(In the last part, we looked at the structure power in America, and how Trump has, not only jettisoned its key principles, but has, in fact, carried out a political insurrection. As argued in Part 5, America is a country, like all Western countries, in a state of deep decay and dysfunction. Here, we will look briefly at the history of the Moldbug’s Modern Structure and why, according to Richard Fernandez, it is in a state of crisis.)
Donald Trump, Brexit, and the rise of “populist” political platforms; the perpetual Eurozone crisis; Islamic terrorism; the Middle East wars; a resurgent Russia and an increasingly confident and assertive China are not passing problems for progressives.
These are all consequences of the decaying USG (United States Government) Imperium or “global governance.”
Richard Fernandez, one of the most perceptive commentators today, describes the role that USG plays in the world and how it is the central element in what he calls the “Modern Crisis.”
The modern, American made world, which came into existence post-1945 and reached its apex with the fall of the Soviet Union is built on three foundations: an economic/financial foundation; a security foundation; thirdly, an ideological foundation:
The United States plays a very special role in the modern world. Its fundamental job is to provide a physical reality to the increasingly virtual world –about which more later –and to serve as the foundation for the legitimacy of global rules.
The construction of this edifice of legitimacy was consciously started when the Second World War neared its end at the Bretton Woods conference. There the US undertook to provide the reserve currency into which other international currencies were in principle convertible. The US would issue the foundation –the financial primitive –into which all other currencies could be expressed. For so long as the dollar –or its equivalent –existed, there would be a medium of exchange among the economies of the world. Money was the first foundation stone.
The other critical thing the US contributed to the edifice of global legitimacy was confidence in global security. After years of bloody conflict in the mid-20th century populations needed confidence that ships could again voyage the seas, airliners cross the skies and communications cables carrying information flows could be laid undisturbed. That security was provided largely by the United States Navy, “the premier force for power projection on the planet and the guarantor of world peace”.
In the years since 1945, it provided all the nations of the world –even US rivals like China –with a world of law and order in which they could prosper and grow rich. So long as things worked, the international community had no incentive to rock the boat.
War of the Words. Fernandez
The post-war order, contrary to Fernandez however, was not something that was consciously developed during the Second World War. It has much deeper roots.
For example, consider this piece of reporting from Time magazine, the “Super-Protestant” vision of the post war order. You will note that every item on the checklist was realised by the victors and their successors. The article dates from 1942 during the hight of the conflict:
These are the high spots of organized U.S. Protestantism’s super-protestant new program for a just and durable peace after World War II:
Ultimately, “a world government of delegated powers.”
Complete abandonment of U.S. isolationism.
Strong immediate limitations on national sovereignty.
International control of all armies & navies.
“A universal system of money … so planned as to prevent inflation and deflation.”
Worldwide freedom of immigration.
Progressive elimination of all tariff and quota restrictions on world trade.”
Today’s “Super-Protestants” are the left-wing progressives.
Progressivism is a political movement which dropped any supernatural or Christian baggage but retained the value system. The Puritan-progressivists are American’s ruling class and ruling ideology, and have been for some time. Just look at the history of Harvard University on Wikipedia.
The claim that modern day progressivism, socialism, humanism and leftism more generally is derived from Christianity has, of course, been made many times from Schopenaur to Nietzsche, from Murray Rothbard to Erik Von Kunheldt-Leddhin and John Gray.
American civil war era theologian and historian, R.L Dabney, predicted the aims of the Puritans of Massachusetts:
“The first step in their vast designs was to overwhelm the Conservative States of the South. This done, they boasted that they would proceed first to engross the whole of the American continent, and then to emancipate Ireland, to turn Great Britain into a democracy, to enthrone Red Republicanism in France, and to give the crowns of Germany to the Pantheistic humanitarians of that race who deify self as the supreme end and selfish desire as the authoritative expression of the Divine Will.”
The vision of global order is a long one in the puritan-progressive heart.
In 1941, however, just after Pearl Harbour, arch progressive, President Roosevelt, delivered a speech to the American military in which he stated that he had “in his hand” Hitler’s “secret plans” for world domination. There was, alas, no such thing. A reasonable assumption was that Roosevelt used this as means to persuade (Roosevelt an ESTP was a great Wizard like Trump) Americans to fight a two front war because many Americans (America First) didn’t want to involve themselves in Europe’s perennial squabbles.
However, it may also be seen as a case of projection. That the American “power-elite” had, for some time, intentions of designing a “Global Order” and that they, consciously or not, imputed the same intention to the Fascists.
