Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Warnings from the Past: Neema Parvini’s Prophets of Doom

Review by Keith Preston September 27, 2023

Available Here

Prophets of Doom is the latest work by the British-Persian academic Neema Parvini, also known as the YouTube personality “Academic Agent,” an insightful thinker who has become a popular figure on the dissident Right. The book is an examination of the perspectives put forth by various conservative intellectuals, challenging the conventional linear paradigm of historical development. Instead, these scholars propose an alternative pattern in which societies and civilizations undergo cycles of ascent and descent, thus negating the prevailing notion of unidirectional progress within human civilization. These eleven intellectuals, collectively referred to as the “Prophets of Doom,” as the title suggests, provide profound insights that engender critical scrutiny of established beliefs concerning linear societal evolution.

Parvini begins the opening chapter of the book by citing a quote from speech delivered by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to a Labour Party conference in 2005: “I hear people say we have to stop and debate globalization. You might as well debate whether autumn should follow summer.” Eighteen years later, things have not worked out quite as well as the globalists promised.  The Atlanticist wars of conquest in the Levant, of which Blair was a major architect, were grotesque disasters. The economies of the Western world, particularly the United States, suffered a major meltdown during the “Great Recession” of 2008. The 2020 pandemic generated massive civil unrest especially, once again, in the leading country of the Atlanticist global empire of the United States. Finally, the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine represented one of the most significant challenges to Atlanticist hegemony to emerge since 1991, if not 1945. The result has been the rapid fragmentation of the global order into opposed Eastern and Western camps, and beyond. Parvini points out that Larry Fink, CEO of the Blackrock investment firm, declared the Russo-Ukraine war to be “the end of globalization.” Meanwhile, a wide range of social factors indicate much is not well in the developed world.

The core them of Prophets of Doom is skepticism of the notion of “Progress,” a concept regarded as sacrosanct by the cultural and intellectual elites of the developed world. Parvini presents the work of range of thinkers from various periods during the past few centuries that have challenged the linear, progressive view of history that became a hallmark of Enlightenment thought. It should be noted that the figures profiled do not necessarily share the same views regarding the process by which history unfolds, even if the general orientation of their thought is toward the cyclical view of history, a viewpoint most compatible with classical pre-Abrahamic thought.

One of the prominent figures in this intellectual inquiry is Giambattista Vico,  an Italian philosopher from the early modern period whose theoretical framework introduces a nuanced aspect of linearity within his broader cyclical model. Vico presaged a phase designated as the “Barbarism of Reflection” that emerges during the age of men, characterized by the ascendancy of scientism and rationalism. This epoch, as predicted by Vico, engenders a mounting apathy toward societal obligations and religious observances. Remarkably, Vico’s prophetic insights presciently foreshadow the present era, marked by heightened fragmentation and detachment from core societal values.

In contrast, the 19th century English historian Thomas Carlyle directed his focus toward elucidating the repercussions of industrialization. His “Great Man” theory underscores the pivotal role played by exceptional individuals in shaping the course of history. This theory stands in stark juxtaposition to the prevailing perspective, which conceives of history as a gradual and collective process oriented toward amelioration. I recall my own experience as a graduate history student when any discussion of the “Great Man” theory owould be met with ridicule and dismissed as the musings of archaic reactionaries. A French thinker of the 19th century, Arthur de Gobineau, advanced theories positing that racial conflicts exert a significant impetus for transformative shifts within civilizations. Notably, these theories have since been marginalized primarily due to their historical association with National Socialism. Gobineau’s outlook was profoundly pessimistic, discerning threats to societal strength in the encroachment of democracy and cultural amalgamation. Each of the aforementioned thinkers represented a variation of cultural pessimism, although with different areas of focus and emphasis, with religion, tradition, and culture being central to Vico’s thought, the power of individual personalities being the definitive characteristic of Carlyle’s outlook, and race functioning as the primary determinant in the framework of Gobineau.

