Cthulu may swim slowly, but he always swims to the Left. Or does he? Finding nations or even singular policy areas in the West which have resisted the leftward trend of the preceding decades is not an easy task.
Arguably, the best example in the world is the case of gun rights in the United States.
Protected by the legal bulwark of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, the free and sturdy American yeomanry have maintained their ancient rights to self-defense from unaccountable tyranny, while the rest of the “free world” has relinquished their independence, content to lick the hand of their bureaucratic oppressors. Or something.
Even more unexpectedly, gun rights in the U.S. have actually expanded, particularly the right to concealed-carry.
So, if the independent spirit of the American citizen, combined with the Constitution’s protections, was able to resist and even push back against the gun grabbers, why was it unable to stop the surveillance state? The Patriot Act? Informal restrictions on freedom of speech? The takeover of fundamental institutions by small and large-c communists?
The realist would note that even laws as fundamental as those flowing from the Constitution must be interpreted and enforced by men. And the conservative doyen Charles Murray would point out how easily these laws have been manipulated in the past to ends opposed to their originator’s ends, just so long as the judges presiding had been inculcated with the right ideas.
So what force has allowed the American gun-owner to remain so relatively unmolested, defying gravity, for all these decades? The National Rifle Association or NRA.
Now admittedly, the NRA has a few things going for it compared to other lobby groups. The aforementioned Second Amendment, which in terms of respect for its validity and ability to act as a cultural Schelling Point, has no equivalent in the rest of the world.
Furthermore, the very nature of being a firearm owner tends to lend itself very well to characteristics useful for the purposes of a lobby group: where firearms are legal, they tend to be popular with a decent-sized percentage of the population. Those who own firearms tend to be quite enthusiastic about them, willing to expend their time and money to influence politicians and the media. Finally, and most importantly, firearms manufacturers are a significant source of funding.
Unlike astro-turfing pharmaceutical firms with money but no organic following, or animal rights lobbyists, who have dedicated activists but little corporate or institutional backing, the NRA is able to hit the lobbyist’s sweet spot: plenty of cash, while also being able to summon the voices and votes of a significant number of people who are truly passionate about their hobby–not just paid hacks. This is a potent combination.
But it would be a mistake to think that these factors alone have been able to keep American gun-owners free from the Cathedral’s grasp.
A thorough and counter-intuitive analysis has been conducted by Brian Anse Patrick in his 2010 book The National Rifle Association and the Media: The motivating force of negative coverage, which is published by Arktos.
The core of the book is a content analysis of elite media coverage of five major mass membership public interest groups: the NRA, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Handgun Control Inc (HCI, formerly the Brady Campaign). The media properties analysed are The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor and the Los Angeles Times.
The analysis looked across multiple reports on the various groups over a number of years and found, unsurprisingly, that elite journalists were significantly biased against the NRA. In the amount and proportion of quotations, the use of official organisation titles for spokespeople (as opposed to derogatory and informal titles such as lobbyist), the likelihood of reporting on various staged PR events, the use of terms with negative connotations, for narratives of growth or decay (the NRA was often said to be struggling even as its membership was growing and its finances were solid) and for other measures, the NRA fares significantly worse than the other organisations.
So far no big surprises: journalists are generally left-wing, and leftists don’t like guns. But there was another interesting finding. The ACLU, while performing better than the NRA, often scored worse than the other three groups.
Patrick cites an Administrative Control Hermeneutic, amongst journalists, which:
…interprets the world essentially as a managerial problem to be solved by professional, expert administration… Thus groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and NRA both tend to receive negative coverage, despite their being considered by many to be at opposite ends of the left-right political spectrum. They receive negative coverage because of the nature of their agendas: both frequently tend to positions themselves athwart the road of administrative design. (pg 25)
The ACLU, diligent liberals as they may be, are deficient in not having realised yet that freedom of speech was only for leftists on the way up. Once they were firmly ensconced in the bureaucratic machine, why would they want to provide the same opportunities for dissent and organisation to their enemies? Ownership of firearms though, is the greatest sin. As Patrick later says:
The very potential for uncoordinated violence represented by guns is a threat to the administrative control hermeneutic. Guns simply invite administration. Correspondingly, it can be seen that the underlying messages of NRA coverage is that NRA defies regulation, rational democratic administration, common sense, and scientific progress. NRA organisational actors require clinical, psychological interpretation. (pg 187)
Patrick’s view of this Mass Administrative Democracy accords very well with Burnham’s or Francis’. In Patrick’s view, journalists perform an essential role in the functioning of the Mass Administrative Democracy, they are the “Priests of the Information Age”, who “seemed to hold themselves above accountability to mere mortals”.
