Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fascism, Feudalism, and the Future

One of the things that I can’t help noticing, as someone who listens for narratives in the ways people talk about the future, is the way that certain motifs reappear over and over again in discussions surrounding peak oil and the future of industrial society. These are distinct from the great mythic stories that shape so many accounts of the future – the myth of salvation through technological progress, for example, or its usual debating partner, the myth of redemption from an evil society through apocalypse. The motifs I’m speaking of here are more self-contained and more flexible, and pop up in most visions of the future in circulation these days.

One classic example is the image of mindless, marauding hordes spilling out of the dying cities and ravaging everything in their path. This one has been a recurring cultural nightmare in the western world for a couple of centuries now, since the cities of the industrial world disconnected themselves socially from their agricultural hinterlands and began filling up with immigrant populations. Read such classic fictional treatments of the theme as Newton Thornburg’s Valhalla (1980) and it’s clear that on this side of the Atlantic, at least, it roots into the enduring emotional legacy of American racism, the terror of the dark Other on which the shadow of white America’s unacknowledged desires has long been projected.

You can look through history books in vain for examples of urban populations invading the countryside en masse in the twilight years of civilizations, but the motif remains stuck firmly in place. The inhabitants of Willits, one of the few American towns that have taken the imminence of peak oil seriously, have apparently laid plans to blow up highway bridges leading into town from the south, to keep those imaginary mobs at bay. Willits is in liberal northern California, but it’s embraced the same fantasy that leads survivalists on the opposite end of the political spectrum to indulge in wet dreams about automatic weapons blazing away at marauding hordes.

The motif I want to talk about in this week’s post has equally complex roots, and bridges the narrowing gap between the far left and the far right in a similar way. This is the belief that the American political class – those rich and influential people whose unity, power, and malevolence are articles of faith across the farther shores of American politics – are plotting to impose an authoritarian regime combining feudalism and fascism in the wake of peak oil. Like the belief in rampaging urban hordes, the imminence of this “feudal-fascist” takeover can be found in peak oil literature from every point along the political spectrum.

The words “feudalism” and “fascism” appear so often and are used so loosely in this context that it’s worth remembering that they actually do have exact meanings. Feudalism is a specific form of social organization that springs up in the aftermath of sociopolitical collapse. When central government disintegrates, money economies implode, and pervasive violence is everywhere, one of the few effective responses is a radical decentralization of power that hands control over small regions to magnates who can raise a corps of professional warriors, feed and support it with local agricultural produce, and defend their fiefs against all comers.

A feudal society is a legal hierarchy of decentralized force. In feudalism, the place of every human being from monarch to serf is measured precisely by that person’s ability to wield violence, and is matched by an elaborate hierarchy of rights and responsibilities. It bears remembering that the Magna Carta, the foundation of Anglo-American constitutional law, is a quintessentially feudal document; under feudalism, serfs had rights that at least in theory, kings could not arbitrarily set aside, though those rights were doubtless honored about as often as the rights of the poor in industrial societies today. Harsh and by modern standards unjust, feudal systems nonetheless flourish in desperate times because they offer an effective bulwark against violence and chaos, and provide each person some measure of security under the rule of law.

Fascism, even in the broadest sense of the term, is a far more culturally specific phenomenon that sprang up in Europe and Latin America in the aftermath of the First World War and faded out, where it had not been forcibly blotted out, after the Second. Allied wartime propaganda from the 1940s still has most people thinking of the metastatic nightmare of Nazi Germany as the archetype of fascism, but the mainstream of the fascist movement came out of Italy, where Benito Mussolini launched it with with his seizure of power in 1922. In Italy as elsewhere, fascism was a radically centralized socialist-capitalist hybrid that opposed communism while borrowing many of the Soviet regime’s own features.

In fascist societies, property remained in private hands, but capitalist competition was replaced by government coordination, and wages and prices were set by edict; labor unions existed, but workers were forbidden to strike and disputes were arbitrated by government tribunals. Public officials were appointed by the party leadership rather than being elected by the people, as in democracy, or inheriting their positions, as in feudalism. The rule of law was explicitly abandoned in favor of the “will of the nation,” which in practice meant the will of the party leadership. Fascist political philosophy explicitly argued that there should be as few levels as possible in the chain of command between the leader and the individual citizen, and the result was unfree but distinctly egalitarian – that is, everyone outside the top leadership of the party had the same lack of rights as everyone else.

Compare fascism to feudalism and massive differences outweigh the few similarities: a radically centralized society versus a radically decentralized one, a complete lack of individual rights versus an elaborately detailed code of rights for each person, the unchecked will of the leader versus the formal rule of law, and the list goes on. In the modern world, certainly, the two have also appealed to different social classes – fascism to the lower middle classes and skilled laborers, feudalism to the old aristocracy. It’s not an accident that the most sustained opposition to Hitler’s regime in Germany came from the Prussian aristocracy; the famous bomb plot that nearly vaporized the Führer and ended the war most of a year in advance was planned and executed by as blue-blooded a conspiracy as any in history.

So what on earth would a feudal-fascist regime be? A radically decentralized centralized state with an egalitarian hierarchy that both had and lacked individual rights and the rule of law? Clearly the words “fascism” and “feudalism” are not being here used to mean what they actually mean. Rather, they are what S.I. Hayakawa used to call “snarl words:” terms of abuse invoked because they evoke a predictable emotional response.

Behind this lies the ugliest of the left’s bad habits, its habit of demonizing those who disagree with its political stances. It’s not enough, for example, to argue that the political hacks and free market ideologues who make up the current US administration have pursued bad policies with astonishing ineptitude and more than the usual dollop of corruption, as indeed they have; for many people on the left today, the dismal performance of the Bush administration has to be forced into the Procrustean bed of a conspiracy theory in which every bumbling misadventure becomes a step in a sinister plan deliberately aimed at creating a dystopian society.

Now it’s only fair to point out that today’s left borrowed this habit from yesterday’s far right. The dubious claims of concentration camps under construction now being circulated by the left have their exact parallels in the equally dubious rumors about black helicopters and uniformed UN troops on America’s highways in the aftermath of Clinton’s 1992 electoral victory. More generally, it’s remarkable to see how much of today’s left-wing thinking has its roots in the ideas of the extreme right a half century ago. Trace back the rhetoric today’s radicals use to denounce the Council on Foreign Relations and multinational corporations to its source, and you’ll find an unlikely godparent: Robert Welch, founder and chief ideologue of the John Birch Society, who made all the same accusations in the 1950s under the banner of extreme conservatism.

It needs to be recognized that any time somebody starts insisting that the political party they happen not to like is a fair imitation of evil incarnate, what’s going on has little to do with the sort of dispassionate analysis that might actually give us a sense of the shape the future holds. Like the motif of marauding urban hordes, I’ve come to think, the mythology of an evil elite plotting world enslavement is the projection of the shadow of unacknowledged desires – in this case, the desire for power over others. It’s a normal human desire; the political systems of most stable countries have checks and balances to contain it and channel it in useful directions; but the ideology of the contemporary left, like that of the extreme anticommunist right in America half a century ago, denies it any place at all. A scapegoat thus has to be found to bear the onus of unacknowledged desire. To Robert Welch, that scapegoat was international communism; for the contemporary left, it’s George W. Bush.

Even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day, mind you, and the fact that much of today’s radical rhetoric was invented by a man who believed Barry Goldwater was a communist sympathizer does not necessarily disprove it. A feudal-fascist society may be every bit as possible as a square circle, but fascism and feudalism – as social systems rather than snarl words – may well end up playing roles in the complex historical tapestry of industrial society’s decline and fall. Most modern industrial societies had already adopted fascist habits of government economic coordination and leadership by charisma rather than law by the time Mussolini’s corpse was laid to rest, and the temptation to push things further in the same direction in a time of emergency is always present.

