Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

‘The World Shifting Beneath Our Feet’

The birth pangs of the 'totalitarianism of disintegration' are quickening
Screen Shot 2022-05-26 at 12.23.45 PM

Another day of the Internet — well, the part of it I look at anyway — filled with exhortations to ban all guns, or something like it, to stop things like the Uvalde shooting. I’m not a Second Amendment absolutist, and I probably support more gun sales restrictions than most of my conservative friends do. But I think that most of this talk is people demanding Advil to deal with a headache caused by a brain tumor. I know somebody who is suffering real pain right now, with an obvious medical condition that is treatable, but this poor person refuses to see a doctor out of fear of what the doctor will say. My mom has been like that too, for all her life.

If every gun in America not in the hands of law enforcement were to disappear magically tomorrow, we would still be a country that was disintegrating. I’m going to tell once again a story that is familiar to you longtime readers, but which has been on my mind since yesterday. You who are familiar with this story can skip the next few paragraphs. I’ll put it inside a quote, so you can easily pass over:

Back in 2002, on the first anniversary of 9/11, I woke up early in Brooklyn to walk behind the bagpiper band (NYPD, I think) marching to Ground Zero. It had been arranged that a piper band would leave each of the five boroughs and march to Ground Zero, converging just before the ceremony on the grounds started, reading the names of the dead. It was to start at precisely the moment the first plane hit.

I was walking there with a journalist friend (with whom I lost touch ages ago). When we got to Ground Zero, we split up. At exactly the moment the first plane hit, a fierce wind came up, from exactly the direction that that first plane flew. There was a hurricane far offshore, not threatening land, but this was the first (and only) effect New York City got from it. The timing was bizarre; I looked at my watch to make sure it was for real.

That wind blew in gale force. My wife was back home watching from Brooklyn, and said that one of the TV commentators from a network said it was “Biblical”. It kept going the whole morning, while the event was happening at Ground Zero. After  a while I made my way to Trinity Church Wall Street, where the Archbishop of Canterbury was to lead a memorial service. The wind was howling outside when I went in.

During the service, we heard the bells tolling from Ground Zero next door, indicating that the reading of the names had ended. The church service concluded shortly thereafter. I exited, and there was no wind. I can’t say when the wind stopped, but I would bet money that it ended exactly as the reading of the names ended.

I walked back home to Brooklyn. In an hour or so, my journalist friend called, and urgently asked me to come over. I walked up to her place, and she took me into her home office. She showed me a small antique American flag that was framed under glass, hanging on her wall. It was split down the middle. I asked her what I was looking at. It just appeared to me to be a damaged antique.

She said, “I’ve had that for years. When I got home today from Ground Zero, it had torn down the middle.”

Nobody had been in her house that day. The flag remained behind glass, sealed within a frame that had not been tampered with.

As Christians, the symbolism of this was staggering to us both: in the Gospels, when Jesus died, the veil in the Temple separating the Holy of Holies from the people, spontaneously tore in half — a sign that the covenant between God and His people had been broken, but also that, from a Christian point of view, the true veil, the God-man, had been murdered, but this act symbolized a new relationship between God and humankind.

Anyway, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in a single generation after that. I think that I wrote about it at the time in National Review, though I can’t find the archive. Looking back now, 20 years later, I think I saw a sign, a prophecy. What brought it to mind was yesterday, having lunch with one of my old teachers, who said that the things that have come over this country over the last twenty years have been hard to make sense of.

Now, read this interview by Jonathon van Maren with the pseudonymous writer N.S. Lyons, published in The European Conservative. Lyons writes a must-read, subscriber-only Substack newsletter of geopolitical analysis, titled, The Upheaval. I’ve corresponded with him (I guess it’s a male), but all I know about his identity is that he works in the foreign policy sphere in Washington. Van Maren speaks with Lyons about the condition of the world today. Lyons explains that Russia’s disastrous Ukraine invasion has caused the acceleration of a new order within the West. Lyons says:

This new order is also likely to be fundamentally technocratic, power centralizing, and anti-federal. There can be no dissention in the bloc, or it risks falling apart; if EU-U.S. unity breaks or Europe fragments then this whole order would collapse, and we’d move back to a more equal U.S.-China rivalry. So, to cut to the chase, internal dissent from official values is going to be tolerated less and less. As part of that, I expect this order to be vertically integrated, with a focus on digital control, and make public-private partnership a core part of its operating system. In other words, I’d expect far more movement toward ‘harmonizing’ digital regulations (i.e. on censorship), ESG standards, formal and informal sanctions, and digital currency systems across the Atlantic.


