Coriolanus and the conservatives
"For I will fight against my cankered country with the spleen of all the under fiends."
Last week, the polymathic Scott Alexander turned his eye from the chemistry of antidepressants to the strategy of the Republican Party. Buckaroo Banzai was an instant star at every field he tried his hand at—but Scott easily matches his pace:
Somewhere, Lord John Whorfin is spitting mad. Laugh while you can, monkey-boy! There is no doubt that Scott Alexander is a major figure of our time.
And yet like anyone to whom so many things come easily he must sometimes wonder: is this really how good I am? Or is it just that everything sucks? Half and half, maybe.
The Coriolanus conservative
I would not say Coriolanus is Shakespeare’s best play. But it has been marked down for its politics, which are Shakespeare’s—found in all his plays, but nowhere less diluted.
Shakespeare is more right-wing than Tolkien. Shakespeare makes Tolkien sound like Deepak Chopra. Don’t forget that in The Tempest, Shakespeare basically invents racism. Without Caliban, how could Tolkien have dreamed up his orcs and goblins? And as an anti-democratic narrative, Coriolanus is up there with Aristophanes’ finest.
It’s easy to translate the politics of Coriolanus into now. Volscians are Republicans. Plebeians are protected classes. The tribunes are leftists. The nobles are centrists. Tullius Aufidius is Karl Rove.
Scott, a Roman aristocrat of the bluest blood, as mighty with the pen as Gaius Marcius with the sword, gets stabbed in the ass by the woke tribunes. As the other nobles stand around and hold their dicks. Kicked out of decent society by the Times, and not happy about it, Scott is like: Aufidius! Mine old enemy, Aufidius! Turns out—you were 100% right about Rome. Let’s win this together, baby. Here’s how you can play it…
Coriolanus belongs in the ranks of Shakespeare’s great tragedies because it satisfies the fundamental criterion of tension in a tragedy: inevitability. Though the protagonist must come to a bad end, the audience can never quite say what he could or should have done differently. Surely we cannot say what Coriolanus should have done differently; should he have flattered the mob? Never gone to the Volscians? Not accepted his mother’s peace deal? Any of these things—and he would not have been Coriolanus.
A Coriolanus conservative is anyone with an upper-class background who, despairing at the utter bankruptcy of his class and the regime it staffs, defects to the barbarians. There are, of course, many such cases.
The culture of this civilized man does not change. He does not drop his subscription to Mubi, and start getting into monster-truck rallies. He remains nauseated by the smell of garlic—even the women reek of it—he remains a Roman, and a Whole Foods shopper.
Coriolanus is even a Roman patriot. What he learns in the first three acts is that Rome is broken and only a blacksmith can pound it back into shape. That blacksmith is God; but even the righteous vengeance of God needs a big-ass hammer. The only available hammer, alas, is—the Republicans.
The truth is that Coriolanus is not really a Republican, any more than Scott Alexander is a Volscian. He does not pray to the Volscian gods—or even like Volscian food. The area of intersection that makes the alliance possible is purely negative: both sides are equally revolted by the human cancer that is Rome. Spoiler: it doesn’t work out.
Reinforcing the steelman
On its face, Scott’s idea of using Marxist ideas on behalf of the middle class against the upper class—which happens to be exactly the same basic idea as National Socialism, by the way—seems tactically compelling, for three reasons.
First: it draws other Coriolanus types from the upper class, most or all of whom are already Marxists, and all of whom know how to think in Marxist logic. Second: Marxist logic is emotionally appealing to the middle class, because the social aspiration of the middle class is to be as cool as the upper class. Third: it is focusing on the real enemy.
Scott intends this design as a replacement for the GOP’s old “Southern strategy,” in which the Volscians considered their main enemy the plebeians. As well they were entitled to—since the plebeians were the cannon-fodder the Roman nobles hurled against them. But Scott is like: why not recruit the plebeians to fight in the Volscian legions? Don’t both groups feel the same way about Rome’s patrician elites?
