Category Archive 'Decline and Fall'
22 Apr 2023
For two hundred years we have sawed and sawed and sawed at the branch we are sitting on. And in the end much more suddenly than anyone has foreseen, our efforts were rewarded, and down we came. But unfortunately there had been a little mistake. The thing at the bottom was not a bed of roses after all, it was a cesspool full of barbed wire.
–George Orwell, 1940
22 Sep 2022
And, as Jeffrey Carter notes, everywhere you look you can see Ayn Rand’s fictional vision of the future coming visibly to life.
If you look at Minneapolis, Chicago, and San Francisco, it is a race to see who can be Detroit first. NYC is terrible right now when it comes to crime and daily living. So is Los Angeles. New Orleans is the murder capital of the country. Memphis, St. Louis, Louisville? Please spare me the Chamber of Commerce pitch. No doubt, tourists are balking at going to those places due to fear of crime.
Name an urban area that is a delightful place to live, has great public schools, doesn’t have rising crime, and you can build wealth right now. The only ones I can think of are in the Old Confederacy.
John Galt is shrugging. He is moving places. It’s not the weather.
09 Dec 2021
Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1833-1836, New York Historical Society.
Michael Anton contemplates gloomily what form the hell towards which we are rapidly proceeding in a handbasket is going to take.
He is ultimately unable to arrive at a conclusion, other than noting that the folly and decline of no previous known people, state, or culture has ever featured anything like the same levels of irrationality, self-hatred, and elite treason as our own.
[T]here is the endless insistence that every new dawn must begin a fresh Year Zero; we must start continually anew. What was acceptable yesterday is anathema today and will be more so tomorrow. All that came before must be swept aside and destroyed with extreme prejudice, on a rolling basis.
The most ferocious revolutionaries of yesteryear didn’t do this. The Jacobins changed the calendar and guillotined a lot of nobles but otherwise allowed France to remain French. The Bolsheviks did not touch the Russian literary or concert canons; to the contrary, they celebrated both. Mao made an attempt to start over—until the more sensible Party bosses realized that the old man (and especially his wife) had lost their minds and were destroying China, sidelined him, and quietly put an end to the Cultural Revolution four years before formally declaring mission accomplished. The Ayatollah did not ban Nowruz or other cornerstones of Persian tradition beloved by the Iranian people, but which predated his puritanical version of Islam.
Our overlords, by contrast, insist on changing everything and will not stop until everything familiar is gone. When this is pointed out, they smirk about the “slippery-slope fallacy” and gleefully lie. That will never happen, they say, until they insist on it, and, once accomplished, move on to the next target. They are cultural locusts devouring everything in their path. If the internal “logic” (if one may use that word in this context) of their passionate hatred is allowed to play out, no statue can be left standing, no traditional holiday observed, no name unchanged. If that outcome does not come to pass, it will not be because those driving toward it have a change of heart, nor is it likely to be because the Right suddenly becomes effective in opposition. It will rather be because the locusts destroy too many of the country’s remaining functioning parts too soon, causing the system to collapse before their program is complete, thereby making further “progress” impossible.
Any one of the above elements would appear to be unprecedented; just a few of them in combination surely are. All of them together?
How, therefore, can anyone be confident that he “knows” what is going to happen—whether imminent collapse, drawn-out decline, or centuries of tyranny?
If forced to bet, I would have to place my chips somewhere between imminent collapse and drawn-out decline. I occasionally read theories of triple bank-shots and four-dimensional chess—they really know what they’re doing!—only to marvel. Our regime cannot, at present, unload a cargo ship, stock a store shelf, run a clean election, handle parental complaints at a school board meeting, pass a budget bill, treat a cold variant, keep order in the streets, defeat a third world country, or even evacuate said country cleanly. And that’s to say nothing of all the things it should be doing, that all non-joke countries do, that it refuses to do. If our ruling class has a plan, it would seem to be to destroy the society and institutions from which they, at present, are the largest—one is tempted to say only—beneficiaries. Do they think they can benefit more from the wreckage? Or are they driven by hatreds that blind them to self-interest? Perhaps they’re simply insane?
