This is the transcript of a talk I gave to the H.L. Mencken Club on November 9, 2019.
By Keith Preston
When it comes to questions of strategy, it is important to base one’s approach on a reasonable estimation of the probable circumstances one will be facing in the future.
I constantly hear claims that there will be a civil war at some point, or an apocalyptic revolution, or a coup, or the election of a populist leader that will set everything straight.
But the probable future of the United States will be something more like what is actually happening on the West Coast at present. In the future, the United States will increasingly start to resemble a Latin American nation in terms of demographics, socioeconomic class structures, and political characteristics.
Many people on the Right tend to focus on the demographic angle, and it is certainly true that the US is experiencing a demographic transformation in the sense that in the future there will be no ethnic majority, but merely a collection of minorities.
However, just as important is the fact that class divisions continue to widen in the US. The gap between rich and poor is the widest it has been since the 1920s, and there is no evidence this will change in the foreseeable future. I would argue that the widening class divisions probably have dozens of causes rather than any singular cause, but it is an issue that is just as important as the demographic issue.
At present, California is starting to look like what a traditional so-called “Third World” model society looks like. In Third World societies, and traditional societies generally, class structures are such that the very rich live in opulent luxury, with a relatively small middle class of ruling class functionaries, and masses of workers and poor people. That is the picture that is emerging in California.
Certain areas of California are among the wealthiest in the nation. There is also a middle class and upper middle class of professionals, tech workers, public sector workers, bureaucrats, and corporate managerial personnel, but what Americans traditionally think of as the conventional working to middle class is shrinking in size, and the ranks of the poor, including those experiencing Third World or Fourth World levels of poverty, are growing. For example, some areas of California have poverty levels that approximate those of the Congo. California cities have a massive homeless population of the kind normally associated with Latin America or South Asia. Certain medieval diseases like typhus and leprosy are making a comeback among the poor in California as well.
It has been said in the past that California is the bellwether of the nation, and I suspect that will prove to be true in this scenario as well. Increasingly, US politics is starting to resemble Third World politics with openly demagogic figures on both the left and right beginning to appear. In Third World politics, it is not uncommon for open socialists and communists as well as right-wing extremists to get elected to parliaments. Corruption, nepotism, ethnic spoils systems, institutionalized bribery, and flagrant incompetence are not exceptions but the expected norm. We see plenty of examples of this happening in the United States as well.
It is likely that the process that is currently unfolding will continue to go along for quite some time into the future without being challenged in any significant way. The US will gradually begin to resemble a Third World society to an ever greater degree but it will happen slowly enough that many people will barely notice as it is happening. It is very unlikely there will be any significant resistance to this process. As it says in the Declaration of Independence, “all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
As the United States continues to deteriorate into a Third World Model society, it is likely that political repression will increase as well. I am not talking about full-on Stalinist or Gestapo models of repression, although that could happen on a peripheral level, as much as the exclusion of those with dissenting or critical views from institutions, professions, or public life. We see that happening at present also.
I do not think there is any way to vote ourselves out of this situation. For example, any elected president that actually attempted to reverse course would eventually be Nixoned, JFK’d or Salvador Allende’d. You can guess what I mean by that. In fact, we see that happening at present with President Trump, whom I actually consider to be a very middle-of-the-road political figure. The idea of political change taking place by means of a revolution, civil disobedience, or something of that nature is even more far-fetched. We live in a society where one in three people cannot name a single branch of government and one in three cannot name a single right protected by the First Amendment. This is according to a poll taken by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in 2017. The idea of devolving political power to the states and localities is not going to happen in the foreseeable future. I would agree that decentralization is the long-term solution, but in the short-term the powers that be would never allow that. There is certainly no will for it among the political class, and there is no popular will for it, either. In particular, the idea of decentralization is largely considered by the chattering classes to be a euphemism for old-fashioned Jim Crow segregation, and that is certainly how the idea of decentralization would be labeled if, somehow a constituency, for it developed.
