"One gang will rule this city!"
Ancient wisdom shines through in modern places, not least the 1979 cheese classic The Warriors which superimposes the plot of Xenophon’s Anabasis onto a near-future New York City dominated by gangs but ruled by a corrupt police force.
The movie opens with the leader of the city's largest gang, Cyrus, calling his rivals together to discuss the classic question of regime change. Cyrus's introductory speech puts the point plainly. The cops are corrupt and mismanaging the city, yet there are more gang members than police officers. The power to enact change is within the gang’s grasp if they can unify. As Cyrus announces, "One Gang will rule this city!"
Sounds simple enough. But seconds later Cyrus is assassinated, and the scene descends into gang in-fighting which creates the backdrop for the movie's low-budget action plot. It's common for movies of this era to start with a high-minded concept and then forget about it. But the Warriors returns to its origins in Greek tragedy in the final scene when our unjustly framed heroes confront Cyrus' real assassin and ask him why he murdered their prospective leader.
"No reason." The psycho cackles. "I just like doing things like that!"
Perhaps lazy writing. But the killer's response reveals a profoundly human observation. The gangs could defeat the corrupt police and rule the city if they unified and turned themselves into actual rulers. But that will never happen because that's not the kind of thing the gangs are, and that's not the kind of thing the gang members want to do. The seasons change, the birds migrate south for winter, and gangs waste each other over their turf. Cyrus' dream of regime change is as dead as he is.
I feel the same tragic sense hanging over contemporary dissident movements. It's not simply a question of power, position, or strength of numbers. But a question of disposition. There needs to be a kind of person, a kind of people, who is capable of ruling once power has left the hands of the corrupt status quo. Not only do these prospective rulers need to think themselves worthy to rule, and be strong enough to take power, but, before any move towards regime change is made, that class must embody a common collective spirit of dissatisfaction running throughout all elements of society.
One gang will rule this city? I would say one dissident class will create a more human and optimistic world. Because no leader will get far by being the voice of a new ruling class that doesn't know what it wants. It will all just descend into petty turf wars.
But in a country as culturally divided as ours, how is this even possible? Coalitions for regime change are a staple of history, but there are some preconditions. People don't like the status quo, but there can be no notion of collective resistance when every sentiment that "things have gone too far" is matched by another dissident counter-party who thinks "things haven't gone too far ENOUGH". “Red” and “Blue” American elites might agree that "We can't keep living like this." but the sides can't agree whether the nob is turned up too high or turned down too low. There is a fundamental contradiction in vision.
Coalition formation tends to follow a regular format. Alignment into a cohesive faction happens through subtraction, where prospective parties don't so much change their minds, as they discredit themselves from being worthy of leadership. As parties interact with reality’s challenges, grit is tested, and political truth is revealed. As the gyre turns, a filter is accomplished, and ideas that are too delusional, hedonistic, or utopian to lead to human thriving are recognized for what they are. Likewise, individuals who are too petty, too small-minded, and too chaotic to be worthy of leadership are exposed, or rather they expose themselves and leave the scene.
Meanwhile, the possibility of gaining truly merited status acts also as a catalyst from the other direction. Young, and increasingly competent people come onto the scene, more willing to break conventional forms and speak to important issues. Better leadership dissolves disagreements and shifts counter-elite opinion towards a better grasp of the problems and what a necessary change would look like.
Such a radical shift feels almost impossible in our time. But I wonder if this isn't just a failure of imagination, the myopia of our own historic epoch. Certainly, this kind of convergence of concerns was critical historically in what Gaetano Mosca called the "circulation of elites", and this is the solution any of us would suggest if we saw some dysfunctional alien society with its dissident parties arguing amongst each other.
Perhaps we aren't there yet. But is there a way to move this dialectic forward?
For a while, there has been talk of some kind of “synthesis” that could address the core concerns of both conflicting parties in our non-stop culture war between “Blue” and “Red” America. Of course, there can be no synthesis between opposites, a new founding can’t be born from direct contradiction. But is that the only option?
It sounds cliche, but perhaps each side has found something true or strong in one capacity and has fallen into degenerate modes in another. Perhaps synthesis is just taking the best from each and leaving the truly corrupt behind. Two broken machines that in combination can become a whole organism.
To go forward, we would need to address the differences that separate “Red” and “Blue” America, the infamous topic of "hobbits" and "dark elves" which has been the ruin of many a dissident blogger. But there is truth here that needs to be discussed even if some might find it condescending.
In discussing the asymmetry between left and right we are fundamentally addressing an issue of class. As many others have noticed, the war between "Red America" and "Blue America" is a war between American castes. As such there is a "high low" dimension to it, with all of the attendant qualities one might associate between a Brahmin (intellectual caste) and a Vaishya (middle-worker) caste.