Whatever the case, couple all this unprecedentedness with all this incompetence, and going long on Wokemerica seems a sucker bet. But, to end where we began, the very unprecedentedness of our situation means that all bets are off.
Be sure to RTWT
30 Sep 2021
After social norms had been inconveniently interrupted by the Second World War, presentations at court were revived by George VI in 1947. But the business was less exclusive, less glamorous than before. And it felt uncomfortably anachronistic in a postwar Britain which was struggling with rationing and bomb damage. The presentation party went into a slow decline until finally, in November 1957, the lord chamberlain’s office announced that there would be no more presentations after the following year’s Season. “The present time is one of transition in the sense that the traditional barriers of class have been broken down,” admitted the author of a rueful leading article in the Times the following day. “It has long ceased to be true to say that the Court is the centre of an aristocracy, the members of which form a clearly recognizable section of the community.” Princess Margaret was more succinct: “We had to put a stop to it,” she said. “Every tart in London was getting in.”
So 1958 was to be the last royal Season, and anxious social commentators predicted that its demise heralded the end of the Season altogether. In fact, the hectic round of social activities continued into the 1960s, with the overlapping worlds of aristocracy and plutocracy simply getting on with the business of bringing out their daughters and advertising their availability for marriage. Traditional fixtures were maintained—Queen Charlotte’s Ball, the Royal Caledonian Ball, both held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair—as were the great sporting occasions—Royal Ascot, Henley Royal Regatta, Wimbledon, and the Royal International Horse Show at White City Stadium.
There were also the private events, the cocktail parties, the “small dance” in Holland Park or Hampstead, perhaps shared between two or three debutantes, the grand ball with royal guests. There were around a hundred private dances each year well into the 1960s. Mothers whose own debuts had taken place in prewar days went for familiar venues—stalwarts like the Hyde Park Hotel and Claridge’s, the Ritz, the Dorchester. Others, with impressive addresses in Mayfair or Belgravia or Chelsea, opted for their own town houses.
But around half of the coming-out dances held both before and after the end of presentations at court didn’t take place in London at all. In 1956, for instance, Lady Cynthia Asquith gave a ball for her granddaughter at Stanway House in Gloucestershire, the Jacobean country home of her nephew Francis, Earl of Wemyss and March. Also in Gloucestershire, Mrs J. H. Dent-Brocklehurst gave a ball for her daughter Catharine at the family’s 15th-century seat of Sudeley Castle. The Marchioness of Abergavenny brought out her daughter, Lady Anne Nevill, at Eridge Park in Sussex; Mrs Bromley-Davenport did the same for her daughter at Capesthorne Hall in Cheshire, which had belonged to the Davenport family since the mid-18th century.
The country house was coming to rival the traditional hotel and the Mayfair mansion as a fashionable venue for a coming-out ball, as indeed it had been for years both in Ireland, where the season revolved around the Dublin Horse Show in August, and in Scotland, where the best of the Northern Season’s autumnal entertainments had always taken place in private homes. And while the country house made for a very different experience—guests were more likely to meet with country doctors, inebriated clergymen, and horse-mad matrons rather than the determinedly sophisticated types that might be found at the big London dances—it was usually a pleasant one.
“The best dances were in the country, in some castle or huge house,” remembered Angela Huth, who came out in 1956. Fiona MacCarthy, who came out two years after Angela and, like Angela, went on to forge a distinguished career as a writer, reckoned that “the Season only came alive out in the country.” People dressed less formally and were generally more relaxed. “In the last hour or two of a good party in the country, as dawn rose on dancing partners sleepily entwined on the dance floor in the garden, even girls who had their reservations about the Season felt fortunate indeed.” Angela Huth agreed: “The unforgettable part of the country dances was the return to the house at which we were staying to find the brilliance of the previous evening veiled in early mist, melancholy wisteria drooping more heavily, mourning doves cooing—all so uniquely English that tears came to tired eyes.”
