Lead us not into temptation: of Trump, Brexit and the wrong kind of populism

I had to recite the Lord’s Prayer at school every day for ten years, and have never spoken it since. But for my sermon today I’d like to elaborate a theme from one of its lines – “lead us not into temptation”.

The temptation to which I refer is voting for populist political candidates. Perhaps that will surprise long-term readers of this blog, who will be familiar with my enthusiasm for agrarian populism. So let me qualify the statement by paraphrasing that hapless British Rail spokesperson from many years ago who justified the company’s inability to deal with inclement weather by saying that the railways were afflicted by “the wrong kind of snow”. What I mean to say, then, is that it can be tempting to endorse the “wrong kind of populism” – the kind of populism with which you disagree, but are inclined to support anyway just in order to shake up a political status quo dominated for too long by what Susan Watkins nicely calls “the cartel parties of the extreme centre”. It’s a temptation that I think is best resisted.

For this reason, I’ve been slightly puzzled by John Michael Greer’s recent posts on the US presidential primaries. I think Greer is a perceptive and thoughtful writer, and though I can’t claim any great local expertise in the matter of US politics, it seems to me his argument is exactly right that Donald Trump’s rise draws from a wellspring of anger among an excluded working class who have borne the brunt of the neoliberal policies pursued by successive Republican and Democratic governments. However, Greer’s posts seem to involve more schadenfreude at the discomfort of established opinion in the face of Trump’s rise than any kind of sober analysis of what a Trump presidency might entail. It seems to me that a man who has gold-plated seatbelt buckles in his private jet is less likely to articulate the frustrations of the excluded classes than to manipulate them. The historical lesson of earlier populisms – not least in the USA – is that a just and radical ‘populism for the people’ has to guard carefully against co-optation by carpetbaggers with more sinister intentions.

Anyway, I have no say in the outcome of the US election so let me leave that thought right there. I do have a say in the forthcoming referendum on a British exit from the EU, where exactly the same dangers present themselves. Therefore I’d like to outline why I’m tempted to vote for Brexit, and why I probably won’t.

So first up, here are my five reasons for wanting to vote out:

  1. Many people in Britain like to hark back to the days when the country was the dominant global superpower. They think that Britain is still an important country in world affairs, whose influence is being diluted by its status as just another EU member. The truth is that Britain is not an important country in world affairs, and the only real global muscle it has comes through its EU membership. This would become swiftly apparent in the event of Brexit, enabling us finally to move on from the legacy of the past and get busy creating a less haughty and self-absorbed society.
  1. Britain’s major earner of foreign exchange is its financial services sector, which is not a positive force in the world and allows us to live beyond our means. It’s quite likely that the sector would take a heavy hit in the event of Brexit, which might allow us to recalibrate our way of life to local possibilities and maybe benefit the wider world too.
  1. Presently, fully half the EU’s entire budget is devoted to an absurd agricultural subsidy regimen. Ordinary, small-scale and family farmers are not the beneficiaries of this regimen and as far as I’m concerned they deserve every penny they can squeeze from it. Nevertheless, the Common Agricultural Policy is a disaster – not the least of its many failings is that it acts as a hugely regressive negative tax that rewards retailers, middlemen, self-righteous consumerism and wealthy landowners. Less than 1% of the UK population are farmers, but around £4 billion of agricultural subsidies are paid out in Britain. This is pretty much the way the British government wants it – it unerringly lobbies for CAP policies which suit the interests of larger-scale and corporate agricultural interests. Nevertheless, as things stand it can claim with some justification that its hands are tied by labyrinthine EU structures. Not so if Britain were fully independent and the government continued doling out billions to a small group of its landowning chums while cutting public services elsewhere. I find it hard to see how such a generous subsidy regimen propping up the agricultural status quo would be politically feasible long-term in a post-EU Britain, and I think that would ultimately be good for smaller-scale farmers engaged in longer term thinking than the subsidy-fuelled inefficiencies of present large-scale agriculture, and probably good for the populace as a whole.
  1. The fallout from Brexit and the straitened circumstances resulting from it would lead to enormous conflict in the Conservative Party. What’s bad for the Conservative Party is usually good for Britain.
  1. The EU is an undemocratic and quite possibly unreformable cabal of corporate interests and unscrupulous power-mongers. So is the UK government to be honest, but at least they’re our unscrupulous power-mongers. Perhaps we can keep a shorter leash on them here at home.

And here are my four reasons for staying in:

  1. Most of my reasons for supporting Brexit turn upon the notion that it’ll act like a good hard slap in the face to puncture our present hysterical illusions and bring us back to earth. But there’s a good chance that in fact it’ll only lead to more and worse hysterical illusions. And if you think that’s not possible, I have only two words to say to you: Donald Trump.
  1. Here are some more two-worders that ought to scare anybody into voting to stay in: Boris Johnson; Nigel Farage; Michael Gove; Iain Duncan-Smith. OK, so the last one’s a three-worder, but that’s the Tory party for you, eh?
