Left agrarian populism: a programme

I was aiming to take a January break from blogging, but various whisperings (and the odd shout) in my ear prompt me to put this one out into the ether right now. It’s a bit longer than my usual posts. But on the upside you won’t hear from me again for a couple of weeks after this.

What I mostly want to do on this site over the next few months is resume exploring the alternative world of my Peasant’s Republic of Wessex. But there’s a case for taking a step back, putting that exercise into a wider context, and laying out something of a programme for the year – especially in the light of some comments I’ve recently received. So that’s what I’m going to do here.

The first comment was from Vera, who took exception to the fears I expressed in my review of 2016, A Sheep’s Vigil, that we may be witnessing an emerging fascism. She also questioned my advocacy for agrarian populism:

“maybe he is not really interested in building an agrarian populist movement — maybe, he is only interested in building an agrarian faux-populist progressively-politically-correct movement. In which case I am out. Maybe it’s time he stopped pussyfooting around and made things clear.”

Well, I’m not sure I can clarify everything in a single post, but it seems worth trying to set out as best I can what I understand left agrarian populism to be and why I support it. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time if their politics lie wholly elsewhere…

Left Agrarian Populism: So then, three key terms – ‘left’, ‘agrarian’, and ‘populist’. The last is much the trickiest. For many commentators, ‘populism’ refers to little more than the unscrupulousness of those politicians who’ll say whatever they calculate will make them most popular with the electorate. We’ve had way too much of that recently, and frankly ‘populism’ has become such a toxic brand as a result that I’m half inclined to wash my hands of it. The reason I don’t is partly because there are historical and contemporary peasant movements I support which fly under the banner of populism, and partly because there’s an important aspect of populism which differentiates it from most other modern political traditions.

Let me expand that last point through some admittedly gross over-simplifications of three such other traditions. First liberalism, which believes that private markets, if allowed free rein, will deliver optimum benefits to humanity. Second conservatism, which believes in defending the established social order and fostering progress through the cultivation of individual character. Third socialism, which believes in organising human benefit on a collective, egalitarian basis through politically-guided planning. There are elements of all three traditions I’d subscribe to, but I can’t wholly identify with any of them. A feature they share is a rather totalising normative vision of what a society should be like and how individual people ought to fit into it, and a willingness to bend the world hard to fit that vision. Populism, by contrast, doesn’t really have a totalising normative vision in this way. It’s a politics ‘of the people’, and all it expects of people is that they’ll do their people-like things: be born, grow up, secure their livelihood, raise families, live in communities, die. That’s pretty much it. I prefer it to the stronger normativity of the other traditions.

But it only takes a moment to realise that things aren’t so simple when it comes to implementing a populist politics. Who are ‘the people’? They’re any number of individuals and groupings with endlessly jostling identifications, hostilities, aspirations and conflicts. ‘The people’ don’t exist as an undifferentiated mass any more than ‘the community’ does in your town. So you can be pretty sure that when a politician says they’re acting in the interests of ‘the people’, they’re really acting in the interests only of certain people, a group that probably includes themselves (and may well not include the group they claim to be acting for). You can be doubly sure of it if they say they’re acting in the interests of ‘ordinary people’, ‘real people’ or ‘the silent majority’.

I think this problem for populist politics is virtually insurmountable in highly monetised, consumerist societies characterized by wage-labour and riven by class, ethnic and national differences. Political movements do arise in these societies under populist banners which purport to represent the interests of ‘the people’, but to my mind their claims are invariably spurious, papering over class, ethnic or other interests. And that, I think, is pretty much where we’re now at in the UK and the USA, among other places.

An aside on ‘political correctness’, the ‘alt-right’ and class. Let me go with that last sentence for a moment before returning to my populist theme. I’ll recruit for the purpose some help from John Michael Greer’s latest blog post, albeit with some trepidation. Its mishmash of half-truths and flat untruths – in which we learn, for example, that the New Left forgot social class was important until a working-class champion by the name of Donald Trump came along and took up the cudgels on behalf of the oppressed, and in which Trump’s appointment of Goldman Sachs executives to his administration somehow becomes evidence not of his own hypocrisy but that of his critics – is truly a document for these post-truth times. In environmentalist circles Greer increasingly seems to resemble some weird kind of alter ego to Trump himself – no matter how superficial, ridiculous or outrageous his pronouncements, his fanbase only seems to grow. Still, there are a few nuggets in his piece that make a good foil for my analysis, so I’ll proceed.

Greer correctly notes that Trump garnered a lot of support from working class voters who felt disenfranchised by politics-as-usual. But he then imputes leftist horror at Trump’s election largely to class hatred from the middle classes against those who put him there. Even Greer can see some of the contortions involved in making such a bizarre argument stick. He tries to shore up the edifice, but what he fails to do – and what he’s consistently failed to do throughout his writings on the 2016 election – is to see that a politician who gains class support and a politician who acts in class interest aren’t necessarily the exact same thing.

The missing ingredient in Greer’s recipe is a concept of ideology – the insight that ideas about society are both systematically structured and selective, and that the relationships between things, words and actions are complex. It’s an insight that social scientists and political thinkers have developed in numerous ways in recent times but we now seem to be in danger of forgetting. Greer could certainly have done with remembering it when he wrote this:

“The Alt-Right scene that’s attracted so much belated attention from politicians and pundits over the last year is in large part a straightforward reaction to the identity politics of the left. Without too much inaccuracy, the Alt-Right can be seen as a network of young white men who’ve noticed that every other identity group in the country is being encouraged to band together to further its own interests at their expense, and responded by saying, “Okay, we can play that game too.””

I mention this because it’s relevant to the issue of ‘political correctness’ that Vera identified in my thinking. Although I deplore the censoriously ‘PC’ excesses of essentially insignificant bodies like student unions in their calls to “Check your privilege!” as much as the next man, or perhaps I should say as much as the next gendered subject, I think the concept of political correctness lacks any real political traction. It stems from the kind of right-wing mythology peddled here by Greer, which posits an equivalence between different ‘identity groups’, all supposedly competing on the level playing field of life. One of the few things I have first-hand experience of is what it’s like to be a straight, white, middle-class man – and I’d have to say that, from where I sit, alt-right politics based around that identity indeed looks to me a lot like ‘playing a game’. I’m not sure that’s always so true for people in other situations.

Somebody wrote this to me in relation to the Greer passage I cited above: “Women, Mexicans, Muslims, and LGBT folks such as myself have been working for many years to be treated fairly and respectfully, something that has been lacking in my lifetime.  None of us in these categories wish to treat “young white men” the way we have been treated.” Quite so. In contrast to Greer, I’d submit that the horror many people feel at Trump’s election arises not out of hatred, but out of fear.

There’s often a fine line between explaining a phenomenon and justifying it. To my mind, it’s a line that despite his occasional distantiating turn of phrase Greer has unquestionably now crossed – his political writing has become little more than an apologia for Trump and the alt-right. But that’s by the by. I want to take my discussion back towards agrarian populism via the issue of class with a final quotation from Greer:

“According to Marxist theory, socialist revolution is led by the radicalized intelligentsia, but it gets the muscle it needs to overthrow the capitalist system from the working classes. This is the rock on which wave after wave of Marxist activism has broken and gone streaming back out to sea, because the American working classes are serenely uninterested in taking up the world-historical role that Marxist theory assigns to them.”

There’s certainly some truth in that – and it’s why left populism appeals to me more than Marxism or socialism as such. Note, though, Greer’s slippage from ‘Marxist activism’ as an unqualified and therefore presumably global phenomenon, to its specific grounding in America (actually, the USA). The tendency to see the USA as a synecdoche for the whole world is a mistake often made by US citizens and by the country’s overseas admirers, but I imagine it’s one that will be less commonly made in the future (when the US president says “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first” it does, after all, drop a big hint to the remaining 96% of the world’s population about how to order their own priorities). So, wrenching our gaze momentarily from the USA, perhaps we should ask if there are any countries where socialist revolution has been successful, at least in the short term. Well, it turns out that there are. Russia, China, Vietnam and Cuba spring to mind – all countries with large peasant populations at the time of their revolutions.

The story of how Marxism co-opted peasant revolutions – populist revolutions – to its own purposes can’t detain us here. But I want to note that, in contrast to the inherently contradictory populisms of contemporary industrial-capitalist countries, populist politics has made some headway in societies where there are a large number of poor farmers and a small, wealthy elite. Here, populists have sometimes succeeded in clawing back some of the surplus produced by the farmers and appropriated by the elite, and more generally in validating the agrarian lifeways of the farmers as something important and worthy of respect. And I further want to note that, in these countries, there’s been a basis for populism in social class.

Back to populism: So I’d argue that populist politics remains relevant in the many parts of the world where peasantries still exist in significant numbers. I think it may also be relevant in ‘post-peasant’ parts of the world such as Britain, where I live, inasmuch as various looming crises in global consumer capitalism may propel us towards more local, land-based and low energy forms of living. That, in a nutshell, is the ‘agrarian’ part of the populism I espouse. A nice thing about it is the promise it holds out that this local, land-based, low-energy style of life can be a rewarding way to live, even if we have no choice about living it, rather than being a disastrous reversal in the progressive unfolding of industrial modernity.

But it can only be rewarding if everybody has a decent chance to live it. The agrarian populism I espouse is therefore a left populism, for two main reasons. First, even assuming a fair initial distribution of land and resources, through bad luck or bad choices some people inevitably end up less well endowed with the capacity to provide for their wellbeing than others. If these differential endowments are inherited down the generations, then the evidence is pretty clear that before long we’re back with a downtrodden mass peasantry and a small, wealthy elite – which is to nobody’s long-term benefit, including the elite. So a redistributive element is necessary that prevents the accumulation and defence of unearned inter-generational advantage – we can argue about the extent and form of the redistribution, but I don’t see good arguments against the fundamental need for it. Presumably that would be something on which for once John Michael Greer and I would agree.

The second reason is that while there’s something to commend the conservative trope of stand-on-your-own-two-feet-and-don’t-expect-the-world-to-owe-you-a-favour, all of us ultimately depend on numerous other people. We’re not the sole authors of our fates, and we all screw up in ways small and sometimes large in the course of our lives. So I favour an approach to others based wherever possible (though it’s not always possible) on empathy and generosity of spirit rather than censoriousness or status competition.

And that in barest outline is how I’d characterise left agrarian populism. There’ve been places in the past where something like it has prospered for a while, and I suspect the same will be true in the future. I think a lot of human suffering could be avoided if it were to be a norm rather than an exception. But I’m not too optimistic. What seems to me more likely as resource crises bite and the global capitalist economy hits the buffers is a slamming of shutters, a beggar-my-neighbour race for resources and an authoritarian policing of the body politic which seeks to root out any dissent from various nationalist senses of manifest destiny (“From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first” etc.)

An aside on fascism. In view of various comments I’ve received, including Vera’s, I’d like to clarify my use of the term ‘fascist’ to describe my fears about that kind of future. It’s a word that, I acknowledge, comes with a lot of baggage. And history never repeats itself exactly, so there’s always a debate to be had about the relevance of past events to the future. On the other hand, history contains some useful warnings if we care to heed them. In invoking ‘fascism’, I don’t mean it as a generic term of abuse but as a reference to a fairly specific type of politics: the creation of an authoritarian corporate state grounded in an essentially mythical conception of a unified and exclusive ‘people’, in which various independent bodies that can hold the state to account such as parliaments, judiciaries and media are repressed. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the EU, a good deal of the political discourse around Brexit in the UK has been leading in that direction. The lesson I draw from the 1920s and 1930s is that people didn’t take the threat of fascism seriously enough soon enough to prevent the first stirrings of nativism and discrimination – and indeed the kind of alt-right normalisation that Greer is peddling – from later turning into all-out war and genocide. There’s little I can do individually to stop the re-emergence of fascism if that’s the way the world is going, but I can promise to challenge it when I see it.

So when the Daily Mail calls judges ‘enemies of the people’ for deciding that parliament has to debate the Brexit referendum vote (in which, let us remember, 37% of the electorate voted to leave the EU and 35% voted to remain), the word for it is fascism. But my main point isn’t that we’re currently under the thumb of the fascists – it’s that I can’t really see many plausible future scenarios in which President Trump or Britain’s Brexiteers will be able to deliver what many of their supporters thought they were voting for. And those conditions will be ripe for fascism – though I acknowledge that we may get away with mere xenophobic right-wing authoritarianism. I pray that I won’t ever think the latter is the best outcome I can hope for. So let me be clear – I’m not using the word ‘fascist’ out of contempt for people I simply disagree with. I’m using it out of fear for what the future holds, and out of determination to work for something better.

Left agrarian populism, again: That ‘something better’ is left agrarian populism. But perhaps I’ve caught myself in a contradiction here. I emphasised above the actual rather than the normative basis of populist politics. Given that nothing remotely approximating left agrarian populism currently animates western politics except at its furthest fringes, a programme for realising it involves advocating for it normatively as an ‘ought’, a political ideal around which the world needs remodelling. So in that sense perhaps agrarian populism is no less normative or totalising than, say, liberalism. I can think of various ways to try to get myself off that hook – by arguing, for example, that our modern ideologies of progress have warped our thinking away from the honest actuality of making a living from the land, or by arguing that whether we like it or not the gathering crisis of global consumer capitalism is going to deliver us (if we’re lucky) into a world of local self-reliance, to which an agrarian populist politics is best fitted. There’s some mileage in such arguments, but ultimately they’re a bit lame. So maybe I have to argue that when all is said and done left agrarian populism is just a normative political ideology like any other – one that I happen to think answers the puzzles of contemporary human existence better than others, partly indeed because it doesn’t opine normatively too much on how people ought to live other than by saying, well, they do have to live, they have to do that by farming, and their farming should try to screw other people and the rest of the planet as little as possible.

In that sense perhaps my populism is rather impure, drawing on aspects of liberalism, conservatism and socialism. So maybe Vera is right that the populism I espouse is a ‘faux populism’ – though, if she is, then I’d venture to say that all populisms are ‘faux populisms’, since I don’t think there can be any singular, historically fixed or ideologically neutral conception of ‘the people’, still less ‘the people’s will’. All populisms reference other political ideologies. When I wrote about this previously, Tom Smith questioned the extent to which my position was different from socialism. I think it is different in the way it understands the relationship between peasants or farmers, states and historical change. But maybe not all that different – it is a left populism, after all. Suffice to say that it probably has more common ground with socialism than with forms of right-wing populism that consider the concept of ‘political correctness’ to be useful. But I’d hope that at least it lacks the disdain of Marxists and certain other flavours of socialism for peasants and the petit bourgeoisie. In fact, that’s exactly where I see the best hope for a left agrarian populism – as a class movement. The fact that, as I’ve mentioned, there’s virtually no extant peasant or petty proprietor class in western countries is therefore a bit of an inconvenience for my politics. I do have some cards up my sleeve on that front that I’ll lay out in later posts. Though I confess they don’t make for the greatest of hands.

Whatever anyone might think of the case for a left agrarian populism, it certainly won’t get far if it can’t furnish people with their basic needs. So the aim of the vast number-crunching exercise I’ve been undertaking over the past few months in relation to the Peasant’s Republic of Wessex has been to check for myself, if for no one else, whether it can. It often surprises me that such exercises aren’t more commonly undertaken by government agencies with the funding to do them properly and the remit to secure the wellbeing of their populace. On that note, I was struck by the reasons Michael gave in a comment under my last post for why such exercises aren’t more routinely undertaken – “too divisive, nationalistic, fear-mongering”. I was also struck by the following passage in Georges Duby’s classic history of the medieval European economy,

“Wherever economic planning existed, it was seen in the context of needs to be satisfied. What was expected of manorial production was that it should be equal to foreseeable demand…It was not a question of maximizing output from the land, but rather of maintaining it at such a level that it could respond to any request at a moment’s notice”1

In that sense my mindset is medieval. The question that interests me is the same one, at whatever scale – can we produce what we need in the next period to see the people through? The modern mindset asks a different question – how can we produce the highest profit from these inputs? In modern society, the bridge between that question and the first one is usually provided, if it’s sought at all, by some kind of ‘implicit virtue’ notion in the tradition belonging to Mandeville’s fable of the bees, Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’, and Milton Friedman’s ‘capitalism and freedom’. What’s becoming increasingly clear – as other thinkers have long been warning – is that there is no invisible hand, or if there is its designs are forever being thwarted by an invisible foot which, just as the hand works yet another miracle, simply can’t help treading in the next bit of shit up the road.

So my programme for the year, aside from a few digressions and diversions, is to go on asking the question – can we produce enough to see the people through? And once I’ve addressed that as best I can I’ll continue by asking how we might organise ourselves socially and politically to help us do so. That’ll take me deep into the history and the politics of agricultural production and agrarian populism, wherein I hope I might be able to find some more productive ways out of the crises facing us than the dispiriting contemporary populisms of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and their fellow travellers. If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ll be travelling in fellowship with me. But if not, I hope you get the politics you want from the other paths you tread – so long as it doesn’t involve selfishly trampling over other people. Ach, me and my danged outmoded liberalism…


  1. Duby, G. 1974. The Early Growth Of The European Economy, Cornell Univ Press, p.92.

209 thoughts on “Left agrarian populism: a programme

  1. Wondered how rest of world would ‘hear’ DJT’s inaugural message. So much for better angels of our nature. Lincoln must be distraught. So sad. #maybenexttime

  2. You made the point:
    (in which, let us remember, 37% of the electorate voted to leave the EU and 35% voted to remain).

    Here I believe you to have enumerated the ‘electorate’ as that number of individuals with a legal standing to cast a ballot. However, if a mere 72% of those legally entitled should bother to voice their opinion, then there seems to me there is another issue in front of us.

    On the western shores of the north Atlantic we’ve heard quite a bit made of the difference between the popular vote and the outcome in the Electoral College in the most recent polling. [and we also might take honest possession of a poorer than possible participation rate… ] But in both cases, Brexit and the election of DJT, those who did stand to place their constitutionally guaranteed voice on record are to me the electorate who matter. If I find myself in the minority at the end, so be it. If it embarrasses me to hear things said to the whole world (supposedly for my benefit)… again, so be it.

    What I can control, I will continue to control. What I might influence, I hope I possess the wisdom and courage to approach in a manner befitting those I respect and hold dear. We needn’t be glad for the ways things have gone, but to cry over spilled milk is a behavior I hope I can avoid.

    Let us keep our scythes sharp, and if we are blessed with rain, may the grass we cut be nourishing; and our gardens full of bounty.

  3. Thank you for this Chris. Your writing in general, but about neo-peasantry and left agrarian populism especially, is like oxygen for me.

    Out of the 150 feeds in my RSS reader, it is no exaggeration to say you have rocketed into the very the top of writers I look forward to reading.

    I want to push back a bit against your judgement that the argument that “the gathering crisis of global consumer capitalism is going to deliver us (if we’re lucky) into a world of local self-reliance, to which an agrarian populist politics is best fitted” is a bit lame. But I will do that last.

    First, it is with mixed feelings that I read your critiques of John Michael Greer, who has been extremely influential on my own thinking.

    I am also unhappy with JMG’s recent tack, and I may yet comment on his latest, because I think he is seriously off the rails by not allowing for the very reasonable fear that anyone not a white man might be feeling right now.

    But in the three-ish posts in which you have critiqued him, I have felt maybe you discount his history, and are a bit too hard on him.

    I am immediately afraid that I am making myself part of the slippery slope of normalization. But…

    I have likely read every post JMG has put up, as I stumbled across him relatively early in his blogging, then went back to his first post and read forward.

