It is popular in some circles to compare the current crisis to that which gripped America at the end of the 1960’s cultural revolution. Then as now, the white middle-class was disenchanted with government. The nation also faced maddening economic problems like stagflation. Similarly, the issue of race was center stage, largely driven by the political Left. We even have a version of the Nixon years in Donald Trump having been impeached twice for vexing the Washington elite.
This comparison is natural as the dominant demographic in American is the Baby Boomer generation who came of age in this period. It often feels like the current political elite is nostalgic for that time and is trying to recreate it. The cargo cult vibe was most evident in the Trump years. This comparison is also reassuring as what followed the turmoil and ugliness of the 1970’s was the reforms of the Reagan years and a long period of economic stability and prosperity.
It is a comforting narrative, but the comparison is superficial. For example, in the 1970’s, before Reagan was a realistic option, a consensus was forming among the various elites of society around important reforms. Business and banking elites had concluded that the regulatory code needed drastic reform in order for the economy to adjust to the changing economic realities. Those FDR era regulations designed to limit the accumulation of capital had to be rewritten
Reforms to the regulatory regime actually started under Jimmy Carter. The Airline Deregulation Act was passed in 1978. This begun three years earlier when Ted Kennedy took credit for launching the initiative. The monetarist revolution in finance began in the 1970’s and culminated in the appointment of Paul Volcker as chairman of the Federal Reserve in 1979. He famously began the process of takling inflation by tightening the money supply.
The point is that long before Reagan was an option, the elites in America were coalescing around a reform agenda. Business, finance, the military and the political class were thinking about a reform agenda. The public was hungry for reform, as they were suffering directly from the excesses of the cultural revolution and the recklessness of left-wing economic policy. Of course, the country was demographically stable with a majority population of close to 90%.
Critics of the comparison to the 1970’s start with that last bit. America is now a balkanized land of strangers. Thirty years of open borders has brought tens of millions of alien people into the country. Thirty years of policies aimed at busting up families and communities have hit their mark. The United States will be a majority-minority society within the next twenty years. Recreating the 1980’s consensus with a population that looks nothing like that of the 1980’s seems impossible.
That may be true, but the bigger problem is at the other end. The truth is no one voted for the tax reform agenda in the 1980’s. No one voted for regulatory reform or even the reforms of the military. These items were never on the agenda in an explicate way, but rather in the form of personalities. People vote for people. The pleasant people on the side of the elite agenda won national elections and the boring and often weird people opposed to that agenda lost those elections.
Fast forward to the present crisis and it is hard to tease out a reform agenda from the current ruling elites. Wall Street is operating like they are planning to swallow the family jewels, pack a suitcase and head for the border. It is a massive bust out of what is left of the American economy. Global business is more interested in currying favor with China and India than in what is happening in America. In both cases, the viewpoint is post-nationalism and even post-American.
The military industrial complex, which was essential to the reform efforts of the 70’s and 80’s, is locked in a defensive crouch. Its singular focus is on maintaining its budget, even at the expense of its effectiveness. They have embraced the dangerous antiwhite politics of the academy, just to please the budget makers in Washington. We have seen men claiming to be generals sobbing about their whiteness, all so they can please the deranged people on the appropriations committee.
Washington, of course, is a disaster. The old conservative side of the political class is trapped in the 1980’s. It is nothing but old men sentimental for their long dead heroes and young men flattering them for a paycheck. The old progressive side is a museum exhibit that talks. For them it is either 1968 or 1938. Then you have the new generation of radicals who are a toxic blend narcissism and ignorance. The few populist voices in the political class have no agenda to offer.
People like to talk about how “polarized” the public is on the various issues, but in reality, it is the ruling elite that is shattered. The only thing holding them together is the growing fear that the tide will go out and the world will see that they have been swimming naked. The impulse to surround themselves with razor wire and armed soldiers is the one thing they have in common. For them, reform is simply how to get better tools to keep the rabble at bay.