  1. To put that last point more discursively, there’s a danger that with another four years of a Conservative Government almost guaranteed, at this particular political juncture a Brexit vote will put power into the hands of a dreadful right-wing rabble who will make the present government seem like the epitome of caring, centrist, compassionate conservatism. George Monbiot and Miles King have written persuasively on the disasters awaiting agricultural and environmental policy in the event of Brexit. Those disasters would likely ramify across all policy areas in a Brexit-rebooted Tory government. Paul Mason put it best – “Johnson and Gove stand ready to seize control of the Tory party and turn Britain into a neoliberal fantasy island….So even for those who support the leftwing case for Brexit, it is sensible to argue: not now.”
  1. Finally, much of the public debate about the referendum has turned upon an often borderline racist obsession with immigration. I think there are genuine issues that need to be addressed nationally and internationally about the nature of migration, in service of the migrants’ interests as much (in fact more) than anything else. But they will not be addressed by a post-EU UK unilaterally tightening its border control policies, which I doubt will be effective anyway. And in the meantime, I don’t want to give the slightest ammunition to those who would infer from the size of the Brexit vote some kind of blanket opposition to immigration.

~~~

So I think my conclusion is that while it’s tempting to vote for Brexit, I won’t be doing so. I want to play my part in building a proper, egalitarian, producerist populism. And this is a long-term project that will not be helped by jumping on the Brexit bandwagon. So I agree with Mason’s ‘not now’ approach. But his final paragraph highlighting the rise of extreme right-wing and anti-immigration parties in Europe is thought-provoking:

“The EU, politically, begins to look more and more like a gerrymandered state, where the politically immature electorates of eastern Europe can be used – as Louis Napoleon used the French peasantry – as a permanent obstacle to liberalism and social justice. If so – even though the political conditions for a left Brexit are absent today – I will want out soon.”

The reference to the French peasantry has obvious if rather complex resonances with the case for a contemporary agrarian populism – an issue for another post, perhaps. More straightforwardly, I guess it’s a case of wanting to stay in the EU for now in order to build a left-wing populism that will truly give us this day our daily bread, with the possibility of wanting to leave pretty soon in order to deliver us from evil. I might just have to start praying again.

37 thoughts on “Lead us not into temptation: of Trump, Brexit and the wrong kind of populism

  1. I’m an American and more or less a Southerner at that, so perhaps there’s no escaping my historical framework, but when in the history of mankind have left-wing policies ever been conducive to small, independent (in ownership and in direction) farms? Doesn’t “left-wing” mean increasingly centralized (and therefore standardized) decision making (e.g. forcing everyone to pay into a one-size-fits-all medical system) or does it have a different meaning on a continent where no party even pays lip service to respecting diversity any more? And isn’t the other part of the meaning of “left-wing” a desire to cut society loose from the social structures and pre-technology-redefined biology (home, marriage, family, child birth…) that have always been the foundation of small, independent farms? It doesn’t surprise me at all that leftists are drawn to your (and I would say my) way of farming, but it does baffle me how leftists can advoate for locally determined and independent styles of farming without questioning standardized, centralized, determined-in-and-shaped-by-Brussels/DC/etc. everything else.

    • Thanks for that Eric, it’s a nice framing of the dilemmas involved. I guess what I’d say is, yes, the dominant (though not the only) leftist tradition has been a centralized, statist one and I share some of your suspicions about it – which is why I identify more strongly with elements of populist thinking than with socialist thinking. And I agree with you (albeit cautiously) about the importance of those family structures around small farms, and indeed more generally. I think the leftism comes in with a strong commitment to egalitarianism – not a centrally-directed egalitarianism insisting that everyone must be the same by fiat, but a notion that privilege accumulates quickly and insidiously unless there are well-designed checks on personal aggrandizement of the kind that private market relations don’t provide but a sense of inclusive community can do, so long as the collective institutions exist to realize it. In practice, I think this points to a difficult juggling of personal freedoms and collective responsibilities of the kind that has been historically manifested in left-wing populisms – in the USA, and in Eastern Europe, for example. At the risk of provoking a transatlantic argument, I’d argue that in the USA there’s a refreshing kind of everyday egalitarianism that perhaps reflects one part of the country’s origins as a society of European migrants escaping hierarchy at home, but it’s too easily stymied by an opposition to collective institutions. So to take your health care example, yes here in Britain there are some frustrations associated with a ‘one-size-fits-all medical system’ but the fact that almost everybody participates in the system and is allocated treatment on the basis of clinical need is better than a two-tier or ‘one-size-fits only some’ system where treatment is allocated on the basis of ability to pay and many are left struggling to foot health care bills. It’s better because it’s more egalitarian, because it’s more administratively efficient, and because it builds communities rather than differentiating them (I confess I struggle to understand why US folks are so often opposed to publicly-provided health care but seem to have no problem with publicly-provided education). This does lead into difficult political terrain about where you draw the boundaries around the private and the public, but that’s true of all modern political systems – left/right, liberal/conservative. The political terms of these debates can be quite slippery, and perhaps I need to define them more clearly. I think of myself as being of the left rather than the right, but on various issues I probably have as much or more in common with people who might define themselves as ‘conservative’ than with the ‘growth and progress’ brigade of liberals and neoliberals who also straddle the political spectrum. I agree with your final point about the contradictions of supporting localism & centralism. I don’t really want to support Brussels, it’s just that at this particular political juncture in the UK not supporting it seems worse. In theory, local determination within bigger political structures (as in your state-federal setup) can be a pragmatic compromise, though I’m not so sanguine about the possibilities for that within the EU.

