By Neil Lock
This is the second – and longest! – part of a six-part re-formulation of my philosophical ideas. In the first part, I discussed the ideas of six thinkers who have significantly influenced me. In chronological order, these thinkers were or are: Aristotle, John Locke, Franz Oppenheimer, Ayn Rand, Jason Alexander and Frank van Dun.
In this essay, I’ll put our situation today into historical context, and try to draw out some of the rhythms of history. Further, I’ll introduce some of the thinkers and doers of the past, both on our side and on our enemies’, who have orchestrated these rhythms.
Ages and Stages
I acknowledge my debt to Jason Alexander, whose ideas I introduced in the first essay in this set. In particular, I have based my account on his view of human history as a series of revolutions, in each of which we human beings open up, and start to explore, a new level or dimension of our humanity. And each of which is followed by a counter-revolution from those that are hostile to our progress. He calls this view “Ages and Stages.”
Alexander sees the list of revolutions as follows:
- The birth of Man (which, he suggests, coincided with the Neanderthal extinction).
- The flourishing of classical Greece.
- The Renaissance.
- The Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution (which he sees as two aspects of the same revolution).
- A Fifth Revolution, which he calls the Knowledge Revolution, and is yet to come.
However, I have allowed myself to modify his list, in order to align it more closely with my own perception of the rhythms of human history. This leads me to separate the first and fourth of his revolutions into two parts each.
In our early history, I identify the Neolithic revolution, in which we settled down into agricultural communities, as the first of our revolutions, and distinguish it from the earlier Neanderthal extinction, which set us on the path towards them. That extinction I consider to have been less a revolution in Alexander’s sense, than the culmination of a process of evolution, which had brought about a separation between the two species.
And in more recent history, I identify the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, which Alexander sees as together forming his fourth revolution, as separate (if overlapping) phenomena. For I see the Enlightenment as a revolution in political thought, which sought more freedom for all individuals. Whereas the Industrial Revolution was, and is, a practical revolution, which has enabled us to open up our creative abilities. For me, they are the fourth and fifth revolutions, respectively.
I will also say here what I mean by “Downers.” This word, short for “top-downers,” is my name for our enemies as a class. Jason Alexander has given them a somewhat similar name: LOWers, short for Lovers of Wisdom.
Downers favour big government. They favour top-down organizations, like monarchies, oligarchies, bureaucracies and church hierarchies. They show contempt for us individual human beings, and they think we are naturally bad. They want to “transform” us into something that is not in any way human or natural. They seek to prevent us progressing towards the next level of our development; or even to haul us back down towards where we started from. And their philosophy and way of thinking, which I call Downerism and Alexander calls Overstanding, is a top-down system that is fundamentally hostile to us human beings. I shall look at Downerism in the third essay of this set.
All this has been by way of preliminaries. Now, let’s look at some history.
The Neanderthal extinction
You and I – well, I certainly, and you presumably – are individuals of a genus called humans; or, in Latin, homo. Physically, we are simians, related to monkeys and to great apes such as chimpanzees. Mentally, our species has earned the Latin name sapiens, meaning knowing, discerning, wise or sensible.
Experts generally agree that we evolved in Africa. But they are unsure just how long ago. Some think that we diverged from earlier strains as long as 350,000 years ago. Currently, this pre-history is a subject of active research, so there is no consensus story on how and when we evolved, or how and when we came to leave Africa.
Today, we are the only extant human species. But this hasn’t always been so. Up to about 40,000 years ago, we shared our planet with another close to human species, homo neanderthalensis – the Neanderthals. Then, over the course of about 2,000 years, they died out, leaving as their legacy just a small percentage of our genome.
As to how and why the extinction happened, experts are unsure. One theory suggests that as the climate changed, sapiens were more easily able to adjust their diet to changes in their environment. Another, that some social development allowed sapiens to live in larger groups than Neanderthals. A third, that sapiens were readier to travel and to trade with each other than Neanderthals were. A fourth blames lack of immunity among Neanderthals to pathogens carried out of Africa by migrating sapiens. We don’t know for sure. Whichever, we were on the way towards our five revolutions.
The first revolution
Long ago, when we were hunter-gatherers, the primary community beyond the family was the band. Bands consisted of several families, often closely related and usually numbering a few dozen people. Band members co-operated in hunting. And some of them would have taken on specialist tasks, like making tools. The organization was generally loose. While the band’s elders were valued for their advice, there was no formal power structure.
Sometimes, bands would join together into larger units, commonly called tribes. They might have a formal group of elders, making decisions on behalf of the whole tribe; for example, on where to go to maximize the chance of finding prey at a particular time of year. And, particularly among larger tribes, they might be ruled over by a headman and his advisors. Such systems are still used today in some traditional African chiefdoms.
While progress in those times was slow by today’s standards, it was by no means without revolutionary flavour. One notable milestone was the Neolithic invention of agriculture about 12,500 years ago. This milestone was so important, that I consider it to have marked our first revolution. In which, we moved beyond being a roving predator animal, and into the beginnings of civilization. We became human. And we began to open up our first dimension.
Groups of people, in several parts of the world, abandoned the traditional hunting and gathering. Instead, each group settled down in one place, and began to cultivate crops and to domesticate animals. When conditions were benign, the new approach allowed the populations of these groups to increase. The result was the rise of the Neolithic village. And it required new ideas about how to relate to each other. In particular, it brought about the idea of private property.
Other notable milestones of this period were the development of early urban civilizations, starting perhaps 9,000 years ago; and the invention of writing, perhaps 5,000 years ago, which enabled for the first time the transmission of ideas beyond a generation or two.
The first counter-revolution
Now, a dark shadow will enter my tale; the state. Political states aren’t an inevitable result of communities like the villages of Neolithic times. The earliest states, so experts think, only appeared several thousand years after the first Neolithic villages. Nevertheless, the territorial state seems to have been an attractor point, towards which human communities were drawn.
There are several theories as to how the first states came about. Of these, Robert Carneiro’s seems to me as believable as any. In bad times, groups that were short of food would seek to use force to take for themselves the product of the labours of other villages. Thus, there was unleashed on humanity the scourge of war. In some places, the losers of such wars were able to flee to a new territory. But in places where arable land was scarce and its area circumscribed, when there was famine and so wars between villages, the losers could not flee. The conquerors would soon have worked out that they were better off if they didn’t exterminate the defeated. Instead, they subjected these villages to taxation in the form of their produce. The state was up and running.
I find it unsurprising that, once one state had formed in a particular area, others would soon form nearby. For a state can be an effective defensive organization, as well as an aggressive one. But even a state formed initially for defensive purposes can very easily be turned towards aggressions.
All this had three consequences. First, the size of political units increased, from one village to many. Second, within such units there was a separation into two classes. A ruling class, formed of the leaders, the strongest warriors and their cronies and hangers-on; and a productive class, subjected to the ruling class. And third, war became all but endemic. For, as Randolph Bourne has told us, war is the health of the state.
As time passed, a variety of structures evolved. But most had one thing in common. Power was in the hands of a small, élite minority, who did not contribute to food production, but were supported by the labours of the ordinary people. Furthermore, in many cases accession to the élite was hereditary. More often than not, there was a single individual at the top of the pile – a chieftain or king – surrounded by an aristocracy of senior members of select families.
Something nasty had happened here. Earlier human communities had been formed for mutual benefit, and in them there had been a role for everyone, according to their talents. But with a state in place, the link between the benefit of the ruling class and of the ordinary people had been severed. Furthermore, the ruling class had leisure to plot and scheme for further power gains. So, the system tended to perpetuate itself. A bottom-up community had morphed into a top-down one; in which ordinary people were subjected to the rule of a minority, that did not necessarily have any common interest with them or concern for them.
Others, meanwhile, were learning to control people more subtly. They knew that many people thought they sensed, through their minds, a great power at the edge of experience. This power went by various names – the gods, God, the “logos,” the Muses – and many people liked to do homage to it. So, the unscrupulous began to control people by setting themselves up as representatives of this power. They claimed moral authority by placing themselves between people and their gods. Thus, in time, there arose the church; institutionalized mental control and mumbo-jumbo. The church enabled an élite to control people mentally, just as the state empowered its élite to control them physically.
The primary product of our enemies’ first counter-revolution, though, was the political state. (The big rise of the church came later.) And from that time, right up to the present, control, conflict and persecution have been the dominant themes of human history.
The second revolution
There had been a dark age in Greece following the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization around 1100 BC. But economic progress, at least, had re-started by 800 BC. And in the following century or so, the Homeric epics were composed.
Thales, born in about 624 BC, was the harbinger of the revolution of Think in ancient Greece; the first age of Reason, as Jason Alexander puts it. He was, very probably, the first “natural philosopher.” He sought to explain what he saw in nature by forming hypotheses and theories in his mind, rather than accepting supernatural myths. He was a mathematician, too. He proved “Thales’ theorem” – if three points are all on a circle, and two of them are on a line through the centre, then the angle at the third point of the triangle they form is a right angle.
Socrates, born about 470 BC and executed in 399 BC for, allegedly, “corrupting the minds of youth” and failing to believe in the gods, was the first Greek ethical philosopher. He became famous for his Socratic method, narrowing down the possible answers to a problem by first asking a question, then using the answer to formulate another question.
