Consensus and Crisis

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In popular forms of government, politics tends to coalesce around a set of issues that are debated in the public and in front of the public. There’s a framework within which these topics are debated and the political factions represent the positions on those topics. This framework is the consensus. A range of answers has been deemed acceptable and anything the lies outside that range is considered fringe or heretical. This is the natural response to the challenges faced by democratic political systems.

In the West, the political parties tended to coalesce around economic schools, like communists, various flavors of socialism and flavors of market socialism. These were in the range of the political consensus. Libertarianism has always been fringe in Europe and in America, communism was always a fringe position. The result is the main points of contention in political fights were over economic policy. So much so that social policy and foreign policy have often been framed in economic terms.

Globalism, which the political elites have long saw as a way to sew up political divides, not just within countries, but between countries, has actually fractured the political consensus in the West. Once the factions within the elite settled on an agreed upon economic policy, they needed something else to decorate their respective flags in order to distinguish one faction from the other. After all, if everyone in the political class agrees on the main topics, there’s no need for parties. Politics becomes a beauty pageant.

This reality appears to be something the political elites in the West never bothered to contemplate. When the Cold War ended, the raison d’être for the political fight over economics ended with it. Globalism, with financialization, credit money, open borders and privatized trade policy, became the narrow political consensus within the political class. In Europe this meant post-national continental integration. In the US, this quickly curdled into invade the world/invite the world. In the West, it is rule by rootless cosmopolitan now.

The trouble is, the public has not signed off on that consensus and we still maintain the customs of popular government. In order to have elections, you need conflict and debate. That means issues to distinguish one faction from the other. The first effort to keep the plates spinning was lots of shouting and hair splitting. Politics has turned nasty mostly because name calling is all they have. When two candidates agree on all the big stuff and most of the small stuff, they have to create drama out of the small differences.

This eventually transitions to a new phase, where the public, after a few rounds of elections in which nothing changes, figures out they need new issues. If there’s no longer going to be a debate over the economic arrangements, then maybe we should talk about these Bantu spear-men who suddenly appeared in town. Perhaps it is time to talk about the fact the ringing of church bells has been replaced by the call to prayer. Of course, there is the fact that swarthy sons of Allah keep exploding in pizza parlors.

Outsider issues inevitably result in outsider parties getting traction with the public. The good thinkers who refuse to discuss immigration or the reality of Muslim culture get pushed aside by those coarse barbarians from the fringe who are willing to talk about the taboo subjects. The result is the legitimate parties begin to move closer together in response to the threat from the fringe. We’re seeing that in Europe as the main parties rally to thwart the challenge from the patriotic right. This is the crisis phase.

As we saw with Greece, this is a transition phase. The Greek “middle” collapsed and was replaced by a far left party. At some point, as the crisis continues, an organized and effective far right party will emerge as the challenger. The result will be increasing polarization in politics and eventually society. If some resolution to the problems plaguing Greece are not found, that political divide becomes irreconcilable. That either results in civil war or it results in one faction permanently sidelining the other faction.

A similar process may be unfolding in France. The political elite in France has always been highly chauvinistic, but generally in favor of the post-national, global socialism of Europe. They just blindly accepted the sterilizing effects of globalization, without much thought as to how that would play out in their domestic politics. They just assumed that Europe was a done deal, so elections really did not matter anymore. That’s not how things are unfolding and the French political consensus is beginning to crack.

There’s no much chance for Le Pen to win, but the recent attacks by Muslims could churn that silent majority that exists in every western country. The fact that the communists are wildly over performing is the big news, as it suggests the disgust with the status quo is widespread. Voting for Le Pen is a protest by outsiders. A vote for Melenchon is a protest by insiders, the people who see themselves as part of the elite. The middle of French politics is losing its purchase on the voters.

Something similar is happening in America. Donald Trump is not an ideologue. He is a reactionary who sees the political consensus in Washington as an unworkable jumble of policies cooked up by academics. His vote, however, was symbolically and tactically a rejection of the prevailing consensus. Voters wanted to hear about migrants and trade, not tax cuts and flag waving. He was the coarse, crude man from outside willing to talk about the things the people want discussed.

The Left is experiencing something similar with Bernie Sanders, and to a lesser degree Tulsi Gabbard. Democrats think inviting Team Sanders in to put an outsider face on their ruling class politics will prevent a revolt from the fringe. Gabbard is getting attention from the fringe because she talks about issues like the endless warmongering and economic equality.  Hers is a decidedly non-white take on these issues, but the fact that she is willing to forthrightly discuss these taboo subjects is another crack in the consensus.

