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Fleeing The Collapsing Imperium

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I’ve been thinking that the US is in a May 1968 moment, but that’s probably too optimistic. A reader who is a prominent Washingtonian (he identified himself, and I verified it; I’m not using his name to protect him) wrote this morning to say that he and a number of people he know are leaving the city for good in the wake of this past week’s violence. He writes, and I quote with his permission:

I’m out. I’ve lived in this city most of my life, and I’ve loved it. But I’m not lying to myself any more. I can see where this is going. It’s obvious. I don’t want to be here for what happens next. The city has been taken over by extremists who worship conformity and violence. They don’t care how many people they hurt. This is a religious cult. All that matters to them is race theology.

A friend from my neighborhood just got screamed by a high school girl on his street. He’s known her since she was born. He likes her parents. They’ve never had a single problem. Now the girl has decided my friend isn’t sufficiently supportive of Black Lives Matter. So as he paused at a Stop sign this morning at the end of his block, she approached his window and yelled “F*ck you!” right in his face.

There’s a lot of that going on here. Among the many ironies: what they’re doing now is racist. It guarantees a resurgence of white racism, and of intentional segregation. Everyone who thinks about that knows it’s true. No one cares. It’s all so incredibly dark. I don’t want to be around it. I definitely don’t want my kids around it. I’m fleeing, and I’m never coming back.

This reader, who is white, lives in one of the nicer neighborhoods in the city. Thinking of that girl in his neighborhood, I thought of this from Live Not By Lies, about how the Russian Revolution advanced years before actual fighting broke out, when the parents of the privileged refused to stand up to their children:

Most of the revolutionaries came from the privileged classes. Their parents ought to have known that this new political faith their children preached would, if realized, mean the collapse of the social order. Still, they did not reject their children. Writes Slezkine, “The ‘students’ were almost always abetted at home while still in school and almost never damned when they became revolutionaries.” Perhaps the mothers and fathers didn’t want to alienate their sons and daughters. Perhaps they too, after the experience of the terrible famine and the incompetent state’s inability to care for the starving, had lost faith in the system.

It’s happening here now. Trump is our Nicholas II: too weak and indecisive and lacking in credibility to do a damn thing about it.

Meanwhile, I’m hearing that there are conservative Americans in the DC area who are talking about attempting to emigrate to one of the Visegrad countries (Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland). They see no hope anymore here. I am reminded of this piece from Mark Bollobas that I published in 2018. He is the UK-born son of two Hungarians who fled communism in the 1960s and took refuge in Britain. Now, as an adult who lived for a time in America, he has returned to his parents’ home city, Budapest, to raise his own family. He wrote then:

But as a graduate of a US university, I didn’t see the American dream at all. I didn’t see opportunity, I saw neglect. I saw a country which is still the Wild West, full of hucksters getting rich quick on one end of the spectrum, and hero entrepreneurs who did the same on the other. A country where the police are super paranoid and trigger-happy, where life meant nothing, and although everyone went to church in Memphis (buckle of the Bible belt), racism was everywhere. Fear was everywhere. Distrust was everywhere.

Why not settle in his home country, Britain? He had lived and worked in London, but knew that he would never be able to afford to live there. And this:

And culturally, the most important of all, the England of today is so far removed from the England of my youth that it feels like a different world. What makes England great is the nonchalant English attitude to everything. Stiff upper lip. Humor. The genuine lack-of-interest in what other people do, as long as they’re not interfering. The moral strength to play fair, be a good loser, etc.

But over the last few decades this has been eroded by non-English immigrants who have moved to the UK permanently and brought their culture with them, aggressively. Usually the children are far more aggressive than the parents who actually made the move. And the English let this happen, because that’s how they are. Now the politeness is gone.

