Note: The Monday Taki post is up. This week I take some gratuitous shots at the sperg-right over the racist AI story from last week. Behind the green door is the Sunday podcast where I gas on about the news of the week.
Michael Anton, the person responsible for the famous Flight 93 essay endorsing the great gamble on Donald Trump, has a long essay up at The New Criterion arguing that we live in unprecedented times. Those who make predictions about what comes next for the West are foolishly assuming that present patterns are the same as past patterns and therefore they will play out the same as they did in the past. He lays out why the current patterns are unique and therefore unpredictable.
Interestingly, his essay rests on this assertion: “let’s first consider the one historical parallel that all sides of this debate draw on for precedent: the rise, peak, decline, and fall of Rome.” This essay is part of a series, so it is possible the task given to the writers was to draw comparisons between the West in general or American in particular with the Roman Empire or even the Roman Republic. The entirety of Anton’s essay is comparing Rome to America.
Comparisons to Rome have been popular in America for a very long time, mostly because the American republic failed in the middle of the 19th century. This is one of those things that intelligent people have known is true but agreed not to discuss outside where the peasants can hear. A major part of the ruling class ethos has been the maintenance of the republican myth. Some on the Right will still insist that America is a republic and not a liberal democracy.
That is why comparisons to Rome have been popular. Either as a self-deception or as a way to avoid discussing reality, the worry that America could follow the Roman Republic into empire has been a staple for a long time. What makes this present age unique is that many people simply accept America as an empire. Much of the ruling class now prefers the word “democracy” over republic. When was the last time a politician said, “we must defend our republic”?
Anton takes a different approach in knocking down the comparison to Rome, mostly to focus on the great threats to the current order. The fact is though, Rome is not a great guide to understanding the present age. If you are looking for an example from the classical period, then Greece is your best option. Like America, Athens became a democratic empire that never understood itself to be an empire. In dominating its neighbors, it was sure it was liberating them from tyranny.
The other comparison between Ancient Athens and America that works well is in the totalitarian nature of its politics. The Romans put on shows to entertain the masses, but the Greeks staged shows to indoctrinate and control the people. Dionysian theater was about maintaining the prevailing moral orthodoxy. Today, mass media is about controlling the moral framework. Like the Greeks, Americans are hooked on the narcotic of endless morality tales reinforcing their beliefs about themselves.
If one wants to take this comparison back to the origin of America, you can go back to the English Civil War. That is a version of the Peloponnesian War and the American Civil War was a replay of it to birth America a second time. In both cases, it is the democratic side that prevailed over the Spartan side. That makes for a much more interesting comparison as the Athenians were lucky to have lost to the Spartans, so we may be seeing a form of alternative history with America.
If the Classical period is not your thing, then we have an empire closer to home that makes for an interesting and useful comparison. The American empire is looking similar to the Soviet empire at the end. The ossified and geriatric ruling elite is the obvious starting point in the comparison. Like the American empire, the Soviet leaders did not prepare for their departure from the scene. Instead, they purged anyone with ambition and the result was a poverty of talent and vitality at the top.
Another good parallel with the Soviets is the people in charge just assumed they represented the will of the people. The American ruling elite does not have dusty old books about political theory to justify their belief in themselves as the authentic voice of the people, but they believe it, nonetheless. Central to the identity to the managerial elite is their belief in themselves as the expression of the ideals of the system. Like the nomenklatura, the managerial class thinks things going great.
The other selling point in the comparison between the Soviet empire and the American empire is they are the product of the same dialectic. Communism proposed, fascism opposed and the synthesis was liberal democracy. Alternatively, communism and liberal democracy both assumed they were the answer to the great question of history, the solution to the struggle forward. In the end, neither was the answer to anything because history is not a solvable puzzle.
What is most interesting in Anton’s essay is what is not mentioned. For example, the Roman Empire in the last two centuries was a system run by people who had no hand in creating it. Waves of barbarian invaders had changed the complexion of the people over whom the empire ruled. The leaders also stopped being Roman in the sense that they had connections to the Roman elite. We see a similar pattern emerging in the West as immigrants flood Western lands.
There is also the fact that the Roman Republic failed when the economic arrangements supporting it failed. The influx of slave labor after the defeat of Carthage and Corinth changed the economics of the republic. We have a parallel to this age with the reliance on helot labor by Western capitalism. The economic model of fifty years ago no longer exists in the West, so it naturally follows that politics must change. Again we see the people problem as a precedent to our own age.
Of course, one can look for parallels in the rhythms of time. In the case of America, it could very well be the end of a historical epoch. The ideas of the Enlightenment have been fulling explored through Jacobinism, various forms of socialisms and communism and finally liberal democracy. Like all of those prior failures, this one is doomed to crash into the rocks of biological reality. The end point of man’s journey is not a paradise of peace and freedom, but rather the extinction of the species.
Anton’s essay is useful in that it focuses attention on the present trends that threaten civilization, but this is not an age without precedent. In fact, his premise is a bit of a strawman that allows him to avoid the central questions that lie at the heart of the current crisis in the West. It is not a crisis of historical patterns or ideology, but rather a crisis of people. Either the people of the West want to live or not. The real crisis is that there is no agreement on that answer.
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