If you read nothing else of its ilk in 2024, read this essay by Aurelian. Provocative, eminently thoughtful, sardonic at times, often biting, shit kicking at its very best. In fact, read this essay several times over. It’s well worth it.

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As one who lives in the West the process is extremely uncomfortable. I remember the gleeful jibes about the aged Soviet Politburo that was present in my young adulthood. I imagine similar jibes emanating from non Western locals when viewing the two predicted U.S. presidential candidates. The U.S. Senate which is responsible for appointing senior officers of our foreign policy institutions looks equally sclerotic. I am tempted to say that these artifacts of an aging and ill informed U.S. political class will take a generation to undo, but perhaps not. Change has better chances with each funeral.

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Feb 7·edited Feb 7

When discussing the breakdown of the international system and the inadequacy of today's politicians and institutions I find it useful, as a US citizen, to simply reflect back on the presidency of Richard Nixon.

Certainly a flawed character in some respects, Nixon, a lifelong anti-communist, assumed the presidency during the dark days of the Cold War and the ongoing and very hot Vietnam War. Over the course of his presidency Nixon was able to hold summits with the Soviet Union, negotiate treaties such as the ABM treaty, sign them, and have them ratified by the Senate. He also established 'Detente' with the Soviet Union thereby further lessening the threat of war between the Super Powers. He also ended the draft and began the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam and initiated the Paris Peace talks with North Vietnam. Further, he established the opening with Mao's Communist Red China, and was able to recognize Taiwan as an historical and indivisible part of China.

Domestically, Nixon signed the Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and he also established the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. And yes, he was also responsible for the Watergate break-in and the bugging of the DNC phones. He likely would have gotten away with it if not for the intervention of the Deep State in the person FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, aka "Deep Throat."

Compare Nixon's accomplishments, flawed as he was, to today's recent presidents. Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden. All were presidents after the Soviet Union had collapsed, granted full independence to 13 of its republics, and completely dissolved the Warsaw Pact alliance, closing its bases in Eastern Europe, withdrawing its troops, and opening its economy to Western (vulture) capitalists. Yet even with all that the US was unable to establish a lasting peace but instead embarked on the series of imperial wars causing death and destruction across the Middle East and leaving chaos in its wake. Not finished, we are now engaged in a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine.

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Quite insightful. Thanks!

The declining west does indeed have a problem with politicians without policies mobbed by self proclaimed experts without expertise.

I'd like to focus on that a little. I have witnessed this growing trend of 'expert addiction' myself while dabbling in politics and governance. It took me a long time to figure out why this has permeated everywhere and I think I now have the answer to what is driving this; growing risk aversion throughout the Western world.

People prefer outcomes with low uncertainty to outcomes with high uncertainty. In dynamic social settings people will take risks to gain what they don't have, while in static social settings people are afraid to lose what they do have and will act defensively. In the latter case nobody is willing to take any risk and so the experts come in.

None of the experts I have dealt with over the years has ever seriously proposed something radical. There was always a quiet understanding what the consensus was and reports were drafted to reflect that consensus. Policy makers always hide behind those (hideously overpriced) reports deflecting accountability and the inevitable blame when things go badly wrong.

Remember the 2007-2008 credit crisis? The financial sector used rating agency 'experts' to upgrade trash mortgages to top tier investment status. The exact same thing is happening now with all the trash policies in the Collective West that have been given the blessing by 'experts'.

In the end this is a losing proposition and I fear that in many ways the Collective West is nearing the end.

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Very thought provoking article. One small quibble, it is possible that things can be connected without being directed. I'm not sure that conflating the two has made the ideas more meaningful.

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"More than any other major capital, Washington resembles a closed box made of mirrors where people talk entirely to each other, and where what matters is whether you have the right opinions, and can win battles against your peers. The rest of the world, I sometimes think, is just another lobby group, and reality just another factor to be taken into account. "

Because they have so much power that they can do so.

As that power wanes, we see the liberal mask slip off. If they cannot get their way, if they cannot control the narrative by liberal and democratic means, then we'll just have to do the other thing.

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It bears mentioning that, in many of Iain M Bank's Culture novels, the protagonists who have boldly/naively ventured beyond the frontiers of their post-scarcity society (usually on the pretence of improving one of the many less-enlightened intergalactic civilisations) end up being irreparably broken by their experiences and unable to comfortably return to their previous cosseted existence. In one of the books, a character decides that he would rather throw his lot in with a race of crude, sadistic octopus-like creatures, who the Culture has named 'The Affront', but who he believes lead more authentic lives.

I sense the incoming of reality, far broader in scale and less easy to fathom than the narrow perspective that we are used to. I hope that I will not be broken by it. I hope that I can let go of what is lost and adapt.

