Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A Crisis of Legitimacy

Over the last week or two, the peak oil scene has been going through another round of its ongoing flirtation with fantasies of overnight collapse. This time the trigger was a recent paper by David Korowicz of Feasta, which I discussed a few weeks back and which you can download in PDF format here.

As I mentioned in that earlier post, it’s a well-written study, limited only by a few frankly unrealistic assumptions about how governments tend to react when faced with an immediate threat to national survival, and Korowicz detailed his presuppositions clearly enough that a thoughtful reader can easily bracket the improbable parts of the study and extract the very real value to be found elsewhere in it. Korowicz is quite correct in suggesting that the current global financial system is a house of cards that could easily come crashing to the ground, taking a quadrillion dollars or so of imaginary wealth with it and dealing the world’s industrial societies a staggering blow. 

It’s purely his suggestion that this could cause the global economy to freeze up, not for weeks, but for years or even longer, that strays out of the realm of realism into territory mapped out well in advance by Western civilization’s penchant for apocalyptic fantasies.  In the real world, of course, governments facing sudden financial collapse don’t just sit on their hands and make plaintive sounds; they take action, and there are plenty of actions they can take, since a financial collapse doesn’t actually make anything of value go away. Money, let us please remember, is not wealth; it’s a set of arbitrary tokens people in complex human societies use to manage the distribution of real wealth; if a monetary system breaks down, other ways can readily be jerry-rigged to keep real wealth moving.

Glance through the last century of economic history and you’ll find plenty of examples of governments responding to sudden financial crises with equally sudden, drastic measures that worked, at least in the short term—and while it’s always popular to say "It’s different this time," I hope my readers recall how often, and inaccurately, these same words get used in the not unrelated field of speculative bubbles.  The parallel’s not inappropriate, since the believer in the latest speculative delusion uses those words to convince himself that he doesn’t have to put up with the common but unwelcome experience of having to work hard to become wealthy. In the same way, I suspect, much of the popularity of fast-collapse scenarios come from the fact that many people want to convince themselves that they don’t have to put up with the common but unwelcome experience of the decline and fall of a civilization.  The temptation to get it over with, or at least to daydream about getting it over with, is a strong one.

I mention all this again because the theme of this week’s post centers on another kind of sudden disruption that occurs tolerably often in history, one that we’re probably going to see repeated in the not too distant future here in the US and elsewhere. Just as financial systems routinely come unglued, so do political systems; in both cases, though it takes years of mismanagement to build to the point of crisis, the crisis itself can hit suddenly and bring shattering change in a very short time; in both cases, in turn, the aftermath involves substantial losses, a great deal of frantic jerry-rigging and damage control, and then a return to a new normal that often has little in common with what the old normal used to be.

Political power’s a remarkable thing. Though Mao Zedong was quite correct to point out that it grows out of the barrel of a gun, it has to be transplanted into more fertile soil in short order or it will soon wither and die. A successful political system of any kind quickly establishes, in the minds of the people it rules, a set of beliefs and attitudes that define the political system as the normal, appropriate, and acceptable form of government for that people.  That sense of legitimacy is the foundation on which any enduring government must build, for when people see their government as legitimate, no matter how appalling it appears to outsiders, they will far more often than not put up with its excesses and follow its orders.

It probably needs to be said here that legitimacy is not a rational matter and has nothing to do with morality or competence; great nations all through history have calmly accepted the legitimacy of governments run by thieves, tyrants, madmen and fools. Still, a government that has long held popular legitimacy can still lose it, and can do so in a remarkably short time.  Those of my readers who are old enough to have watched the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact satellites will recall the speed with which the rulers of several Communist nations saw the entire apparatus of their government dissolve around them as the people they claimed the right to rule stopped cooperating.

Now of course that sudden collapse of legitimacy was long in preparing. Just as a singer or writer who becomes an overnight success normally gets there after many years of hard work, the implosion of a system of government normally follows many years of bad decisions and unheard warnings, and it’s not too hard in retrospect to trace how simmering unrest eventually rose to a full boil; still, the benefits of hindsight can be misleading, because it’s actually quite rare for anyone to catch on to what’s building in advance.  As the famous Affair of the Diamond Necklace dragged the prestige of the French monarchy in the mud, Talleyrand commented to a friend, "Pay attention to this wretched necklace-affair; I should not be in the least surprised if it overturns the throne"—but then Talleyrand was one of the supreme political observers of the age; to most others in France in 1784, it was just one more tawdry royal scandal in a country that had seen plenty of them already.

We have seen plenty of equally tawdry scandals in the United States of late, and it’s easy to ignore the impact of, let’s say, the Obama administration’s systematic refusal to bring charges against any of the financiers whose spectacularly blatant acts of fraud helped fuel, and then pop, the recent housing bubble. Still, I’ve come to think that a modern Talleyrand might see things differently. Had Obama acted otherwise, the Democratic party would likely have come to dominate the American political scene for the next forty years as thoroughly as it did for the four decades or so after 1932; instead, by giving the country a remarkably good imitation of the third term of George W. Bush, the Obama administration has convinced a sizable fraction of Americans that they have nothing to hope for from either party.  It’s symptomatic that a recent Rasmussen poll found that only 17% of respondents thought that a choice between Obama and Romney for president represented the best that America could do.

It’s all too common for the political class of a troubled nation to lose track of the fact that, after all, its power depends on the willingness of a great many people outside the political class to do what they’re told. In Paris in 1789, in St. Petersburg in 1917, and in a great many other places and times, the people who thought that they held the levers of power and repression discovered to their shock that the only power they actually had was the power to issue orders, and those who were supposed to carry those orders out could, when matters came to a head, decide that their own interests lay elsewhere.  In today’s America, equally, it’s not the crisply dressed executives, politicians, and bureaucrats who currently hold power who would be in a position to enforce that power in a crisis; it’s the hundreds of thousands of soldiers, police officers and Homeland Security personnel, who are by and large poorly paid, poorly treated, and poorly equipped, and who have not necessarily been given convincing reasons to support the interests of a political class that most of them privately despise, against the interests of the classes to which they themselves belong.

Such doubts and dissatisfactions can build for a long time before the crisis hits. If history shows anything, it’s that trying to time that crisis is very nearly a guarantee of failure.  Sooner or later, once the system’s legitimacy becomes sufficiently doubtful, some event dramatic enough to seize the collective imagination will trigger the final collapse of legitimacy and the implosion of the system, but what that event will be and when it will come is impossible to know in advance.  Not even Talleyrand seems to have guessed in advance that the calling of the Estates-General in 1789 would set off the final crisis of the monarchy whose collapse he accurately anticipated—but then who could have predicted the spur-of-the-moment improvisation that led representatives of the Third Estate to proclaim themselves a National Assembly, or the circumstances that sent a Paris mob running through the streets to storm the Bastille?

What follows the moment of crisis is a little less opaque to anticipation.  France in 1789 and Russia in 1917 were both politically centralized nations in which power was primarily exercised from the capital city, and revolutionary politicians and urban mobs in Paris and St. Petersburg respectively thus had an overwhelming impact on the course of events, and radical change there spread rapidly throughout the country, since there were no effective centers of power outside the core. In less centralized countries, control of the capital is less decisive; the seizure of power by Parliament and the London mob in 1641 in England bears close comparison with events in the two later revolutions, but when the rubble of the English Civil War finally stopped bouncing, the system that resulted was much closer to the one that had been in place before 1641 than, say, France after the revolution resembled the Ancien RĂ©gime; the survival of familiar modes of government in peripheral centers made it easier for those same modes to be restored once the revolutionary era was over.

That degree of regional independence did not survive in England, but the European pattern of political geography, whereby the capital city of each nation-state normally becomes its political and cultural hub and its largest population center, did not catch on anything like so well in North America.  In the United States and Canada alike, the national capital and the largest population center are two different cities; in both nations, as well as Mexico, large regional divisions—states or provinces—maintain a prickly independence from the central government, and regional cultures remain a potent political force.  The United States is the most extreme example of the lot; Washington DC is for all practical purposes a modest regional center that just happens to share space with a national government meeting, and there is no place in the country where even the largest urban mob could have a decisive impact on the survival of the federal government.

The complex historical processes that brought thirteen diverse colonies under a single federal system, furtthermore, left a great deal of power in the hands of the states. Very little of that power is used these days; repeated expansions of the originally very limited powers given to the national government have left most substantive issues in the hands of federal bureaucrats, and left the states little more to do than carrying out costly federal mandates at their own expense.  Still, the full framework of independent government—executive, legislative, and judicial—remains in place in each state; state governors retain the power to call up every adult citizen to serve in the state militia; and, finally and critically, the states have kept the constitutional power to bring the whole system to a screeching halt.

You’ll find that power spelled out in Article V of the US Constitution. If two thirds of state legislatures call for a constitutional convention to amend the Constitution, the convention will happen; if three quarters of state legislatures vote to ratify any amendment to the Constitution passed by the convention, that amendment goes into effect. It’s that simple.  Congress has nothing to say about it; the President has nothing to say about it; the Supreme Court has nothing to say about it; the federal government is, at least in theory, stuck on the sidelines.  That power has never been used; the one time it was seriously attempted, in 1913, Congress forestalled the state legislatures by passing a constitutional amendment identical to the one for which the states were agitating, and submitting it to the state legislatures for ratification.  The power nonetheless remains in place, a bomb hardwired into the Constitution.

What makes that bomb so explosive is that there are very nearly no limits to what a constitutional convention can do. The only thing the Constitution specifies is that no amendment can take away a state’s equal representation in the Senate.  Other than that, as long as two thirds of the states call for the convention and three quarters of the states ratify its actions, whatever comes out of it is the supreme law of the land. Everything is up for grabs; it would not be beyond the power of a constitutional convention, for example, to provide a legal means for states to withdraw peacefully from the Union, or even to repeal the Constitution and dissolve the Union altogether.

Had the leaders of the southern states in 1860 been less proud and more pragmatic, it’s entirely possible that they could have won their independence and spared themselves the catastrophe of the Civil War by some such measure as this. It’s eerily plausible to imagine Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi rising in the Senate that year to propose an amendment to provide for the peaceful dissolution of the Union, denouncing the radicals on both sides of the slavery issue who were pushing the nation toward civil war, and offering a peaceful separation of the states as the only workable solution to the problem that had dogged the nation for so long—and it’s by no means hard, at a time when most Americans still wanted to avoid war, to imagine such a proposal getting the votes it would need from Congress and the states to take effect.