    Recently JMG has called himself a Burkean Conservative, and wrote a post much about that. The Archdruid Report: A Few Notes on Burkean Conservatism

    He has clearly stated support for all sorts of socially progressive positions, like gay marriage, which he uses as an example in the post above. He is also clearly a believer in climate science—though as a student of history has recognized our culture is unlikely to respond to climate chaos in a manner sufficient to avoid it. Obviously, as a Druid, he is quite ecologically focussed, and that centres much of his writing.

    There is really very little of years of opinion that would lead you to think he is anything but pretty far left.

    But recently he has been on a tear against Liberals, and I think he too is being a bit unfair. Personally, from all his past writing, I think he is writing with a great deal of frustration, having watched liberals and radicals refuse to learn from history, be unable to remove mainstream blinders, and continue to lose.

    I too am frustrated with that, both here in Canada, and in the US. But his critique of Liberals does not include any fondness for Trump, by my reading. He speaks of Trump’s skill in the spectacle, and he speaks of the people who have felt abandoned who have turned to Trump, but I don’t think JMG in any way approves of Trump, or of his “policies”.

    Again, I am basing my judgment of his motives on my years of reading his weekly posts. People change, and maybe that is foolish of me.

    Also, you are much more educated in political history than I, and I would defer to your judgement on the actual role he is playing the flow of history.

    So, that is that for that.

    On the topic of lame justifications— “the gathering crisis of global consumer capitalism is going to deliver us (if we’re lucky) into a world of local self-reliance, to which an agrarian populist politics is best fitted” is basically my worldview, so I hope I can argue it is not lame.

    I would list a few more factors to global consumer capitalism though. Climate chaos obviously, though perhaps that is implied as a function of capitalist manufacturing. Population and resource extraction. Loss of biodiversity. And of course, just plain old overshoot, wherein we are eating the seed corn of every species useful to us, from fish to plant.

    Thanks to my research on behaviour, I think it is highly likely we are not going to collectively organize to cope with these problems. And so what we will get is various localized collapses and malfunctions in an increasingly climate-wracked world.

    I often say we should plan for the world we are going to get, not the world we want. So, I have little patience for the sort of starry-eyed community engagement events that never result in actual change. We do not have the needed capacity to make those changes, as I wrote about here:
    We have enough Ideas (or, No pie for you.)

    So, I think we are going to wind up in a place that much more urgently requires many, many more of us to engage in provender. I would like that agrarian response to NOT go feudal, and so I hope for the left populist option as opposed to the feudal or sharecropping option. I would like to avoid the small town reactionary urges that express as intolerance and oppression.

    That is as much starry-eye as I allow myself—what can I do today that will increase the chances of our descendants creating a sustainable, progressive agrarian life? What skills and patterns might be handed down that will be of some use.

    Anyhow, I thank you again for all that you do. I love your writing and look forward to reading every post.

    • Excellent comment Reuben!

      Leaving Greer for later, I would like to look further at your comment, “I often say we should plan for the world we are going to get, not the world we want.”

      That’s my basic view too, but the immediate rejoinder is, “If we don’t plan for the world we want, we won’t like the one we get”.

      Perhaps the best compromise is, “Plan for the world we are going to get, fight for the world we want”.

      Since agrarian peasantry is an integral part of both worlds, the big question for any prepper like me is how much energy to devote to the farm and how much to devote to the public arena.

      Since I’m in the US, the recent election really complicates the question, but my inclination is to recognize that the world I want to fight for just got a lot further away and to therefore devote my energy to the farm rather than exhausting it in a politically futile effort.

      • Thanks for this conversation Joe. I am planning to write a blog post myself, on how abandoning the dreams of a Jetsonian Future does not mean giving up—there is plenty of work to do.

        But which work? That question has dogged me for over a decade now.

        When I say plan for the world we are going to get, not the world we want, the most important point is that there are vast swathes of activity that are simply foreclosed to us.

        So, we can hope and dream and plan; we can go to municipal planning sessions and we can watch TED talks and we can read utopian websites. And none of that will change one hair of what is dictated by the biophysical constraints of our planet and ecosphere.

        My research and interest has been in behaviour change, and so I would furthermore say we must account for the social capacity needed to marshall whatever programme we try to implement using the diminishing resources from the ecosphere. I wrote about this in the post I linked above, We have enough Ideas (or, No pie for you.)

        So, for example, western industrial culture is simply not going to continue at its current level by running on renewable energy. That is because there is not enough energy fuel or minerals to build enough infrastructure for such a transition, nor is there the social will to give up on our consumption in order to shift resources to building renewables.

        Therefore, all of the well-intentioned lefties who are advocating for electric cars and renewable grids are wasting time, resources, money and lives. They are taking attention from issues that might be durable (like re-agrarianizing) and they are sinking resources into projects that cannot endure, because they rely on an indefinitely functional electrical grid.

        (what would be useful is local renewables. Some solar panels on your house, a windmill in your city. But this will never supply anything like what the grid supplies for now.)

        Or, we can be all dreamy eyed about a proletarian revolution—but it is not going to happen. In fact, for about a decade, largely thanks to the writing at The Archdruid Report, I have been expecting the ascendancy of the totalitarian spectrum—nationalism, racism, fascism. I did not know when it would happen, and I wouldn’t have put early money on Trump, but I was not surprised and did call his election before any of my friends.

        Anybody who dreams of the revolution is wasting time and resources. Anybody who actually makes it part of their program, as Leigh Phillips does, is destined for failure.

        Does that mean I want fascism? No. But time is certainly better spent strategizing about weakening its rise or preparing to fight it than would be spent haranguing workers for their refusal to buy a subscription to Socialist Worker. That is preparing for the world we are going to get instead of dreaming of the world we want.

        And of course you can fight fascism at all scales, say by running for council in a small country town—probably with more impact that punching a Nazi in the face.

        Now, I have been using a lot of absolutes, and that is bad of me. Things can and do change radically. We should try to be anti-fragile to the inevitable black swans. We can and will be surprised by events scientific, technical and political. We absolutely should remain alert to changes in our assumptions.

        And we should fight in this world. At the very least we should fight delaying actions.

        But we should also remember that we are practically alone. There is almost no one who can actually sit with a logical scenario based on the facts we have. The implications are too extreme—and so cue the electric cars and other pipes full of Hopium.

        So, as outliers, we can do a service to our culture by thinking, talking, researching, conserving and practising a way of life that is suited for the world we are going to get.

        This quote passed me recently—very old wisdom:

        “Acceptance does not mean fatalism. It does not mean capitulation to some slaughtering predestination. Those who follow Tao do not believe in being helpless. They believe in acting within the framework of circumstance. For example, in a drought, they will prepare by storing what water is available. That is sensible action. They will not plant a garden of flowers that requires a great deal of water. That is ignorance and egotism.”

        • I meant to reply to your comment a couple of days ago, Ruben, but the conversation proceeded down-thread and I was slow to get around to it. So…while I might not go so far as “foreclosed,” I think your point about our possible futures is a very good one, and I appreciate your pragmatism. What really stood out to me, though, was this bit:

          “Now, I have been using a lot of absolutes, and that is bad of me. Things can and do change radically. We should try to be anti-fragile to the inevitable black swans. We can and will be surprised by events scientific, technical and political. We absolutely should remain alert to changes in our assumptions.”

          Humility and acceptance of our own fallibility are underappreciated traits*, and it’s always refreshing to see the kind of self-reflection that you’ve demonstrated here. I really do need to take the time to visit your blog…

          *For example, a strategically located minority of American voters just elected a man who appears to see both of this things as signs of weakness.

          • Thank you Ernie.

            I am a bit of a fanboy of our host Chris, so as I think the Brits would say, I am quite chuffed when other Small Farm Future readers drop by A Small and Delicious Life.


          • I was “chuffed” to see you writing again at ASADL. 2016 seemed to slip past quietly there. If your wife goaded you into the resurgence – pass along my thanks! Once I can catch up on a few matters, I intend to do a little quibbling with your latest thoughtful posts there.

          • Thanks Clem—2016 did indeed pass by. I spent too much time with actual paying work, which really lowered my quality of life.

            I will look forward to your quibbles.


    • @ Ruben

      Ah, so it’s you who is smalanddeliciouslife.com. I’d linked to it on a new tab and by the time I’d got round to reading it had forgotten how I’d come by it. Jolly good – will read further!

      • That is me, here I am!

        Thanks for reading Martin. My wife is making me write every Monday, so more posts are coming. Though I have been working on a keystone piece on behaviour change for three weeks now, so obviously posts are not coming thick and fast.

        Bread and behaviour change. Sauerkraut and socialism.


  4. Thanks for the appreciation, Ruben – always nice to get some positive feedback on here! And for the comments, Clem & Michael. A few responses below.

    Ruben (& Michael), I’d especially like to follow up on your comments about Greer – partly out of personal interest, but also out of political concern. Though I fear I’m about to burn all the credit that you’ve so kindly sent my way. Ah well – here goes.

    My inbox is more or less evenly split between people telling me I’m reading Greer wrong and people saying ‘thank God that somebody is finally calling him out’. I hear your argument, but it seems to me that it’s getting harder and harder to sustain it with each succeeding Arch-druidical intervention. There are trajectories in people’s thought, and while I’m sure it’s reasonable to argue as you do that Greer’s past writing establishes his leftist credentials, I don’t think you can honestly claim that of his present and recent output. Fine, some critique of the left for its manifest failings and likewise for the complacency of middle class liberals, no problem. But that’s not what he’s doing. His latest blog post involves the absurd claim that the new left abandoned class analysis, the equally absurd claim that “young white men [have] noticed that every other identity group in the country is being encouraged to band together to further its own interests at their expense” and an excoriation of the hypocrisy involved not in Trump appointing Goldman Sachs executives to his team, but in leftists for criticising him for it. As to the fierce opposition to Trump’s presidency, he makes no mention of Trump’s stances on climate change, women’s rights, migrant workers, Mexicans, Muslims, health care, fossil fuel interests or military threats to China. Nope, in his book the opposition is fundamentally about middle class hatred of working class people. Seriously, this is absurd stuff he’s writing. You say that Greer in no way approves of Trump. Well, maybe – but I can’t think of a single specific, outright criticism he’s levelled at Trump throughout the campaign or its aftermath. Whereas he consistently infers from the fact that Trump taps working class support that he’s acting in working class interests. For all his endless criticisms of the left, there’s not a shred of political finesse there – and certainly no concomitant critique of the right. He writes in a somewhat lofty, evasive way so that there’s always a slight doubt about where his commitments are – so it’s easy to get drawn into debating the precise semantics of what he’s saying, as happened when I last wrote about him. But as the examples multiply it gets harder to give him the benefit of the doubt. Is his last post *really* supportive of the notion of ‘rights for whites’? Yes, I think it is.

    Maybe you could argue he sees it all as the inevitable unfolding of some grand Spenglerian teleology. But that’s not what he’s actually saying.

    I’ve read some of his earlier stuff – probably not as much as you – and I’d agree he has some interesting and perceptive things to say. I can only think that people are giving him the benefit of the doubt for his present stances on the basis of past credit. But I do indeed think there’s a dangerously slippery slope of normalisation here, and it applies not only to Greer but within the radical environmental movement more generally. For me, the points of convergence between its agenda and Trump’s aren’t worth the candle.

    Anyway, if you’d care to point me to things he’s written within the last year or so that you think convincingly establish he’s still a man of the left who genuinely has no truck with Trump, then I’ll happily reconsider. But at present, I’d stand by my assessment that he’s an apologist for Trump and the ‘alt-right’. His latest blog post was pretty much the last straw for me. Pretend that you don’t know who’s written it, read it through and tell me how you’d classify the author’s politics. Greer wouldn’t be the first person to cross over from the far left to the far right. Still, it’s never too late for a soul to be saved…

    Well, enough of that. On easier terrain, Ruben I’m happy to be persuaded by you that an ‘agrarian populism fits the crisis’ argument may be less lame than I thought. Though I still have some concerns about it along the lines of my ‘Waiting for the climacteric’ post.

    Clem, on electoral numbers we could go with 52% for Brexit and 48% against if you prefer (and likewise Trump/Clinton as 27 to 28% or 46% to 48%). I don’t think it makes a lot of difference to my argument. I agree with you on the issue of non-voting at the individual level – people who don’t vote aren’t in a good position to complain about the politicians they get. But countrywide, I’m not so sure you can just discount the non-voters.

    I agree with your other sentiments. Though I’d add that respect for democracy is a requirement of the rulers as well as the ruled, and it’s not just about who won the vote. When rulers start losing multilateral popular legitimacy people stop saying ‘so be it’, and then things get scary. I hope the class of 2016 doesn’t step over that particular brink.

    • You can count me in the “thank God that somebody is finally calling him out” camp, Chris. I said as much in reply to one of your posts late last year, but, after gritting my teeth and reading his latest bit of “political analysis,” I think it’s worth repeating. The grotesque irony of beginning that sentence about the alt-right with the phrase “without too much inaccuracy” is enough to make my head spin. As you rightly point out, he’s peddling right-wing mythology, and it’s inexcusable. Does he really think, as he implies, that there’s some zero sum battle of identity groups underway in American politics? That advancing the interests of “other” identity groups can only happen at the expense of these “young white men?” That, in some sense, their behavior is a justifiable reaction to their supposed marginalization? That all of the vitriol and hate that they spew at women, minority groups, Jews, the LGBT community, etc. is all a “game” that they play in order to goad liberals? That they would have any interest in an archdruid’s suggestion that they could elicit the same response from with less repugnant goads (“call them on their class privilege”!)? Is Greer that goddamn stupid and naive? I somehow doubt it, which makes his argument all the more reprehensible.

    • The most difficult thing to pick up in Greer’s writing is that he’s having a conversation with people who are convinced they don’t exist.
      Adding even more difficulty to it, these are also the most tech-savvy and vocal people in today’s industrial society.

      Not existing wherever one finds it convenient to do so, i.e. in the case of personal responsibility, but loudly stating one’s claim to a place in society once subsidies aiding one’s lifestyle choices are being handed out is something so pervasive that calling it out will always necessitate harsh and uncompromising words.

      But the harshness of those words is merely caused by the absence of any modulation.
      Modulation on the part of those he’s critisizing, that is.
      Class doesn’t count anymore, because it’s been neatly filed away under ‘minority status’.
      You need to register with the bureaucracy to acquire class status, and what used to be the left has found it useful to set up that very bureaucracy.

      For ‘young white men’ read ‘non-privileged young white men’.

      As for the Goldman Sachs appointees:
      A charity worker has just had her jail sentence on ‘security charges’ confirmed in Iran. She works for Thomson Reuters Foundation. An outrage, right? I mean, she’s a charity worker, so she has to be, like…inocent, right?
      The climate in which people can easily be persuaded that is not what someone DOES is important, but what it says on their CV is a dangerous one, one in which things like Colour Revolutions are sold to the public as a good thing.

      Greer has not torn Trump apart because that is not his role. It is of course a role people have tried to goad him into doing. Consult his blog entries on modern blame games.
      He states that if Trump gets two or three things right, that’ll be more than useful, and perhaps all that can be expected. Left opposition is more than welcome, especially if the results of future left administrations buck the trend of every party in office being indistinguishable from all others.
      He can’t very well criticize a right that’s basically identical to the present left. And yes, that is a problem the left needs to address, not him.

      ‘Rights For Whites’ is the absurd nature of present-day identity politics driven to its logical conclusion.
      Hail Kek!

      The point about radical environmemtalism you’ll need to flesh out a bit.

      On the ‘respect for democracy’ issue, I think it was someone with a black pussy hat on a stage who said yesterday that she’d like to blow up the White House.
      Granted, only her plastic surgeon really believes she’s prime ‘Class of 2016’ material.

      We will continue to have this conversation here, and not pussyfoot around issues; no worries 🙂

      • He states that if Trump gets two or three things right, that’ll be more than useful, and perhaps all that can be expected.

        Obvious nonsense:
        1a. Clinton was as likely to get two or three things right as Trump. Perhaps different things, but without going into any details, we can’t really say what the tradeoffs are. Therefore, this can’t be a point in Trump’s favor.
        1b. Greer’s claims about the things Trump will/may get right are reaches. For example, he thinks Trump’s immigration policies may have some positive impact on employment in the US heartland. They won’t for various reasons that are not in any way secret and are very accessible to anyone who writes a blog on the internet.
        2a. What Trump gets right has to be measured against what Trump gets wrong. Even if Trump gets more right than Clinton would have (which, as I argued above, would necessarily be extremely arguable in any case), it would have to be measured against what each of them would have gotten wrong. E.g., Greer’s railed for a while about ecological crises. Trump’s administration seems poised to exacerbate pretty much all of them.
        2b. I want to go into a little more detail here because I think it really shows that Greer is either off his rocker or being intentionally misleading. Greer pays lip service to his commitment to conservationism, but if we take his comments about Trump seriously then it can only be lip service. Trump’s stated policies are pretty much guaranteed to exacerbate all the ecological crises that Greer is supposedly concerned about, but Greer does not find any reason to criticize Trump on this score. On the contrary, Greer cheers Trump for the possibility* that Trump’s immigration and trade policies will create jobs. But these jobs would, by the nature of consumer-oriented capitalism and manufacturing jobs, further exacerbate those very same ecological crises that Greer is supposed to be so worried about.
        3. Greer is extremely arrogant. I’ve never seen him seriously engage with a sustained counterargument or rebuttal to his position, and I’ve certainly never seen him admit he is wrong. I’ve never seen him admit ignorance, or suggest that perhaps what he had written assumed more knowledge than he actually possesses. When he does engage with critics, it is in an over-the-top condescending tone that comes across as a bad teacher humiliating a student in retribution for calling out the poor quality of his instruction.

        And hey, I’m a Greer fan. I read him every week. But let’s not pretend he’s perfect or beyond criticism. The only problem with criticizing Greer is that he won’t ever acknowledge or internalize it.

        *Much more unlikely than Greer seems to suggest.

    • Chris, I have been down with a cold for the past few days, so today I re-read or skimmed about half of Greer’s posts from 2016, trying to get a stronger sense, one way or the other of whether Greer is supporting Trump.

      One that may be relevant is that Greer has mentioned on several occasions that he is on the Asperger’s spectrum, and that can result in social difficulty. So, that may shed light on his extraordinary memory and voracious reading, and also that the impact of his words may not always be the same as his intention.

      I also found a series of three posts from 2014 that give important background I think. The topic of the series is fascism, and these are the closing paragraphs of the second post, The Archdruid Report: Fascism and the Future, Part Two: The Totalitarian Center

      “That’s one of the pervasive occupational hazards of democratic systems under strain. In Italy before and during the First World War, and in Germany after it, democratic institutions froze up around a series of problems that the political systems in question were unwilling to confront and therefore were unable to address. Every mainstream political party was committed to maintaining the status quo in the face of a rising spiral of crisis that made it brutally clear that the status quo no longer worked. One government after another took office, promising to make things better by continuing the same policies that were making things worse, while the opposition breathed fire and brimstone, promising fierce resistance to the party in power on every issue except those that mattered—and so, in both countries, a figure from outside the political mainstream who was willing to break with the failed consensus won the support of enough of the voters to shoulder his way into power.

      When fascism succeeds in seizing power, in other words, it’s not a right-wing movement, or for that matter a left-wing one. It seizes the abandoned middle ground of politics, takes up the popular causes that all other parties refuse to touch, and imposes a totalitarianism of the center. That’s the secret of fascism’s popularity—and it’s the reason why an outbreak of full-blown fascism is a real and frightening possibility as America stumbles blindly into an unwelcome future.”