An American writer, Brooks Adams, a descendent of former US Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, produced a critique of mass society associated with capitalism during the peak of the industrial revolution of the late 19th and early 20th century. Adams’ critique of the hegemony of the merchant class was similar to the European conservative view of commercial society as a representation of cultural degradation and degeneration. Adams introduced the notion of cyclical civilizations, postulating that the human spirit oscillates between the poles of fear and greed. Fear begets societies characterized by militarism and patriotism, whereas the ascent of greed eventually precipitates societal decay propelled by materialism. Oswald Spengler, a Weimar-era German writer renowned for his magnum opus, “The Decline of the West,” lent credence to the cyclical view of history, although Parvini observes Spengler’s work has gained greater recognition by reputation than through familiarity. Pitirim Sorokin, a mid-20th century Russian-American sociologist, introduced the concept of fluctuations between ideational (encompassing the poetic, aesthetic, and active) and sensate poles, each giving rise to distinct societal archetypes predicated on these dynamic variations.

The 20th century English historian Arnold Toynbee conducted rigorous empirical research aimed at scrutinizing the unique developmental trajectories of various civilizations. His approach eschews preconceived notions of an inexorable entropic historical course. Toynbee believed that civilizations had a life cycle, with stages of growth, maturation, decline, and disintegration. He argued that understanding these patterns could provide insights into the course of human history. Toynbee introduced the concept of “challenge and response,” which was central to his analysis of civilizations. He posited that civilizations faced a series of challenges or problems, both internal and external, and their ability to respond effectively to these challenges determined their fate. Successful responses led to growth, while inadequate responses contributed to decline.

Julius Evola, a Mussolini-era Italian philosopher influenced by Eastern philosophy, in his seminal work “Revolt Against the Modern World” embarked on an exploration of esoteric knowledge, unveiling recurring cycles of societal decline. John Bagot Glubb, a British combat soldier during World War One and later leader of Transjordan’s Arab Legion, offered an unconventional perspective by presenting a comprehensive historical account of empires through the lens of the Arab experience. Joseph Tainter, a contemporary American anthropologist, employs intricate economic analyses to buttress his theory concerning the collapse of societies, while Peter Turchin, a Russian-American historian and statistician, devised the Metaethnic Frontier Theory grounded in the Demographic Structural Theory (DST). This innovative theoretical framework explores the determination of ethnically homogenous elites to resist external elite influences capable of toppling advanced civilizations. Only Tainter and Turchin are currently living figures.

The common thread among these thinkers is that they all challenge the prevailing Enlightenment view of history as a linear and progressive process, a view derived from older Judaic and Christians traditions and subsequently secularized during the Age of Reason. Instead, they proposed alternative perspectives that emphasized the cyclical nature of history, particularly in terms of societal and civilizational rise and decline. These intellectuals rejected the notion that history inevitably leads to continuous progress and improvement in human civilization. Each of them, in their own way, offered insights and theories that challenged established beliefs about the trajectory of history.

Collectively, these erudite thinkers not only challenge the conventional perspective of history but offer alternative viewpoints that underscore the recurrent cyclical nature of societal and civilizational development.  The implicit overarching theme of Parvini’s book postulates that the predominant liberal political paradigm, founded upon the tenets of technological advancement, scientific progress, the promotion of human rights, and calculated risk-taking leading toward a utopian future, has ensnared society within a precarious and deteriorating state. The cyclical perspective articulated by the “Prophets of Doom” stands as a formidable challenge to this prevailing linear narrative, offering a sometimes refreshing and invigorating outlook.

Despite the seemingly pessimistic tenor inherent to these thinkers’ viewpoints, it is possible to discern a liberating dimension within their perspective. This newfound freedom emancipates individuals from the constraints of an ostensibly linear historical trajectory, replete with digital surveillance, social credit systems, and the imposition of anarchy (in the pejorative sense) masquerading as order. In lieu of such constraints, the cyclical paradigm emboldens individuals to embrace their role within the perpetual cycle of civilizations and to muster courage in confronting the vicissitudes of their era.