How likely is it that we will see centralized digital currency and ID and the corresponding threat to the rights of those who oppose fundamental tenets of progressive thought arrive in the next few years?

I think very likely. Both the Biden administration and the EU have described digital currencies as an urgent priority. In part, I think they fear the massive sanctions levied against Russia will encourage other countries to try to begin using digital currencies (and in particular the digital yuan, which is currently the most advanced) to start circumventing dollar/euro supremacy. To make sure this doesn’t happen, multiple central banks, including the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank (ECB), the Bank of England, and the Bank of Japan, have begun cooperating to ensure their new central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) can be easily convertible. This would make staying within that currency system very convenient and unavoidably attractive for global capital.

It just so happens that CBDCs would provide governments with totally unprecedented surveillance and control over all transactions, wherever in the world they occur, in real time. It would make fine-grained control of economic incentives—say setting limits over how much anyone can spend on fossil fuels each week before their money stops working or begins to have less purchasing power—much simpler, along with making tax evasion and any other illicit financial activity impossible. We’ve already seen a recent example in Canada of how useful this kind of control over financial activity could be to enforce ideological political control.

But to make a harmonized digital currency system work, a harmonized digital ID would be a requirement, so I’d expect that to come sooner rather than later. Then cash would have to be phased out. The ECB’s report on CBDCs is quite explicit about this.

Then there is this:

With so much of the discussion around “the Great Reset,” digital currencies, the World Economic Forum, and other globalist institutions descending almost immediately into the realm of conspiracy theory, how can we initiate credible conversations on essential issues?

I think conspiracy theories are proliferating because we can all feel now the ground shifting under our feet but have no easy way to understand and make sense of that feeling of chaos. Conspiracy theories provide a simplified way of trying to make sense of what is happening. If, for example, a small cabal of rich global elites is controlling world events (as in the theory of the “Great Reset”), this makes the situation seem easier to understand. But, in fact, this is not very helpful, since things are actually even crazier than that! Many systemic forces and factors and ideas are at work changing the world right now, over and above many different people and groups with different interests. Depersonalizing this and trying to disentangle different causes and effects and how all these things fit together is no easy task. But I think it is important to try, and that’s essentially what I’m aiming to do at my Substack, The Upheaval.

Read the whole thing. And do subscribe to The Upheaval. Lyons’s most recent essay there, “The World Order Reset,” is worth the price of subscription alone. It’s long, pungent, and clarifying. The thing that jumps out at me the most is his explanation for why the West is going to push for Central Bank Digital Currencies, which would give the state total control over all financial transactions. If you are, like me, a reader of the Book of Revelation, this is the long-prophesied moment in which refusing to take the “mark of the beast” means you can no longer buy and sell. Lyons, of course, doesn’t mention Biblical prophecy, but it is impossible for a Christian who takes prophecy seriously not to read this Lyons passage in light of it:

Were Trans-Atlantis, with its preponderant share of the global economy, to establish a system that allowed for instant conversion, transfer, and data sharing between their various digital currencies and central banks, this could form the keystone of a new era of centralized power. Not only would it allow for new, unpresented methods of direct, granular financial control, but it would help to head off any long-term decline in the use of the dollar and the euro by ensuring there could be no alternative that was remotely as valuable for global commerce. It would, in effect, represent another re-founding of the global monetary and financial system equivalent to the establishment of the Bretton Woods system that cemented the first century of American power.

And, with a CBDC system in place, a market-dominant, vertically integrated Trans-Atlantis seems like it would be in a strong position to demand much of the world play by its standards and conform to its values. But what would those values be?

The Binary is Real

Are you a small nation yearning to live free? Or a regular Joe from small-town Lubelskie/Midlands/Maharashtra/Oklahoma who just wants to be left alone to grill and raise a family with the same values as your father and his father before him? Well I have some bad news for you: Trans-Atlantis is not going to leave you alone until you’ve been thoroughly enlightened. Pluralism might in principle be an old liberal value, but today there is no liberal West anymore. We are moving beyond the liberal international order, and the successor order has a successor ideology all lined up – one that it is going to be very insistent that you follow.

