By now, you’ve seen the chaos that unfolded in Charlottesville on August 12 and the resulting unprecedented crackdown on virtually anything publicly right-wing. This provides a good opportunity to reiterate some of our theoretical points about power and political strategy. Here’s a rough recap of the relevant events:
Friday: The alt-right held an aesthetic torchlight rally. Leftists freaked out and had meltdowns. Everything stayed largely peaceful. The alt-right projected a decent and respectable image. Those attending the event were energized and had a good time building comradery and logistics. Serious onlookers were presented with a crack in the matrix: alt-righters peacefully and aesthetically saying “you will not replace us,” and everyone else calling them evil Nazis. One could imagine serious, open minded people saying: “Now wait a minute, maybe I should look closer,” though granted the chant “Jews will not replace us” likely didn’t help the event.
Saturday: Anarchist and communist thugs showed up in some force. The police declared a state of emergency and shut down the rally. The planned event devolved quickly into total chaos with rioting and street fighting. A rogue alt-righter plowed his car into a crowd of leftists, seriously injuring many, with one associated death. A helicopter crashed, killing two police. Charlottesville got trashed. Even without the chaos, the image was more dominated by unsavory characters: ill-shapen schlubby goons with Nazi flags and makeshift weapons, in addition to infamous old-school white nationalist movement figures with mile-long records of scamming, degenerate behavior, and dishonesty.
Since Then: Many organizations associated in any way with the alt-right (and a few with no apparent connection) have had parts of their infrastructure unplugged from major internet service providers, in an utterly unprecedented crackdown. All major news outlets had wall-to-wall coverage against “white supremacists” for weeks. Historic statues in other cities were vandalized and removed. VICE proposed blowing up Mount Rushmore. Chinese social media is abuzz about Americans undergoing a Cultural Revolution. President Donald Trump is under increased pressure. Many libertarian-leaning conservatives a week prior to Charlottesville suddenly find nothing objectionable about communist revolutionaries tearing down any American iconography they can get their hands on and proclaiming that America is about anything but “ourselves and our posterity.” They compare the leftist thugs to our grandfathers who fought in the Second World War.
The Saturday Charlottesville chaos gave the media all the material they needed to paint a picture of alt-right = idiot Nazis = violence and terror = bad. It doesn’t matter who started it, how two-sided the fighting was, how evil the leftists are, how reasonable the “you will not replace us” demand was, or how small, in the scheme of things, the death of one protester is. The establishment took Charlottesville as a game-changing moment, where former rules and truces no longer apply.
How did this happen? How did a protest that started strong go so badly and kick off such a strong counter-reaction? A few factors:
- A rally is a big target that requires serious alignment to go well. It’s not difficult for the police, provocateurs, and counter-protesters to make a big chaotic mess of it. Given a big chaotic mess, it’s not hard for the Cathedral to put whatever spin they like on it and find plenty of heart-wrenching details to promote. We see the result.
- The rally coalition in question was a big tent. There was no control over who was there representing the alt-right, so plenty of unsavory characters showed up to embarass the rest. The chaos tended to involve these fringe members of the coalition. We can see that it was these edge-cases that the media is exploiting the most in their narrative about “Nazis and KKK.”
- Contrary to popular belief, America is not a free country. It is ruled by a very powerful elite network loosely organized around progressive ideology, which will do whatever it needs to to crush or neutralize political opponents. You have effectively no political rights, no free speech, no right to assemble. There is no undiscriminating “public” infrastructure; your right to participate in America is contingent on your acquiescence to the progressive ideological consensus that controls all infrastructure. You might even say that America is a communist country, or if we want to be pedantic, a “progressive” country, meant in exactly the same way.
- This central progressive coalition is good at, and has no qualms about, using the police and antifa to start riots that can be spun in a direction favorable to them and exploiting a news cycle to push their agenda in a semi-coordinated way behind the scenes. This is why the protest went horribly wrong, and how a lot of the subsequent reaction was coordinated; they made it happen because it was within their power. And it benefited them.