That temptation, it should be noted, affects the left as much as the right. I’ve pointed before to David Korten’s The Great Turning as an example of this, but it bears repeating here. According to Korten, those who share his own background and opinions are naturally gifted with the ability to lead humanity through the present crisis, and ought to be given the unchecked power to do so. Those of my readers who can’t see in this the potential seed of a future green fascism may want to compare works such as Korten’s to the early manifestoes of the fascist parties of the 1920s and 1930s. Of course there are also plenty of would-be leaders invoking Führerprinzip on the right as well, and there’s a certain morbid fascination to whether one side, the other, or some fusion of the two will attempt a grab for power first.

Feudalism, if it is to happen, lies further in the future. If the spiral of catabolic collapse now beginning to pull at industrial civilization succeeds in dragging it all the way down to complete social disintegration, some form of feudalism is pretty much a given. If the only alternative is the reign of unchecked violence, most people will settle for basic physical security and the rule of law, however unequal the laws in question might be.

Only if some semblance of a functioning government still exists at the bottom of the curve, and holds the war of all against all in check, can we count on skipping a feudal period in the deindustrial future. Equally, it’s only the survival of a constitutional government, however flawed this may be, that can keep fascism at bay in the early stages of decline and fall. Neither of those goals will be furthered in the least by pouring rhetorical napalm on the fires of partisan hatred, insisting that one’s political opponents must be motivated by sheer evil, and projecting one’s own unresolved issues onto the nearest convenient enemy.

44 comments:

Erik said...

mindless, marauding hordes spilling out of the dying cities and ravaging everything in their path.

And the late resurgence of pop-culture interest in all things zombie-related is surely not a coincidence...

Jon said...

JMG,
First of all, I want to say I enjoy your forum the most of all those I frequent because you take the time to reply to your posters. I think I speak for all those who read and post on your forum in offering you a BIG thanks for that.

Getting to this week's post and my comments from last week: Yes, you are correct, you can't combine fascism and feudalism in the same sentence. They are polar opposites. As to conspiracy theories. Let's take the following scenario. Say the US's (and Western Europe's) economic system breaks down and we're facing "blood in the streets." If there is no conspiracy that helped bring the collapse down, in my opinion, we'll be left with a pseudo-feudal, wild west type of existence. I can deal with that because my freedoms will still be intact, i.e. they'll be no central government to constrain me. On the other hand, if there is a world-wide (or at least a Western society based) conspiracy in place that hatched this plan and for whatever reason their dreams become reality, fascism is what we'll be dealing with. Whether it's the Nazi (militaristic) or the Orwellian (soviet) type makes no difference; the average citizen will have no freedoms and that's what I fear because I don't think I can deal with that type of society. Heck, life in London is close to that archetype already with the average Londoner being the most photographed citizen on the planet.

tRB said...

John,

You almost certainly already know this, but the various fascist governments have themselves always relied on myths. One central myth is that of a national renewal, a "palingenesis", after whatever disaster gives the new government "legitimacy". Robert Paxton has identified nine "mobilizing passions" which excite the emotions of the fascist follower no matter where they live. A similar story has been told, and believed, from Italy to Chile, an argument that is not specific to a particular national experience, set of policies, or intellectual theory. For more, see this summary of various authors' analyses of fascism:
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2004/09/rise-of-pseudo-fascism.html

Of course, in everyday talk, "fascist" is a debased word, unfortunately used as an insult or a vague generalization for any kind of authoritarian rule. There are certainly other kinds of authoritarianism, and future dictatorships need not be of the fascist variety.

As for "feudalism", I would guess that most people use that word to describe an oppressive government with lots of agricultural workers. Use of this term probably results from an expectation that the future will have proportionately more agricultural workers than there are today. Those who use the term for that reason probably don't know the more accurate meaning, that of the social system which you described. Thanks for clarifying this for people. Maybe another way to inform people would be to point out non-feudal agricultural societies.

Finally, I have to say that you're characterizations of the "left" leave much to be desired. I have decided to save my full reply for another comment, and only if you want it. But for now, I will just say that I am a leftist, I get none of my ideas from the Birchers, I do not think Bush/Cheney is a fascist government (but they certainly aren't helping), and I smack down conspiracism wherever I find it. And I am not alone.

J Rob said...

Another beautiful essay, JMG.

I think the "hole up in your cabin and take pot shots" mentality comes from a deeper, reptilian function in the brain. It all sort of ties in with the "marauding hordes" meme, and the desire to pull up the drawbridge and withdraw. That's what makes the story so seductive, and why a conscious effort is required to overcome it.

Thanks for providing such a voice of conscience.

John Michael Greer said...

Erik, I hadn't even thought of that. I don't spend a lot of time following pop culture. Of course you're right; I suspect the insistence of figures such as the late Carl Sagan that modern scientific civilization is about to be overrun by the forces of barbaric superstition draws on the same imagery.

Jon, thank you! But you're still assuming two things -- first, that you know what your hypothesized conspirators want, and second, that they're competent enough to get it. Both those are assumptions I don't think you can justify. Also, your freedoms would be intact in a time of collapse only in the most abstract and theoretical sense; once the gang from the next block decides to come over, cut your throat, and take everything you have, you have no freedoms at all. Freedom only exists in an ordered society where your rights are backed up by the force of custom or the rule of law.

TRB, of course you're right about fascism and mythology -- one of the many things that made the fascism of the early 20th century so unnerving is the skill with which they manipulated myth -- and also that there are plenty of authoritarian societies that are not fascist. I think, though, that "feudal" is subject to the same sort of epithet-logic as "fascist," since both have seen so much use in these terms in a Marxist context.

As for the left, I'm responding here mostly to my own experience of the American far left on the west coast and on the internet. I would be delighted to find that the views I've described are in the minority. It's been very unpleasant to watch people who enthusiastically describe themselves as liberals embrace the sort of profoundly illiberal attitudes I've outlined here and elsewhere.

For all that, I don't think American liberalism has lost its way anything like as profoundly as conservatism has. We do have a few liberals left in America; I'm by no means sure we have any actual conservatives at all. If Edmund Burke could hear the abstract ideological twaddle being peddled in the name of the movement he founded, I'm convinced he would jump out of his grave -- the man was Irish, after all, so I wouldn't put it past him -- and unleash a torrent of rhetoric that would flay the skin right off the bones of most of the free market Jacobins who call themselves conservatives today.

yooper said...

Excellent article, John! Was wondering when you'd be bold enough to drop this shoe on readers... Of course, I'm agreeing with this 100%, as you might expect.

It's precisely this line of thinking why I don't hang around such sites that entertain thoughts of conspiracy, fascism or feudalism theories, period. These mindless authors, are like the marauding hordes spilling out of the cities, you talk about. I'm not about to argue whether or not this is true, however, I will argue whether this will really matter at the end of the day?

Perhaps, in other terms, in the long run, what will it matter? The word "elite" will be but a forgotten word in short order...however before that, the names of the so-called members of blue book class, will be all but forgotten......

As for marauding hordes spilling out to the countryside... I think, there's ample evidence most people usually stay put, even to the bitter end, "going down with the ship", is what I call it.

Perhaps a litle more about this thought of people staying where their at.... This has to do with the human mind... Above all else, females will sacrifice everything for security.... That is a time honored fact....Many men will too!

The fact, that we want to stay where it is familiar, because it's "safe", is another facet to ponder. That is precisely, why we are at, where we are today....

So there you have it, John. I'm suggesting there's going to be a very large part of the population,(through-out the entire world), that is unwilling or unable to change. They simply cannot adapt.

Fascism, feudalism in the future? Perhaps, in the distant future. In the here and now? Get real....

Thanks, yooper

Joel said...

"Willits is in liberal northern California..."

Uh, John? Have you been making too-liberal use of that good Northern California herb?

It's about 5,000 people, with a median household income just a shade over $25k per year. I have lived in two such Northern California towns before, and they were not, not, not liberal. They wanted to keep their drugs, but also their guns and their racial purity.