Unfortunately, Socrates left no writings. All we know about his thinking was filtered through Plato (born 428 BC), who used Socrates as a mouthpiece in his dialogues. But Plato seems to have been a Downer; and his ideal state has a top-down structure. The ruling aristocracy have souls of gold, the soldiers have souls of silver, the ordinary people have souls of bronze or iron. A big-government system, with at the apex a philosopher-king; an unlikely animal!
Aristotle (born 384 BC) was a student of Plato. Despite this, he represented the peak of the second revolution. And, as the first to tackle Ethics from a practical point of view, he was also the herald of the third revolution.
The Greeks opened up more than just the second dimension. They also made inroads into the fourth. For Athenian democracy was a passable attempt, for its time, at allowing a voice in political affairs to more than just a small ruling clique. Even though only male citizens could vote, not non-citizens, women or slaves.
The second counter-revolution
But in a world of warring states, it was inevitable that an experiment like Athenian democracy would eventually be killed off by the top dog of the moment. In this case, the Macedonian Empire.
The counter-revolution proceeded, albeit slowly. Greece was succeeded by Rome, which managed to incorporate, and to build on, some of the best of the Greek culture. Though philosophy was not among its priorities. But Rome fell, nastily. By which time, a major new player had come on the scene: the Christian church. And the church was a Downer organization. Its modus operandi was “hierarchy,” the top-down rule of priests. And Saint Augustine, for one, saw human beings in general as fallen and pre-disposed towards evil.
I think it no coincidence that the rise of the church took place at much the same time that the Roman state was losing its cohesion. It was only a few decades after the emperor Theodosius had decreed that Nicene Christianity was now the official religion of the Roman empire, that Rome was sacked for the first time in 800 years. Over much of Europe, the economy collapsed, literacy all but vanished, and the dark ages were upon us. Things started to get better around the millennium; but progress was slow. The political system in many places became feudal, and the church had a strong hold over everyone.
I view institutional religion and the church, indeed, as being the main products of our enemies’ second counter-revolution. And for hundreds of years, the church vied for power with the state, the product of the first counter-revolution.
The third revolution
Aristotle was the summit of the second revolution, and the herald of the third; the first true ethical thinker. Other Greeks who followed him tried to build on his work, and to formulate their own ideas on how life should be lived. Epicurus held that “the sum and end of a blessed life” is “health of body and tranquillity of mind.” And the Stoics taught that the way to live was using reason, clear and objective judgement, and equanimity. They also developed the idea of natural law, under which humans live in accordance with their nature. And they promoted the idea that all men, even slaves, are in some sense equal, because all are products of nature. All this was good, bottom-up stuff; worthy successors to Aristotle and his ideas.
But the early Christians transmuted reason into agape. This Greek word, literally meaning “affection,” they took to be a love shared between Christians and their god, as well as with one another. “Love thy god with all thy heart,” they preached. And “love thy neighbour as thyself.” This last, subtly, belittles the individual, and paves the way for the bogus “virtues” of altruism and selflessness.
In the dark and middle ages, European people lived in a top-down world of kings, feudal nobles, and church. Greek ethical knowledge was lost. It was the Muslim thinkers of the 10th to 12th centuries who first re-discovered Aristotle and his ideas. Indeed, these scholars can be regarded as fore-runners of the Renaissance.
But Thomas Aquinas, born in 1225, was the one who re-discovered the idea of natural law. Natural law, he thought, is reason in action; and its ultimate purpose is the flourishing of the human being. Moreover, by a stroke of genius, he made his ideas acceptable to the church hierarchy. He posited that natural law is the law of God, made by God, and promulgated by God to human beings. (So, natural law trumps laws made by kings. No wonder the church liked the idea!) And yet, natural law, considered as our nature in action, has no need of a deity. The questions of what natural law consists of, and where it comes from, are separable. As Jason Alexander has said, given presumes no giver.
There were, in time, stirrings of a proto-Renaissance. Notably, in the writings of Dante, Petrarch and Bocaccio. The latter two founded the movement which would become Renaissance humanism. Humanism, according to Victorian scholar John Addington Symonds, “consists mainly of a just perception of the dignity of man as a rational, volitional and sentient being, born upon this earth with a right to use it and enjoy it.” Leading “toward self-emancipation, toward re-assertion of the natural rights of the reason and the senses, toward the conquest of this planet as a place of human occupation.”
But the tipping point came in 1453. Scholars forced to flee from the siege of Constantinople travelled westwards, many of them ending up in Italy. And with them, they took their books. The newly invented printing press would soon become the means by which ancient ideas, and new ones springing from them, were spread. And yet, the revival of ancient learning was only a small part of the Renaissance.
According to Symonds, Europeans entered upon a fresh stage of vital energy in general. There was a fuller consciousness, and a freer exercise of human faculties, than before. He sees the revival of learning as “a function of that vital energy, an organ of that mental evolution.” And it “brought into existence the modern world, with its new conceptions of philosophy and religion, its re-awakened arts and sciences, its firmer grasp on the realities of human nature and the world, its manifold inventions and discoveries, its altered political systems, its expansive and progressive forces.” People in Europe began to emerge from the mind-numbing tyranny of the church and the feudal system. They felt renewed confidence in their own faculties. They felt a new sense of freedom for the human spirit, that had been for so long suppressed by orthodoxy. And inquiry, discovery and criticism became new norms; if not also satire.
So, as Jason Alexander puts it, the Renaissance “was more than a counter- counter-revolution. It was an extension of a process of emergence… It was a period of discovery.” Both mentally and geographically.
The third revolution had consequences in our second dimension, too. It created conditions in which Nicolaus Copernicus (born 1473) and Galileo Galilei (born 1564) could begin – despite opposition from the establishment – to re-formulate the science of astronomy. Meanwhile, Francis Bacon (born 1561) could begin to formulate a new, more empirical and skeptical, approach to physical science. And René Descartes (born 1596) could seek to re-formulate philosophy as a whole in a more advanced way. As well, of course, as making significant contributions to mathematics and science.
But while the Renaissance gave us much progress, and in many different directions, it did little at the time to open up our third dimension. For the one thinker of the period, who could lay a real claim to being a natural law philosopher, was the Spaniard Francisco Suarez (born 1548). But ethics was not his main philosophical interest. It was not until the 18th century, with people like Francis Hutcheson (born 1694), David Hume (born 1711) and Immanuel Kant (born 1724), that we started to see progress towards modern ideas of ethics and natural law.
The third counter-revolution
As you would expect, our enemies launched a third counter-revolution. This had two parts: the secular and the religious.
In the secular part, they sought to establish politics as superior to ethics and morality. They sought to elevate the political state above common-sense notions of right and wrong. The Renaissance was still far from complete, when the first of the counter-revolutionary thinkers, Florentine politician Niccolò Machiavelli (born 1469), wrote The Prince. Some, it seems, have thought this work, at least partly, tongue-in-cheek. Either way, he advocated that political rulers should be dishonest, sly, deceitful and unscrupulous. And that violence, murder and war were OK, and acting in bad faith and spreading fear among the subjects were praiseworthy, if they led to the desired ends.
Here are some Machiavellian tidbits, from the Oxford World’s Classics edition. “A wise prince should think of a method by which his citizens, at all times and in every circumstance, will need the assistance of the state and of himself.” “Affairs should be managed in such a way that when they no longer believe, they can be made to believe by force.” “A prince, and especially a new prince, cannot observe all those things for which men are considered good, for in order to maintain the state he is often obliged to act against his promise, against charity, against humanity and against religion.” “A wise ruler, therefore, cannot and should not keep his word when such an observance of faith would be to his disadvantage and when the reasons which made him promise are removed.” “It is necessary to know how to disguise this nature well and to be a great hypocrite and a liar.”
But it got worse. Jean Bodin (born about 1530), a monarchist Frenchman, sketched out his top-down political system in his Six Books of the Commonwealth, Book I, Chapter 10. Bodin produced, for the first time, an intellectual basis and justification for the state. It found much favour among the powerful of the day. So much so, that this system was implemented across most of Europe from the mid-17th century, as the Westphalian nation state. Later, it spread around the world; and we still suffer under it today. Bags on the side of the political state, such as constitutions, bills of rights and democracy, have not changed its essential nature. That the state as conceived by Bodin has endured so long and become so powerful, testifies to the magnitude of the defeat our enemies inflicted on us in their third counter-revolution.
In Bodin’s scheme, the “sovereign” – the king or ruling élite – is fundamentally different from, and superior to, the rest of the population in its territory, the “subjects.” The sovereign is, in Bodin’s words, “in the image of God.” It has a divine right to rule. And the only laws which can bind it are “the laws of God and of nature.” If it even recognizes the existence of such laws, of course.
In particular, the sovereign has moral privileges; that is, rights to do certain things, which others don’t share. Bodin gives these privileges as:
- To make laws to bind the subjects, and to give privileges to those it chooses to.
- To make war and peace.
- To appoint the top officials of the state.
- To be the final court of appeal.
- To pardon guilty individuals if it so wishes.
- To issue a currency.