27 Jul 2021
Lost in London’s fog in 1909, William D. Boyce was aided by an unknown Boy Scout doing his daily good turn. Impressed by the Scout’s devotion to principle, Boyce founded the Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 1910.
Mark Pulliam wrote a grim, and just slightly in-advance of the complete end, obituary for the Boy Scouts of America, once a widely popular boyhood rite of passage, imported a little over a century ago from Britain.
Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the hero of the Siege of Mafeking, dismayed at the lack of idealism, physical weakness, and unfamiliarity with the Out-of-Doors of Boer War recruits drawn from British industrialized cities, created an organization for boys specifically designed to inculcate manliness, virtue, and outdoor skills. Boys were encouraged to model themselves on the experienced and skilled frontiersman able to guide and reconnoiter for military forces in the Wild, on super-human figures like Frederick Russell Burnham, on the Scout. Boys should additionally be developed into patriots and Christian gentlemen of spotless honor, making a point of doing a good deed every day.
Baden-Powell invented the Scouting Movement specifically to oppose the negative influences of Modernity: moral relativism, effeminacy, cynicism, sloth, weakness, and self-indulgence. A bit over a century later, the BSA’s corporate leadership proved itself to be exactly like the rest of America’s national establishment: a pack of spineless, air-headed sheep ready to surrender quickly to the Sodomy and the Left’s Gramscian Long March Through the Institutions. It’s very, very sad.
While overall membership peaked in the early 1970s, the participation rate—the percentage of age-eligible boys who were members of the BSA—began to decline a decade (or more) earlier. The effect of this decline was disguised by increases in the U.S. population and expansion of the traditional scouting program. The heyday of the BSA coincided with the demographic bubble of post-WWII births—the Boomer generation. As this cohort grew up, the attention of American youths was distracted by other cultural influences: greater affluence, competing recreational activities, the proliferation of organized youth sports, the ubiquity of suburbia and its rich array of creature comforts, growing demographic diversity, and—in the past decade—the advent of computer games that now consume the interest of many boys.
The Boy Scout Law—with its embrace of religious faith (“reverence”) and heterosexuality (“morally straight”)—faced hostile headwinds in an increasingly secular and “tolerant” society. And, to be honest, in a youth culture increasingly sensitive to what is fashionable—a norm rigidly and relentlessly enforced by social media through the omnipresent smartphone—the Boy Scouts in recent decades was regarded as unacceptably “uncool.” In the 1950s and 1960s, peer pressure went in the opposite direction, reinforcing the attractiveness of scouting. Norman Rockwell’s cover illustration for the February 1965 issue of Boys’ Life depicts two parents proudly watching as their clean-cut son—standing at attention in a crisply-pressed uniform—receives his Eagle medal. Alas, times change. As the BSA’s membership began to decline, the national organization tried to remain “relevant,” adapting to America’s abrupt cultural and demographic shifts with responses that were sometimes clumsy and even counter-productive.
After decades of litigation brought by atheists and homosexuals regarding the BSA’s exclusionary membership requirements—which were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000) as the exercise of the BSA’s First Amendment rights—the BSA reversed itself by allowing gay youths full participation in 2014 and allowing openly gay adults as leaders in 2015. Instead of stemming BSA’s membership decline, the national leadership’s acquiescence to atheists and homosexuals—some believe due to pressure from major corporations whose financial patronage had become indispensable to the organization’s operation—only accelerated it.
With recent moves more closely resembling the actions of a Fortune 500 HR department, the BSA now has a Chief Diversity Officer, boasts a Diversity and Inclusion Statement, and in 2020 even proposed an Eagle-required merit badge requiring mastery of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to achieve scouting’s highest rank. This last innovation was apparently too much for traditionalists to swallow, and the proposed merit badge has been put on hold pending further study.