Rural Californians are, by and large, either grumbling about how illegal aliens took their jobs, or they own farms or other businesses and feel that they've been forced to use migrant labor in order to stay alive financially.

It is no surprise to me that residents of Willits would plan to dynamite a bridge to keep out marauding hordes and gu'mmint agents.

Stephen Heyer said...

Well, what can I say! You’ve articulated my thoughts on both the left and the right exactly.

I must say that it was one of the great disappointments of my life to discover during the height of Flower Power that my lefty friends were if anything more intolerant than my conservative friends (Yes! There were real conservatives left in those days, not just neo-con radicals claiming to be conservatives).

Eventually I realized that the left confused favoring fashionable groups, those they approved of, and certain “pet” groups with tolerance. They were able to avoid the difficult issue of those they did not like or agree with by declaring them all evil and therefore not deserving of tolerance. Mind you, as the left was very into moral relativism at that time I never quite worked out where they got the concept of evil to apply to those they did not like.

It took a long time but unfortunately the right eventually learned to apply the same tactics.

The one area where I will disagree with you to some extent is conspiracy: I think you greatly underestimate the ATTEMPTS at conspiracy, though you are probably about on the ball when it comes to SUCCESSFUL conspiracies.

In short, as I see it, leave any two or more people by themselves for more than half an hour and you'll have a conspiracy of some sort - guaranteed. The only thing that saves us is the almost universal human incompetence and inability to cooperate.

Or to give another quote: “And are there never any conspiracies? That we can never know, since almost by definition a successful conspiracy is never detected and the culprits never caught. Suffice it to say that the complexities of suspected conspiracies are such that their realisation is really beyond human ingenuity and wisdom. The reality is that most conspirators are boofheads. And, happily, humanity is much too fallible, venal, lazy and stupid to maintain a conspiracy. The world is much more complex and unpredictable than the conspiracy theorists understand. ‘JFK conspiracy thrives on anything but facts’” Padraic P. McGuinness, The Weekend Australian, 20-21/11/93.

As a final far out thought, I’ve read a number of accounts of attempts by people who are good at Out Of Body Experiences or Remote Viewing to view the future and at least in those I’ve read there seems to be some common themes.

1. A shortage of vast “Star Wars”, ‘Blade Runner” type cities.
2. Higher sea levels.
3. Rather low population.
4. Rather communal, rural, style of living.
5. Technology, but not too intrusive – kind of “vanished into the walls technology”.

In fact, sounds rather like your ecotechnic societies.

What especially impressed me is that this did not sound much like what I would expect the viewers pre-conceived ideas to be like (this was a long time ago).

Anyway, sorry about introducing what for many is fantasy, but I’ve lived all my life with the occasional OOBE so tend to take this kind of thing a bit more seriously then most.

Joel said...

"Feudalism, if it is to happen, lies further in the future."

As William Gibson once said, 'The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet."

I just read Freakanomics, and Chapter 3 gives a good vision of a hybrid of fascism and feudalism.

Of course some attributes of the parents are lost in a hybrid, even some essential ones...mules have a different number of chromosomes than either parent, after all.

Street gangs do form when a centralized government fails locally, that's for sure. And power and other priveleges are allotted in a rigid hierarchy, based on charisma and the capacity for violence. Military and police power is radically decentralized, to the point that most wars are started by foot soldiers, rather than monarchs.

But gangs that are supported by the drug trade have a very centralized economic power. The interaction (not to say collusion...) between a more traditional, centralized government and the upper-crust gang leadership (literally, the board of directors) secure a monopoly in the product they offer, plan the supply of product, and determine the territory of each franchise (again, literally a franchise)'s market base. And the gangs are very populist, sponsoring community events and offering benefits to neighborhood widows.

All in all, it kinda reminds me of a square with rounded corners.

Joel said...

Sorry to crowd the comments, but here's a video of the author presenting much the same information as is in the book:

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/29

While I'm at it, I really agree with everything you said about the current political situation.

Panidaho said...

Yooper said:

I'm suggesting there's going to be a very large part of the population,(through-out the entire world), that is unwilling or unable to change. They simply cannot adapt.

I was musing on this earlier today. I was trying to come up with a way to guess how people would react when finally confronted with the blunt realities of Peak Oil and Climate Change. I don't know how accurate it would be, but the closest analogy that came to mind was the way people react to the news of an imminent hurricane.

First, you have a few prudent folks that plywood up the windows, pack up the kids, the pets and their irreplacables, along with food and water and head out well ahead of the storm to safety. Then you have more folks that wait to see if it is actually going to hit, and when it looks like it will, they also pack up and head out, but perhaps with somewhat less preparation. Then you have the much larger group that, as the storm begins to lash the shores, throws the kids into the car and tries to drive out at the last minute without much food or water or extra gas, and ends up getting stuck on the highway in the middle of a big panic jam and runs out of fuel.

Then you have those that decide they don't believe it will be that bad because they've survived similar storms before without any real problems, and those who believe that they can't do anything anyway, so they just give up and hunker down, or stay home and throw a party. Then you have the folks who don't really want to stay, but simply can't leave - like elderly folks in care centers, ill people in hospitals, and the very poor who have nowhere to go and no way to get there even if they did.

Then, last of all, you have a few looters who are hoping for a really, really big mess so they can go out afterwards and "clean up."

So, maybe this isn't a terribly accurate analogy, but it's something that is sort of working for me when thinking about the various kinds of behaviors that we might be seeing from people over the next few years.

Loveandlight said...

If Edmund Burke could hear the abstract ideological twaddle being peddled in the name of the movement he founded, I'm convinced he would jump out of his grave -- the man was Irish, after all, so I wouldn't put it past him -- and unleash a torrent of rhetoric that would flay the skin right off the bones of most of the free market Jacobins who call themselves conservatives today.

Speaking of the nasty habit of demonizing those who disagree with one's stances, I can't help but wonder just what choice words Mr. Burke would have for one Ms. Ann Coulter.

I think the BushCo regime is best characterized as plutocratic reactionism. The full achievement of their aims certainly wouldn't be classical fascism, but it would mark the end of constitutional republican (that's small "r" republican) government in all but name.

okieinbabylon said...

Ah, the paranoid style. I'm not even sure I should be posting to this blog's comments. Don't want any black helicopters showing up, after all. But I digress. ..

I'm still attached to my own modified version of salvation through technological progress. Call it the "Technology will ease the pain of transition" narrative.

As worst-case scenarios go, I've always been partial to the description of our future that looks like something often called feudal, but I think you are right in pointing out the inaccuracy of this terminology. Rather than seeing people in thrall to an elite based on personal wielding of violence, many depictions of a post-peak society see agricultural workers in thrall to an elite based on some kind of wealth. Probably some sort of corporation, in keeping with the obsessions of the paranoid left. This may turn out to be accurate, but feudal it will not be.

Of course, many of these same analyses are based on analogies to the fall of Rome and make many materialist assumptions about the reasons of Roman collapse. Only half of the Roman empire collapsed, and many historians chalk it up to internal political factors. I suppose my view is that Rome only collapsed as a political entity. The social form of immediate post-Roman Europe was probably almost indistinguishable from that of Roman Europe. But, I digress again. ..

In the comments you wonder whether "we have any actual conservatives at all". I can assure you we do exist, and I for one wouldn't mind seeing Edmund Burke's zombie rise up and do some serious flaying of movement "conservatives", preferably about 28 days from now.

To echo the sentiments of other commentators, thanks for writing the most consistently fascinating and clear-eyed blog about peak oil I've seen. Kudos.

Asturchale y Chulo said...