- To levy taxes and impositions, and to exempt, if it wishes, certain individuals or groups from payment.
Furthermore, the sovereign isn’t bound by the laws it makes. And it isn’t responsible for the consequences to anyone of what it does (also known as “the king can do no wrong.”)
Right there, you can see the nature of the political state. It is oppressive. It is warlike. It favours the ruling class and their cronies, while exploiting everyone else under its power. It allows dishonesty and corruption to flourish, and often actively rewards them. It has no clear, consistent ideal of justice. And the moral privileges, which it allows to its ruling class, have served over the centuries to attract the worst, the most callous, dishonest, devious and psychopathic, to seek positions of political power.
Despotism and tyranny are built into the very foundations of Bodin’s political state. Surely, an honest king like William IV of England, or a strong-willed and honest group of oligarchs like the best of the American founding fathers, could make a state work reasonably well for the people. For a while. But even in the 20th and 21st centuries, tyrannies have been, and still are, the rule rather than the exception. Oppressions, wars, pogroms, genocides; all are written in the state’s DNA.
Next, cue Thomas Hobbes (born 1588). Hobbes was an intelligent man, with wide-ranging interests. And yet, he was also an extreme Downer. His “Leviathan” – also known as the state or the commonwealth – is a group of human beings ruled over despotically by an absolute sovereign. Supposedly, the people (or, at least, a majority of them) have consented to this. They have committed to each other, that they authorize and approve whatever the sovereign chooses to do. In essence, Hobbes views the people as a body, of which the sovereign is the soul. Once the system has been set up, there is no possibility of changing it, or of escape from it. And the sovereign may do whatever it deems necessary, including restricting free speech and censoring the press.
The religious part of the third counter-revolution was the reaction to the Protestant Reformation. At first, the results of the Reformation were generally positive. There were better opportunities for freedom of religion, for those who wanted to take them. Generally, the progressives of the day tended to go Protestant. While those in places, where people were of a more conservative bent, tended to remain Catholic.
But the Catholic church hierarchy reacted in a typically Downer way, with Inquisitions and persecutions. Not surprisingly, where and when they could, the Protestants counter-reacted in like manner. The result was that religious conflict spilled over into political conflict. Moreover, kings and princes got in on the act, making wars to gain new territories, and to force their own religious views on to the people in them. As a result, Europe – and, most of all, Germany – was not at all a good place to live in the first half of the 17th century.
Sparked by the Inquisitions, and going even beyond the accusations of heresy, there were also the waves of witch-hunts, which spread around Europe in the same time frame as the Counter-Reformation and the wars which followed it. These happened in both Protestant and Catholic areas; and tens or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of innocent people were executed, many of them after being tortured.
Let’s not forget that there were many Downers among the Protestants, too. Notably, the Calvinists who believed in the total depravity of humanity, and the Puritans that liked to destroy the works of art of other religious sects. For institutional religion, by its nature, is top-down; and preaching that humans are bad, and being intolerant of difference, are both typical Downer behaviours.
The fourth revolution
The Enlightenment or Age of Reason, arguably, began early in the 17th century, with the new approach to physical science. But the first thinker to articulate the political values of the Enlightenment was John Locke (born 1632), the father of our fourth revolution. I gave you some of his best words in the first essay in this set.
The 17th– and 18th-century Enlightenment affected primarily the European Christian cultures, and those derived from them. Further, it spread to the Jews within a few decades, and its knock-on effects reached places like Japan and much of the Islamic world during the 19th century. What it did was free human minds from shackles, religious and political.
Here’s a brief list of some of its values. The use and celebration of human reason. Rational inquiry, and the pursuit of science. Greater tolerance in religion. Individual liberty and independence; freedom of thought and action. The pursuit of happiness. Natural rights, natural equality of all human beings, and human dignity. The idea that society exists for the individual, not the individual for society. Constitutional government, for the benefit of, and with the consent of, the governed. The rule of law; that is, those with government power, such as lawmakers, law enforcement officials and judges, should have to obey the same rules as everyone else. An ideal of justice which, per Kant, allows that “the freedom of the will of each can coexist together with the freedom of everyone in accordance with a universal law.” A desire for human progress, and a rational optimism for the future.
Many thinkers after Locke did good work towards our fourth revolution. There were the Scottish philosophers, such as David Hume (born 1711) and Adam Smith (born 1723). There were Frenchmen like Montesquieu (born 1689), Voltaire (born 1694) and Nicolas de Condorcet (born 1743). Across the pond, there were Benjamin Franklin (born 1706), Tom Paine (born 1737) and Thomas Jefferson (born 1743).
One effect was that there came about a strong movement towards separation of powers in government. And, in particular, towards separation of church and state. Another effect was that monarchs like Frederick the Great in Prussia and Catherine the Great in Russia adopted some enlightened principles into their governmental systems.
The fourth counter-revolution
But again, our enemies responded with a counter-revolution. One of their most prominent thinkers was Jean-Jacques Rousseau (born 1712). Rousseau is often said to have been an Enlightenment thinker; and yet, he was not. For he thought that civilization was unnatural, and corrupted human beings. He was against scientific progress. And he posited that the population of an area has a “general will”, which makes them into a unity. That is, all of them can collectively agree on what they want. But in reality, no such unity can exist among a large number of people, with a range of divergent interests; unless it is imposed by force.
Moreover, in his Du contrat social (Project Gutenberg edition), Rousseau wrote: “He who dares to undertake the making of a people’s institutions ought to feel himself capable, so to speak, of changing human nature, of transforming each individual, who is by himself a complete and solitary whole, into part of a greater whole from which he in a manner receives his life and being; of altering man’s constitution for the purpose of strengthening it; and of substituting a partial and moral existence for the physical and independent existence nature has conferred on us all.”
These aren’t Enlightenment ideas! Individual liberty and independence? Natural rights? Society for the individual, not the individual for society? No; quite the opposite. This is typical Downer behaviour; they seek to transform natural, human individuals into something that is not in any way natural or human. Rousseau’s ideas here seem to have more in common with extreme socialism than they do with the Enlightenment.
The American revolution, based on Enlightenment ideas, was broadly a success. The French, on the other hand, failed miserably. It led to the Reign of Terror, and ultimately to the rule of Napoleon, and the wars he started. Now, Rousseau’s ideas had had great influence among the Jacobins. Robespierre himself admired many of Rousseau’s ideas, including the general will. He even ordered the transfer of Rousseau’s remains to the national Panthéon. Yet, far from allowing liberté, encouraging egalité or showing fraternité, Robespierre chose to initiate and to carry out the Reign of Terror. He sought to extirpate those he thought not fit to be part of the “general will” of the Revolution.
Many people thought – wrongly – that the barbarities of the French Revolution had been an inevitable upshot of Enlightenment ideas; so, in their eyes, the Enlightenment itself had failed. And that gave our enemies a chance to mount a fourth counter-revolution.
One strand of this counter-revolution was what is now called the Counter-Enlightenment. This was primarily a German phenomenon; perhaps because the Germans had been hit harder than anyone else by the troubles brought on by the French Revolution. As a philosophical movement, it was relativist; truth was not absolute, but only relative to the observer or to a culture. And it rejected the idea that reason is the only, or even the best, way to find knowledge. In literature, it spawned the Romantic movement. Nationalism was also part of its agenda, as in the works of Johan Gottfried Herder (born 1744). And political and religious conservatives also weighed in against Enlightenment ideas.
But the most influential thinker of those times against the Enlightenment and individual freedom was Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (born 1770). His infamous “paragraph 258,” translated by S. W. Dyde: “The state, which is the realized substantive will, having its reality in the particular self-consciousness raised to the plane of the universal, is absolutely rational. This substantive unity is its own motive and absolute end. In this end freedom attains its highest right. This end has the highest right over the individual, whose highest duty in turn is to be a member of the state.” And the state “is the objective spirit, and he [the individual] has his truth, real existence and ethical status only in being a member of it.”
It’s obvious from these sentences that Hegel was an extreme Downer. And the cornerstones of his philosophy, and of the philosophy of the fourth counter-revolution as a whole, were collectivism and the top-down politics it spawned. But he also marks the point at which academic philosophy became unintelligible to ordinary people – though Kant had already trodden very close to that line. And yet, Hegel strongly influenced Karl Marx (born 1818), Friedrich Nietzsche (born 1844), a whole generation of academic philosophers who came after him, and many later thinkers on the political left, as well as in theological circles.
Another strand came out of two new political ideologies in the early 19th century: anarchism and socialism. Before then, there had been only two political positions. The establishment line, represented in England for example by the monarchy and the Tories; and the liberal or progressive view, espoused by Enlightenment thinkers and, at times at least, by the Whigs.
Anarchism began with William Godwin (born 1756). Godwin took the Enlightenment side. He was against monarchy and the state in general. He wanted to overthrow the existing government institutions, but without using violence. In his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, he tried to sketch how a minimal-government social system might work. He started out with a communistic idea of property, but revised this towards a more individualistic one.
Socialism sprang from the thinking of Henri de Saint-Simon (born 1760). Like Godwin, he began as a man of the Enlightenment. In the context of the revolution which was at the time starting to take place in French industry, he saw a divide been two classes: the productive class (working class) and the idling class, such as the nobility and the church. Unlike later socialists, he counted business people, and even company bosses, among the working class.
