure social and economic justice for the majority of the population.
What China may well need, he said, is state socialism which controls the economy and works to diminish inequality, while making the country a serious combatant in the jungle of international competition.
This loss of the West’s moral prestige and the assertiveness of the East may appear a recent phenomenon. But, as this book has shown, the less uneven global order coming into being was outlined as early as the nineteenth century by Asian intellectuals who rejected the West’s racial and imperial hierarchies and its right to define the rules of international politics.
This can be seen most clearly today within Europe and the United States, the originators of globalization. Inequality and unemployment grow as highly mobile corporations continually move around the world in search of cheap labour and high profits, evading taxation and therefore draining much-needed investment in welfare systems for ageing populations. Economic setbacks, the prospect of long-term decline and a sense of political impotence stoke a great rage and paranoia among their populations, directed largely at non-white immigrants, particularly Muslims.
Globalization, it is clear, does not lead to a flat world marked by increasing integration, standardization and cosmopolitan openness, despite the wishful thinking of some commentators.
It took much private and public tumult, and great physical and intellectual journeys, to bring these thinkers to the point where they could make sense of themselves and their environment, and then the knowledge they achieved after so much toil was often full of pain and did not offer hope. They often seemed to change their minds and contradict themselves. As some of the first to break with tradition, they were faced with the Sisyphean task of finding their bearings in the modern world and reorienting their minds to new problems of personal and collective identity.
Many of these thinkers judged Western-style politics and economics to be inherently violent and destructive forces. They knew that borrowing technical skills through a modern system of education from Europe wasn’t enough; these borrowings brought with them a whole new way of life. They demanded an organized mass society whose basic unit was the self-reliant individual who pursues his economic self-interest while progressively liberating himself from guild rules, religious obligations and other communal solidarities – a presupposition that threatened to wreck the old moral order. These thinkers sensed that, though irresistible and often necessary, the modern industrial society and social freedoms pioneered by Europe would destroy many of their cherished cultures and traditions, just as they had in Europe itself, and leave chaos in their place.
And all this was for a process which did not lead directly, even in the West itself, to a clear destination of happiness and stability, and which despite producing mass education, cheap consumer goods, the popular press and mass entertainment had only partly relieved a widely and deeply felt rootlessness, confusion and anomie.
Indeed, as one indigenous modernizer after another in Japan, Turkey, China and India conceded, resistance to the West required urgent adaptation to Western ideas of organizing state and society.
Ryszard KapuŚciński once summed up the tragic ‘drama’ of the honest and patriotic postcolonial leader by describing the
terrible material resistance that each one encounters on taking his first, second and third steps up the summit of power. Each one wants to do something good and begins to do it and then sees, after a month, after a year, after three years, that is just isn’t happening, that it is slipping away, that it is bogged down in the sand. Everything is in the way: the centuries of backwardness, the primitive economy, the illiteracy, the religious fanaticism, the tribal blindness, the chronic hunger, the colonial past with its practice of debasing and dulling the conquered, the blackmail by the imperialists, the greed of the corrupt, the unemployment, the red ink. Progress comes with great difficulty along such a road. The politician begins to push too hard. He looks for a way out through dictatorship. The dictatorship then fathers an opposition. The opposition organizes a coup.
And the cycle begins anew.
We can see that the seemingly wholesale adoption of Western ideologies (Chinese communism, Japanese imperialism) did not work. Attempts at syntheses (India’s parliamentary democracy, Muslim Turkey’s secular state, China’s state capitalism) were more successful, and violent rejections of the West in the form of Iran’s Islamic Revolution and Islamist movements continue to have an afterlife.
It is simply this: no convincingly universalist response exists today to Western ideas of politics and economy, even though these seem increasingly febrile and dangerously unsuitable in large parts of the world.
The European model of the ethnically homogenous nation-state was a poor fit in Europe itself. That it was particularly so for multi-ethnic Asian societies has been amply proved by the plight of Kashmiri Muslims, Tibetans, Uighurs, the Chinese in Malaysia, Sunni Muslims in Iraq, Kurds in Turkey and Tamils in Sri Lanka.