Perception is one thing and a very different one is reality. We are all aware of fascism, it plays a key role in popular culture today. Most people, however, wouldn`t even be able to follow the nuances in your post, JMG, concerning all the links between left and right. Myths are painted always in black and white, and it is only myths, eventually, the ones which shape our collective perception of the past and our expectations for the future.
The left regards fascism as any form of totalitarian state, whenever it relies on nationalism, political police and a strong military, and this sort of state has certainly reapeared quite often after 1945 (in CHile, Argentina and so on). Putin, today, is shaping something very close to a totalitarian state, while managing XXI century tools like TV and movies. When states regain its old power, when they start to compete again for resources, as they used to do one hundred years ago, it is difficult not to expect that some of them might reinforce control over population and militarize society, just as Italy and Germany did when they planned to grab their part of the imperialist world pie.
Has anyone here read "The Rebelion of the Masses"? I think it is a worthy reflection over the evolution of politics in the XIX-XX centuries, beyond the "left-right" cliches.

Jean-Michel said...

JMG,

Please, allow me to join jon in thanking you for answering comments, even if we get often wrong answers! Maybe, because we made wrong comments in the first place?

No kidding, this time.

About marauding hordes: it is maybe a myth, an unnecessary scare, but I see them with my own eyes already!

They are nice human beings, like you and me, but they have the bad habit of travelling in large groups without a credit card, a suitcase and a passport. And they like to make surprise arrivals. And you know, they are very hungry because they do not have a car (therefore they burn calories) and they sleep outside.

It is true that they travel from country-side or city to city. It is not their intention to stay too long in-between, but still they are there. It is disturbing, to say the least. "A glimpse of things to come?"

When they come in very large numbers, the best bet, is to take our losses, recognize the extent of our mistakes and unpreparation and get ready for sharing the content of our fridge. Those who fire the first shot will bear a huge responsability. And anyway, "marauding hordes" will win.

Maybe there is a deep connection/duality between marauding hordes and fascism/feudalism whatever they mean.

In the future, the former may not exist without the latter.

The two faces of the same coin, the same nightmare scenario: limited ressources for too many people.

And therefore, the unavoidable fate unless something happens...

Zach said...

JMG,

Very nice. It's good to see both feudalism and fascism rescued, at least for a bit, from being "snarl words".

As for the conservative side of the spectrum, this is the reason the label "paleo-conservative" was invented, because at least in some quarters there's a realization that "conservative" has been hijacked as a label. "Real" conservatives (for some definition of "real") may be pretty thin on the ground, but they're not quite an extinct species.

I see the Ron Paul candidacy as the "last, best hope" of that strain of politics (intone that with the best Babylon 5 accent you can muster). And, strangely enough, Paul is showing that, for their differences, both classical liberals and classical conservatives are closer to each other on many issues than either is to the current gang in power (and by that I mean both animal totems).

Interesting times, these.


peace,

nulinegvgv said...

Jon,

You thoughtfully describe the ideas of fascism and feudalism in this post. Several of your commenters use the term 'conspiracy' and I was wondering if you'd have a go at dissecting it as well.

To most people today the term seems to mean any theory that isn't offered in an official manner by either government or the mainstream media; two historically unreliable sources of information. (In a possible fascist future it also seems likely these two sources would continue to merge.) It seems to me that dismissing all nonofficial theories as crazy talk is just as bad an idea as the wholesale adoption of everything Gov and Media tells us.

How crazy are people who doubt bizarre coincidence?

guamanian said...

While you are right that the term fascism is often used loosely to describe other types of state authoritarianism, I don't think we can lightly dismiss the possibility of 'classical fascism' arising in the early decades of energy descent, particularly in Europe and the UK.

The polices William Stanton proposes for the UK (Originally at http://www.peakoil.ie/newsletters/588, and now at http://billtotten.blogspot.com/2005/07/oil-and-people.html) are a clear template for a fascist post-peak state, and include most of the classic attributes: Centralized, nationalistic, authoritiarian, anti-immigrant, and overtly rejecting "the Western world's unintelligent devotion to... human rights and the sanctity of human life". Even the killing of 'defectives' and other undesirables is included. The fact that this position paper was published by ASPO, subsequently defended by Colin Campbell, and in my view is even tiptoed around a bit too respectfully by Richard Heinberg (http://www.energybulletin.net/15480.html), indicates that the line of thought has some traction amongst peak oil theorists.

And of course the BNP (http://www.bnp.org.uk/peakoil/politics.htm)and similar quasi- or neo-fascist movements continue to show strength in Europe on an anti-immigrant agenda.

As for North America though, I doubt that a potential US authoritarian state would look classically fascist. It might be a newer form, such as a 'mediocracy', with lots of compelling entertainment media distraction overlayed on top of a militarized state. All circus, no bread!

It also could easily evolve gradually, leaving the forms of the current system in place, perhaps in a scenario where emergency rule were declared to deal with a post-peak crisis, and is repeatedly renewed. This common 'leftist' scenario is one that seems very plausible -- even likely -- to me.

Cherenkov said...

A broad brush indeed.

I suggest readers check out Naoimi Wolf's book "The End of America."

It lays out ten steps to fascism, using examples from past fascist states and seeing if your government is making similar steps.

One of the most interesting ideas she promulgates is that fascism does not come fully dressed out in its brutal regalia. You do not wake up one morning and have to hand your internal passport to a well-turned out storm trooper. Fascism grows slowly and surely. Many people who would deny the fascistic elements of our society have in mind this media fantasy of fascism, this all or nothing idea that if there are no storm troopers, then there is no fascism. This simplistic mindset is perhaps the single most destructive element of public complacency. This mindset helps fascists to take over. People who simply deny that fascism could not happen here because we do not see the extreme elements are opening wide the door to creeping fascism.

Do not let the apologists or the pollyannas tell you that everything is just fine, that people calling others fascists are simply using "snarl" words. You see, they are using what I like to call "valium" words or language. Words and language designed to lull you back to sleep. Words and language purposely used to distract you from the reality you can see for yourself.

Do not let these "valium-dispensers" make you feel bad for trying to prevent the creeping tide of fascism. Nothing would make the fascists cheer louder.

Instead, use a few "snarl" words yourself. Get loud. Get angry. Get involved.

Jeff said...

Hi John,
I have often thought that a decline may resemble a timeline set on a bell curve similar to Hubberts curve, if not exactly. For sure whimsy plays a role in this speculation as one imagines a future similar to the past. Without getting into complex comparisons of technology, capital, communication, and transport, I am thinking of your topic of societal organization and law and order. I wonder how closely the course of a decline can be predicted and in what year in the future might equate with 1890 to 1910, an important transitional marker in all sectors of our society including government. If the turn of the 20th century represents the last territories becoming States and the final establishment of law and order (along with all the other exciting advances going on at the time), might not a future be the opposite transition- State to Territory, Law and order becoming the Regulators and the Posse ~vs~ the Gang, etc. A world that lacks oil, strong government will be prone to outlawry and hard times much like the old West. So, lastly and with a large dose of whimsy , might we now watch our Western movies as dystopian Science Fiction? :)
regards,
Jeff

john tonta said...

hi John,
I'm impressed and educated as ever by the breadth of your references and although I hadn't noted the conjoining of feudal and fascist terms I was aware of their hit and miss application, especially when people are faced by the mortality of current political arrangement. I do wonder whether there is another important aspect to feudalism that you missed off in your violence-framed definition, although you do point at it with your reference to hereditary privilege (which need not necessarily map perfectly onto violent power). My understanding of feudalism was that there was a permanent and inherited speciation of class, whereby you were completely at the mercy of the next class above you - a kind of ziggurat of ownership within each feifdom, the whole admittedly held in place by the top dog's muscle. Is that vertiginous hierarchy a given within a decentralised model?
Regarding your main point - faction, I wonder if you've been following the crisis within Belgium (a country often derided for its lack of consequence, although not by the congolese).

Kiashu said...

It's interesting stuff. I suppose it's inevitable, really. Whenever people speculate about what the future might hold, they're likely to - consciously or not - impose their own fantasies on it.