I ran a bar in Finsbury Park. My schedule was the same. Open at noon, close at midnight. I would go to work at around 10am, and walk home around 2am. You have the same schedule, and you walk past people who share that schedule. In England, 20 years ago, if you did this for a few weeks you’d eventually strike up a conversation, or create a little bond. That couldn’t happen in Finsbury Park because it was full of Somalis, north Africans and others (Abu Hamza was a personal favorite, hawking his vitriolic sermons on CDs to anyone that passed).

They all hated me and looked at me with distrust and disgust. The women walked past in their veils, clothing that sends the message of “f-ck off, don’t dare look at me or talk to me.” I walked those streets for two years and made not one connection. Visitors have come, have brought their culture, and they stick to it (I loved whichever day it was when they say you have to slaughter a goat; blood literally ran in the streets). It is their identity. Meanwhile the beautiful, accepting element of being British is abused, its kind culture allowed Trojan horses of all sorts to settle in.

He continues:

My decision to move back here to Hungary — I say that even though I wasn’t born here — has been reinforced by this fact: Hungary understands that holding on to its cultural identity is essential to its existence as a society we can understand.

Culture changes over time, of course, but it normally does it slowly as we creep towards a more civilized future.

England doesn’t feel more civilized — quite the opposite. It feels more feral. And the UK has just accepted its fate.

The lack of an American culture means Hungarians don’t know what’s missing, because they never had it. But there is a gaping hole in America: something is obviously broken. America is collapsing on itself.

It’s been nine years since I moved back. I can’t count the number of days I’ve thought to myself, or told others, “It’s just great to be here.” It still is.

Read it all. Bollobas has ancestral roots there, though, and can speak the language. He didn’t grow up in Hungary, but culturally, he can relate to the place. If I were in government in one of the Visegrad countries, I would start working on a program to entice emigration from dissatisfied Americans who have something to contribute, in terms of human capital and financial capital, to my country. When I was in Budapest last fall in a group meeting with Viktor Orban, he told us that conservatives should always consider Budapest their home. I expect there will be no small number of Americans who can afford it, and who can work from anywhere online, who will want to know more.

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, a white city council member is challenging the people of the city to put up with home invasions and break-ins for the sake of racial change:

She, and other members of the city council, say they are going to dismantle the police department. Not reform it — disband it. From an essay by a council member, writing in Time magazine:

We can reimagine what public safety means, what skills we recruit for, and what tools we do and do not need. We can play a role in combating the systems of white supremacy in public safety that the death of black and brown lives has laid bare. We can invest in cultural competency and mental health training, de-escalation and conflict resolution. We can send a city response that that is appropriate to each situation and makes it better. We can resolve confusion over a $20 grocery transaction without drawing a weapon or pulling out handcuffs.

If you are a Minneapolis home or business owner, the handwriting is on the wall.

Meanwhile, the scandal at The New York Times is turning into a watershed for American journalism:

I expect a number of disgusted conservatives to follow suit. Everybody knows that the Times is a liberal paper, but this newsroom coup is turning it into an illiberal left-wing paper. This has been coming for a long time, in both journalism and academia. Some years ago, I published a comment by a conservative academic who said that he is the lone conservative in his department, but he feels safe under the leadership of the old-fashioned liberal who is department head. But when that Boomer generation retires, it’s over. The Millennials and Gen Zers behind them are Jacobins, he said.

The Jacobin generation is taking over the Times now. They will also be consolidating power within other media institutions, under the guise of racial justice. Anyone who is not willing to swear allegiance to the Social Justice left has no future. Do you want to spend your career propagandizing? Similarly with academia: how many ideological re-education programs can you tolerate? How much ideological poisoning of scholarship and teaching are you prepared to submit to? It’s coming.

How many lies are you willing to tell, or assent to, to participate in this rotten system?

What sacrifices are you prepared to make to live in truth, and not by lies?