Any further development of that speculation can be left to fans of alternate history.  Under most conditions, of course, no such proposal would ever be seriously made, much less accepted, but 1860 offers a trenchant reminder that under the pressure of irreconcilable conflict, the system of government we have in the United States can freeze up completely and make desperate measures the order of the day.  In 1860, the US government lost its legitimacy in a third of the country, and it took the 19th century’s bloodiest conflict to bring back the southern states to a grudging and incomplete obedience.  In the crisis of legitimacy that’s building in today’s America, a rising spiral of conflicts between regions also plays an important role, but this time the federal government can hardly count on the passionate loyalty it got a century and a half ago from the Northeast and the Midwest; in fact, it’s hard to think of any corner of the country where distrust and disaffection for the current government haven’t put down deep roots already.

If and when the crisis comes, it’s anyone’s guess what exactly will happen, but the possibility that the states will call on their power to redefine the Constitution—whether they use it to reshape the national government, or to let the country split apart into smaller nations along regional lines—belongs somewhere on the list of potential outcomes.  For that matter, it’s anyone’s guess what will spark such a crisis, if in fact one does come.  The triggering event might well be political, or economic, or even environmental.  Still, if I had to make a guess, it would be that the most likely triggering event will be military. We’ll open that immense can of worms next week.

End of the World of the Week #34

What could be more convincing, at least for believers in an imminent apocalypse, than eyewitness accounts of one of the most important details in the apocalyptic prophecy happening right now?  That’s the question devout Christians had to answer for themselves in the year 171 CE, when a priest named Montanus announced that the events prophesied in the Book of Revelation were taking place then and there.  "There," specifically, was Phrygia, in what is now part of Turkey; that’s where Montanus lived, and that’s where his followers repeatedly spotted nothing less than the New Jerusalem, hovering in the air above the modest Phrygian market town of Pepuza.

The New Prophecy, as Montanus’ belief system was called at the time, became a nine days’ wonder in the early Christian church, and attracted a great many followers—notably women, who were being forced out of the positions of prominence they had held earlier on. Two women, Priscilla and Maximilla, who left their husbands to follow Montanus became prophets in their own right, and they and Montanus became known as "the Three"—a term with certain resonances in more recent apocalyptic movements.  Despite excommunication by the main body of the church, the Montanist movement remained active for at least four centuries, waiting for the New Jerusalem to finish its descent onto Pepuza—and if there are any Montanists left, of course, they’re still waiting.

—for more failed end time prophecies, see my book Apocalypse Not


John Michael Greer said...

Greetings folks, this is your friendly neighborhood temporary moderator piggybacking on JMG's account. The Archdruid is on the road, and the automatic timed upload for this post (which was supposed to go up last night) went haywire. All is fixed now, so bring on the comments and JMG will return in due time.

Puzzler said...

"automatic timed upload for this post"

Much like the Doomsday Bomb in Doctor Strangelove.

Are you sure JMG didn't leave earlier for an undisclosed location?


Seriously, thanks JMG for breaking out Article V. Many people think of Amendments to the Constitution as originating from US Congress.

But it is hard to imagine 2/3 agreeing to propose -- nor 3/4 ratifying -- an anything substantive.

Jennifer D Riley said...

Wow, JMG, great post about state rights and the Constitution. I certainly wasn't aware of it. Am saying thanks for the reccy for Limits to Growth and Prosperity Without Growth, am reading both right now. I feel more peaceful reading about a "prosperity cycle" that has nothing to do with the usual Accounting 101 cycle.

American People's New Economic Charter said...

Re. "the possibility that the states will call on their power to redefine the Constitution—whether they use it to reshape the national government, or to let the country split apart into smaller nations along regional lines"...

For an exploration of this scenario - "" see "Inter States 2040" at

shiningwhiffle said...

I just wanted to point out that the second link (to the PDF) is broken.

Kathleen Quinn said...

Worth waiting for, JMG—lots to think about, too, as usual. In looking at maps of the drought devastating such a large portion of the US, it’s not hard to imagine regional lines being redrawn according to climate change-induced disaster, with the as yet functioning portions of the country being forced to receive large numbers of the “internally displaced”. So while I am glad that states retain the right to go their own way should the occasion warrant it, I am not convinced that the very crisis which might inspire them to do so wouldn’t just bring the state apparatus crashing down anyway, just as it was finally poised to do something useful.

But then again, I don’t need convincing. I don’t share the common penchant for apocalyptic fantasy, and I love to consider various possible long descent scenarios. While I am doing that, I am quietly taking my admittedly meager tokens of real wealth out of the system and investing them in my neighbors, educating my kids without the assistance or input of the state, and trying to figure out a way to feed my livestock without Midwestern grain. A foot on the path towards not doing what I am told, perhaps?

I am always hopeful though (er, most of the time), and I appreciate the reminder about our constitutionally-guaranteed “out”. It will be fun to think about how such a scenario might play out. Perhaps mine own New York State, with its fair share of thieves, tyrants, madmen and fools—past and present-- would rise to the occasion. Stranger things have happened, right?!

Sue W said...

Excellent and enlightening post.

Minor quibble in that the 19th Century's bloodiest conflict is probably the Napoleonic one (up to 5 million dead in Europe, 1803-1815).

escapefromwisconsin said...

Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig has proposed such a strategy (calling a Constitutional Convention) to unwind money's influence on politics. See:

And I recall a similar argument for a sudden political crisis made in a book called "It Can Happen Here" by Bruce Judson. He has a blog too; this post is particularly apropos to this discussion.

I meant to remark last week that if the only constituents you really hear from are the ones that can afford to pay $10,000 to have dinner with you, you'll have a skewed perspective on how the country's doing.

escapefromwisconsin said...

I'm not sure even state governments could do much anymore; they have effectivly abolished the right to tax their citizens. See this article: If a Government Can't Tax, Is It Really a Government?

Could Congress invalidate your state's constitution and demand it be rewritten?

The answer -- disconcertingly enough for those who regard the states as "sovereign," as against the federal government -- is almost certainly yes. It won't happen, of course. But last month, a related question emerged that may have more practical importance: Could a federal court do the same thing?

The clause that raises this question is called the Guaranty, or "Republican Form of Government," Clause of Article IV, § 4. It provides that "[t]he United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government . . . ." The clause, usually obscure, is relevant now because of a preliminary district court decision on July 30 in Kerr v. Hickenlooper, a case in which members of Colorado's legislature have gone to court to argue that the state's own constitution is unconstitutional.

The target is Colorado's so-called "Taxpayer's Bill of Rights," enacted by initiative in 1992, which essentially bars both the state and local governments from raising any tax without a prior approval by popular vote. The plaintiffs' complaint in Kerr contends that "[a]n effective legislative branch must have the power to raise and appropriate funds." Removing this power entirely, the argument goes, in essence leaves the state without a functioning legislature. In turn, a state without a legislature cannot have a "republican form of government."

This leads to the following scenario of slow collapse, which we're already seeing play out:

1.) The investor class, who are collecting ever more of the nation's wealth, buy their way out of paying taxes through campaign contributions and posing as "job creators"

2.) Taxes are shifted onto the back of the working classes who are becoming ever poorer (leading to less overall income). Unable to control their salaries, they try and gain back lost income through the only thing they can control - taxes.

3.) The middle class backs tax revolts sponsored by the investor class essentially stripping the government of the right to tax its citizens (in reality no one will vote for higher taxes).

4.) The middle class and the wealthy still expect and demand first-world government services, but there is no money to pay for it. Government issues debt to pay what it can't pay with taxes, however there is no way to pay back the debt plus interest.

5.) Government contracts. Job losses in the public sector counter gains in the private sector; poorly paid officials become corrupt. Infrastructure degrades and the corporate welfare the private sector depends on dries up, leading to economic depression, especially with rising energy prices.

6.) wash, rinse, repeat until utlimate bankruptcy and deligitimization of government.

Smith Mill Creek Notes said...

In case you were wondering what the 1913 issue was (I had to look it up), it was over whether states could directly elect their senators instead of state legislatures appointing them.

jollyreaper said...

The average person wants to be as far away from being authority as possible. Sure, it might be nice to think about having the king's perks but if you ever truly consider what the responsibilities and consequences are, if you don't feel queasy and anxious you obviously haven't thought it through thoroughly enough.

Some minds thrive on risk and chaos. Gambling, chance, it's what makes them feel alive. This is the kind of stress that will literally eat the average person alive, leaving them prematurely aged, broken, burned out.

If the king drops dead right in the middle of the court and the crown is there for anyone to pick up, even as the sensible courtiers stand back, some rash fool is going to reach for it, possibly several fools. Or maybe not fools since they aren't suffering for their decision; possibly it's better to call them sociopaths.

Authority and legitimacy are a kind of magic. Someone says to do something and the people that make it happen obey. Some may do it because they think the person giving the orders has legitimate authority, others might obey simply for fear of the consequences.

It's always amazing to see when that fear dissolves, when even the most frightening dictator's carefully crafted image is dispelled and all that's left is an old man who isn't being listened to anymore. Five minutes ago a word from him could have you dead. Now it's an empty threat. That's some kind of black magic right there, spooky.

Ventriloquist said...

"Glance through the last century of economic history and you’ll find plenty of examples of governments responding to sudden financial crises with equally sudden, drastic measures that worked . . ."

To be followed by . . .

Glance through the last century of economic history and you’ll find plenty of examples of governments responding to sudden financial crises with equally sudden, drastic measures that . . . failed miserably and caused far more trouble than the issues that preceeded them.

I have zero faith in "governments" doing anything right when subjected to stress. Including any of the ones in power today.

Thijs Goverde said...

