Choosing between democracy and diversity
As yawning failures in the immigration policy of recent decades become more and more apparent, multiple Western nations, but particularly the UK, have found themselves in the predicament where a ‘democratic’ nation carries out a policy that an overwhelming majority of the population reject. In the populist, social-democratic account, this is due to a victory by the ‘elite’ over the ‘people’, who are leading us down a harmful path for ideological or financial reasons. There are valid supports for this; elitist liberalism does have a religious function for many people, and a lot of the mutual incomprehensiveness and sectarian flavour of the debate stems from that. But the populists, in embracing ‘democracy’, are also playing cult-games, and the two are more closely related than they like to pretend.
The problem with the populist-right version of events is that the moral logic behind man-of-the-people posturing and open borders advocacy is similar. Both rely on romantic understandings of human nature, embrace low-status segments of the population as having some kind of intrinsic moral value (“Bioleninism”), and love to call the other side naive. The language the populists use about third-generation unemployed in the UK is remarkably similar to the liberal posturing about the untapped potential of migrant flows. The right violently dismisses this as moronic fantasy, citing the irredeemable nature of people from “shithole countries”. The liberal-left has its own scapegoats; none of the endless time and funding to ‘integrate’ or make allowances for new arrivals is forthcoming for the native working class. When they aren’t ignored, they are usually viewed as a dirty, suspicious collection of racists and anti-progressives who can’t be economically sidelined fast enough.
There is real malice in both accounts, and both feed off a sense of socioeconomic identity. Calling it class-consciousness would be a stretch, and misses key elements (Sevenoaks’ leave vote for example), but its pretty close. That both sides are right is never considered, except in the utterly hopeless global-welfare camp. The idea that you can maintain generous social welfare with loose border controls and routes to citizenship is a contradiction in terms, but welfare-chauvinism still hasn’t found its legs in the UK. On the continent the national welfare debate has moved onto more rational anti/pro open-border lines, but the UK’s unique position means this hasn’t really been addressed.
Gina Miller style “people’s vote” arrogance, backed up by a majority of the (parliamentary at least) Labour party and a large chunk of Conservative MPs is about as effective a recruiting strategy as the Jehovah’s Witnesses quitting their friendly door-to-doors and instead screaming at people that they’re going to hell. However — it has to be noticed that this represents an opportunity for the right, even if its a stretch to say its ‘positive’. Stopping short of semi-ironic Macronism, there is real anti-democratic potential in the ‘liberal backlash’ that should be used, not mobilised against. The best possible outcome, and one that is being pushed hard in the populist narrative, is an idea of a referendum where the sides are implicitly ‘democracy’ against ‘diversity’ .This is win-win. The two most blatant, recent examples of Western moral-educational complex stupidity in a fight to the death is the stuff dreams are made of. An anti-democratic moment would be of even greater long-term value than an anti-immigration one.
There’s a video doing the rounds of a fresh-faced young Welsh teaching assistant and CLP member talking about the potential of juicily funded state education. The manufactured outrage focuses on his (joke) remark that we can educate people to the point where there are “no more Tories” (muh gulags…), but actually the revealing line comes before this — “I’ve never met a bad four year old”. He can’t have met many. If this is the ‘left’ today, then the entire (to be fair slightly forced) 20th century project of squeezing out Freud-Marx syntheses was wasted. Realistic assessments of human behaviour and motivation are out; clueless assertions about inborn moral perfection are in. The response of the room is also important here — on hearing this quaintly regional declaration of faith, a believer at the back immediately jumps to his feet to applaud, closely followed by the rest of the attendees. It looks like even after the supposed hard-left takeover of Labour their activist base still likes, or likes to be seen to like, key neoliberal ideas.
This isn’t really surprising. In order to justify their own position, it’s become increasingly important for wealthier parts of society to highlight their moral superiority over the base. In the era of significant social mobility immediately following the war, it was enough to carry on the Victorian practice of holding the working class to the same values, and simply claiming (sometimes correctly, sometimes not) that you were ‘ better’ at them. This allowed a small number of “deserving poor” a moral claim on wealth, and at points in the high growth pre-war and high welfare post-war that wealth was even attainable. These opportunities have gradually dried up over time, and that means the ruling ideology had to adapt to survive, becoming more ‘difficult’ and exclusive — the present, contradictory mess is a product of this pressure. For the first time, the moral values held by the upper middle and lower classes are different in nature rather than just degree. Maintaining this is difficult, divisive and very expensive. All of the directly oppositional beliefs (‘racism is bad / race doesn’t exist’ etc) that the elite is expected to hold, and that the new edge of the right loves calling out (as though this actually achieves anything), serve a social function. In theory, the harder it is, the more ‘elite’ it is. A convoluted mess of social tics may not make for great theory, but it will keep out the less dedicated.