He favoured a meritocracy, in which individuals can succeed through their talents and efforts. He wanted no government interference in the economy, except to stop hindrances to productive activity, and to discourage idling. But his proposals for a society run by scientists and industrialists seem rather Utopian. And his late-in-life idea of a “new Christianity,” in which everyone must seek to improve the lives of the poorest, attracted enthusiasm from some, but criticism from others as being a move back towards conservatism and against the Enlightenment.
Born in the same year, and also French, was socialist “Gracchus” Babeuf. Like Saint-Simon, he opposed the establishment. But he was also virulently egalitarian, and against private property. He wrote: “Society must be made to operate in such a way that it eradicates once and for all the desire of a man to become richer, or wiser, or more powerful than others.”
Socialists and anarchists often co-operated in those days. Robert Owen (born 1771), an entrepreneur from Scotland, set up an experimental socialist community, with property held in common, at New Harmony, Indiana. It, like all other similar schemes, failed. Josiah Warren (born 1798) was one of the participants. After the failure at New Harmony, he rejected the communist approach to property, and became the first American anarchist. And he formulated the idea of self-ownership, or “sovereignty of the individual.” That is, the individual must be the sole and exclusive controller of his or her own body and life.
Socialism and anarchism met in the person of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (born 1809). Although he started out declaring that “property is theft,” later in life he described his aim as “the synthesis of communism and property.” He described his ideal form of government as “a society without authority,” in which “no one obeys, no one is dependent, and everyone is free and sovereign.”
I’ll briefly mention two more French socialists. Louis Auguste Blanqui (born 1805) favoured a “just redistribution of wealth.” To be brought about by seizing power through revolution, and establishing a temporary (!) dictatorship by force. Louis Blanc (born 1811), on the other hand, wanted to use existing governmental structures to bring about change to socialism. And he was the original author of the motto: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
And so, to Karl Marx (born 1818). He was strongly influenced by Hegel. He took Saint-Simon’s idea of two classes in conflict, and hardened it into a view of all of history. Further, he saw the capitalists or company bosses as enemies of the workers; not as being on the same side, as Saint-Simon had. He had little or no regard for the individual, saying: “Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand.” And so, he had little or no regard for individual rights. What he wanted to do was seize the state, use it to suppress the capitalists, and impose a communist society, with communal ownership of the means of production and no social classes.
The revolutions of 1848
To 1848, the year of revolutions in Europe. And not just in Europe; they also extended to Canada, Mexico and South America. There had already been fore-shocks in the 1830s, such as the July Revolution in France. But the revolutions of 1848 were far more widespread.
New ideas like liberalism and socialism had begun to spread among ordinary people. The 1840s in Europe had been a decade of bad weather, with several cold summers leading to crop failures. These included a potato blight, which severely affected food supplies in many northern countries. This was worst in Ireland, where (as in the rest of Britain) the Corn Laws of 1815, passed in the interests of landowners, already made food prices unnecessarily high. At the same time, many governments, sensing trouble ahead, had become more repressive.
The wave of revolutions began in the spring of 1848, with the French again leading the way. The detailed demands were different in different places; but many of the revolutionaries sought more participation in government, universal male suffrage, and freedom of expression and the press. Some, particularly in Germany and Italy, also sought nation-building.
Socialists were involved in the revolutions. But at that time, socialism was generally seen merely as more power to workers against capitalists. Its more extreme variants, such as those of Babeuf, Blanqui and Marx, had not yet taken hold in the minds of ordinary people.
Things began well, particularly in Italy, Germany and Austria; and in France, where the Second Republic was created. But inside just a few years, the old guard won almost everywhere. The French were undone by a coup d’état in 1851. Most of the other revolutions were suppressed. Among the positives, serfdom was abolished in the Austrian empire, and in Denmark absolute monarchy was ended. The Swiss and the Dutch got new or better constitutions. But in most of Europe, people had to wait decades for any of their demands to be granted.
Among the -isms, which have come to dominate our lives over the last two or three centuries, nationalism, I think, demands a section of its own. In earlier times, people identified with the land and the people of their particular area. This feeling is often called patriotism. George Orwell described it as: “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force upon other people.”
Before the 18th century, there had been stirrings of national feeling, particularly in England and France. But it was during that century that nationalism began to get traction. Many people began to identify with the country they lived in as a whole. They began to think of those who shared their culture, their traditions, their ethnicity, their language, their politics, their religion as their fellows; and of the rest as outsiders. With nationalism, there went all the paraphernalia of national flags, national anthems and national myths, that are still around today.
But at the centre of nationalism there is, and always has been, the state. At its root, nationalism is an attachment, not to a land and its people, or to a shared ethnicity or culture, or to shared traditions, language, or even religion; but to a political unit or state. Nationalism is statism. George Orwell said: “Nationalism… is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige… for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”
And the state, by its nature, is warlike. It is not surprising, then, that nationalism has so often led to wars, either within countries, between neighbours, or between competing alliances of states. Empires were formed, grew, peaked and died. Moreover, imperialism and colonialism, the expansion of the rule of a state to other parts of the world – often through military force – were fuelled by competing nationalisms in Europe. Scholars also consider these nationalisms to have been one of the main causes of the first world war.
By the middle of the 19th century, there were four main political ideologies: liberalism, conservatism, socialism and anarchism. Liberalism and conservatism were, generally, the two ideologies strong enough to vie for power. States tended to move between the two, according to the predominant mood of their ruling classes. Socialism and anarchism, in contrast, were outcasts. Even where they appealed to large numbers of people, they were strongly resisted by the ruling classes. Which explains the frequent pattern of attempted popular revolution, forcibly suppressed.
One of the difficulties in discussing socialism is that there’s no clear, widely accepted definition of it. For some, it means collective ownership and control over the means of producing, distributing and exchanging goods. For others, it means a social organization with an egalitarian distribution of wealth, and no such thing as private property. Experimental communes, such as Robert Owen’s New Harmony, tried to implement either or both of these; and failed. On the other hand, there were also extreme statists, that called themselves socialists. My 1928 dictionary defines socialism as the “principle that individual liberty should be completely subordinated to the interests of the community with the deductions that can be drawn from it, e.g. the State ownership of land and capital.” Whichever definition you use, though, under socialism the collective takes precedence over the individual. So, all socialists are, ultimately, Downers.
The extreme Downer forms of socialism, spread by Marx and his followers, fanned class war between working people and the classes they called capitalists and bourgeoisie. Fuelled by these ideas, extremists set out to capture states, and to use them to achieve their objectives. No wonder, then, that the result – communism – turned out so evil. Its results? Oppressions, famines, massacres and mass deportations; leading to nearly a hundred million unnecessary deaths. Communism turned out, in practice, to be an élitist ideology, too. And as to the economy, as one wag put it: “The problem of queues will be solved when we reach full Communism. How come? There will be nothing left to queue up for.”
With regard to anarchism, its distinguishing feature was its opposition to the state and to political government. But, just as socialism had done, anarchism began to degenerate. By the early 20th century, the anarchists had become little more than terrorist gangs. And though there has been some degree of resurgence since then, many of today’s anarchists, despite their objections to the state, are collectivist and anti-capitalist.
Then came fascism. In some ways, it’s hard to separate fascism from communism. Both shared an extreme Downer attachment to dictatorial power, extinguishing individual freedom, forcible suppression of opposition, social indoctrination and a lack of ethical restraints on the state. But in some respects, fascists went further. They were racists. They sought to make unpopular groups of people into scapegoats, and to purge those they considered inferior, such as Jews. But above all, fascists glorified violence and war. With predictable results.
The first half of the 20th century was an era of militarism taken to extremes. The Germans and allies, twice, sought to conquer everyone else; with negative consequences for everyone. Since then, the threat of nuclear annihilation has held back some of the worst ambitions of the warmongers. But they still like to make wars, whenever they think they can get away with it.
The major trend of the 20th and early 21st centuries, though, has been an inexorable increase in the power of the state, and in the scope of what it does. And the biggest factor in this has been more and more voracious taxation. More tax receipts lead to demands from within the ruling classes for more state functions; which, in turn, lead to higher taxes and new taxes, in a never-ending spiral. And when the state gets into serious debt, what do the ruling classes do? Cut back on their extravagances? Not a chance. Leviathan merely opens its maw a bit wider. Thus, the state has come to treat ordinary people, not as human beings to be valued for our own sakes, but as resources to be used, and at need used up, to generate maximum revenue for the state.
And it’s worse; for many state functionaries also like to bully people. You see this in police brutality, of which there has been a lot recently, notably in the USA and Nigeria. You see it in the way tax bureaucrats harass people without even any legal basis. You see it in the way that establishment factions have sought to make government responses to the COVID-19 virus as harsh as they can; they seem to want to lock us down for the sake of locking us down, and to decide on our behalf, quite arbitrarily, what shops and what supermarket items are “essential.”