When the middle class attacks the lower class, it is attacking the puppet and not the ventriloquist. That’s a fail. Not only is it necessary to have a go at the ventriloquist—maybe the puppet can help—maybe he’s even getting tired of having a finger up his ass.
Simplicity is our only common language
The only problem with all this thinking is too much thinking. The only way Coriolanus can connect emotionally with the Volscians is on the basis of clear and simple truth—not spin. If he is not a Marxist, he should not be tactically pretending to be a Marxist. It doesn’t buy him what it looks like it buys him; and nor can he see what it costs him.
Coriolanus makes a bad general of the Volscians—not because he is a bad general, but because he is not a Volscian, and does not understand the Volscian situation. What he understands instead is the Roman caricature of the Volscians—which is just not true. Ultimately he fails because he tries to operate for real within this world of illusion.
Of course, class is a social phenomenon, not an economic phenomenon. Of course, the fundamental three-class political structure of American society—in which the upper class and the lower class vote for the Democrats, while the middle class votes for the Republicans—has been in place for the lives of those now living. Nixon could have explained it just as clearly as Scott Alexander. Nixon would have said “fuck” more. Nixon might even have brought up the Jews. But his model was basically the same.
No one at all wants to use this clear and simple taxonomy. No one wants to be either “upper” or “lower.” The upper class has always called itself the “middle class.” The “working class” may be the lower class or the middle class, depending on context. It gets particularly hard to parse when the lower class becomes a lumpen-rentier class.
In class terms, Trump’s voting base is exactly the same as Hitler’s—the “lower-middle class” or petit-bourgeoisie, literate but without sophisticated learning. To describe this as the “working class” in Marxist language is simply a deliberate obfuscation—since the petit-bourgeoisie is always the natural opponent of any Marxist client class.
What we see Scott doing is what we see most Coriolanus types doing: over-egging the pudding. What the real Volscians really need is frank Volscian simplicity, not devious Roman advertising: refreshing clarity, not seductive spin. If you’re a Roman and you want to talk to the Volscians—just tell them what you think.
Don’t even use the jargon—even to invert it
It really looks like you’re taking advantage of the enemy when you borrow his jargon. It feels like you’ve pulled off something slick. It felt that way to Hitler, too.
In the real Germany of the ‘20s and ‘30s (not the fevered imagination of certain pundits a century later), no one confused right with left. No serious observer ever thought the “National Socialists” were a party of the left.
Infiltration has an uncanny valley. Leftism is a test for self: a social immune system. If you look like you’re pretending to be a member of the group, but you clearly are not, you are something more much dangerous than a stranger: you are a spy.
While it seems as if sending leftist signals should calm the leftist immune system, it actually excites the immune system—because it is detecting hostile, deceptive activity, which may be attempting to parasitize the hive. Which is exactly what you are doing!
And while it is true that the middle class has an unconscious emotional attraction to the signals of the upper class, these signals remain toxic.
First, using leftist signals molds rightist thinking to conform with, not escape, the thinking of its leftist masters. Second, since this jargon comes from the master’s house, thinking in it is unconsciously humiliating, and therefore weakening. Third, while even true ideas are humiliating when expressed in the master’s jargon, the false ones are far more damaging—your whole soul is crushed by assimilating a lie.
When in doubt, do not submit. If it looks like you can win by submitting, it may be so. From a Bayesian standpoint, you should check your numbers like, seventeen times—and the same goes if you’re tempted to fight. Both these temptations are epidemic; and ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they are Satan’s baits.
Scott’s idea of describing the political conflict as a “class struggle” is good inasmuch as it is a frank, Volscian presentation of present historical reality. It is bad inasmuch as it uses stale Marxist prejudices from the 20th century to muddle a clear present reality, and subtly signal submission. Use old words if you can; make new words if you must; but keep the tongue of Mordor out of your mouth, and ideally your ears as well.