The U.S. State Department, for example, has already proudly informed us that it is now engaged in a “historic shift” that “requires advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities across all dimensions of U.S. foreign policy and the broader foreign affairs mission”; that it is consequently adopting an “analytical framework” that will “will underscore embedding equity into the State Department’s foreign affairs work as a strategic National Security imperative”; that this framework will be integrated into determining how all money is spent on all “U.S. foreign policy and assistance, public engagements and exchanges, grants, procurement, contracts, and consular services”; that it “will engage high-level diplomatic partners and individuals worldwide” in order to “build global support for the advancement of racial equity”; that the United States will “embed intersectional equity principles” into all its diplomatic messaging and efforts to use “inclusive, equitable messaging to combat disinformation”; that it “will foster strong partnerships among individuals of underserved communities and their allies in their advocacy for social and policy change” worldwide; and will “work closely” with “LGBTQI+” organizations to “catalyze progress” worldwide; and so on.

And I’m afraid this small sampling of ideological exuberance is but one small part of a U.S. government that is eagerly looking forward “using American leadership abroad” to begin “strengthening inclusive democracies worldwide.” The Department of Defense has a new plan too. So do more than 90 agencies of the U.S. federal government. And at this point I needn’t even mention the EU’s position on this kind of thing.

But then Joe from Oklahoma could have already pointed out from experience the likelihood of Washington ever leaving you and your local culture alone. And really, when could the United States ever really refrain from being an ideologically missionary nation abroad? Never.

There are, however, some additional factors now at work beyond America’s ingrained habit of trying to remake the world in its image. The structural setup of the new order is itself likely to help push much greater ideological zeal by both Washington and Brussels.

If the dominance of Trans-Atlantic power relies on the unity of that bloc – on being able to bring to bear the full weight of the whole bloc against competitors – then any disunity or fracture within the bloc is a danger to the entire world order the bloc seeks to maintain. It could even lead to the dissolution of the bloc. Any internal disharmony is therefore simply too dangerous to be tolerated (even if the official motto of the EU still happens to literally be “unity in diversity”).

Meanwhile, there must be some clear guidelines for those who want to join this exclusive bloc and need a way to signal their loyalty. Similarly, if banishment from the club is to be wielded as an effective threat, then it will help to have bright lines to separate the inner from the outer, the acceptable from unacceptable. Maintaining an official ideological alignment will be a tempting way to try to address all of these needs.

Finally, though, we of course simply can’t discount the personal motivations of a policy elite in Washington and Brussels that are now overwhelmingly progressive in their own ideological outlook. They will inevitably reflect that ideology in their view of the world and approach towards it.

In any case, we already know how this ideological divide will be characterized: it is the dualistic “battle between autocracy and democracy” that Biden has repeatedly described (or alternatively the battle between authoritarian and “European” values, as Brussels tends to describe it, which is the same thing). This rhetorical division is now exceptionally powerful because, as Russia has now demonstrated for everyone, there really is an authoritarian threat out there. But the democracy-autocracy dichotomy will hardly be restricted to threats from the outside – it will be (and already is) the go-to way to characterize any ideological disharmony within the system as well. Or as I warned in “Intersectional Imperialism and the Woke Cold War”:

In this worldview, in order for a democratic state to be a legitimate [capital D] “Democracy,” it is not enough for it to have a popularly elected government chosen through free and fair elections – it also has to hold the correct progressive values. That is, it has to be Woke. Otherwise it is not a real Democracy, but something else. Here the term “populism” has become a useful one: even if a state is not yet authoritarian or “autocratic” in a traditional sense, it may be in the grip of “Populism,” an ill-defined concept vague enough to encompass the wide range of reactionary sentiments and tendencies that can characterize “resistance” to progress, as based on “traditional values,” etc. And ultimately, we are told, “Populism” is liable to lead to Autocracy – because if you aren’t progressing forward in sync with Democracy, you are sliding backwards along the binary spectrum toward Autocracy.

Moreover, as in the case of the struggle between Capitalist-Liberalism and Communist-Authoritarianism during the original Cold War, the insidious “forces” of Populism-Autocracy are present not only out in the undecided “Third World,” but even lurking inside Democracies in good standing – constantly threatening to tip them, like dominoes, into the opposite camp. Hence why Biden issues warnings like the one claiming that, “in so many places, including in Europe and the United States, democratic progress is under assault.” The fight against the perceived forces of Populism-Autocracy within the United States, or within the European Union, is not in this conception at all separate from the fight against the likes of China and Russia on the world stage; they are the same fight.

This cold war-inflected dichotomy between the forces of Good and Evil empire will go on to shape official policy, on everything from internet censorship and education policy, to ESG standards, to national security policies and assessments of what constitutes foreign threats. And it is certain to prompt all manner of enthusiastic interventions, at home and abroad.