Then there are the supra-national organizations, such as the European Union and the United Nations. These have only served to increase centralized power. Both are remote, bureaucratic organizations, even less accountable than the local élites. Both seek to impose on all of us policies that are anathema to honest, independent human beings. Moreover, with the eager co-operation of most of the national political élites, these organizations and their hangers-on are seeking to drive politics, all over the world, towards a single unified global super-state.
Alongside the proliferation of the -isms, pressures grew in many places for an increased voice in politics for ordinary people. In many European countries, it took a century or so to get from the stage where only a small minority could vote, to universal adult suffrage and so-called democracy. If you don’t like the current batch of bastards, goes the logic of democracy, at least you can vote to get rid of them; and the next batch might be a bit less bad.
But there’s a fundamental flaw at the root of the system called democracy, as it is applied in nation states today. The system assumes that the people who live in the territory of a particular state have a general will, as theorized by Rousseau. And so, that if enough people support a particular faction or ideology, the policies of that faction can be taken to reflect this general will. This gives the winning faction a false legitimacy, and a false “authority” to impose their preferred policies on everyone in the territory.
In reality, though, there is no such general will. For evidence of this, look at the 2020 US presidential election. There were two groups of voters, with almost nothing in common in what they wanted from the outcome. The members of each group feared – rightly – that they would suffer badly if the other lot took power. And the fears of the losers, Trump supporters, are proving justified. No wonder many of them are still adamant that Trump was beaten only by means of fraud. Or consider the UK’s Brexit referendum of 2016. If there was a general will expressed in that referendum, what was it – to be 48% in the EU, and 52% out?
There are more reasons why democracy doesn’t work. First, because an individual’s vote is, for all practical purposes, worthless. Partly, perhaps, because (as Stalin is reputed to have said) it isn’t who votes that counts, but who counts the votes. But more, because changing the faces in publicly visible positions does nothing to change the personnel, policies or aspirations of the political establishment that some call the “deep state.” This is a loose cabal of civil servants, bureaucrats, unelected political figures, activists, academics and other advisors, media figures, religious leaders, power-holders with direct or indirect links to government, and various hangers-on. Which, without letting itself appear to be a co-ordinated group, nevertheless seeks to push policies in directions that suit them, and almost always go against the interests of ordinary people.
Moreover, democracy inevitably decays. I see it as going through three phases, each worse than the previous one. Democracy-1 is the honeymoon period. People believe that they have a real say in what the government does. But it isn’t long before there emerge factions, looking to take advantage of the situation; as James Madison warned way back in 1787.
In the next stage, democracy-2, factions attract cores of support, and promote policies designed to favour their own supporters; and themselves as well, of course. At that point, the idea that government should be concerned for the common good of all goes out of the window. This is particularly bad with conservative parties, labour parties and religious parties, since both explicitly favour members of particular social classes or religious sects. As a result, people divide along party lines, and social cohesion starts to fracture.
Meanwhile, those who don’t like any of the major parties will tend, at first at least, to vote for whichever seems least evil at the time. So, power tends to swing from one side to the other and back again. The social fabric becomes more and more stretched, and the tone of politics nastier and nastier. A side-effect of these divisions is that the media also start to divide, each tending to cater to the supporters of one or another faction.
There’s another problem with democracy-2, too. When an election focuses on a single issue, such as Brexit, then people with a strong view on that issue may find themselves all but forced to vote for a party with a whole slew of policies, most of which they don’t want, and some of which they actively detest.
In some countries, where it was relatively easy for a small party to get noticed, a slightly different kind of democracy-2 emerged. Here, there is a bewildering array of political parties, all of which are prepared to sacrifice any moral principles they might ever have had (and to break promises to their supporters) in order to get a share of power.
Another feature of 20th and 21st century democracy has been the collapse of virtually all those parties that have had any claim to being liberal in the true sense of the word. In some places, like the UK, the liberal parties destroyed themselves. In the USA, the word “liberal” has even taken on the meaning of “big-government statist.” And in other places, liberal parties have often been supplanted by parties with names like “social democrats” or “liberal democrats,” whose agendas are no more than collectivism thinly disguised.
Over time, in many states – and the UK is certainly one – democracy-2 has slid down into democracy-3. Here, the establishment, the major political parties, and their cronies all align with each other, and against the interests of the people. Different factions may spout different rhetoric; and their policies may, perhaps, be a little different around the edges. But their ideologies are essentially the same; and they have the same core policies. For example, they all support the green agenda, and pursue draconian energy, transport and taxation policies, that go against the needs and the well-being of ordinary people. Moreover, they all want to spy on the people they are supposed to be serving; they watch people with cameras everywhere, routinely intercept communications, and want to restrict free speech online.
Then there’s welfarism. Having created state welfare systems in an attempt to persuade people that the state is on their side, the politicians have turned them into sacred cows, that consume more and more resources to less and less effect. And give them an excuse to tax people out of existence, too. Or they go further, into nanny-statism; in which, people who won’t kow-tow to the latest authoritarian fad will be singled out for punitive taxation or fines, or for loss of rights and liberties, or denied access to services they need and have paid for.
Under democracy-3, policies are made, not in the interests of the people, but to benefit the establishment and their hangers-on, and to satisfy the agendas of special interest groups. Each of us gets a chance to vote every so often. But the only alternatives offered to us, that have any hope of winning, are political factions; lying, thieving criminal gangs, none of which show even the slightest concern for us individual human beings. Whichever gang wins the election will be granted, together with their equally criminal establishment buddies, all but absolute power over us for the next few years. And after a while, who wins the elections become largely irrelevant; for almost every time, the new king is worse than the old one.
Has democracy brought us the freedom and justice we deserve? No. Arguably, it has made things worse. For it brings opportunities for power to those that want power; that is, to exactly those least suited to be allowed power. It is no accident, I think, that so many of today’s politicians have psychopathic tendencies; because political power attracts psychopaths. Here are some of the typical psychopath characteristics: Glibness and surface charm. Arrogance; thinking they are superior beings to others. Dishonesty, and the deceits, insincerity, selfishness and corruption it brings. Untrustworthiness. Lack of empathy. A tendency toward recklessness, combined with unwillingness to accept responsibility for the effects of their actions on others. Lack of remorse for their harmful acts. And more.
Moreover, democracy pollutes the mental atmosphere with lies, spin and empty promises. And the voting ritual gives the whole charade a veneer of false legitimacy. It enables those in power to claim that they have a mandate to implement their agendas. Thus, they can “lawfully” harass, or impoverish, or violate the rights of, innocent people. And they can rob Peter to buy Paul’s vote, and to favour their cronies at the expense of everyone else.
Worse, far too many people buy the oft repeated propaganda that the state is, in some sense, “us.” This is simply a collectivist lie. In reality, the state and the political parties it spawns are just a network of criminal gangs, seeking their own selfish and often destructive ends at the expense of us human beings. The state and its politicians are not “us,” but “them.” The statists want to be our masters, not our servants. They are our enemies, not our friends.
There is another lie buried deep down in democracy, too. This is the idea that elected politicians, in some sense, “represent” the people. But if they really represented us, then they would act in our interests – in the interests of every human being worth the name in the areas that elected them. Yet, most of the time, they do nothing of the sort. The great majority of them seem to put their own careers and desires for power above all else. Second in their priorities comes the political party, to which they belong. Third comes the political state, which makes possible their careers of power and prestige. The people they are supposed to represent come, at best, a very poor fourth. To be fair, there are occasions on which a politician becomes inspired to do something which genuinely is in the interests of the people governed; for example, by speaking up against violations and proposed violations of civil liberties. But these occasions are few, and those who take them are even fewer.
And further: Democracy divides people from each other. The victims of unjust policies feel harshly treated, and become disaffected. Moreover, those who have been harmed by the policies of particular parties come to hate those parties. And people – and eventually, many people – lose all sense of affinity with all of the major parties. They come to see a vote for any of the mainstream parties as an act of aggression against those who are harmed by that party’s policies. They come to view politics, politicians, the establishment and government as a whole with contempt and loathing. And eventually, they lose all sense of belonging, and of fellow feeling for those that continue to support the system. Thus, democracy ends up breaking apart the very sense of “we” that seemed to give it legitimacy in the first place. It destroys the cohesion, the “glue” which ought to keep a community of people together.
The fifth revolution
To return to the mid to late 18th century. At that time, the Industrial Revolution was starting to build up, no pun intended, a head of steam. The times were right to unleash the creativity, which is natural to us human beings. New means of spinning textiles; new and better ways of making iron; increasingly efficient steam engines; and the invention of the early machine tools. All these helped bring about sustained growth in the economy in those places which adopted them. With consequent increases in the standard of living.
The individuals who helped bring about these improvements were many. In textiles, the flying shuttle invented by John Kay (born 1704) started a revolution in the practice of weaving. Other contributors in this area included John Wyatt (born 1700) and his partner Lewis Paul; James Hargreaves (born about 1720); Richard Arkwright (born 1732); Edmund Cartwright (born 1743); and Samuel Crompton (born 1753). As each inventor solved a new problem, the scale on which textiles could be produced went up, or the costs went down.