This conjecture is perfectly reasonable. Consider that the United Nations was simply the League of Nations 2.0 which resulted from the First World War. Indeed, consider that President Wilson’s moral justification for American entry into the war against monarchial Germany was that it was a war for democracy:
Our object…is to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power….We are glad…to fight…for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German peoples included: for the right of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy….We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make.
Wilson, today, would be considered a Neoconservative. In his own day, however, he was a leading progressive — a man of impeccable leftist principles. His close advisor, Colonel House, once wrote a famous novel which saw an America, and the world, fundamentally transformed by an “authoritarian” left-wing “dictator” for the purposes of social justice.
The roots of radical social change in a progressive direction go back even further, of course. In England, there was the Fabian Society, and the Milner Group, a precursor to the notorious “Round Table.”
Indeed, here is (courtesy of lawik) Harvard educated, Carol Quigily, historian of the Second World War and tutor to future President, William Clinton, commenting on the “Round Table” — a group of elite, left-wing intellectuals, whose intention was to shape and direct society:
This radical Right fairy tale, which is now an accepted folk myth in many groups in America, pictured the recent history of the United States, in regard to domestic reform and in foreign affairs, as a well-organized plot by extreme Left-wing elements … This myth, like all fables, does in fact have a modicum of truth. There does exist, and has existed for a generation, an international Anglophile network which operates, to some extent, in the way the Radical right believes the Communists act. In fact, this network, which we may identify as the Round Table Groups, has no aversion to cooperating with the Communists, or any other group, and frequently does so. I know of the operation of this network because I have studied it for twenty years and was permitted for two years, in the early 1960s, to examine its papers and secret records. I have no aversion to it or to most of its aims and have, for much of my life, been close to it and to many of its instruments. I have objected, both in the past and recently, to a few of its policies… but in general my chief difference of opinion is that it wishes to remain unknown, and I believe its role in history is significant enough to be known.
All of this is open information — it is not hidden. The first point here, is the intention to create a global system of political and economic rules, backed by force, and justified by a value system (or a narrative or formula) of democracy and human rights.
America, or rather USG, was the primus inter pares (first among equals) or, in another way, sovereign of this system.
Returning to Fernandez, here he is describing the role of USG as the global sovereign:
A widely accepted, global order did not mean that all conflict had ceased, but it did mean that major, world-shattering conflicts could be things of the past. America became the tiebreaker, court of last resort, guardian of the Global Commons, enabler of the flow of information and maintainer of all things necessary to prevent international conflict, quite apart from being the lender of last resort and provider of the final backstop for the global economic system. While the junior members might occasionally grumble, as long as the system remained approximately fair there was no compelling reason to challenge it directly.
Following the Soviet collapse, intellectuals like Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the End Of History: that the Anglo-American created system was destined to triumph across the world, as it was, according to him, the best system.
The contrary thesis had already been stated by historian Bernard Lewis, who foresaw a “a clash of civilisations” between this global order and the Islamic world. Samuel Huntinton systematically and empirically developed this idea —arguing that the conflicts of the 21st century would come from culture: visions, values and the issue of identity between the Globalist, Universalist West and Islam, Russia and China.
The roots of current crisis were therefore long foreseen.
Lewis coined the phrase “clash of civilisations” in 1990. Huntington, influenced by Lewis, gave a lecture on it in 1992 and wrote a book on the subject in 1996. In the same year, Osama Bin Laden declared war on America. Vladimir Putin took power in 1999. The “Global war on Terror” began in 2001, after 9/11.
The third element, however, of the Modern Crisis, after security and economics, was informational and ideological. Fernandez:
In America, the third element of the crisis –after the economic and security aspects –was in clear view. In the United States, it was evident as nowhere else that the disparate economic and security crises of the world were intertwined. And the thing that held them together was something called the Narrative.
The Narrative was the third and political element, the binder that combined economics and security into legitimacy.
What Fernandez calls the “Narrative” the political scientist Gaetano Mosca calls a “political formula.” All political regimes require a justification (formula) — a reason why power is held by a tiny elite who rule over the masses. A justification need not be rational, it simply needs to be believed.
The formula can comprise of many elements, but the three essential ingredients are general, factual beliefs about the nature of reality relevant to the holding of power ( anything from “metaphysics” to biology to economics); secondly, a value system (justice, law and morality); thirdly, a theory or rather a “story” about history.
All these elements of the formula exist for the purpose of justifying the exercise of power by the elite over the masses.
Power is not one thing, however. We can classify six types of power:
1: Force. (The soldier and policeman.)
2: Financial. (The banker and capitalist.)
3: Legal/political. (The lawyer and judge. The politician and civil servant.)