'Automatic timed upload,' indeed! Never before have I hit the refresh button so often in one day.
A-and I learned something interesting; I'd never heard of that article V. Which is not, perhaps, that surprising for a European.
We in the EU may be envying you that precise article in the near future, though! There is definitely something to say for starting a federation on purpose, and actually thinking about what that entails and what poblems may com up, rather than just stumbling your way into one.
Which reminds me: your comparison between Europe and the US, re the centralisarion of power, doesn't quite work. It's true that most European countries are rather centralised (Belgium being a very notable exception), but let's not forget that most European countries are more or less the size of what you would call a state (or, in the cases of e.g. Luxemburg and Denmark, a medium-sized to large city, at least in terms of population).
The more correct corrspondence to the US would be the EU, and to call the EU a centralised power would be... well... hilrious? In that bitter, I'm-laughing-to-keep-from-crying way?

LewisLucanBooks said...

Interesting about the major population center and the smaller government center being in different locations. I noticed long ago that some (most?) U.S. State capitols are different from their major population center. Back in the day, students were tested on their knowledge of State capitols. Difficult, because mostly they were never the obvious city with the largest population within a State. Just here on the West Coast, Seattle is not the capitol, Olympia is. Oregon? Salem, not Portland. California? Sacramento, not Los Angeles.

I can still remember the last time a 2/3 majority of the States were called on to amend the Constitution. It was the attempted passage of the Equal Rights Amendment for women's rights.

The resistance from the lunatic fringe was pretty rabidly nuts. That era's "death panels." But calmer resistance seemed to come from an abhorrence of tampering with the Constitution.

Joy said...

Crisis of legitimacy in Western countries? No so fast. At present over half of the US population is on some sort of a social welfare benefit or social security. Less than half the adult population pays income tax. Add to that government employees at all levels and contractors. Not to mention the crony kleptocrats. All of these people who are dependent on the State are supportive of the system, however much they might grumble about various details.

The truly aggrieved are the tax mules, people working in the private sector who pay substantial taxes and receive no benefit checks. This is only about 1/4th of the population, and they have been well trained to fight amongst themselves about social issues of no economic importance. Conclusion, as long as the benefit checks keep coming, Western countries will remain stable.

SunsetSu said...

In the late 1970s there was a movement toward a constitutional convention led by those who wanted to, among other things, balance the budget, and ban abortion. As you pointed out, once such a convention has been set up, participants can do almost anything, including repealing the Bill of Rights.

bhavana said...

Hi JMG, I'm not sure how close we are to a tipping point. I tend to agree that gov's can act in a co-coordinated way when it suits them.
Apocalypse always seems a bit Hollywood, but I think we maybe going to a much smaller population one way or another.
I think we may be at tipping point beyond government intervention, or more correctly a BAU approach may be leading to something much more dire, hence the link above.

Ivan Lukic said...

I read yesterday in newspapers that Brad bought a gold watch for Angelina costing 250.000 dollars. It seems to me that such information serves no other purpose but to mock and humiliate ordinary people. US citizens are probably already conditioned for some kind of change.

Mean Mr Mustard said...

I thought it was a given that the actual power was exercised by multi-national corporate interests, who buy and pay for pet politicos?

Corporate power has never had legitimacy, but is increasingly able to exploit - outsourcing labour to deregulated nations, while first and third world workforces merge, subjected to poverty wages and worse such as 'education' debt, workfare, and the prison industrial complex, while TBTF bankers hold entire economies to ransom.

Why should they worry about their legitimacy? When such deep and increasing dependency is set up, they can do as they please.

At least I'll be making my very own non-corporate raspberry jam this weekend. Jam tomorrow!

Norman P said...

Nations are melded into cohesion by events which, while seeming disparate, are seen in an historical context as critical to the whole.
The United States is no exception.
The nation was nominally created in 1776, one year after the viable steam engine was patented by James Watt in England.
Try to imagine a country the size of the United States being built and held together without the leverage of the steam engine. The first commercial oilwells were drilled with steam power. Nations might look to their military for outward expressions of power, but armies can only fight with the energy sources available. Before the steam engine, gun barrels were hand made, with steam power came mass production. In the civil war the northern states had most of the industry and steam powered factories, and simply outproduced the southern states in weaponry. The nation was held together by force of arms, but that was backed up by superior factory output.
After the civil war, the power released from coal and oil drove the expansion of the nation and America became a web of highways, cities and transport systems built for a common prosperity of commerce and trade. But its critical factor was and still is the constant availability of endless supplies of cheap energy. More and more fuel must be burned to remain viable, the national crisis will come when energy flow stops, or becomes too expensive to use. At that point the government will lose control, America will cease to be and the nation will fall apart and collapse into autonomous regions, and subsequently into separate nations. Ethnic, theocratic and geographic borders are already in place, and the people are fully armed. As JMG points out, people will only follow government orders if they perceive them to be in their best interests, if not, they will become the instruments of separation. That will inevitably mean bloodshed, but this time around, separation will be permanent.

russell1200 said...

You mentioned that 17% thought that Obama and Romney were the best that our country could do- Fatalistic Presbyterians channeling Calvin no doubt.

Your point about centralization. The fighting in the Vendee after the French Revolution is the exception that makes the rule. And sometimes Nations look very centralized on the surface when they are not at the core – as Napoleon found out in Spain. Any centralized attempt to take over the U.S. would drag on for years. There isn’t enough parking near the seats of power to overthrow them, and we are not in good enough shape to walk.

Larry said...

Your blog and the comments are all excellent food for thought. They resonant with a book I'm presently rereading (or more precisely, listening to on audio download while I do chores), Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. The book starts with the famous "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." but later in the paragraph is "The French continued to print paper money..." which may have been more of an indicator of what was to come.

Robert Beckett said...

Greetings JMG,
Thank you for explaining how Article V could allow secession and /or dissolution of the American federation. Here in Canada, Quebec has come within a hair's breath of secession at least twice in my lifetime, over language and cultural differences, ostensibly.
In that same timeframe, the slippage of democratic institutions and the pre-eminence of corporate influence: one need only look at our presently venal governing party which seems intent on following the path blazed by the Republicans in your country towards a form of rabid, barking madness, dangerous to all and ultimately terminal.
Loss of legitimacy, indeed.
Where the tipping points may be revealed in the three NAFTA partners is anyone's guess, as you say. Massive inequality in Mexico and sky-rocketing corn prices? Growing inequality and massive unemployment and homelessness in the US? Growing regional disparity and economic hardship in Canada and the fact of a distinct society in Quebec?
The tanks rolled through Montreal in 1970 (FLQ crisis) under the most popular leader ever in this country, Pierre Trudeau,and order was quickly restored. Would Mr. Harper be so well received if he invoked martial law today? 150,000 students took to the streets recently in Quebec for weeks of demonstrations, airing their grievances and attracting union supporters.
If Quebec seceeded, what of the Maritimes with greater common cause with New England than the Canadian west?
And so on westward.

Which of the four horsemen will be seen first on the horizon here or there?


Edde said...

Good morning John Michael,

Just found this, possibly entertaining new book on secession: Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto For Southern Secession by Chuck Thompson

Best regards,


MawKernewek said...

I'd say Germany is pretty decentralised too, at least commpared to UK or France. An economic map such as this may be useful to see for instance the economic dominance of Paris and London over their respective countries: LINK

Myriad said...

Joy wrote: "Conclusion, as long as the benefit checks keep coming, Western countries will remain stable."

I think most of the scenario-space under consideration here involves the benefit checks not coming. Or more likely and realistically, the content of those checks becoming too devalued to significantly contribute to (let alone assure) survival.

Ricardo Rolo said...

Any mention of Talleyrand always makes me remind that he, in spite of being a very perceptive and smart person, he always forced himself to have as much well placed connections as possible ... and by well placed, I do not mean ( only ) people in high places, but especially lowborn people ( it was said at the time he frequented bordels and taverns just to feel the pulse of the parisian poor ) ... that is how he survived for decades in a political enviroment where heads literally rolled very fast.

In spite of not being myself a expert on american laws ( not being american surely helps there ;) ), your explanation on that legal timebomb in the american constitution makes me remind a interview I seen of Mikhail Gorbatchev to one TV of my country a decade or so ago ( so with a decade and half of interval since the USSR implosion ). At a point of the interview, the reporter does the praxis question of how Gorbatchev explained the demise of the USSR , most likely expecting a tried and tested canned response ( lack of liberty, economical mishaps, Afghanistan, Reagan Star wars ... just pick one )... infact I was also expecting it. But then he surprised me when he starts talking about the USSR 1924 constitution ...

Aparently Gorbatchev considered that, what really had made the USSR fall ( most likely he meant the proverbial last drop that makes the bucket spill out ) was the fact that all the USSR constitutions since the first had in clear and unambiguous text that ( quoting the last one ) "Each Union Republic shall retain the right to freely secede from the USSR. " ... and then in 1990 one of the Soviet republics ( Lithuania ) pressured for a legal framework for that article ( because there wasn't any ). The Supreme Soviet weaves out one ( Gorbatchev wasn't too specific at this point of the interview, but it was heavily hinted that the designed mechanism was made to put the smaller and more problematic republics ( especially the baltic ones ) still in the USSR orbit economically even if they politically seceded ... you might call it a Soviet EEC/EU ), and then it happens the unthinkable for the Gorbatchev administration and RUSSIA of all people decides to abandon the USSR. As the secession law was made under the unspoken assumption that Russia would be the one that would never leave ( and thus the economical and demographic weight of Russia would be used to keep the would-be seceders in USSR orbit even if they got out politically of the Union ), there was simply no way to avoid that the most powerful Soviet republic to leave without the USSR becoming a hollowed husk. Gorbatchev ended hinting that this was not, in his opinion, anyway inevitable and that was more the result of a series of acidental political manouvers that putted him and a young and ambitious Ieltsin in colision course ( not that I agree much with his opinion, but he has the distinct advantage of having been in the eye of that particular hurricane ).

Well, due to the fact that there isn't any US state that has the weight that Russia had inside the USSR, this is not directly appliable to the USA. But I've had been hearing a very persistant rumour for a year or two that Germany has a backup plan for the the Euro crisis, that is ... well, you guessed, leave the Euro alltogether and emit some kind of new marks, leaving the rest of the Eurozone to their own means ( and you would be probably forced to measure in femtoseconds the time the Eurozone would hold in one piece without Germany ) ...

Ricardo Rolo said...