In iron production, four generations of the Darby family, of whom Abraham Darby III (born 1750) is probably the best known, made forward strides, resulting in the blast furnace. John Wilkinson (born 1728) created several inventions, which helped to move forward the technology of steam engines. Henry Cort (born about 1740) invented processes which made significant improvements to the strength of iron, and also made it cheaper. But despite this, he died a poor man. Later, James Beaumont Neilson (born 1792) made great savings in the energy needed to make iron; and his methods also allowed the use of lower quality coal.
In steam engines, the earlier machines of Thomas Savery (born about 1650) and Thomas Newcomen (born 1664) were superseded by the far more efficient, and far cheaper to run, engines of James Watt (born 1736). And Richard Trevithick (born 1771) developed high pressure steam engines, opening up the possibility of mobile locomotives.
In machine tools, Henry Maudslay (born 1771) developed the screw-cutting lathe, which made it possible to produce high-precision metal products such as locks at an affordable price. This, in turn, led to a whole industry making machine tools; which still exists today.
Other breakthroughs followed, leading in their turn to new industries. The production of chemicals, such as acids, alkalis and bleaching powder. The making of cement and concrete. The paper machine, leading to great expansion in the publishing of newspapers and pamphlets. Improved lighting, using gas instead of candles. Improved agricultural equipment. The expansion of coal mining. There were also great improvements in transport infrastructure. There were new canals. There were turnpike, macadam and later tarmac roads. And, of course, there were the railways.
It was as if, as soon as one advance had been made, a new industry would pop up to make use of it. Which, in its turn, would generate new advances to seed yet further progress. It is thus that we do what is natural to us in our fifth dimension; we take control of our surroundings.
Workers were attracted to where the jobs were; so, more and more people moved off the land, and into the cities to work in the new factories. This increased the power of the new capitalist class, against the land-owning class. As Franz Oppenheimer put it: “The industrial city is directly opposed to the state. As the state is the developed political means, so the industrial city is the developed economic means.”
Moreover, the Industrial Revolution, in its heartland of the UK at least, was a revolution from the bottom up. It was not initiated, or controlled, by government. Indeed, government did little, directly, to help it along; with three or perhaps four exceptions. One, it suppressed the Luddites. Two, it decided where new railway tracks could be built, over the opposition of the local landlords. Three, it introduced the idea of limited liability, under which honest investors in the new projects were protected against losing more than they had invested. The fourth is arguable; the patent system, which had been inherited from the 17th century, provided both spurs to, and obstacles in the way of, technological progress.
The Industrial Revolution was also an era of take-it-or-leave-it on the consumer side. Individuals, families, towns and cities were not forced to make use of the new technologies if they didn’t want to. But they almost always chose to do so, whenever and wherever it brought clear benefits. If things went wrong, and the benefits did not arrive or could not be sustained, they always had the option to go back to the old methods. A case in point is my own town: the first place in Europe to have electric street lighting (in 1881). By 1884, the company decided they could no longer supply the electricity at an affordable price. So, the town had to go back to gas lighting, and electric lighting did not return until 1904.
There were many social side-effects of the Revolution. Population increased, yet per capita incomes also increased. Water and sanitation systems improved. Life expectancy increased. A middle class grew. Consumer goods like shoes and watches became increasingly popular. New forms of association evolved, such as friendly societies and co-operative societies, to help to mitigate the economic hardships, which still affected many people from time to time.
Not all of the developments were entirely positive. No doubt, some capitalists did mistreat or defraud their workers. There was industrial unrest at times. And the political establishment was for many decades firmly against the workers. Child labour became an issue; though one must wonder whether the situation these children found themselves in was not preferable to the back-breaking labour on the land of earlier times.
There was pollution, too. Notably from alkali production, in waste from the gas lighting industry, and from emissions of black coal smoke. The UK government, in my view, didn’t deal with this well at all. They failed to hold the perpetrators of the pollution responsible, and failed to make them compensate those people who were harmed by it. Instead, they made ever-increasing centralized regulations, under which we are all but crushed today.
Once under way, the Industrial Revolution started to spread throughout Western Europe. Later, it found its way to North America too. Towards the end of the 19th century, there began a new phase, which some call the Second Industrial Revolution. Not only did this increase the scale of iron and steel production, and the scale of use of steam power; leading to great expansion in the railways. But it also led to the roll-out of the telegraph, and later the telephone and radio, as means of communication. It led to increasing use of chemical synthesis. And, in time, it led towards widespread electrification.
Moreover, this phase of the Revolution enabled the construction of far larger and stronger ships, driven by engines that allowed higher speeds over longer distances than previously. Other means of transport benefited, too. The development of pneumatic tyres led to the bicycle. The use of petroleum as a fuel led to the car. Mass production techniques led to these new means of transport becoming affordable. And, on the horizon, there was the aeroplane.
This phase had social effects, too. It saw changes in factory working practices; not always for the better. It saw a hugely increased volume of international trade. It saw the growth of a professional middle class, and of an economic culture in which “the customer is king.”
But not all was rosy. Increased ability to get things done, in the wrong hands, can lead to increased military capabilities. And so it did. In the first half of the 20th century, the political classes mis-used these capabilities to make two destructive world wars. War is the health of the state; so, what we gained in technical progress, for example in aviation and in early space exploration, we have more than lost in increased state power over everyone.
During my two-thirds of a century on the planet to date, the technical progress of the Industrial Revolution has continued. We have had the “green revolution” in agriculture, which has brought greatly increased crop yields. We have had nuclear energy. We have had television. We in the West have had affordable travel, both by air and on land. We have had computers, and in recent decades the personal computer. We have had the Internet and the mobile phone. Artificial intelligence is, perhaps, on the horizon.
But the political classes don’t like us to progress too much. They have long enjoyed taking away from us as much of our money as they think they can get away with, and using it either to line their own pockets, or for things that bring no benefit to us. By doing this, they take away from us resources which we could have used to fuel further progress. But in recent decades they have also shown an ever-growing desire to mis-use our progress against us; for example, by using technology to spy on us. And increasingly, they have schemed to slow our progress, or even to halt it altogether.
The fifth counter-revolution
Now, I come to our enemies’ fifth counter-revolution; in which we are deeply embroiled today. This counter-revolution began in the 1950s. And it started in the universities. It was at that time that academic articles started to be published, claiming that the Industrial Revolution was not as good for working people as had been previously thought. And a move began towards university departments, particularly in the humanities, being stuffed with those with collectivist and generally left-wing ideas. As Jason Alexander might say, the Professors had hitched themselves to the bandwagon, alongside the Politicians and Priests.
A big part of this was the spread in academe of a paradigm called post-modernism, which began mainly in France. Post-modernism denies the existence of objective reality and objective truth. Instead, it claims that these things can only be relative to a culture. It denies any basis on which to build up knowledge, and rejects as totalitarian any attempts to systematize knowledge. It denies that there are any objective moral values. It denies that reason and logic, science and technology, business and industry are tools to better the human condition. Instead, it paints them as instruments of oppression and destruction. And it denies that there is such a thing as human nature, independent of culture. Instead, it sees individuals as formed and moulded by the society they happen to live in. In many respects, post-modernist thinking is akin to the ideas of the Counter-Enlightenment of two centuries ago.
Moreover, since the mid-20th century, there have been shifts for the worse in the attitudes of many company bosses. The idea that “the customer is king” has been replaced by a desire to screw as much money as possible out of the suckers, as quickly as possible. From being “captains of industry” and pillars of society, these bosses have become a danger to all of us. I have come to dub them “the money men.” And many bankers, and others in finance, have become dishonest. They have started gambling, in the expectation that, if they win, they take the profits; and if they lose, someone will bail them out.
The green agenda
The principal thrust of the fifth counter-revolution, though, has been direct opposition to our fifth revolution. Our enemies want to extinguish the relatively free industrial economies, which we have built since the middle of the 18th century. And their cronies are poised to take over control of whatever is left.
Their main weapon is deep green environmentalism. And if one individual has played the part of the green Machiavelli, it was Maurice Strong (born 1929). A Canadian oil baron and first director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Strong was deeply involved in all the UN’s machinations on environmental issues: from the “World Charter for Nature,” via “Our Common Future” and the Rio Summit, to “Agenda 21” and beyond. Strong’s attitude can be summed up by the following quote, from a 1997 magazine interview: “Frankly, we may get to the point where the only way of saving the world will be for industrial civilization to collapse.” Later, he was implicated in the Oil-for-Food scandal of 2005, went to live in China, and died in 2015.
Now, the deep green agenda has a backstory that goes back more than 50 years. I have told that story before: []. So here, I’ll give no more than a very brief summary.
The torrent of green propaganda from the establishment and their media, over the decades, has been so fierce that most people have had no opportunity to learn the facts. Put simply, those facts are: The United Nations has been driving the deep green agenda all along, with eager support from almost all governments. There is ample evidence of this; which you can find on the Internet, much of it in government documents! And the UK political class has been among its strongest allies.
Now, there have been a number of real environmental issues, such as sulphur dioxide pollution, which (rightly) have been addressed over the last 50+ years. However, the “human emissions of carbon dioxide cause catastrophic climate change” meme, on the basis of which governments, with their bureaucrat, academic and corporate cronies, are now seeking to take over our economies and to destroy our prosperity and our freedoms, is a total scam.
