This particular post was what made me go for the yearly subscription. I am quite reluctant to do so when my personal situation is not that of the Professional Managerial Caste precisely but this time you did it. I am more on the scientific/technical side of things and far from expert on social issues but this article is among the best things I have read in many years about the political drift we might or might not be experiencing well beyond essays I read years ago on post-democracy and other brainy stuff that didn't make much sense. You say this is not for debate but it is indeed food for thought. Just one thing that came to my mind is the observation that during electoral campaigns the parties that show up higher in the polls make their best to avoid any kind of political message to the masses that would only make them risk votes here and there and their messaging is indistinguishable from that of regular commercials. Vote me because I am handsome, or at least not ugly looking. Thanks a lot for this post Aurelien.
How could you write this article without mentioning China? A recent comment I read elsewhere made the point that China has focused on raising hundreds of millions out of poverty, while the neoliberal west has sent hundreds of millions into poverty.
"So I have no idea where this is all going to and up."
What happens is The Iron Law Of Oligarchy. Imagine France as turning into Brazil, albeit with worse weather, less attractive women, and a more hyperbelligerent foreign policy.
The US will resemble Brazil even more closely, except that its weather and women will be less attractive than those of France, and its foreign policy far more hyperbelligerent.
Great analysis, Aurelian. As much as it worries me, I have to agree with almost everything you said. We are definitely in a major transition, but figuring out what's next seems like an exercise in futility.
The neoliberals will not give up, for them it really is TINA. The elites will do absolutely anything to maintain their power, even working to make us all sick and unable to work. Seems like they figure AI will take care of all the jobs they actually need.
As someone once said there are two rules of neoliberalism:
Rule #1 - Because markets
Rule #2 - Go die
I have often said that if the poor and working classes would realize how much more they have in common than their differences, we could form a coalition that might be capable of challenging the elites. Unfortunately the wealthy and their media have been very successful in using social issues like guns and abortion to divide the people.
On a personal note, I was looking for you to mention the black churches of the South and their role in the Civil Rights movement, since that was when I cut my political teeth.. The AME Zion and the black Baptist churches were instrumental in the movement.
This is an excellent essay. Your ideas about intermediate structures as key mechanisms for bringing ideas into action is especially insightful.
Take the present case of the U.S. On the populist right you have the emergence of articulate voices like Tucker Carlson who are now in agreement with what I would call the current populist left candidate RFK jr on issues like the power of the national security state and and the bankruptcy of much of American foreign policy(especially in Ukraine). Yet both of these potentially aligned populist factions also have large blocs of members who primarily see their counter-part allies as either dirty far-left commies or bigoted white supremacy advocates--and are quite content with such comfortable polarizations because to think otherwise would throw into question many of their respective unexamined axioms.
However it may just be the case that what our actual power managers in national security fear most is the emergence of just this kind of alliance with the potential to create innovative and unique intermediate structures.
I think the CPC is continously revolutionary albeit with Chinese characteristics. They produce five-year plans and expect to implement them. The stated goal is moderate prosperity for all - what's not to like about that? They don't want us to be like them, just to work with them for the same goal
"Because the elitist, careerist neoliberal parties that dominate politics are mostly in a very bad way, we assume that the will either have to reform (virtually impossible) or they will disappear."
An alternative assumption would be that, at least in the U.S., the Democratic Party is presently consolidating its authoritarian power with little resistance.
A key issue may be that our individual psychological antennas are still stuck in the emotional zone "of this can't actually be happening," while are national security managers, through their in our face media narrative control and counterterrorism
rhetoric are signaling to us that they are about to enter mop-up mode.
If there ever was a time for serious reflection and discussion on how to create intermediate institutions (while we still can) it is right now.
Granted, most of us are unable to see what's coming. At the same time, I doubt there are many people who cannot smell it.
You are probably right that the Western form of leadership is on the nose and failing fast but the West aren't the only inhabitants on the planet. If there is a total Western societal breakdown (that's a pretty dark scenario, by the way) then the other remaining power blocs would quickly extend into the vacuum.
Anarchy, other than short term, would only happen if there was a total system collapse World Wide which precluded any viable remaining power bloc. For that to happen you'd need something big that tipped everybody over the edge.
Of all the usual suspects that might trigger this probably the most likely, I think, is that, as a civilisation taken as a whole, we are about to run headlong and unprepared into an energy deficit.
But hopefully not for a while. I like my hot showers.
If I recall correctly, Gramsci described this "interregnum" as characterized by "morbid symptoms."
I think it breeds monsters ...
Thank you, excellent article! Helps to clarify my own thoughts.