More true parts
Let’s stipulate some more true parts of Scott’s argument. First, he has the basic shape of the cultural coalitions right. (Hardly a surprise in a psychiatrist, who has the great advantage of being directly exposed to unmediated social reality—this post may not be the best SSC post by literary standards, but in a way it may be the most significant.)
Yes, the American petit-bourgeoisie is polyracial. This is a real collective identity, but not in any sense a white collective identity. While in most but not all places it is mostly European in ancestry, its collective identity has orders of magnitude more to do with college football. I’m sorry if I have to be the one to tell you that the summertime of the Indiana Klan has passed.
And yes, the alliance between the lower and upper classes is fragile. There is often very little social connection between these groups, even in traditionally ethnocentric communities. There is always an upper segment of the lower class that is inclined to join the middle class, though its hereditary political role is as an upper-class client.
Trump did indeed peel off many of these voters. Bolsonaro, in Brazil, is a super-white dude with an uber-white platform—yet his support has very much the structure Scott describes, as a fundamentally anti-elite political party. In fact, Bolsonaro proves that the right wing can still win elections in a country whose demographics and Gini index are rather like the one our masters are turning our country into.
However, we sense a subconscious motive in presenting this strategy: the desire to make the GOP kosher, according to the good NPR Jewnitarian values that Scott and I grew up in. Yet when we look at the segment of the Democratic lower-class votebank that Trump peeled off, it is far from clear that these wins came despite his reputation for “racism.” Especially but not exclusively among Hispanic voters, they may well have come because of it. Anyone who knows America knows that no group in the country has more “racist” attitudes, although “fascist” might also be an appropriate pejorative. You don’t really understand either slur until you’ve met a Mexican Trump voter. In Brazilian terms, we might call this the “Tropa de Elite” vote—hardly a PC coalition.
The false part
Tullius Aufidius likes Scott’s post because he sees these same truths. So do basically all Republican strategists. The problem is: our Aufidius is essentially a professional loser. So are basically all our Republican strategists—and politicians—even, in a different way, Trump and the Trumpists. And, basically, they always have been.
Scott’s coalition is good. His strategy is not good. His strategy is original; his coalition is not. Aufidius’ coalition is the same—but his strategy is neither original, nor good.
Scott is (as always) sincere and means well. But because he thinks within the received framing of the problem, he is just offering the Volscians a more enticing way to lose. So the impact of his speech is the opposite of its intent. Many such cases.
Before we look at the details of this trap, let’s pull the camera way back and look at how a thinker as acute as Scott could fall into it.
Don’t try to fix it
If there is one way I would change the way the rationalists think, it is to work harder at breaking received frames—rather than trying to repair them. They try to fix too much. This is because they overestimate their reasoning capacities, which makes them bite off more than they can chew—and not chew it as thoroughly as they ought to.
The rationalist program does not quite conceive itself as the project of rethinking all the 20th century’s received wisdom and the institutions that transmit it. It does seem to increasingly be realizing this. But it has not yet assimilated all the implications—which go far beyond the pay-grade of any blog’s comment section.
For example: when you see yourself through the eye of the world, and discover that the eye of the world sees something very different, and very much uglier, than what you see in the mirror, you can react in three ways. You can doubt your mirror, or your own eyes. You can conclude that the eye of the world has it in for you. Or you can doubt the eye of the world—which forces you to doubt everything you know about the world. Because how did you learn all those things? Through that same eye of the world.
It is in some ways symptomatic of the indolence of the technology age that previous movements to revise all of human knowledge generally started from a Socratic stance of ignorance. The rationalist strategy is more parsimonious: they prefer correction.
Usually, we throw all the intellectual garbage in the trash. We do not try to wash it off. Many things discarded still have some virtue. We discard them anyway, both because we are confident in our ability to obtain or produce new ones, and because we suspect that the problems with the discarded object are more than some superficial soiling; we are not confident in our power to repair them, not as confident as we are in our power to replace them. This is why we place so much store in “knowing what we don’t know.”