Consider, for example, that the UK government has for almost 30 years been gradually but inexorably crushing our freedom to drive our cars. Not content with taxing us out of existence at the fuel pump, and giving over large areas of road space to buses and bicycles, they have continually reduced speed limits almost everywhere; particularly on country roads. Each time I go out, I seem to find more newly lowered limits. Meanwhile, limits which weren’t even there ten or twenty years ago are now being rigorously policed. And it isn’t as if there have been lots of new housing developments in those places.
All this is, supposedly, because of claimed (but never proven) bad effects of carbon dioxide emissions; and some more real (but still never proven serious) air pollution issues, resulting from Blair and Brown’s 2001 decision to encourage people to buy, and so manufacturers to make, diesel cars rather than petrol ones.
Consider the terrible scary things that, so we are told over and over again, are happening because of human emissions of carbon dioxide gas. And then, check them against the evidence. For example: We’re told that a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise above pre-industrial levels will produce catastrophic damage to our planet. And yet, global land temperatures have already risen by 2.2 degrees Celsius since the 1820s. So, where are the catastrophic effects? If they exist, we ought to be able to see them by now. Increasing weather disasters, perhaps? No. Compared with 100 years ago, global deaths per million population from floods, droughts, storms, wildfires, and extreme temperatures have gone down by a factor of more than 10. And over the last 30 years, the costs of weather disasters, relative to global GDP, have been going down, not up.
OK, so perhaps there are more and worse hurricanes and typhoons? No. There has been no significant global increase in the total energy of tropical cyclones in 50 years. More and worse floods and droughts, then? No. In the last 70 years, there is no evidence of any global trend for wet areas to become wetter, or dry areas to become drier. OK, so maybe sea levels are rising faster and faster, spiralling out of control? No. As measured by tide gauges around the world, the average rate of rise over the last 60 years is almost exactly the same as the average over the last 120 years. Or, perhaps, the poles are losing their ice? Not much. Over 25 years, the loss of ice mass in Greenland has been less than 0.2% of the total ice mass. In Antarctica, it is nearer 0.01%. And there’s more good news. For example: The numbers of wildfires globally have trended downwards since 2000. Polar bear populations today are three to four times what they were in the 1960s. Global yields (per unit area) of many major food crops today are two to four times what they were in the 1980s. And Red List species extinctions per decade peaked around 1900, and have been on a downward trend since.
The “catastrophic anthropogenic global warming” (CAGW) scam has been erected by means of a long series of dishonesties. Taxpayer funded “scientists” and politicized “experts” have corrupted science. They have used underhanded methods to make their case look scary. And they have sought to suppress opposing views. Further, again and again politicians have made costly commitments on our behalf, without any rigorous justification, and without ever allowing us any chance to object. And, again and again, they have moved the goalposts; always in the direction of increasing restrictions on us.
The UK ruling classes and their cronies, in particular, have repeatedly acted in very bad faith towards the people they are supposed to be serving. They have perverted the precautionary principle in order to evade doing objective risk analysis. They have made it, in essence, into: “If in doubt, government must act.” So, they have abandoned the presumption of innocence, inverted the burden of proof, and demanded that the accused (that’s us) must prove a negative. And they have dishonestly stymied any possibility of rigorous cost-benefit analysis on the issue.
Meanwhile, the scammers, their mainstream media and their supporters seek to suppress the arguments of those opposed to the scam; denigrating us with ad hominems like “far-right,” “denier” and “conspiracy theorist.” The combination of inverting the burden of proof and suppressing or silencing counter-arguments seems to me uncomfortably like the conduct of the mediaeval Inquisitions, and the witch-hunts that sprang from them.
Based on this scam, the UK political class have formulated draconian green plans for us, under the moniker of “green industrial revolution.” And other countries are aiming to follow. These green plans are not a natural, organic revolution like the true Industrial Revolution. They are mandates, from the top down, by a political class that seeks to mould the economy into a command-and-control system reminiscent of the Soviet one. They are eagerly supported, not only by green activists and their academic and media comrades, but also by the financial and big-business élites, who stand to gain billions and more from all these projects. They are supported by church leaders, too – about as establishment as you can get. But they take no account of the many, for whom the policies will cause severe pain and expense, without any corresponding benefits. This is no less than a takeover of the economy by an élite, that seems to have no interest at all in the well-being of ordinary people.
Those that favour the green agenda talk of “sustainable” development, and criticize our industrial economies for being “unsustainable.” Yet they have never bothered to demonstrate that the kind of economy they are planning for us would actually be sustainable. They have not shown that such a system would be able to endure into the future, without causing people (and lots of people) to starve or freeze to death. They talk of “transforming societies” into a new, green world. Yet like Rousseau and Hegel, what they seem to want to do is to transform us human beings, against our wills, into nothing more than slaves of the state.
And they seem to be in a mad, breathless rush to get their plans implemented. Just a year ago, the proposed date for banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the UK was 2035. A change to 2032 was mooted; but following an empty charade of a “consultation” they brought the date forward to 2030. They sought to do the same with their ban on gas boilers in new build homes, trying to bring it forward from 2025 to 2023.
Deep down, so it seems, they are ultra-conservatives. They want everything to be frozen just how it is; they want nothing at all to change. They want to “stop climate change,” even though that is impossible. For climate always changes, always has changed, and will continue to change, irrespective of what humans may do. They don’t want any species at all to go extinct; even though species dying out, and new ones evolving to take their places, are perfectly normal and natural. And these things would happen even without humans.
In short, the deep greens want to suffocate us, and to suppress our prosperity and our freedoms. They want to force us into a stasis, a state where nothing moves or changes. And they want to do it right now.
I find myself thinking of deep green environmentalism as a religion. An extremely intolerant one, at that; not unlike the behaviour of the Catholic church from the late 15th century through the Counter-Reformation. And you may find yourself comparing its leaders and its acolytes with those that sought to subject innocent people to the Inquisitions.
And yet, there is hope. For the scam that sustains all this is ripe for bursting. In recent years, honest scientists have begun to find more and more evidence that doesn’t match the green narrative. The process is slow so far, but it is accelerating. Yet the political class have committed themselves to maintaining the green Big Lies for decades at least, against all evidence. Is that feasible? I think not. And when the true magnitude of the deceptions and dishonesties that have kept the scam going for so long eventually enters the consciousness of the general public, I think the bubble will burst with a bang. Then, those that have promoted or supported this scam will be seen for what they are; traitors to human civilization. Traitors that deserve to be expelled from our civilization, and denied all its benefits.
Bad government and taxation
It isn’t only in our fifth dimension that we are under attack. In the fourth dimension, Enlightenment ideas like government for the sake of the governed, the rule of law and justice, and the dignity and worth of the individual human being, are being trashed.
Meanwhile, there are signs that ordinary people are waking up to how badly they have been and are being treated, and starting to try to do something about it. The 2016 Brexit referendum vote, in particular, was a giant two-fingered salute to the establishment. And the election of Donald Trump came about, I think, because very many people wanted a president who wasn’t part of the establishment. Of course, Trump – like virtually all politicians – proved to be a flawed personality; and the establishment struck back in 2020. But tensions like these aren’t going to go away.
Governments like to use Franz Oppenheimer’s “political means” to take away huge amounts of our earned money, then waste them on projects that bring little or no benefit to us – like wars, or trains to nowhere useful to us; or even bring about outcomes that are hostile to our interests. Our enemies also like to use taxation to try to “nudge” people away from politically incorrect behaviours, like drinking soda pop or using plastic supermarket carrier bags.
Further, taxation on incomes, which has come to be accepted as “normal” since the 19th century, is in fact a socially regressive measure. It prevents productive people, who have no capital yet, from building up capital. Thus, it favours the already-rich establishment, and stops people who deserve to be able to lift themselves out of poverty from doing so. Taxes on business transactions, such as value added taxes, are just as bad.
And it’s worse. We used to be told that re-distributory taxation was morally OK, because the “rich” (whatever that means) could afford to give up some of their riches to help the “poor.” This, of course, was (and is) poppycock. Taking earned wealth from anyone, without delivering something they will voluntarily accept in exchange, is ethically wrong. But tax schemes today, increasingly, re-distribute wealth from the politically poor to the politically rich! And the politicians use taxation as a weapon to hurt people they don’t like; for example, independent people who run one-man businesses. (My own career has been ruined by this particular rip-off, in the UK called “IR35.” As a result, I now face poverty in my old age.)
Who gets the benefits from all this? Political cronies, like company bosses seeking subsidies and lucrative contracts; overpaid and overbearing bureaucrats; and other hangers-on.
And then there is the growing obsession the establishment seem to have with fining people huge amounts of money on almost any pretext. For example, slapping a £10,000 fine on Piers Corbyn for organizing a protest against coronavirus lockdowns. And proposed fines of £18 million or more for Internet service providers who fail to take down material that some bunch of bureaucrats judge to be “harmful misinformation.”
I do not claim to be an expert in the economics of government, but it seems to me that the whole process, in the UK at least, is out of control. Commitments made are so large, and tax receipts so volatile, that there seems no possibility of balance in the foreseeable future. The UK state, for one, is financially unsustainable.
