Are you often disheartened by the world around us? Do you see almost nothing but enervation and cowardice displayed in public life? Of course you are, and you do, or you’re not paying any attention. But it does not have to be this way. Read, instead of your Twitter feed or the latest regime propaganda, this book—the story of how, four hundred years before Christ, ten thousand Greek soldiers, free men all, through determination and vital energy extracted themselves from the disastrous situation in which they found themselves. You will then perhaps remember that all ages, most of all the current Age of Stupid, come to an end, and you will see what spirit must be reborn to remake the world as it should be.
Not long ago, as I wrote, I was listening to a playlist on Spotify (I listen to music when I write, but never when I read). It was Spotify’s weekly list of suggested songs based on listening history—for me, a mix of genres, heavy on thumping EDM (electronic dance music), my preferred writing music, but also indie folk. One song caught my attention—“Cold Missouri Waters,” a haunting song about thirteen smokejumpers dying while fighting a forest fire. I was interested enough to look up the song, and found it relates a true story, equally haunting—the Mann Gulch Fire, in 1949. And from there I found this classic work, now thirty years old.
“Sovereign is he who decides the exception.” Among serious students of political philosophy, at least on the Right, these may be the most famous words of the twentieth century. That sentence opens this work, Political Theology, which consists of four linked essays, bound by the theme that most exercised Carl Schmitt in the early 1920s—the edge cases of sovereignty. In the post-World War II decades, such questions seemed very remote and theoretical, part of the turmoil of a benighted age we had left behind. But we were wrong, about all of it, and Schmitt was right, that this topic is universal and timeless. Thus, from Schmitt we can learn much that we can be sure will be directly applicable to the 2020s.
A hundred years ago, Booth Tarkington was probably the most famous and successful author in America. But today, even in Indiana, his birthplace and the state with which he is forever associated, and where I live, Tarkington is forgotten. Purdue University has a dormitory, Tarkington Hall, at which my late father was a faculty advisor. Pathetically, the Hall’s website says of Tarkington only that he was “a Purdue student of two years who as an alumnus, made multiple generous donations to Purdue.” Time has left Tarkington behind. Perhaps this is fitting, though, because he was entranced and bound by nostalgia, an understandable but ultimately pointless guiding principle.
Digital communications technology is yet mostly a formless thing, still being born, upon which we moderns imprint our fears and our hopes. Some dreamers see it as an unalloyed good, which when grown will let us slip the chains of our humanity. Others, more grounded, see it as a genie best stuffed back into his bottle and dropped down a mineshaft, for otherwise its acid will corrode all that is permanent, melting it into the air. James Poulos takes neither approach; he is the apostle of creating the new way of human flourishing, finding the narrow path that threads between false utopia and catastrophe. “Which way, Western man?”, asks the meme. Poulos has an answer for us.
An review by me of this book has been published in the excellent journal IM-1776. The first paragraph, and a link to the entire review, and the journal itself, can be found below.
For twenty years, our rulers have propagandized us with two contradictory claims. First, that the West is locked in an existential conflict with Islam, justifying any spending, any killing, and any erasure of our ancient liberties. And second, that no Muslim, as a Muslim, is any threat to anybody whatsoever. Resolving the contradiction is not hard, but why bother, because what American cares about global Islam now? As the American empire collapses inward and America’s divisions are elucidated ever more clearly, our internal conflicts have superseded any conflict with Islam. Still, maybe conflict will return when the West is reborn, or replaced, and as always we can learn a lot from studying the past that may yet be useful in the future.
We are not a serious society. Our ruling class are men of no substance, lacking all knowledge and incapable of competent action on any front. The masses, while they sense a great deal is very wrong, are distracted by propaganda and ephemera. We feel we can afford to be unserious, because all of us lead lives of unprecedented material comfort. Any lack is eased by speedy delivery of sedatives designed to mask and hold down chthonic spiritual despair. To be sure, we do not lack for heralds of the coming storm—but we, high and low, have forgotten what a storm looks like. Read this book and you will remember, and you will also know what it is to live in a serious society.
What role should technology—the complex of machines and computers that undergirds our world—play in our future? This is a crucial question, and among thinking people today there exists a distinct split. Some, such as James Poulos in his soon-to-be-released Human, Forever, call for fully accepting that technology exists and is not going away, while refusing to surrender our humanity. Others, such as Paul Kingsnorth, entirely reject what he calls the “Machine,” and intimate that our technology-dictated future is an anti-human grotesquerie, followed by inevitable total collapse. Theodore Kaczynski falls squarely into this latter category, and this, his famous Manifesto, outlines what should be done—goals he notably took to heart.
Some men have minds that are simply not like those of others, but far better, on a different plane entirely. Such men are vanishingly rare, and appear to be even rarer, because their unique talents are often lost to mankind, when they are not recognized by or not applicable to the society in which they are born. John Moses Browning, who lived from 1855 to 1926, was fortunate in that his peerless spatial-mechanical talent, specifically for the manufacture of firearms, coincided with the right time for his talents to achieve their full potential. A substantial majority of all today’s firearms rely on his insights; I cannot think of another field in which one man has dominated the entire modern era—and whose work shows no signs of fading in importance.