      • Wow, miss a couple days and one falls SO far behind.

        To your point of public health care contrasted with public education on the western shores of the North Atlantic… public education here has been under attack and while it might still benefit from prior warm and fuzzies those past holdings are loosening in many quarters. I think it still fair to imagine public health care having a tougher go, but I would hasten to add that some of the difficulty for PHC presently is due to a worsening of the public view of public education and that then being set up as a example that the government shouldn’t be trusted to get anything right.

        To your point about States vs the Federal government I’m likely close to your own thought… I like that there are some issues contested on more local lines. Indeed it gets even more local than the State level (especially for public education, though this too seems to be under attack). Counties within States and even townships within counties have some roles that ostensibly rise beyond a two party conflagration. And being able to speak directly with local decision makers is for me far better than merely casting a ballot for someone you’ll never meet and only agree with slightly more than you disagree with.

        A bigger issue for me in current US politics centers on voice and how money is correlated with the degree of voice one aspires to have. At the ballot box one still gets only one vote. But in the public discourse one has as big a soap box or megaphone as one has the $ to purchase. I’m longing for a political system where one puts one’s own name on their remarks and earns a reputation by their actions and behaviors rather than purchasing an outcome like so much shopping for a new suit.

      • Chris, thanks for the response.

        I share your struggle to understand why people opposed to publicly provided medicine can’t see the comparable problems with public schools. Of course, established entitlement programs are generally sacred cows, and that’s easily enough explained without inferring any wisdom to publicly provided medicine or publicly provided schools or any other entitlements.

        I would point out, too, that your choice of words, “publicly provided,” emphasizes the seemingly desirable aspect of provision while downplaying the great shift of power to the political elites — I think H.L. Mencken did a very good job of drawing out these realities — as well as dismissing the costs, particularly the lost liberties, involved with standardizing medicine or schooling, not to mention the more commonly raised technocratic objections (at least in the US) to massive bureaucracies.

        Where I’d like to focus my reply, though, is on the example you used to defend standardized, centralized, politically controlled solutions. You said, using the example of medicine, “It’s better because it’s more egalitarian, because it’s more administratively efficient, and because it builds communities rather than differentiating them…” On the first two points, I think your farm (and mine) are the opposite of what one would want if an egalitarian and administratively efficient food supply were our goal. Don’t you pitch your food and your way of farming as better than the norm? Doesn’t the food you sell and your way of farming depend on at least implicit criticisms of conventional food and farming? Why else would any of your customers pay extra or forfeit convenience to enable you not to compete purely on cost?

        Certainly there’s an aspect of egalitarianism to your (or/and my) way of farming. A Wendell Berry quote comes to mind here: “And even today, against overpowering odds and prohibitive costs, one does not have to go far in any part of the country to hear voiced the old hopes that stirred millions of immigrants, freed slaves, westward movers, young couples starting out: a little farm, a little shop, a little store–some kind of place and enterprise of one’s own, within and by which one’s family could achieve a proper measure of independence, not only of economy, but of satisfaction, thought, and character.” There’s surely an egalitarian sentiment or vision in small independent farms and businesses, but I think there’s also an undeniable elitist aspect to any attempts to sell outside of the commodity system. (And whatever egalitarian good there is in Berry’s vision, I think would apply to medicine as well.)

        That our farms fail in administrative efficiency seems even more straightforward and obvious. There are obviously huge economies of scale to conventional, industrialized farming, and yet you’re strongly convinced (as am I) that there’s a better way to farm right now, despite having to forfeit those efficiencies now and for the foreseeable future. (The blog post I shared with you, titled Not Waiting for Change, more or less makes that point.)

        So on the first two points you made, I think your way of farming contradicts (or at least greatly undermines) your assertions about why centralized and standardized ways are better, and I would argue that your way of farming provides the better example to follow.

        Your third point, as I (mis)understood it, was that centralized medicine builds communities rather than differentiating them. Surely you’re not saying that the long halls of linoleum tiles, drop-down ceilings, and fluorescent lights represent your vision of community building? I can’t imagine anything that’s more distant and impersonal than a government bureaucracy. In contrast, I think the Amish, as extremely “differentiated” as they are, are a prime example of community building, not just amongst themselves but for the benefit of outsiders as well. (I live just 5-10 miles from a small Amish community which was established only about 30 years ago.) I think the Amish do a lot more to contribute to my community than all my neighbors that work their government or factory jobs, buy all the standard consumer goods, and live the standard consumer lifestyle. I think there may be a paradox here that differentiation is precisely what builds community. What else are communities to build themselves around other than distinctives? I strongly disbelieve that we’re going to build real community by reducing everyone to centrally defined standardization, but I see that kind of vision especially in advertising, especially where racial and ethnic and religious harmony is envisioned as every race and ethnicity and religious group abandoning its distinctives in order to embrace a consumerism that consumes all races and ethnicities and religions equally.