A parallel theme delves into the notion that, notwithstanding the cyclical nature of history, individuals and collectives retain agency and possess the capacity to exert influence over historical outcomes. Figures like Carlyle ardently believed in the potential of extraordinary individuals to shape the course of history, kindling a spark of optimism and impetus for proactive engagement. Peter Turchin’s theories introduce the concept of “asabiya,” which particularly resonates with those predisposed to action, underscoring the potential for transformative struggle that may pave the path toward a reconfigured society for future generations.

Parvini identifies ten core features that function as commonalities which collectively form a thread extending through the ideas of the thinkers being profiled. The first of these involves “the spark” which illuminates the emergence of a foundational warrior caste during a particular civilizational epoch. The subsequent “civilizational success”generates its own loss conditions and consequent weakening. In response, a civilization is faced with the rise of a counter-barbarism that extinguishes the foundational spark. Within a civilizational context, a perpetual struggle exists between Pareto’s archetypes of the lion (identified by Parvini as warriors and peasants) and the fox (priests, intellectuals, and merchants).The lion archetype is typically exhibited in a monarchical or Caesarian form, whose administrative needs subsequently generate an eclipsing by the fox archetype. The hegemony of the fox (usually in the form of a theocracy or a plutocracy) creates the conditions that lead to the erosion of the foundations that generated the initial civilizational success, even if a temporary increase in such success transpires in the process.  The rise of mass society and the extinguishing of “quality and distinction” pave the way for the collapse phase in civilizational decline. Civilizations contain certain immutable characteristics that are not easily assimilated into by others or transmissible to other cultures.  The cyclical historical perspective accentuates the paramount significance of culture, tradition, religions, social ranking, ethnicity, race, and identity as constants in sculpting the contours of civilizations. This viewpoint stands in stark contradiction to the contemporary ethos, which endeavors to downplay these factors and espouses the notion of uniform equality among all societies. Additionally, the analysis casts doubt upon the prevailing assertion that disparities in societal outcomes are solely attributable to structural bias.

At the end of the first chapter, Parvini provides an overview of contending models of historical unfolding, citing five distinctive paradigms holding to a cyclical view. The first of these is “the pattern of the rise and fall” common to ancient Greek thinkers. The second is the “degenerative cycle” found in the poet Hesiod from the Homeric era, along with elements of Zoroastrian and Hindu Yogic thought. The third involves the familiar political cycle developed by Polybius, whereby societies pass through stages of monarchy, kingship, tyranny, aristocracy, oligarchy, democracy, ochlocracy, and barbarianism, followed by a cyclical repeat. A fourth is the providential cycle found in the ancient Hebrew prophet Jeremiah and various minor or peripheral Christian traditions. The last is the birth, death, and rebirth model (the “Phoenix” tradition) in which a dark age is situated between two brighter eras. Parvini contrasts these frameworks with the two most influential linear models. The first of these is the Augustian model of the “Six Ages of Man,” beginning with creation through the apocalypse and “second coming” of Christ. While the Augustinian model postulates a degenerative linear trajectory, Enlightenment rationalism inverted the Christian view of history, in favor of an evolutionary linear model which postulates the advancement of humanity toward greater levels of perfectibility.

In Prophets of Doom, Parvini offers a profound exploration of cyclical theories of history, decisively challenging the conventional linear conception of progress. Through alternative perspectives on societal and civilizational development, this thought-provoking treatise beckons readers to embark on a journey of introspection, inviting them to reconsider their established beliefs while instilling within them the fortitude and determination to confront the cyclical nature of history with renewed intellectual vigor.

Prophets of Doom is an excellent companion to Parvini’s previous work, The Populist Delusion, (see my review here) which focused on criticizing egalitarianism from the perspective of hard political science. The Populist Delusion profiled realist figures in the Machiavellian tradition such as Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca, Robert Michels, Carl Schmitt, Betrand de Jouvenel, James Burnham, Samuel Francis, and Paul Gottfried. The Prophets of Doom focuses on cultural criticism, intellectual history, political theology, and critiquing the linear view of history intrinsic in Abrahamic religious tradition and, by extension, modern secular thought. Parvini cites Christopher Lasch’s observation that the modern idea of “Progress” is secular derivative of the “Judeo-Christian” concept of “Providence.”