(cont. )

Just to end, your point on real power reminded me of the time that the gas truck drivers decided to go on strike in my country 3 or 4 years ago 24 h there were some gas shortages, in 48 h it as quite hard to find a pump with the cheaper mixtures, in 60 h the governement was forced to use army gas trucks ( in full military caravan ) to get fuel to the vital infrastructures ( especially airports and ports ) ... and in 72 h the governement caved in full line to the gas truck drivers demands. In the end most of the times the most powerful persons in a society are not the ones that appear to be ...

ando said...


It continues to amaze me how historically illiterate I am. Glad you are remedying that!



Yupped said...

The ability to keep the money economy flowing and growing seems to be an important ingredient in discussion about legitimacy of the current leadership, and of the system itself. Our ability to remove money from the system, whether voluntarily or through necessity, gives us quite a bit of power over a system that needs that money to keep growing, or to at least pretend that its growing. Tax revenue is part of it, but money to buy goods and services is a much bigger part. Perhaps this provides even more leverage than demonstrating loudly in a state capitol?

My own experience is that as you start to take care of your own needs more directly (food, energy, medicine, entertainment, etc) you step back and start to question the systems that were providing those things for you, and from the questioning you see how rotten they are. And so you withdraw your consent in quite a tangible way. More and more people seem to be going through this process now. I don’t think this is anything like a majority, of course, but something is starting to happen.

Sunny said...

JMG, you talk about the apocalyptic fantasy actually coming from people WANTING it to come. You attribute this to the desire for it all to get over with at once instead of enduring the long and boring reality of decline. I'd argue, however, that the real reasons to desire an apocalypse to come are purely personal.

I recall a time in my life when I was desperately hoping for the aocalypse to arrive just to excuse myself from any responsibility in the real world. I lost a job over it and nearly failed out of college over it, telling myself and others, "Well what's the point of working a job anyway if in a few years the entire world is going to collapse and within ten years the earth will go back to a medieval feudal system." Of course, I didn't have any real factual reason to believe any of this. It was purely psychological; it was purely a distorted resurfacing of a deeper unconscious desire to run away from my unglamorous responsibilities at my job.

In the end, I gained absolutely nothing from that year awaiting the apocalypse, just a small garden plot of dead plants and lots of wasted money on survival supplies. In fact, my commitment to the apocalypse only sabotaged the real opportunities I had to live life that year, taking away my motivation to give any effort to my real world responsibilities. It was really funny, though, how as soon as I started to take pride in my job again and value my relationship with the world that the apocalyptic fantasies vanished or turned into images of pure shame and ridicule.

Don Plummer said...

Indeed, the states do have Constitutional powers that have never been used. Thanks, John, for reminding us. I wonder if another of the reasons a state-sponsored constitutional convention has never been called is that the prospect of another convention that could do just about anything including scrap the current Constitution, is simply downright scary.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that the states have these powers, and despite the fact that we cannot really know what is going to happen once the crisis trigger is pulled, the fact remains that currently many state officeholders are in the same big corporate pockets as the federal officeholders. (Just note how successful ALEC has become getting their "model legislation" passed in many states.) Therefore, it's hard not to speculate that when the crisis comes, the whole shebang, federal and state governments alike, is likely go up in flames simultaneously. Some of the more independent-minded states (e.g., Vermont) might weather that storm with their governments more or less intact, but I really wonder if the government of my own state--Ohio--will fare very well.

(ALEC, for the sake of John's overseas readers, stands for American Legislative Exchange Council and is an organization funded by large corporations. Many of its members are state legislators. The group's purpose has been to funnel corporate-friendly legislation through the state legislatures.)

monsta said...


Let me try and elaborate on the differences further. Today we live in an era with an unprecedented amount globalisation. This globalisation means national countries and by extension governments are much less self-sufficient than in the past. I will give you the UK as an example. About 50% of the food consumed must be imported and not only that but much of our manufacturing base has been outsourced to places like China. The UK can only keep up this dynamic by honouring its financial obligations and credit lines. Suppose the financial system collapses which it will considering the whole financial system is a giant Ponzi scheme how can the British government enact policies that ensure people have adequate access to food, goods, medical supplies and energy?

The government could mitigate these problems but all the required policies would require years to implement as not only do significant capital investments need to be made (which will be severely limited if there is a financial crash) but a large degree of retraining and thinking will need to take place. All of these things take time, time we will not have.

It is likely that if the financial system does crash people will not only lose their jobs but their pensions and even access to critical items like food, medical supplies, clothes and energy. If people do not have access to such things then it is likely to lead to political failure or social upheaval. Yes I am sure the governments will do everything they can to prevent such a thing from happening but without long-term measures then I think they would be largely impotent as most nations are dependent on the globalised trade to meet its basic needs.

Yes some nations may salvage something if they can agree to bilateral deals like the middle-east can get food in exchange for its oil etc. but still, they would face a collapse in my eyes because their society would have to undergo a process of forced simplification as these trades would be more limited and will not provide them with the amenities such as big cars, air conditioning that they enjoy or expect to have in the future.

I would be more inclined to believe a quick collapse is entirely avoidable if I could figure some policies a government could implement if there was a sudden failure in the financial system and a sudden drastic fall in world trade. I do think the probability of this occurring is rather high and if the financial system goes into meltdown global trade will collapse quite suddenly. The ability of the individual governments to handle this scenario would determine their survival.

Now just because I cannot devise a strategy on how the governments can save itself that does not mean they will not find a way. Please note when thinking of strategies I am considering non-democratic processes also. I do think the take home point is anything is possible and there is a significant chance of a fast collapse, I am not saying it is an inevitable scenario simply it is a possible scenario with a reasonable chance of occurring. I think it is prudent to watch the canaries of the world and at the moment it is Greece the other PIG nations and the poorer Arab/African nations that form the marginal parts of the globalised system.

How they fall (or survive) will offer a blueprint on how the core countries or core elements of the globalised system will respond. Then again there will be notable differences when the core nations do come under severe stress as the force of contagion and other systemic failures will be much stronger. As result it is possible the bigger nations will fail due to larger cascading failures falling around them in much the same manner in how a human body fail and suffer multiple organ failure soon after its kidneys cease functioning. The body, like the politician, will fight tooth and nail for survival but it can reach a tipping point where it becomes helpless to its environment and undergoes a process of rapid decline even collapse.


Kieran O'Neill said...

To follow on from Sue's comment on the bloodiest conflict of the 19th century, I suspect you mean the bloodiest conflict the United States was directly involved in? Indeed, as Sue points out, the Napoleonic Wars were about ten times as bloody. And I would hold that the Taiping rebellion gave the Napoleonic Wars a run for their money on that front.

Justin said...

It's always amazing to see when that fear dissolves, when even the most frightening dictator's carefully crafted image is dispelled and all that's left is an old man who isn't being listened to anymore.

There is video available demonstrating the exact moment when this happens. Nicolae Ceausescu's final speech.
Around the 57 second mark, you can see the exact moment when the old bastard realized his time was up.

Justin said...


For that matter, it’s anyone’s guess what will spark such a crisis, if in fact one does come.

My guess is that a populist will/could drive a wedge if/when the municipal bankruptcy issue rolls up to the state level. If California defaulted, for instance, it would not take much for a charismatic southerner a la Haley Barbor to whip up an uproar over having to fit the bill for those Godless hippies and their reckless spending as a way of playing for votes. That, in turn, could spiral out of control quickly beyond what the politician even intends.

These fissures exist everywhere, substitute Godless hippies for redneck southerners, racist southwesterners, or tax and spend liberals in the NE. I could see a situation like that spiralling out of control precisely because the effects of political actors actions on events would not be foreseen. In my scenario, the Barbor could just be out to score up some easy votes and have no idea how far things would go.

Ron Patterson said...

I am disappointed John. I expected a refutation of the Korowicz paper. Instead I found a long dissertation on French and American history. And I found praise for the Korowicz report in your first report, "On the Far Side of Denial", but no real refutation there either.

This prompted me to go back and read the Korowicz paper again. This took some doing because it is 75 pages long. But I found he made a strong case, one that has not been refuted by anyone so far.

I understand your commitment to your slow catabolic collapse theory. But the Korowiez fast collapse theory was based entirely on the much more complex and totally interdependent world we live in today. Explaining how societies collapsed slow in the past in no way disproves the Korowiez theory.

Ron Patterson

artinnature said...

Thank you JMG for another very educational post, a lot to think about.

I haven't read all of the comments yet, someone else from the "Republic of Cascadia" (Glen?) may have already chimed in. I think it has been discussed here before. We even already have our own flag, the "Doug" with an image of our native Douglas fir.

Mean Mr Mustard said...

19th Century Warfare?

I'll raise your Civil and Napoleonic Wars with the War of the Triple Alliance, which wiped out most male Paraguayans of fighting age and 65% of its entire population.

Proportionately the most destructive war of modern times - yet obscure, I suppose because victors wrote the history, and in Spanish.

Mean Mr Mustard said...

In support of Ron P, regarding fast vs slow collapses, someone on another blog also discussing Korowitz - think it was Orlov's - made a good analogy between a small star collapsing to a red dwarf and a giant star imploding into a black hole. Size, complexity and interdependence surely raise the stakes, as the paper argues.

Larry said...

Let's talk briefly about major presumptions. A major presumption here is that any branch of the U.S. Federal Government (or even any branch of any state government) gives a whit about the constitution or the rule of law. Recent evidence suggests otherwise.

Jennifer D Riley said...

Several here agree the Article V point is great; however, corporate lobbyists are going to have to be banned first. Can you imagine the states of Virginia, California, and New York lobbyist-free? I can't except via outright ban.

Took another read through the Tim Jackson book. Was struck by a section title: Learning to live off capital not income.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

I agree with you. Governments will do whatever they can to maintain the status quo. This is why the financiers were bailed out in 2008 and were not hauled before a kangaroo court for a, "please explain your previous actions session and atone for your sins". Given the same circumstances today, they'd probably get a further bailout? I don't seem to recall people protesting in the streets about it either (with any sense of passion).

When governments fail the ordinary citizen though, other more shady groups step in to take their place. Has anyone not taken note that extreme right parties such as Golden Dawn in Greece are handing out food parcels to selected people that conform with their ideals. Interestingly too, like the IRA, they have split the extremists and the political wings so that each can deny the other and yet at the same time, strangely benefit from the others presence. Very hard to explain for them, yet they do.