        To give a more specific example, my last child was born at home, attended by a midwife and her assistant. We paid cash for the midwife, because home births (and midwives that don’t fully tow the establishment line generally) aren’t covered by insurance. Is a home birth with a midwife not the medical counterpart to a local-organic farm? And is the medical establishment, distorted as it is by the influence of money, manifested in those long halls of linoleum tiles not the medical counterpart to conventional industrialized agriculture? And which model of medicine is most egalitarian and community-building?

        Please forgive me if I’ve distorted your argument, but I trust I’ve said enough to begin to explain my thinking regardless of how well I understood your argument, so I’ll leave it at that.

        • Eric, thanks for those considered thoughts. I think you do identify a contradiction in my thinking – actually, I think it’s a deeper and more pervasive contradiction within modern politics and society which I’ve been musing about in various ways of late. I don’t have the time right now to respond to your comments with the length that they deserve, but just a few thoughts below and then I’ll hope to come back to this at a later date.

          So, to clarify my point about health care: I agree that the actual experience of public health care can be alienating. The reason it’s community-building is because most people, rich and poor, use the NHS and are willing to defend its principle of health care free at the point of delivery on the basis of medical need rather than the ability to pay. Contrast that with the situation in public housing or social security, whose users are increasingly condemned as losers, wasters or parasites.

          When it comes to farming, or anything really, I suppose my basic instinct is a left populism – create the conditions for people to take care of their own needs, but do it compassionately and with the understanding that we all screw up from time to time, we all need to lean on other people sometimes, and the only way we can seriously retain the possibilities for self-care is if major inequalities in wealth and power are rigorously avoided.

          One reason I got into farming was because I felt that to bring that kind of society about we needed a different relationship to the land and to food, and it seemed better to be trying to achieve that in practice than to be writing or agitating about it while carrying on living a mainstream, dependent life. Some years down the line, I still sort of think it was the right thing to do but I think I was a bit naïve about it – as you point out, you can’t really properly address the contradictions involved by getting a small piece of land and growing a few fancy vegetables on it and you easily get drawn into various hypocrisies or compromises if you try. This is something that’s looming large in my thoughts at the moment, and is something I want to try to address better – both in words on this blog and in deeds in my life.

          Where I possibly disagree with you is on economies of scale in farming – perhaps more than in other areas such as health care, though perhaps not. I think there are many diseconomies of large scale and/or externalities which we often don’t see. But ultimately if we want a world of small scale high nature value farming, or personalised health care, or whatever, we need to hammer out those possibilities collectively as social goods in our politics. And figure out how to pay for them. And, again, we can probably only found the kind of farming or health care that you and I might like to see in a much more egalitarian society that isn’t hankering after greater wealth and economic growth.

          • Thanks again for the reply, Chris. How long ago was it that you got into farming? You touched on some themes that I’ve started thinking about based on one of your earliest posts — after starting to read through your blog backwards, I decided all the references to past posts meant I should really go back to the beginning, so I’m enjoying catching up from the start now — particularly efficiency and externalities as they relate to anti-competitive grocery retailers.

            Speaking about societal requirements for the kind of farming we’d like to see, I wonder what you think about the Amish. Their farming is in many ways very conventional, but they have maintained a remarkably distinct way of life for multiple generations very much outside of the mainstream. I’m inclined to think there may be a lesson there for the potential to build a good farming movement in the margins (with hopes of eventually replacing the mainstream but able to function well in the meantime.)

          • Getting into farming was a long process, starting in about 1999, and doing it full-time from 2008, though a bit more part-time now.

            I’m glad you’ve found this blog of interest – I can never remember much of what I wrote in the past. I hope it doesn’t contradict what I’m writing now too outrageously…

            I don’t know too much about the Amish, apart from arguing with Graham Strouts about them, but what you’re saying is thought-provoking and quite plausible…

  2. I think Greer tends to talk less about what we want, and more about what we are likely to get. So, I don’t think he has any joy in the thought of a Trump victory, but he feels it is important to speak frankly about the arc of history that has brought us here.

  3. What Greer appreciates about Trump is his role at the juncture between two Spenglerian terms, the Late Republic and Caesarism.
    Trump, he tells us, is the only member of the conservative side of the current American duopoly who’s actually exhibiting traits of conservatism, however over-the-top they may seem (and, with the current political system leaving only the place of a charismatic populist as its blind spot, that’s what he’s become. Forgive Greer’s smirks; he’s just welcoming Trump as an actor straight from the Spengler script).