So from some people we get flying cars, and from others we get gunning down hordes of city-dwellers.

It's pretty hard to set those fantasies aside and try to look at things reasonably.

John Michael Greer said...

J Rob, thank you! Yes, the marauding hordes motif ties into some very deep bits of hardwired psychology. Most of the motifs that dominate discussion of the future these days do that.

Yooper, unfortunately you're quite right -- a very large number of people, especially in the industrial world, are likely to refuse to make the changes that could save their lives and their societies. It's to the others that these posts are addressed.

Joel, since I don't own or drive a car I haven't been able to visit Willits myself, but the websites make it look a good deal more liberal than not. As for street gangs, yes, they're in many ways the nascent form of a feudal society; their interface with the international drug trade is a function of the fact that they exist in a global economy. As we tip down the far side of Hubbert's peak, the boards of directors will go away but the gangs will not.

Stephen, the supposed moral relativism of the Sixties was simply a way of insisting that others didn't have the right to paste moral labels -- that right was reserved exclusively for the radical left. As for conspiracies, of course they exist, but they're an ordinary element of any settled society, there are lots of them, and most of them are competing with one another.

What's delusional about today's conspiracy theories is the insistence on One Big Conspiracy that happens to contain all the people the theorist doesn't like, and is pursuing whatever set of goals the theorist hates most. I wrote a 250,000-word encyclopedia of secret societies a while back, which might be worth a look -- I should probably post something on the subject here as well.

As for OOBEs and remote viewing, I've seen some very impressive results from these, and some very silly results as well. I hope the set you've quoted turn out right!

Teresa, good. The one major difference between a hurricane and the coming of the deindustrial age, though, is that the latter is slow. There are no sirens, no looming cloudbanks, no howling winds, just a gradual decline in standards of living that can be lost in the background noise of the business cycle and political instability. My guess is that for decades, people will be moving tothe cities rather than away from them, because the rural economy is going to bits faster than the urban one, and the jobs that will remain will be in the cities.

Loveandlight, Ms. Coulter has made the same discovery that motivates badly behaved three-year-olds and internet trolls: if you want to get attention, and don't care what kind of attention you get, the surest way to do it is to act out more loudly than anybody else. Her sole claim to notoriety is her willingness to say and do absolutely anything that will keep the spotlight from moving away from her otherwise limited charms.

As for Bush and his handlers, I don't see them as reactionaries at all. Rather, they're extremist radicals whose ideology relates to Marxism the way that Satanism relates to the theology of the Catholic church. You take all the same ideas and simply reverse the value judgments: thus capitalism, the gods help us, becomes a Hegelian ideology with no more relationship to the facts on the ground than Marxist theory.

Okie, I don't disagree that well chosen technologies might help cushion the descent a great deal -- and it's good to hear that there are still a few real conservatives out there. Unfortunately Burke is still sleeping in his tomb, so the flaying will probably have to be somebody else's responsibility.

Asturchale, fascism or something like it is certainly a possibility, especially in Europe and Latin America, where it put down tolerably deep roots. The fact that the label's been used as a bogeyman doesn't mean that the reality behind the label isn't an issue to be concerned about.

Jose Ortega y Gassett's "The Revolt of the Masses" -- that's its usual title in English -- is well worth reading, and available online for those who prefer to do their reading on a computer screen.

Jean-Michel, most interesting. Here on the rural west coast our local migrants, mostly from Mexico, are additions to a well-established community and have a major role in local agriculture; there's an entire Hispanic economy locally, with stores and the like that might as well have teleported there one night from some neighborhood in Guadalajara. My guess is that what the future holds in an age of volkerwanderung is a steady increase in the Hispanic population all over the American west, until the entire region becomes a set of Spanish-speaking countries with mostly Mexican culture. What remains to be seen is whether the current Anglo-American population will remain as an English-speaking ethnic minority in isolated areas, like the Celts in post-Roman Britain, or whether they'll simply vanish into the majority culture.

Zach, good to see some paleoconservatives (nice term, that) emerging from the woodwork. I have my doubts about Paul but he's saying a lot of things that can use being said. You're certainly right that classical liberalism and classical conservatism have a good deal more in common than either one has with the current crop of radical ideologues, and it might be interesting to see whether that common ground might be the basis for a renewal of sanity in the political sphere.

Nulinegvgv, conspiracies exist; my point is simply that this fact doesn't justify today's rhetoric of demonization or the assumption that any social change one doesn't like must be caused deliberately, out of malice, by the people one doesn't like.

Guamanian, there's certainly every possibility that classical fascism could reemerge, especially in Europe and Latin America, in the aftermath of peak oil. You're also quite correct that a lot of peak oil theorists, including some on the left wing of the movement, have been far from hostile to such ideas. Here in America, though, I'd expect something much closer to what happened here in the 1930s. Put a charismatic president into office, who maintains the forms of constitutional government while radically centralizing political and economic power in the name of crisis management, and people on most points of the political spectrum will likely cheer, just as their great-grandparents cheered for FDR and the New Deal.

Cherenkov, thank you for making my point for me. I trust my other readers have noticed that you responded to none of the substantive points in my essay. Ms. Wolfe has made a career out of insisting that the people whose political views she disagrees with are evil incarnate, and her essay basically insists that said people are fascists even though no facts justify the claim. As for your final insistence that people ought to get angry, it's always been the primary stock in trade of demagogues to get their listeners so angry that they fail to notice the direction in which they are being stampeded.

Jeff, good! Yes, the old West is not a bad template for what rural western America will look like in the deindustrial future, at least for a while. I expect that to arrive sometime around 2050-2075, though that's just a guess.

John, that's one of the common misconceptions of feudalism. In historical feudal societies, people in the lowest classes had very limited rights even in law, but they did have some -- read any of the old law codes and you'll find a ceremonious attention to exactly what rights each person had based on their social class. A baron who had the power of high justice over his serfs, and could put them to death for a wide range of crimes, was still forbidden to evict them from their homes. It required the Enclosure Acts in Great Britain, and similar radical changes elsewhere, to break down the legal protections that allowed the poor to hold onto their land and their feudal rights in the face of the rising power of industrialism.

I haven't followed Belgian politics much, I admit -- I'll take a look.

Kiashu, exactly. It's a major challenge to see past the imagery of science fiction and think about the future our own actions are making right now.

You know, I had a hunch that this post would get a lively response! Thanks to all for keeping it civil and thoughtful!

Colin Wright said...

"Neither of those goals will be furthered in the least by pouring rhetorical napalm on the fires of partisan hatred, insisting that one’s political opponents must be motivated by sheer evil, and projecting one’s own unresolved issues onto the nearest convenient enemy."

Now read how you compared David Korten to the Nazis.

John Michael Greer said...

Colin, I did nothing of the kind. I pointed out that Korten's arguments, or claims like his, could become the seed of a future fascist movement, which is far from the same thing. It might help if you read the passage of mine you quoted, you know; I haven't done the things it mentions to Korten or, to the best of my recollection, to anyone else discussed on this blog. I've criticized Korten's ideas on more than one occasion, because they need a critical examination, but I don't presume to judge the man himself.

Peter Podcast said...

Astute insights and observations.
Except I believe a Green Fascism may be just the ticket.
Or a green feudalism for that matter.
Because what we call democracy is paralyzed.
It will never tackle Peak oil, climate change or the big kahuna population control.
It is only in the business of maintaining the status quo.
We need leaders not politicians and they are thin on the ground these days.

Seán Harnett said...

Great post, Jon, but I don't think that the image of mindless, marauding hordes is as mythic as you claim (where 'mythic' is read as meaning metaphorically but not ontologically true).

In books such as The Pursuit of the Millennium, for example, the historian Norman Cohn describes the millennial cults that sprang up in medieval Europe in times of social/economic crisis or at the approach of apocalyptically significant dates; sometimes, these cults emerged when both sets of circumstances converged, leading to particularly strong manifestations of the phenomenon.