As you say, no viable candidates in sight to grab the ball and play. But a lot of folks in Africa would like to come and try their luck in Europe. How long will the elite be able to keep police and military - already long term underfunded - paid and loyal? Maybe some private militias will pop up, too. But the necessity of importing energy will mean those who export energy will hold more power. Muslim societies have proved to be quite resilient, maybe that faction will rise even in Europe.
The mood of inhabiting a body politic that is tottering towards death is truly uncanny. Maybe everything will continue as before, but nobody is really putting their energy into making that happen. Looting the estate is what has been going on for some time. But humans get quite inventive when they have to. There are a bunch of failed states where people keep on living.
There are a couple of solutions. The two most obvious solutions are for a political party to emerge by filling the political vaccuum, claiming the abandoned middle. This is the classic populist solution, the time of Ceasars as Spengler saw it.
The other solution is dissolution. Secession of the states into smaller nations that can function, can form a broader coalition, and already exist as clear Schelling points.
If nothing takes, then we do get anarchy, but only for a time. Feudalism is the natural response to anarchy, and it will eventually emerge from the ruins to provide a structure. Interesting times.
People are moving to Russia because, overall, Russians work together as a normal human society and country. And they practice multi-ethnic, multi-religious togetherness. More to the point, their military prowess is unmatched. A nation comes up around her armed forces.
What is this "Liberal democracy?" I know the usage and the aetiology. But really, is it what it claims to be? USA founders racked their minds and souls to avoid creating a democracy on USA territory. IMO, they were right to do so. And Liberal? What's that? Get rid of everything not made by you? And the next guy's going to do likewise? That's Liberal? Can the rest of us ever catch our breath from all this "liberalism?"
I think inside our host's political conundrum is an epistemological discernment as between delusion that leads to sight and delusion that leads to blindness. There are two kinds of delusion, healthy and unhealthy. Indian, Russian, and Euro-American philosophies -- including Russian military doctrine -- have verbal architectures which identify the differences.
A flock of birds, by some epistemological impetus native to them, moves en masse from one area to another, apparently -- but who really knows? -- because they have exhausted the ability of the first area to support them. Humans also, part beast as we are, behave in a like manner.
So-called Liberal democracy -- whatever it really is -- now is unable to support the human condition, the flock of humanity. Everyone see it. Liberal democrats attempt mass human die-off to fix the "problem" they created. But that's not feasible, can't happen fast enough to suit them, and besides, Liberal democrats do not volunteer to lead the way into the box cars. They set a poor example, as everyone can see.
Which leaves the human flock with its indeterminate and paradoxical epistemological arts ready but not yet "self-motivated" to find another area -- another moral-political architecture -- to fix up as home, and merrily inhabit.
There's a lot of inner-direction -- "inner necessity" Kandinsky calls it -- going on here. Our host is right about that, that it's not big majorities that are needed to get something useful done for the race. I'll put it this way, it's big detachment.
Please forgive me if I appear rude, but you seem to have a blind spot with regard to one of the options for change within countries. China, Cuba, Vietnam and even Russia have shown that there is an alternative to capitalism. These experiments have had different results, although all have things in common - one of the most important being the vicious and extreme resistance and sabotage on the part of established capitalism towards these projects. /this is well documented, and needs no further elucidation here.
There is of course by now a whole litany of criticism directed towards the above noted nations - such as ‘not being ‘democratic’ and in fact semi-autocratic ‘by nature’, not being efficient, not being ‘real’ communist societies, etc. etc.
a) Marx envisaged that any society would almost inevitably have to be capitalist before it could become communist.
b) China, for example, is not a full blown neo-liberal society, in that the financial sector is ultimately government controlled.
c) China is arguably as democratic as any western society (also, most western governments are not ‘democracies’ but oligarchies or even ‘kleptocracies’) - see:
and of course China has now obviously excelled the capitalist world at its own game, plus see:
d) Cuba has for decades exported doctors to the ’Third World’ - while the US has exported war. Which is the best contribution to the good of the world?
And so on, etc.
The system that will replace it all, at least in the west, is the one that has been built over the past 30 years, Corporations. The Future is and will be a Crypto-Corporate dystopia, a new crypto-feudalism age.
The historical perspective is great!- It would be interesting to add to your list a few failed attempts for political change because IMO, it is possible to learn also from failures. We have the recent examples of Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain or 5stars in Italy. The easiest way to explain their failures is that they all lacked some of the conditions you mention here. For instance they hadn't the largest stick, or/ and in most cases their organizations were not strong enough, not cohesive enough, and possibly not visceral enough to knock out the establishment parties. These conclusions were the result of only 5 minutes of thinking, and may be more or less well pointed but surely you gave me the "tools" to do that kind of thinking.