What is different about the rationalists is that their confidence in their own reasoning powers is so high that they feel they can ignore this pruning optimization. If there are any problems in the received wisdom and the institutions that transmit it, they will find and fix them one by one. This strategy left them surprised when the eye of the world, which turns out to be more or less the Eye of Sauron, fell on them. From this Bayesian shock we can extrapolate how well the strategy works for everything else.
If I am Scott Alexander and every time I think about a field from scratch, I at least place among the experts and often just beat them—whether the field is serotonin chemistry, Republican strategy, rock-and-roll or rocket cars—I have to wonder if the field can be fixed at all. I have to wonder if anything can be fixed at all. The alternative is to consider the possibility that I am just plain perfect—which I know to be untrue.
Finding that, besides a hard mathematical core, everything we know is corrupt and has been taught to us by corrupt institutions (for money is not the only kind of corruption), the instinct of the Socratic mindset is to understand the mechanisms of putrefaction, use this understanding to identify any areas of clearly and completely healthy tissue, excise the rest and toss it in the biohazard bin. Yes, there is some good among the rest. Ideas are not people—so it is okay to “let God sort them out.”
This maximalist approach to epistemic surgery leaves us with huge amounts of mental flesh to reconstruct. On the other hand, we have huge numbers of bored intellectuals. The hardest problem is that these intellectuals are terrible at organizing themselves.
Republican strategy from a position of ignorance
Under the model of ignorance, it seems insufficient to rethink the answers of the 20th century. We have to rethink both the 20th century’s questions, and its assumptions—not to say the 19th century always had it right; or the 20th century always got it wrong.
Like a good scholar, Scott starts by stating the problem he is solving:
Your old platform of capitalism and liberty and whatever no longer excites people. Trump managed to excite people, but you don't know how to turn his personal appeal into a new platform… All else being equal, I'd rather you have a coherent interesting message.
The assumption here is that Republicans are in need of a new platform—or even any platform at all. Can we break that frame?
All that Republicans need is for people to (a) vote for Republicans; (b) give money to Republicans; (c) in certain very rare cases, demonstrate for Republicans.
A platform or message—some cute set of ideas about what the government ought to do—is one way to coordinate these outcomes. Is it the only way? Or the best way? If we do not know it is the right way, we may be closing doors before we look behind them.
Perhaps Republican votes could be coordinated with a totally different story. What are Republicans trying to do when they vote? What is the purpose of their collective action? What is its expected result? What is its predicted result?
Action, individual or collective, is rational when its expected and predicted results are identical—when hope and reason coincide. A brief examination of collective action by Republican voters across the last 50 years indicates that the prior prediction of the tangible impact of any such “populist” revolution should be, besides some disruption of government, nothing. Zero.
A platform is a set of ideas about how to govern. The only reason to have a platform is to participate in government. If winning elections does not result in any meaningful participation in government—
But to Tullius Aufidius and his Volscian officers, winning elections isn’t nothing at all. To a Volscian officer—not the voting infantry, who just want to sack Rome, but the consultant, pundit and think-tank class—winning is life itself.
But this life will end if the officers cease to be able to convince the infantry that nothing is something. The Volscians never do end up sacking Rome, do they?
And needless to say, the Roman patricians and the Volscian patricians see eye to eye on this one. The ugly fact of the matter is that postwar establishment Republicanism was created by the grace of the Democrats and still exists by that same grace.
As Julius Nyerere said: “America is a one-party state; but with typical American extravagance, they have two.” Ergo, the centrists are happy to help Aufidius tell his story—and even to win his elections, so long as he doesn’t win too many.
The Republican paradox
The problem, from the perspective of a still-reluctant Coriolanus like Scott Alexander—and also from the perspective of Aufidius—is that the realer Republicanism gets, the more unacceptable it becomes.
Scott is more Volumnia than Coriolanus; the mob has wronged Volumnia, too; but Volumnia does not want Rome sacked. Why would she? But what else, aside from nothing, could be the result of the Volscian invasion? We know exactly what the Volscian sack of Rome looks like. It looks like Hitler: the ne plus ultra of populism.