As India and China rise with their consumerist middle classes in a world of finite energy resources, it is easy to imagine that this century will be ravaged by the kind of economic rivalries and military conflicts that made the last century so violent.
The hope that fuels the pursuit of endless economic growth – that billions of consumers in India and China will one day enjoy the lifestyles of Europeans and Americans – is as absurd and dangerous a fantasy as anything dreamt up by al-Qaeda.
Ik heb me de afgelopen weken geërgerd aan en gegeneerd voor de domme venijnige kritieken die het boek ‘Hallo Witte Mensen’ van Anousha Nzume kreeg. Zoals de uitgever van het boek Ebissé Rouw zegt: Nederland is een intellectual wasteland. We zijn nu eenmaal een klein taalgebied waar iedereen zich heel slim en onschuldig kan voelen door het Engelstalige debat over een onderwerp compleet te missen en zelf wat bij elkaar te verzinnen.
Ik probeerde bij te houden wat voor onzin er gepubliceerd werd in de mediahype rondom het boek maar op een gegeven moment was dat ook geen doen meer. Morad van FunX vond dat Nzume dit boek niet had moeten schrijven, Pieter van der Wielen ventileerde in Nooit Meer Slapen al zijn persoonlijke frustraties eventjes, de Volkskrant liet een radicaal een totaal onleesbaar stuk schrijven (niet gelinkt) en Sylvain Ephimenco liet in Trouw zijn gebruikelijke ding uithangen (direct weerlegd in diezelfde krant door Seada Nourhussen).
Ik heb het boek wel maar ik heb het net zoals Morad ook nog niet gelezen. Ik vind niet dat je een cultureel product geconsumeerd moet hebben om erover te kunnen praten, zeker niet als het zo uitgebreid behandeld is in de media. Ik ga het daarom ook niet hebben over de letterlijke inhoud van ‘Hallo Witte Mensen’ (Waarvan ik wel geloof dat het snor zit. Koop dat boek!) maar over het debat.
Ik ben zelf redelijk bij in dat debat al weet ik zeker niet alles en ben ik ook niet overal mee eens. We hebben allemaal nog veel te leren dus laten we blij zijn dat zo’n handleiding anti-racisme nu bestaat.
Maar niemand lijkt in staat tot een kritische benadering. De ene kant doet het niet omdat een afwijkende mening hebben wordt gezien als overlopen. De andere kant doet het niet omdat ze (zie de voorbeelden boven) zo vastzitten in hun eigen hangups dat ze niet meer na kunnen denken.
Ik denk dat kritiek kan én moet. Hier drie voorzetjes.
Nzume zegt dat ze dacht dat ze op een gegeven moment ook zou kunnen meepraten bijvoorbeeld over racisme. Dat lijkt me erg goed. Je hoeft niet zwart te zijn om te zien dat racisme nog steeds een groot probleem is.
Ik vraag me dan wel af waarom zwart Nederland er niet voor zorgt dat ze politiek vertegenwoordigd worden. In de afgelopen Tweede Kamer verkiezingen stonden er geen Afrikaanse-Nederlanders op een verkiesbare plek (zie Kiza Magendane). Artikel 1, een politieke partij aangevoerd door een prominente zwarte vrouw met een krachtig verhaal, slaagde er niet in om ook maar één zetel te halen.
Turkse-Nederlanders bijvoorbeeld die ook van ver moeten komen zijn erg goed vertegenwoordigd met een handjevol kamerleden en zelfs een eigen politieke partij.
Wat mij betreft zijn dit vier verloren jaren niet alleen voor zwart Nederland maar voor ons allemaal. Waarom is dit niet gelukt en waarom waren Nzume &co. tijdens hun gesprek met Sylvana Simons in Dipsaus zo terughoudend?
Zoals ik het concept intersectionaliteit begrijp gaat het erom dat we allemaal meerdere identiteiten hebben die elkaar voeden, raken en soms met elkaar botsen. Dat betekent dat iemand die zwart en rijk is en iemand die wit en arm is allebei lijden aan onderdrukking. Het is dan ook beter om ze allebei serieus te nemen dan ze met elkaar te willen vergelijken.
