Comment on Cummings
"In a regime change, everyone's life changes."
Dominic Cummings, wizard of Brexit, just put up an interesting Substack post which is unfortunately paywalled. In it he mentions many ideas that will be familiar to Gray Mirror readers, which he either came up with on his own or read here. He does cite me at the end of the post, so it’s okay.
I thought I’d reply in his comments, as if the Internet was still a thing. You’ll have to shell out for Dom—he charges ten pounds a month. But—let’s face it—he’s England’s foremost living statesman. Think of all those who have held that title, and despair.
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Most people will worry that you’re thinking much too big. I worry that you’re thinking much too small.
One of the bad patterns of our performative politics is the taking of first steps without explicit plans or even goals. One it was thought that Brexit was a goal—an impossible goal, in fact (I used to read Richard North’s blog back in the early 2000s). Not only did the referendum actually happen, Brexit actually happened, somehow. Yet it turned out that Brexit was only a step.
What was the destiny of this island in the North Sea? Where even was power to devolve? Was the goal of Brexit to shift sovereignty from Brussels to Whitehall? Especially since it was Whitehall that shifted sovereignty to Brussels—but even more, having left the building—where was this exited Britain to go? Was there anyone who actually wanted to rule Britain?
What was its fate, its mission, its future? What, in Carlyle’s great word, would be its condition? How, as a result of Brexit, would the lives of every Briton change? What has Brexit done (aside from causing various knots of bureaucratic fornication)? I don’t know… as an American… is there anything I’d notice? Something something biscuits? If our ancestors were Greeks, surely we are Graeculi.
I really should watch that movie but I am not sure if any part of the Brexit plan involved where Brexit should go next. I think the goal was just to get a referendum, and then to win the referendum, and then to get some kind of exit deal that was more than symbolic. Not that it would change the condition of England! But that the fact that it was more than symbolic would itself be a symbol…
All these results were in a way achieved. But then, winning everything it had a plan to win, Brexit had no plan or purpose at all—it was not the result of any vision of Albion, a new Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land yadda yadda, in 2050, for which step 1 was “somehow get out of the EU," and step 10 involves... I don't know, some kind of Ruskin-Chesterton fantasy hobbit kingdom.
Brexit was its own reward—that typical 20C political phenomenon, the self-licking ice cream cone—the dog that caught the car. In this plan you have done better--you have a checkbox for a plan for what to do when you have your teeth in the bumper and are being dragged down the road at 60 miles an hour. This metaphor may overstate the comfort and safety of the situation. And I am not sure the checkbox is big enough.
Your plan has to explain how to get inside the vehicle, pacify the driver, learn to drive the car with your back paws, figure out where to go, drive there, rent a house, get a job, marry and have little half-dog puppy-kids, and live happily ever after.
While this is all brainwork, I am honestly not sure you can fund this for $200,000, or whatever. Also, a worse problem: your plan does not seem to give your new regime enough power to succeed. This issue is like Brexit but much less bad, but still fatal.
I do a pretty good dramatic reading of that FDR speech, if I do say so myself. But one of the flaws of the speech is that it makes things sound too easy. FDR demands the power of a general defending against an enemy invasion—which is about what he got. But now you have a harder problem. You need the *power of the enemy general*.
You need the power that the Taliban have over the Republic of Afghanistan today, or that the United Nations had over the Third Reich in 1945. In fact, denazification, although conducted with perhaps some unnecessary cruelty, is one historical analogy for the process of regime change. Of course the fall of communism is another, though its thoroughness was questionable.
When you see a real 20th-century regime change (Germany experiences four in the 20th century), that change is by no means restricted to the completely arbitrary line drawn around the “government.” In a real regime change, everyone’s life changes.
Most or all institutions cease to exist, at least under their current names. Many careers will also cease to exist; many new ones will be created. There is not a single piece of paper in the nation that the new regime cannot rip up; there is nothing it cannot do.
The only way to get this level of power is to ask the people for it, and hear them say yes. The only way to make this request that isn’t laughable is to offer them a vision of a completely different world—as in any other 20th-century regime change, like the fall of the Soviet Union. Here again the new regime had the power of the enemy general.
A regime change is more than a reorganization of the government. A regime change is a narrative reset in the story of both past and future, a reconsideration that affects everyone’s perception of reality, and that completely discredits the old regime. Hopefully it was the old regime that lied, and the new one that lives in the truth. But the converse is not at all unheard of.
And needless to say, you need to be able to sell this reset to both red and blue cultures. I don't really think there can be a successful reset which is completely partisan. Actually, ending the cold civil war has to be one of your main goals—no more culture wars, race wars, yadda yadda yadda. Imagine looking back on all this race/culture war stuff and seeing how stupid it looks.
It seems silly to think of the US without its cold civil war, or its infinite and absurd obsessions with race. It’s like your policy proposal was to fly to the moon on unicorn farts. I know. But this is exactly the point of regime change: a totally different world.
But—if any regime change stops halfway, or even 99% of the way, it is utterly doomed.
If you have a new regime, but your revolution stops at the edge of the government (as formally defined) and leaves the old world the same—out of, like, some kind of respect for private property, or something?—the old world will simply devour your old regime.
A regime change is like a satellite launch—it either reaches orbit, establishing a new and stable constitutional state (maybe even under the same document), or it explodes.
So the goal is not, as you say, a government that actually controls the government. This is not good enough, since so much of the regime is outside the formal government. We do not even need to define the regime's boundaries if we say the goal is a government that actually controls the country—that actually governs. That has the powers of Henry VIII, or Cromwell, or maybe even Henry VII.
But that is not even a goal. That is a means to an end—and the end must be a Britain that anyone would recognize as a vastly superior and more-alive country, with a vastly superior "condition of England." If you can't offer that and believe you can deliver it, don't mess around with this kind of heavy magic—leave it for another wizard.
TLDR—if you do cross the Rubicon, you really need to know where you’re going next. And also where you expect to end up.