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Two Futures: Americans can find unity in "retroculture.".

In the July 3 New York Times, columnist Thomas A. Friedman wrote that "many, many Americans are worried that we're on the verge of a political civil war..." In fact, we are already in one; the question is whether it will remain political. On one side are the people of the heartland, who adhere to middle class values, worship God, and wonder what happened to the America they knew. On the other are the coastal elites who dominate government and big business, including entertainment and the establishment media. They don't know how to make things work, use their power and wealth to exempt themselves from the consequences of things not working, and care about only one thing: remaining members of the elite. The last requires them to accept and mouth the ideology of cultural Marxism, which condemns the culture and people of the heartland as inherently evil, "racists, sexists, and homophobes." At this point, the two sides hate each other's guts. All that is holding the country together is a bubble of prosperity built on a flood of liquidity and cheap debt. When the bubble bursts, what then?

The most powerful driver of the 21st century is a spreading crisis of legitimacy of the state. A growing number of states are hollowing out or failing altogether. The U.S. is not immune. To the people of the heartland, the coastal elites who despise them are not their legitimate rulers. To those elites, anyone who rejects cultural Marxism has no legitimate voice in public life. They are "unpersons," to be airbrushed out of history.

When the bubble bursts and leaves behind a depression, the American government's crisis of legitimacy is likely to become acute. The reaction will probably include a rise of Fourth Generation war, war waged by entities other than states, on

American soil. Such war is already here, in the form of gang wars and occasional acts of terrorism driven by race or religion. As people transfer their primary loyalty away from the United States to a wide variety of alternatives, Fourth Generation war will spread and grow in intensity.

What this might look like is portrayed in Thomas Hobbes's novel Victoria (truth in advertising: I am Mr. Hobbes's agent). Set 50 years in the future, it looks back on a shattered America with millions of dead and much of the country's physical patrimony destroyed. Think of today's Syria writ large. In most of the states, quasi-states, tribal regions, and ungovernable spaces that cover the land of the former United States, people live lives that are nasty, brutish, and short. Victoria, which was written as a warning, describes the future toward which we are now progressing.

But there is an alternate future. It is not a president who will pull us together. We have passed the point where any mortal can do that. The coastal elites will not accept a president, such as the one we have now, who defies their ideology. The heartland will not be governed by cultural Marxists like the "Gang of Four" or most current Democratic presidential nominees. A Carteresque mugwump would be spat out by both.

There is a political possibility that might arrest our progress toward state failure, at least for a time: a return to federalism as that was understood before 1860. From the ratification of the Constitution to the War Between the States, no one, except perhaps the New England Transcendentalists ("the cockatrice's egg that hatched forth the Puritan," in Raphael Semmes's memorable phrase), imagined life in Massachusetts and life in South Carolina, or New York and Louisiana, would be the same. The Founders, in their worst nightmares, did not dream the federal government would claim the power to make them the same.

If both the heartland and the coastal elites decide they don't want a second, multiparty, Fourth Generation civil war, a return to that early federalism could head it off. Some states would reflect "Progressive" culture, others our traditional culture. Anyone who didn't like the one could move to the other.

Victoria offers another, stronger way to reunite us: retroculture. In the novel's conclusion, "The Recovery" the Northern Confederation--the former American northeast plus eastern Canada--returns to the culture of the Victorian era because it worked. As Gertrude Himmelfarb, the leading social historian of the Victorians, has written, in the Victorian period the incidence of social problems steadily went down; since the 1960s, it has steadily gone up. There is a lesson in that.

Retroculture, in Victoria, and perhaps in an America heading toward Fourth Generation war, offers more than a political compromise. It offers a path toward genuine unity, in the form of a bottom-up popular movement in which individuals, families, and perhaps whole communities return to the pre-1960 ways of living. While everyone gets to pick his own era, they all share standard middle class values as those which first conquered Holland in the 17th century and England in the 18th and were brought to their perfection by those productive and successful people, the Victorians. Our last normal decade, the 1950s, was the afterglow of the Victorian age. Virtually everyone in America, left or right, rich or poor, white or black, embraced and tried to live by middle class values. Middle class values work. Values based on instant gratification, as embodied in the vast array of social experiments that began in the 1960s, don't work.

When a prudent driver or people find they have taken a wrong turn and are on a dead-end road, they turn back. Retroculture is a call to all Americans to do just that. What worked once, can work again.


William S. Lind is the author, with Lt. Col. Gregory A. Thiele, of the 4th Generation Warfare Handbook Mr. Lind's most recent book is Retroculture: Taking America Back.
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Title Annotation:Front Lines
Author:Lind, William S.
Publication:The American Conservative
Date:Sep 1, 2019
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