Hard times provide fertile soil to these types and it is in the interests of the powers that be to not ignore this lesson (although chasing self-interest to the bitter end, they probably will).

PS: I'm enjoying the Earth path, but feel a bit of discomfort. The problem is that over the past few years here I've been banging on about various ideas and concepts and yet you provided an eloquent guide.

Without having taken all of the practical actions that I have taken over many years, I'm not entirely sure I would have come up with all of the ideas that I did have. Yet, there they all were in the book for all the world to see.

It would be difficult to read the Earth Path without having undertaken actions and changes to your life. The act of reading whilst raising consciousness, does not in fact achieve much. Yet how else can you get a message across?




Cherokee Organics said...

Hi everyone,

This is a truly shameless plug for my latest article on the huge worm farm here which processes all of the humanure. You asked for it and you got it (I wasn’t initially going to write about it)!

Food Forests Part 4 Humanure and Black Water

Please click on the link and have a look. There's even digital video now - very high tech! I'd really appreciate it if people left a comment too.

This system is beautiful in that it works closely with nature and uses virtually no energy and benefits the wildlife here (which I included a few bits of video on). It is a far cry from the big centralised systems that most people utilise and is easily replicable (with simple materials – once you understand the process).

If you have any questions about the system too, I'd be happy to answer them. Go hard!

Regards and thanks for taking the time to have a look.


Richard Larson said...

Here I thought the Archdruid had ruffled too many feathers of late and "they" might have hauled him away.

The military is a strong possibility, I can think of a few possibilities, but all of them are all very bad collapse scenarios with the military being as weak as its host. Of course, Posse Commitatas would have to be suspended. This would jeopardize any cooperation with the local police foarce.

I place a lot of weight towards environmetal and/or whether the soil can produce enough food.

Oh, lets not forget about the importance of Monday Night Football. Now that would be an instant end of the world scenario...


John Michael Greer said...

Hi all, your friendly neighborhood temporary moderator here again.

Shiningwhiffle, thanks for pointing out the broken link. I haven't been able to correct the post (Blogger won't let me either see or edit the embedded html), but I did get the correct link. It is:

jollyreaper said...

Ceausescu speech

I was born in 1977. I'd started paying attention to things a few years before the fall of the iron curtain. That whole period stands out in my mind becuse I'd just begun to appreciate the way things were before everything suddenly changed and I could appreciate the significance of but in a dim and incomplete fashion.

I remember the whole fall of the Berlin Wall, watching on CNN and then going on a church youth group activity and asking other kids what they thought and them having no idea what I was talking about.

I grew up on a Christian family and believed the apocalyptic propaganda. WWIII was coming along with Armageddon from the scriptures. And suddenly Scriptire was thwarted. Thus began my conversion to rationalism.

It's hard to properly convey the sense of how Scriptire and politics felt so united, newspaper conforming to ancient scripture. It was so obvious anybody who denied it must either be crazy or working for Satan.

It scares me to think how many people see the same stuff I do in the news but see it as fulfilling prophecy.

jollyreaper said...

A further rumination on my own awakening to the larger world.

Wind of Change, Scoprions, 1991

I didn't fully understand all of the news clips referenced but had a sense that there was something significant going on, a passing of old evils and the hope of new change.

And what has come of it? A sampling from more recent times, a woman, French rapper of Argentine heritage, socially aware and politically active. The message isn't hopeful, it's defiant, not seeking accommodation or acceptance but defiantly insisting on acceptance and surrender. She does not expect the powers that be will concede willingly. I wouldn't expect them to, either.

Quite a change, one to the other, Scopions to Keny Arcana.

Zach said...

@Cherokee Organics,

I don't seem to recall people protesting in the streets about it either (with any sense of passion).

Well, the banker's bailout in 2008 was the trigger event for the formation of the Tea Party movement, something both the left/Democrats and right/Republicans want to drop down the memory hole.

One of the more skilled bits of political thaumaturgy I've witnessed was the setting up of the narrative that the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street were things completely and diametrically opposed to each other. "Let's you and him fight." (I mean each movement before they were co-opted.) The inability of many otherwise perceptive and intelligent people to even consider the thought that the "other side," even with their substantive differences, was actually concerned with the same thing that they were has been alternately a source of amusement and frustration to me.


MawKernewek said...

I haven't seen much of the news since the Olympics has been on, but I gather the most likely endgame for the Euro crisis, is a massive money-printing of some sort by the European Central Bank, however this is thought to be undesirable so there is repeated can-kicking down the road.

I don't find it easy to envisage what would happen though, if the Euro were to finally lose its legitimacy and hastily restored national currencies were to emerge. I would think that the Union itself would not survive.

I don't think a permanent and total collapse is likely to occur. Something more akin to the breakup of Yugoslavia, maybe quite nasty but not the end of industrial civilisation.

MawKernewek said...

Perhaps the unity of certain European nations may be under threat - with Spain and France in trouble, would renewed Catalan, Basque, Breton and other independence movements be stimulated as a counterweight to Spanish and French nationalist populism?

monsta said...


I would like to first say, that out of all the possible scenarios a fast collapse would be the most devastating scenario and personally and I would also go as far to say it is more socially advantageous if we experienced a slow decline. I feel the people who do wish for a fast collapse have not considered all the consequences that a fast collapse would entail.

The reason a slow decline must be preferred is because it allows more time for people and society to adjust to the new reality. This is not just in a practical sense by implementing some actual reforms/measures on how to live life but also mentally as well which is also an important aspect to consider. Currently society wastes a lot of energy/resources on activities that do little to enhance happiness so in theory we could reduce our foot print quite significantly without any significant impact on the quality of life however as the general narrative is of a bigger and "better" future then anything that does not advocate rampant consumption or at least the promise of rampant consumption in the future will be seen as loss. In short what I am saying is an important element in all this is a transformation of people's mind-sets and expectations of life. Currently society expects way too much and it needs to change however if this change were to come through sudden drastic changes in the environment then the reactions, and subsequent manipulation by unscrupulous individuals or governmental powers can result in much more negative outcomes.

Changing the subject however and focussing a bit more on collapse. I feel we can agree we live in a complex world which is governed by complex systems. In fact the degree of complexity in today's world is unprecedented. One thing that we do know about all complex systems is they are inherently unpredictable so making precise predictions on how, when and to what pace things will develop is largely a fool’s game. Only the general trajectory of the system can be determined with any real confidence. So I think it is best to at least consider that a fast collapse is one of the possible scenarios that can occur. Also when discussing the issue of collapse it is important to know how this term is defined. For many people, collapse would be something reminiscent of a mad Max movie but to me I would define a collapse of society in a similar fashion to Joseph Tainter; a forced simplification of the way society operates.

I strongly believe there is great merit in following history and as an former economics student can really understand the folly of not following/appreciating history but at the same time whilst it is very important to note the similarities of what happened before it also just as important to note the differences between the now and then. As Mark Twain would have said:
“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme”.
I can definitely subscribe to this notion. I also believe that the behaviour of the politicians will be the same of times gone by and the reaction by society is equally likely to be similar also. The other variable that must be considered is the environment we do live in. Is it really so exactly the same as times gone by? I have my doubts over this and please note I do not just mean the environment in the literal sense (although that will form an important element in the overall story). When I use this term I also encompass the political/economic environment. Whilst today’s society does indeed share many sharing some similarities to the past, there are some clear differences so the final outcome could be different.


Mister Roboto said...

I have frequently wondered if the collapse will bring about a situation in which the US would split up into four quadrants or every state becomes its own sovereign nation or any middle-ground between those two scenarios. And I'll say once again that it might have been better to just let the South secede because it really is a very different country in a very substantive way. (I would also add that now that climate-change is seriously happening, I'm glad I live in Wisconsin regardless of Governor Scott Walker!)

Robert Mathiesen said...

This is perhaps more relevant to the last few posts that it is to the current one, but here is a really telling report on a court case concerning the new NDAA, section 1021, on indefinite detention of anyone without trial:

The lawyers for the US Government appear to be claiming in open court that the President has the absolute power to do anything he thinks good without any legal consequences or remedies, whether or not it is forbidden by the Constitution, the laws, or even previous injunctions issued by the same NY judge before whom they were appearing.

The problem with presidential absolute power of this sort is that even if the current president were to exercise it wisely and with restraint, as surely as night follows day someone down the road will become president who is not wise and has no restraint, but merely wants all the power going.

As Lord Acton once observed, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

Justin said...

JMG et al,
Someone in the archdruid audience surely must have considered by now that the slow vs. fast collapse debate is a duality.

Look at the extinction rates of species, the acidifying oceans, the denuding of the landscape and now wildly changing environmental conditions. According to this article on extinction, the biosphere are losing 50 species a day, as compared to the historical norm of about 1 extinction every 5 years. Scientists are calling this the largest extinction rate in 65 million years, the changes are so radical that we've determined we entered a new geological epoch called the Anthropocene. Is that a fast enough collapse for you?

Maybe the fast vs. slow collapse debate is not so much about reality as it is about perspective and value judgments. Call it slow or call it fast if you wish.

IMO, spiritual traditions represent millenia of wisdom about our species, honed over thousands of years by billions of people. If we do not inform our rationalism with this received wisdom, then we do ourselves and rational thought a great disservice.

hapibeli said...

Hey everybody! It's all going to be fine! Check this out!!;
See, now we can all quit worrying! I'm so happy...

pansceptic said...

Sunny, you wrote:
"In fact, my commitment to the apocalypse only sabotaged the real opportunities I had to live life that year, taking away my motivation to give any effort to my real world responsibilities. It was really funny, though, how as soon as I started to take pride in my job again and value my relationship with the world that the apocalyptic fantasies vanished or turned into images of pure shame and ridicule."

The 'shame and ridicule' part are a red flag for a denied self (AKA Shadow Self or Disowned Self). I'll suggest that your entire Mea Culpa is meant as penance, offered up on the altar as part of your 5 phases of loss. You testify that maybe, if I too just get back to my programmed spot in the beehive and just focus on my immediate friends/family, I too can pretend that nothing is amiss.