- The alt-right bought civics class lies about free political expression, about peaceful protest being possible, let alone effective, and about it being possible for an underdog to take on the agenda of power and win, just by being dedicated and right. A movement constituted on these untruths will always lose, unless it has very powerful elite patrons operating on some other principle, who cover for it and use it to their advantage. But the alt-right has no serious elite patrons, because it has gotten itself into a fight with power and doubled down, a fight which no sane person and especially no powerful patron, even one who supports the ideals, wants a part of.
We have made arguments before against street-fights, borderless movements, picking fights with powerful enemies, attempting power without elite allies, trying to play the democratic politics game directly or indirectly, fighting instead of building, believing in the democratic republican civil society model, and other such counterproductive beliefs and methods. These things only cause you to lose and create chaos, harming your cause and your society, and embarrassing your allies. Where they sometimes appear to work, it’s either some related tactic working in spite of these anti-tactics, or it’s part of the usual charade involving elite cover.
This event in particular provides a much starker illustration of the nature of political power in modern America, bringing us to the true core of good strategy, which unlike civics-class activism, might actually work: understanding the power calculus and the dynamics of elite patronage.
Underneath all the lies about a democratic civil society, civil rights, free speech, rule of law, self-determination, protest mythology, and so on, here’s what’s actually going on: political power is the ability to make events unfold in society according to your will. Most people have no power, because they don’t control anything. Most power is held by very few people, who control key institutions and are allied into key networks.
New non-elite powers in society are either allied, co-opted, contained, or crushed by the elite coalition and their political order. Thus, the elite maintains enough power to control any other power in society, including any power that could organize non-elite powers against the elite.
If you set yourself directly and loudly against the desires of the elite, who have the most power in society, you will get crushed or otherwise neutralized.
As such, it’s generally not possible to achieve controversial political results without backing from some elite power. Direct confrontation cannot work unless you have your own enormous power coalition, which puts you in the realm of war and diplomacy, not internal politics.
So, you can’t take on the elite as such and win. This is not to say that “the elite” is a unified bloc. “The elite” is an alliance, sometimes as little as a ceasefire, between many different powers with different interests, which have achieved political order through some consensus about how to use their powers. But if you’re targeting “the elite agenda” as a bloc, or ineptly trying to get them to turn on each other to your advantage, the constraints of elite political order require them to respond with hostility more or less as a bloc, and to crush you.
In this framework, the situation behind the alt-right is this: the elite consensus in our society has mostly alienated normal white people, especially traditionally-minded white men, who are thus becoming hostile to the elite consensus. This is dangerous in a democracy, so those white men must be replaced or otherwise neutralized to maintain elite power. Otherwise, the elite has to deal with consequences like Trump. It would be easier to control an assorted mass of degenerate and deracinated brown people, so that’s what elite power is generally buying these days: brown immigrants and demoralization. The ugly future produced by this dynamic is a tragic outcome for all, but such is the logic of democracy.
It is particularly tragic for those “white males” who have become politically obsolete. Naturally, they try to organize and oppose. Hence the alt-right. But that opposition, especially abrasive confrontational opposition, is itself the motivation for the crushing. As the model predicts, this Charlottesville incident is being used as further justification for the acceleration of what the alt-right calls “white genocide”.
The strategic approach the alt-right took in Charlottesville, which to be fair to them is the mainstream theory of politics advanced by modern society, is the view of politics as conflict, especially through symbolic activism. To accomplish political ends, you are supposed to go out and protest and “fight” for your marginalized group. If you “fight” well, you get some slice of favor from the system and are allowed to flourish. So, the alt-right went out and “fought”. We saw the result.
The first rule of conflict is that you don’t pick direct fights with players who are bigger than you and have more allies in the fight. The alt-right directly challenged the system, which by definition has the most allies, and predictably lost.