So if you are country interested in neither being assimilated into Trans-Atlantis’ Progressive Utopia nor being forced out into the marginalized sphere of Putin and the Chinese Empire, you may find yourself in a rough spot for a while.

Poor Hungary. And poor the rest of us: conservatives, old-fashioned liberals, religious believers, and all other non-woke persons. Anyway, The Upheaval is really one of the best Substacks out there, and I hope you will subscribe.

Let me tell you once again: Live Not By Lies describes how to prepare yourself spiritually and communally for the future that is coming into being right now. This is going to be the rest of our lives. We have the gift, now, of time and foresight. Those who lived with totalitarianism are shouting their warnings. We are in a Kolakovic Moment at this very second. Get ready!

Now, the other must-read Substack of the moment is English novelist, essayist, and recent Orthodox Christian convert Paul Kingsnorth’s Abbey of Misrule. His most recent essay, “What Progress Wants,” is, well, worth the price of at least a one-month subscription, but I promise most of you will become hooked on it. On that Substack, Kingsnorth is doing some of the most urgent, insightful, and prophetic cultural analysis in the English language today.

It begins like this:

I was sitting around a fire recently under the trees, with a new friend. Night was coming in. The moon was nearly full as it climbed above the willows, and the bats were beginning their nightly circuit. We were drinking beer and talking about the state of the world, which can be a dangerous combination.

We got to talking about the last two momentous years: what had changed and how it had changed us. Something big, we both agreed, had shifted, but neither of us could quite pin it down. On the surface, of course, we could point to the obvious changes. The unprecedented biosecurity state which governments had imposed in response to covid. The accompanying media censorship operation. The vaccine passports and normalisation of mass surveillance. The digital attempts to enforce uniformity of opinion on key issues. Deepening political divisions. Crumbling public trust in institutions. Supply chain collapses. Coming food shortages. European war.

These are the symptoms of the times, but there was a shared sense that something else was going on behind them, and it wasn’t just the beer talking. We both seemed to feel as though something huge was moving beneath a deep ocean and we could only see the ripples on the surface. Whatever was happening, it somehow didn’t feel rational, or even really explicable. It felt like some psychic force was at work; as if some eruption from the underworld was playing out around us.

‘Sometimes’, my friend said, staring into the flames, ‘I feel like I’m living in 1913. Like we’re on the brink of something, but it hasn’t quite arrived yet.’

Yes, absolutely true. Kingsnorth devotes the rest of his essay to trying to describe what rough beast is around the corner. Referencing thinkers and artists as disparate as Rene Guenon, Augusto Del Noce, Ivan Illich and Allen Ginsberg, he calls it “Progress”. Why? Read on:

Humour me. Imagine for a moment that some force is active in the world which is beyond us. Perhaps we have created it. Perhaps it is independent of us. Perhaps it created itself and uses us for its ends. Either way, in recent years that force seems to have become manifest in some way we can’t quite put our finger on, and has stimulated the craziness of the times. Perhaps it has become self-aware, like Skynet; perhaps it is approaching its Singularity. Perhaps it has always been there, watching, and is now seizing its moment. Or perhaps it is simply beginning to spin out of control, as our systems and technologies become so complex that we can no longer steer them in our chosen direction. Either way, this force seems to be, in some inexplicable way, independent of us, and yet acting within us too.

Let’s give this force a name: a less provocative name, for now, than Moloch or Anti-Christ. Let’s keep it simple. Let’s just call this force Progress. Then, a la Kevin Kelly, let’s ask ourselves a simple question:

What does Progress want?

The rest of his essay is an answer to that question. Here is a short passage relevant to the work I’m doing on my new book:

Del Noce seems to be having something of a moment at present, provoked by a recent collection of his essays and lectures, translated into English as The Crisis of Modernity. This crisis, in Del Noce’s seeing, is one of exclusion: it is what the modern way of seeing leaves out that matters. What is it, asks Del Noce that ‘is no longer possible’?

The answer … is simple: what is excluded is the “supernatural,” religious transcendence … For rationalists, certainty about an irreversible historical process towards radical immanentism has replaced what for medieval thinkers was faith in revelation.