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Excellent essay. Also your comment below: "My own view (based on my own experience) is that there's actually a very complex relationship between ideas, understandings of ideas, vulgarisation of ideas, utility of ideas to the powerful, and various types and levels of power. In other words it's complicated."

I like the way you argue against the conspiratorial take. But the way some ideas hold sway, their effect can engender synchronicity of outcomes echoing that which a conspiratorial hypothesis imagines. For example, perhaps the most pervasive idea nowadays, which has spread throughout the modern world East and West, is reductive materialism (only the physical is real) which is not generally experienced as a formal idea per se, but rather is a generally adopted mindset which believes in some sort of permanent, solid, measurable 'objective reality'. This creates an overly mechanistic view which, though not entirely deluded, unfortunately narrows the bandwidth of what we tend to value in the realm of experience such that, over time, we end up in overly materialistic dead end societies - what is happening now.

A better leadership class would be more intellectually (and spiritually) competent and be able to help lead society out of this materialist trap, but it looks like things are going to have to get far more dysfunctional before either there is a concerted move to wake up out of this stupor or they will be turfed out and a new society will emerge out of the rubble. Interestingly, the multipolar movement features a non-materialist intellectual thrust - such as that espoused by Dugin - which purports to address the above failings be re-emphasising a sense of people attuned to bedrock culture, values and sacred perception. This is on the right track to changing the over-arching materialist Idea which is doing so much damage.

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I don´t agree with your view, that things would have ultimately have been different if -say- Hitler wouldn´t have come to power. The wars from 1914-1945 were ultimately about Germany and its place in the world. In old Europe there was always some state or country that was supreme for a while as it was at the forefront of technological and cultural development. The other countries copied these innovations and then improved upon them until they would take on and then take down the erstwhile leader. This process was repeated countless times but it never ended in total war and total destruction. This came about because a non European power - the US - became involved. Hitler or no Hitler - the fate of Germany was preordained. Likewise the further decline of Europe is preordained. What was Europe´s strength - its political diversity which gave rise to innovation - is now its weakness.

For the first time in several centuries we see non European powers (Iran and Turkey) supplying European powers (Russia and Iran) with advanced weaponry (drones).

As to Russia: if not Lenin than some version of him would have taken power. It was all foretold in the Demons by Dostoyevsky and by the culture of the Silver Age before the First World War. In a society that is headed for dissolution the elements with the clearest idea of a new order will take power. The Jacobins in France, the Boslsheviks, the Nazis and Chomeini. Who will take power in our dissolving order? Maybe some new Feudalists like Gates, Musk a.s.o. who will use Third World immigrants as their Mameluks to subdue the original population. In Western Europe at least things point that way.

Even in Russia there are pointers in that direction. Witness the Chechens and their role in propping up Putin. It is all a possibilty and maybe even a remote one but if you listen to the German secretary of defense who wants to recruit non-Germans into the army or his counterpart in Washington who wants the same it is not completely out of the realm of the possible.

Finally a last word about Hitler and Germany: I used to believe as well that if Stalin would have told the Communists to band up with the Social Democrats things might have been different. I don´t believe that anymore. I believe power ultimately comes out the barrel of a gun and the SA was already ruling the streets when Hitler came to power. The Reichswehr couldn´t and wouldn´t have started a civil war and there was no choice in the end but to somehow involve the Nazis in power.

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Thank you Aurelien🙏

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“After all, if Louis XVI of France had been prepared to accept a constitutional monarchy in 1791, or if Corsica had not become French in 1768, or if a certain Napoleon Buonaparte had not joined the French Army, the history of Europe would have been very different.”

The idea that history is contigent on the exceptional lives and decisions of great men is perhaps one of those beliefs which will finally disappear in the not so distant future

This is modified into a version of the Miliband description of the ruling class rubbing shoulders - a more structural approach as per Poulantzas might reveal more

Without diminishing your analysis, one explanation for the current collapse of western style capitalism has been advanced recently –

Capitalism’s overlooked contradiction: Wealth and democratic decline’


A typo – it’s enculer not encouler

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"We are already seeing this in West Africa, for example, where nations are cultivating relations with Russia and China, as well as retaining them with the West."

A quibble with this - neither BFaso nor Mali retain much of any relationship with the West, Niger has to solve the problem of the US base, but, as far as I know, other than that issue hardly has what may be called a relationship

Elsewhere in Africa many nations are trying to play one against the other, the West against RF/China - with not a great deal of success, as their deep ties aspirations and their futures are so obviously on the one side, while economic poverty or uncertainty or fear alone is on the other - South Africa is an example

Those who are whole heartedly pro the West - Rwanda, Morocco Senegal Nigeria- are treated as 'vendus', or laughed at, Kenya and their policeman in Haiti

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Feb 7·edited Feb 8

Yes, history is contingent.

But until what point ?

