It’s been a landmark fortnight though not in a good way for the Belmont Club. At least three of the major themes long discussed on this site have shouldered their way to the front pages: the failure of Obama’s war on terror in the catastrophes overwhelming MENA and Afghanistan was predicted by the Ten Ships; the crisis of Washington as described by Ted Cruz had earlier been sketched out in the pamphlet Storming the Castle. Perhaps most eerily, a report by a German reporter detailing ISIS’ plan to kill hundreds of millions through nuclear terrorism echoes the Three Conjectures.
The validation of so many sad insights is of little consolation unless one is like those movie paleontologists so happy to be vindicated in their prediction that dinosaurs still exist that they do not care that they are about to be eaten by one. One can only hope the readers of this site are not similarly consoled. A history of good guesses does nothing to answer the problem which desperately needs solving: alright we’re in a crisis, but what do we do now? How do we dig ourselves out of the hole?
Fred Feitz at Fox News makes a brave but conventional attempt to outline a strategy to recover America’s position in the Middle East. It’s worth reading but suffers from the assumption that the same set of actors in Washington who landed us in trouble will do different things in the future. That is an assumption which Ted Cruz’s epic speech on the corruption in Washington does its best to refute.
Cruz explains at convincing length that Congress — the Republican Party included — has been bought off. The whole place is rotten; there is no balm in Gilead nor cavalry to ride to the rescue. In Cruz’s telling political America stands condemned because it is financially, morally and internationally bankrupt. If that’s what Obama has done Cruz explains that’s what the Republicans helped him do.
To the question “what do we do now” Cruz’s answer is “don’t wait for Washington”.
The virtues of Cruz’s indictment are also its limitations, because while his speech accurately portrays the oncoming danger, it does so at the cost of convincing the viewer that America had it coming. Washington in Cruz’s characterization is not the result of bad luck but the accretion of national vices. In that sense, there is about Cruz’s analysis the flavor of Crime and Punishment.
The problem with the retributive narrative is that it sounds too much like a story from out the old books and most politicians, reluctant to sound hokey, are loathe to take it up, however true it may be. For in the retributive story there is one unpleasant feature; disasters continue until the sinners “repent” and repentance is something most of us are by and large averse to.
Much as the voters despise politicians, most of them are attached to life as it is. They love the normal; the predictable, the comforting and the routine. Therefore they love without realizing it the liberal narrative, which falsely promises a painless progression from cradle to grave without the need for virtue, courage or even industry.
Even when the liberal narrative is exposed as a lie we are naturally attracted to the easy way out; to the linear solution. We don’t like change and risk taking any more than dieters like small portions. The hope will persist that if we elect Ted Cruz and other true conservatives to office then the worst can still be avoided. Let this cup pass away then maybe Punishment will ease up and we can all go back to normal life.
What no politician has yet nerved himself to tell the public yet is that normalcy itself may be ending and the actual facts of physical life soon depend on actions and virtues our elites have long deemed obsolete or worthy of extinction. If historical discontinuities mean anything it is that “business as usual” is over. The Western world had a extraordinarily good run in the years since 1945, so good that it was easy to imagine that constant progress was a permanent condition; that tomorrow would always be better than today; that there was some unstoppable march through history our politicians had only to get in spangled tights to lead.
Ironically the basis of that incredible prosperity may not have complacency but on the contrary, a constant vigilance over its fragile existence. Business as usual looked easy because the Old Ones had the habit of putting another log upon the fire to keep the dark things away. Now that our new leaders have said “let the last ember go out. Those needless fires put out too much CO2. There is nothing to fear out there”, we are beginning to have our doubts and yet aware it’s too late to go back now.
Now we get to find out the truth about whether there are wolves out there. The answer will alter us. History tells us that events always transform men. They never leave them unchanged. William Halsey recorded the effect of the 40s on his generation when he said “there are no extraordinary men… just extraordinary circumstances that ordinary men are forced to deal with.”
So it will be with us. To the question “What do we do now?” the answer is: “we change”.
People will pick up what Washington leaves on the floor. Populations will act as they have not acted before and individuals will find solutions in places we never thought to look. We will surprise ourselves constantly, often and always because we have to. Considering this last fortnight has been a good one for Belmont Club predictions, it may be auspicious to venture one for the future.
The ideologies forged in the 20th century are dying and with them will go many of our familiar guideposts. They’ve been around for so long many will find it hard to believe they are actually slipping away. For decades it was the unstated assumption that superstates like the EU and a giant federal government were the coming thing. How if what we conventionally consider the “future” is actually the past?
That’s why things are so unstable. The so-called future wasn’t.
The real future has not happened yet. This is not an entirely trite observation. The years since the fall of the Berlin Wall have been characterized by a futile attempt to buy stability through risk sharing. There was no crisis, which if sufficiently enlarged, could not be solved. Yet it failed. In an era of rapid change emergent risks can no longer be spread. Survival will depend not upon building a bigger boat but making the right choices.
This breaks politics, especially redistributive and identity politics and hence the politicians have not accepted that yet. But they will, and relatively soon. The next decade will be hard; and our only consolation will be that if we win through we will be better men and freer too. But first we survive. First we survive.
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