There seems also to have been a deliberate decision made in about 2004 to open up the UK to large scale immigration from Europe, regardless of the wishes of the population. I can only assume that the reason behind this was an attempt to secure a younger tax base for the future. It has led to apparently silly results, like a projected population increase in my area of 20% over 20 years, while the national fertility rate is substantially below the replacement level!
Meanwhile, we are suffering under an ever-increasing torrent of bad laws. Bad laws which, as Edmund Burke told us 250 years ago, are the worst sort of tyranny. Everything the political classes today are doing to us seems designed to perpetuate, and to increase, the power of the state. And the politicians seem to be drunk with power.
Their perversion of the precautionary principle into “If in doubt, government must act” has given them a false “justification” for making laws to stop us taking alleged risks, even when neither those risks nor the cost versus benefit case for action to avoid them have been objectively evaluated. Everything seems to be driven by a maudlin obsession with “safety,” regardless of cost or inconvenience to the people affected. As shown by proposals, only recently withdrawn, that would have required people in the UK to have a COVID “vaccine passport” in order to go to the pub.
In the third dimension, our rights are being trashed, too. You can see this in their erection of millions of cameras to spy on us. In their tracking of our Internet and phone usage. And in their obvious desire to use any crisis they can drum up, such as terrorism or the COVID epidemic, to take away or restrict our liberties. Further, the UK government is fast-tracking a new bill which Liberty, the human rights organization, describes as: “a concerted attack on the right to protest.” And says: “these provisions would radically restrict not only our deeply cherished principles of freedom of assembly and expression, but also a vital tool and mechanism available to citizens of democratic countries to stand up to the State and make their voices heard.”
The establishment and their cohorts have steadily become more and more psychopathic; more and more authoritarian, arrogant, dishonest, deceitful, untrustworthy, grasping, irresponsible, evasive of accountability, hypocritical, hysterical, and lacking in concern for ordinary people. Their conduct towards us has become nothing less than inhuman.
In the second dimension, the media keep up their propaganda torrent; with lies, misrepresentations and “fake news” everywhere. And they accuse us of being the ones peddling fake news! Moreover, they create a mental atmosphere of hype and fear. We’re all going to fry from global warming! Which will cause colder winters, too! The Great Barrier Reef is crumbling! Millions of species are endangered! Air quality is terrible – and getting worse! These are existential threats! And it’s all your fault!
Public figures and “celebrities” fall over each other to be seen to “virtue signal” – an activity which, to me at least, merely signals their own lack of virtues. Meanwhile, “cancel culture” and censorship of non-establishment views are on the rise, most of all in academe and in social media. And a move is becoming evident on the Internet towards “de-platforming” websites, and social media users, for standing up against the establishment line.
This is being pushed in the UK, too, by means of an “online safety bill” that seeks to put absolute power in the hands of bureaucrats to decide what is “harmful misinformation” in social media and on the Internet. Furthermore, they want be able to fine social media or internet service companies millions of pounds if they fail to take down such material. It’s pretty obvious what the results would be. Any view that is not politically correct – even, for example, telling the truth about the green scams – would be liable to be banned and suppressed; and likely sooner rather than later. And the market for internet and social media service provision would in effect be restricted to a handful of large, politically correct companies. Under such a régime, this essay itself would not be safe from de-platforming; and the final essay in this set would probably get me sent to the Gulag.
Even our first dimension, our core humanity, is under attack. The “humans are bad” brigade are having a field day, as shown by those that think the COVID virus is a good thing, and by refrains like “we are trashing nature.” (To which, I say: If you think you’re trashing nature, stop it! And if you think I’m trashing nature, show hard evidence.)
And the idea that there are too many humans on the planet, and so the population must be reduced, has become prevalent in élite circles. (To which, my retort is: You go first! Or even: Your grandchildren first, then your children, then you!)
A moral panic
I am coming to see that what we are suffering under today has many of the characteristics of what is known as a “moral panic.” People the panic-mongers don’t like are – quite arbitrarily – treated as if we were a “threat to society.” We are attacked if we want to be independent – as with the witch-hunts against car drivers and one-man businesses. We are attacked if we disbelieve the party line, and use our reason to search honestly for the facts. We are attacked if we try to speak the truth as we see it – as with those who dispute the green narratives. We are attacked if we try to protest against bad and unjust laws.
Meanwhile, the mainstream media fan the flames of panic as hard as they can. And the establishment and their “experts” pontificate over what to do about the problems, real or imagined; and rush to put forward “solutions” that will do the maximum damage to those they hate. All this is uncomfortably reminiscent of the Inquisitions and witch-hunts in the period which followed the Renaissance.
As I try to read between the lines, it looks to me as though the establishment may have come to the realization that the current system of political government, on which their prosperity, their power, their privileges and even their very existence depend, is unsustainable. It is all but bankrupt, both ethically and financially. It looks to me as if they may be running scared. So, they are lashing out, like a cornered animal, at anyone who resists their propaganda, or steps out of the line of orthodoxy in any way.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where we are today.
Paradigms and counter-paradigms
Today, I have elaborated my interpretation of Jason Alexander’s concept of Ages and Stages. In which, human history is to be viewed as a series of human revolutions followed by anti-human counter-revolutions. Now, in an effort to pick out the essentials from all the detail, I’ll give each revolution a moniker to convey the paradigm on which that revolution was based. I’ll also give a name to its opposing counter-paradigm.
From the starting point of the Neanderthal extinction, I see the Neolithic revolution in agriculture as our first revolution, a revolution of “be” which turned us from mere predator animals into human beings capable of civilization. Its paradigm was Humanity: it made us human. In contrast, the rise of the political state was our enemies’ first counter-revolution. And the state itself – a top-down system that enables an élite physically to rule over ordinary people – was the counter-paradigm.
Our second revolution, of “think,” was seeded in ancient Greece. Its paradigm was Reason. Our enemies’ second counter-revolution produced the dark ages; and a powerful church, to go with the state which had been the product of the first. Its counter-paradigm, I think, was institutional religion, together with the church that embodied it.
Our third revolution, of “behave,” began at the Renaissance. Its paradigm was Discovery; of ideas, of places, of ourselves. In response, our enemies made a counter-revolution with two components. The religious part produced a series of destructive wars and moral panics. Even so, the power of the church, or at least of the papacy, was significantly reduced.
But the secular part was more damaging to us. The scheming Bodin produced a new theoretical basis for political states, sovereignty; which not only greatly increased the power of the state, but made it more tyrannical, too. His system, which was later to produce rulers like the “Sun King” Louis XIV, was rolled out across Europe as the Westphalian nation state. Since then, it has spread all over the world. And despite all the “bags on the side” we have tried since then – like constitutions, bills of rights and democracy – we still suffer under it today. Further, Machiavelli’s advice to rulers to be, sly, deceitful and unscrupulous – not to mention cruel, oppressive and heartless – has been followed by the majority of the political class and their cronies ever since. Leading to the psychopathic behaviours, that seem to have become endemic in Downers. The main thrusts of the third counter-revolution, then, were political dishonesty, and the behaviours that go with it.
Our fourth revolution, of “organize,” was the Enlightenment. Its paradigm was Freedom. From it have flowed all the (relative) freedoms we have enjoyed in the West over the last three centuries. But our enemies responded with a counter-revolution of many strands. They brought the Enlightenment to a halt with the failure of the French Revolution. They promoted nationalism, with the state-worship and the wars that it brings. They promoted a slew of bad political ideologies: socialism, communism and fascism, to name but three. All these ideologies are collectivist; none of them shows any regard for the human individual. At its root, their counter-paradigm was collectivism.
Moreover, they perverted “democracy” into a system that gives a false legitimacy to the policies of whatever faction is in power, and ends up destroying social cohesion among the people. And they inexorably increased the power of the state, and the scope of what it does.
Our fifth revolution, of “do,” was the Industrial Revolution. From it has flowed the (relative) prosperity we have enjoyed in the West for much of the last three generations. Its paradigm was, and is, Creativity. The primary thrust of our enemies’ fifth counter-revolution is to suffocate our industrial societies, and to destroy economic freedom and prosperity for everyone but the élites. Their main chosen tool is the deep green agenda. And their counter-paradigm is suppression. Suppression of truth, suppression of rights, suppression of freedom, suppression of prosperity. Suppression of our humanity and our creativity. Suppression of us.
To sum up, here’s my list of five periods in history, during which we humans have made revolutionary progress, together with the paradigms which underpinned those times of progress. In chronological order:
- The Neolithic revolution (Humanity).
- Classical Greece (Reason).
- The Renaissance (Discovery).
- The Enlightenment (Freedom).
- The Industrial Revolution (Creativity).
And here are the counter-paradigms, with which our enemies have responded:
- The state.
- The church and institutional religion.
- Political dishonesty, and the psychopathic and tyrannical behaviours that go with it.
- Collectivism, and the political ideologies it spawned, such as communism and fascism.
- Suppression – of truth, rights, freedom, prosperity and the human spirit.
Which set of paradigms deserves to succeed, do you think? Humanity, reason, discovery, freedom and creativity? Or state, church, political dishonesty and tyranny, collectivism and suppression of us and our humanity?