Del Noce’s ideas are complex, but this claim gets to the heart of the matter. The modern epoch, guided by science, reason and the self, rejects the notion of anything ‘unseen’ or ‘beyond’. From the eighteenth century onwards, philosophy sweeps away religion: the world is now understood in purely human terms, and managed with purely human notions. Everything becomes immanent: literally down-to-Earth. There are no principalities or powers, and so everything is potentially transformable and explicable through human might. This is another way of framing Guénon’s ‘Western deviation’: a ‘progressive materialisation’ that leads us into a ‘reign of quantity,’ in which we take on the role of the Creator for ourselves.

What Progress wants is the end of transcendence.

All of this, said Del Noce, marks a radical transformation in human seeing. It is, for example, a ‘sharp break with respect to the Greek and medieval periods.’ Both the followers of Plato and the followers of Christ (not to mention every other old culture on Earth, in their own particular way) believed that truth was transcendent, eternal and uncreated, and could be known through some combination of faith, practice and reason. No longer, said Del Noce: the only ‘transcendence’ that our age will permit is that which we create ourselves :

Modernity marks a major break by fully developing the anthropological theme, so that transcendence pictured as ‘beyond’ is replaced by transcendence within the world.

‘Transcendence within the world’ can also be translated as ‘Progress’. With no ultimate truth or higher story, there is nothing to stop us bending the universe to our desires: indeed, to do so is our duty. This, in Del Noce’s telling, explained twentieth century history. Having replaced religion with philosophy, we then tried putting philosophy into practice on a grand scale, with terrible results.

How do we shape the universe in the age of immanence? ‘The spiritual power that in the Middle Ages had been exercised by the Church … today can be exercised only by science’, writes Del Noce. A ‘totalitarian conception of science’ sees

… science regarded as the only true form of knowledge. According to this view, every other type of knowledge – metaphysical or religious – expresses only ‘subjective reactions’, which we are able, or will be able, to explain by extending science to the human sphere through psychological and sociological research.

But the rise of science did not lead to the end of religion, however much Richard Dawkins might like it to be so. Instead – as noted by Illich – religion responded to the challenge by becoming immanent itself. Western Christianity progressively abandoned its commitment to transcendence and was ‘resolved into philosophy’, allowing itself to be brought down to Earth, into the realm of social activism, politics and ideas. ‘The conversion of a large part of the religious world to the idea of modernity’, said Del Noce, ‘accelerated the process of disintegration’ that the modern revolution had unleashed.

What Progress wants is the death of God.

One more passage:

Modernity, in the final accounting, took aim at all authority, all tradition, everything rooted and everything past. Del Noce’s prediction, made decades ago, was that the end result of modernity’s revolutions would be the rise of a ‘new totalitarianism’. This time around it would not involve jackboots and uniforms. Instead, it would be a technocracy built on scientism and implemented by managerial elites, designed to ensure that order could continue after modernity had ripped up all former sources of authority and truth:

The age of the revolution gave up on searching for unity, and accepted a sharp opposition. The ideal endpoint is identified with liberation from authority, from the reign of force and necessity. However, what has happened so far suggests, rather, that the rejection of authority, understood in its metaphysical-religious foundation, leads instead to the fullness of ‘power.’

Create a void, in other words, and into it will rush monsters.

The new totalitarianism, suggested Del Noce, would ‘absolutely deny traditional morality and religion’, basing its worldview instead on ‘scientistic dogmatism.’ It would negate all ‘spiritual forces’, including those which, in the 1930s, had been used to resist the totalitarianisms of Hitler and Stalin: ‘the Christian tradition, liberalism, and humanitarian socialism.’ It would be a ‘totalitarianism of disintegration’, even more so than Russian communism, which had presented itself to some degree as a continuation of national tradition. This time around though, ‘the complete negation of all tradition’, including that of ‘fatherlands’ – nations – would lead to rule by the only large institutions still standing: global corporations.

Read it all.Read it like your freedom and the freedom of your children depended on it.

Reading both Kingsnorth and Lyons, I understand that without meaning to, I am completing a trilogy on how to survive the “totalitarianism of disintegration.” The Benedict Option and Live Not By Lies will be followed by this third book, which doesn’t have a firm title yet, but which will deal with the heart of the matter: reversing the “radical transformation in human seeing” (Kingsnorth’s phrase) by recovering the old way of seeing, and making it live again.

This is the way. This is the only way. When they institute Central Bank Digital Currencies, the social credit system will be in place. It will be far, far more difficult for us to say or do anything that dissents from wokeness then. The time to fight it is now, and while we fight with our right hands, let us also prepare ourselves with our left hands for the resistance years ahead.