    Because if noone else is voicing concerns about they way immigrants are being used to force down wages, disrespect for other countries forces the US into unneccesary military adventures and private industry coffers are filled with money originalky destined to set up public healthcare (or education), Trump’s the one who’s left.

  4. Good points, but I suppose what’s at issue is how deterministic one’s view of history is. I see that Greer considers Trump as a mere actor voicing a Spenglerian script, and I think there’s some force to that. But I guess there’s more contingency in my view of history, which makes me think it’s necessary for analysts to articulate what they want, rather than just what they think they’ll get. However, I agree that there can be too much wishful thinking involved in articulating the wants…

    • He certainly isn’t a salaried analyst, but a druid and writer.
      Implicitly wishing for enough time to change politics from the inside is one thing, collapsing now and avoiding the rush is Greer’s.
      His derminism concentrates on resource depletion and ecological degradation – and the difficulties humans seem to have coming to grips with them, and reordering society once hard limits become even harder to ignore (which is their genuine political moment).

      • Aye, although a glib and somewhat off the cuff remark, I feel something of an understanding for JMG’s collapse now and avoid the rush schtick. In terms of Brexit I understand your points Chris and those made by Paul Mason the other day. I’ve turned the same things over in my head many times. But, I’m probably erring on the side of Paul Kingsnorth at the mo.

        http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/sep/25/crisis-bigness-leopold-kohr

        The institution itself is too large & anti-democratic to be reformable without some kind of massive shock, (to be honest I was expecting a #grexit to do it last year). Indeed the treatment of Greece shows the contempt the institutions have for democracy. Brexit could be the trigger that changes things. I can’t see it happening any other way anytime soon. Not that I’m rubbing my hands as some kind of doom monger ready for the chaos. But the we wait and see while we try martial a populist left platform…. who knows how long that’ll take?
        So, I’m more for collapse now and get ourselves ready for the real arguments that will come if we do leave.

        • Thanks for the Kingsnorth article, it introduced me to another book to read in the End of Days. 😉

          I don’t think Greer’s Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush is a schtick. As I said above, I think he is differentiating between what we want, and what we will get.

          What Greer, Kingsnorth and I agree, is that we will get collapse. So stop talking about how to avoid that, because the chances are we can’t.

          Talk instead about what best to do within that context.

  5. I think these significant election/referendum moments are simply fraught because they bring home the reality of our untenable situation, which nevertheless continues to tick along. Knowing that our current systems are destined for the historical dustbin, we’re also asked to make decisions that do subtly and not-so-subtly change how elegantly and sanely we go down.

    My guess is that Greer would say it doesn’t matter which side of the question you take; it doesn’t change the forces at play and the direction we’re heading. He somehow manages to occupy a space between determinism and fatalism which the rest of us find incredibly difficult. 🙂 His argument seems to be similar to Kingsnorth’s: once you accept where we’re going, new creative energy opens up. I’m trying that, and to some degree it works. But when elections or referendums come along, we are faced with reality that our institutions do have a massive impact on both how we live *during* the current descent and transition, and so our votes DO matter. Sort of. Maybe. Just as in every other historical era, ours demands that we make messy and flawed decisions.

    I do think it’s important that we remember that we have options outside the binaries. In the US, citizens don’t actually HAVE to vote for either Trump or (likely) Clinton. There are other parties, you can not vote, you can spoil your ballot, you can vote for every position except President, etc.

    Personally, I’d probably be voting for the Brexit because it seems more sane to maintain more power at a more local level, and to have to set up governance systems that will have more resiliency when the largest systems start to falter. I would completely recognize that this is likely to harm the British economy, but that seems to only hurry up the adaptation? On the other hand, despite being part of the Scottish diaspora, I thought the Scottish independence movement was misguided–the resources and population simply aren’t there to support the populace and fragmenting into regions too small to survive doesn’t seem wise just yet. But probably I’m wrong on that one. 🙂 After all, I live on an island and enjoy (and am preparing for) the isolation…

  6. Thanks for those comments. It’s an interesting debate. I guess my thing about Greer is that if he were simply saying that we’re witnessing the death throes of an era, it’s inevitable, and Trump is the sort of person we’re going to see rising at such times, then I wouldn’t have a problem. But he’s also making a class argument – that Trump’s rise results from the frustrations of the excluded. I think this is true, but I’d also argue that Trump does not authentically represent these people. I’m sure Greer would accept that, perhaps it’s implicit in his analyses, but it’s not explicit and the difference is important. I’m sympathetic to the notion that the existing political paradigm has to change for there to be any hope of properly addressing issues of concern to the green left like global equity, local democracy and resource constraints, so it’s tempting to support anything that threatens to break the existing political mould as a way of moving forwards, even if it’s motivated by a very different politics. The problem is, that different politics is consequential – it’s too complacent to assume that it’s just going to clear the field and allow the proper work of reconstruction to begin. In very general terms, economic and political “collapse” is probably inevitable and in many respects desirable, but it’s easy to underestimate how messy and miserable the process might be. The prospect of the world’s only military superpower going rogue in the face of its economic wounds may be a symptom of the collapse to come, but I see little to gain and a lot to lose by going down that route or supporting it. I guess I find Greer’s stance a rather unhappy mix of Marx and Spengler. If his class analysis is correct, which I think it probably is, then to me it suggests a very urgent need to start building a green-left populism which requires people to raise their voices about the kind of world they’d like to see. Let us be careful what we wish for.