There is no question but that Rome needs to be whacked with a hammer. Is Hitler a big enough hammer? Since statistics show that only 5% of fascist dictators order a Holocaust, Hitler may be an unfair sample. Let’s roll it back to Mussolini, or still better the two best European fascist dictators of the ‘30s: Salazar and Metaxas. Still…
Mussolini was once asked what his platform was. “My platform,” he calmly explained, “is to govern Italy.”
Imagine if a Republican in 2024, someone semi-based like a Hawley or DeSantis, came out with that. “Senator Hawley, what is your platform? What is your message?” And the candidate casually replies: “My platform is: to govern America. My message is: you must submit.” And then, he reads the last ten paragraphs of FDR’s First Inaugural.
Wew lads! This is strong medicine. While I am not precisely against this sort of thing, since strong medicine is strong enough to work, it is also strong enough to kill. After all, when we’re talking about the Holocaust, 5% isn’t exactly a small number.
Moreover, contrary to MSNBC, there are approximately zero Republicans who like to think of Republicanism as watered-down fascism. Yet it seems clearer and clearer that this is exactly what it is. So which do you want: more water, or more fascism? Bear in mind: the water is hardly the purest water. But nor would the fascism impress Il Duce.
Don’t like that choice? You can be a Democrat! As a Democrat, you also have a range of options. Your options go all the way from the Red Guards to President Brezhnev. Typically when you order one you get the other, so why even worry about it?
While America in 2021 is not of course in a civil war, it has certainly slid several steps in that direction. It is not an exaggeration to describe our situation as cold civil war, and the failure to catch fire may only be due to the dampness of the logs. In any case, we are certainly well beyond platforms and issues.
Washington in 2017 and 2018 was the perfect test of whether Republican politicians can seize power by demagoguing their way to election victories, then abusing the public’s trust by politicizing the government. The GOP technically controlled all three branches of the constitutional government, with the most populist President ever.
Of course they did absolutely nothing of any historical significance. It really looks like the Trump nightmare has proved that our sacred democracy is safe from politics.
What this means is that representative democracy is dead. If representative democracy isn’t a system in which the voters elect politicians who take control of the government and use this power to do whatever they promised the voters they would do, what is it? Or is there some other, more spiritual and transcendent, kind of democracy? Maybe you should form a club with Kim Jong-Un and his “Democratic People’s Republic.”
And if democracy is dead, and Republicans cannot in any conceivable future govern, why offer Republicans a better platform? It’s like trying to feed a corpse a cheeseburger. Just because he won’t take a Big Mac, doesn’t mean you should try him on the Wagyu.
In reality, the question is not what policies a Republican is for. We are far past that! The question is if it is still legal to be a Republican—and if so, what kind of Republican. The question is whether the USG is as unaccountable as the USSR—whether, as Michael Anton writes:
The regime is in power, firmly. I, for one, do not believe it either will or can be voted out of power—though it may lose power from its own internal conflicts, contradictions, and incompetence.
And the question is Lenin’s question: what is to be done? We’ll get back to this shortly.
But when Scott Alexander, or even Tullius Aufidius, drives his jingling ice-cream truck full of prediction markets and family tax credits and all kinds of great policy ideas, through the silent ruined city of the American political discourse, into some kind of ruthless cancellation RPG ambush, no happy screaming children will run out from the basements of the shattered tower-blocks to fork over a couple of denarii for an Inuit Pie. And if they do— they probably shouldn’t.
The Benito Cereno conservative
This situation—in which a civilian stumbles into a war posing as a peace—inevitably reminds us of Melville’s great work, Benito Cereno. Here Scott is the innocent Yankee, Captain Delano, helping his good colleague Captain Cereno get his ship refitted. (How do they teach Benito Cereno in high school these days? College, even? Does the library keep it locked in a special room you need a pass for, like in the Soviet Union?)