I found Prophets of Doom to be particularly interesting because I once wrote a very similar book myself, Thinkers Against Modernity (Black House Publishing, 2016) where I profiled similar individual figures in the same manner as Parvini, including Evola, Ernst Junger, Carl Schmitt,  Friedrich Nietzsche, Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, Aleister Crowley, Corneliu Codreanu, Alain de Benoist and the thinkers of the European New Right. In other contexts, mostly for Troy Southgate’s voluminous body of anthologies published by Black Front Press, I’ve profiled a range of other comparable thinkers, intellectual currents, and bits of intellectual history including the debate between William Godwin and Thomas Malthus, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Rene Guenon, Rudolf Steiner, the thinkers of the Conservative Revolution, JRR Tolkien, and Carl Jung.

My interest in the subject of anti-modern thinkers relates to the need to develop a comprehensive critique of the core features of the present era, including globalization, mass democracy, technocracy, the rising Western ideological superstructure of totalitarian humanism, and the synthesis of these with material factors such as the proliferation of surveillance technology, modern military technology, nuclear weapons, the digital revolution, and a range of ecological factors.

It is now taken for granted by most educated people in the developed world that the hegemony of commercial interests, mass democracy, egalitarianism, universalism, scientism, rationalism, and the linear view of history implicit in these factors represents the achievement of a higher state of society or human existence.  But what are the weaknesses and limitations of these trends? What did their critics have to say as they were emerging? What can we learn from those who were seemingly on the losing side of history?

The thinkers profiled by Parvini are not religious sectarians or bourgeois partisans engaged in special pleading as is often the case with conservative thought. As a caveat, I should note that I have no interest in “anti-modernism,” “traditionalism,” “conservatism,” or related concepts for their own sake.  I find dubious many of the criticisms of modernity frequently advanced by thinkers of the Right. Examples include the typical lamentations concerning loss of religious faith,  supposed decline of “family values,” erosion of Augustinian and/or bourgeois sexual mores, the “culture of death” alleged by opponents of abortion and euthanasia, the alleged encroachment of “socialism,” or a “lack of meaning” rooted in the alleged absence of a teleological or metaphysical view of society or the state.

Most modern conservatives are adherents of the Abrahamic faiths who object to various religious, sexual, and other practices rejected by Abrahamic traditions. It is fashionable in such circles to blame modernity for genocide, gulags, and concentration camps, ignoring the genocidal quality of colonialism and imperialism, which developed when a culturally Christian consensus was still largely intact, the body count generated by wars of religion and dynastic succession, and the authoritarian nature of historic theocracies, autocracies, and monarchies.

Many of the features of modernity targeted as anathema by conservatives could easily be considered mere variations of cultural expressions from the past and not unique ills of modern societies. For example, the transgender phenomenon could be regarded merely as modern cults of Cybele and Attis. The alleged “sexualization of children” via “drag queen story hours” pales in comparison to the ancient Greek cult of pederasty or the sexual rituals associated with the initiatory passage rites of some indigenous cultures. As those who equate abortion with the ancient practice of child sacrifice never tire of pointing out, infanticide was widely practiced in many pre-modern societies. Trendy conservative hand-wringing over “Soros DAs” aside, individuals are arguably safer from physical violence in today’s developed societies than at any time in history.  In this regard, conservatives often mirror the selective indignation of leftists who decry the historic out-group invidiousness manifested by Western civilization, while ignoring the past and sometimes continued existence of slavery in non-Western cultures along with a range of other less-than-woke practices like human sacrifice and cannibalism outside the historic Hellenist/Christian West.

A more serious consideration raised by conservative critics of modernity involves the prospect of demographic displacement.  While the fractious nature of multicultural societies also presents strategic opportunities, mass migration is a genuine issue of concern not because some individuals may find other individuals or groups from different cultures to be personally icky or repellant, but because of the resulting implications related to cultural eradication, civil conflict, economic dislocation, lack of civil society, low trust social relations, and divide and conquer efforts by states and ruling classes. Rome pursued such policies in its twilight years with disastrous results. One can view such transitions favorably, unfavorably, or with indifference but that doesn’t mean “the great replacement” is not real.