But nothing here should be the justification of condescension, especially from the vantage of my own, left-leaning part of the country. Not only is the progressive mainstream the source of virtually all of the terrible ideas tearing the West apart, but these left-leaning coastal cultures are also well down the road of abolishing themselves geographically, culturally, and demographically.
Therefore, even as a native of a “Blue State”, I find no one more contemptible than the modern progressive ruling class. I could forgive the economic decline and the urban decay of my native state, I could even try to explain away the cultural ruin. But there is something deeply irredeemable when it comes to people who actively decide not to reproduce, and who do not feel the slightest bit of remorse as they collectively terminate the culture that produced them.
It's for this reason that most serious dissidents have concluded that any solution that can replace our current regime must emerge, predominantly, from the remnants of the White middle class, the old “Red American” order. But here there are problems that anyone on the outside can see.
I am sorry. “Red-America”, but you don't have this fight in the bag. At least not yet. Something big is missing. And it's more than just an attitude adjustment or making the choice to "get real" about politics. It's the way you conceive of your situation, the way you think, the way you see the world.
Take this observation for what it's worth, from an apostate of “Blue America”, desperately awaiting the final conservative victory for the better part of a decade-and-a-half and witnessing only defeat. Like the officer gone native in Dances With Wolves, watching lines of Sioux warriors getting mowed down by Cavalry gun-lines I am not sure what I should say, what even I have the right to say. I certainly can't detract from these people's ardor, but their defeat is as predictable as it is tragic.
The problems all seem to relate back to a fundamental failure in perception. “Red America” doesn't understand the world that it lives in, it doesn't understand where it came from, how it got there, or what gives it the strength and pride it has managed to retain.
By in large, “Red America” believes that its strength comes from institutional commitments to specific fixtures of the American government. It sees its virtue stemming from being successful inside of a (corporate) "meritocracy", supporting the spread of "rights" like equality and liberty to the rest of the world, and being on the "Winning Side" of all the many wars the American Empire has fought in the name of those "rights".
All of these core perceptions are at least partially false, and, as such, “Red America” provides its children with a precarious leaning tower of ideological contradictions waiting to be tipped over by educators and the “Professional Managerial Class” generally.
And speaking as a former academic, Boy did we love tipping over these misconceptions.
Oh, so you believe in absolute freedom?
In equal opportunity?
In the promises of Martin Luther King?
In the importance of spreading our Democracy to the rest of the World, just like our founding fathers wanted?
Just wait until you get really educated!
Once the rather obvious falsehoods are exposed, it's amazing how appealing the progressive alternative seems. Especially when it can be so lucrative for your future career!
As always, the shadow of the conservative apostate, or the "hick-lib", looms tall. Apostasy hits traditional America hard. It's not simply that the left farms the next generation of their activist class from the children born to more traditional families, it's that they take the best. Thus, the elite who should have been the leaders instilling direction, foresight, and pride in their native communities, are turned towards the task of their subversion and the promotion of contempt for the culture that produced them.
Ideological conversions are a feature of life, but the American “hick-lib” always seemed a contemptible character, because the intellectual journeys from right to left were so often mercenary, centrally concerned with trading provincial loyalty for status and career opportunity. But as of recently, the "hick-lib" has become an even more pathetic role to occupy, as the moderate liberal progressivism this group typically adopts is now radically out of fashion among the blue elites they desperately want to emulate. So now the hick-lib chases a trend that has long since ceased to exist in any meaningful sense.
But can this pattern be escaped? It seems even conservatives who understand the dynamic in the abstract cannot avoid its form. Read any mainstream conservative publication and you will see it; breathless stories about leftist “subversion” of American institutions inevitably followed by a pious genuflection to progressive sacred cows. The conservative intellectual has already committed apostasy in his heart. He has accepted the enemy's terms because he can't accept the nature of the world in front of his eyes. He doesn’t know what's wrong with the modern world. Or even what's right about himself.
And the lack of vision is not simply a question of self-awareness or hindsight. It is more extensive.
Is it surprising that people who don’t properly know themselves can’t deign to look at the horizon? What is the vision of “Red America”? What is the future it reaches for? More importantly, how can it make sense of itself in a post-modern world where America is not "number one", and we look forward less to “A chicken in every pot” than to “Blood, sweat, toil, and tears”?
Occasionally, intellectuals in conservative circles have tried to take on these questions and provide something of a vision. But these visions are never internalized. So in “Red America”, it is always the blind leading the blind. Less a failed alternative elite, and more a constituency that is incapable of properly wielding power, a fundamentally headless being. Even if “Blue America” wanted to surrender tomorrow, they couldn't. There wouldn't be anyone ready to accept their sword.