      And the closing of the third post, The Archdruid Report: Fascism and the Future, Part Three: Weimar America

      “There’s a deeper issue I’ve tried to raise here, too. It’s easy, comfortable, and (for the manufacturers and distributors of partisan pablum) highly profitable to approach every political conflict in the simplistic terms of good versus evil. The habit of seeing political strife in those terms becomes a reliable source of problems when the conflict in question is actually between the good and the perfect—that is, between a flawed but viable option that’s within reach, and a supposedly flawless one that isn’t. The hardest of all political choices, though, comes when the conflict lies between the bad and the much, much worse—as in the example just sketched out, between a crippled, dysfunctional, failing democratic system riddled with graft and abuses of power, on the one hand, and a shiny new tyranny on the other.

      It may be that there are no easy answers to that conundrum. Unless Americans can find some way to step back from the obsessive partisan hatreds that bedevil our political life, though, it’s probably a safe bet that there will be no answers at all—not, quite possibly, until the long and ugly list of the world’s totalitarian regimes gets another entry, complete with the usual complement of prison camps and mass graves. As long as the word “fascism” retains its current status as a meaningless snarl word that’s normally flung at the status quo, certainly, that last possibility seems far more likely than any of the alternatives.”

      So Greer precisely describes the rise of Trump two years before it happened, and uses words like ugly and frightening to describe it.

      As I said, I read about 20 posts from 2016, and there were a few that I thought were of interest:

      The Archdruid Report: Down the Ratholes of the Future
      The Archdruid Report: Donald Trump and the Politics of Resentment
      The Archdruid Report: The End of Ordinary Politics
      The Archdruid Report: The Coming of the Postliberal Era

      Greer uses words very precisely, and takes time to explain a word, concept and history if he thinks it is necessary. In these posts I don’t think Greer supports Trump, or makes any statement of support for anybody. He references both Spengler and Toynbee in these writings.

      He DOES say, over and over, that our economy and politics have come to serve very few people, and the rest of the country has tired of that and are going to change that. He points to both the Democrats and the Republicans as the entrenched and out of touch ruling class, and points to both Sanders and Trump as riding a populist wave of resentment against the establishment.

      He does point out that many of issues Trump campaigned on are actual real problems for the majority of the country. While Greer acknowledges Trump may improve some things by virtue of addressing the problems instead of pretending they don’t exist, he never makes promises or advocates for Trump. He carefully does not say who he voted for, though he says many of his neighbours voted Trump.

      So, I don’t think Greer is a Trump supporter.

      Greer historically rejects binaries, and in fact, searching for non-binaries is part of his religious practise. Throughout his writing he chides Democrats and Republicans, left and right.

      HOWEVER, I think he does take the leftish side to task more.

      I do the same, though. The left is my home, my friends are leftists and the stuff I read is leftist. Therefore I run into things that I think are stupid about the left very frequently. That the right is stupid is not a surprise, that is why I am not on the right. But the left is supposed to not be stupid and so when they are it is very galling.

      So, I continue to think Greer is not a Trump supporter, and that his writing continues to try to tie the flow of history into our present reality.

      I do understand how people would think his writing sound more sympathetic to Trump or to right populism than I do. My hackles are also up, and I hope we don’t lose Greer in the way we have lost Kunstler, who now can’t write a column without being a racist and sexist crank, and shouting at the kids to get off his lawn.

      • Ruben, thanks for responding – I’ll take a look and have a think. But I’ve got to say that for me Greer’s last post crossed over into the realm of more or less unalloyed right-wing populism – a path that’s been trod by many a disillusioned leftist over the years, who end up hating their erstwhile fellow travellers more than anything else, perhaps for the reasons that you hint at. It’s a path he seems to have been on for a while, and for me it’s a long way back from where he now is. I predict his future posts will be a mixture of lofty Spenglerian ‘What did you expect?’ at Trump’s worst excesses, general but not complete support for the more workaday progress of the right-wing populist agenda, and a lot of diversionary finger-pointing at leftists and others who object to the Trump administration. Not an edifying prospect. But I could be wrong.

        • Not edifying at all. And regardless, his current tone, even with the most generous reading, is certainly subject to less generous readings and misunderstandings.

          I really hope he doesn’t go Kunstler on me.

      • Hi Chris, thanks for the article and this forum.
        Ruben, I think mostly I agree with you on the JMG business. I think his head is swelling from popularity, especially since he got lucky with his early call of a Trump win. Which aligns his interests with Trump in some weird way. Also, I think it is useful to remember that JMG has always been more critical of feminists than he has of other political interest groups. I wouldn’t call him a misogynist, but there has been noticeable gender-valent disrespect in his writing and comments.
        As Chris says, this kind of progression from leftie to reactionism is well trod. And I can understand some of the frustration that drives it, especially the frustration with people that you agree with, but who seem to get stuck in a trivial or counterproductive loop. Like this ranting about Trump. I think the anger at Trump is largely an expression of fear, as Chris says. I suspect also that there is an element of self-loathing that comes from the fact that on some deep level we recognize that we all agree with Trump to a small degree, in that we don’t want to give up all of the wealth that we are stealing from the rest of the world and from the future. I don’t believe it is class bigotry as JMG says. There is nothing that makes him sound more like a Republican than the tone of aggrieved underdog that he puts on when he says stuff like that.
        Ruben, I read your “Pie” post and I think your formula is a good one. Having the tools and recipe and materials are not enough if nobody cuts the apples and rolls the dough. (Ha! There’s an ambiguous slogan: ‘Roll the Dough!’). So it is a hard problem, and we live in frustrating times. I am getting the feeling that ideology may just become irrelevant, that the group of friends that can build a functioning water supply will be the nucleus of the new grassroots social/political order. I still believe the slogan that popped into my head more than 20 years ago: ‘Ecstatic Poverty is our Only Hope’. Still not ready to jump in the deep end of that one yet, though. Thanks for this conversation.

        • Thanks Eric, interesting comments. Your point that we want to localise our economies without giving up on the wealth resonates – a major issue, too easily papered over in populist politics by the claim we can have both. Much to ponder there….

    • p.s. I tried to make the supportive arguments necessary for the “agrarian populism fits the context” angle in my response to Joe, above. I re-read your climateric post, and agree there are problems there, but not, I think, problems that challenge my point of view.

      As I said, I want to write about this, so maybe I will go read the climateric post once more to see what I am missing, and try to order some thoughts.

  5. Ernie, Michael – I think this is an important debate, though unfortunately I’m a bit too time pressed at the moment to give it the attention I’d like. But I want to make a few comments.

    A classic form of right-wing populism is a class alliance between a wealthy business oligarchy, which has no intention of relinquishing its grip on political or economic power, and a sub-section of the working class – typically the male ethnic majority – which is bought off with a few crumbs from the economic table and a lot of flummery about national pride, male pride or basically whatever kind of pride best serves to keep it quiescent. This kind of populism targets other sections of the working class and also middle-class professionals who have the ability to challenge its narrative.

    It looks to me like this kind of populism is forming in the USA. So, Michael – when you talk about people ‘not existing’ when they find it convenient, I think yes you (and Greer) have a point – there’s a tissue of unacknowledged assumptions about power within the middle class (as there is also within various other ‘identities’ that Greer scorns). But a typical tactic of right-wing populism is to argue that middle-class professionals, middle-class leftists – basically anyone that doesn’t fit within its own class alliance – are people who ‘don’t exist’, whose opinions don’t count, who are motivated by selfishness, by ‘hate’, who just aren’t with ‘the people’ and can therefore be discounted.

    This seems to me to be basically what Greer is arguing. His position is consistent with and largely supportive of right-wing populism – which, after all, is one plausible modern trajectory for ‘Burkean conservatism’. ‘Rights for whites’ is indeed absurd – but it’s an absurdity that Greer endorses in his post. Do you think that the people who are pushing that agenda the hardest are ‘non-privileged young white men’? They generally look pretty privileged to me.

    You say that it’s not Greer’s role to tear Trump apart. But bloggers don’t have ‘roles’ – they write what they like and are judged accordingly. It’s his role to criticise Trump as much or as little as it’s his role to criticise Clinton, the liberal middle classes or whatever else he wants to do. But if he keeps hammering away at the left and middle-class liberals while at best soft-pedalling and often actively endorsing Trump and right-wing populism then eventually it seems reasonable to identify him with the right-wing populists. Inevitably there are some differences – few people ever wholly identify with a specific political programme – but it seems to me he’s on a political trajectory which is propelling him closer and closer to Trump and to right-wing populism. Either that, or he’s just a useful idiot to their cause. But as Ernie suggests, I think he’s probably too smart to be a useful idiot.

    I don’t quite follow your Goldman Sachs point. My take on it would be that Greer has invested quite a lot in the notion that Trump has a different agenda to the corporate free marketeers who’ve dominated the mainstream politics of left and right and is genuinely committed to some kind of new deal for the working class. The way Trump has staffed his administration suggests otherwise, but I think Greer wants to stick to his script so chooses a diversionary shrug of his shoulders and says ‘well, it’s what Hilary would have done’. Right-wing populism transubstantiates the economic hegemony of its own ruling class into something nefarious worked by ‘coastal elites’ or ‘salaried professionals’ (though it can easily get worse than that). It looks to me like Greer is right there at the altar.

    If the right and the left are just the same, then why NOT criticise the right as well as the left? As I see it, the mainstream choices were dismal and Trump is even worse. If he gets two or three things right, will it be more than useful? Well, it depends what he gets wrong. It looks to me like he’s more than capable of cancelling out the ‘right’ things with some ‘wrong’ things that will take us a long way into the debit column. Which, contrary to Greer, I think is the main reason why so many people are protesting.

    Let me try to submit myself to the Greer test. If somebody were to suggest to me that I was a beneficiary of class privilege, would it make me angry? No, I don’t think so – it would be true. If somebody were to suggest to me that my opposition to Trump’s presidency stemmed from my class privilege, would it make me angry? Yes, quite possibly – do I really need to explain why? Is there not an irony in John Michael Greer criticising identity politics and then, in post after post, yelling little more than ‘CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE’?

    I’ll try to clarify the radical environmentalism point another time.

    Thanks everyone for engaging.

    • As a newcomer to this site I must say I appreciate the civility with which all seem to exihibit. Just one thing I would like to point out. Here in the US much of the left isn’t left. Center left is neoliberal except on some social issues. Hillary is only to the poorly informed. (We have a lot of those.)

  6. Ah. 🙂 I am honored by your attention, Chris, to my small criticism, which indeed was a distressed shout. And I am now thinking that much of what you say I find congenial, and an opener for further discussion — and would be easy if we sat down with a pint. Hard to do it via writings because the ground of our dialogue has so many unknowns, being separated spatially and otherwise.

    May I request a small addition to what you have said? You illuminated the “left” and “agrarian” aspects but not so much the “populist” aspect. Would you be so kind and do, say, a paragraph or two on that alone? On the positive aspects of your kind of populism, as you see them.

    Again, thank you for all your fleshing out and “digging deeper.”

    • Thanks Vera. It’s a rare but genuine pleasure of blogging to disagree but to stay courteously engaged and to learn from each other, which I certainly have from you. And thanks for prompting these reflections. More on the populist aspect? Well, OK but it may have to wait until I’ve worked my way through the history in later posts. Keep hassling me though. I’ll tell you when I think I’ve answered your question – and then you can tell me if you think I haven’t…

  7. For many of the practical aspects essential to communities until not so long ago, the youtube series Der Letzte seines Standes? (The Last of their Craft?) offers fascinating insights, even if you don’t understand German, to the skills of the well digger, bowl hewer, blacksmith, bread oven maker, cooper and many more. The American documentary archive at folkstreams.net also has films in a similar vein.

    • Thanks Simon, I’ll try to take a look – it’ll have to be a look, the little German I once had has gone to pieces…

      • I watched the first in the youTube playlist last night, which was a cottage filemaker. I have zero German, so I did a lot of fast-forwarding to the action segments.

        • I’m also guilty of fast-forwarding the bread oven builder and the well digger/pump maker. A half hour condensed to a few stolen minutes, a shame really as they are nicely filmed. The way the well digger fashions the pump from a tree trunk and a piece of leather is impressive though.

  8. I personally wouldnt call you or your ideology populism. Left most certainly and agrarian too.

    Populism is essentially a democratic force in which the people wish to decide their fate and so populists will naturally engage with whatever political force that will listen to their concerns. In this respect populism and populists are by nature pragmatists who have no or little concern for xenophobic, mysogonistic or racist hyperbole one way or the other since the populist concern is about life and death and how to ensure resilience and sustainability in the short, medium and longterm.

    You however are an idealist with a nuance for socialist left liberalism and therefore your inclination is largely motivated by your opposition to anything that does not align and im fact threatens your perceived ideal teleology.

    As a true populist, I’d prefer you did not associate populism with your banal paranoia about Trump, Greer, Brexit or any other current hate/fear figure but actually spend your time better understanding that populism is neither right, left or centre but aligns with any pragmatic political approach that promotes resilient thinking.

    In short resilience thinking comprises of :-

    1. Managing adaptive capacity (take back control).

    2. Managing diversity and redundancy (sensible immigration policy to optimise social cohesion and preserve social capital networks).

    3. Managing connectivity (national policy sovereignty).

    4. Managing slowflow variables and feedbacks (controlling our own enviri-agricultural policy).

    5. Fostering complex adaptive system thinking (maintaining collaboration with others but not through forced co-dependancy).

    6. Encouraging learning (deepening our knowledge to inform democratic choices).

    7. Broadening participation in decision-making (removing ourselves from the unelected technocractic institutions of power).

    8. Promoting polycentric governance (to deepen national self-determination and devolution).

    I put in brackets the more human policy explanation in order to better explain my position. So whilst populists have indeed joined forces with right-wing political forces, this does not make populists right-wing. In effect Trump, Brexit et al are all just carriers for populist sentiment and whilst you criticize the motives of right-wing elites you fail to understand the populist imagination except in terms that agree with leftie sensibilities.

    Hence whilst capital and labour flow controls are important to ensure resilience, which is more likely in the near term to be implemented. This is the pragmatic choice, not some aspirational idealism that chooses to wait which in turn sows the seeds of despair.

    Another pragmatic perspective is that Trump may well be employing Wall St financiars because they know how these systems work. Your fear and paranoia is all based on hypotheticals which as of yet have no pragmatic reality.

    Similarly your intended survey of whether Wessex can feed itself, as laudable as it is since I too am an agrarian, will pose for you and us the pragmatic conundrum of over-population per hectare. This is the true concern of populists and in such a situation how does one choose who stays and who leaves. The pragmatic and fair choice is that permanent residents stay and temporary residents leave. The left choice seems to be that all should suffer and ration scarce resources equally to the detriment of all because the left are paralysed by their own political correctness to make crucial life/death decisions that promote resilience.

    In this respect your leftie sensibilities will always seek to narrow populism to fit with your own personal agenda rather than embrace what needs to be done to create resilience as the main overarching goal.

    • Steve, accepting an invitation to debate of the form “I’m a true X and you, despite your claims, are not” is a sure-fire way of having a bad day so I think I’m going to walk on by, but I’ll do it slow and make a few remarks while passing. (1) There’s a long history of populist movements, including left populist movements – I’m interested in discussing their successes, failures and contradictions. I’m not interested in discussing whether they meet your personal definition of populism or justifying myself in your court of contemptible lefties. (2) One of the main ways ideology works is through arguments of the form “It’s entirely obvious that the right thing to do is X except to people in category Y whose thinking is twisted for reasons a, b, c”. We all tend to think our views are self-evidently right, but do at least try to cover up your tracks a bit, old chap. (3) Population is not an exogenous variable – it’s affected by the social structures shaping people’s lives, and the solution to it will be found in addressing those social structures, not by telling whoever you think it’s most pragmatic and fair to piss off (editorial addition: one reason for this being that while the winners from this policy might think it’s a pragmatic and fair one, the losers may not – so the success of the policy will probably depend on whether the winners have the coercive power to enforce it. This is not a sound basis for stable long-term political solutions.) (4) While I have indeed banged on about Trump, Brexit etc enough now to bore even myself, these are big political events which must surely command the interest of anyone concerned about the future – your ahistorical and politically incoherent rendering of them encourages me to keep trying to articulate a left agrarian populism, though I expect I’ll probably give up at some point. (5) Anybody who advocates for any particular political choice over another is motivated by opposition to what doesn’t align with their perceived ideal teleology, including you sir.

      • Thanks for your comment Chris.

        The obvious question is whether there is any appetite for a highly technocratic international system that can manage capital and resource flows in order to accommodate a humane international labour movement policy. How does democracy figure in this just-in-time planning system which will need to simultaneously allocate resources to wherever people choose to be and navigate the zero-sum game of finite resources and finite food chains. Would democracy be simply reduced to what range of goods and services can be chosen within regional ecological quotas.

        However, even this system has to be mindful of population densities whether they are situated in highly dense megacities that have left large swathes of some regions virtually devoid of green spaces whilst leaving others virtually devoid of human populations in order to provide productive land. I guess an alternative is skyhigh liberal living with biotech agriculture incorporated.

        Whatever system adopted from highly technocratic (the only real endgame for left progressivism if it is to make any sense whatsoever) to highly democratic in which communities become self-determining and networked (the only real endgame for conservatism to make any sense whatsoever) resilience will always be the overriding concern for the people.

        Btw conservatism is not the preservation of established social order otherwise there would be no social change, only a backwards and forwards movement resembling a historical seesaw. Conservatism is principally the application of the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance and courage) to negotiate and manage social change and continuity. Your definition is just a derision to substantiate your overt opposition to a particular group of people (xenophobia) from which you can covertly project the natural law to discriminate (i.e cover your tracks except to the experienced tracker).

        As a result of the binary endgame which tries to juggle the zero-sum game of life and the inherent need to discriminate between what is good and bad for our health and well-being, we end up either with a vision of liberal international totalitarianism that enforces equality and assimilation or a network of civic-centred self-determining communities which can self-identify and self-select on the basis of whatever values they choose.

        So if you are adamant that populism can be wrenched apart into left and right then you will see that left-wing populism does not stand a chance. Think national socialism at an international scale with all those nasty illiberal types shipped off to the gulag for rehabilitation.

        This is why populism is focused on democracy and resilience and is neither left or right because the people simply want to be able to choose, not be told what they can say and do by some leftie international order that forces everyone into an egalitarian box. Where is the resilience in this liberalized monoculture.

        This is what the people are rejecting and this is the zeitgeist of our post-liberal times. We know multiple crises are on the horizon and we want the freedom to prepare and adapt which includes ensuring our land, our home, can support our needs.

        Call this rightwing populism if you insist, in order to continue advancing your liberal monoculture ideal. We just see it as being grounded in realtime and realplace. There is plenty of space in the Europe that has been left vacant by the many temporary residents that have come here so its not like we are depriving them of their survival. But their greed and irresponsibility is most certainly forcing us to question whether we are going to be deprived of our future survival – what with green belt and farmland being taken over to facilitate migration-led growth, the increased need to expand our infrastructural capacity and so more taxes and duties which together means more demand for globally sourced resources and the ecological degradation that entails which will be on our national conscience and our national environmental audit.

        So in conclusion, we dont want to live in grey megacities which are technocratically determined on liberal principles. What we want is our fair share of green infrastructure from which to live independently and interdependantly with one another. Non-stop migration is going to result in the former not the latter so thankgod for democracy is what we say.

        Peace .

        • Mr. Gwynne said:
          The obvious question is whether there is any appetite for a highly technocratic international system that can manage capital and resource flows in order to accommodate a humane international labour movement policy.

          Yep… pretty obvious. But if I may, curmudgeon that I am, obvious or not… where are you coming from with the zero-sum assertions: the zero-sum game of finite resources and finite food chains?

          Granted, this is a finite planet, and there are only so many carbon atoms to go around… but there is still a finite number of folk wishing to share in the bounty. Population densities upon this little planet vary over an enormous range, and while the UK has a fair pack, one can turn to Japan and other locations where densities are even higher. They still manage to putter along.