In the corporate jargon of the BSA’s national leadership, “The introduction of the proposed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion merit badge is being delayed to allow for the careful consideration and evaluation of feedback received from a wide variety of commenters on the draft requirements.” The New York Times reported that “The nonprofit also joined a growing number of organizations announcing public support for racial equality and the Black Lives Matter movement.” Earlier this year, the BSA’s century-old official publication, Boys’ Life, was renamed Scout Life in order to be gender-neutral.
15 Nov 2020
Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1833-1836, New York Historical Society.
UConn Professor Peter Turchin’s models are deeply pessimistic.
The year 2020 has been kind to Turchin, for many of the same reasons it has been hell for the rest of us. Cities on fire, elected leaders endorsing violence, homicides surgingâ€”ÂÂto a normal American, these are apocalyptic signs. To Turchin, they indicate that his models, which incorporate thousands of years of data about human history, are working. (â€œNot all of human history,â€ he corrected me once. â€œJust the last 10,000 years.â€) He has been warning for a decade that a few key social and political trends portend an â€œage of discord,â€ civil unrest and carnage worse than most Americans have experienced. In 2010, he predicted that the unrest would get serious around 2020, and that it wouldnâ€™t let up until those social and political trends reversed. Havoc at the level of the late 1960s and early â€™70s is the best-case scenario; all-out civil war is the worst.
The fundamental problems, he says, are a dark triad of social maladies: a bloated elite class, with too few elite jobs to go around; declining living standards among the general population; and a government that canâ€™t cover its financial positions. His models, which track these factors in other societies across history, are too complicated to explain in a nontechnical publication. But theyâ€™ve succeeded in impressing writers for nontechnical publications, and have won him comparisons to other authors of â€œmegahistories,â€ such as Jared Diamond and Yuval Noah Harari. …
â€œWe are almost guaranteedâ€ five hellish years, Turchin predicts, and likely a decade or more. The problem, he says, is that there are too many people like me. â€œYou are ruling class,â€ he said, with no more rancor than if he had informed me that I had brown hair, or a slightly newer iPhone than his. Of the three factors driving social violence, Turchin stresses most heavily â€œelite overproductionâ€â€”Âthe tendency of a societyâ€™s ruling classes to grow faster than the number of positions for their members to fill. One way for a ruling class to grow is biologicallyâ€”think of Saudi Arabia, where princes and princesses are born faster than royal roles can be created for them. In the United States, elites overÂproduce themselves through economic and educational upward mobility: More and more people get rich, and more and more get educated. Neither of these sounds bad on its own. Donâ€™t we want everyone to be rich and educated? The problems begin when money and Harvard degrees become like royal titles in Saudi Arabia. If lots of people have them, but only some have real power, the ones who donâ€™t have power eventually turn on the ones who do.
In the United States, Turchin told me, you can see more and more aspirants fighting for a single job at, say, a prestigious law firm, or in an influential government sinecure, or (here it got personal) at a national magazine. Perhaps seeing the holes in my T-shirt, Turchin noted that a person can be part of an ideological elite rather than an economic one. (He doesnâ€™t view himself as a member of either. A professor reaches at most a few hundred students, he told me. â€œYou reach hundreds of thousands.â€) Elite jobs do not multiply as fast as elites do. There are still only 100 Senate seats, but more people than ever have enough money or degrees to think they should be running the country. â€œYou have a situation now where there are many more elites fighting for the same position, and some portion of them will convert to counter-elites,â€ Turchin said.