Here is a question, dear reader. The opinions above—even Anton’s—are not ideas you often hear professional conservatives express. Why is this? Is it because they (a) have never heard, or thought of, these ideas; (b) know this way of thinking, but profoundly disagree with it; or (c) can see where it’s coming from, but know Babo is listening? “Yes, Señor, I have trust in Babo.”
Here is a conversation with one of these Benito Cereno conservatives. Don Benito, as I shall call him, is a traditionalist, well-connected in what we might call the American neo-Tory tradition—basically all Catholic, Orthodox or high-church Anglicans, with more PhDs than fit on the wall. Needless to say, these are all extremely fine people.
The Don was very concerned, not without reason, that the world’s biggest bookseller had just decided to (silently) censor a book by another neo-Tory. “Amazon has started censoring books! Tyranny!” Well, sure (and this definitely affects my publishing plans).
On the other hand, I pointed out, cheap kneejerk propaganda does not serve the cause. Censorship is not new. Censorship of books is not new. Leave the lying to the Father of Lies: he is better at it than you.
Of course digital censorship is not new, so why should censorship of books be new? Funny story: one of the best censorship regimes of the past, almost exactly 200 years ago, was Metternich’s Carlsbad Decrees. The Decrees were introduced to stamp out misinformation and hate speech in the German press, whose incitement of violence had led directly to the murder of the reactionary playwright August von Kotzebue by the student terrorist Karl Ludwig Sand.
The Decrees required registration of all printing equipment in Germany, and imposed prior moderation on all publications of less than 25 pages. Metternich saw what all the great censors have always known: the shortest texts are the most dangerous. This is why moderating Twitter is one thing, and censoring Amazon is another.
So this new step of deleting books is indeed a serious step—even a historic step. But is the step even new? It is not. As I reminded Don Benito, this is hardly the first time Amazon has refused to carry the work of a serious author.
Amazon does not carry the works of Jared Taylor, for instance, or E. Michael Jones. I cannot think of a Taylor book which is really essential, but Jones’ Slaughter of Cities is certainly a masterpiece. It could use an editor. I understand Jones these days is putting most of his energy into the Jewish peril; I don’t remember Slaughter even mentioning us nefarious tricksters of the desert. In any case, a book is a book; it is not its author. And I don’t even have to agree with everything in a book to like it—do you?
I was too tasteful to mention the Rev. Niemöller, but the Don and I had the following conversation—which I think sheds some light on the real state of conservatism today. (I have paraphrased his words to avoid even stylometric compromise of his identity.)
After making this point that Ryan Anderson’s anti-transgender book was not the first to be censored, I said (with my thumb):
This is why the whole concept of wrongthink needs to be confronted as one
Ryan thinks he’s wearing the full armor of God but I’ll bet he hasn’t even thought about putting on these pants
But isn’t that exactly what they want to trick us into defending?
No, that’s what they want you to trick you into disowning. By doing so you are accepting their frame
The whole concept of dangerous ideas needs to go
You can’t have a partial glasnost
None of these ideas are dangerous in 2021. None of them. You might as well ban books that celebrate Huitzilopochtli
One thing I didn’t understand for a long time was how much it damaged anticommunism to simply accept the tropes of the Brown Scare and invert them, trying to ban communists as though they were evil Nazis
But you’ll lose if you paint Jared Taylor’s logo on your shield. (Life is too short to read him.)
But if you paint freedom’s logo on your sword, you will win
At present what’s painted on your shield is
“Freedom, for me”
This is an extremely unattractive message
It is outrageous that they took Dugin’s books off Amazon.
For instance, the First Red Scare inverts the tropes of the insane WW1 anti-German agitation. It fails
The Second Red Scare inverts the tropes of FDR’s “smearbund.” It fails
This is why I feel that after these “pragmatic” approaches
It is actually time to put on the big-boy pants of God
And defend the actual principle, regardless of whose books you do or don’t want to read, agree with, etc
Conservatives have literally spent a hundred years trying everything else!
If God wants us to lose, we will certainly lose
I don’t think he wants us to lose on our knees, do you?