          So, to be pedantic, might I wonder if populism as you choose to define it is a global phenomenon, or a regional manifestation? If regional, how large a region might we expect will support a particular brand?

          • If we take as read deforestation, soil erosion, acidification of the ocean and the creation of deadzones, overuse of nitrogen and the concomitant pollution of our blue inftrastructure, depletion of rare earth metals and ores, peak-oil, peak phosphorus, climate change causing localised severe weather events, biodiversity reduction and the degradation of ecosystem services then I think we can safely say we are creating an increasngly hostile ecological environment in which to survive and that the quantity of useable resources are in slow decline despite recycling and then add to that an increasing human population then it is fair to say that resources per capita are actually declining. Therefore it will become increasingly apparent that one person’s gain will be another person’s loss. This is the basis of my zero-sum arguments.

            Therefore if people are moving to high impact regions such as the more affluent regions of Europe and America then that can only mean that there will be less to share and develop with in other regions of the world.

            At some point economic and social activities will need to be differentiated between high, medium and low impact and thus it can be argued that leaving the EU or TPP, despite perceptions that we will be less well off is actually a good thing for the rest of the developing world. The same applies regarding the free movement of people which only facilitates a shift towards high levels of consumption in regions that are already experiencing dramatic ecological overshoots or ecological debts.

            Without a zero-sum consciousness then international liberalism whether economic or social is simply facilitating a situation whereby over-consuming countries will consume even more and tnus leaving less for everyone else. This is globalisation in a nutshell and if liberalised anymore then some will be left in permanent poverty eeking out a living on the margins of megacities or else rebelling using violence.

            So liberalised structures in western democracies are actually impoverishing unseen others in other areas but of course all feminists and liberals care about is what Trump last said or what a mess Brexit will cause whilst at the same time utilising xenophobic narratives to encourage even more western orientated lifestyles as tnese megacities demand more landgrabbing, more deforestation, more soil erosion etc etc.

            Im not sure how you substantiate your claim that there is an obvious appetite for more technocratic international liberalism of the socialist variety whereby freedom of movement is facilitated by planned resource and capital flows. Do you have any evidence beyond the anecdotal in the form of democratic political parties. China might fit that description to some extent but as far as Im aware there is still a huge amount of poverty in China which is why they need to export so much.

            Your last query is the most interesting to me. Obviously self-determination carries with it responsibility so scales will vary to what extent the people wish to take responsibility. Brexit obviously showed as well as other nationalist movements that self-determination is something that has appeal at national levels. Similarly regions within nation-states are also seeking self-determination. And then we have devolution, the localism act, the sustainable communities act and the national planning policy framework that allows local councils to create their own development plans albeit entirely in what I call the civil space as opposed to the civic space. In the latter I envision self-determination being taken to the constituency level whereby citizens can vote on licensing, planning and development decisions rather than these decisions being made by the elected and unelected civil sector. This for me is the endgame of populism since each locality of citizens are in democratic control of their environment.

            So in answer to your question, it is up to the people themselves to determine the scale of their democratic reach and to what extent people wish to affiliate and even move to localities to be near those of similar self-determining values. A case in point is Rojava or other enclaves. But within a UK context, if a community wishes to be far right then let them. If a community wishes to be liberal, let them. And then let the people decide where they want to live on the basis of self-determining communities with the state (or similar arrangement such as a confederacy) performing the function of enabler and protector of diverse self-determining communities. Live and let live within ecological limits.

            So a technocratic international liberalism is one way. A technocratic international socialism is another. But a network of self-determining communities most ceetainly grants the most freedom and the most diversity and hence the most resilience and is why populism will always seek democracy and resilience in the face of either of the above and why populism is neither left or right because populism allows the people to decide how they wish to shape and orientate their environments depending on their own needs and in relation to whoever it is that is wishing to erode their sense of self-determination which as you know is a fundamental human right.

        • Steve, I’ll happily sign up to a programme that applies prudence, justice, temperance and courage to negotiate and manage social change and continuity. I’d have thought almost everyone would – it’s platitudinous.

          The rest of your commentary reads to me like an incoherent rant that bears very little relation to anything I’ve ever actually written. “We don’t want to live in grey megacities which are technocratically determined on liberal principles.” Nope, me neither. But the ‘we’ intrigues me. I wonder who your authorial plural is… though not enough to want to engage further. It’s clear that my writing does little for you but provoke your anger. Sorry.

          • No need to apologize. I came across your name in a Local Futures blog and I was intrigued. But to find that you are just another carbon copy of the typical xenophobic liberal socialist was abit dispiriting especially when you seem so keen on agrarianism but seem unwilling to engage with the real issues of increasing land scarcity, population growth and self-determination.I guess your real concern lies in being able to continue venting your politically correct xenophobia. I guess its up to you if you want to self-identify as a populist but since you do not seem to appreciate the long term consequences of your social and moral convictions I guess it is something that you have not really thought through. So I guess there is always a danger that when you put your own incoherent ramblings and rants into the public sphere then misunderstandings will inevitably arise.

            Sie la vie.


          • I guess thats why many people turn to conservatism as they get older. I went to their conference last year and I was pleasantly surprised how open minded it all was. Worth getting your head around conservatism to appreciate its depth. On the other hand leftie meetings and gathering are the most closed minded and miserable events Ive been too.

            The we is the real populists, not the pretend ones.

          • Chris – I see you’ve acquired your first TL;DR sustainability pest. 🙂

            (Having used it since the mid-nieties, I’ve long thought the internet is somewhat overrated).

          • “Xenophobic”. Greek for “fear of the stranger”. An anti-immigration nativist can’t credibly criticize someone he’s accusing of being a cosmopolitan urbanite of “xenophobia” without looking ridiculous.

            If you’re trying to convince anyone of anything, your strategy is bad and your tactics are even worse.

            I guess its up to you if you want to self-identify as a populist but since you do not seem to appreciate the long term consequences of your social and moral convictions I guess it is something that you have not really thought through. So I guess there is always a danger that when you put your own incoherent ramblings and rants into the public sphere then misunderstandings will inevitably arise.

            Condescending, ranty, apparently immune to the thought that someone might know something that you don’t…almost seems like we have another John Michael Greer here! (Just kidding, Greer is a much better writer than you are.)

  9. Chris, Once again thank you for being prepared to call out JMG. I still haven’t got the words to quite put into writing about how I feel about the last few months’ worth of posts but I feel uneasy about them and agree with your conclusion. He is normalising some very worrying movements in American politics and has completely failed to call them out for what they are – so how can anyone assume he isn’t in some way supporting it? Is it because these shifts support his overall grand hypothesis of the trajectory of Western civ? Is there a tinge of schadenfreude in his writing? I’m not exactly sure how it relates – but I listened to this interesting piece today with George Lakoff – https://www.wnyc.org/story/taxonomy-trump-tweets/ – relates to JMG perhaps? There’s something uneasy feeling about his recent writings. I haven’t actually read the piece you’ve referenced yet – will do later. There is something seriously disingenuous if he proposes that the ‘alt-right’ (neo-fasicsts, I prefer) are just another self-interest group looking after the rights of young white men (because we’re so discriminated against aren’t we?!). That’s it – disingenuous – that’s the word that sums up how I feel about his writing at the moment. This idea of class warfare he has – it’s been blown way out of proportion and is now his justification for just about anything.

    Great points – “Let me try to submit myself to the Greer test. If somebody were to suggest to me that I was a beneficiary of class privilege, would it make me angry? No, I don’t think so – it would be true. If somebody were to suggest to me that my opposition to Trump’s presidency stemmed from my class privilege, would it make me angry? Yes, quite possibly – do I really need to explain why? Is there not an irony in John Michael Greer criticising identity politics and then, in post after post, yelling little more than ‘CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE’?”

    • Thanks for that Alex – it’s nice to get a thumbs up after a thumbs down. Lakoff is always interesting – I’ll try to listen.

  10. Chris,
    I’ve been following your blog for a little while. Maybe I’ve missed a key point you’ve made previously in sketching out your vision of neopeasantry, but advocating for a normative ideology that says everyone should be farmers seems like a fast track to poverty, deprivation, and death. Are you advocating forced peasantry? Surely, I’m misreading you. Where would your neopeasants get their tools, or clothing, or any other manufactured goods? Would there be teachers, doctors, engineers, etc.? Who would protect your peasants from those who would rather procure their daily bread via theft? Even in classical times not everyone was a farmer.

    I too think that trends in the economic, energy, and environmental spheres are pushing all of us to a lower net-energy, more simple lifestyle. But acknowledging that fact, and even preferring an agrarian rather than urban lifestyle is miles away from saying everyone should be scratching at the dirt with sharp sticks. I myself sought out a rural piece of land in an attempt to become more self-reliant. I have a 4 laying hens that give me eggs, and I established a large garden to produce a lot of food. I sell it at a local farmers market because it’s way more than I can eat, but I wanted to gain experience for a future when it won’t be just an expensive hobby. I’m miles away from where I want to be in terms of self-reliance and sustainability, but I have no illusions that I can be 100% self-sufficient. I will always be dependent on those who can produce what my skill and time cannot.

    One other thought is that any normative ideology invariably runs roughshod over individual rights, or even the rights of large groups of individuals. How would you enforce your neopeasant utopia? Is the idea to use the apparatus of the state to put everything in place and then beat the swords into plowshares? I would count myself in the armed opposition to that kind of oppression, regardless of my agrarian sentiments. My own view is that those of us in the industrialized world are going to see a dramatic drop in living standards due to the trends mentioned above. No enforced poverty needed. I ascribe to a sentiment expressed by your recent (blog traffic-increasing) foil, John Michael Greer, who has said, “Collapse now and avoid the rush.”

    • John, no I’m not advocating a forced peasantry. On the numerical side, the figure I’ve been working with in my calculations is about 20% of the population involved in small mixed farming (mostly in the theoretical form of mini nucleated hamlets with some people working on the holding and some people off). It’s an arbitrary figure. I think there’d need to be enough small farmers to be a political force, and indeed as you say enough non-farmers to do other necessary things. I don’t have any firm view as to what the ‘right’ figure is – I’m interested to hear from anyone who does.

      As to implementing it, no I certainly don’t advocate that it should be imposed from above by a government. I do think that if government policy looked benignly at smallholding and small-scale farming rather than with active hostility then progress towards something like could be surprisingly rapid, but I can’t really see it happening without major ecological and economic shocks (as per Ruben’s comments above) which might easily push in other directions.

      The exercise is really just a ‘what if’ fantasy, but I aim to talk in later posts about the historical/political circumstances in which it could conceivably happen – the only ones I’d support being situations in which enough people were sufficiently mobilised to want it, which seems fairly unlikely from where we’re currently at. Though I too agree with Greer’s ‘collapse now’ sentiments.

      I’ve discussed some of these parameters in earlier posts, which you can hopefully find gathered under the ‘Neo-peasant Wessex’ tab on the category menu.

  11. In a thread above Steve Gwynne asked me:

    Im not sure how you substantiate your claim that there is an obvious appetite for more technocratic international liberalism of the socialist variety whereby freedom of movement is facilitated by planned resource and capital flows. Do you have any evidence beyond the anecdotal in the form of democratic political parties. China might fit that description to some extent but as far as Im aware there is still a huge amount of poverty in China which is why they need to export so much.

    And now I have to wonder how I made this claim. Any help in unpacking this reply so I might have a path toward some understanding would be most appreciated.

    • This conclusion was borne from Chris’s assertion that capital flow controls were a more important consideration than labour flow controls which I then contextualised within the populist debate whereby I frame populism as the direct political response to ‘perceived’ threats to resilience. (I add perceived because in these emotionally charged discussions then I find adding perceived is good practice).

      So to continue. The UK under current policy conditions is unable to feed itself by around 40%. Add to this a struggling NHS system, increasing road congestion and air pollution levels, it can be safely assumed that either the UK needs to depopulate somewhat and at the very least stop uncontrolled EU migration or else get access to large amounts of capital in order to transform the necessary resources to increase the UK’s capacity to cope with over-demand. Chris is asserting that capital flows need managing prior to labour flows – so in order to accommodate over-demand for food, health, housing, land and transport capital must be managed in a way that enables this over-demand to be satisfied. I’m assuming his pretext for capital flow controls is not market-orientated so the only alternative is a technocracy that has the capacity to plan but also be international in scale since planned capital flows to accommodate over-demand will inevitably mean that capital must cross national borders, i.e international socialism. Moreover this international technocracy must be able to facilitate unrestricted labour flows so I’m assuming it will be liberal in its orientation in order to counter, by the rule of law, any potential discrimination facing economic migrants. Hence a technocratic international liberalism of the socialist variety.

      Since Im arguing that populism is a direct political response to perceived threats to resilience, Im also arguing that resolution of these perceived threats must be a pragmatic as opposed to an idealistic response. Only because idealistic solutions can take a very long time to manifest and so will require sustained political will on the part of idealists. I consider capital flow controls and especially the planned variety to deal with the perceived threat of temporary residents creating a situation of over-population/over-demand in relation to existing carrying capacities to be very idealistic. Therefore I was asserting that the pragmatic response to inadequate carrying capacity, especially in relation to food chains, is to ask temporary residents to leave assuming that they have access to land and shelter in their countries of origin. This I argue is the sort of thinking that informs the Brexit campaign but more in terms of a sensible and grounded immigration policy whereby labour flows are considered in relation to resilience and current carrying capacities.

      This more pragmatic response is obviously considered to be rightwing which is perhaps why Chris prioritizes capital flow controls over labour flow controls but the question is how do you manage capital flow controls to accommodate over-demand and national food insecurity issues in a planned way – which I presume is the potential basis for a leftwing agrarian populist platform.

      I was asking if there is any real appetite for such an idealistic arrangement considering that there are no political parties that I know of that plan to put themselves forward for democratic selection. There might be grassroot social movements like Degrowth, Local Futures or Eco-socialism but these movements do not have any signigicant political representation.

      You responded with “yep … Pretty obvious” which I took to mean that there is an appetite so I asked you to substantiate this response. But perhaps you meant that there is no appetite for this liberal socialist internationalist technocracy in view of the fact that the Brexit decision rejected a capitalist version so its unlikely that a socialist version will be accepted either. Or perhaps you meant that there is an appetite, at least for a capitalist version, considering that the Brexit win was not a significant win but bearing in mind that Chris wants to institute capital flow controls, then he wasn’t (I’m assuming) referring to the capitalist version anyway. So my query still stands!

      If I may, but you do not need to read any further if you wish, but I’d like to explore this conundrum of capital flow management vis a vis labour flow management further – especially regarding my understanding of populism. If the pragmatic response to resilience threats in the form of over-demand and in particular national food insecurity in the face of impending ecological and climate crisis is to reduce population, in at least a humane manner, then why is this considered rightwing? If the issue of perceived resilience threats are real and humanely managing population levels in relation to carrying capacities is rejected as a solution then the only alternative is to internationalise capital and resource flows and to ensure that those flows come into the UK. This then can be the only basis for a leftwing populist solution whether it is capitalist or socialist. However as I’ve pointed out, this facilitates high impact consumption which then reduces supply for other parts of the world since resource distribution can only ever be a zero-sum game. So leftwing populism can only ever enrichen already rich states whilst at the same time will impoverish already impoverished states especially within a capitalist framework. Therefore the only endgame for leftwing populism is global socialism which tries to enable local resilience as best as it can with a just-in-time planning system. This essentially is a resource-based economy as promoted by the Zeitgeist Movement and the Venus Project but again at present there is no significant political representation of these ideas. So whilst we are waiting for leftwing populism to manifest, the world ecology withers away and dies and nations explode into conflict over scarce resources, all because immigration control was considered too rightwing. But please correct me if you think I am wrong.

      Thanks very much for your query :-).

      Adapting human ideologies to meet the needs of the planet.

      • Stephen, you make some rather too large assumptions I think.

        Here is another way to look at Chris’ project, which I, at least, find simpler:

        Everything you say is true. The UK is food insecure. It is overpopulated. Resources are constrained and climate chaos is just getting wound up. The economy is built on smoke and mirrors. The politicians, journalists and academics seem to still think we just need to tweak the rules, and we can return to the abundance of the 60s.

        And, we are going to do nothing about that.

        We are not going to address climate change or population or capitalism or consumerism. We are basically going to keep going full-speed into the wall—except for the times when we go faster into the brick wall.

        You can read my article linked above, and the article on Compassionate Systems within that for some of the science on why we are almost assuredly going to hit the wall.

        So, given that we are in an accelerating clusterfuck, what shall we do?

        Jay Forrester tells a story about trying to find systemic levers. He said time after time he would work with an organization, and would find they knew exactly where the systemic levers were.

        They were just pushing them in the wrong direction.

        So, can we push the levers in the right direction? Not that we are going to save Western Civ, or anything like that, but just because pushing in the right direction will be marginally less crappy than continuing to push in the wrong direction.

        So, Agrarian. There is no problem that is made worse by having more local food. So push in that direction.

        Is that going to magically erase overpopulation? No. Will people still be hungry? Yes. But life will be marginally less crappy if we have more local food.

        Populist. As Joseph Tainter has laid out, increasing complexity eventually starts producing NEGATIVE returns. Not diminishing, negative. Our political system is too complex, and has been sucking value out of society for many years now. Too many injustices with no hope of redress.

        The only solution is much smaller scale, and a focus on serving different people, ie, the populace.

        Is this going to create a worker’s utopia? No. Will this hold together our advanced civilization? No.

        But hopefully we can have a politics that is marginally less crappy than the current one, and which better serves the bioregion that is sustaining the life of the voters.

        Left: The right focusses on the needs of the “tribe”, while the left tends to focus on the needs of the whole. That greater circle of concern will make life marginally less crappy as we pile full-speed into a brick wall.

        So, again, everything that you say is true, and I am sure you are well-versed in the literature.

        But I think we are not going to solve these problems. Therefore we should be pushing on the levers that will make life marginally less crappy through all the hellish disruption coming our way.

        • Totally get your near term extinction perspective (on their facebook group) and Tainter’s complexity piece was a conclusive moment for me which is why I go towards a confederation of self-determining constituencies rather than global socialism – at least the former resolves the ugly social tensions.

          A combination of both would be ideal.

          Also differentiating between low/medium/high human impact is important for me too.

          However we must bridge the left and right divide (through proper understanding) and get beyond the mutually destructive xenophobia.

          Tribes are the diverse whole.

          Resilience thinking is therefore for me the correct basis on which to control the levers. This for me essentially means the management of capital, resource, goods, service and labour flows within ecological limits largely through a democratic apparatus to ensure fairness and justice and avoid capitalist technocracies like the plague.

          Therefore labour flow controls must be a legitimate democratic choice as well as capital flow controls.

          Market solutions can be adapted towards planning and visa versa. It does not have to be either/or.

          Appropriate education, appropriate awareness, appropriate understanding is wisdom and compassion.

          I’m not so dis-spirited as you. I actively communicate with politicians (Jeremy Corbyn in particular at the moment), journalists (John Harris at Guardian at the moment) and acedemics (Centre for Sustainable Prosperity – University of Sussex).

          Colin Hines – Progressive Protectionism is the green way forward when the Green Party can get over its xenophobia.

          I understand Chris’s project. I’m on the same page with my own urban agrarian-based low impact living project on my allotment. Also work with – Bioregional Birmingham – on an urban forest garden project.

          The overly-charged discussion with Chris was in reference to leftwing populism in particular which neither Chris or I had fully worked out (until now with the help of Clem). I’ve already passed this on to Jeremy Corbyn and John Harris to consider.

          I was drawn to Chris but at the same time repelled by him. No long-term damage done I hope.

          Are my rather too large assumptions worth knowing or is that another pandora’s box not worth opening? I’m abit fatigued now!