The organisational purpose of the new ‘elite religion’ has been described well before, and there’s not much new to add. What hasn’t been done is assessing it for functionality as a religion — and actually it does better than we expect. Religious practice is prevalent across all cultures, and is effective at treating multiple psychological and social needs, not least death anxiety. Secular (even pretend-secular, like progressivism) belief systems try and address the same needs, but are notoriously bad at doing so and tend to be much more unstable.
There’s a couple of leaps here, particularly in trying to pin down the exact nature of the ‘new’ progressive religion, which shifts rapidly over time and often self-defeats, or indeed drawing a firm line where ‘traditional’ Christianity gave way to it, but there are some consistent strands. Two overwhelming themes are “the future is a better tomorrow”, and linked, rampant political romanticism, with all the humanist, equalitarian leanings that go with it. These two regularly clash, both in the individual believer’s life, and in a cyclical way at the national level. The second trait is why you’re often left with the spectacle of ‘first on the list’ wealthy majorities cheering on blood-soaked third-worldist revolutionaries. The dominant strand among its mostly white, (maybe)ex-Protestant followers actually isn’t the violent or revolutionary ‘anti-white’ rhetoric that’s become notorious, but a peculiar acceptance of neoliberal progression, while lamenting or calling for limited social-democratic solutions to the resulting ‘problems’ (the blatant anti-human results of capitalism).
It is absolutely false to claim that the “Cathedral” is really left-wing, or radically decellerationist, even if it drifts close at times. There is always a resignation to capitalism, even as it flirts with more radical tendencies. And for very good reason — limiting growth for ideological reasons is one thing, but preventing it entirely is going to go tits-up. The fanaticism dial goes up whenever growth rates go down, and in order to sustain elite lifestyles, a healthy balance is needed. Land’s concept of the Cathedral “winning”, and thwarting global technocapital (even if he says it’s unlikely) misunderstands the nature of the beast. Cathedral progressivism wants to limit runaway processes but doesn’t really aim to stop or reverse them. Its beliefs change to match its social function. Outsiders hoping to smash her moral authority will never win; they’ll just provoke a pro-survival mutation if competition becomes significant enough. One potential route is the (re)insertion of racism into the progressive virus. This could come from a mock-compromise with another strain of (and I can’t stress this enough) the same virus, democratic populism. That may seem impossibly contradictory, but look at how radically the doctrine on race has changed in the last 30 years. (For clarity, this would not be HBD style ‘racism’ but a traditional ‘us vs them’ nativism. The former would be a step too far). Zoomed-out, belief in nationalist democracy is such a close cousin of the more far-reaching liberal-progressive strain that the surface differences are irrelevant.
For the individual, turning to religious systems because he’s afraid of dying, progressivism offers scant comfort. This is obvious from the explosion in perverse fascinations with the demonic and occult that coincided exactly with the birth of the new religion. “When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything” rings true when bizarre pseudo-Catholic horror films can take in hundreds of millions at the box office in countries with sub 5% Church attendance. The growth of new-age, commoditised joke religions in the US is another example. There was really no need to be so careful with the horoscope for Mrs Equitone — spiritual eccentricity is completely tolerated provided it doesn’t offer a challenge to social hierarchy. Giving airtime to the castrated remnants of the major Churches, or the new pet ‘moderate’ Muslim leaders who are regularly trotted out at public events, are the 21st century equivalent of leaving your enemies’ heads on pikes by London Bridge. The message is the same. Still, so long as the main religious tendency in the West doesn’t address the individual’s death-complex, we will see a continuous reactionary fringe from religious groups, sometimes a violent one.