He further relates how such movements were perceived by medieval commentators, who, almost without exception, likened them to ... mindless hordes. At best, such 'hordes' are described as wantonly undermining political, economic, religious, and social order before their momentum faded and they dissolved. At their worst, however, such movements--usually led by a strongly charismatic leader--are described as plunging entire regions into a mass hysteria than often culminated in the slaughter of Jews or other scapegoats.

Cohn argues that these contemporary accounts come close to capturing the historical truth of such movements; I'm not entirely convinced this is so. What is beyond dispute, however, is that the existence of these millennial cults is well-attested in the historical record, which leads me to conclude that our current obsession with the imagery of mindless, marauding bands of sub-human ravagers does has some basis in historical experience.

jewishfarmer said...

I haven't read all the comments, so apologies if I'm duplicating.

I tend to agree with you that it is important to disconnect these two concepts - particularly since I've long believed that feudalism, particularly pre-conquest British feudalism, may offer an alternative model to hybridize into other systems in a more agricultural society. The notion of reciprocal responsibility between priveleged and unpriveleged is one that we could do with more of, and not all forms of fuedalism were particularly repressive by modern standards -
10th century British feudalism, for example, had a social mobility level of about 4%, and I believe we've presently got a social mobility level (people moving up out of one class into another) of about 6%.

But I do think that you perhaps underrate how the term "feudal fascism" is being used by at least people like Richard Heinberg - I do not know that this is true, but fascism is also famously associated with the full scale integration of private industry and government, and feudalism is often shorthand for a kind of agricultural management.

Neither of these things is complete in their accounts, but I think that it is possible for the average person to pull up a reasonable vision of what is being talked about when the term "feudal fascism" is mentioned - words have popular meanings as well as formal ones, and I think here, the terms are not being used as much for their snarl value as for their value in describing something specific and imaginable - a system in which large corporate owners manage agriculture labor repressively with the support of the government.

While I think there is real value in picking apart the nature of feudalism and the nature of fascism, I'm more dubious about your generalizations about the left - speaking as someone whose job for a long time was talk about language, I tend to be wary of analyses that take cases of people using popular definitions and insist that they must be using more formal ones - the idea that popular usage is less valuable than scholarly usage is a common belief, but I'm honestly not sure it is true - something called "feudal fascism" may actually arise, without being either fully or even partly feudal or fascist, and its origins in those terminologies will be no less abstracted than the origins of thousands of other terms (fascism itself comes to mind) in ideas that only partially encompass them.

I'm sure that those people using that term don't particularly want the above to sound *good,* but I'm not at all convinced that the semantic content is as null as you suggest, or that the motives are quite the ones you portray.

The next question whether such a scenario and integration is likely - like you, I think fascism and feudalism are unlikely to integrate in any technical sense - I think fascism is well on its way, without feudalism. I think your analysis is enormously valuable here.

Sharon

RAS said...

JMG,
Wow. You've covered a lot of ground here this week.
First, I agree with you completely about the similarities between the tops of both parties. Both have taken to demonizing their opponents and accusing them of conspiracies to control the world.
Secondly, it's been my experience the average person on both left and right is much less prone to these tendencies and much more sane than the radical idelogues. Maybe it's just the people I know, but I know very few liberals or conservatives who engage in this behavior. Of those I do know, the leftists are outnumbered three to one by the rightists. (This could just be a function of the area of the country I live in though.)

As far as fascism goes, I see the same problems with it as with other Orwellian regimes going into the future. At some point, I don't think the classical forms will be viable. Fascism requires a lot of excess energy. With energy reserves going downhill, I don't see opportunities for fascism existing beyond another 50 years -if that. When the energy/economy has gotten so bad that someone can blow a transformer and put the entire town in the dark (permanently because the resources aren't there to replace it) it would be might hard for the local branch of the Gestapo to maintain order.

As for fuedalism, I come from an area of the country -the American South -where we are only 50 years removed from the ends of a variant of fuedalism, with first slaves and then tenats/sharecroppers as serfs, so I don't think some parts of the country have as far to fall to that state as others.

One last thing. You said in a response to one comment that you think people will be moving to the cities for a few more generations do to jobs. How do you see this intersecting with the need for more labor in agriculture as machinary and oil go away?

Danby said...

Well, John Michael, quite a lot to chew on here.

I think most people who use the terms Fascist and Feudal have no idea what they mean. They are instead handy labels used to signify "totalitarian" and "authoritarian agricultural". In those senses they are indeed what people are trying to describe.

In the case of totalitarian government, we're already about halfway there. It is now legally possible for the US govt to label you a terrorist, arrest you, detain you incommunicado in an offshore prison, torture (or have you tortured by others) and kill you, all without notifying your relatives, allowing you access to a lawyer, or any real court hearing, regardless of where or who you are.

So far the arrest without hearing or recourse has only happened to one US citizen arrested on US soil. The rest of the cases have been either foreign nationals or US citizens arrested abroad. The legal structures however, are all in place to do this to whomever the ruling party may wish to silence, harrass or destroy. Feel more secure yet?

There is a slight chance, if we can ever get neoconservatives and neoliberals out of power, to reverse the situation. I'd put the odds at less than 20 percent.

I was going to object to your statement that there are no more real conservatives. After all, I would normally count myself one. Thinking about that, however, and provided one defines "real conservatism" as Burkean conservatism, then I as a Distributist certainly don't qualify.

I'm not sure that Burkeanism is really a viable political ideology for anyone outside a few protected and self-satisfied economic classes. It proposes a "go slowly and carefully" ethic to changes which affect social or political traditions, and more slowly and carefully the older the tradition involved. The problem is that in a republican political system, few get involved and fewer get elected promising to do "nothing much really". Outside of XVIII century British Parliamentary politics, republics require that a delegate actually appeal to an electorate who vote for them. It's tough to win their votes by saying "Well, I see there's a problem here and I promise to do nothing whatsoever about it without extended and careful deliberation, and to do whatever I can to delay changes that appear at this moment to be inevitable. We cannot be too deliberate in addressing the fact that the economy is rapidly declining and you will not have a job in a few months."

All the various radicalisms, Right, Left, Center, Libertarian, Fascist, and Off The Wall (I am a Distributist, after all), are based on the realization that there's Something Wrong, and the best way of dealing with it is to address at the root. I think the root is the concentration of economic, and hence political, power that accompanied the industrial revolution. I would be fool indeed, and heartless as well, to insist on a go-slow approach to dealing with that issue.

Rather than a Burkean conservatism, I would posit that the natural conservatism in America is more a traditionalism. It would hold that humans are built in a certain way, socially, emotionally, and physically, and the best way to build society is to build upon the traditions that have grown alongside the nation. Hence it would argue for a return to constitutional government, skepticism of centralization and a positive loathing of central banks. Ron Paul, a libertarian and therefore not a Burkean conservative at all, would comfortably fit within that definition. It is a political attitude that still resonates very deeply in this country. I think Paul could win, if he can get past the neoconservatives that control the GOP.

Well, that went just about everywhere, and still no topic sentence in the first paragraph.

Gryphon said...

Better Korten than Bush/Cheney, the neo-Cons and Goldman Saks, dontcha think?

jmullee said...

John Mitchell, 1846-Mar-7,
Ireland:
As the irish population halves,
and the british population is doubling, and irish-grown food
is exported by the shipload to
hungry english mill workers:

"The Irish People are expecting famine day by day... and they ascribe it unanimously, not so much to the rule of heaven as to the greedy and cruel policy of England. Be that right or wrong, that is their feeling. They believe that the season as they roll are but ministers of England’s rapacity; that their starving children cannot sit down to their scanty meal but they see the harpy claw of England in their dish. They behold their own wretched food melting in rottenness off the face of the earth, and they see heavy-laden ships, freighted with the yellow corn their own hands have sown and reaped, spreading all sail for England; they see it and with every grain of that corn goes a heavy curse. Again the people believe—no matter whether truly or falsely—that if they should escape the hunger and the fever their lives are not safe from judges and juries. They do not look upon the law of the land as a terror to evil-doers, and a praise to those who do well; they scowl on it as an engine of foreign rule, ill-omened harbinger of doom."