          I know the science from the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Ecological Footprinting plus Eco-system based Disaster Risk Management which uses resilience thinking/concepts. Also a UN-based Sustainable Development course/MOOC.

          Thanks 🙂

          • Stephen, let me start by saying I in NO WAY believe in or support the ideas of Near Term Extinction.

            I don’t want to myself make the error of reading too much into what you are saying.

            But it looks like to me is that, because of resources constraints, scale and complexity, I just said, We are not going to solve these problems.

            And you agreed, and then proceeded to repeat the list of problems we “need” to solve.

            All I can say in response is, I don’t think we are going to solve these problems.

          • And, amusingly for all the topics of this week’s conversation, Greer’s latest gives a good summary of why we are not going to solve these problems.

            Again, not a resounding condemnation of Trump, but it might give a little comfort to those who worried Greer was going full-blown reactionary.

            The Archdruid Report: How Great the Fall Can Be

  12. For what it’s worth, I’m finding the capital-immigration nexus raised in Steve’s later contributions worth thinking about. But, Steve, if you’re ‘repelled’ by me rather than, say, disagreeing with me, it suggests to me there’s some kind of association going on for you which is not inherent in what I’ve written – and it leads to a way of interacting that is pointless and I won’t engage with. “Haven’t thought through” is usually just a rather self-legitimating way of saying “disagree with”. Nobody can fully predict the consequences of future political actions; nobody can ever “think through” the future. Still, I think it’s true that I need to “think through” the capital-immigration nexus better than I have so far. But I’d suggest to those who think the UK’s problems can be solved by more stringent immigration control that they need to “think through” the gap between policy goals and the chances of successfully achieving them – and they also need to ponder the lessons from the long and inglorious history of people banding together to get what they want, regardless of what policies may have been put in place to stop them by the people who have it. Someone who assumes that their policy prescription will work and that they’ll inevitably be on the winning side of it – or, even better, that their prescription is a win-win for all concerned – can doubtless feel very satisfied with their analysis. But in this as in most other cases I find it an implausible assumption. I think Ruben has it right – proposals that act to impede a self-interested free for all are better than ones that foment it, even if the outcome isn’t much different in the end.

  13. Chris, regarding Greer, one thing which has not been mentioned or expressed in this discussion is the possibility that he, feeling he has some influence on at least those of his readers who have declared themselves members of the alt-right, is attempting to use that influence to help shape that movement to whatever degree possible. As one of his readers writes in the comments section:

    “For all intents and purposes I’m one of the founding fathers of the alt-right (we prefer “National Socialist.” Alt-right is controlled opposition.) I was a /b/tard in 2005. In chan-years, that makes me like a tottering old Mandarin sage who’s got a Fu Manchu that reaches down to the floor and who claims to be 200 years old. I should be able to write a doctoral thesis on all this but I’m just as confused as the horrified journalists they occasionally send into our midst to try to figure out what the heck is going on.’

    Similarly, one mistake I think most people these days are making about Trump is that he actually always means what he says – we focus on the literal. Vastly more probable that his tweets, for example, are intended to achieve some outcome (pissing off liberals, influencing corporate policies, etc), and not to be taken quite so literally as everyone seems to be doing these days.

    Is it really a stretch to imagine Greer taking that same approach?

    After all, the suggestion here that Greer is in fact endorsing a ‘rights for whites’ position stands in stark contradiction to what he said here:

    “I’m not interested in living in an all-white country — I was raised in a mixed-race household in a down-at-the-heels suburb that had plenty of people of different ethnic backgrounds, and I prefer that to lily-white monotony — and I’d hate to see environmentalism get turned back into a cause of the extreme right. That said, maybe it’s a transitional stage, and as identity politics dries up and blows away, the alt-right will mutate into something less shackled to the preconceptions of its opponents.”

    So if we insist on taking everything he says that seems to support alt-right views literally, except we then ignore his outright assertions on the matter as in the above quote, this doesn’t add up for me. Something deeper is going on, methinks.

    It does seem plausible to me that he’s seemingly being chummy with the alt-righters because 1) they share some philosophical ground on the right, 2) he is trying to move them in his direction, or perhaps more accurately, he’s trying to sway the alt-righters in his readership over to a more Burkean position, perhaps ‘peeling them off’ in a sense…

    Consider this statement:

    “The next time you want to goad affluent American liberals into an all-out, fist-pounding, saliva-spraying Donald Duck meltdown, you don’t need the Jew-baiting, the misogyny, the racial slurs, and the rest of it.”

    In response, reader Steve comments with an attempt to downplay that behavior:

    “They don’t need it, but they don’t need to commit it either to get accused of it. So how much of it is actually real?”

    To which Greer responds:

    “Steve, er, I’ve spent enough time lurking on 8chan and other alt-right forums to know from ample personal experience that there’s no shortage of Jew-baiting, misogyny, racial slurs, and the like in the alt-right scene.”

    Does this really sound like a guy who is advocating for a ‘rights for whites’ position and going all in on the alt-right? I could be wrong but I don’t think so.

    I’m not saying Greer hasn’t moved to the right, in some important, even disturbing, ways – I’m just saying that the case being made here against him appears to be ignoring the mitigating components that are present in his recent post, so I am agreeing with Ruben here. I think there may be more going on than has been considered thus far. That is, I think the jury is still out and it does feel a bit to me like a rush to judgement is happening, reading through these comments.

    As another example: Greer’s assertion that hate is at the bottom of the Left’s response is certainly too simplistic. But so, I believe, is the insistence here that it’s fear and not hate. I think it’s both, and the relationship between the two is not so simple to disentangle. And in fact the underlying drivers for both are also not simple.

    I live in downtown Denver, was walking along Colfax the other day, which is a somewhat notorious and storied street in Denver, now a bit run down where I live, plenty of homeless and drifters, mixed in with yuppy eateries and bars. On the blank side wall of a building where an alley meets the street. someone had posted a printed paper, which featured an image of Trump, underneath a stylized blade, and read ‘MAKE THE GUILLOTINE RED AGAIN’ – a few feet away, someone had scrawled, in large letters, KILL TRUMP. I’m seeing this pop up all over – and while we can argue that fear lies at the heart of it, it’s undeniably hateful.

    Now, I’m primarily a left-anarchist, though drawn to Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism, huge fan of Chomsky and Zinn, but at one time I was a libertarian-leaning conservative who had a brief affair with anarcho-capitalism, so I’ve been on that side. Most of my friends are very left or at least left-leaning, some hard core left anarchists, with a much smaller handful of right-leaning folks, a family of Southern Baptist social cons, and I work as an engineer in an industry where egregious libertarianism is the rule. So I get exposed to, and have a first hand knowledge of, positions from across the political spectrum (though for my money, the Statist vs non-Statist lens has more heft and use than Left vs Right).

    A few of my leftist friends have had a similar experience recently: their responses to the election of Trump were deemed insufficient by their more politically correct kindred on that side of the aisle, and so they have been taken to task for this and even ostracized in two cases, by (former) very close friends. This happened at times where strong expressions of flat out hate for Trump, in particular wishes for his death, were being made and my friends did not join in with the gusto that was expected, or in a couple of cases where they actually disagreed and asked whether that was productive or useful. This has been quite traumatic for these folks who now feel abandoned and rejected. Because they have in fact been abandoned and rejected by certain elements of the local liberal community.

    Does fear play a role in this? Most certainly. But there is, I think, also hate, and to pretend that there is not is to be as blind as we’re claiming Greer to be, just in the other direction. We may not find Greer’s logic all that persuasive, but that doesn’t mean he’s completely wrong about what’s happening on the Left today. Personally, I think cognitive dissonance plays a much more significant role than either surface-level, conscious fear OR hate.

    Fundamentally, what I’ve seen among my friends on the left for years has been exactly the kind of blindness that John Pilger, a reliably clear eyed staunch liberal, has pointed out recently:


    in which he speaks of “the unction and violence of the Obama era and the silence of those who colluded with his deceptions.”

    Pilger goes on to say:

    Today, false symbolism is all. “Identity” is all. In 2016, Hillary Clinton stigmatised millions of voters as “a basket of deplorables, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic – you name it”. Her abuse was handed out at an LGBT rally as part of her cynical campaign to win over minorities by abusing a white mostly working-class majority. Divide and rule, this is called; or identity politics in which race and gender conceal class, and allow the waging of class war. Trump understood this.

    “When the truth is replaced by silence,” said the Soviet dissident poet Yevtushenko, “the silence is a lie.”

    This is not an American phenomenon. A few years ago, Terry Eagleton, then professor of English literature at Manchester University, reckoned that “for the first time in two centuries, there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life”.

    So, why bring this up? Because this entire Trump hysteria on the Left – whether driven by feat or hate or pieces of both – is unfolding within a much larger context than a simple left vs right argument. The left, appallingly silent for years on the war crimes of the Obama administration, is now up in arms against a man who, from at least one perspective, has positioned himself as one who would reduce those crimes in future (one hopes). A bit late, says I. Selective outrage, says I. Curious and ironic, says I.

    And I could be entirely mistaken, but my read is that this sort of thing, ultimately, may – just may – be part of what Greer is trying to get at.

    For my part, this is certainly part of the deep frustration I feel with the establishment left.

    • In 2016, Hillary Clinton stigmatised millions of voters as “a basket of deplorables, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic – you name it”. Her abuse was handed out at an LGBT rally as part of her cynical campaign to win over minorities by abusing a white mostly working-class majority.

      BZZZZZT! Go back and read the full quote:

      “But the other basket — and I know this because I see friends from all over America here — I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas — as well as, you know, New York and California — but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change.

      Anyone who leaves out this crucial context for Clinton’s comments is trying to sell you something.

      I’m no fan of the Clintons. I think they’re detestable, probably some of the worst human beings who ever lived. Neither of them has any business referring to anyone as deplorable.

      So don’t read me as defending Hillary Clinton: I am defending the truth. If Pilger made a big deal about the “deplorables” quote without pointing out the big fat “HOWEVER” for which it was a lead-in, then he’s feeding you a line of bullshit and you should know that.

      The left, appallingly silent for years on the war crimes of the Obama administration, is now up in arms against a man who, from at least one perspective, has positioned himself as one who would reduce those crimes in future (one hopes).

      In what world? The anti-war left has consistently criticized the Obama administration on this score. Centrist liberals provided cover, and since it’s the centrists that decide what gets into NYT and WaPo, it’s the centrists positions you hear the most about in the news. But the actual left — people who think we can do better than the status quo — have been making the most salient (if least broadcast) criticisms of Obama administration policies.

      I think it is not the outrage that is selective, but perhaps your reading is.

      I’m happy to put money up on this one. How many full-throated left-oriented criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy do I have to find to satisfy you?

  14. I wasn’t going to comment – I’ve just had a new baby and barely have time to read let alone write – but it’s been an interesting discussion.

    With regards Greer, I’ve found myself increasingly troubled by what he writes, to my ear (as prejudiced as the next man’s) he seems far to willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt.

    I’ve been following along with Chris’s Neo-Peasant Republic thought experiment and its good to see his idea of a Left Agrarian Populism sketched out. To me a localised, land based culture looks like the sanest way to organise ourselves and perhaps struggle through climate change, resource shortages and (I hope) the death throws of capitalism. I think those three things will inevitably push us back to a land based culture but I fear we’ll end up with a neo-feudalism rather than a independent peasantry. The problem is ever is access to land and serious land reform isn’t to be found in the manifesto of any mainstream political party here in the UK, while the price of land spirals upwards (4 acres a few miles from me recently went for £65k). What sort of peasant could buy that?

    A while back we had a discussion on here that strayed into the sort of political system that might support an agrarian culture. Not long after that I was reading a back issue of ‘The Land’ which had an article about Ukraine. When the collective farms were split up at the end of the Soviet Union everyone got a parcel of land. There were (if memory serves) restrictions on the amount of land individuals could own, but not on how much they could rent. So large farmers could access large amounts of land and those that wished to could manage their own small holdings. Given that the idea of a universal basic income has made its way into the mainstream I wonder if land reform along Ukrainian lines would offer a way to provide it – maybe I’m being utopian – but how else are we going to create the Peasants Republic of Wessex.

    Returning to Greer’s critique of the Left. Firstly do the likes of Clinton or Blair or Obama really qualify as ‘The Left’ and are their only critics on the Right? I think there are strong voices from the left who are disparaging of Blair, Obama etc. Oz mentions Pilger and I can add Chris Hedges, Tariq Ali, Chomsky all of whom I’ve recently heard voicing profound criticism of Obama – in fact Chris Hedges sued the Obama administration over some of the powers he’s abrogated to himself – and we could probably add to that list quite easily. But you’ll never hear these voices in the mainstream media.

    I recently saw some comments posted in response to an article on the Dark Mountain website in which the poster was talking about the liberal media and it’s leftish bias and how it excluded popular voices (he wasn’t thinking of the people I’ve just mentioned – I think he had “The People” more in mind). In fact for a while now it seems we’ve heard lots about the liberal media – however when we look at this terrible mainstream media we find it’s owned by a small number of very rich people, none of whom could be said to be of the left. In fact I’d say mostly those media companies follow their owner’s political preferences fairly closely – The Sun’s headline when Blair was first elected “It’s The Sun Wot Won It”. It seems to me that the ‘liberal media’ trope is something of a straw man and given this it’s interesting to me that its from the right that the critique of the status quo has emerged into the mainstream while radical voices on the left remain unheard.

    • The universal basic income/Ukrainian land reform idea is intriguing, Bruce, and your observation about the so-called “liberal media” is very much on point. It’s definitely frustrating that, thanks to a concerted and successful effort on the extreme right to move the Overton Window (and the mainstream media’s complicity in allowing it to happen), we’re at a point where people equate with Barack Obama with socialism rather than seeing him as the center-left politician that he is and where someone like Steve Bannon, who should be relegated to the fringe of the fringe, has the ear of the President of the United States.

  15. Hello all ..

    Sorry for the long post but the comments are so thought provoking.

    Ruben. Apologies. I read NTE somewhere way further up and since your perspective is ‘nigh on close’ to a near term extinction perspective (to me anyway) then I presumed it was you that wrote NTE. I think humans are in general adaptable and ingenious enough to dig themselves out of a hole even if it is a very deep one. My concerns largely surround potential endgames and how current social and moral convictions result in different potential endgames. Since we rarely know what the future holds in its entirity, I tend to refrain from projecting the present into the future since they are very rarely identical but inferences about potential trajectories using deduction can be made (this is in part a response to Chris).

    What is interesting, to me at least, regarding the cardinal virtues is that prudence, justice, temperance and courage identify survival traits with prudence being the ability to discriminate and so is the ability to choose the good from the ill. Justice being the ability to distribute the identified ‘good’ by giving each person their due. Temperance being the more communal ability to ensure that created goods and services are used for the pursuit of the social good and fortitude being the pursuit of justice and the good, no matter the cost.

    This is Burkean thought and is obviously a much deeper analysis compared to the liberal conceptions of liberty, equality and fraternity despite the fact that Burke himself was a liberal and not a conservative but staunchly rejected the liberal idealism of the French Revolution. Hence we have Burkean conservatism which is Burkean thought as utilised by (traditonal and paleo) conservatives.

    For me there is alot of sense in this way of thinking, especially as it can quite easily absorb resilience thinking which as everyone knows by know I consider to have alot of merit behind it. Particularly because real life examples of eco-system based disaster risk management has produced some spectacular results transforming formally barren landscapes back into garden of edens.

    Chris. phew. Again apologies. Perhaps repelled is a strong word but I do find your xenophobia around Trump, Brexit, rightwing populism, alt-right both disagreeable and distasteful and I am partially repelled by it.

    Let me explain….

    Xenophobia is the fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange.[1][2] Xenophobia can manifest itself in many ways involving the relations and perceptions of an ingroup towards an outgroup, including a fear of losing identity, suspicion of its activities, aggression, and desire to eliminate its presence to secure a presumed purity.[3] Xenophobia can also be exhibited in the form of an “uncritical exaltation of another culture” in which a culture is ascribed “an unreal, stereotyped and exotic quality”.[3]

    The terms xenophobia and racism are sometimes confused and used interchangeably because people who share a national origin may also belong to the same race.[4] Due to this, xenophobia is usually distinguished by opposition to foreign culture.[4] Xenophobia is a political term and not a recognized medical phobia.


    A scholarly definition of xenophobia, according to Andreas Wimmer, is “an element of a political struggle about who has the right to be cared for by the state and society: a fight for the collective goods of the modern state”. In other words, xenophobia arises when people feel that their entitlement to benefit from the government is being subverted by other people’s rights.[7]


    This leads to Oz’s lucid (IMO) response (Hi Oz) which for me highlights how perhaps more intellectually curious commentators are trying to unravel the paradox of mutually destructive xenophobia in which accusations of xenophobia tend to be themselves xenophobic. Simply because Greer is not being xenophobic in his response to Trump\Brexit\Alt-Right does not makes him a co-conspirator and I would agree with Oz that he is at least trying to understand the subculture behind these ‘right-leaning’ movements and might be even trying to educate them somewhat. To better contextualise Greer’s thought, at least philosphically, the Imaginative Conservative blog is instructive.

    What is apparent to me, having studied human rights at MSc, is that the human rights framework is not straightforward and in many ways is a zero-sum game hence we can have huge contestations surround human rights due to the interdependant and contradictory nature of different rights. One person’s self-determination (protection of greenbelt) is another person’s exclusion. One person’s right to livelihood (driving to work in a car) is another person’s loss of health and well-being (NO2 poisoning). The right to poverty alleviation and life in cities is driving rural landgrabbing. This is why human rights are constrained by ‘progressive realisation’ and ‘availability of resources’.

    The same theory/practice gap applies with the Burkean maxims above, Liberal maxims and any other moral framework. Add to progressive realisation and resource availability is the fact that we interpret from different and sometimes opposing perspectives. The fact of the matter is that we simply cannot escape the life/death relationship of life no matter how we might try and leaving this unacknowledged is the main failing of the Left.

    Hence we have Obama ..
    1) who already started building the Mexican wall.
    2) signed of 20,000 drone strikes resulting in the death of 1000s of civilians
    3) signed executive orders deporting undocumented immigrants
    and there are many more …

    So obviously the infinite regression of xenophobia being met with xenophobia is counter-productive, divisive, a red herring, all the logical fallacies under the sun and inevitably leads to self-created fear and hate (hysterical) mental states and worst of all, which I find utterly repelling, hypocrisy – even within myself.

    Now back to left agrarian populism …

    Policy vacuums between theory and practice are an obviuous consideration. With regards labour flow controls (as different to criminal flow controls), actually having a sensible and humane policy of labour flow control would be a welcomed starting point and then the policy levers can be adjusted as the circumstances dictate whether through democractic mandate or technocratic resilience management.

    A significant part of the problem is that migration-led GDP growth has been an EU neoliberal staple since the Maastricht treaty which Blair alongside Sweden jumped on in response to the Financial Crash and so letting go off the economic co-dependancies that this has created is a particular concern. Paul Mason’s recent piece has some interesting ideas in this respect.

    Obviously then, addressing the growth addiction has an important part to play in populist narratives if democratic resilience is a serious consideration. I’m not exactly sure what 2% gdp growth for the UK in 2016 actually translates into regarding resource depletion and ecological degradation and how much of this gdp growth can be attrributed to generative (as opposed to degenerative) economic activity but obviously the more generative economic activity the better.

    Thanks and hope everyone has a good day.

    • Your use of “xenophobia” is extremely non-standard. Essentially no one uses it to refer to distrust of or antipathy for people who share your race and ethnicity but have different political opinions — which is exactly how you are using it. Traditionally, this is not what the word “xenophobia” has been used to mean. People who live near you but have different political opinions are not usually regarded as “strangers”.