A lawyer reader told me this morning that the Benedict Option may soon be the Benedict Imperative. I asked him to explain. He responded:

There is a plausible (though not inevitable) scenario where we get a legal and cultural regime that fully adopts critical race theory, the obliteration of any stable definition of the family (this is already happening in the courts everywhere), and that does what it already says it believes to dissenters from the ascendant sexual ethic. All of these things operating at even 30% of capacity (and backed up by a privately imposed social credit like system), would make life increasingly difficult for those who won’t give a pinch of incense to Caesar on these things. Under this scenarios, the small-o orthodox Church and its members would get much smaller and poorer, and BenOp would lose the “option” part, as it would be the only plausible path forward.

I do believe this is coming, which is why I wrote The Benedict Option, and Live Not By Lies. We are rapidly moving to a new political order, a new media order, and a new social order. The story I started this post with — of the prominent Washingtonian leaving the city for good — is a symbol of what Alasdair MacIntyre talks about here:

A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead…was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.

The imperium is crumbling. What replaces it will be worse, no doubt, but the conditions that made the imperium sustainable no longer obtain.

What does it look like to you, from where you sit this afternoon? What is the future for you and your family?

UPDATE: Thoughtful comment by Wyoming Doc:

I guess I would chime in on this post as a family that has already left the big urban cities behind.

My wife and I lived in one of our largest urban areas for decades. I was a professor of medicine at one of our best medical universities – and my wife, an engineer, was the project manager for one of the largest infrastructure projects in this country.

Then we had kids.

Before the kids ever came, we had noted that all of our neighbor’s kids were on amphetamines – and the parents instead of being ashamed were actually proud of it – it was a badge of honor. We noted that the parks and streets were completely emptied of kids playing; rather, the kids were in their houses playing video games all day. We went to the absolute best pre-schools in our city for our interviews and the first questions asked in ALL THREE – “What gender are you raising your kids?”.

I had impending doom that my career as an academic physician would soon be over (despite having been given 7 teaching awards through the years by the student body) when I was severely chastised by the “diversity dean” that I was not using pronouns correctly. Very soon thereafter, a patient of mine discussed with me that the public school where her 7 year old 2nd grade son was enrolled had actually proceeded with gender transition psychological therapy after diagnosing him with rapid gender dysphoria. They had told neither parent a word – and they found out about it only after 6 months of counseling had already occurred. They had to be notified because the “doctor” had decided the child needed intense hormone therapy. When asked what I thought – I informed her gently that they were setting their family up for a life of tears. She refused the therapy – and the “doctor” turned me in to the “diversity dean” at the university. She decided she had had enough of me – and began making my life miserable.

THIS ALL OCCURRED IN A MAJOR UNIVERSITY IN ONE OF OUR “RED STATES”.

My wife and I decided to leave. We both left our careers that we had worked so hard to achieve. We moved into a very rural area – and have never looked back. Our kids are both thriving. They are very involved in sports and outdoor activites. We are actually heavily involved in the community in our little town – and are very amazed at how completely different are the priorities. As one of the few physicians in town, I know that the use of stimulants is basically non-existent. The kids seem much more robust and healthy than I ever saw back home. My wife and I certainly are orders of magnitude more healthy than we have been since our youth – living out here requires lots of labor – and that has been shown to me to be a very good thing. We grow more than 2/3 of our own food. The neighbors are constantly looking out for one another – and we have never been more involved with our neighbors and all the community activities.

I would tell your readers, do not fear leaving a big urban area. You may be very pleasantly surprised at what you find out in flyover country. At this point – a few years into this – none of my family have any desire whatsoever to go back.

We look at what is going on in our old place – looting, rioting, blood in the streets and just shake our heads. Three times this week I have been informed of old colleagues who have been injured, attacked, or looted in the city. The deluge of physicians leaving urban areas and moving to rural areas has now made the national news several times.

We feel that we are free for the first time in a long time. However, there is great concern for our country. We know we cannot escape – but what we as a nation are doing now is completely unsustainable.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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