I do not criticize the right wing very often, because I do not expect anything from the Right. When leftists dismiss right-wing thought as mere apologetics for class oppression, vested interests, war, militarism, authoritarianism, state repression, traditional outgroup enmity, obscurantism, etc., most of the time, they’re right. There are “conservative” intellectual traditions of great value. The Machiavellian realist tradition, localists like Robert Nisbet, critics of utopianism like Edmund Burke and Thomas Sowell, critics of left-wing authoritarianism like Paul Gottfried or Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and critics of economic central planning like Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek, etc. are all worth paying attention to. It is for this reason that I admire and appreciate the work of intellectual rightist scholars like Parvini. But it is true most conservative politicians are functionaries of the right-wing of whatever ruling class happens to exist at a particular time and place. And many rank-and-file conservatives are the backward, uneducated rubes or obscurantist reactionaries the left says they are. Parvini is one of those refreshing right-wing scholars who is capable of engaging in value-free historical or political analysis and is capable of approaching cultural criticism within an empirical framework. The figures he profiles in Prophets of Doom are largely timeless and therefore rise above the instrumental features of right-wing political practice.

Politically and philosophically, I am more in the post-left, post-Marxist, anarchist/post-anarchist, and post-postmodern camps than Parvini, the figures he profiles, and most of his likely readers. However, I am concerned about the growing capability, made possible by the core features of modernity, for the centralization of political, economic, cultural, military, and technological power under a universal superstate with unlimited wealth, weaponry, and surveillance capabilities. All of the historic dystopian visions, from Orwell to Huxley to Kafka, rolled into one. Therefore, my primary objective as a political theorist is to create and maintain zones of autonomy independent of superstate, superclass meta-structures, irrespective of the specific cultural or ideological content, or institutional or organizational frameworks of these.

The reason that I criticize what I call totalitarian humanism (“Woke,” “PC,” “Critical Social Justice”) so vehemently is for the same reasons Proudhon, Bakunin, and Stirner were arch critics of Marx and Engels as well as the emperors and tsars, Goldman and Berkman were critics of Lenin as well as Woodrow Wilson, and Noam Chomsky and Murray Bookchin were critics of the USSR as well as Ronald Reagan. It is also important to trace the origins and influence of left-wing authoritarianism, which I think has its roots in ancient philosophy, primarily dualistic philosophies and linear religions, the modern expressions of which are derived from utopian extremist ideologies that emerged from the Enlightenment and the parallel illiberal reaction against the Enlightenment found in Romanticism, German Idealism, and the Counter-Enlightenment.

There are also strategic as well as ideological considerations. If the objective is to oppose authoritarian political, legal, economic, and social systems, in that case, you can’t fight obscurantism with state or other institutionalized repression, which becomes self-defeating in addition to the human costs involved. And the push-pull between those want to aggressively move forward and those who want to proceed cautiously serves a legitimate and necessary purpose, as John Stuart Mill pointed out. The progressive-reactionary dichotomy is often a false one. For instance, anarcho-primitivists are considered “radical leftists” when practically speaking they have the most reactionary philosophy there is.

The importance of such considerations was made increasingly obvious following the end of the Cold War, resulting in Atlanticist unipolar hegemony and speculations that the “end of history” populated by “the last man” had finally arrived. The urgency of combating such a paradigm was made obvious by the rise of the American neoconservatives and their crusade for global subjugation in the aftermath of the incidents of September 11, 2001.

Happily, what has been called (literally by conspiracy theorists, euphemistically by others) the “New World Order” (unipolar Atlanticist global hegemony) seems to be failing largely due to rise of the BRICS/Global South alliance. Unlike many in the traditional Communist, National-Bolshevik, Strasserite, Third Positionist, or Third Worldist camps, I don’t admire or idealize these societies, but merely regard them as international mafias who function as useful obstructionist forces, though at significant costs like increased numbers of failed states, civil wars, and regional conflicts, most notably the Russo-Ukraine war.