So I do not think there is any political solution to these problems. Instead, I would suggest that a better approach is to simply bypass the state to the greatest degree possible, and develop alternative infrastructure and alternative institutions that can eventually become the foundation for a dual power structure. There is a slogan that some on the far left used during past times that talked about the idea of “building the new society in the shell of the old.” I think that is a highly relevant idea.
What would it mean to develop alternative infrastructure and alternative institutions? The objective is to create a parallel institutional apparatus that serves as a functional base of opposition to the surrounding society that is in a state of deterioration.
Many examples and prototypes can be found from both history and the present day. Examples include religious communities such as the Mormon Church, the Amish, or the Hasidic Jews, the utopian colonies of the 18th and 19th century, the labor movement of the early 20th century, early Zionism, the 1960s counterculture, the Free State Project, Christian Exodus, South Africa’s Orania, or plans for so-called “startup societies” such as special economic zones, seasteads, eco-villages, micronations, communes, smart cities, or intentional communities, eco-villages. Another example would be more conventional, insular religious communities, or ethnic associations, such as the Irish-American Association or Korean-American Association or Native American tribes. Even fans of sports franchises or entertainment franchises have often found themselves to be much more capable of creating a functional community than many political dissidents. In fact, political dissidents could probably learn a great deal from the fans of sport teams, rock groups or other music genres, science fiction films and television programs, comic books, or from different food cultures.
The reason for the creation of such arrangements is, first, to insulate one’s self, family, and community from the deteriorating wider society. Such communities and systems of alternative infrastructure can be used to create an alternative intellectual culture. As Antonio Gramsci noted, it is necessary to win the battle of ideas before it is possible to win the political battles. Additionally, it is possible for these communities to evolve into an actual political power base at some point in the future.
While it is important to develop an intellectual culture that challenges the dominant ideas of the power elite, ruling class, or the state, it is also necessary to focus on action as much as on ideology. Community-building and alternative infrastructure-building are a means of transcending ordinary ideological, cultural, ethnic, religious and other conventional boundaries and working with others toward the achievement of concrete goals. An alternative infrastructure that is capable of offering functionality in the face of dysfunction is a means of transcending even the most polarizing philosophical or ideological conflicts. For example, it is tactically advantageous to be able to say to others, “Whether you are left, right, or center, our community has electricity and garbage collection and yours does not.” Basic survival concerns and the need to provide basic civic infrastructure and social functions tend to have the effect of marginalizing other considerations. Whatever one’s feelings about “Drag Queen Story Hours” when there is no running water, or there is an epidemic of typhus, those kinds of concerns tend to take a back seat.
To the degree that political engagement would be a part of what is being proposed he, the primary focus should on simply keeping the state at bay. Ironically, the Left has in many ways been more successful in resisting the aspects of the state they disapprove of than the Right. An obvious example is sanctuary cities. Another less widely recognized or emphasized example is the legalization of marijuana in defiance of federal prohibition laws. I have also come across examples of right-leaning counties discussing the idea of sanctuary counties for gun owners. “Sanctuary practices” could theoretically be extended in any number of ways.
It is possible for local community organizations that are operating from a position of strength to influence local government to a much greater degree than what is possible on a federal or even a state level. It is also possible to change the by-laws of municipal and county charters and actually change the structure of local governments by, for example, devolving power to the neighborhood level, or to homeowner’s associations, or to private communities. Efforts of these kinds might be a prototype for the subsequent negotiation of autonomy on a much larger scale. Alternative infrastructure can also become a replacement infrastructure when the establishment’s existing infrastructure fails. Examples of this have actually taken place in many other nations that have experienced systemic failure.
But the core idea that I would want to get across is that it is important to have a big picture point of view and in a way that has a strong realist or practical dimension. Too many people with mainstream political views tend to simply focus on this or that next election, and people on the fringes tend to indulge in apocalyptic visions and utopian fantasies. So instead I would prefer to be an advocate for what I would call “optimistic realism” in the sense of having a big picture vision but one that is still grounded in practical realities.