No Minister

Dead Civilisation Walking

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Confidence in the society in which one lives, belief in its philosophy, belief in its laws, and confidence in one’s own mental powers. Vigour, energy, vitality: all the great civilisations have had a weight of energy behind them. – Kenneth Clark, Civilisation, 1969

As is sometimes the case I’ve paraphrased the heading from someone who is a far better writer than me, in this case Mark Steyn.

Having written a couple of posts about the domestic situation in the USA, a potential American Civil War 2.0 or perhaps a Civil Breakup (there’s some overlap here with the post on Angelo Codevilla and his takes on America’s ruling classes) – it’s worth looking back a few months to the collapse of the great American project in Afghanistan for what deeper meanings might be drawn from the event.

Steyn bookends the start and end of the War On Terror:

Contrast our spokesmen with theirs: in the White House, Jen Psaki picked the weekend to take a vacation, possibly to film her scenes in another hilariously viral Mr Non-Binary Goes To Washington video; at Foggy Bottom, Buffoon McStriped Pants III issued a stern warning on the need for the firebreathing mullahs to include more female deputy-assistant-undersecretaries; 

[Meanwhile] Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid says ‘We have defeated a great power.’

He has an interesting piece on the early days after the fall of the Taliban in 2001:

Ahead of the 2002 loya jirga to select a new head of state, over eight hundred delegates announced that they wanted the old sovereign, Zahir Shah, returned to his throne as a constitutional monarch. That’s eight hundred out of 1,450 – so he would have won on the first ballot. Buffoon McStripedpants III from Foggy Bottom was not in favor of that, so the Yanks delayed the start of the loya jirga in order to lean on the King to back off. Washington wanted Karzai because he was the kind they can do business with – a corrupt grifter just like them.

One of the depressing aspects of the Swamp is that everything becomes a racket – including even your armed forces. Look at that buffoon at top right, the guy who heads the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Thoroughly Modern Milley: that’s an awful lot of chest ribbonry for a nation that hasn’t won a war in three-quarters of a century. 

America is not “too big to fail”: It’s failing by almost every metric right now. The world-record brokey-brokey-brokeness manifested by the current spending bills is only possible because the US dollar is the global currency. When that ends, we’re Weimar with smartphones. Clearly, Chairman Xi and his allies occasionally muse on the best moment to yank the dollar out from under. If you were in Beijing watching telly today, would you perhaps be considering advancing those plans?

I’d forgotten that Steyn had visited Afghanistan back in 2012, where he wrote that America’s longest war would leave no trace:

So we have a convenient label for what’s happening; what we don’t have is a strategy to stop it – other than more money, more “hearts and minds” for people who seem notably lacking in both, and more bulk orders of the bestselling book “Three Cups Of Tea,” an Oprahfied heap of drivel extensively exposed as an utter fraud but which a delusional Washington insists on sticking in the kit bag of its Afghan-bound officer class.

Don’t fancy the tea? A U.S. base in southern Afghanistan was recently stricken by food poisoning due to mysteriously high amounts of chlorine in the coffee. As Navy Capt. John Kirby explained, “We don’t know if it was deliberate or something in the cleaning process.”

Oh, dear. You could chisel that on the tombstones of any number of expeditionary forces over the centuries: “Afghanistan. It’s something in the cleaning process.”

The Rumsfeld strategy that toppled the Taliban over a decade ago was brilliant and innovative: special forces on horseback using GPS to call in unmanned drones. They will analyze it in staff colleges around the world for decades. But what we ought to be analyzing instead is the sad, aimless, bloated, arthritic, transnationalized folly of what followed

I also appreciated this comment on from the recently returned Stromata blog:

The ultimate source of feeble protection of American national interests is feeble attachment to the America that actually is, as opposed to the America that anti-Americans wish to substitute for it. If you believed that your country was founded to foster slavery, expanded its territory through genocide, imposed its will on the rest of the world in a greedy quest for profits, and today subjugates half its population under the yoke of White Supremacy, how much effort would you put into rescuing the agents of its imperialistic enterprise in a distant Asian land?

Or you could read, We are no longer a serious people:

If you fight demons, they’re entirely demons of your own creation, whether Cambridge Analytica or QAnon or the ‘insurrection’ or supposed electoral fraud or any of a host of bogeymen, and you get to tweet #resist while not dangling from the side of an airplane or risking your life on a raft to escape.