The only principles relevant to us are the ones we actually believe in. You would never ban Taylor or Jones and you know it
Instead when you’re like, why don’t you ban Mein Kampf, too?
They just will
Which will be a huge gift, incidentally, to Nazis everywhere. Not a big enough gift to make them actually matter
But then you’ll have nothing at all to say
In a sense the fundamental fallacy here is the belief that conservatism is a player, that it matters, that it is participating in a democratic discourse on the direction of our great nation
I agree that the Right has preferred to be beautiful losers. I want to win!
It is even worse than this
Now [ie, with Trump] we can’t even be gentlemanly losers! We are such garbage.
Conservatives have been beautiful losers who get ecstatic about completely fake wins
They thought they won when they elected Ike!
Ike was a New Deal political general and a lifelong lib. He’d been mentioned in 48 for the Democratic nom. Willkie in 40 was a Democrat until the year he ran
What kind of Third World shit is this
See, most conservatives today would agree that the country is becoming a one-party state and they are not equal participants
But they are still not wearing the full armor of God
Because they believe this situation is new. Actually they just noticed it, it’s older than they are—and than most of their parents
So, believing this lie, they react to the problem in a totally false and ineffectual way—which has zero effect even when they “win” their elections
This is super interesting: [link to Scott’s essay]
It is but it reflects many of the same systemic distortions
Its model is “this is how Republicans can participate effectively in our democracy”
Not “anything short of regime change is useless and even counterproductive”
Similar to the work of David Hines in this respect
Another writer who advises cons to use the tools of libs to organize politically around their interests. Of course the lib organizations are all astroturf—communist fronts, basically
Actually as any democracy dies there are three periods
One when participation still works
One when participation no longer works, but elections can still be weaponized as a tool of regime change
One when elections don’t work at all and are a total joke. And one when elections are cancelled because even the joke is old
I think that cognitively, conservatives have realized that they are in the second phase
But in many ways their visceral thinking remains that of the first
Every single mainstream conservative writer is being terrified of being cancelled and thrown under the bus with Taylor, Derbyshire and Sailer
The full armor of God? You’re not even wearing his metal bra
I am, like, totally conscious of how this process works. Your description of the three stages kind of reminds me of Sam Francis.
Don Benito also emitted a tearful-laughing emoji at the last line—and thumbs up on the two before it. “Every one.” (Also, of course, it’s actually the whole armor of God. I always make that mistake for some reason.)
When you read that article in that legitimate conservative rag, it is by Benito Cereno. There is only one writer at the National Review: Benito Cereno. Captain Delano, in his innocence, has come aboard a ship whose captain is not its captain. Captain Delano’s real peer is not Benito Cereno—it is Babo. You might say he’s the captain now. As for Captain Cereno, he definitely does not feel in charge.
How did this happen, anyway? How did America get a loyal opposition that is so loyal, when the regime says “jump” it asks “how high?” How in the world is it that the left can “cancel” a right-wing writer, but not vice versa? How in the hell does a Democrat win the Republican nomination—twice?
“America is a one-party state. But with typical American extravagance, they have two.” The irony of the conservative intellectual is that the one thing it is his duty to tell the public is the one thing he cannot tell the public.
First of all, I agree with Scott. Prediction markets are good. Experts sometimes get it wrong. The Republicans are the polyracial party of the social middle class. These things are true; we should say them loudly. Yet what is our real political landscape?
You can be a Republican. The Republican Party, including its deranged fringes all the way to the “alt-right,” contains a complete spectrum from pure fraud to pure fascism. Corruption, betrayal and perversion are observed across this spectrum. Ultimately, the Republican Party is a party of losers; and to support it is to be a loser. When you give it ideas, they are either fake ideas for helping its officials defraud its voters, or real ideas for building fascism in America.