While it sure is true that this system has proven adept at kicking the can, this was done by pulling demand from the future, and borrowing the money from the future to pay for it as well! Slick trick!. The future has been all hollowed out! It is certain that the standard of living in the industriallized world is going to decline a lot for most of its residents. This is a process, maybe punctuated by crises, maybe not. You may as well pick yourself up and start transitioning to a more self-reliant life; avoid the rush.

John D. Wheeler said...

I would like to follow up on Puzzler's and SunsetSu's comments. I have heard, albeit unsubstantiated, that over the years states have voted for a Constitutional convention -- and they did not put a time limit on it. Cumulatively something like 28 to 30 states have done this at some point, so only 3 to 5 more states would be required to put us over the 2/3 threshold.

I would love it if anyone else can verify or refute this.

John Michael Greer said...

Greetings all,

I'm back -- many thanks for your patience, particularly with the problem with Blogger's autoposting of the post. (I'll be making other arrangements next time.) Will be responding to comments as soon as time permits.

Chris Balow said...


In reference to the regional differences found across the presently United States, how do you view the apparent cultural and political distance between rural and urban communities? For example, the average resident of Madison, WI probably wouldn't find much political common ground with the average resident of a nearby rural community, but may instead find more in common with residents of other left-leaning college towns like Austin, TX, or Athens, GA. Do you see this rural/urban divide as a significant battleground down the road, or more as a superficial product of the red/blue, republican/democrat dichotomy that the ruling class currently milks to its advantage?

Puzzler said...

Nice to have you back JMG and to know the autopost wasn't part of some doomsday mechanism or rapture.

MawKernewek said...

I would say that one way or another, the urban/rural divide will play a big role, if only because of the increasing costs of maintaining the services of industrial society to rural areas including utilities like electricity, phone, internet service, etc. but also the products of industry that migrants from urban to rural areas expect to be just as available in the rural areas as the cities they have left. An expectation that will some time fail.

John Michael Greer said...

Puzzler, that's why it will most likely happen in a serious national crisis, when the pressures of the moment override the normal rivalry of the regions -- or when the different regions have their own reasons to support the same measure.

Jennifer, you're welcome!

Charter, thanks for the link.

Whiffle, thanks for catching that -- I'll get it fixed as soon as time permits.

Kathleen, stranger things have definitely happened. I'm not sure how likely it will be that any states decide to go it alone -- well, other than California and Texas -- but I'm open to being surprised.

Sue, of course the Napoleonic wars, plural, were bigger than the American Civil War, singular! As the difference in number suggests, the former wasn't just one war, and I don't believe any one of the many wars in which Napoleon's empire engaged had a death toll as high as the Civil War.

Escape, that's a plausible scenario, not least because something not too different was heavily involved in the collapse of Roman Britain -- the upper class was unwilling to pay taxes to support an effective defense against the Saxons, and we know what happened then -- and the run-up to the French Revolution.

Smith, good. I wanted to see if anybody would look it up.

Reaper, of course it's magic; you'll find an analysis of that in my posts last fall, or in my book The Blood of the Earth.

Ventriloquist, if there are as many examples of governments taking effective action in economic crisis as there are examples of government failing to do so -- and in fact there are more of the former -- dismissing the possibility that the current US government might do the thing is an act of faith, not a rational analysis.

John Michael Greer said...

Thijs, what the EU resembles more than the US now is the US under its original Articles of Confederation, which produced a vague, not really workable union that states could flout fairly easily. Our current constitution came into being because that earlier arrangement didn't work. It remains to be seen whether the EU is going to establish a European government that matters -- that is, one with an elected executive and some degree of voter control over the EU's bureaucrats -- or whether it's going to fall apart, as the US very nearly did before our constitution was ratified.

Lewis, I sometimes wonder if putting the state capitol in a small city was a deliberate act to keep the European model from repeating here.

Joy, benefit checks? Not so fast. Since we're talking about national bankruptcy, what gives you the idea that the benefit checks will keep coming?

Sunset, bingo.

Bhavana, the US population is already moving toward contraction as the birth rate drops and immigration becomes a lot less popular. The global population will be headed the same way as global grain production heads south. I see population as an effect, rather than an independent cause; as we lose the abundance that made breeding like rabbits look like a good idea, my guess is you'll see population move into contraction pretty quickly.

Ivan, the fixation on the absurdities of the rich is a common American pastime during times of relative prosperity, because people can fantasize about having that much money themselves. In times of contraction, that sort of conspicuous consumption gets bombs thrown through car windows. If I were Brad or Angelina, whoever they are, I'd be a little more careful.

Mr. M., the power of money is a very brittle thing. As long as things remain stable, the masters of money can buy a great deal of power; once the stability shatters, they're more likely to be robbed at gunpoint by governments that no longer have to care about the rule of law. That's why the culture of executive kleptocracy we've got these days is so self-defeating; the corporate kleptocrats are destroying the basis for their own influence by wrecking the economic machinery that alone gives them their power.

John Michael Greer said...

Norman, good. In the long run, you're quite correct. My working guess, though, is that the collapse of US empire may trigger a crisis large enough to bring about that result even in the much shorter run.

Russell, also good. One of the likely results of any attempt to impose centralized authority on the US would be a long and bitter insurgency that would trash the US economy and shatter any hope of holding onto our global empire. Mind you, we may well get the insurgency anyway, in which case a lot of bets are off.

Larry, look up the economic history of France during the Revolution sometime. It was a remarkable mess.

Robert, as long as Canada has money flowing in from tar sands, my guess is that your government will be able to buy its way to stability. It's when that stops being viable that it's quite possible that Canada may blow itself apart as well.

Edde, thanks for the suggestion!

MawKernewek, thanks for the link.

Myriad, precisely.

Ricardo, if Germany has the collective brains the gods gave geese, they'd ditch the Euro as soon as it becomes obvious that the only way to save it is to start transferring wealth to southern Europe.

Ando, you're welcome.

Yupped, I've begun to hear whispers of the same sort of thing. We'll see where it goes.

Sunny, glad to hear that you extracted yourself from that. You're precisely right -- the point of apocalypse is that you don't have to fix your own life.

John Michael Greer said...

Don, it's an interesting question. The point I'd make, again, is that political influence that's bought by money is a very brittle thing, and once governments abandon the rule of law -- as they generally do during extreme crisis -- it's much easier simply to seize private wealth, directly via confiscation or indirectly via confiscatory taxes, than to whore yourself for it.

Monsta, yes, I've heard that reasoning before, and I've explained at some length why I find it implausible.

Kieran, again, the Napoleonic wars were quite a bit more than one war. The Taiping rebellion? Heck of a good question; I've read that it and the US Civil War were something close to neck and neck, though more recent research may have tipped the balance.

Justin, thanks for the link! As for Haley Barbour et al., exactly -- my suggestion is that under extreme stress, the fracture lines that divide the regions would give way, and politicians would stumble into a situation from which the dissolution of the Union might be the only viable way out.

Ron, I've discussed at great length in many blog posts why I find Korowicz' theory implausible, based on his own admission that he assumes governments will take the minimal possible steps to deal with a collapse -- an assumption that can't be justified on any basis but sheer faith. If you find that disappointing, so be it.

Art, even so odd a duck as Aleister Crowley wrote that he couldn't see the west coast remaining in the US indefinitely. I disagree with Crowley on almost any issue you care to name, but there I suspect he was right.

Mustard, fascinating -- I'll have to compare the total death toll, though. As for raising the stakes, do we have evidence that this is in fact the case, in this specific case? Otherwise it's argument by metaphor, which is always interesting but hardly conclusive.

Larry, not at all. The question is simply where the potential fracture lines are if the federal government blunders into severe crisis.

Jennifer, there were plenty of corporate lobbyists in DC from the 1870s on. How come monopolies got banned and the New Deal enacted into law? Again, influence isn't power, and the influence gained from money is brittle.

Cherokee, all I can say is that the Earth Path material in The Druidry Handbook has inspired a fair number of people to try to lessen their impact on the biosphere. It's a start. Also, thanks for the link -- it's highly relevant to the project of this blog, thus welcome.

John Michael Greer said...

Richard, nah, I just had a speaking gig and was on the train to Chicago when the post was supposed to go up.

Reaper, a fascinating meditation.

MawKernewek, exactly! You get today's gold star for saying the crucial words: it's not the end of the world. It's history as usual: an empire comes apart, political discords spin out of control, there's a war or two, and then things settle down at a new level. That's the shape of the US imperial twilight, too.

Monsta, you left out the main reason why people prefer to talk about fast collapse: they don't have to do anything. If it's all about to come crashing down, why bother to change your life now? Thus it's one more lullaby, or to use a metaphor from an earlier post, one more excuse to keep on living in Hagsgate.

Mister R., it's not just the South. California is a different country. New England is a different country. Texas -- well, it's basically a different planet. That's one of the reasons why disunion seems like a likely outcome to me.

Robert, I'm aware of it. If that's accepted, we no longer have a republic here in the US.

Justin, hmm. As I see it, the binary is still the widely held popular notion that the only options are business as usual or sudden collapse, and the third factor belongs somewhere in a range of options including gradual decline, stairstep decline, and massive but not fatal crisis.

Hapibeli, the number of media stories like that is, I think, solid evidence of just how desperate things have gotten.

John, I'd encourage you to go look it up.

Chris, unless something provides a political focus for the rural population, it will remain as diffuse and powerless as it generally is. Many rural areas in the South were opposed to secession in 1860 and 1861; the power was concentrated where the population was, and so secession happened. I see little reason to think that that will change.

John Michael Greer said...

Puzzler, if the Rapture happens I confidently expect to still be here!

MawKernewek, in that sense, of course -- there's a whole laundry list of urban-rural interactions and dependencies that will come more or less unglued in the years ahead. The question for present purposes is what political impact that will have.

SophieGale said...

So many books, so little time!

Christopher Phillips has been encouraging American citizens to read and engage in discussions about our Constitution. Constitution Cafe asks citizens what amendments they would add or delete from the Constitution and encourages them to debate about calling a Constitutional Convention:

I just finished reading The Next Decade: Where We’ve Been..and Where We’re Going by George Friedman, "founder and CEO of STRATFOR, the world's leading private intelligence and forecasting company", and I'm in the middle of reading his previous book The Next 100 years: A Forecast for the 21st Century. According to Friedman, of course we are an empire! --Unintended and still in our adolescence as a world power, but... He's very easy to read and seems quite lucid about how we got to be an empire--the roots of WWI and II, and what our president--as de facto emperor of the world--needs to do on the global stage during the next decade.

