Who rules? That’s what we all want to know. The Managerial Revolution, James Burnham’s still-influential 1941 book (the subject, for example, of recent pieces by Aaron Renn and Julius Krein), gave that eternal question a fresh answer. Broadly speaking his was, we can see eighty years later, indisputably the correct analysis. Burnham agreed that capitalism, private enterprise as the engine of the ruling class, was dying, the usual opinion in that tumultuous time, but made the entirely new claim that what would replace it was not, as most assumed, socialism, but a new thing. Namely, the ascent of managers, a new ruling class, who would hugely expand government and use it to mold society into new forms for their own benefit.
As the twenty-first century grinds on, with history returning in spades, Ernst Jünger, German warrior and philosopher, grows more relevant every day. This book, On the Marble Cliffs, I view as his third book in an unrecognized trilogy advising us how we should conduct ourselves under different types of tyranny. It fits with two other books, more famous, The Forest Passage (1951) and Eumeswil (1977), which also parse freedom and oppression, each with a different focus and tone. This book, fiction both dreamlike and phantasmagoric, is lesser known and even harder to grasp than the other two. Yet it serves the same purpose: to instruct us how an individual in society should act when threatened by, or subsumed by, tyranny.
To defeat your enemy, you must know your enemy. Therefore, we must know what the Left is. I use a consistent core definition—the Left is those who follow the prime commandments of limitless emancipation and forced egalitarianism. You can further define the Left by example, beginning with the revolutionaries of 1789, and drawing a line through the Paris Commune, the Bolsheviks, Mao, and the cretins of 1968. Where does that line extend today? At this moment, most would say it has emerged as “wokeism,” the self-given catchall term for those consumed by the latest iteration of Left ideology. Quite a few on the Right fear wokeism and predict its dominance in apocalyptic terms. I am here to preach the opposite; I will explain why wokeism (which I will call late-stage leftism, or LSL) is no special threat, rather merely a manifestation of the centuries-old scourge of the Left, and a devolved, last-gasp one at that.
How will our current regime fall? That’s what we all want to know. For those who have eyes to see, it is obvious the American regime is extremely fragile. It awaits only the inevitable crisis for it to collapse. I am staking my reputation, such as it is, on this claim. But because we cannot see precisely how this will come to pass, many believe, against all evidence, that our regime can grind on for decades. Reading Stephen Kotkin’s analysis of how Communist regimes in Eastern Europe collapsed in 1989 offers us insights into our own immediate future. Uncivil Society does not offer total clarity about the future, for nothing can do that, but it confirms many of my own thoughts, and so it must be an excellent book.
“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 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.
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.
I recently wrote about what might happen after an American Caesar, a radical reconstructor of our polity, arose. And in these days of American humiliation and accelerating decay, a Caesar is viewed by many, if in quiet tones, as a kind of solution. But is Caesar, Michael Anton’s Red Caesar, merely a coping mechanism for the Right, a fantasy meant to replace the dead hope of a restored American founding? Is Caesar an encouragement to eschatological passivity, our equivalent of the Twelver Shia hidden imam, who when everything is at its worst will arrive to set the world aright, without any action needed by us? No, and today I will tell you why.
Dictatorship, in the form of Caesarism, is in the American air. I have recently written on what, in practical terms, an American Caesar would do; I will soon tell you how likely our Caesar is, and why. As it happens, I am at the same time working my way through all the books of Carl Schmitt, in their order of original publication, and his next book up, Dictatorship, published in 1921, clarifies the historical and legal-analytical part of what is unspooling before our eyes. We cannot be better informed, analytically at least, than by pondering this work of the peerless German, whose book, as always, puts to shame today’s mostly insipid political and constitutional analysis.
Christopher Lasch died before this, his last book, was published, twenty-six years ago. Lasch was a man out of time, a refugee leftist who nonetheless refused to embrace what passed for conservatism in the post-Communist false dawn, the main feature of which was idolatry of the invisible hand. No surprise, his message was rejected by its intended audience, America’s intellectual class. Now, however, every one of the problems with our society he identified has grown monstrous, far beyond the power of any dragonslayer to kill. Thus, this book is, at least now, less prescription and more an intellectual history of how we failed as a nation.