This might seem flip and ‘too soon’, but the irony highlights the real civilizational difference here: one where combat is via prissy morality and pure spectacle, and one where the battles are literal and deadly. One where elites contest power via spiraling purity and virality contests waged online, and where defeat means ‘cancelation’ or livestreamed ‘struggle sessions’ around often imaginary or minor offenses. And another place where the price of defeat is death, exile, rape, destitution, and fates so grim people die dangling from airplanes in order to escape.

In short, an unserious country mired in the most masturbatory hysterics over bullshit dramas waged war against an insurgency of religious zealots fired by a 7th-century morality, and utterly and totally lost.

Of all these essays it is this one that I think is the best examination of our post-Afghanistan world, mainly because – much as I enjoy Steyn’s foamy acidness – this guy puts in the context of a deeper, wider history of the entire Western world, Farewell to Bourgeois Kings. There are many great passages and I strongly recommend that you read it all, but I’ll pick this one:

Though it didn’t start out that way, the war in Afghanistan morphed over time into a sort of modern Verdun for the liberal world order, a Verdun in a very ideological sense. For the French in the first world war, the name Verdun was made into the symbol of the French national spirit and willingness to win. It was the battle that defined the spirit of the entire war. Afghanistan, almost a century later, came to take on a similar ideological life of its own, now as the focal point of an entire worldview and historical epoch. It was in Afghanistan more than anywhere else, that the rubber hit the road for the post-Soviet, hegemonically liberal, ”end of history” era of human flourishing that Francis Fukuyama so famously (and somewhat ambivalently) christened just as the Soviet Union was rattling its final death throes.

There was so much money sloshing around at the fingertips of these educated technocrats that it became nearly impossible to spend it all fast enough; they simply took all of those countless billions of dollars straight from the hands of ordinary Americans, because they believed they had a right to do so.

Their spectacular failure on every conceivable level now brings us to the true heart of the matter. Western society today is openly ruled by a managerial class.

Kings ruled in the epoch of monarchies, because only kings could rule, or at least so they all claimed. Technocrats rule our post-Soviet era for very much the same reason; they are, according to the legitimating narrative of our age, the only ones that can rule. 

I’ve lost track of the number of smart Lefties I’ve read (meaning not the screamers) who have pushed this argument about our modern, immensely complex societies. The problem is not just the failure to address the idea that Friedrich Hayek put forward in The Road to Serfdom, that our societies are too complex to manage centrally, but that these people who think so highly of themselves and their credentials, simply are not up to doing what they claim they can do, even in far smaller settings:

It is not just that the elite class is incompetent – even kings could be incompetent without undermining belief in monarchy as a system – it is that they are so grossly, spectacularly incompetent that they walk around among us as living rebuttals of meritocracy itself. It is that their application of managerial logic to whatever field they get their grubby mitts on – from homelessness in California to industrial policy to running a war – makes that thing ten times more expensive and a hundred times more dysfunctional. 

I guess in all of this I have increasingly been reminded of this commentary from the first episode of Kenneth Clark’s great 1969 TV documentary series, Civilisation:

Civilisation does require a modicum of material prosperity — enough to provide a little leisure. But it requires confidence far more. Confidence in the society in which one lives, belief in its philosophy, belief in its laws, and confidence in one’s own mental powers. Vigour, energy, vitality: all the great civilisations have had a weight of energy behind them. People sometimes think that civilisation consists in fine sensibilities and good conversation and all that. These may be among the agreeable results of civilisation, but they are not what make a civilisation, and a society can have these amenities and yet be dead and rigid.

I hate to say this, but I think the USA is now at that point.

Written by Tom Hunter

December 20, 2021 at 6:00 am

One Response

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  1. As education, having delivered a body of humanity able to manage itself in small groups , even almost isolation, using the Internet to replace thinking, recalling relevant facts and replacing reason with Wikipedia, those wishing to rule are in fear that their irrelevance is becoming apparent.
    Hence these wannabe rulers panic into deplatforming as a weapon to restore their munted ideas of power, they really do fear truth and history so have set about preventing such dangers, beginning with the long march through education from preschool to university where the “New Humanities” are to the forefront and subjects such as engineering, chemistry physics and maths are relegated almost to historical oblivion.


    December 20, 2021 at 10:53 am

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