    My thoughts are similar on the EU, though it’s a tighter call. I’m sympathetic to Kingsnorth’s position in general terms, but I think it’s, er, trumped at this particular political juncture by Mason’s.

  7. Mmmmmnh.
    What you’re ascribing to him is a dialectical view of proceedings, with the ‘Green Left’ currently hedging their bets to usurp power in 4 years time, once Trump’s historical role as canishing mediator has ended.
    I wonder how well that sits with self-confessed Burkean Conservative J.M. Greer 🙂
    (He’s had a lot to say about the Left and the kind of efforts it’s made so far…)
    He would also disagree strongly that collapse is desirable. Desire only comes into it in the kinds of collapsnik wet dreams he’s been describing for many years.
    Even the phrase ‘world’s only military superpower’ he probably wouldn’t accept.

    He’ll make educated guesses about the future, having read his Spengler, but never attempt to make history dance to Marxist tunes.

    • Michael – we may need to spend some time better defining terms like ‘the left’, ‘Burkean conservative’, ‘collapse’ and ‘desire’ to advance this discussion. Some of my previous comments were more oriented to the comments above than to Greer, who I certainly don’t see as a dialectician. For what it’s worth, I find his analysis generally quite persuasive, but I think the tone of his class analysis vis-à-vis Trump is off key – more interested in ridiculing centrist opinion than in elucidating the implications of Trump’s class appeal. On the issue of ‘desire’, well I agree that analysis is often better directed towards what one thinks will happen rather than at what one would like to happen, and I also agree that collapse isn’t desirable. But if you refute ‘desire’ altogether, I think you end up with an over-deterministic worldview – good for affecting the role of the gnarly prophet standing above worldly concerns, but not for much else. I think this is a danger of taking one’s Spenglerism too seriously. I invoked Marx not to suggest that Greer is Marxist, but to suggest that he’s using class analysis too crassly. But if it comes to Spengler or Marx: for me, both are interesting, both provide patchily convincing historical grand narratives, neither provide great tools for contemporary political analysis – but Marx comes out streets ahead (and he also does a pretty good declinist narrative for those who care to look). I’d be interested in your further thoughts about the ‘world’s only military superpower’.

      • Chris,
        I meant that he’s talking about collapse scenarios as a special form of desire, fulfilling certain needs for a subset of the population, not about abandoning desire as a concept.
        I like determinism. Everything’s preordained, yet every decision is yours and only yours to make. The exact opposite of a cheap desire for collapse.
        Yields itself rather well to decentralization and peasant life.

        As for off-key and gnarly: He’s also a self-confessed Aspergerian 🙂

        And the sole military superpower concept, well…is anyone still believing that? Trump isn’t, or he wouldn’t be accepting that Russia did the US’s job in Syria, US military analysts certainly aren’t – I can see only two people really going for it, Hillary and Victoria.

        • OK, yes I think I’m pretty much with you on that way of thinking about collapse. And on US power – well yes, perhaps my view is a bit dated…a bit ‘project for the new American century’, if anyone still remembers that?? Though that’s partly my point. As US power palpably wanes I fear that it’ll lash out militarily in the hands of populist demagogues (well, I guess it already has…but I fear it’ll lash out worse), and it still has more lashing power than most…

          • …but is Trump really the one to lash out, or Hillary and her foreign minister, who get’s the PNAC charter read to her by her husband Robert Kagan every night (see where those things you remember so well pop up again 🙂 ?)

    • Thanks John. I had a read – very interesting. Always a bit suspicious of people who flaunt their PhDs though…

      • Seriously? PhD flaunting is a suspicious activity? That #$!)_@ sheepskin comes down off the wall in just a minute. Thanks for the heads up.

  8. What I’d like to see is a serious and sober analysis of what a Hillary presidency would look like vs a Trump presidency in terms of likely policies and policy implications. Greer’s offered snippets of that, but most other attempts have come either from rabid Hillary supporters scared out of their wits at the notion of a Trump win, or vice versa.

    My sense is that this would be far easier to do with Hillary, as she’s got a long record of support for various elite factions, warmongers, etc, while the problem with Trump is that the error bars are large.

    Chris, I agree that he’s almost certainly cynically manipulating the wage class, and yet were he to make some sort of headway against illegal immigration (as unlikely as that seems), it’s actually possible that the wage class would in fact benefit, for the first time in modern history, from such a political shake up. The racism of his supporters notwithstanding.

    I also think it’s difficult to imagine that Trump would act even more belligerently, in military terms, than Hillary already has demonstrated she’s willing, or even eager to act.

    Even a little less war and a little more equality would certainly be welcome, though obviously, attendant shifts in other areas may offset any such benefits.