      Traditionally, “xenophobia” has referred to distrust of or antipathy for people from outside the polity — foreigners and immigrants. What you have described in your posts is more commonly called “partisanship”.

      Because your position is actually that the interests of locally born-and-raised people should come before those of outsiders, it is your position that is more reasonably called “xenophobic” from a dictionary definition perspective.

      Obviously, we can redefine terms to serve whatever purposes we like, but your terminology seems almost intended to cause confusion and anger.

      Also, your implicit accusations of partisanship seem a little hypocritical. You’ve spent many words here accusing Chris of essentially lying — of claiming to support a decentralized agrarian future while really secretly advocating for a statist neoliberal world order. That seems much more partisan than anything Chris has written.

      Finally, your take on Burkean conservatism vs. the leftist slogan: “liberty, equality, brotherhood” is shallow and unconvincing. “Prudence, temperance, justice, courage” — they are all nice, positive words for sure! Does anyone really disagree that these are positive values? I think that essentially no one does, and that the problems arise when you start to ask what these words actually mean.

      “Conservatism”, by definition is valuing the status quo, the existing order, the value of things already extant. If someone has a grievance against the existing order, than “prudence” will often look like narrow-minded self-interest. “Temperance” will often look like a demand for the least well-off to make sacrifices to maintain the position of the most well-off. What the politically mainstream call “justice” the politically marginalized more often than not call “oppression”. And “courage” is often a fig leaf for naked aggression against scapegoats and outgroups.

      Likewise, “liberty, equality, brotherhood” are prima facie good values that everyone claims to espouse, and which have more sinister shadows when taken too far. Rigid adherence to any set of values becomes an evil when taken too far. Thinking one has found the correct set of values forever and for all, that these valuables are infallible and anyone who doubts them is the enemy — that is almost inevitably the source of the greatest evils in human affairs.

      • wysinwyg

        (1) you obviously do not possess a dictionary of politics. I suggest you buy one and perhaps a dictionary of philosophy as well.. I recommend the Oxford versions. Read conservatism and you might learn the non-socialist version.
        2) your perspective on xenophobia is I presume so you can carry on being xenophobic. If self-created hysteria is your thing then don’t let me stop you.
        3) The rest of your commentary reads to me like the ‘usual’ socialist ranting and raving that bears very little relation to the opening post or the context of my perspectives and understandings. The angry socialist stereotype is a familiar one to me and true to fashion you actively try to distort and decontextualise what I’ve actually written to legitimise your own bigotry. In this respect go back to (1)

        Good day sir.

        • 1) https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/xenophobia
          2) Even using your idiosyncratic usage, no. I have many close loved ones who are Trump supporters and my opinions of them have not changed. Among my loved ones who are anti-Trump, I have consistently tried to keep the conversation grounded in realism in terms of the motivations of his supporters and the likely results of his election.
          3) Please find for me a single point in this thread where I advocated for a socialist policy. Only once you have done that can you credibly claim I am engaged in “socialist ranting” or embody any “angry socialist stereotype”.

          if you cannot provide such an example, might I be so bold as to request an apology for misrepresenting my position so egregiously? While you’re at it, you can also apologize for falsely accusing me of political partisanship (what you call “xenophobia”) and for refusing to check yourself on the actual definition of the word “xenophobia”.

          Throwing temper tantrums and lashing out with unsupported (unsupportable) accusations does not make your position look more credible. Quite the opposite.

          • Take your pick. Each confirm the Wikipedia explanation.


            Your rants were not arguments but critical dismissals with nothing to offer in their place.
            So you have no arguments to engage with.

            Just because the left has appropriated the word xenophobia does not make one meaning less relevant than the other except to your confirmation bias of course.

            I am not apologising for your bigotry, i.e your hollow rebuttals.

            Do not interact with me please. I find you an extremely repugnant person.

          • First link:
            “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign”


            Second link:
            “Fear, hatred, or mistrust of that which is foreign, especially strangers or people from different countries or cultures.”


            It seems that both your sources corroborate my case rather than your own with respect to the definition of “xenophobia”. Essentially all definitions I’ve looked at emphasize the “foreigner” component of the word, even if some make allowances for less-standard usages which do not. But to say “that counts!” is merely an admission that your usage is non-standard.

            Like I said, I can use your lingo for the sake of argument. Take this as a warning that your word choice is pretty much guaranteed to cause misunderstandings — because you are using a word in a way that most people who use that word do not understand. That is just not effective communication!

            Your rants were not arguments but critical dismissals with nothing to offer in their place.
            So you have no arguments to engage with.

            I explicitly argued that:
            1. Your definition of “xenophobia” is wrong. I backed this up with evidence (dictionary definitions of “xenophobia”).
            2. Your accusation of “xenophobia” (by which you meant “political partisanship”) was hypocritical. I backed this up with evidence — I pointed to your comments here accusing Chris Smaje of bad-faith argumentation as such.
            3. I argued that your claim that Burkean conservatism is superior to the leftist values of “liberty, equality, and brotherhood” was shallow and unconvincing because all you did was to offer a competing slogan. I went on to argue that no set of values is intrinsically superior to any other, using the ways that the virtues of Burkean conservatism (according to you) can lead to decidedly unvirtuous behavior.

            Just saying: “you don’t have any arguments” is not a rebuttal. It’s just childish.

            Just because the left has appropriated the word xenophobia does not make one meaning less relevant than the other except to your confirmation bias of course.

            Using your own links, I’ve established that I am using “xenophobia” correctly and you are not. Unless by “confirmation bias” you mean “using the plain meaning of the dictionary definition” this claim is untenable.

            I am not apologising for your bigotry, i.e your hollow rebuttals.

            This is nonsensical. First of all, “i.e.” indicates that the first thing is identical to the second thing. You are claiming that my “bigotry” is identical to my “hollow rebuttals”? They are not even the same KINDS of things! Second of all, nothing I have said betrays any kind of bigotry in any way shape or form. I encourage you to prove me wrong by adducing a single instance of bigotry committed by me in this thread. Thirdly, I didn’t ask you to apologize for my “bigotry”. I asked you to apologize for egregiously misrepresenting my statements. Since your response was to even more egregiously misinterpret my statements, the request for an apology is more justified than ever.

            Do not interact with me please. I find you an extremely repugnant person.

            Since you know nothing about me, I can think of no reason why you would find me “extremely repugnant” except perhaps for psychological projection.

            Unfortunately for you, you do not get to decide who does or does not engage with the statements you enter into comment boxes on the internet. In this case, since you have so egregiously misrepresented my statements, I feel obligated to respond in order to “correct the record” so to speak. If you don’t want me to engage with you, then make sensible rebuttals to my arguments instead of lying about their content.

          • PS: Stephen, you might want to take a step back and seriously consider what you are trying to accomplish in concrete terms by commenting here. I say this because your commenting style is actively alienating people who would otherwise probably be receptive to some of your ideas. This comes down mostly to your communication style rather than your content — there are ways to express all your ideas that do not inflame people’s tempers and turn them against your message.

            For my part, my temper is not particularly inflamed, but your inability to take a step back, question yourself, and admit when you might be wrong is a big red flag that you do not have the self-awareness and instincts for self-criticism that are the hallmark of useful political discourse. As a result, I’m unlikely to take any of your points very seriously.

            If you’re trying to convince anyone of anything, then your behavior is incredibly counterproductive. This would be true even if you were correct about everything. (You’re not.)

        • I also note that you have engaged in name-calling (“angry socialist stereotype”) rather than engaging with the substance of my arguments. Employing such ad hominem tactics is common for those who aren’t able to find a good rational argument for their position.

          • If you choose to attach to the narrow definition of xenophobia and only use its wider meaning to dedcribe your partisanship then Im afraid I prefer to use the totality rather than the partial. You do what you like.

            The cardinal virtues of prudence/wisdom, justice/fairness, temperance/restraint and courage/fortitude date back to early greek thought. I find it rather amusing you consider these superficial and shallow. I made clear that moral frameworks are not perfect. In fact they are just guiding principles. I said I found it interesting that the virtues seem to correspond with survival traits. You failed to qualify why my interest in these virtues are superficial and shallow. I did not make any grand claims but you assumed I did. Disagreeing with my personal preference is not the same as stating the cardinal virtues are more superior. It just states that I prefer using this framework. Your critique of my choice to prefer the virtues is quite obviously none of your business unless you feel you have the right to invade into people’s personal space.

            I consider this to be extremely repugnant behaviour. This is me stating my boundaries and I asked you not to interact with me because I perceive you as a person who does not have the self-awareness to know the difference between subjective preference and objective critique.

            Back to your verbal abuse.

            How does prioritizing permanent residents over temporary residents regarding national resilience constitute xenophobia.

            How do you know my personal feelings regarding any temporary residents. Did I state I hate foreigners. Did I state I dislike foreigners. No I did not but you imagine that I do. You imagine I am xenophobic because you are projecting on me.

            This verbal and mental abuse is identical to you invading my personal space and ‘arguing’ that my personal preference for the virtues is shallow and unconvincing.

            A complete and utter disregard for my personal space of preferences and you trying to construct my personal space according to your prejudices is abuse and to be honest, the fact that you do not already realise this is why Id prefer you do not interact with me.

          • If you choose to attach to the narrow definition of xenophobia and only use its wider meaning to dedcribe your partisanship then Im afraid I prefer to use the totality rather than the partial. You do what you like.

            Words are just noises you make with your mouth. If you want your noises to be understood, you have to use words in a way that other people will understand them. Doing otherwise is ineffective communication.

            I’ve never heard “xenophobia” used to describe political disagreements with one’s neighbors, but that’s how you have used it. It is, at best, an obscure and confusing usage.

            The cardinal virtues of prudence/wisdom, justice/fairness, temperance/restraint and courage/fortitude date back to early greek thought. I find it rather amusing you consider these superficial and shallow.

            I didn’t say the virtues themselves were shallow, I said your analysis was shallow. I stand by that statement.

            I consider this to be extremely repugnant behaviour.

            Oh, you wilting flower! I disagreed with your opinion! poor you!

            Back to your verbal abuse.

            I never engaged in verbal abuse. I never explicitly called you xenophobic — I just said your position is closer to the standard usage of “xenophobia” than any of the behaviors you are calling “xenophobia.” I stand by all these statements.

            This verbal and mental abuse is identical to you invading my personal space and ‘arguing’ that my personal preference for the virtues is shallow and unconvincing.

            If publically disagreeing with statements you publically made on a public website on the internet constitutes “verbal and mental abuse”, then I have some bad news for you buddy. You might want to steer clear of this whole internet thing entirely.

            I never called you names at all, whereas you called me a “repugnant person”. You have zero claim to the moral high ground.

          • Cant be bothered squabbling with you to be honest. Im quite happy with where my analysis is going and using soft and hard xenophobia is very enlightening as far as Im concerned. Im more interested in the application and etymology and it makes perfect sense to me.

            The interpretation of the cardinal virtues is Edmund Burke. Without stating exactly why you tbink his analysis is superficial and shallow then Im afraid you present no counter-argument.

            But to be honest the conversation has moved on for me so as I said Im not that interested in squabbling over squabbling.


  16. Much very interesting discussion here, congratulations on a fine blog getting finer. I just read JMG’s post this morning, and there is a memorable line there that all of us peasants-at-heart will appreciate: “to stop putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere… would require the world to ground its airlines, turn its highways over to bicycles and oxcarts, and shut down every other technology that won’t be economically viable if it has to depend on the diffuse intermittent energy available from renewable sources.” I myself would prefer such a world, provided some benefits of modernity could linger on, such as the benefits of sanitation and hand washing. 🙂

    I have been reflecting a lot in the last several days on Steve Gwynne’s claim that populism needs to be free of left, right or center political entanglements. Curious, I looked up the several posts Chris has made that focus on populism, and found that when I encountered it, it was peasant agrarian populism, and I was instantly in favor. Chris then tried on various permutations, such as eco-populism, neo- peasant agrarianism, and so on. The left part appeared only more recently, I think in response to the extreme polarization of the current political climate. While I am not in disagreement with Chris’ remarks about the left part of his current terms used, I am wary of it, because I know that political sectarianism comes with a lot of baggage attached, and I would prefer an agrarian populism starkly putting its “heart and soul” into defending soil and the people who work it, rather than than into ideologies. Even more to the point, agrarians are a rare breed nowadays, even when we count ardent sympathizers who do not live from the soil. We need all the allies we can get – taking political sides will get in the way.

    I see populism fundamentally as an anti-elitist orientation. And this is what I see happening in the political sphere – a rebellion against elites who have moved from paying attention to the people and trying to craft responsive policies with that in view, to trying to make the people think and do as they dictate. That has been a feature of elitism since civ began, and it’s part of the complex of behaviors we refer to with the dictum “power corrupts.”

    Elitists at the dawn of civilization, and even in Big Man tribal societies, have always always pushed to create ever more classes that lived off the farmers’ surplus, and who created the catering classes beholden to them. Quickly, these classes lost touch with the soil that fed them, and acquired contempt for the people who worked it (partly because the farmers’ lives were made quite unbearable by the exploitation of those who then recoiled). But there is no reason why this trajectory was predestined. There are two ways you can reap the benefits of specialization. You can split off dependent classes, and then turn them against each other, or you can choose to go the populist way, and create the social logistics that promote the natural and organic involvement with the soil of everyone. To my mind, this is the only way that the health of the soil and the well-being of those who work in its primary or secondary economies (as growers or associated creators of value added products such as cheese etc) will be appreciated, and the only viable social pattern where this work will be widely and deeply understood and fully supported. This is also a way to become less dependent on food imports – even a small garden or allotment can make a vast difference overall as we all know and the British war experience attests.
    I think such a society would reap many benefits, not the least of them healthier and saner lives for everyone, while also keeping a significant measure of specialization. In other words: everyone a farmer, and everyone a specialist the other half of their time. Of course, this would also answer a big dilemma currently not being addressed by our elites: what do you do with all the people no longer part of the workaday economy? They have mostly met the challenge by fudging the stats, but robotics move inexorably forward. And last but not least, it would reflect our lives here — we who are gathered here, are all to some extent involved both in the life of the soil as well specialized via our education and inclination in the the creation and promotion of cultural memes, whether we get paid for it or not.

    And that is the beginning of my peasant populist vision.

    • I’ve found that John Judis’ short book, The Populist Explosion*, has really helped to clarify my own sense of what exactly populism is and does. He starts from essentially the same place as you, Vera, which echoes historian Michael Kazin’s description of populism as “a language whose speakers conceive of ordinary people as a noble assemblage not bounded narrowly by class; view their elite opponents as self-serving and undemocratic; and seek to mobilise the former against the latter.” Judis goes a step further, though, and points out what seems to me to be a very crucial difference between rightwing and leftwing populism as they’ve manifested themselves historically:

      “Leftwing populists champion the people against an elite or an establishment. Theirs is a vertical politics of the bottom and middle, arrayed against the top. Rightwing populists champion the people against an elite that they accuse of favouring a third group, which can consist, for instance, of immigrants, Islamists, or African American militants. Rightwing populism is triadic: it looks upward, but also down upon an out group.”

      To my mind, this ties in quite well with the points that Chris has been making for a while about Trump, Brexit, fascism, etc. As a well-trained liberal, my instinct for reconciliation over conflict makes even leftwing populism a bit of an uneasy fit for me, but rightwing populism terrifies me for just the kinds of reasons that Chris has outlined.

      *Last October, Judis wrote an essay for the Guardian that was adapted from his book. You can find it here:


      • Thank you, Ernie, I will check it out. Exploring populism is on my list. The only ones I know a bit about were the American ones at the end of the 19th century, and they had elements of both sides of the spectrum — they organized along unionist lines and even tried to make an alliance with the Knights of Labor. On the other hand, they were also firmly conservative, united by ritual (similar to a masonic one), local values, and emphasis on character.

        Were it still true that leftists championed the people against the elites, I would have little to complain about. Unfortunately, leftists have mostly thrown the working/middle classes under the bus and instead champion divisive and increasingly reactionary identity politics. The other problem I have at the moment with the left is the fact that for all its yelling about fascism, its adherents are out in the streets burning things, smashing glass and shoving and punching people, imitating the brownshirts of yore. Just this morning, there was a news item about a woman in Spain that was badly beaten by about a dozen of “antifa” thugs who apparently were offended she wore jewelry with a Spanish flag. So I don’t buy that the left doesn’t ‘other’ people. It talks one thing, and does another.

        I think the division of (classical) liberal vs authoritarian seems to be more apropos…

        • It’s definitely an interesting book, Vera, and I highly recommend it as an overview of the origins and development of populism in the western world (he focuses on the US, which he sees as the birthplace of modern populist politics, and Europe).

          I don’t really want to engage in a debate about “identity politics,” but I do want to point out that identity politics is nothing new here in the US and certainly not the sole domain of the left. White identity politics, as Jacob Levy observes in a recent essay published on the Niskansen Center’s website, “is a constitutive fact of American politics, and if an election in which the Republican got the normal share of the white vote counts as white identity politics in action, well, that suggests a deep problem, but it doesn’t suggest a new problem.”

          Finally, I think you’re painting with one hell of a broad brush when you castigate the whole of the left for the extreme behavior by a few. Yes, some people acted up at the inauguration. One can argue whether or not their behavior was understandable, but it was almost certainly counterproductive. As with identity politics, though, this is certainly not something unique to any particular political party, group, or ideology.

          *from Levy’s “The Defense of Liberty Can’t do Without Identity,” available here:

          • I beg to differ, Ernie, on painting them with too broad a brush. I hang out with them. I see the lack of introspection, the doubling down, the outrage that Trump actually wants to prosecute the serious rioters as felons, and all the cheering for the sabotage of the presidency by all means available, even by death threats, this with the help of Hollywood vulgarians… Frankly, I think they’d cheer if he was assassinated. Nah, I don’t let you off the hook on this one.

            Yes, it’s not unique, but right now, it’s the loony left doing it here. And I don’t recall the Tea Partiers or white supremacists running amok when Obama was elected.

            “One can argue whether or not their behavior was understandable, but it was almost certainly counterproductive.”

            Weasel words. You can’t even bring yourself to condemn them in no uncertain terms. More water for my mill. Don’t like fascists? Good. Call them out within your own ranks.

            But this exchange illustrates very well why I would rather leave all this out of agrarian populism. We’ll end up bickering, when we really need to attend to the needs of the soil and the people who feed us, and the politics that will support us in that.

          • I don’t need to be “let off the hook,” Vera, because I’m not on the hook. You’re making ridiculously hyperbolic statements about millions of people (Tens? Hundreds? It depends on how you’re defining “the left.”) based on what? Your own anecdotal experience with your left-leaning acquaintances? What you’ve seen or read at your preferred sources of online news? I’m not even sure what specific acts we’re talking about beyond some broken windows, a torched limo, and a white nationalist who got punched in the face. To turn those isolated incidents into some kind of eruption of leftist “fascism” as you call it is beyond absurd. And Hollywood vulgarians? What the hell is a Hollywood vulgarian? As for what you call my “weasel words,” suggesting that I might find the criminal behavior of a very small subset of the inaugural protesters understandable doesn’t mean that I condone it. It means that I find it understandable, full stop. Punching Richard Spencer was battery and should be treated as such by our legal system. At the same time, I find it entirely understandable that someone might feel (and I emphasize “feel”) justified in punching him in the face. He’s a repugnant human being who pussy-foots around a very nasty ideology. Ugh. We’ve been here before, haven’t we? You’re right that our bickering doesn’t exactly enhance the discussion of agrarian populism, but, then again, even agrarian populists are going to have hash out any political differences that they might have in order to form a workable society.

          • Weasel words. You can’t even bring yourself to condemn them in no uncertain terms. More water for my mill. Don’t like fascists? Good. Call them out within your own ranks.