Yes, if De Gaulle had not been in London when the Armistice was signed, France history would have been very different.

Or maybe not that much.

There is good chance the Allied would have landed in France anyway. And from there, with the Russians help from the East, defeated the Germans.

And then France would have been occupied by the US. Maybe they would have fought against some communist résistants during a while. But there is a good chance too that pro-US forces would have prevailed in the end. Like in Greece.

France would have got some Marshall plan aid like the others Western Europe countries. And would have lost all her colonies anyway.

Then, at some point, France would have joined some US-run military organisation and some supra-national European economic and politic union. Because it was both planned by the US anyway to counter the Soviets.

Maybe France would not have developed the atomic bomb. But she never had cause to use it. So it would not have changed things that much anyway.

And, over the decades, all this would have not prevented the slow decline of the whole continent, France included, in the world affairs. Mostly because its fossil-fuel deposits that allowed it to conquer the world are now terminally depleted...

Same thing about Napoleon.... Without him France history would have been very different. Probably. But France would still have been the most populated country in Europe, giving her the biggest army at the time. But still probably not big enough to counter the English over the whole continent....

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"Once we go beyond cartoon history and follow the evolution of crises in more detail, we realize, in fact, how overwhelmingly unlikely is the world we actually live in".

I agree, and I wish to point that there are those who look further back than 1789 from another point of view and argue that what we are seen now in the world is ultimately the reassertion of Asia at the front seat of History after an unusual interval of Western dominion unleashed by the scientific and commercial revolutions in the 16th and 17th centuries. Once we take a long step back to see the whole picture, they explain, the abnormality is not what is happening now, but what happened in the last five centuries. This view, if is truth, it is indeed interesting, but your points are still valid: History is contingent and this moment has its uniqueness, nevertheless thinking about the world of today and its future I find myself trap in the same impossibility you just describe: to imagine a future I've to look at the past.

After read "The World of Yesterday" by Stefan Zweig I was amazed about how suddenly and unexpected all the apparent century old stability of Austria disappear. In as much as blink the world turned upside down and civility turned to barbarism. But I don't think 1914 offers many parallels to the world of today, most because it was "too small" which means that all the actual meaningful decisions were taken in Europe whilst the world now is "too big" with different power centers all capable to inflict decisive actions, no matter how asymmetrical they look. As ironically it seems though is the even smaller world of 323 B.C. that I think of, not for how things would appear, but for the mental outlook of a possible future after the West.

The rapid expansion and equally abrupt collapse of the Macedonian Empire was fallowed by a period in itself different from all before or after in antiquity. An era in which Greek was the general language in large parts of the Mediterranean Sea and in which new ideas coming from the East and old ideas from the Greeks collide as people try to make sense of a fragmentary world around them propelled by chaos and instability. So I think we could as well enter in something like that: we are already living through a fragmentary world, english is a general language, western political ideas like Parliamentary Democracy are twisted, adapted and reinventing elsewhere sometimes beyond recognition and the mainstream culture look as people are retreating further and further from reality into their own worlds. The only element without parallel is the wars of the Diadochi..., but we all can be an election from something like it.

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“We all know that it is almost impossible to imagine the future except by reference to the present.”

A remarkable essay full of propositions that reflect your experience, training, and clarity of thought. I wonder who you are writing for sometimes bc your essays are not simple.

As for the past conditioning the present which conditions future events, it’s more likely that some events happen, then others happen after a time gap. It’s not causally connected. It’s just what happens at one time, then another later time.

Russell noted that it’s only an accidental fact that memory works backwards. That we imagine the past determines the present. Otherwise we’d say just as assuredly that the future determines the present. Another way of thinking about it is, there is no such thing as a Law of cause and effect. Certainly not so in science. Apparently it’s popularly held otherwise. We keep trying to ascertain future events based upon prior ones. While we cannot deduce effects from a prior event to following event, there’s only an observable correlation that lends an inductive probability. This is what good analysis can offer, and why History is useful for such; noting similarities, and supposing future correlations. But as you mentioned, there’s not much of good to be found by most so called analysts.

What we can say about the future is strong and clear. It’s determined, i.e. the future will be what it will be. This realty might relieve much of the worry and gnashing involved, but of course doesn’t do much for analysis, which is an unavoidable emotional aspiration. Nor does it afford a good reason for educated souls such as Aurelien to distill his vast experience for the edification of the likes of me. But I’m glad you do.

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Feb 7·edited Feb 8

Surprisingly much of what you say here resonates with the commentary of Shahid Bolsen. Except what you call paranoia he would call Tawhid...

Also of note is how much this resonates with the expression of thoughts of one Tyson Yunkaporta. These two streams (Muslim and Indigenous) combined make it clear what you are touching on here is a wider necessity for all to un-Enlighten(ment) and de-colonise. This is both a cultural and spiritual imperative.

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