    All that said, I have a hard time accepting the notion that a change in one person, even a president, would result in large changes in the behavior of an imperial power such as the US. The actual *machinery* that perpetuates the status quo is inherently deeply resistant to such change on any level that would truly matter. More of the same as we stumble our way forward seems most likely to me, with backward glances from the future likely to reveal that either choice was a poor one.

    • Interesting points. Agreed, Clinton vs Trump presents a ‘neither of the above’ dilemma of an unusually acute kind. As well as wondering what a Trump presidency might look like, there’s also the question of what would come after given the virtual certainty that Trump won’t deliver the benefits his supporters expect (likewise over here with Brexit). My fear is a path opening towards yet greater demagoguery and violence. Perhaps we’re seeing the (re)birth of a violent, rightwing, populist Caesarism – best countered in my opinion by working to develop an egalitarian, peaceful, left-wing agrarian populism, and not by welcoming the rise of Trump as a way of upsetting the present stagnant centrism. But as to where to put your vote in the light of that, it’s a tricky one. Luckily it’s not a problem I have in the case of Clinton-Trump, but it is in the case of Brexit. Interesting times!

      • Ach but I disappear for a wee while, and Smaje turns into a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Damn! 😉

        You, ostensibly an agrarian populist and localist, advise staying within an organization that is completely undemocratic, opaque, dictatorial, full of self-puffery, and stands zero chance of being reformed. I wanna cry. Britain Kanobi, you are our only chance! This may be the only chance. The wily bureaucrats may stifle any others.

        “I don’t really want to support Brussels, it’s just that at this particular political juncture in the UK not supporting it seems worse.”

        Please explain. And particularly explain how — even if staying were lesser evil (which I doubt) — it is a good thing to vote for evil. When do bargains with the devil ever pay off?!

        Have folks watched Brexit: the movie? I’ve only seen the beginning.

  9. And one other thing: “the politically immature electorates of eastern Europe can be used” sentence makes me want to shower you all with expletives. In some ways, they are immature. In other ways, they can smell bullshit a mile away, because they lived in it for so many years. Whereas in the west, bullshit is sold as once roasted chestnuts were, and people gobble it up. It is in the west now that censorship blooms. It is in the west that insane policies propagate like rabbits. It is in the west that people are growing more blind every day… while tossing mud eastward. Wake up, dammit!

  10. Hello Vera, nice to hear your voice on here again – even if you’re taking me to task as usual … always interesting to hear your perspective.

    Well now, I’d have to say that “completely undemocratic, opaque, dictatorial, full of self-puffery, and stands zero chance of being reformed” is a reasonable summary of the EU – though I think it’s somewhat less dictatorial than is commonly held…and certainly less so than, say, the UK government. Which I suppose is essentially my point – a deeper political malaise afflicts us, and it will not be remedied by Brexit, which is likely to deliver us into a completely undemocratic, opaque, dictatorial and unreformable first-past-the-post Westminster government. So while as I argue above a principled case can be made for Brexit (though it certainly hasn’t been made by the unprincipled Brexit camp), I think the in/out issue is essentially diversionary from the goal of an agrarian populist localism (not that I’m entirely localist – I do believe in the need for wider forms of government) which is going to have to be a longer term political project.

    There’s an interesting article here with the comments of various writers from European countries about Brexit: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/04/dear-britain-letters-from-europe-referendum. I’m quite swayed by Slavoj Žižek: “I remain convinced that our only hope is to act trans-nationally – only in this way do we have a chance to constrain global capitalism. The nation-state is not the right instrument to confront the refugee crisis, global warming, and other truly pressing issues. So instead of opposing Eurocrats on behalf of national interests, let’s try to form an all-European left….Don’t compete with the rightwing populists, don’t allow them to define the terms of the struggle. Socialist nationalism is not the right way to fight the threat of national socialism.”

    As to pacts with the devil – well, I think a vote either way involves such a pact. It’ll be tempting to write ‘neither of the above’ on the ballot paper, but I’ve never really been tempted by the spoiled ballot paper argument – to my mind, it’s the same as not voting at all. Brexit is the more interesting option, but also the more dangerous.

    And Eastern Europe – yes, fair point. I don’t know much about the current political situation in Eastern Europe, but your comments have a ring of truth to them. I certainly don’t think western electorates are paragons of wisdom. On the other hand, a far right, anti-immigrant politics does seem to be rising in continental Europe even more strongly than in the UK, no? I guess I’m with Mason here: I don’t want any part in it, and if it rises to power in Europe, then I’d definitely rather be out.

    • Westminster is, compared to EU, at least partially democratic. EU does not even pretend to be democratic. I say, it is EU that is the greater evil, and far less reachable by would be reformers.