            You can’t say stuff like this and then complain about bickering. You are the one who is bickering!

          • I agree. Politics is identitarian by nature. The two cannot be separated. It is part of our cultural make-up to identify with certain political positions on any given debate and for these positions to contribute towards the construction of our identity.

        • Oops. I think I just broke Chris’ rule about abusive language. Does it count if the individual being called “repugnant” is a white ethno-nationalist who isn’t partaking in the discussion? 🙂 Regardless, I’m feeling a little apologetic about my tone. Vera, you have have a way of pushing my buttons. It seems that I might push some of yours as well. So it is. Going forward, I’m going to refrain from commenting on elements of your posts that aren’t completely germane to the discussion at hand. Perhaps that will solve the problem, but it’s also going to be a hit to Chris’ comment totals. Hmmm….

    • I’d agree with the disenfranchised people versus elite dichotomy but there needs to be some explanation why this revolt is not continous. This why I add perceived threats to resilience to explain that once a threshold is reached, i.e real threat to the resilience of a large group of people, then the actual revolt occurs. In modern democratic states as opposed to feudal etc then the revolt can be expressed democratically.

        • I think we are on the same page Vera. Ive found self-identifying left groupings to be very antogonistic towards outsiders, that is xenophobic. And I tend to stay well away from them. I like to be creative in my thinking, not boxed in by hierarchical structures of thought and ideas.

  17. First, I’m very much enjoying the ongoing conversation here. Thanks everyone for the stimulating contributions!

    Like Vera, I read Greer’s latest, and I believe it provides a clue as to the earlier post, and also ties in nicely, if tangentially, with Chris’ espoused populist vision. Here’s the relevant segment from Greer:

    “Now, as discussed earlier in this post, we’ve gotten a very modest helping of decline and fall, and people who were enthusiastically discussing the end of the industrial age not that long ago are freaking out six ways from Sunday. If a relatively tame event like the election of an unpopular president can send people into this kind of tailspin, what are they going to do the day their paychecks suddenly turn out to be worth only half as much in terms of goods and services as before—a kind of event that’s already become tolerably common elsewhere, and could quite easily happen in this country as the dollar loses its reserve currency status?

    What kinds of meltdowns are we going to get when internet service or modern health care get priced out of reach, or become unavailable at any price? How are they going to cope if the accelerating crisis of legitimacy in this country causes the federal government to implode, the way the government of the Soviet Union did, and suddenly they’re living under cobbled-together regional governments that don’t have the money to pay for basic services? What sort of reaction are we going to see if the US blunders into a sustained domestic insurgency—suicide bombs going off in public places, firefights between insurgent forces and government troops, death squads from both sides rounding up potential opponents and leaving them in unmarked mass graves—or, heaven help us, all-out civil war?

    This is what the decline and fall of a civilization looks like. It’s not about sitting in a cozy earth-sheltered home under a roof loaded with solar panels, living some close approximation of a modern industrial lifestyle, while the rest of the world slides meekly down the chute toward history’s compost bin, leaving you and yours untouched. It’s about political chaos—meaning that you won’t get the leaders you want, and you may not be able to count on the rule of law or even the most basic civil liberties. It’s about economic implosion—meaning that your salary will probably go away, your savings almost certainly won’t keep its value, and if you have gold bars hidden in your home, you’d better hope to Hannah that nobody ever finds out, or it’ll be a race between the local government and the local bandits to see which one gets to tie your family up and torture them to death, starting with the children, until somebody breaks and tells them where your stash is located.”

    So the context of Greer’s earlier post is now contextualized, or so it seems to me. In the context of a world where the next day likely looks much like the last, and where the same can be said about the next year and the next decade, political squabbles of left vs right as we have come to know them (agreeing here with Bruce’s point about who exactly is this Left being critiqued by Greer, which I would characterize as the Establishment Left) have major significance. This also ties in with Steve’s distinction (Hi Steve) between Burkean conservatism and liberal idealism. But in the worlds Greer is describing, such abstractions, which we have trouble even *defining* – Chris, consider your stated definition of liberalism as a belief that private markets deliver optimal benefits vs what I consider to be a more standard one largely revolving around creating conditions that promote equality of opportunity – have less relevance to the lives of *actual people*.

    In the same way, a land dispute between two neighbors who own beautiful beachfront properties may generate a lot of sound and fury – until they learn that a tsunami is rushing toward them and will devastate both shortly. Now imagine that this information regarding the tsunami is not known to these two squabbling neighbors but it IS known to a 3rd neighbor, who is (and has been) trying desperately to warn them about it – but they ignore him and keep fighting about trivialities such as whose lawn chairs wound up on whose property last night after that awesome beach bonfire. Might this explain some of the seeming venom we’ve all acknowledged coming from Greer?

    I have no way of knowing, this could certainly be an excuse or rationalization, but considering how practically beneficial I have personally found Greer’s books and blog to be over the years, and because I posit that Greer’s critique of the left is really that of the establishment Left, consumed with what he’s termed (and I have seen in action) ‘purity politics’ as a mechanism for maintaining power (thanks largely to its useful idiots) which it uses to do very harmful things to people here and abroad without complaint from those same useful idiots now so loudly complaining about Trump, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    In such a context, it seems to me that the most important action to take is, well to move from metaphor to reality, is to sketch out, in some detail, what a peasant-based populist system might look like in Wessex after the tsunami! So this is where I see the significance of this SFF post – advancing an agrarian populist programme – because after the tsunami, I’m not so sure that such fine distinctions as left and right – *as we now understand them* – will really have as much meaning as they seem to have now. But agrarianism and populism will, IMO.

    Which brings me back to my Statist vs non-Statist point. Or, cast in post-tsunami terms, feudal (Throne and Altar) vs peasant-driven. So, Chris, I’m very hopeful that you’ll be able to ‘rehabilitate’ the term populist in the context of a society that is not: “monetised, consumerist” nor “characterized by wage-labour and riven by class, ethnic and national differences”, and looking forward to seeing where you take your thought experiment next.

    To sum up, it’s probably well past time to learn how, when it makes sense, to extract ourselves from the limited intellectual frameworks we’ve all spent a lifetime accumulating and identifying with, and especially to avoid the tendency to use these frameworks to make the good the enemy of the perfect.

    There is, after all, in the distance, a tsunami heading our way.

    • Statist vs anti-statist doesnt hold true for me, although I think there is basic attitude that the left supports state involvement in ensuring a particular set of positive rights whereas the right supports state involvement in ensuring a particular set of negative rights. But obviously both support some level of state involvement in ensuring both positive and negative rights.

      However what defines the left and right is simply the different perspectives that are arbitarily promoted around different issues at any given time. Neither the left or right are fixed ideological forces in that each combine different alliances of thought. In essence this field of contestation is simply because life is a zero-sum game and left/right, statist/anti-statist or any other dichotomy simply reflects contradictory/opposing points of view. One cannot and does not exist without the other and in effect both create the whole. Transcending the secondary reality of duality is enlightenment. So to be emotionally and mentally attached to either is to avoid unity. Mutually destructive xenophobia/partisanship is second rate living basically.

  18. Chris, I try to comment sparingly, and had resolved to stay shut up but Vera’s comment needs a ps from me. She said:

    I am wary of [the adjective “left”], because I know that political sectarianism comes with a lot of baggage attached, and I would prefer an agrarian populism starkly putting its “heart and soul” into defending soil and the people who work it, rather than than into ideologies.

    I represent a small data point in support of this. Each time you use the word “left” I kind of roll my eyes, then tell myself to stop doing it and mumble, “yeah, of course, he’s an ex-marxist, so he’ll have an emotional attachment to the word”.
    There have been so many different (and conflicting) things attached to the words “left” and “right”, that I don’t find your usage of the term tells me very much, other than that you consider yourself a decent chap (which I’m sure you are).

    • I always go back to the etymology of the terms: in the French assembly, the monarchists — those who supported the status quo as the right, correct, and moral system of government — sat on the right. Those who believed the status quo was oppressive and needed to change in order to accommodate those who were oppressed sat on the left.

      That said, the terms usually obscure more than illuminate. Is fascism left or right? It’s nativist, militaristic…but it’s also progressive! It doesn’t sit comfortably on the one-dimensional political axis.

      Or liberalism in the US — it’s been the status quo for 70 years now. “Liberalism” in a strong sense has become a form of conservatism: repealing social security would be a blow against liberalism, but it would also be a radical change from the status quo. So which is “left”?

      I’m starting to believe it’s better to “taboo the terms” as the lesswrong community would say. Say precisely what you mean instead of using these shorthands. If you’re using “fascism” to mean a nationalist, militarist movement with a strong charismatic leader and ethnicist overtones, just describe it as a nationalist, militarist movement with a strong charismatic leader and ethnicist overtones and let people draw their own conclusions.

    • While I understand your point, Martin, I’d argue that Chris’ use of the word “left” serves a very important purpose — populism, as he notes above, has become something of a “toxic brand.” He really must tell people up front that he’s advocating for “nice chap” populism since so much of it is anything but. To my ears, “left” serves that purpose quite well, but maybe there’s another term that would suffice.

      • However it is the left and its own xenophobia that has turned it into a toxic brand. That of course is assuming that labour flow controls are a legitimate democratic choice. If not then how is this form of authoritarianism legitimised within a democratic state.

        • I think you have it the wrong way around, Stephen, but, given the penchant for name-calling and all-around obnoxious behavior that you’ve displayed up-thread, I have no interest whatsoever in engaging with you.

          • So basically the democratic choice to implement labour flow controls is a legitimate democratic choice.

          • So, I am baffled. Why are the left insisting on not having labor flow controls? Chris started with that too, in the beginning of our discussion, though he later modified. Are the left in the pocket of the neocon/neolib globalists? What is behind the insistence?

          • I had long and arduous conversations and debates with pro-eu greens and moderate lefties. I think their general position was that a kind of social neo-lib was the least of two evils in comparison to national policy sovereignty in which the nasty Tories would immediately be in power and would be a position to deregulate workers and environmental protections. Imo this was a hysterical perspective which did not look to the long term of deepened national sovereignty whereby elected political parties were no longer beholden to eu neo-lib. Perhaps they did not trust Labour would ever come to power again.

            Another dimension to their thinking which I tended to agree with to some degree what that positioning themselves internationally via the institutions of the eu enabled greater solidarity and collaboration with left/greens in Europe. But for me this was too reliant on long term thinking and since the Left/Green grouping was a minority grouping we could have had decades of eu neo-lib before any substantial changes in eu treaties occurred. So on the one hand their was short term fear of the Tories that repelled them towards eu neo-lib and on the other there was long-term idealism hoping the eu could be reformed. Within this context, choosing to not have labour flow controls was argued to be the non-xenophobic position and so constructed the language game of rightwing populism/xenophobia as a metaphor for international equality/solidarity. Of course they could not make a direct link to the democratic choice to impose labour flow controls and xenophobia so they just made one up via the Guardian and other leftie papers. This actually incited xenophobia. Hence the entrapment of language games and how they were unable to modify their position but only entrench it, hence the slow but sure road towards mass hysteria on the green/left front. And they are still trapped in it now. Poor souls because they have created a co-dependant relationship with their own prejudicisms which could take a generation or two to resolve.

            I should say that many socialist groupings were for Brexit mainly because of the neo-lib nature of the eu. As were deep greens and social ecologists in the main.

            Effectively mainstream leftie liberals and the liberal inclined eco-modernists of the green party radicalized themselves with their own language games to a point that eu neo-liberalism was seen as the best option. And now they are experiencing collective hysteria regarding Trump.

            Of course I tried to point out the consequences of freedom of movement but I was generally slapped down with bigotry and prejudiced abuse and accused of being far-right, racism, xenophobia and narrow minded nationalism.

            Their projections and misrepresentation of the arguments was pure nihilism and perhaps their goal is nihilism. Who knows but thankgod they are not in power. Theresa May is a saint compared to these raving lunatics. Now as I say they have permanently lost the plot but also the more pragmatic among them have collectivised into lobby groups to ensure our sovereignty post Brexit will ensure better policy. So for example the Landworkers Alliance have done some great work creating a People’s Farming Policy. I personally anticipated grouping would happen so good news in this respect.

  19. Really sorry but this came to mind.

    Forward march!
    Left, right, left, right, left, right.

    I was in the army see 🙂

  20. Thanks for the discussion above. I need to turn to other things for a while after this, but a few brief responses.

    First, regrettably, for the first time ever I have to say “my blog, my rules”. I’ve enjoyed debating and disagreeing with people on it for a number of years with a bare minimum of angry exchanges, and I’ve never moderated anyone’s comments off a post. Steve, I’m happy to hear your ideas and critiques, but not if they’re expressed in the abusive language that you’ve reverted to using. There are plenty of other websites where you can call someone an extremely repugnant person if you wish, but not this one. No more of it, please. Visitors to this site are welcome so long as they respect the house rules, the main one being no abusive language. I’m not going to debate this.

    On other matters:

    (1) I think that some of the heat around this post stems from the fact that various political shorthand words have different meanings and associations for different people. I suppose this is unavoidable to a degree, but I will try to define terms more carefully when I can and not assume that what I think they mean is necessarily what other people do.

    (2) Oz, your point on Greer – maybe you’re right. But to me it seems a strange and risky strategy. Perhaps akin to the argument that Tony Blair took Britain into George W. Bush’s wars because he hoped to influence them in benign ways. Whether he did or not, the result seems to have been that he’s now an isolated figure with many British people regarding him as somewhere on the spectrum between a dupe and a war criminal. I haven’t read as much of Greer as some of you but I agree he’s written some good stuff. I’ve now lost interest in him as a political commentator, but I’m kind of interested to see where his thinking goes as a matter of intellectual biography.

    (3) …and your point on Trump. Yes, as much as I can tell from afar, your view sounds plausible to me that anti-Trumpism is based on hate as well as fear. However, the fact that Greer’s article more or less exclusively emphasises the hate makes it well off-beam for me nonetheless. I disagree with your line of reasoning on the overreaction to Trump. I read it the exact opposite way – “Things are only this bad at the moment and yet *this* guy gets in power. Who are we going to have when things get *really* bad?”

    (4) Various interesting positions set out on populism and political economy above, thank you. I welcome the variety of perspectives and experiences. I don’t have the time now to say any more than I already have above on these issues, but I hope to do so in later posts. In the meantime, I’d like to propose a variant of John Michael Greer’s parlour game. I’ll paraphrase: “The next time you want to goad a patriotic resident of an affluent western country into an all-out, fist-pounding, saliva-spraying Donald Duck meltdown, all you have to do is call them on their country’s unearned privilege through the past and present manipulation of capital and labour flows. You’ll want to have the popcorn popped, buttered, and salted first, though, because if my experience is anything to go by, you’ll be enjoying a world-class hissy fit in seconds, in which the phrase ‘political correctness’ will figure much more prominently than any marshalling of historical evidence”.

    • Ruben, the record is 122 – so we’re not even close! And I’m signing off at this point, but don’t let me stop the party. I’d like to comment more – much of interest above, much to debate, thank you all, but I just don’t have the time at the moment.

      The 122 mark was set by my previous post on Greer, Trump and liberalism. Probably not coincidentally. Vera writes above “This exchange illustrates very well why I would rather leave all this out of agrarian populism. We’ll end up bickering, when we really need to attend to the needs of the soil and the people who feed us, and the politics that will support us in that.” Wise words, perhaps. But will I get as many comments if I stick to non-bickering topics? And should I care?

      • Well, isn’t that interesting Chris.

        I am tempted to dismiss the bickering as “more heat than light”, neither of a sort useful for you to read a book by in this January pall.

        But your questions after Vera’s points kept tickling at me, and so I will offer you my unsolicited blogging advice:

        1. Don’t pay attention to the raw number of comments.
        2. Don’t engage in the bickering.

        But you regularly winnow good grain out of the chaff of this time and place. I am inclined to think the bickering of your regulars may point to something good.

        I don’t know, I can’t see any pattern in it all. But I keep coming back for your latest.



      • Noooo, don’t stick to non-bickering topics! I just meant stick to a lean definition of agrarian populism that does not invite bickering around political labels so that we never get to other, more productive places. Like Ernie says, it will come up anyway at times around various issues and policies, but we don’t need to feed the flames by putting it in the center of things. Soil, food, people, critters first!

        I mean… I mostly detest the word “inclusive” because it’s been abused, but what I am arguing here is political inclusivity. Especially in times like these, when the left/right divide has fuzzed over, and even parties who have a perfectly respectable left program, as soon as they ad ban on uncontrolled immigration they get pushed over on the far right heap and that’s it. This helps no one, except the ideologues.

        Here’s a proposition: “Agrarian populists come in both right and left flavors. Let’s bring all of them in.” What would happen? If we want to be exclusive, maybe it only should be directed at some disruptive folks on the margins, and not the majority of the population?”

        Perhaps the conversation we need to have is what a “good guy” populism means. Nobody wants a bad guy populism. At the same time, all the left populists rioters who want to influence politics via intimidation and violence, should remind us that both right and left have historically shown these authoritarian tendencies, and so choosing the left side will not inoculate us against them.

        • Perhaps the conversation we need to have is what a “good guy” populism means. Nobody wants a bad guy populism. At the same time, all the left populists rioters who want to influence politics via intimidation and violence, should remind us that both right and left have historically shown these authoritarian tendencies, and so choosing the left side will not inoculate us against them.

          I think what people are getting at is that right populism has historically been heavily ethnicist in English-speaking countries, whereas left populism is not.

          The problem with “inclusive vs. exclusive” is that you want “left populists” to be inclusive of “right populists”. But from the perspective of “left populists”, “right populists” already have a history of excluding non-white ethnicities, so including “right populists” could entail excluding those who “right populists” traditionally have excluded.

          Immigration is actually the point of contention. We can’t just paper over it and ignore it — it is the thing you seem to disagree with everyone about that causes all the bickering in the first place.

          • “But from the perspective of ‘left populists’, ‘right populists’ already have a history of excluding non-white ethnicities, so including ‘right populists’ could entail excluding those who ‘right populists’ traditionally have excluded.”

            Exactly, and that’s why, while I appreciate the spirit of Vera’s call for inclusiveness, I fear that it’s problematic. This is much the same dilemma as the US Democratic party faces as we attempt to develop our voter outreach strategy in the years ahead.

          • Ernie, the loonies now in control of the Dem party are now giving voice to a woman who is telling us her job is to shut whitey up. Is that what you support?

            “you want “left populists” to be inclusive of “right populists”. But from the perspective of “left populists”, “right populists” already have a history of excluding non-white ethnicities”

            That criticism falls both ways. Reverse racism is rising, a white boy was tormented on camera while anti-white slogans were being chanted, “kill whites” has been seen in graffiti, and insulting “pale stale males” has become derigeur among the loony left on campus. But when whites speak of solidarity among themselves, they are immediately slapped with the white supremacist label.

            I think if we want to be brutally honest, we have to admit that the left has shown itself as prejudiced as the right — just the objects of that prejudice are different. And currently, it is the left that gives pause with its authoritarian tendencies.

            I am arguing for taking in all agrarian populists, and if you want, there could be a clause that authoritarian tactics and “othering” some people as beyond the pale is frowned upon.

            I don’t think agrarians can avoid talking about immigration, no more than they can avoid talking about ag commodity prices and subsidies. It would be awesome if it could be talked about without that us vs them rancor, at least among us.

            I read the paper talking about identity politics. You are right, everything is identity politics. It’s just the left has turned “their” identity politics into cause celebre, while right identity politics are shamed and consigned on the dung heap.

          • Similarly left populism has a history of excluding sub-white ethnicities, i.e those whites that exclude ‘some’ non-white ethnicities.