Donald Trump, for example, may appear elite (rich father, Wharton degree, gilded commodes), but Trumpism is a counter-elite movement. His government is packed with credentialed nobodies who were shut out of previous administrations, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes because the Groton-ÂYale establishment simply didnâ€™t have any vacancies. Trumpâ€™s former adviser and chief strategist Steve Bannon, Turchin said, is a â€œparadigmatic exampleâ€ of a counter-elite. He grew up working-class, went to Harvard Business School, and got rich as an investment banker and by owning a small stake in the syndication rights to Seinfeld. None of that translated to political power until he allied himself with the common people. â€œHe was a counter-elite who used Trump to break through, to put the white working males back in charge,â€ Turchin said.
Elite overproduction creates counter-elites, and counter-elites look for allies among the commoners. If commonersâ€™ living standards slipâ€”not relative to the elites, but relative to what they had beforeâ€”they accept the overtures of the counter-elites and start oiling the axles of their tumbrels. Commonersâ€™ lives grow worse, and the few who try to pull themselves onto the elite lifeboat are pushed back into the water by those already aboard. The final trigger of impending collapse, Turchin says, tends to be state insolvency. At some point rising inÂsecurity becomes expensive. The elites have to pacify unhappy citizens with handouts and freebiesâ€”and when these run out, they have to police dissent and oppress people. Eventually the state exhausts all short-term solutions, and what was heretofore a coherent civilization disintegrates.
Turchinâ€™s prognostications would be easier to dismiss as barstool theorizing if the disintegration were not happening now, roughly as the Seer of Storrs foretold 10 years ago. If the next 10 years are as seismic as he says they will be, his insights will have to be accounted for by historians and social scientistsâ€”assuming, of course, that there are still universities left to employ such people.
Those models strike me as not wrong, but they do seem to overlook the unworthiness, incompetence, and childishness of the Establishment Elite.
14 Nov 2020
â€œ. . . and if you look off the left-hand side of the plane youâ€™ll see the smoldering ruins of whatâ€™s left of our civilization . . .â€
09 Sep 2020
Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1833-1836, New York Historical Society.
Victor Davis Hanson:
No city gets a pass from history, not Athens, not Rome, not Alexandriaâ€”not Detroit, Baltimore, or Chicago.
After all, there is no rule that just because Bill Gates and Amazon headquartered in Seattle that its mayor, city council, and state governor will not abandon its signature downtown. What once made Portland great can be undone in a few weeks.
Wall Street may run the world, but it certainly does not run the New York City government. Electronic capital really does still have human legs and when the proverbial suited investor thinks he will be infected, short of toilet paper, or assaulted on the street, he leaves, taking his laptop with him. Bill de Blasio is left to govern, like a horned and bearded Visigoth, over an increasing shell of former grandeur.
To venture into San Francisco is to return in a time machine to 1855, a boomtown based on silicon chips, not gold dust, but one likewise lawless, fetid, and safe only for those with private security guards. To the casual visitor, it appears a lunatic place now recalibrated for the homeless, the looter, the assaulterâ€”and the very rich. Crimes like public defecation and drug use, or shattering the windows of a parked car window to steal its contents are not crimes unless the targets are the well-connected.
The story of all Dark Ages is that when civilizations finally prefer suicide, they do it easily, and the remnants flock to the countryside to preserve what they canâ€”allowing the cities to go on with their ritual self-destruction.
So it has begun to seem this endless summer.
15 Aug 2020
The Wall Street Journal reported the bad news.
To step into the Nat Sherman Townhouse in Midtown Manhattan is to step back in time, say fans of the 90-year-old tobacco emporium.
It is a place where smoking isnâ€™t only allowed, but also is encouraged. The store sells all manner of high-end tobacco items, from hand-rolled cigars to premium cigarettes, including some that it produces under the Nat Sherman banner.
In days gone by, its customers included such boldface names as Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne and Henny Youngman. Even now, store employees say chief executives, prominent politicians and athletes are among the regulars.
But Nat Sherman is soon to become a piece of history itself. The store, which is owned by tobacco giant Altria Group Inc., is closing Sept. 25, company officials said.
Nat Shermanâ€™s own brand of cigars, including its Timeless line, also is being discontinued. But Altria will continue to produce and market Nat Sherman-branded cigarettes, a company spokesman said.