I'm taking the next 100 years with a bag of salt since he thinks that by 2080 we will be beaming down energy from solar collectors in space, but his discussion of the U.S. as the world's only naval power is quite interesting.

BTW I just completed making my first-ever pot of corn cob soup stock. Went to the farmer's market yesterday, bought corn on the cob, processed it for the freezer and made stock out of the spent cobs. Not bad at all for a first attempt. I'm pretty satisfied with myself.

Justin said...

My point is that one man's collapse is another man's recovery depending on their respective view points. What we can describe is what is happening. Whether we qualify that reality as a fast or slow process is one of those entirely subjective value judgments that are largely irrelevant. In my view, we are already collapsed in the United States and its getting worse. You go to small town America, and what you generally find is a hollowed out social structure, and impoverished economy based on gas stations, chain restaurants and superstores. Meanwhile, major manufacturers have left. Minor manufacturers are playing a game with local tax bases, playing one county off another to keep seeking regulatory arbitrage.

I am spending part of my time in a rural community, and the isolation and lack of coordination of economic activities is paralyzing. Everyone is doing their own thing, no one wants to even think about forming something as simple as a farmer's market. Part of my income stream is from art, and although there is a half-assed gallery in every town up here, not a single person wants to think about pooling resources. I've been told in response to inquisitions as to why there are no economies of scale that, "around here, we like to keep to ourselves." The Mohawk Valley Formula has a legacy, for sure.

Anyway, even within the terms of debate about slow and fast collapse that excludes the rapid environmental collapse from discussion, its bad. Our species' ability to rapidly adapt and normalize only makes it seem slow. In any case, I don't think the duality between slow and fast matters. Call it fried chicken if you like...

Robert Mathiesen said...

JMG wrote, with reference to the case I mentioned above and the Dep't of Justice's striking claim that the President is not bound in any way by the Constitution, by laws, and may ignore any court ruling in the exercise of his powers, including those powers given him by the new NDAA about indefinite detention without trial:

"Robert, I'm aware of it. If that's accepted, we no longer have a republic here in the US."

Not only will we no longer have a republic, but the President will also have an effective means to clear National debts and replenish the treasury at will. All that is needed is a simple tweak that the property of those detained under this provision goes to the state. Then whenever money runs short, the President can just detain various conveniently selected super-rich people indefinitely and add all their wealth into the treasury.

All this reminds me very strongly of Caesar Augustus' strategy to transform the old Republic into an Empire by taking all the power into his hands while carefully not calling himself an emperor and preserving most of the outward customs and offices of the Roman Republic.

One of Augustus' chief tools, as he did this, was the legal power he had been granted to proscribe people, that is, to execute, banish or simply "disappear" them at his pleasure. Since the property of a proscribed person went to the state treasury, he also used proscription of selected very wealthy men whenever he needed to replenish the treasury or clear some of the State's debts. This generally enhanced his popularity with the masses and strengthened his political power.

You surely know all this Roman history, JMG, but it may be news to some of your readers.

I daresay we will all know for sure by 2024, or maybe sooner, whether something like this has been in the works for a while.

American People's New Economic Charter said...

Sophie, interesting you should bring up George Friedman. I recently read his "The Next 100 Years." He is absurdly USA-centric and techno-optimist in his positions, which would have made sense a century ago, but fly in the face of most data at present. He pretty much ignores climate change, for example, or at least assumes it will hit every country more or less equally, and therefore cancel itself out geopolitically.

For a detailed exploration of the next 28 years, check out my prospective novel "Inter States 2040". I would be curious to see what you think. It's being published in installments at:

The novel includes a detailed scenario of how the US federal system might outlive its purpose, unfolding through the most mundane of party politics. Substitute the Tea Party for the Homeland Front, and... the rest is fiction.

MawKernewek said...

I see rural areas agitating for things like fuel tax relief and subsidised ferries to islands (which they get in Scotland, but not Scilly).

The irony is that for example on the Isles of Scilly to the west of Cornwall, the islands are so small that there's no need to run a car, and there isn't a scheduled car ferry to the mainland anyway. It is actually remote mainland communities that have higher fuel costs, but these were not included in the scheme above to cut fuel tax for islands.

It will be politically relevant that as transport costs rise, and poorer people cannot afford to live in town or on transport links, that they are disproportionately affected by rising fuel costs, and agitation will begin for similar tax relief to be extended beyond island communities.

jollyreaper said...

IMO, spiritual traditions represent millenia of wisdom about our species, honed over thousands of years by billions of people. If we do not inform our rationalism with this received wisdom, then we do ourselves and rational thought a great disservice.

I am skeptical towards the old and the new. I don't want to adopt a startling new idea simply because it is fashionable. I don't want to cling to an old tradition simply because this is the way it has always been done.

I find that some people are too willing to fix what isn't broke and other people are too willing to cling to something that clearly isn't working because they fear any change, even improvement.

Jaqship said...


Gripping stuff, as usual.
Regarding your claim that soldiers cops etc. are poorly paid, poorly treated, and poorly equipped, I must differ as of now, but I'll grant that this "now" is probably not sustainable. The equipment had never been more lethal.
But the elephant in the room is the pensions: were they to be reliable, as most cops still assume, cops are paid well. Once the cops get it, that their pensions are built on ponzi, the cops will feel HAD, and it won't be pretty.
For a glimpse into this, see many of the posts at

Yupped said...

I was thinking more about the apocalyptic vs catabolic models of collapse, and was reflecting on my Father’s life. He is now 90, a Brit, and lived through the period in which the British Empire collapsed. A few highlights: 1929 crash, his father lost his business and home, and moved his family to China to seek something new; 1936 Japanese invasion of China (he was living in Shanghai); 1940-45 in the British air force in the far east, in the early years seeing various British defeats (Rangoon, Singapore, etc); 1947 he was with the British forces leaving India; Late 40s and 50s living in bombed-out London, with rationing and economic challenges; 1957 Suez crisis; 1960s various remaining colonies gained independence (Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, Rhodesia, Malaysia) as cost of retaining Empire couldn’t be justified; 1967 devaluation of the pound; 1970s economic turmoil, rolling black-outs, industrial strife, three-day weeks, Irish bombings; 1980s more recession and industrial strife, Falklands war, end of the cold war.

So that’s what one collapse looked like, in the course of a long life: lots of crises, some catastrophes, plenty of slow grind, some periods of recovery. And of course the process isn’t done yet. The 1990s and early 2000s were relatively quiet, but the economy is now faltering again, and North Sea Oil is running low. But the sun always came up tomorrow, even if what it highlighted wasn’t always very pleasant. Throughout all this my Father did the British thing – kept calm and carried on – and did a lot of gardening.

ando said...

JMG and John,

John got me interested in the Constituional Convention.

Renew America has an article from 2008 to
"Act now to reject Constitutional Convention" with probably the latest status.

here is the link:



Nano said...

What are the chances that 2016 would give us a super conservative president for office?

Could we see not just business but many laws turning super conservative? Would the "people" allow it?

Future politics in a world of puppets.

Kieran O'Neill said...

I'll make this my last post on the topic, so as not to hammer on a point.

So firstly, the American Civil War was the bloodiest in US history, with about 620,000 soldiers killed (although about 3/5 of these were from disease, so WWII had more battle deaths for the US but fewer overall casualties). I don't think anyone has accurately estimated civilian casualties, but for the sake of argument let's estimate up to a million (with Sherman's scorched earth and broken supply lines all over the South, I think that's fair). Anyway, your point in the post stands.

But in terms of the bloodiest war in the 19th century, the 1-2 million Americans killed in the Civil War doesn't seem to measure up to other wars. The Taiping Rebellion is believed to have caused the deaths of 10-40 million, while both the White Lotus Rebellion and Dungan Revolt, also in China, caused the deaths of something in the region of 10 million each. As for the Napoleonic Wars, I think they are mostly considered to be a single, continuous conflict for the purposes of casualties (with deaths in the 3 to 6 million range), even just the War of the Sixth Coalition, counting the Russian Invasion, had an estimated death toll in the 1 to 2 million range, comparable to that of the American Civil War.

From what I can see so far, the American Civil War, while very bloody, wasn't even in the same order of magnitude in terms of casualties as the happenings in China in the 19th Century, and is probably more neck and neck with the sub-wars of Napoleon. Of course, historiography is a tricky thing, and I would be very open to seeing the sources you've read which say otherwise.

dltrammel said...

I wanted to let everyone know that the Green Wizard website is back up and available for posting again. We had some problems with brown-outs during the recent heat wave that messed with the servers.

I also would like to mention, with the recent discussion about the future of bicycles in a previous post here, that the Green Wizard forum has a Transportation Circle which would welcome any discussions or instructions those of you who know about bicycles and their strengths and weaknesses would like to share with those of us, like me, who expect to need one during the Descent, but who presently don't have one.

(Good thing riding a bicycle is one of those things you learn and never

I posted a link to pictures of cargo bicycles in that forum from the 30s and 40s. Amazing how inventive people can be with a bit of tech and ingenuity.

Lauren said...

Today I finished reading the book The Story Telling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall. I thought about the "fast collapse story" and the longer descent scenario. And I realized that this blog in particular is so edifying due in large part that the facts are laid out in such a compelling story format.

The other thing I learned is that there are more (underpaid, community-disconnected, lonely, and perhaps confused and overwhelmed by modern society?) individuals playing World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMOPRG) than the entire populations of Norway & Nicarauga combined. And this is only one such game.

I don't know what it will take, short of power grid collapse, to really get the attention of enough citizens to get politically active enoug, and be come informed enough, to respond to the disintegrating political scene.

Justin said...


I am not talking about new ideas or old traditions. I was speaking to rationalism, a pattern of thought based on informal and formal rules, and wisdom, a collection of interrelated axioms about social reality decoupled from material context that inform those rules.

I agree with you otherwise. I think the challenge in understanding or imparting meaning from received wisdom is finding multiple interpretations rather than one fixed, 'best' interpretation. The practice of finding a best interpretation that is the valid one is rationalism without wisdom. The practice of thinking all are equally valid is wisdom without rationalism.

