Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Stepping Back from the Brink

As people give up on the state, politics flow out of the system and into the streets.
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As the elections fall upon us, most people are focused on who wins, Republicans or Democrats. That is an important question, since a Democratic victory would bring a serious assault on freedom of thought and expression. What you see on campuses is what the cultural Marxists want to force on society as a whole. “Cancel” is the new synonym for “liquidate.”

There is nonetheless a more portentous question facing our country: do politics stay within the banks of the political system or do they overflow those banks and inundate daily life? The answer to that question may lead to another: do we remain the United States or will the astonishing disintegration of the Soviet Union be followed by the even more astonishing disintegration of our own country?

Why are we faced with these questions? Because all around the world the state is in decline. The decline is steeper in some places than in others, but it is occurring almost everywhere. Why? Because many of the elites that run states have disconnected themselves from the rest of the country. Their culture and values are hostile to the beliefs of their non-elite countrymen. They suck money and power out of the rest of the country and use them solely for their own benefit. And they care about only one thing: remaining the elite. These behaviors generate a growing crisis of legitimacy for the state the elite controls. People come to see the state as a racket.

When people give up on the state, politics flow out of the system and into the streets. We have seen that this summer, coming from the Left. Even with Mr. Trump as President, the state’s response has been supine. Monuments to people’s ancestors and heroes are torn down. Everything “politically incorrect” is renamed. The Right watches angrily as business and political “leaders” grovel in the dirt before cultural Marxism. Their legitimacy becomes as thin as their courage.

At what point does the Right give up on the state? That is likely to depend on what happens to the economy. Will it recover quickly in a V-shaped or “swoosh” fashion or will we find ourselves in a second Great Depression? The elite is doing its best to create the latter by keeping people so terrified of the coronavirus that even though businesses re-open, no customers come. The elite’s goal is to defeat President Trump, and they calculate their usual grasp on the levers of power and money will save them amidst a general economic collapse. That may be optimistic. 

If the Left continues to move politics into the streets, the Right will at some point do the same. That will come sooner if much of the Right is unemployed. A second term for President Trump will to some extent act as a safety valve for the Right. But it will also push the alt-left to become more violent. With the police in major cities neutered by the politicians, the Right will counter, if only to defend itself and its symbols. At that point, ol’ man river overflows his banks and everyone is caught up in the flood.

The flood may take the shape of Fourth Generation war, war fought by people who are not soldiers and whose primary loyalty is to something other than the state. Race would be one such loyalty, religion another, region or local state (e.g., Ohio or Alabama) a third. Ideology would motivate many, and lots of young men would fight for lack of anything better to do. Places such as Libya and Syria would be re-created on American soil.

It is bizarre that we even have to think about this scenario. But the Left’s violence and the state’s weak response to it means such a disaster is conceivable. The state arose to establish and maintain order, safety of persons and property. A state that fails to do so will fall. If its people are fortunate, a new state that can do the job will arise quickly, although it may be an authoritarian state.

As the Chinese say, with millennia of bitter experience, better 100 years of tyranny than one day of anarchy. No conservative can want disorder, much less state failure. The Left, if it has any remaining grasp on reality, should know it will lose a war with the Right and lose it quickly. Its strength is in cities, and cities cannot feed themselves. As Mao said, take the countryside and the cities will fall.

It is not too late for Left and Right to accept the need to live with each other and work out ways to do so. A renewed federalism is the most promising, with some states politically and culturally left, others right. Anyone who did not like it where he was could move. 

In the meantime, let me offer a morsel of advice to the Left: it is time to stop baby from playing with matches and dynamite.

William S. Lind is the author, with Lt. Col. Gregory A. Thiele, of the 4th Generation Warfare Handbook.



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