Feudal or fascist? genocidal, in either case.

yooper said...

Hello John, I'm about a 1/3 through,"Atlantis", and am completetly entralled. Not only am I learning of it's contents, I'm learning about you.

I'd like to highly reccomend this book to any of your readers who might want to know you better and where you're coming from.

I can't wait for my next trip to the city, as I'll start collecting all your books.

Excellent, John!

Thanks, yooper

mc said...

You give an interesting explanation on fascism and feudalism. You should have left it at that, IMO. “Snarl Words” indeed. People are angry and language will reflect that anger. Scape goating does come into play when people are angry and upset and looking for others to blame. This can lead to wide-spread violence and breakdown of our legal system. So that is one way of losing our constitutional system of government. Another way, is by electing those who dismantle the constitution under the guise of keeping the population “safe” and engineer reasons for endless war. Don’t call it conspiracy – call it incompetence – we get there just the same.

General Wesley Clark told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now that a general at the Pentagon had told him of a memo from Donald Rumsfeld taking out a very ambitious agenda. According to Clark, the general said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”

“If Americans understood the enormity of the deception behind the invasion of Iraq (and Afghanistan) and the pending attack on Iran, Bush and Cheney would be impeached and turned over to the War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague, and AIPAC would be forced to register as a foreign agent.Just as Goebbels said, some lies are too big to be disbelieved. It is this disbelief that is so dangerous. The inability of Americans to see through the Big Lie to the secret agenda allows the neoconservatives to escape accountability and continue with their plot.” (Paul Craig Roberts)

The Left, Liberals, whatever are not the problem.

John Michael Greer said...

Peter, I disagree. A republic -- that is, a society governed by laws rather than the arbitrary will of the majority, which is democracy, or the arbitrary will of an individual, which is tyranny -- is as viable a system now as it ever was.

Sean, I'm specifically talking about the modern survivalist fantasy of urban hordes streaming out of the cities in the wake of collapse. Of course there have been hordes, of various kinds, in the past; it's the specific fantasy I'm discussing that needs challenge.

Sharon, thanks for a thoughtful response. If the terms "fascism" and "feudalism" hadn't been used obsessively by the Marxist left for decades as their favorite insults, I'd be more likely to agree that it was just a matter of popular usage. As it happens, I expect attempts at the sort of integration you've outlined to implode in short order as the economic system that drives them comes apart, as it seems to be doing just now.

Ras, thank you for a crucial point. You're right that fascism -- like any other form of centralized state -- is very energy-intensive; like command economies generally, it also tends to be inefficient and corrupt. This may help explain why fascist systems rarely outlast the dictator who creates them. We may see some fascist states in the aftermath of peak oil, but I doubt they'll be around for long.

Dan, the present administration's abuses of power are no different in kind or quantity than those of any number of previous administrations. Tens of thousands of Japanese American citizens became nonpersons in 1942, and many of those suspected of spying underwent "interrogations" that would hardly have passed Geneva Convention standards. The Palmer raids in 1919 rounded up thousands of American citizens for long stays in prison without charges or representation, and so on. Such abuses should certainly be fought, but they don't break any new ground.

The problem with the current US political dialogue, as I see it, is that you have any number of people insisting that the current state of affairs has to be changed, and nobody asking hard questions about whether the changes will actually be an improvement on the status quo. That's the job of classical conservatives. Of course society that just had conservatives would stagnate, but that's not going to happen this side of Oz; they have, if I may use these terms, one niche in the political ecosystem, and when that niche isn't filled the system becomes unstable. Liberals, radicals, and yes, distributists all have their own niches, too.

Gryphon, well, was Stalin better than Tsar Nicholas II? Even when the existing situation is a mess, change is not always for the better. No, for what it's worth, I don't think Korten's a potential Stalin -- he's much more the Trotsky type, and thus could count on being driven into exile while somebody stronger takes power in the name of his ideas.

Jmulee, neither feudal nor fascist -- mercantilist, with a heavy dose of ethnic and religious bigotry. The lesson here is that any system can be a springboard to abuse.

Yooper, thanks for the vote of confidence.

MC, it's precisely because both sides insist the other side is the problem that our problems have become so intractable.

Danby said...

John
My point, which I perhaps failed to make (here's that missing topic sentence) was that in a representative republic, founded upon a revolution, the election of a classical Burkean conservative has faint to no chance of election or real influence at precisely those times when they could do some good. In bad times, when they are most needed, as the impetus for change is so great, they are the least likely to be elected. They are the most likely to be elected is when there is little impetus for change, and they are least needed.

This is a variation on the theme that a Republic always gets just the sort of government it deserves. Which is one reason I'm not an enthusiastic believer in Democracy. Not that I have a better solution, necessarily, but by now it's pretty obvious to anyone paying attention what the weaknesses of a Republic are. Some of them are very bad indeed, especially the impulse to Empire.

What's that, so many of you didn't know that Republics lead to Empire? Not inevitably, no, but commonly. See; the 1st French Republic, The Weimar Republic, the People's republic of China, the United Kingdom, the Senatus Populusque Romanus etc. etc. etc. Oh, and the United States. One of the reasons that the 18th 19th and 20th centuries were so full of Empire building, is that they were so full of democratic and republican government.

I'm sure that will stir up a bees nest, so I'll stop now.

Stephen Heyer said...

John Michael Greer: “The problem with the current US political dialogue, as I see it, is that you have any number of people insisting that the current state of affairs has to be changed, and nobody asking hard questions about whether the changes will actually be an improvement on the status quo. That's the job of classical conservatives. Of course society that just had conservatives would stagnate, but that's not going to happen this side of Oz; they have, if I may use these terms, one niche in the political ecosystem, and when that niche isn't filled the system becomes unstable. Liberals, radicals, and yes, distributists all have their own niches, too.”

Ok everyone, now just read what John said again – carefully. Pay particular attention to “…when that niche isn't filled the system becomes unstable. Liberals, radicals, and yes, distributists all have their own niches, too.”

I just cannot over-emphasize just how important I think that is.

I didn’t always of course: In my youth I wanted “my side” to win. However, if you keep an open mind (being obsessively analytical and introspective also helps) after about 60 years you start to get some vague feeling for how things work, no matter how much you would like them to work differently.

If you want your society and government to work at all well, that’s they way it has to be: Each group, incomplete and flawed on its own contributing to the overall balance.

By the way, there is one variation of democracy John has not mentioned – constitutional monarchies. For American readers, this is where the parliament/s hold most of the power most of the time with the hereditary monarch (the whole royal family actually) performing mostly a ceremonial role, though retaining some reserve powers.

The main advantage of this system, as I see it, is that the royal family forms the top of the SOCIAL hierarchy, which prevents the president or prime minister becoming the head of both the SOCIAL AND POLITICAL hierarchies, as they tend to in a republic.

The reserve powers are also handy as when the parliament collapses, as they all occasionally do, power automatically moves to a publicly known and respected agent. Further, to an agent who usually wants to dump it back onto parliament just as soon as she/he can get one working again.

As a final strange, non-intuitive historical observation: Queens seem to work better than kings.

Guess I’m just an unrepentant old socialist / capitalist / radical / conservative / royalist / anarchist / fascist / communist at heart.

yooper said...

Hello John! You're "Atlantis" is just marvelous! I'm quite sure even Captian Nemo would be proud of you! About 2/3 through it (I'm extremely busy, at this time of the year), but can't simply not be thinking of the thoughts you present here! I'm also certain you have left no stone unturned here. I know, I've been there before, painstaking research.......