Those prone to unrealistic bouts of optimism should look at these developments as a good sign that maybe the tide is turning. The whole point of consensus is for the insiders to control the debate by pushing uncomfortable truths into the void, making them off-limits in political debates. As these issues seep back into the public debate, the debate has to change. For the alt-right and economic populists, having an fight over these topics is 90% of the battle. They cannot win the argument unless there is an actual argument.

The West is heading for a very big argument.

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39 Comments on "Consensus and Crisis"

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Member

The frustrating part is that all of this seems to be happening in slow motion.

Dorf
Guest

Patience Grasshopper, it takes time to build the preference cascade.

Ivar
Guest
True, but some of us have been waiting, trying to get things moving (and failing) for forty to fifty years. It took a very thick skin to make an ethnic or folkish argument forty years ago. One thing we didn’t realize is that a revolution cannot be generated by sheer force of will. It takes the energy of social discontent or pressure. We also didn’t realize that the setting up of organizations, if premature, is just another kind of activity trap. Selfishly, people like me yearn to see the tide turn before we check out. I would like to participate… Read more »
PorgusJones
Guest

Someone has to be John Brown. But he died 1859, almost two years before the Civil War began.

Joey Junger
Guest

I’ve lost the exact quote, but someone (maybe Stalin) said words to the effect that sometimes one-hundred years of history sometimes happens in two weeks.

Victor Hammer, the brother of industrialist Armand Hammer, said that the Bolshevik revolution was so exciting because something like 8,000 men had orchestrated a take-over of one-eighth of the world overnight. Things move in slow motion and then they march in double-time.

Whitehat
Guest

Ah …the concepts of time and duration.

Member
Tocqueville discussed this issue in Democracy In America. He noticed that there was a certain range of issues that could be discussed and that all else was proscribed, and he too attributed this tendency to being a feature of democracy, or popular government. I don’t think Tocqueville goes far enough in developing his idea, and the implications of forcing ideas underground, but I think there is a parallel between this and the system of scientific paradigms described by Thomas Kuhn in his idea about scientific revolutions. The next big thing is never really new, it simply wasn’t acceptable, but when… Read more »
james wilson
Guest
Tocqueville, on our consciousness–“Time does not arrest its course for nations any more than for men…When we think things are stationary, it is because we fail to see their movements. The evil which one suffers patiently as inevitable seems insupportable as soon as one conceives the idea of escape from it.” Trump- “The mental habits which suit action do not always promote thought. The world is not directed by long and learned proofs. All its affairs are decided by the swift glance at a particular fact, the daily examination of the changing moods of the crowd, occasional moments of chance,… Read more »
Heartlander
Guest

Wow. Tocqueville was amazing in his insight.

Thank you for sharing his wisdom here, disturbing but necessary.

David Wright
Guest

How you churn out these insightful essays daily is beyond me. Almost prolific considering the average output of others who do this professionally.

I thank John Derbyshire for finding this blog.

Anonymous White Male
Guest
ZMan, you, and every other blogger that tries to make sense out of things like politics, are over intellectualizing this. There are much simpler explanations. But, writers do not want simple explanations. Why? Because you would have nothing to do if you didn’t complicate the issues. Politics is not some inscrutable process that has to be explained. Actually trying to find some hidden meaning that has to be explained in psychological or metaphysical mumbo jumbo allows those that really do control things to over analyze everything until reality becomes mental masturbation. Even stupid people are capable of understanding things….if they… Read more »
Will
Guest

Very interesting and provocative.

Tim Newman
Guest

Good work, ZMan.

MSO
Guest

Civilization requires the individual to be at the center of it all; without the individual as the prime mover, there is no chance for a successful civilization. The USA had a few years where religion and government did not address the same issues; religion addressed man’s soul, while government protected his liberty.

Today, government and religion are redundant in competing for mankind’s soul and both seek to diminish his liberty. The citizen/voter today has, for the most part, confused knowledge for wisdom and such confusion works to the detriment of both government and freedom.

Member

Sadly both Religion and Government have confused and confounded those two issues of soul and liberty. Note George Will’s tome “Statecraft As Soulcraft”.