The modern mind is schooled in a liberal adversarial politics of protest, privilege theories, political conflict, and class war. This mindset results in futile political fights, depression, and people dropping out. The liberal conflict theory says that if you have a political problem, you have to fight. If fighting won’t work, you’re screwed. So, we see the alt-right dominated by two related sentiments: a foolhardy “we have to fight” sentiment, and a pessimistic “black pill” depression that recognizes that this won’t work. This is because the alt-right is stuck in a conflict theory of politics.
There are options besides either direct, loud pot-banging in the streets or giving up.
Fortunately, a realistic model of power dynamics provides guidance for a better strategic approach, a politics of trade, building strength, making alliances, being useful, becoming worthy, and class collaboration: the problem is that the current elite consensus is destructive to society; it is crashing our civilization. Some elite factions do directly benefit from this weakening of society and are best modeled as outright enemies of civilization. But most, I am convinced, go along with it because there are no viable alternatives that work for them, or even work at all. The problem is the destructive nature of the progressive liberal-democratic elite consensus, but that consensus cannot be lightly and incrementally challenged, because it is very deeply ingrained. So no elite faction, even a patriotic majority of elite powers, can act together to change the system, because there is no obvious or ready alternative.
Our alternative political program must be focused on the construction of a viable alternative, which avoids falling into the failure modes of conflict politics. A viable alternative program must meet a few constraints:
- It proposes an alternate way that the elite consensus could be constructed that meets all the basic constraints of an elite consensus, like maintaining political order, mostly controlling elite conflict, and actually being possible.
- The proposed way is actually substantially better, in terms of how it manages society and controls conflict, especially in that it actually solves the problems you want to solve.
- The coalition of the plan’s natural allies, those it benefits, has greater total power than the coalition of its natural enemies, those it harms. The best way to ensure this is to ensure that it’s a positive sum improvement.
- The way the plan presents itself makes it possible to get its natural allies to recognize it as good and avoid non-enemies thinking it’s bad.
- The team behind the alternative is savvy enough to pull off the build-up strategy and the sell without getting tripped up in premature conflicts. This involves building novel ideas, building the institutions, assembling the men, building the networks, selling to allies, and so on.
If these constraints are met, then you have a real political strategy that might actually work. Otherwise, you’re beset with a lot of whining and misguided hostility.
Note that a huge part of the above is the requirement to get a coalition of elite allies to back the plan. The elite backing of successful movements is like a political version of a venture-capital investment deal: the patrons loan political capital to a movement in expectation of some political return. If the movement is going to blow up in the backers’ faces, or is otherwise not able to deliver the goods, for example by getting into unwinnable fights, then the backers should not and will not invest their support into the movement.
Successful movements, especially those further into the opposition, tend to have this important feature: they do a lot of quiet and peaceful institution building, so that they have their own power, more effective capabilities to trade with elite allies, and enough coherence to manage a long-term strategy. It is very difficult to be anything but a bought pawn or quickly neutralized unless you are building something new to negotiate with. This is reflected in the above constraints, but bears repeating.
And this is the foundation of our alternative politics of collaboration instead of conflict: power is a business like any other, with investors and entrepreneurs and deals, just a bit more dangerous and messy. Potential allies and serious people are looking for key fundamentals in a movement, which are necessary to make it actually work. It is important to have this awareness, so that those key fundamentals can be targeted, instead of engaging in misguided activist spectacle.
Confrontational rallies and other civics-class activism don’t work. They are just picking fights with powerful enemies, and putting yourself in a vulnerable situation, asking to be crushed. Getting targeted for crushing by the most powerful coalition in society makes it hard for anyone else, even powerful, to ally with and support you. A focus on confrontation, which produces chaos, drives away and distracts the intellectuals and networkers and strategists and organizers needed to put together a real value proposition, sell it to potential allies, and keep the movement out of fights and on track towards victory.
Only a politics of building, networking, alliance-making, collaboration, and real alternatives will actually work, not a politics of protest.