However, at this point John, most people would like to invision, what might be revelant in their lives, in the short term future. I'm not suggesting that what you present here won't be revelant, as surely it will be.....

At this point, I'm developing an entire new scenario, in the near future. This is what I was groomed for... Much more forgiving than the one I presented over at BNB, where 1/4 of the people on earth perished in a month, another 1/4 in three months, another 1/4 in six months to finally settle at below 300 million, within two years..........................However, I'm not abandoning this concept, one bit......... just providing yet another scenario to stretch it out perhaps another ten years. I DO NOT, know what will happen in the future....... Only an "educated guess", which by the way is all you have to offer...

Sure, forever progressing may be a myth. Show me, where in our economy, if this concept is'nt attainable, it would not collaspe, outright? Furthermore, the die-off, as I've suggested all along, as a result of it? You simply cannot........ Enlighten me and the rest of you're readers if you will?

Suppose, this new scenario may be backed up by more "factoids", but, at last, how are they to differ than what you present? Show me where I'm wrong, about the above scenairo? It could happen, as you conceded, right? Probable? Likely not.. However, electrical power must never be intrupted in any way on a large scale. That is basics of the Olduvia Theory, is it not? Power vs. no power?

As appealing as Atlantis has been on the imagination of the populace over the years, this does'nt come even close to what's on people's minds today. Ask anyone what they might imagine what collaspe might look like and 99% of the time they will imagine the power will be out.... How do you account for that? What does this fact, mean?

My research has been limited in the last hundred years. In my way of thinking, the best way to imagine what might happen tomorro, is only to look at yesterday....Fine? You bet! Can you see what I'm pointing too?

Know what, John? What you're suggesting here and what I invision, is not all that different.....................

Thanks, yooper

John Michael Greer said...

Dan, you're doubtless right that conservatives stop being elected right about the time they're most needed. As for republics becoming empires, Plato discussed that in some detail in his Republic, and of course both of you are correct. As Kansas used to sing back in the day, "Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky." The fact that a republic is viable doesn't make it appealing to a people -- not just, please note, to their leaders -- who have decided that having what they want is more important than living within their means.

Stephen, many thanks. To my mind, that's one of the most crucial and least acceptable ideas in politics today -- the idea that your opponents are as necessary to the functioning of the system as you are. You're right that I didn't happen to mention constitutional monarchies, the other common form of a government of laws, and a perfectly viable one. It does seem to help to have somebody besides the actual political leadership to take on the job of being national figurehead.

Yooper, well, we'll see. I expect the decline to a global population around 1 billion to take most of a century, for what that's worth.

Jonathan said...

I haven't posted in a while, and there's a lot of stuff to react to, so I'll just add some thoughts and facts.
Facts first :
- about Belgium, the country has been without a government for about 150 days now, because of several state malfunctions and a big debate about the national unity (Belgium is 50% french speaking, 50 % Dutch speaking -- but has its own distinct cultural flavor that fits neither France or Holland)
- mindless, marauding hordes spilling out of the dying cities and ravaging everything in their path. is exaggerating, but as it happens, there were serious riots in France back in 2005 and there is still a very vivid (yet non tv-relayed for security purpose) and continuous violence in poor suburbs.

Some thoughts :
- Feudalism : I never heard that as an insult in a leftist's mouth (reactionary, racist and fascist are the most frequent in France) although left represents about 40 % of the political scene here.
I tend to think of feudalism as the natural consequence of agglomerating lordships. (Read Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel" if you want more information on the topic of society formation.)
It is not an intrinsically bad or lawless system, the law being mainly under the hand of the local lord : you just need luck, that is a good and clever lord.
I don't think this system will arise in the future, or in a wildly different form that wouldn't deserve the name, because of several points :
- Feudalism arises from existing aristocracy unified by force, vassality, wedding or alliance.
- Feudalism at its roots relies on hereditary power (which is broken by modern laws on inheritance)
- Future society will be decayed forms of current societies, not old systems made new !
- The closest thing that could happen is decentralized county/town driven society. Would you call it feudalism unless each county had an hereditary lord ? I guess no.

Dictatorship or worse, fascism, is way more probable, because it is the "natural" decaying form of democracy : the mass surrenders to a charismatic leader.
The current democratic system in western country (and some other) has shown on several occasions that it is prone to that process : European nations in the 1920s and 1930s, Latin America countries, Africa. A large number actually happened through an election (e.g. Hitler).
I really don't know how will existing systems evolve in the future, certainly some will breakdown, fall into some sort of dictatorship, or fall into a chaotic "law of the strongest" which must not be mistaken for feudalism, as feudalism is a very organized society. During Middle Age, the King of France was sometimes elected by a reunion of the great lords (until Hugues Capet, who founded the last french dynasty).
I guess that if States have some leadership and are willing to survive, it will involve a more State-controlled society, with more military, more security, so less freedom in everyway.

But hey, isn't freedom what lead to the current economic system : free production, free market, free consumption of all ressources ?
It doesn't ring a bell in english, but in french, freedom is named "liberté", which is basically the root of liberalism.
And that says all I think about democracy and freedom.
Maybe the future lies in the hand of society build on other values, like responsibility, intelligence, respect ? Or maybe we'll just have destroyed any possible (res-)source of hope.

yooper said...

Hello John! Is it the "point in contact", that we disagree about?

I'm suggesting to you right now, that the second that European boots landed in North American, the Native American's life changed, forever. It happened NOW.

The information, you've presented in "Atlantis", has shaken me to the core,(as you might expect), I did not know this........... The lies, I've been taught over the years! With tears in my eyes, I just don't know what to
say at this point........

Thanks, yooper

macchendra said...

Why would waste your time splitting hairs between subtleties of two types of authoritarianism. You're intellectually nuanced, good for you.

Then you go on to berate the left, painting all of them with a broad stripe as the same kind of nuts that were products of the government sponsored us vs. them mentality of this or that year.

No. We stood up to the lies of the Iraq war, and it wasn't incompetence that caused the Repugs and the corporate media consumers to believe them. We cried out when Negroponte was appointed ambassador to Iraq, and no it was not incompetence that cause the death squads to form again during his watch. We have been crying out for years that this new "economic boom" is a thinly disguised transfer of wealth, and it is no accident. These policies do not create "accidental damage", they create intentional benefits. But we are somehow crazy for pointing out that deliberateness?

Iconoclast421 said...

"From fascism to feudalism"... I think that is the key concept you are missing.

Fascism is being used to build up 21st century civilization to the brink of collapse. Creating a vast energy and resource consuming machine that almost breathes a life of its own. At some point it must collapse, and when it does so does the fascist system. What then results is a neofeudalist system. And that is where the mass culling of the population occurs. All run by elite managers who will be able to operate pretty much in plain view because there will be no organizational structure with which to form an effective opposition.

Also, the reason the "new far left" reaches the same conclusions as the "old far right" is because they are indeed both looking at the same creature. But through media control, they are interpretting what they are seeing as a component of the other side. But in reality they are the same. Both the left and the right are two side of the same coin. Two sides of a "royal arch", with each side supporting the other. As the far right pushes against this arch, the left side of the arch supports the whole left/right arch structure. And when the far left pushes upon it, the right side of the arch supports the whole left/right structure. And that is how the false left/right paradigm has been able to exist for so long, since even way before John Birch. Upon further analysis, one must conclude that both the "far right" and the "far left" are also a part of this false left/right paradigm. ANYONE who cannot see the "royal arch" that is formed by the left and the right ... ANYONE who does not recognize how the two support each other is inadvertently (or deliberately) acting in support of the false paradigm.

mr_geronimo said...

"Only if some semblance of a functioning government still exists at the bottom of the curve, and holds the war of all against all in check, can we count on skipping a feudal period in the deindustrial future. "

Like the old Esatern Roman Empire: civilization in Anatolia survived from Classic Rome to our days because the byzantines kept thing from falling apart and the turks wera able to take over without destroying it.