For these reasons, my relationship to the political Right has often been a complex and even schizophrenic one. While I am opposed (or merely indifferent) to many if not most conventional right-wing positions on topical issues, I find conservative or traditionalist critics of the prevailing trends of modernity to be insightful and tactically helpful. Many if not most liberals and leftists have proven themselves to be impotent at fighting insurgent techno-totalitarianism, largely because most of them share the underlying assumptions of the overlords of globalization and totalitarian humanism, such as the supposed inherent beneficence of mass democracy, egalitarianism, universalism, scientism, rationalism, and the linear view of history critiqued by the figures Parvini examines.

As anyone with even a surface level familiarity with my past work knows, I have endeavored to promote as an antidote to global techno-totalitarianism such metapolitical concepts as pan-anarchism/anarcho-pluralism, panarchy/polyarchy/personarchy, and pan-secessionism as a multi-dimensional, meta-strategic, meta-tactical framework. A range of comparable ideas can be found in various political literature such as Hans Widmer’s “bolobolo” framework, JG Ballard’s micronational “zones of transition,” Hakim Bey’s “temporary autonomous zones,”  exitarians, anarcho-communists, anarcho-capitalists, national-anarchists, municipalists/democratic confederalists/communalists inspired by Murray Bookchin, patchwork reactionaries, and a vast range of cousin ideologies with an anti-statist, libertarian, anti-authoritarian, anarchist, or decentralist bent, regardless of their specific ideological frameworks, along with communal, utopian, and/or countercultural movements that reject global technocratic superclass hegemony. Likewise, cultural traditionalists, social conservatives, religious believers, ethno-preservationists, and proponents of one or another form of particularism are among the most zealous opponents of global technocracy and its totalitarian humanist framework (see my “In Defense of Islamic Nations” article from 2004, at the height of the Iraq War Two era). So-called fourth generation warfare forces (e.g. cults, gangs, militias), while problematic in other ways, may also be useful as counterhegemonic forces in some instances.  Movements or subcultural groups in conflict with their existing states or merely with other tribal-sectarian groups within the polity of which they are a part may be potential indirect allies in some contexts.

Such a state of affairs presents a dilemma for anti-authoritarians as some of the most effective resisters are ultra-authoritarians and arch-reactionaries in the conventional sense. Parvini cites the examples of the Taliban, the present incarnation of North Korea’s traditional “hermit kingdom,” African warlords, Latin American cartels, and lumpen culture of the urban African-American poor.  A great paradox involves the fact that out of power authoritarian/totalitarian groups can potentially function as checks on the established state (although this can escalate to Weimar-like dangers) or a wider overarching imperium.

Another paradox involves the fact that many supposed anarchists, libertarians, “radical leftists,” Marxists, socialists, progressives, and others traditionally associated with oppositional political currents have been essentially coopted by totalitarian humanism in the same manner that the social democratic parties of Europe were coopted by their respective national regimes as World War One commenced over a century ago. Such cooptation is to be expected because the supposed “radicals” essentially shared the same vision of history, society, and humanity as the liberals, neoliberals, and neoconservatives who have coopted them. For example, former members of the administration of George W. Bush, staff writers at the effete Atlantic magazine,  and members of Antifa share the same essential presumption that the supposed incipient “fascism” of former President Donald Trump is the greatest danger currently facing US society, if not the world.

Central to this cooptation has been the idea of “Progress” and the compulsion to stand on the perceived side of what Thomas Sowell calls the “anointed” as opposed to the “benighted.” Within such a moral framework, the most heinous identity one can assume is that of a “reactionary,” or who stands in the way of progressive social evolution.  But what happens when a revolutionary regime appears, as is now happening in the developed world as the 68ers have become the senior generation, and the new upper middle class of bourgeois bohemians have become socially dominant? And what happens when, as The Who sang, the new boss becomes the same as the old boss? Resistance to such a state of affairs requires the rethinking of paradigms and priorities. The work of scholars like Neema Parvini and those whom he discusses provides needed assistance toward such an effort.


1 reply »

  1. A great and insightful review as usual! I have always appreciated your more nuanced views on thinkers from both left and right. Also glad to see more people discuss Brooks Adams very underrated figure.

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