      What is rising in continental Europe is what used to be called with pride — patriotism. Fostering and loving one’s own culture, whether in Languedoc or Moravia or Transylvania. I know of only two countries where far right neo nazi parties are: Greece and Ukraine. The rest of what the pundits like to call far right are generally socially left-leaning groups who are not even so much against immigration — immigration has always gone on in Europe — but rather the indiscriminate wave of far-off foreigners many of whom come with hostile intent, and show utmost disrespect toward those who have taken them in at considerable cost to themselves. The other thing that is rising, to my chagrin, is left thuggery. What does one call those masked Antifa hooligans who attack peaceful demonstrators? So maybe fascism is morphing… it is no longer right nor left, it is simply an anti-social pathology.

      As for Slavoj, well, some issues do need a transnational framework. Others don’t, and yet others need to be dealt with locally. But even if I concede the need for a transnational cooperation does not mean that I think EU is the way to go. EU is corrupt, spoilt by all the money pouring into its coffers, and … how do I put it … a golem out of control.

      So what is it exactly that you are against, that would make you rather be out? Nail it for me.

      • True, the anti-immigrant right-wing in Europe is generally more populist than fascist, and there are some overlaps between right-wing populism and the kind of left-wing agrarian populism that I espouse – but not enough to make me want to lend my support to it. And there are corporatist tendencies within most of these European right-wing populisms, including the ones in Britain, that run counter to any kind of authentic localism or populism.

        The question of voting in or out for me is quite finely balanced. There are reasons (mostly outlined above) I’m tempted to vote out – none of which have been raised by the out campaign. My reasons for voting in are mostly strategic – I think Brexit will probably lead in the short term to a UK government which turns the country into the ‘neo-liberal fantasy island’ that Mason describes, creating enormous social and environmental damage, and it’ll lead to the secession of Scotland (probably good for Scotland, but not so good for England). In the longer-term, there’s a possibility that it’ll lead to a more sensible economics and reasoned politics. But there’s also a possibility that it’ll lead to an escalating corporatist and paranoid right-wing populism. At the moment, voting for Brexit on the basis of hoping for the former seems to me a dangerous punt. Better to work towards a longer-term left agrarian populism.

        I’d possibly agree with you that the EU is less democratic than Westminster – but it’s a close call. And a lot of EU legislation is framing legislation which is much less dictatorial than national legislation. British governments, both Labour and Conservative, have unerringly opted for the least progressive and most corporate-friendly interpretations of this legislation. Organisations like Via Campesina have more traction within the EU than they do within the UK. I see the most negative consequences of the EU applying to poor countries beyond its borders, where its behaviour as a self-interested trading bloc seriously disadvantages them. But I don’t see Brexit as having much effect on that.

        I plan to write a post later in the year on immigration. I guess I’m not really on the same page as you on that issue. I think a distinction between nationalism and patriotism is potentially valid, but there are some very fine lines to draw here. Large-scale immigration certainly can be problematic – mostly in my view in terms of the welfare of the immigrants themselves, though I agree also sometimes for the destination country. But it results from global macro-economic and geopolitical forces which are not remedied by patriotism or anti-immigrant politics. From a British perspective I don’t agree that there is an indiscriminate wave of far-off foreigners with hostile intent who show disrespect towards those who have taken them in. But to the extent that that may sometimes be the case, the countries of the global north need to look to their own histories and policies.

        Not sure if that nails it for you, but it’s the best I can do this morning. I think the EU may sink under its own weight anyway – I’m not convinced that this is a one-off opportunity. Who knows what strange course future history may follow? All an individual can do is call it as best they see it, which is always opaquely. I don’t think my marginal support for the ‘Bremain’ case is especially inconsistent with the general line of argument I take on this blog. I’m sympathetic to parts of the case that you and others have made for Brexit. I’m not sympathetic to most of the case that the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign has made. I don’t see a clear path from Brexit towards a left/localist agrarian populism. I think that political effort needs to come from elsewhere.

        • Thank you for that.
          Trump/Clinton is for 8 years, max. EU is forever. Unless… You hope it may sink under its own weight. Maybe so. But the damage in the meantime… As for your fantasy island, maybe they’ll try that. Then, there will be a big counter-push. That’s what imposing fantasy islands on countries tends to do.

          As for a clear path from Brexit to agrarian populism, that waits for people like you to forge.

          P.S. Scotland will secede no matter what. In time. You won’t be able to prevent that with Bremain… The only thing that might prevent that is true federalism. And your bigwigs would rather lie about it than make it a reality.

          • I guess I’m not as confident as you of the counter-push, as per my point 1 of the Bremain argument. Hoping that sanity will prevail by letting the lunatics run the asylum (if that’s not too un-PC)… Well, it might work, but then again…

            Yes, Scotland will probably go whatever happens, but it’ll be less traumatic within an EU context. In fact, secessionism in Scotland, Catalonia etc may represent an interesting populist and reformist dynamic within the EU.

            Agreed, there’ll be a lot of damage with a status quo EU. But I’m not sure how much Brexit will change it.

  11. “But I’m not sure how much Brexit will change it.”

    If your customers are starting to walk away, you gotta pay attention and change — or lose the business. What other leverage is there with runaway-train Eurocrats?
    🙂

    Now to your latest.

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