According to Patrick, journalists themselves operate (or purport to operate) under the mode of Mass Democracy Theory. According to Mass Democracy Theory:
…social action is the will of the majority as expressed by the aggregation of individual votes, or, as some would have it, by attitudinal preferences given in response to public opinion polls.The medium for translating individual opinion into social action is the constitutional or bureaucratic apparatus of government officialdom and/or elected representatives who – existing by social contract and/or the will of the people – translate individual opinion as measured by votes for leaders, representatives, or referenda into social action policy. (pg 34)
But to formally support Mass Democracy Theory means informally needing to favor narrative and story frames that conform with the Administrative Control Heuristic:
Mass democracy formulations flatter the journalists, though, by according them a vitally important place in the social order – one of interpretive responsibility. There are few if any other ways to for a professional-technical writer, for we must admit this is largely what a journalist is by trade, to garner such prestige. This may be the reason why journalists are suckers for administrative democratic story frames; these frames socially legitimate not only the organizations that produce them, but also the journalists that convey them.” (pg 192)
In a similar vein, the media ecosystem is shown to be cartelised, oligarchic, and prone to manipulation by motivated interests groups. In contrast to the civics-class depiction of the media being made up of selflessly-motivated citizen-journalists fighting for the Truth, the reality is something much closer to Moldbug’s Cathedral: a surprisingly centralized but still uncoordinated and uncontrolled mechanism for disseminating elite opinion, often against competing (or potentially competitive) power blocs, masquerading as a neutral body which merely accumulates and conveys the will of the “people” or the latest social-scientific findings from administrative experts.
The role of the NRA becomes clearer now. They are in the wrong tribe, a group that doesn’t bow down to the Mass Administrative State, and that that doesn’t believe in the perfectibility of man through centralized, credentialed managerial control. Furthermore, firearms offer the possibility of not only resisting the Mass Administrative State, but potentially overthrowing it. To an elite journalist, ownership of a firearm is a symbol of not just incipient physical rebellion, but an in-progress rebellion in the metapolitical realm. For a person whose entire social worth comes from their profession as a manipulator of symbolic logic for the Cathedral, this is high treason.
So how has the NRA been able to not only survive but thrive under the withering assault of establishment media? This leads to the most interesting finding of the book. The NRA actually benefits from the negative coverage.
Patrick refers to a Paradox of NRA Mobilisation, where the NRA’s membership rolls seems to grow as the media assault increases in severity and frequency. There’s also the Paradox of Extremism, where the NRA is able to act as an incredibly effective influence on state and federal legislators across both major political parties despite being consistently portrayed as a fringe group of anti-democracy and anti-science fanatics.
Patrick uses a Social Movement Theory model to explain this. In this Marxist-inspired view, social movements, to be effective, must harness a grievance felt by some group, a conflict, and use it to forge identity and solidarity. Patrick documents this by a content analysis of the NRA’s internal publications. He explains that the NRA performs a vital decoding function: they are able to make the silent war being waged against law-abiding firearm owners by the administrative state legible to working and middle class shooters (for whom this may have only been implicit, based upon gut-feeling), and then promote solidarity around a new identity of firearm-owner, which obviously has a significant overlap with Moldbug’s Vaisyas or Francis’ Middle American Radicals. The fact that this aligns well with the historical folklore of the independent, Anglo-Saxon freeman gives the identity even greater resonance.
The explanation of the NRA’s growth mobilization paradox is what will prove of most value to those in the Outer Right. Those thinking of how to build powerful, resilient movements to maintain the best aspects of our civilization would do well to give The National Rifle Association and the Media a close reading. The potential to build a powerful identity-based grouping such as the NRA is arguably easier now than ever before and the conditions have never been riper for those interested in building public institutions that engage with the normal political process around specific wedge issues. For that task, this book is a valuable primer.
Alfred Peterson is a Sydney-based neoreactionary.