Despite progressivism failing at the individual level — if we accept groups of people can exist as emergent ‘entities’ and form a valid idea of a society — the societal death-anxiety is treated with a powerful drug. All of the angst about civilisational failure which frustrated the ancients and drove the obsessive cake-tiered dreamworlds of medieval piety is smeared out. The world is going somewhere, and it’s good! Steven Pinker has dedicated his late-career to pushing out propaganda for this view — mainly unconfirmable hockey-sticks showing some ‘good thing’ going up exponentially. Worries about the validity of the national project, or fragmentation of the cultural / ethnic foundations it’s built on, dissipate when seen in the broad sweep of a religious function to bring about a ‘better world’. This provides a remarkable resilience to what initially appears to be an unpolished turd. Addressing psychological needs at this level is way beyond the capabilities of any of the anti-human accelerationist and nrx alternatives put forward so far, and for as long as human needs remain relevant (which is going to be a little while at least), these anxieties need to be addressed. Progressivism is of limited value as religious belief, but fills enough of the key functions to limp on. Ignoring this stuff just doesn’t make it go away, and potentially explains the surface weirdness of the traditionalist Catholic alignment with r/acc and other related strands.
Cathedral progressivism has an inherently conservative social function, keeping a claim on political and moral power for the elite. The big problem, and the reason it has evolved into such a convoluted, byzantine form, is that ideologies have a tendency to spread. This is natural, ideologies aren’t interested in anything other than burning through hosts and surviving, but here there is a major human society pinning its stability on a belief remaining ‘exclusive’. Compared to a sleek and confrontational killer like Islamic extremism, the liberal mainstream seems like Frankenstein’s monster. It is constantly tampered with, gene-edited to insert useless-looking and contradictory clauses, all merrily ensuring it is as toxic to the mass population as possible. Got used to gay rights surprisingly quickly? Try trans rights!
(Yes this is a simple deterritorialising capital side-effect but its adoption and championing by the state is not).
These insertions are an attempt to keep it exclusive, to keep things as high-end as possible. Making moral assertions that run contrary to human nature and our instincts are a great way of doing this, filtering out (usually undesirable) low impulse-control types.
One of the big reasons we are starting to see cracks in the moral authority of the Cathedral isn’t, as some of the right likes to crow, the first sign of it collapsing under its own contradictions, but rather that it’s been toosuccessful. Lots of people attending the kitschy statue-removals at Deep South universities were definitely not future elite material. The mantra of mass education means large chunks of the lower middle and better-educated members of the working class are often exposed to these ideas. The recent outbursts of ‘wokeness’ from major advertisers and corporates show what was intended as an elitist mystery cult is trickling down to the plebs. The real plebs as well — not the ‘chosen’ minorities or special interest groups, invited in to prop up the structure, but the actual base of the society. When minding your pronouns reaches this level, it loses all value as a class-signaller, and no longer offers any moral legitimacy to power. Happily, the new populist/democratic surge has appeared, (suspiciously) just in time to relieve the Cathedral from trickle-down contamination. False competition between two, near identical, romantic humanisms (“I’m standing up for our people!” / “I’m standing up for all people!”), blinds the sectarians and allows them to pretend some kind of relevant struggle is going on. Still — the competition, launched as a survival mechanism, does mean whatever reforms from the two is likely to lose some of its bad habits. The exact detail of how this looks depends on how terribly the ‘populist’ uprising goes.
Back to Brexit, for the legalistic and radicalism-adverse English population, any final ‘agreed on’ form will have lasting influence. Whatever happens, the events of the last and next few years are going to be spun into a narrative and form a national moment. This means, obviously, the winner is very important. Even managing to call a doomed-to-fail second referendum would be a huge victory against romantic democracy and ‘will of the people’ popushite. Actually leaving the EU would be the most radical act of postwar anti-internationalism ever (unlike Trump) followed through on. Further “patchwork” style fragmentation would near-certainly follow.
Exciting as this is, it may be best to lose. If the democrats win, the destructive nature of populist governance which could follow will likely discredit a lot of their ideas in the long-term. If diversity advocates win, the increasing social disorder and political alienation that results will eventually lead to restrictions and reversals being imposed from above by a nervous, destabilised elite. As usual, it’s an unpleasant choice for many people and time is running out to make it, but quite accidentally, from our perspective the decision looks good whichever way it goes. Plenty of Leave voters, me included, now find themselves in a happy position. If we win in the ‘backlash’, well, we win, and the progressive mainstream takes a heavy blow. If we lose, democracy in the UK is damaged and discredited, maybe even fatally. That is actually a bigger scalp than we could have ever hoped for on June 23rd 2016. Either way, the ‘Cathedral’ in the UK will have to either see its power eroded, paving the way for further “exits”, or drop one of its two most harmful manifestations, democracy or diversity.