Dat vergelijken wordt ook wel ‘Oppression Olympics’ genoemd, een wedstrijdje wie het meest onderdrukt wordt. Het beste doen we niet aan dat soort wedstrijdjes omdat ze veel leed en geen winnaars opleveren.
Nzume zegt dat ze in het boek opzettelijk de tegenstelling wit/zwart heeft benadrukt. Zo’n harde scheidslijn doet geen recht aan de echte levens van mensen en zorgt ervoor dat witte mensen aanslaan. Dat aanslaan is onterecht maar ik vraag me dan wel af: Waarom zouden witte mensen mee willen doen aan een ‘Oppression Olympics’ waar ze toch altijd als verliezer uit de bus komen?
Verreweg de meeste weerstand in het racisme-debat komt van boerse Nederlanders (Hallo mensen buiten de Randstad!) die niet zoveel van de wereld hebben gezien. Hadden ze dat gedaan dan waren ze erachter gekomen dat witte mensen wereldwijd verreweg in de minderheid zijn. Discriminatie op basis van huidskleur is in een geglobaliseerde wereld achterlijk, onhoudbaar en onproductief.
Deze mensen zijn verliezers van de globalisering en ze zitten vast in het verleden. De toekomst wordt gemaakt in Afrika, China en de Golfstaten, allemaal plaatsen waar weinig witte mensen wonen.
Op lokaal niveau binnen Nederland zijn witte mensen in de meerderheid en houden er nog te vaak racistische ideeën op na. Maar zelfs daar is er meer wat zwarte en witte Nederlanders economisch met elkaar gemeen hebben dan dat ze van elkaar scheidt.
Is het racisme-debat zoals het nu gevoerd wordt (wij-tegen-zij) geen kadootje voor de financiële elites die ons willen laten geloven dat sociale voorzieningen een beperkte taart zijn waar om gevochten moet worden?
Hasan Bahara wilde graag dat mensen het racisme debat naar een hoger plan tillen. Misschien kan hij hier wat mee.
I don’t think you can draw a lot of conclusions from this bit of selectorate theory but it’s interesting to get a feel for the numbers.
German population in 2013: 80’620’000
Interchangeables (registered to vote): 61’946’900 (76.8%)
Influentials (turnout): 44’309’925 (55.0%)
Votes for CDU: 16’233’642
Votes for SPD: 12’843’458
Votes for CSU: 3’544’079
Winning coalition (votes for CDU + SPD + CSU): 32,621,179 (40.5%)
Dutch population in 2012: 16’800’000
Interchangeables (registered to vote): 12.689.810 (75.5%)
Influentials (turnout): 9.462.223 (56.3%)
Votes for VVD: 2.504.948
Votes for PvdA: 2.340.750
Winning coalition (votes for VVD + PvdA): 4,845,698 (28.8%)
The USA example of resistance against Trump in the form of Tech Solidarity quickly gained a following in the Netherlands with TechSolidarity.nl and here in Berlin with some Tech-Solidarity-Berlin. I’ve had a small role in both of those groups’ creation but I’m currently not an active participant.
Tech Solidarity’s success is of course unique to the local environment and Pinboard’s prior activism in tech. That said there are a lot of similarities that make similar movements over here possible and necessary. The Netherlands and Germany have elections this year and are faced with similar populist disruptions. The technology industries here are also very heavily dependent on expat workers who have specific issues and interests. The time seems ripe for people in technology to organize themselves.
The idea of the Berlin organization is not to duplicate efforts. There are already lots of initiatives in Berlin that address most parts of this agenda. What tech solidarity should do here is 1. posit an encompassing vision of what we want to achieve and that it is possible to achieve that together 2. function as a switching board to match people who want to do things with things that need people.
I’m associated with the Berlin meetup but I haven’t attended any of the American events so we had to piece together what we thought would be an agenda for our local context. I suggested these five points that I personally think are relevant and critical right now.