The biggest disparity between the crisis of the 1970’s and the crisis of today is in the intellectual class. The reformers of the 70’s and 80’s had a massive library of thought and analysis to draw from while debating reform. Conservatism was brimming with critiques and proposals. Monetary reform, for example, was the result of decades of debate on the topic. Even on the Left there was active debate about what comes after the cultural revolution of the 1960’s.
Today, intellectual life is barren within the mainstream. On the Left there is no debate, just a collection of bizarre theories from post-Marx radicalism. Their answer to inflation is a protest in favor of crossdressers playing girls’ sports. Conservatism is a dead space now and the debate over how to reform it is sentimental revanchism. No one in elite intellectual circles is capable of starting from present reality and talking about how to change the institutions to adapt to the new reality.
The reform era we associate with Reagan and the conservative movement was largely the result of a ruling elite seeking to revitalize itself. This was obvious if you read elite journals of the time. Reform was a serious topic debated by serious people. Today we see the opposite. The elites show no interest in revitalizing themselves and they actively discourage debates to the contrary. The current crisis looks more like 1970’s Soviet Union than 1970’s America.
Now, this is where dissidents will chime in with two corrections. One is that the claim that elites are plotting to reform the world. The Build Back Better stuff was a plan to reorganize society in their image. The World Economic Forum is an effort to reform the management of the West. Biden’s animators are now having him mouth the words “new world order” in speeches. In other words, the elite are trying to reform the world, just not in a way that serves the public interest.
The other claim is that these debates are no longer happening in elite publications or in elite forums. Instead, they are happening at private confabs like Davos or maybe at the Bohemian Club’s annual retreat. The global over-class now conducts its business far away from public view. Further, it aims are not expressed in legislation but in global regulation through international organizations. Non-governmental organization now do the hard work that used to be done by national legislatures.
The problem with the first critique is that what is being sold as a new world order shows no signs of being a reform movement. Instead, it looks like a lagging indicator of civilizational collapse. Like the American elite, the Western elite is held together by the fear the system will not hold. Guys like Klaus Schwab, the comical head of the World Economic Forum, are just monorail salesman exploiting the angst of the Western managerial elites. He is running a long con.
As to the second critique, there is no evidence that the people driving elite policy are operating from anything by avarice. You do not see deep thinkers invited to their soirées at Davos or other elite confabs. Maybe there are secret gatherings of the elites where their big-brained advisors layout their plans for global domination. Without any evidence to support this claim, there is no reason to think it is true. Instead, the chaos we are seeing probably reflects the chaos of the elites.
Now, it is possible that there is an elite consensus forming up, but it needs a bit more pain to whip it into existence. The coming economic disorder, which will show up in the streets and the voting booth, may be the remedy to elite dysfunction. On the other hand, we may have reached a point where elite consensus is no more likely than a popular consensus in a majority-minority society. Elite dysfunction may be a sign of a looming crackup of the old order.
If you like my work and wish to kick in a few bucks, you can buy me a beer. You can sign up for a SubscribeStar subscription and get some extra content. You can donate via PayPal. My crypto addresses are here for those who prefer that option. You can send gold bars to: Z Media LLC P.O. Box 432 Cockeysville, MD 21030-0432. Thank you for your support!
Promotions: We have a new addition to the list. Havamal Soap Works is the maker of natural, handmade soap and bath products. If you are looking to reduce the volume of man-made chemicals in your life, all-natural personal products are a good start. If you use this link you get 15% off of your purchase.
The good folks at Alaska Chaga are offering a ten percent discount to readers of this site. You just click on the this link and they take care of the rest. About a year ago they sent me some of their stuff. Up until that point, I had never heard of chaga, but I gave a try and it is very good. It is a tea, but it has a mild flavor. It’s autumn here in Lagos, so it is my daily beverage now.
Minter & Richter Designs makes high-quality, hand-made by one guy in Boston, titanium wedding rings for men and women and they are now offering readers a fifteen percent discount on purchases if you use this link. If you are headed to Boston, they are also offering my readers 20% off their 5-star rated Airbnb. Just email them directly to book at email@example.com.