Here is an example, to keep from being too general.

Does a religious rule such as 'thou shall not kill' mean
1. You should never kill anyone under any circumstances.
2. You should never kill anything under any circumstances.
3. You should probably not kill anyone, but life is messy, and there is no point in listing a bunch of exceptions, clauses and rules since its one of those things you'll have to figure out in due time. Just try not to be a psychopath, if you are in a position to make this kind of decision, no matter which way you go, you are probably doing it wrong to even have to consider the action.
4. God doesn't want you to kill anyone and will send you to hell if you do.
4a. unless you are a soldier being told to kill by a politician. (Thomas Aquinas said so.)
5. God doesn't exist, therefore the rule is null and void.

I am sure to be leaving out a half dozen other interpretations.

Apologies JMG for getting off thread.

macsporan said...

Permit me as a historian to pontificate:

The US Civil War killed about 600,000 mostly soldiers.

The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars killed about four million.

The Taiping Rebellion with between 20 and 30 million was in a class of it's own.

Glad I wasn't there.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Zach,

That's a controversial point of view. To quote your comment:

Well, the banker's bailout in 2008 was the trigger event for the formation of the Tea Party movement, something both the left/Democrats and right/Republicans want to drop down the memory hole.

It seems more plausible that the wikipedia entry is somewhat closer to the truth about the formation of the Tea Party movement. My favourite quote from the entry is:

Tea Party movement is a mix of "grassroots populism, professional conservative politics, and big money"

Tea Party movement

PS: Slogans aside, do they have a specific platform relating to the bankers responsible for the 2008 subprime debacle?



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

Thanks for the nice words about the article. I've only just recently realised how uncommon the system is. It is funny, but nature is quite a hard worker if people take the time to listen to the message, observe, learn and then work with her.

Technically, I could rebuild this system with basic materials for very little cost, but the legal troubles that would result from this action would be way too much drama for me. Yet, at the same time, the system would work very well. What to do with this information is a conundrum. Oh well.

Oops! I can see my previous comment the other day was not quite clear. It was never intended as a comment on your writing in The Earth Path but rather an observation about how difficult it is to impart wisdom and ideas to other people. (Ironic, hehe?)

In past employment I've trained graduates and it is a long journey that takes many different paths. I'm still unsure that there is a one size fits all approach to the issue and I always felt that it was more art than science.

Different cultures handle such matters very differently. Do you think that there is such a concept as collected wisdom in a culture?



jollyreaper said...

I agree with you otherwise. I think the challenge in understanding or imparting meaning from received wisdom is finding multiple interpretations rather than one fixed, 'best' interpretation. The practice of finding a best interpretation that is the valid one is rationalism without wisdom. The practice of thinking all are equally valid is wisdom without rationalism.

Here is an example, to keep from being too general.

Does a religious rule such as 'thou shall not kill' mean

I'm sure there's a proper term for it but this is something I call rules lawyering and word finagling. Clinton musing about what the definition of "is" is. Neocons creatively reinterpreting the Constitution to support their theory of the "unitary executive" which is basically turning the president into a presidente with far more powers than were ever originally meant.

Your interpretations represent the creative ways religious people try to get around the well-understood rules to do what they want to do.

From my personal view, the only justifiable killing is when someone is in the wrong. Someone steps out of bounds and threatens your life, leaves you no choice, a self-defense killing is justified. If you kill him without that kind of justification, you are a murderer. If both parties are respectful to each other and keep their noses clean, there should be no killing.

This is kind of backwards. A religious person should be looking to his scriptures and his beliefs in order to decide what the correct and moral choice should be. Most people make the choice they want and then look to the scriptures to justify it as correct and moral.

Unknown said...

Unfortunately, the avenue for constitutional amendment that Mr. Greer points out is not, for all practical purposes, available to us because the U.S. Supreme court effectively foreclosed that amendment process in 2010 when it handed down the Citizens United case. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 50 (2010). In Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled, essentially, that no limits could be imposed on campaign contributions because that would be a form of infringing free speech of corporations. As we can all see, that decision enabled the creation of Super Pacs and has driven up the cost of campaigns substantially. It is this extra cost that helps the monied interest, and thus the status-quo. It also lends itself to that “diffusion” of decision-making that Mr. Greer alluded to in “The Descent into Stasis.”

This is as much a historical accident as anything else. When the Constitution was written, corporations were strictly state animals. Corporations were still under the Roman strictures that limited their scope and duration so as not to compete with the State. The British, incidentally, had flirted with removing regulations on corporations so that they could “innovate” (sound familiar), which resulted in a financial calamity and the passage of the “Bubble Act” in 1720, which reimposed the old Roman strictures. By the time we won independence, there were only about 250 small corporations in the thirteen states. With no central government, the states where the companies were located inherited their articles of incorporation. When the Constitution was enacted, it gave “full faith and credit” to the laws of the other states, as well as all “privileges and immunities” to the citizens of other states. Corporations were not mentioned in the Constitution – only government and the public. Most importantly, citizenship was not defined in the original Constitution or the Bill of Rights. It as only a matter of time until the Supreme Court had to decide which side corporations fell: citizens, or government. That question was settled in a tax case in 1886. Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 118 U.S. 394 (1886). That's when corporations officially became people, my friend.

Once they were people, they were given all the privileges and immunities of other citizens. Moreover, under the Full Faith and Credit clause, the lax laws of states like Delaware were effectively imposed on the other states through corporations that could not be excluded by the state government because of the Supreme Court decisions. Once corporations were people for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment (which for the first time attempts to define citizenship in a Constitutional context), the protections for corporations were eventually extended to other provisions in the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment. First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765 (1978); Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976); Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 50 (2010).

This historical accident means that corporations have become institutions in our society that rival, in many ways, the authority of the state and federal governments. Even though they are unelected, the unrivaled ability to aggregate capital and employ that capital to affect appointments of individuals, as well as direct to whom elected officials find themselves accountable, has done as much to nullify our democracy as any overt act. Yes, we have the ability to take the government back – in writing. I cannot, however, imagine that the powers that direct all that capital would allow anything like meaningful reforms from happening.

Stu from Rutherford said...

You made a tangential reference to another hidden bomb inside the Constitution: its requirement that per-State Senate representation remain the same. I.e., the Constitutional requirement that the small states dominate the US Senate. (Wyoming residents' votes have 60-70 times the punch of those from California, for instance.) The largest 8 states have half the population but only 1/6 the Senate votes.
Can the small states ever be persuaded to give up this power? I'm sure I don't know.

In tandem with the 17th amendment, it also brings an easy target for influencing politics: win Senate elections in small states and reward the populations of those states with the illusion of riches (such as farm subsidies, which do not actually enrich the humans, but you can make them believe that it does).

Justin said...

I don't know what the etiquette for this is. I'd take a discussion like this to email, if JMG prefers, so as not to derail the comments about the dissolution of the United States.
mccro8 at gmail

I'm trying to use some of JMG's lessons about dualism to relate this more directly to the broader themes of this blog. I am less interested in the ten commandments specifically than I am in applying a general approach to thinking about these things differently to a specific case anyone recognizes.

I'm not trying to play lawyer for the bible or get around its rules. The point is that where getting around those rules in multiple ways is possible, be wary of those who insist on only one right way.

Think about our legal codes and the many classifications and its attempts to define justifiable murder, and to differentiate murders into different categories of heinousness. That is one approach, the other approach is to leave it intentionally open ended. The subtext of a simple, concise, and possibly open to interpretation statement is that its a heuristic, a rule of thumb, etc.

As JMG likes the classics, I'll mention that the power of Euclidean Geometry was in just such generality, which allowed mathematicians through the ages to impart and explore all manner of context. If the rules had been clearly defined, there would have been no room for exploration and multiple explanations, which is how we now have all these branches of mathematics from the root.

Chris said...

It takes a lot of money to get a political agenda off the ground, but not necessarily a personal one. It could be said, small family enterprise is what all good trading systems were based upon in the past. We've just forgotten that's how it started.

I suspect that's because the growth of the Empire has been at the expense of our personal involvement. Our collective consciousness, if you will. We've been reduced to commodities, given an annual nett worth or liability to the system.

What we've forgotten though, is how much we need community enterprise, made up of many small family enterprises. It's the original trading system that has lasted through every Empire's collapse.

Quercus said...

"Escape, that's a plausible scenario, not least because something not too different was heavily involved in the collapse of Roman Britain -- the upper class was unwilling to pay taxes to support an effective defense against the Saxons, and we know what happened then -- and the run-up to the French Revolution"

Im not sure if I do know! (The tax issue having never been in my history book)
I did read in Rex Weylers history of the red man wriiten by a white man (blood of the land) about the story of the monks arrival to the Americas. I guess as the Saxons started to spread, the monks or holy people were forced further and further onto the periphery of Europe. Rex Weyler tells the story of how some sailed to America in leather coracles across the Northern route to establish the great councils of peace. The largest of which was with the Irquois and Seneca and another tribe if I am correct. The authors implication being that some of this filtered down (or was bastardised) into the form you have now.

On the one hand I heartily agree with your empires come and go attitude.
On the other, there is some hidden treasures amongst the details. (hence the original question) and there is a lurking feeling that it all leads somewhere....!

I think ultimately we will have to define our bounderies with ecosystems.

auntiegrav said...

"other ways can readily be jerry-rigged to keep real wealth moving."

This is the key, isn't it? What we are missing, though, is a decent comparison between real wealth and perceived monetary wealth. Not easily done, but I suggest we compare the amount of money a farmer receives to the supermarket prices, and we'll get an idea of how far the economy is from real wealth and usefulness. Something like 50:1 ratio for things like corn flakes or beans. When the real ramifications of the 2012 Drought show up in the winter commodities markets, there won't be any 'cake' for people to eat while building the guillotines.

Sue W said...

On the one hand, I hated to quibble about good writing because of some factoid or other, on the other, I have now found some new and interesting stuff to read about Chinese and South American history!

Also great information about the U.S. Constitution - which is a source of fascination to everyone, being perhaps the most singular political document/process/movement in modern history.

So, good discussion, thanks all!

Blank said...

Dodoma is the capital of Tanzania. Thank you for reading my comment, on the long road down from Hubbert's peak — MDH