Jack Dobson
Guest
Here, here. Excellent piece. To paraphrase Mark Steyn, if citizens can’t receive solutions from legitimate political actors they will turn to illegitimate politicians. Without quibbling about what constitutes legitimacy, this absolutely is correct. The West is deep into the process of rejecting the consensus of the post-Cold War era. The unhinged, near-psychotic reaction to Trump across the spectrum has everything to do with loss of power, prestige…and legitimacy. Open borders and free trade fetishism are about to become illegitimate political positions after being the consensus for nearly four decades. Those who profited handsomely from the arrangement have the means to… Read more »
Dutch
Guest

They may lack the will to fight a long, nasty civil war, but they appear to be good at recruiting dullards to fight the war for them.

Jack Dobson
Guest

Look at the recruits, though. It will be short and relatively painless.

Heartlander
Guest

So said both sides just before the last Civil War!

BaruchK
Guest
“The result is the main points of contention in political fights were over economic policy. So much so that social policy and foreign policy have often been framed in economic terms” Policy is not decided through political discourse. Policy is decided on another level, then political discourse is generated to gradually triangulate towards acceptance of the policy. It’s a Hegelian process: A: Stealing is wrong. B: Stealing is right when (insert special case scenario) Consensus: Stealing is right when (a subset of the special case scenario) Next time, the discourse starts at the consensus. It goes this way until it… Read more »
Member

Great comment. (I would have stopped at that but the thingy tells me I need more than 14 characters.)

Ryan
Guest

I find Tulsi Gabbard impressive. She’s young and good looking. She was in the military. She’s not white, not male, and not Christian. She’s basically the ideal Democratic candidate for office. If she would just go on TV and say “Assad must go” she might end up president. But so far she won’t. Rare to see a politician with integrity.

Member

I see Gabbard as the female Obama: mixed race, good looking, silver-tongued, opportunistic, extremely liberal, from Hawaii, wants to be president, total faker.

Jack Dobson
Guest

I think Gabbard is principled. She never will be considered beyond the House because the war machine greases the Democrats so much these days.

James LePore
Guest

I respect your view. Time will tell.

TomA
Guest
It seems to me that you are conducting a high-minded analysis of the superficial problems in our society. This is like discussing the various means and options associated with how best to trim the hedge while ignoring the root-rot that is killing the plant in the first place. A non-trivial cohort of our population is devolving at an accelerating rate. On average, we are becoming seriously obese, we are losing the ability to think rationally, we are losing our work ethic (and replacing it with government dependence), we are becoming addicted to mass communication devices (and growing more hive-minded with… Read more »
Rod1963
Guest
Well the elites do control the public argument since they do control the MSM which has served as their attack dog and censor for decades. I remember how they took “free trade” , immigration and demographic destruction off the discussion table. So there won’t be open and honest discussions about these with the elites or their tools. They don’t want it. All they want us to do is STFU and die. That became quite clear during the election when the establishment organ TNR was giving space to genocidal hacks like Kevin Williamson or the WSJ with Charles Murray acid tongue… Read more »
Heartlander
Guest

I hope you’re wrong, but the only thing I can see with the ability to prevent civil war is a massive spiritual revival. But many of the folks here and on other blogs that get a lot of other things right are downright hostile to Christianity, so I don’t see it happening. But who knows. Nineveh, the largest city in the world at the time, converted overnight.

Dutch
Guest
In Animal House, the Kevin Bacon character, shouting “all is well”, gets trampled and the John Belushi character becomes a U.S. Senator. Life appears to imitate “art”. I don’t like how things are teeing up for the near future, but it makes perfect sense to me. It is easy to understand why things are playing out the way they are. Those on the other side of things are rightly (from their point of view) angry and petrified. All is not well, and the only way things won’t change in a big way, is for them to impose a serious inquisition.… Read more »
Rabbi High Comma
Guest

I’m a former paleocon, now AltRight. Pretty damn happy to have Tulsi as my rep. I may not agree with her on economics, but her willingness to flip the bird to globalist schemes is valuable indeed. Love that woman.

sirlancelot
Guest

Wouldn’t rule Le Pen out. Think she has a good chance , but even if elected the elites will stop her much like they did Trump.

The machine is too deeply entrenched. The unwashed masses are still fat, happy and stupid. The drones will need some serious pain inflicted in their daily lives before any kind of real revolution could begin.

Right now they seem happy trying to effect change through the ballot box instead of the bullet box.

Trump is a start. Hopefully the momentum will continue.

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