Altria, which acquired Nat Sherman in 2017 from the Sherman family for an undisclosed price, put the store and the cigar line up for sale last October, saying the business wasnâ€™t core to its tobacco portfolio. But a deal with a buyer couldnâ€™t be completed in the months thereafter and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic served to complicate any potential transaction, store officials said.
Michael Herklots, vice president of Altriaâ€™s Nat Sherman International division, pointed to the fact that the emporium, situated near the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, saw much of its business from Midtown office employees. Now, about 90% of that customer base is no longer there, he said.
The tragedy, he added, is that the city is losing one of its most treasured retail names.
â€œWe are as authentic to New York as HermÃ¨s is to Paris,â€ he said. …
The store is a place to talk about cigar preferencesâ€”mild and creamy or full-bodied and spicyâ€”with tobacconists who have years, if not decades, of experience. Moreover, it is a place just to kibbitz in generalâ€”about your work, your family or, better yet, about nothing in particular.
The store offered customers, from those famous names to everyday white- and blue-collar workers, plenty of places to sit back and enjoy a â€œstick,â€ to use a cigar smokerâ€™s term, after they shopped. Those who wanted to commit to $3,000 in purchases a year could become members of a private downstairs lounge.
Celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian is among the regulars who frequented Nat Sherman for a leisurely smoke.
â€œYou walked in and you felt like you were part of something,â€ he said.
07 Jun 2020
Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1833-1836, New York Historical Society.
Matthew Continetti discusses today’s Progressivism in the light of Irving Kristol’s 1969 lecture on â€œUrban Civilization and Its Discontents.â€
Beginning in the 19th century, writers, artists, philosophers, and intellectuals adopted an adversarial stance toward the dominant â€œbourgeoisâ€ ethos of orthodox religiosity, marital fidelity, conventional morality, and traditional manners. With the advent of mass media and the rise of higher education in the 20th century, the adversarial impulse permeated the institutions of culture. It gained more adherents in each rising generation.
What Roger Scruton described as a â€œculture of repudiationâ€ revised inherited understandings of history, politics, economics, society, art, psychology, and behavior. The philosophy of Darwin, Marx, and Freud deprived individuals of agency. It reduced them to mere products of the environment. The will of â€œthe people,â€ no matter its direction, was considered a good in itself. â€œWhat we may call the transcendental-populist religion of democracy,â€ Kristol said, â€œsuperseded an original political philosophy of democracy.â€
The population fought over the dispensation of entitlements. But it shared a state of mind. â€œIt is, to be precise, that state of mind,â€ Kristol went on, â€œwhich lacks all those qualities that, in the opinion of the founding fathers, added up to republican morality: steadiness of character, deliberativeness of mind, and a mild predisposition to subordinate oneâ€™s own special interests to the public interest.â€
The most important question, Kristol liked to say, was, â€œWhy not?â€ Why not do drugs, consume porn, abandon your children, break into and steal from a Target store? The institutions that once supplied the answers to such questions â€” the family, the church, the community â€” receded in importance and withered in strength against the power of an adversary culture that embedded itself in media and government and the liberation of desires that accompanied conditions of security and affluence.
It became difficult to justify submission of the will to external moral authority. That those authorities were often bigoted or unjust gave rise to the additional demand of justice as a precondition of civil peace and order. But this was a non sequitur. Order is the basis of justice, not the other way around. â€œTo demand â€˜justiceâ€™ as a precondition for political or social stability,â€ Kristol wrote in 1979, â€œis to make a demand on this world which the world has ever refused to concede.â€
What I find remarkable is how the Left had managed to enroll not only the naive and romantic Dummer Jungen, but also the Boobs and Babbitts; the Christers, Wowsers, and Reformers; the Goo-Goos and the energetic ladies whose sex lives are over under a single virtue-signalling, self-congratulatory banner.
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