You can be a Democrat. The Democratic Party, including its deranged fringes all the way to “antifa,” contains a complete spectrum from pure bureaucracy to pure sadism. Corruption, sycophancy and perversion are observed across this spectrum. Ultimately, the Democratic Party is a criminal organization; and to support it is to be a criminal. And since it is the ruling party, unless you oppose it, you support it.
And “third parties” are even worse. And people ask me why I don’t like democracy! But let’s get back to that nagging question of Lenin’s: what is to be done?
Coriolanus’ dream, and mine
Clearly an optimal outcome for Coriolanus would be if he could somehow end up as both king of the Volscians, and consul of Rome. The actual Romans would have taken this very poorly; so, I imagine, would the Volscians. Still, why can’t there be peace? Why can’t we all just get along? Such was Volumnia’s dream; it remains a good one.
Ultimately, like Scott Alexander, I am a Roman. I like Roman food. I have a Roman accent. I actually live among the Volscians now, and I find much to admire in them. I am not one of them; not even my children will be of them. I have no desire to see them sack Rome—why would I want to see that?
Why, no reason. Except that, as Coriolanus put it, “I will fight against my cankered country with the spleen of all the under fiends.” And as a surgeon, he takes it so far that we almost think his enemy is the country, not the cancer. In the end he does fail; and we never learn what he should have done instead. Or at least we never can agree.
But let me state three axioms which I think are self-evident.
First, Italy contains both Romans and Volscians. And Rome contains both patricians and plebeians. All these peoples have to learn how to share the peninsula peacefully.
Second, Rome is broken. If there is any source of external energy that can hammer Rome back together, it belongs to the Volscians. The Volscians cannot participate in Rome. Their politics are now binary. They either do nothing, or overthrow Rome.
Third, the Volscians can overthrow Rome; they can sack Rome; they cannot rule Rome. Letting the middle class rule over the upper class is what fascism is. And fascism just doesn’t work, as much as we might want it to work.
No country ever prospered by decimating its own aristocracy, though many have tried the experiment. And we don’t even have a middle class (petit-bourgeoisie) that can. The rude herdsmen of Antium may have had the virtue and energy to sack Rome; the couch potatoes of Arkansas clearly lack the virtue and energy to sack Washington. And those who cannot even sack will certainly never be able to rule.
From these axioms we derive three obvious theorems.
First, if the Volscians overthrow Rome, the goal of the regime change is not to launch a Volscian regime, which will favor Volscians over Romans—but to launch an Italian regime, which will treat all the groups and peoples of Italy with rigorous impartiality and uniform affection—while forgetting the entire past before the day of its own birth, thus ceremonially annihilating any and all historical grudges.
If the Volscians’ goal is to secure good government for themselves, they can succeed. But if their goal is to put themselves in power, they must fail. And they cannot succeed by participating in the Roman regime, only by replacing it—with some other regime that can be expected to govern them well and stably.
Second, this next regime cannot reuse the organization, personnel or procedures of the old regime. Otherwise, there is no regime change at all. But if most of the old staff are not mostly happy that the change happened, their severance payments are inadequate. Since the next regime owns them but does not want them, it is forced to buy them out.
There is even a cute acronym for any future Coriolanus: RAGE, which stands for retire all government employees. The only exception is units, like much of the military and other security forces, which still operate by command rather than by process.
Third, because Volscians, despite their country virtues, have no table manners and barely know which end of a pen to hold, most of the staff of the next regime will still be Roman patricians. They must be the genuine servants of the regime, not its silent masters. Any new regime must be managed from the top down, not the bottom up.
One reason that regime change in America will be surprisingly easy is that America remains full of people who know how to stand up very large, effective organizations very fast, mainly by deploying an army of very talented generalists. However, most of these people are delivering ads, making toys, or devising complicated mathematical ways to steal from each other. I exaggerate—slightly.
And yes, most of them are “libs.” Culturally, so am I—and from what I know of my readers, so probably are you. We are all Coriolanus. Yes, most of them are “libs”—and three seconds after the end of this ridiculous system, it won’t matter at all.
Come with me if you like this plan—or even if you don’t: