Credit: Max Galka, Metrocosm.com

Before you do anything else, read this Andrew Sullivan column. It’s a few months old, but still incredibly relevant in many ways, and it’s worth your time to read the whole thing. Don’t worry; I’ll wait.

All done?  Good.

The part I loved most was this:

“In America, as Charles Murray has shown in his extraordinary book, Coming Apart, the young and the smart and the talented — the people who would once have formed the core of these small towns — have long since fled to distant colleges and cities. They don’t come back. They would once have been the police chief or the town librarian or the school principal. They once helped make the town a well-run place with a clear identity, where the same families and networks lived together, died together, belonged together. These connections have attenuated … as economics supplants culture, as efficiency erases the individuality of inefficient places, as Amazon rips the heart out of shopping districts, as the smartphone removes us from physical space, and as many more immigrants and their culture alter the feel of a place in ways that disorient those with memories and loyalties.”

This is a highly significant point.  On a superficial level it’s related to what I wrote about here–the fact that so many of America’s problems stem from the high concentration of young, talented, well-educated people in a few cities.

But there’s also a deeper significance to it–the Oswald Spengler quote I referenced here that “the landscape exercises a secret force upon the extinction of the old [culture] and the appearance of the new one,” applies.

Sorry to reference my own posts, but my point here is that Sullivan has very clearly articulated something I’ve subconsciously thought about but have never been able to express.  It’s a fundamental change in the culture of the United States, and it’s something that needs to be understood to ensure a prosperous future for the nation.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is based off an old essay I wrote years ago, and didn’t publish.  I revised and updated it for the present.]

I think I have a better understanding of the so-called “alt-right”–which I refer to as “nationalists”–than most people do.  I blame H.P. Lovecraft.

I had just read his horror novella At the Mountains of Madness, and learned that certain ideas in it had been suggested to him by Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West. I decided I wanted to find out more about Spengler, so I read it.

I should note that at this point in my life I was your typical college “liberaltarian”. I thought  that all those people on the right on who hated gays and feminists and liberals in general were just ignorant, uneducated hillbillies; probably waving Confederate flags.

I have not changed my views on the issues that much since then, but I have changed my perception of my opponents. And reading Spengler was the cause.

Spengler was an immensely intelligent man, and his education was tremendous. I constantly had to look things up to be able to attempt to understand him–not just words, you see, but concepts, incidents in history, philosophies, even civilizations. Spengler was many things, but “ignorant” was not one of them.

And yet… throughout his work ran a strangely familiar undertone. The hostility to the cosmopolitan liberal, and the admiration of the people bound to the  blood and soil. The intellectual and cultural gap between Oswald Spengler and the average Trump supporter is inconceivably vast; yet the sentiments that motivate them are shockingly similar.

This, I don’t mind saying, was troubling. For if an intelligent person,  steeped in knowledge of not only his own culture and civilization, but of others, could hold these same views, it meant that one of my core assumptions was wrong. It was not ignorance which made the conservatives think as they do, but something else–something much deeper.

Spengler had done the work of a philosopher, which was to follow and articulate coherently those impulses and thoughts which motivated him. He explained, logically and thoroughly, a worldview which I could never share, but which I could now, at least, understand.

After that, I began to see many so-called “conservatives” in a different light. I sought to understand as much of their underlying motivation as I could–the unseen, visceral instinct that made some people, regardless of education or background, into what we today call the alt-right, but which might be better described as “nationalists”.

It is not easy thing to describe, and indeed I read many upsetting ideas, which I considered immoral and wrong. But ultimately, I became convinced of one thing: that this is something felt very deeply in people’s hearts, not in their minds.

This was an oddly–dare I say it–liberating moment for me. I realized that I was a liberal, and they were conservatives, and that was that.

A good deal of what is called the “alt-right” movement is nothing more than some very old philosophies, recycled for our times. The spirit of nationalism which Spengler described is not as dead as liberals believed.

I started this post with Lovecraft;  so I wil give him the last word.  From his most famous story, The Call of Cthulhu:

“Who knows the end? What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise. Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

Dr. King’s philosophy is, among other things, a good example of what I mean when I discuss “cosmopolitan” philosophies. He preached pacifism, and that’s a major reason he’s remembered, but what’s really remarkable is why he believed as he did: he knew that violence would only serve to drive everyone further apart, and so his dream could never be realized that way; it could only lead to more division.

It is especially interesting to compare his message of peace and union among all people with Malcolm X’s nationalist message of separation.  It is a good example of the difference between the two worldviews to consider two contemporaries, both trying to solve the problem of the unfair treatment of black people  in the United States, and both coming up with such radically different ideas.

Malcolm X did seek to unite people to an extent: he made efforts to unite people of African descent,  but, for most of his life at least, he saw no reason to extend these efforts at unification to whites.  (It is often the way with nationalists: Otto von Bismarck united many various different Germanic states into a single German State, but would never have considered uniting them with, say, France.)

Not so with Dr. King.  He believed in the need for uniting all groups; his was a very universalist vision.  Part of what makes him such a remarkable man is that he not only had the courage to take on one of the major problems of the time, but he also attempted to do so in a way that would prevent it from recurring—that is, without sowing the seeds of a new conflict between people of different races.  He knew that was the only way of establishing a liberal, diverse society.

Firearm sales are up.  CBS News reports:

President Obama has presided over a heyday for the gun industry despite predictions by the powerful U.S. gun lobby four years ago that he would be the “most anti-gun president in American history.” Gun buyers fear that Mr. Obama wants to restrict their purchases, especially if he were re-elected.

Now, I can remember back in early 2009, there was big increase in prices for weapons and ammunition, due to that same “fear that Mr. Obama wants to restrict their purchases”.  The fact that nothing of the sort happened does not deter them from worrying about it again.  The CBS news article quotes the head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, as saying “This is the most dangerous election in our lifetimes.” (It always is, somehow.)

It’s pretty obvious what’s going on here–the NRA is creating a panic to drive sales.  It’s not even really a political move; it’s just a business decision–a marketing gimmick.  “Let’s tell everyone they need to buy our product now, before things change.”

Considering that Obama has made no attempt to push for any firearm legislation, this looks absurd.  Consider further that even if he did, it would almost surely fail in Congress, an that will be the case after the election as well.  And finally, consider that the Supreme Court would probably strike it down given the Court’s last interpretation of the Second Amendment.

So, taking all that in mind, why does this fairly obvious marketing campaign work so well?

I’ve said in the past that the the two worldviews I see as motivating much of the political disagreement in this country are nationalism and cosmopolitanism.  And I have also noted that nationalism tends to be the prevailing philosophy among rural populations, and that cosmopolitanism prevails among city dwellers.

When you factor that guns are owned by many in the country, but by few in the cities, you can start to see what I’m getting at: the fight is not really about guns.  Rather, it is just another in a series of proxy battles fought between the two philosophies.  Gun ownership is part of the rural culture, and not of the urban culture.

President Obama himself pointed this out with his famous “they cling to guns or religion” comment.  (Almost no one on either side actually disagrees with the substance of this comment; only the tone.) The political fight is not truly about the meaning of the Second Amendment–that is merely a pretext on which a culture war may be fought.  The real issue is a cultural one, not a legal one.

It is the same old story, over and over and over.  In this instance, the weapons manufacturers and sellers are taking a page from the political strategists’ book and playing on the rural people’s fears of cosmopolitan politicians.

As I think I’ve mentioned before on here, I don’t have cable TV.  I just get the major networks, PBS, a few local channels and a bunch of Christian channels.  The last are mostly devoted to people on elaborate stages giving speeches and asking for money.  However, the other day on one of these channels, I saw a different sort of program.

I don’t know the name of the show or the channel, otherwise I’d tell you.  All I know is that it was some older fellow standing in the middle of the desert on the outskirts of Jerusalem, reading from a bunch of papers he was holding and trying to keep from blowing away.  The production values were, to say the least, horrifying.  If any of you readers can guess what show this may be, feel free to tell me.

What the guy had to say, however, was somewhat… interesting.  He was talking about how many intellectuals, especially in the atomic age, desired a “one world government”.  He dated this impulse  back all the way to Nebuchadnezzar II, and said that they [the intellectuals] did not believe you could have many strong countries, you could only have one government.  (I’m paraphrasing.)  I got the impression he was getting towards the point that these intellectuals were wrong, and one world government was a very bad idea, and that the Bible had predicted all of this.  He was taking his time about it though, and I had work in the morning, so I didn’t get to hear how it all ended up.

(The politics on these religious shows are always interesting.  One day, while channel surfing I saw a show claiming that people were now placing their faith in government instead of God.  What we need, according to the Bible, so they said, was less government.  Smaller government.  In fact, watching some of these shows, you get the impression that they feel the Republican Party platform is the word of the Almighty.)

“One World Government” is a phrase conspiracy theorists throw around a lot to mean all sorts of wild things.  But I think it is true that many people would like to see more international cooperation and conflict resolution by some means other than wars between nations.  I think this train of thought really started because of World War I, which showed a lot of the problems that can arise with multiple competing nations.

In Europe, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, you had lots of strong, independent nations–strong empires, even–such as Britain, France, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, Germany and so on.   The peace among these nations, such as it was, was kept by treaties the countries made with each other.  Unfortunately, this system of treaties proved to be unstable in the face of rebellious nationalist agitators and military build-ups between competing nations, and thus, through a complicated series of events, the treaties dictated that a massive war broke out.

In the aftermath, people looked around and said, quite logically, “how can we make sure that this doesn’t happen again?”  That very intellectual President, Woodrow Wilson, even proposed the League of Nations, though ironically the U.S. did not join it.  Of course, the League failed to prevent ultra-nationalist sentiment in Germany from igniting another, even more terrible war.

The League was replaced with the United Nations after World War II.  And ever since, nationalist sentiment has opposed the U.N., fearing that it will destroy all of the country’s traditions and create a one world government.  As some readers know, I am fascinated by conspiracy theories, even though I do not believe in any of them.  And, as I said, there are a lot of conspiracy theories about the “one world government”, and I think the root reason for all of them is the nationalist elements’ fear of being governed by cosmopolitan intellectuals.

Having said all that, I think really all most people actually want is some international way of resolving conflicts without having to go to war. People, both nowadays and especially in the immediate aftermath of the World Wars, just don’t want to see a repeat of that.  Seems hard to blame them, really.

Longtime readers know that I reject the typical left-right political spectrum in favor of a trichotomy of political philosophies called “cosmopolitanism”, “nationalism”, and “materialism”.

At present in the United States, we have a choice between a cosmopolitan, Obama, and a materialist, Romney.  The curious part is that Romney must try to persuade the nationalists that he is one of them, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.  He has not done a very good job of it so far, although he is bound to get some of the nationalist vote simply for not being a cosmopolitan.

You may ask: “why isn’t there a nationalist candidate?”  Well, there was. Rick Santorum was his name, but he failed to get the Republican nomination.  So now, in another renewal of the delicate alliance that is the Republican party, Romney has to try to get the people who didn’t want him and wanted Santorum to vote for him.

Romney has been fairly socially liberal himself in the past, and he now has to try to assure nationalists that this won’t happen again, whether by blaming circumstance, claiming his hand was forced, or saying he’s changed his mind and/or heart on social issues like gay marriage, abortion, contraception and gun control.  Some politicians might be able to get away with this sort of thing.  Not Romney, though, because he is not charismatic and hence people do not innately trust him.

Candidates like Reagan, and to a lesser extent, George W. Bush had the ability to use their charm to cover for the contradictions in nationalist and materialist philosophies,  and thus hold the voting coalition together through their personal popularity.  Paul Graham wrote in his influential essay on charisma in Presidential elections:

The charisma theory may also explain why Democrats tend to lose presidential elections. The core of the Democrats’ ideology seems to be a belief in government. Perhaps this tends to attract people who are earnest, but dull…

A different flavor of the same idea: The post-1970s Republicans need to have the more charismatic candidate to win, because otherwise the differences in the Republican coalition become apparent and the party fractures.  (The Graham essay is what first interested me in this topic, and I consider it required reading for those curious about this subject.)

This is why likeability is everything for Romney, and history suggests that it is something which cannot be learned; so if he does not have it now, he never will.  For that reason, there is very little reason to think Romney will win in November.

What’s this?  The government is fighting over spending again?  Oh, I bet those skinflint Republicans want to cut the jobs and those money-wasting Democrats want to keep spending and keeping government jobs.  Nothing new here.

Eh, what’s that you say?  The Republicans in Congress want more money for government jobs, and the Democratic White House is opposed?  Why, what manner of devilry may this be?  Has the world turned upside down?

Ah, of course!  It’s a military matter, and so the financial philosophies of the two parties are completely the opposite of what they normally are!

M1 Abrams Tank. Image via Wikipedia

Amused at This Ruthless World (thanks for liking my last post, BTW) wrote a really good post awhile back in response to an essay written by one “John J. Wall”. I’d never read Wall’s piece before, but I have heard the idea advanced within it many times in the past. It is this: that the “liberals” and “conservatives” are so deeply divided on all issues that it would be better for both if each group formed separate countries. Amused’s post inspired me to write something of my own on the matter.

Of course, if you’re a reader of this blog, you know that there are actually three groups: materialists, nationalists and cosmopolitans. But still, let that not dissuade us from this engaging in this thought-experiment. It is still only a simple matter of dividing the country into three instead of two.

The nationalists may have the southeast–the old Confederacy minus Virginia. The materialists may have the West; that is, the area extending from California to east Texas. A vast area to be sure, but one which they will no doubt set about harvesting every inch of for resources. And the cosmopolitans shall retain the Northeast and parts of the Midwest. Everything east of Kansas and north of Tennessee would remain in cosmopolitan hands. Cosmopolitans would also get Hawaii, and Nationalists would hold Alaska.

(Oddly enough, this division into regions mimics a similar scheme by economic historian Douglass North. But he was writing only about the United States internal trade flows in the early 1800s. And then, evidently, something happened around 1861 to fundamentally alter the structure of the country.)

As part of the deal, suppose everyone starts with the same governmental structure and Constitution as we have today.  so, now we just go ahead and simulate to see where it will all go.

I imagine the taxation issue would quickly cease to be of interest to the nationalists, once they are no longer trying to destroy a cosmopolitan government. Presumably, they would focus their immediate efforts on bulking up their immigration laws. They would also probably raise tariffs in order to keep their manufacturing sector strong. It might even be a mini-boom along the lines of the 1950s auto-industry. Naturally, in the Nationalist State, minorities and foreigners would be viewed with suspicion until their Nationalist-credentials had been soundly proven. I imagine congressman Allen West would make a successful career in this place, as would Sarah Palin. The political structure would change to be based more heavily on charismatic authority. No doubt the social structure would closely resemble that of 1950s America for the most part, with women being encouraged to be housewives and men being seen as heads of house. Gay marriage, the issue under so much discussion at present, would be utterly unthinkable, as would Civil Unions etc. Gays would also likely be barred from military service, but it is likely that this country would reinstate the draft, so there would be no problem with lack of personnel.  Fashion and art would both become considerably more conservative, quite possibly up to the point of introducing government censors.

In the materialist West, meanwhile, it is likely that the world would come to resemble the United States as a whole in the 1870-90s. Almost all environmental regulations would be removed, and worker safety laws would be scaled back. Unions would cease to exist. Tariffs would also be very low or nil, so as to encourage foreign investment. Immigration laws, likewise, would be quite lax so as to gain a cheap labor force. Military force would assume the character of a highly-paid internal security outfit, and be largely defensive in nature. (One imagines the Erik Princes of the world would have to think long and hard over whether his fortune lay to the South or the West.) Social issues would be non-existent; societal mores being relaxed to please the fancies of the wealthiest. Indeed, the city of Los Angeles as it exists today, would probably go on functioning as if nothing had happened under the new arrangement. Art and fashion would all go as the popular will dictated; thus movies, for example, would be solely of the “summer blockbuster” variety all year round.

Of the cosmopolitan North, there is less to say; perhaps because the area is well on its way to being that already. It is probable that taxes would be raised, of course; as it would no longer be so politically abhorrent to do so. A massive influx of public money go to support higher education, which would likely lead to the Academy being the primary institution in the country. Other than that, however, things would change less, principally because the cosmopolitan sees diversity as a strength, and would need to undergo less modification to suit its philosophical beliefs. The military would be fairly small, and probably what there was of it would be based heavily on technological superiority, not man-power.

It would be interesting to see how long this state of affairs persisted. It would not be long, surely, before each country recognized that there was much to be gained from the others. The materialist sector, in particular, might look an inviting target for conquest; though of course it is questionable whether it would be profitable to do so. Also, the nationalist and cosmopolitan states by their nature invite comparison to ancient Athens and Sparta.

Ultimately, the optimal move for each country would be strategic alliances with its neighbors, as each would have something to provide to the others. However, there is also the dark possibility that two would form an alliance against the third, and thereby destroy it either militarily or economically.

And there I conclude this experiment, but you are welcome to add thoughts of your own.

For myself, I see this as rather a gloomy idea. I believe each type has something to contribute to the country. But then, I would, wouldn’t I? I’m a cosmopolitan.

Let’s check up on Greek politics again, shall we? Things have played out about like I’d expect from the last time I wrote about them.

So, it seems that the failure of the austerity policies in Greece has led to the people who implemented it suffering huge losses at the polls. Well, that’s only to be expected. A nationalist party, known as the “Golden Dawn”, has made significant gains. Their leader, Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, appears to have modeled himself after Mussolini to an alarming degree.

Why are they so popular? Well, they are anti-austerity. They also are anti-immigrant. Perhaps the most troubling thing I’ve read about them comes from this article in the Miami Herald:

Golden Dawn toughs maintain a security watch in parts of central Athens and, upon request, provide escorts to people going to shop or retrieve their pension checks. If immigrants are squatting in an apartment owned by a Greek, Golden Dawn volunteers will clear them out and fix up the dwelling.

After a Greek man was killed in May 2011, reputedly by Afghan immigrants, Golden Dawn militants stopped traffic every afternoon for weeks, and hauled immigrants off public transport and beat them up, according to Marina Vichou, formerly a journalist with the BBC Greek service, who lives near scene and witnessed some of the incidents. ‘The police did nothing but protect Golden Dawn,’ she said.

As if that by itself weren’t disturbing enough, there is the historical parallel it evokes. Quoting from Wikipedia:

The First World War (1914–18) inflated Italy’s economy with great debts, unemployment (aggravated by thousands of demobilised soldiers), social discontent featuring strikes, organised crime,and anarchist, Socialist, and Communist insurrections. When the elected Italian Liberal Party Government could not control Italy, the Revolutionary Fascist Party (Partito Fascista Rivoluzionario, PFR) Leader Benito Mussolini took matters in hand, combating those societal ills with the Blackshirts, paramilitary squads of First World War veterans and ex-socialists; Prime Ministers such as Giovanni Giolitti allowed the Fascists taking the law in hand.

Some people wonder how the Fascists got to be so popular, when they were all obviously a bunch of bullies. That’s the answer: the government was so weak that people liked having a bunch of bullies to turn to who could provide a primitive kind of order. However, I don’t want to be hasty and assume that the worst things being said about the Golden Dawn are true; I’m just saying it is extremely troubling if true.

Historical similarities aside, though, this is where alliances between cosmopolitan (or “multicultural”) factions and the business interests tend to collapse: when the free market, microeconomic thinking of the businessmen wrecks the macroeconomy, allowing the nationalistic faction to take power.

One passage that jumped out at me in the Rick Perlstein article I linked to the other day was this:

I collected volumes from a decade gone mad: texts by Black Panthers decrying “AmeriKKKa“; by New Leftists proclaiming that “the future of our struggle is the future of crime in the streets“; and by right-wingers like preacher David Noebel, who exposed the “Communist subversion of music” by which Russian spymasters deployed Pavlov’s techniques to rot the minds of America’s youth via their bought-and-paid-for agents, the Beatles. People who thought like Black Panthers and New Leftists, of course, proved a historical flash in the pan. People like Noebel, however, have proved a constant in American history. [Emphasis mine.]

Of course, Conservatives would insist that New Leftists and Black Panthers remain an imminent threat, but let us pass over such objections.

I suspect that the reason that “right-wingers” like Noebel prove more enduring is that Nationalist movements are rooted in “blood and soil” philosophy, and thus much less subject to change with the political fads. Cosmopolitanism, on the other hand, is much more intellectual and consequently much more susceptible to calculated changes in strategy, tactics and even overall philosophic disposition.