4: Moral. (The moralist: priests, philosophers, authors, journalists and increasingly celebrities.)
5: Intellectual. (The scholar: historians, political scientists, sociologists, psychologists, economists and philosophers. )
6: Mass power. (The people: activists, and single-issue campaigners — usually funded by wealthy individuals or foundations.)
The formula, or narrative, meanwhile, is “broadcast” by the public information systems: the press, the universities and the schools.
These systems serve two purposes.
The role of the press is to guide public opinion on any question relevant to the functioning of the system and its narrative. Secondly, to train — intellectually — the “mangers” of the system: professors and teachers, lawyers, civil servants and journalists, in particular.
A survey of history, religion and contemporary beliefs demonstrate that people can, and crucially, can be made to believe anything. So, the variations of formulas are literally infinite.
Nevertheless, any belief, and any belief system, exists, even if only potentially, in contact with reality: hunger and death, poverty and violence, inequality and war are difficult — though not impossible — facts to conceal, deny and distort.
Consequently, the reality of human suffering can threaten the Narrative, and thus threaten the legitimacy of those who wield power. It is especially threatening if such suffering results from causes which contradict the Narrative’s explanation.
If faced with this condition, a regime has two choices.
Firstly, a regime can solve the problem, or mitigate it using its resources of power (1-6); or it can hide, distort and deny these difficult and contradictory realities.
If the second option is taken, the load must be bared by the public information systems. Indeed, we can stipulate that the bigger the problem, and the more the problem contradicts the Narrative or formula, then the bigger — more complex, ridiculous, convoluted and hysterical — will be the Narrative’s attempt to conceal, deny and distort the problem.
Welcome to 1984.
However, blatant and failed propaganda creates a perverse feedback loop, akin to the process of wildly inflating money, or increasing an opioid dose to receive the same high.
But because the economic and security subsystems were being neglected the Narrative was increasingly all that was keeping things going. It was as if a three legged stool were on the verge of collapse, but that its condition was being concealed by tilting it so that it was precariously balanced on one leg.
The three legs of the stool were no longer fulfilling their design function, which was to express the underlying and actual physical arrangements in an abstract way. The names were still being used for supports which had since given way. This was dangerous because the real task of any functioning information system is to represent reality so events in the ‘real world’ can be simulated and managed conveniently.
The financial system for example simulates value; the international security order represents peace; and the political system stands for a mandate. While these are sync all is well. Information problems occur when the virtual and the real parts of the universe no longer correspond as when instruments no longer read correctly. In that case the readout of the instruments is a fiction and it ceases to be a valid information.
The political class — the managers of the system, and the moulders of public opinion — chose, propaganda and thought-crime:
The crisis in America was that for reasons of convenience, the political class had tried to fix the mounting problems by rigging the readouts rather than using it to repair breakdowns.
The result was a sham where the spin was increasingly substituted for facts to make up the ‘Narrative’. In the media capitals of the West, the emphasis is increasingly on spin, rather than exposition; on the techniques of deceit rather than discovery. An entire industry had been created to coin euphemisms, invent cover stories and concoct mazes to obfuscate obfuscate the facts, not to solve problems, but to cover them up.”
This, of course, refers to what is called the “Main Stream Media”, but it also includes academics, teachers, political strategists and spin doctors.
Remember that two of the three elements are financial and ideological — both have been inflated:
This created a debasement in the Narrative –akin to wildly inflating money –which gradually threatened to undermine rather than enhance legitimacy. As long as the deceit went undetected thing went on. But the danger the bubble would burst was ever-present.
The problem was that years of unquestioned credibility made it too easy to lie and the political elites succumbed to the temptation. The ease with which assurances were accepted, the facility with which information could be manipulated eventually perverted the American political system.
Over the decades, the awareness of the short-term interchangeability of information and fact had grown so strong it intoxicated the political class and seduced them into using it to ‘fix’ knotty problems. The very success of post-war America provided cover for the deceivers. Even when things were no longer working well, they found that as long as the illusion of normalcy could be maintained problems could be hidden. They abused the Narrative to postpone the effects of misgovernance, or hide malfeasance –proverbially “kicking the can down the road” –until well clear of office or accountability.
This has led to a political regime based on information corruption.
War of the Words: Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres. By Richard R. Fernandez.
The system has been corrupted (was it ever not corrupt?).
The managers and operators within the system have been smoking crack (as we will see in the next part).
Enter Donald Trump. (Who certainly does not smoke crack.)
The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt Against the Liberal Elite. Lee Harris.
(Written in 2010, Harris has proven to be very prescient on the patterns and trends in modern America.)