But all of this is less damning than one might think.
It turns out that the strongest things about “Red America”, aren't its principles or ideology but the things it thinks the least about. It is their chest, their heart, their blood, the things that they feel, the songs and stories they have forgotten, their history of violence and defeat, their prideful obstinacy, their loyalty to things that have long since fallen, and their faith in things they can't understand, that no man can understand.
The modern world has taught us to despise these feelings in ourselves. And, many heritage Americans DO despise these feelings, but they are what I most covet.
I feel this envy most commonly living in “Blue America”, visiting with other parents at the local playground. Here I see those who made it through progressive America's cruel genetic bottleneck; successful enough to afford children, and sane enough to make the necessary sacrifices in lifestyle.
Of course, every one of these parents is a progressive, and they think I am as well. If this were 2021, I might have felt timid about the prospect of being outed as a “dangerous reactionary”. But this is now 2023, and the perspectives I hear voiced are much more wistful and oddly moderated. People still talk about politics, but there is now a tragic note in the air. As if they all understand that the old good America is now gone, and that the activism they talk about constantly has no hope of bringing it back or making things better.
Obviously, I don't bring up politics in these circles, but sometimes I wonder, if I did, on what points would I even need to convince them? These people know that de-policing and inflationary money printing have been a disaster for America. They understand modern culture is trash and progressive sexual norms are an absolute travesty in all but a small number of elite cases. They know that our oncoming globalized technocracy will be a nightmare for our children to navigate and they will likely face hardship and privation that we never had to experience.
Yet somehow we are still talking about the same tired progressive talking points like it's 2012. The moderate liberal progressive solutions are just a few smart policy choices away from implementing the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lennon's Imagine. If only it wasn't for those horrible Republicans. Right?
Everyone knows that radical change is necessary. Maybe communism? Maybe something more reactionary? Even a third position? Hey, I would take it. At least it would make the conversations more interesting and honest. At least we could pretend like we were doing something, anything, to prevent our children from having to live through a deracinated, de-personalized, inhuman, hell-scape.
But these new conversations never happen. And I get the distinct impression that, despite these people’s good physiognomy, sharp minds, and physical health, I am speaking to C.S. Lewis's “men without chests”. There is something about how their minds work, or more how their souls work, that prevents them from owning our current reality and taking the leap necessary to break faith with the institutions that produced them. They can see the crisis all around them, but they lack the will, the grounding to want to change it. The larger desire for life in their hearts has been killed, or at least domesticated.
And this isn't just a problem with those who adhere to the orthodoxy of the “Professional Managerial Class”. Even those of us who have walked away from this ideological insanity, still carry the trace poisons we were raised around. We were created by the institutions of “Blue America” and, as such, our hearts are too small. Even though we may go in a different direction and seek a new kind of life, we lack the raw sincerity and simplicity of passion to take the next steps.
Conservatives of the Buckley-era scoffed at the idea of creating a "New Man" in the way that the communists once fancied. But I do dream of a new man. His eyes are “Blue” and his heart is “Red”. He holds the perception of the new world in tandem with the spirit of the old. He is the type that has been through the crucible of the contemporary world and has rejected it in its totality. He is the one who has true immunity to the poisons of modernity, not just a lack of exposure to its temptations. He is nothing less than the new aristocrat.
True nobility has a seductive quality to it. People possess a proper instinct to submit to a worthy sovereign. But we have so little experience with such a concept that it is difficult to imagine.
Could we conceive a better ruling class? A prince thoroughly concerned about the physical and psychological health of his people, not simply the appearance of “caring”? A patron who seeks to advance arts and science to uplift the spirituality of the body politic rather than transgress its norms? The warrior king who fights for his people and his neighbors as if their futures were common to that of his own children? A scholar who reforms young peasant talent, not so they can be his ideological Jannisaries, but to be new gentlemen and ladies who bring a spirit of heroism into their native land?
All these things appear to us as alien concepts, but it's what all previous peoples expected from their rulers, and felt they had a right to expect.
It is true we aren’t there yet. Much growth is needed before we obtain anything approaching this type of nobility. But we can cultivate what we seek inside of ourselves and others. Whether we are moving from blue to red, or red to blue, there is work to be done, personally and politically, to achieve this synthesis.
And a new elite class will own the future. For the simple reason that, unlike the gangs from The Warriors, or our present managerial leaders, these aristocrats will be able to win the loyalty of the people, show them a better future, and thus rule.
Because the Global American Empire is ready to die. It just needs a grave to fall into.
Can you dig it?