Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Assabiya And The Collapse Of The US Elite

A medieval Muslim intellectual explains Afghanistan and the collapse of the US ruling class's authority
Screen Shot 2021-08-19 at 11.36.07 AM

What a powerful analytical essay by Lee Smith, connecting the dots on why the Taliban beat America, the corruption of our elites, and the coming turmoil. Excerpts:

The reality is that America lost its war in Afghanistan more than a decade ago, roughly around the time when CIA officers began bribing aging warlords with Viagra. The Americans knew all about the young boys the tribal leaders kept in their camps; because the sex drug helped Afghan elders rape more boys more often, they were beholden to America’s clandestine service. Losing Afghanistan then is the least of it. When you choose to adopt a foreign cohort’s cultural habits, customs for which the elders of your own tribe would ostracize and perhaps kill you, you have lost your civilization.

Yet military strategists, political pundits, foreign correspondents, and even historians will spend the next several decades wondering how a gang of rough Pashtun tribesmen galvanized by a fundamentalist version of Islam managed to defeat the most advanced military in the world. And that’s precisely the point: The problem with the American establishment is not simply that after 20 years in Afghanistan it did not understand the country or foresee what its opponents were likely to do after withdrawing forces. More importantly, our ruling class is so alienated from its own roots that it no longer understands the character of the country it purports to lead, and what makes it different, even exceptional. The evidence is that our elites sought to graft the effects of a civilization built by and for its own people—democracy, a military and police force, girls’ schools, etc.—onto a primitive society that had to be bribed to accept what we were offering.

There is no mystery about why the U.S. experience in Afghanistan ended in failure, embarrassment, and scandal. Nor is it a mystery why the Taliban took over Kabul so quickly. They were fighting for primacy. Their victory was foreordained.

Smith says it has to do with what the Arabs call assabiya, or solidarity. He cites the medieval Islamic chronicler Ibn Khaldun’s theory that a people’s sense of solidarity and purpose (often based in religious conviction) is the true engine of history. “With it, the most primitive tribe can overturn the mightiest of civilizations; without it, a people will wither in the desert,” writes Smith.
Smith says that America’s decline began when the Democrats began to build their own power base on dividing Americans against each other:

For our elite, the fall began during the tail end of the Bill Clinton presidency when Democratic Party strategists augured that they’d soon have a permanent hold on power thanks to urban intellectuals, young single women, racial and ethnic majorities, and the LGBT community. What is described as a coalition is in fact a mélange of clients with varying and sometimes opposing interests that can only be held together by stoking a communal hatred of the national majority—the white middle class.

It was hardly a coincidence that this demographic was the source of the wealth that the establishment was busy transferring to themselves and abroad, through initiatives like the North American Free Trade Agreement. The elites rationalized their impoverishment of the white middle class by claiming that they were dying anyway. And when the American heartland didn’t die off quickly enough, the establishment credentialed themselves as progressives by calling the people who live there racists. Being racists, they deserved all the bad things the elite had decided for them. Thus, by betting on sectarianism as the path to permanent power, American elites polarized the United States.

The elite institutions that weren’t already part of the left establishment, like entertainment, the academy, the media, and the foreign policy and national security bureaucracy, were co-opted through party initiatives—as, for instance, the Beltway think tank Center for a New American Security vetted the rising ranks of U.S. military officers.

Owning all the institutions is a sign of great power and demoralizes opponents. So it was hardly surprising that much of the Republican establishment attached itself to the rising elite and reshaped its policies to fit. Take George W. Bush for instance: After 9/11 he invaded two Muslim countries for revenge and deterrence, but in time he changed the mission to promoting Middle East democracy, a pet theory of pro-Palestinian academics. When Sen. Mitt Romney marched with Black Lives Matter, and Gen. Mark Milley advocated for critical race theory, they were simply demonstrating that they had adopted the manners and belief system of the dominant power. The only problem with owning all the institutions and compelling obedience from all the elites is that there is no one left to warn you when you’re courting trouble.

And we have married it. One more bit:

Of course institutions like the press and intelligence bureaucracies would enlist in the project to split the country. The party owns them. And so there is no one left to question the wisdom of breaking with the more than 150-year-old compact that is the political and cultural foundation of America’s post-Civil War peace—racial equality.

Read it all. Seriously, this is important. Smith goes on to say that we are not looking at the end of America. We are just observing the end of one form of American leadership.

If the conservatives can produce a non-crazy, serious, competent, and determined candidate to be the standard-bearer — someone who can unite this nation under traditional American ideals, and who runs credibly (not just performatively) against the corrupt elites of the Establishment — we could see real change. For that matter, a populist of the Left who ran unambiguously and courageously against the woke identity politics that have conquered the Left would do surprisingly well, I think.

We are about to see incredible things happen in this country. The bankrupt old order is falling. The question is, to whom does the future belong? Who has the insight, the vision, the intelligence, and the fortitude to ride this tiger?

It could go very badly, you know. As I write in Live Not By Lies, it was the utter failure of the Tsarist government to handle the 1891-92 famine in Russia that struck a powerful blow against the middle class’s confidence in the regime. The loss of the 1903 Russo-Japanese War was another devastating blow that opened the door for normal people to consider that radicals might have a point after all. In 1917, Russia went totalitarian. Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins Of Totalitarianism that a collapse of institutional authority paves the way for totalitarianism.

Totalitarianism is not fated, though! We have free will, and are still a democracy. I believe that the regime (meaning both the government and private institutions — especially Woke Capitalism — that make up the structures of the ruling class) we have will end up manufacturing a crisis that justifies implementation of a social credit system). Be on alert, and as always, prepare. The Slovak Catholics organized by Father Kolakovic in the five years before Communism took over (I tell this story in Live Not By Lies) could not stop the coming of totalitarianism, which arrived riding Soviet tanks, but they were ready to resist it, and keep the life of the Church going throughout the repression. We are still at liberty to organize, we Christians. Do it now, while we can. History is happening very fast now.



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now