            That why for me populism is not about constructing arbitrary divisions based on preferred sub-ethnicities, it is about a critical mass of a population wishing to address thresholds which are perceived to threaten the resilience of that critical mass of the population. So called rightwing populism is a critical mass of people wishing to exert their democratic choice to impose labour flow controls.

            So called Leftwing populism is a democratic choice to not impose labour flow controls. The xenophobia/partisanship that ensues from both camps is a contestation of rights that is based on opposing ways in which to resolve issues regarding resource use. The mutual xenophobia is a name-calling logical fallacy largely perpetrated by the self-identifying left who consider equality to be more important than long term resilience whose intended solution is to reduce green infrastructure within a given tertitory by facilitating both population growth and the growth of grey infrastructure within a specified territory. The contestation was put to a vote in both the UK and tne US and the leftwing populism ideals of international equality and international solidarity at any cost lost to the rightwing populist ideals of national self-determination and national resilience.

        • Vera. I thought this was interesting.

          Wittgenstein is calling attention to the ways in which, by our everyday language-games, we entrap ourselves. So he looks closely at what he is doing and saying.

          But Wittgenstein wanted to expose how ‘words are deeds’, that we do something every time we use a word. Moreover, what we do, we do in a world with others.


        • Furthermore, the zero-sum game of the left/right dichotomy as it has been played out recently regarding national vs international and traditional vs progressive life/death thought experiments.

          Life-and-death thought experiments are correctly unsolvable….

          You could explain this unease in purely psychological terms. Indeed, there is good evidence that psychology plays a major role in how we think about such problems. Generally speaking, we are more likely to make utilitarian choices where there is some distance between our imagined action and those who suffer as a consequence. But when we are up, close and personal with the victims, we tend to back off. The same distinction appears in real life: people have fewer scruples about killing others remotely with drones than in shooting them while looking into the whites of their eyes.

          Although psychology surely does play a part, I don’t think it’s the whole story. What these thought experiments also bring to light is that, in one way, we value life above all else, and, in another, there are things that matter even more than life.

          Life is, in a sense, of supreme value because without life there can be no value at all. That’s why, if we are asked to make choices in which there is more or less life as a result, it seems wrong to choose less.

          But what is it that makes life valuable? Not, it would seem, life itself.

          If life has value, it is surely because of what life makes possible: love, aesthetic experience, great moments, creativity, laughter. But even these things are not judged to be unqualified goods. The context in which they appear matters too.

          If we go back to those life-or-death thought experiments, in each case we can see that we are being asked to choose between saving more life at the cost of something that makes life valuable in the first place, or preserving more of what is of value at the cost of more life.

          That’s why I believe most such thought experiments are never satisfactorily solved. Indeed, I would suggest that the best way to use them is not to see them as puzzles to be solved at all. If we ever face such situations in real life, we will be forced to choose, and will have to do so based on the very particular circumstances of each case. The only general lesson we learn from these thought experiments is that there is sometimes a tragic conflict between life and what makes life valuable in the first place.


          In conclusion the zero-sum nature of life does result in multiple tragic conflicts which in many ways are unresolvable.

          The question then is do we blame the zero-sum nature of life on an ‘other’ using self-justified language games or do we try our best to demonstrate wisdom and compassion in our dealings with others in order to direct valuable time, energy and resources towards the mitigation of these tragic conflicts of life.

          • I always appreciate Vera’s remarks. They often make me slightly uncomfortable. But, as a resident of a deep-red state I’m aware of the doubles standards and vitriol leveled at rural Americans (both black and white). And, it has always been the case with which farmers and peasants have been viewed and treated. The town and city always get the upper hand in both determining the rural economy and setting the cultural tone. Agrarianism has always been fundamentally conservative in an old-fashioned way: being stewards of the land and careful of dramatic change. And it has been liberal in its understanding of the value of life and how to nurture the natural world. But all agrarian movements have learned the hard-way that no one speaks for them but them.

          • Thank you, Brian. 🙂 Half a lifetime ago, I went on a vision quest where I was given to see my role as a walker between worlds. Since then, I’ve made it my business to find/forge bridges between disparate views. Alas, I found that rather than appreciated, it makes people uncomfortable, as they’d rather stay firmly in one safe place. Which is not a criticism of folks here at all — just that I had naively thought the culture at large would appreciate it. But people like me are more likely seen as traitors to the cause.

            And that’s where my commie-land early years come into it. IMO, no ideology should trump soil and life. I can’t help but see efforts to stuff radical agrarianism into a box called “the left” as counterproductive.

          • …perhaps illustrative of my point about the different lenses through which different people see the world. Had I too grown up in ‘commie-land’, I’m sure ‘left’ would mean something different to me. It’s good to try to clarify meanings and understand each other. I’m not sure we can always overcome the disagreements that way – but it’s good to be able to specify what they are as precisely as possible. So thank you.

          • Totally know where you are coming from Vera. I’m certainly no specialist in Non-violent communication, partly because I do take on board the feelings and emotions that are directed at me or my beliefs. As such I am breaking one of the four Toltec agreements which I need to work on whilst at the same time remain clear and confident about my thoughts and perspectives.

            Like you Vera much of my life purpose to bring appreciation and understanding to the two sides of the coin. Sometimes my sledgehammer approach works sometimes it does not but often it does since rigid thinking is often like glass rather than toughened steel. This approach wins few friends I admit but I feel as threatened by the urgency of a situation just like everyone else. In this respect I totally agree that the divisive left/right language game is essentially just that, a language game that serves to divide. All it serves to achieve is to strengthen prejudices,to dehumanize others with different opinions and worst of all to neglect the underlying concerns that are seeking to be expressed. The aim of any shared discussion with sincere aims is to understand and appreciate all concerns and perspectives no matter how incomprehensibe or incoherent they might appear since often more is lost in translation due to heuristic biases rather than bad articulation. That said if intellectual dogma is actually deemed more important than say agrarianism as the primary goal, it is better to be clear about this rather than have two different discussions confused into one.

            Id be interested in either but for me agrarianismt is only political to the extent that agrarianism must include the management of biotic and abiotic flows within a field of zero-sum dilemmas. Entrenching or entrapping adaptive capacity, diversity and redundancy management, modes of connectivity and monitoring slow flow variables and feedback mechanisms into vague, highly contested and arbitary boxes only serves to delimit resilience and sustainability and perhaps more importantly serves to include and exclude on the basis of ‘aligned’ or ‘misaligned’ concerns.

            How some underlying concerns are judged as legitimate and others not on the basis of an arbitary labelling system is to me the complete opposite of resilience and sustainability thinking since different circumstances, different environmental conditions and different levels of resource availability means that potentially all solutions and perspectives are legitimate. The question then is how to build mutual consent (sociocracy) rather than evoke competive partisanship which can quite quickly lead to soft and hard forms of xenophobia. If xenophobia is one of the goals then ‘leftwing’ agrarianism must also consider defence policy and legitimate forms of violence in order to keep the ‘rightwing’ agrarianists out.

            For me the way to transcend this potentially violent polarisation is through a policy of democratic self-determination which enables collective decision making processes around the management and use of biotic and abiotic flows.

            Thanks for the many insightful comments and opinions.

            Hope everyone has an enjoyably productive day.

          • Half a lifetime ago, I went on a vision quest where I was given to see my role as a walker between worlds. Since then, I’ve made it my business to find/forge bridges between disparate views. Alas, I found that rather than appreciated, it makes people uncomfortable, as they’d rather stay firmly in one safe place. Which is not a criticism of folks here at all — just that I had naively thought the culture at large would appreciate it.

            I think you’re patting yourself on the back a little too hard. You contribute to the partisanship in these discussions at least as much as anyone else, and possibly more.

            Just as one example:

            Ernie, the loonies now in control of the Dem party are now giving voice to a woman who is telling us her job is to shut whitey up. Is that what you support?

            I’m not a huge fan of the Dems, but this is incredibly uncharitable, and if a person who did sympathize with more mainstream Democratic positions wanted to contribute to this discussion, they’d probably regard this as a fairly hostile comment and be discouraged from doing so.

            So it seems to me like your commenting style is more “walls” than “bridges”. Maybe you should take a few steps back and try to be more aware of when you’re giving others the benefit of the doubt and when you’re being maybe a little more judgmental than is justified.

  21. Rueben:
    I think 122 comments on this post is totally within our reach. For beginners, I could call Stephen out for being completely wrong on the matter of ‘peak phosphorus’ [and possibly have a teensy poke at a sustainability guru I’ve read once or twice who waxes over resource scarcity from time to time 🙂 ].

    Long ago (several days) and thousands of words above… Stephen began an assertion with a list of… well, here – I’ll paste it in:

    [Stephen said]
    If we take as read deforestation, soil erosion, acidification of the ocean and the creation of deadzones, overuse of nitrogen and the concomitant pollution of our blue inftrastructure, depletion of rare earth metals and ores, peak-oil, peak phosphorus, climate change causing localised severe weather events… [end quote]

    So peak oil can be explained because we can burn the oil we’ve extracted and thus we’ve changed it to something else (CO2 for instance). Using phosphorus as a fertilizer does not change it into something else. It does move it about, and in some instances the near term destination is not somewhere we might like to have it, so there is that… but ultimately the number of phosphorus atoms on our little blue marble today is pretty close to the number present when Aristotle reflected upon the world he lived in. [we may have left a couple on the moon… and then there are those pesky invasive ‘Earthy’ phosphorus atoms on Mars, roving about… but we still have most of ’em]

    It would be all well and good to suggest that our current behavior of digging up rocks in one place, chemically treating them, and then dropping them off somewhere else is shortsighted. The argument is worth consideration. And for sure we do want to be responsible enough to take credit (or really blame) for any offsite movement of phosphorus. Externalities are real. But if we do sheppard this resource responsibly, there is no need to reach some point of unsustainability.

    Similar arguments can be made for ‘depletion of rare earths’. The elements aren’t gone, just moved about and perhaps now more expensive to recover (though I suspect some landfill sites may well prove economically accessible if the values of said rare earths climb sufficiently).

    So without using unattractive language or name calling, I submit that on at least a piece of Stephen’s argument, he is wrong.

    • I take your points here Clem, but regarding mining a rare earth element for a mobile phone, say, wouldn’t it then be like trying to find a needle in a haystack to recover said element from a landfill, compared to mining it in the first place? (Not that it matters really, I’m just curious how it might work).

      • It really is like mining it in the first place. The rare earths aren’t necessarily “rare” as their name implies; but they are relatively disperse and the ores we currently employ to get at them are not found at every turn in the road. That said, if old cell phones and other electronics have been discarded, one might imagine some have ended up in landfills. So the logic is something along the line of the bank robber whose response to the query why do you rob banks…. because that’s where the money is.

        But this approach does have a limit… there are only so many landfills, and we’ve only thrown away so much rare earth material. And I suspect this is part of where Stephen is headed in his concurrence – so let me go at that nut in a response to him.

    • I concur. How do you recover rare earth metals in relation to the growing use of these metals in technology at exponential rates.

      Phosphorus at present cannot be artificially produced like nitrogen for example. A group in Sweden are looking at how to recover phosphorus from human sewerage but again human sewerage is also being increasingly used to create bio-energy (see Severn Trent). So Id be interested in how you imagine phosphorus can be recovered after it has been broken down from its rocky origins.

      So whilst I appreciate your Laws of Conservation logic, Im curious how you intend to counter entrophy.

      • It’s simple. Create a logistical pattern where all vegetable leavings, humanure, animal manure, and all dead bodies are returned to the soil. And I don’t mean 5 ft under. Plenty of phosphorus, and people say it’s far more bioavailable in this form than rock phosphorus.

      • So first off, there is no entropy (you can skip the ‘h’) to be countering. We’re simply attempting to manage the cycling of the element in question.

        An not to put too fine a point on the argument – we are not presently producing nitrogen artificially. Haber Bosch is a process of changing atmospheric N (N2 gas) into ammonia (NH4). No “production”… merely a chemical reduction from one form to another. [perhaps “merely” exaggerates the difficulty and cost… but I digress]

        So where I really hear your complaint is in the anticipation of “exponential” growth of the current use rate. Fair enough. Markets.

        Let’s suggest there are 5 billion cell phones operating today. Population growth and expanding appetites for electronic goodies might suggest we need more rare earths than we’ve already extracted. And so by this reasoning there aren’t likely to be sufficient levels of these special elements among the detritus we’ve already discarded. Fair enough [indeed I hope this is true].

        Further mining is possible, though not without some nastiness. For a pretty nice backgrounder, see:

        But the ultimate arbiters when we push up against a supply issue? Conservation, rationing, recycling, and markets. Research and development of alternatives also fits into the futuristic vision.

        If a cell phone costs a year’s wages… fewer folks will carry one.

  22. Oh, on the last reply to Stephen I mention R&D to develop alternatives… and on that matter I was referring ONLY to the rare earths in their present application for electronic goodies. I am not suggesting we can substitute for phosphorus. But we can get plants to do some mining for us. There is plenty of phosphorus in soils all around the planet. Trouble being quite a bit of it isn’t readily available for plants to take up.

    Mycorrhizal fungi can help… as can certain legumes that have these fascinating roots capable of getting at some of this phosphorus that currently evades us.

    Back to the R&D front… there are efforts to increase phosphorus use efficiency by our domesticates (both plants and livestock animals). This is not just important from a resource use aspect, but also from a pollution perspective. Which, if I may, does indirectly speak to another of Stephen’s complaints in the much earlier posting here.

    Oh, and thanks to Vera for pitching in here as well.

    • Definitely take on board your points and yes my mistake. Nitrogen can be created by chemical reaction whereby phosphorus cannot.

      Entropy exists in all systems with no exceptions.

      Comfrey et al are all good at mining too. But we will hit against the zero-sum at some point and whilst peak phosphorus might be countered by logistical patterning – entropy and increasing demand (with or without markets) will mean peak phosphorus will be a reality in about 15-30 years time according to current predictions especially as there is currently no technology to replace its current levels of extraction as far as Im aware.

      Then Im sure there will be another left/right crisis regarding fuel/food crops and crops for livestock/human consumption etc.

      Agrarianism will become a reality so more knowledge hubs the better.

      • Fifteen to thirty years is a window into which I personally might be able to squeeze… are you confident enough in your “current predictions” to make a wager?

        We can define and exact price level or inventory measure metric that has to be met at say, January 1, 2035… sort of like the wager between Simon and Ehrlich.

        Let me know. [oh, and just to be clear, I’ll be betting we won’t be anywhere near a “peak” by that point]

        • Lets hope you are right but would be foolish to ignore in terms of resilience thinking in my opinion. Obviously this isnt my prediction but estimates in the scientific community bearing in mind that the concept peak phosphorus has a specific definition.

          This article seems to clarify the need for global collaboration to ensure a soft landing.

          • I read it. Long on analysis and short on what *actually* to do. Anyone who looks into this quickly understands the issues.

            Someone above said that the trouble is that phosphorus molecules are now dispersed and hard to mine. But that’s not true. Nature concentrates the molecules in living beings. Their carcasses and manures are chock full of phosphorus, and we waste most of it.

            What’s missing is the willingness and courage to face the fact that our modern logistical systems abandoned large scale manure recycling that used to exist in many parts of the world, and bet the store on mined phosphorus, and on sewerage systems inimical to the needs of the soil while pleasing urbanites who wanted to flush all the nastiness “away” and not have to deal with it. Now we reap the result of that. There is no point in further analysis. There is great need to face the infrastructure that is flat out inimical to reusing bio-phosphorus.

            Does anyone know what happens to phosphorus when dead bodies are incinerated? Does it gasify and fly out into the atmosphere or does it remain in the ash?

          • Now we appear to be coming together somewhat.

            Stephen: Thanks for the link – I haven’t finished going through it yet so may have missed something. I do want to reciprocate with an article that reviews (as of 2003) what plant biology can be accessed to help with the matter:

            As for the foolishness of ignoring the issue just because it isn’t likely to bite us in the next news cycle – I agree with you completely. There is another article I need to dig out concerning the longer term (50-300 years) availability of phosphorus. But even at that range it would fall short of what we should really be focusing on.

            You’re right that living creatures do accumulate P, and if properly husbanded their remains are a good source of not just P but other necessary nutrients as well. The argument comes, however, that populations are increasing. You eventually run out of P by raising 100 chickens by recycling 10 dead ones. But your point is still quite valid and like any other potential solution it has to be a part of the overall plan.

            As for where P goes in a fire – I think it exits in both ash and volatiles. I should be fact checked here but I think more escapes in the volatile (smoke, etc) when the fire is hotter. So a cooler fire should be better. Ash is obviously a concentrate that is easier to deal with, but volatiles do not escape the planet, they end up dispersed and more difficult for us to recapture. But difficulty is still somewhat shy of impossibility.

          • Turns out that most of the P stays in ash… 99% they say. Problem is, if I understand it correctly, that the P in the ash in not bio-available.

            Clem, you are right about increasing populations. That’s why we need to recycle humans too. For a while, a Swedish system was touted that reduced a body to some white powder that could be used as a fertilizer (they claimed). Even the Church jumped on the bandwagon. The company, however, could not deliver. I am not sure if it was flat out vaporware, or if the founder just took on more than she could chew. The whole business with coffins and 5 ft under is simply ridiculous. But cremation is a huge problem too in that it wastes tremendous amounts of fossil fuel, and when it comes to P, the more heat, the more P you lose up the chimney. And burning bodies takes high heat.

            There is a great deal of lit out there on various energy intensive and expensive methods of burning waste/sludge and then extracting P from the ashes and treating it with acid to make it usable. It makes me want to bang my head against the wall.

  23. Very coy, Clem. You set bait for both Stephen and me at the same time. We will set comment records in no time.

    I am not really sure where to start—with peaking, with phosphorus, or with resource constraints.

    I guess I will start with peaking. Actually no, I will start with concentration.

    One of the things the Archdruid taught me is that what matters in life is not the gross amount of stuff, but rather the differential between “source” and background. He explains using energy, but I think it will echo usefully as we think about physical resources.

    Greer’s eulogy for William Catton, is, to my mind, one of his best posts. Catton is the foundational genius whose work Greer mines, selects the choicest gems, and holds up for us to look at.

    “Every ecosystem, in thermodynamic terms, is a process by which relatively concentrated energy is dispersed into diffuse background heat.”

    Greer unpacks this further in Energy Follows Its Bliss, where he says, “The amount of work you get out of a given energy source depends, not on the amount of energy, but on the difference in energy concentration between the energy source and the environment.”

    Work is done by liberating potential. If there is no difference, there is no potential. The greater the difference, the greater the potential.

    So, when it comes to peaking, what we are seeing is that the concentration differential has dropped considerably, taking the amount of potential work with it. We have gone from light Pennsylvania crude bubbling out of the ground by itself, to shale oil and tar sands. The fuel source is, in some case, not noticeably different from rock, and nobody can run their car on rocks.

    The Energy Returned On Energy Invested is plummeting. We must spend more energy now to get oil out of the ground.

    The problem is, we were already spending that oil on something else, like on building houses or eating in restaurants, or buying other toys. So, when we shift that oil, then, to mining new oil, we are starving those other industries.

    Here are two articles by Gail Tverberg, in which she lays out the dynamics and the cascading problems.

    Why energy prices are ultimately headed lower; what the IMF missed
    How Researchers Could Miss the Real Energy Story

    Basically, as energy becomes harder to extract, it becomes more expensive. As it becomes more expensive, wage-earners cannot afford it, and have to cut back, which creates economic recession. This destroys demand for energy, and means oil companies can’t charge enough to extract from the less-concentrated sources. The price of oil drops below the cost to extract it.

    And so, peak oil—and peak resources in general—is the peak of affordable oil and resources. The economists—silly fellows—thought oil would just get more expensive and that would drive more exploration.

    Which is what happened until it crashed the economy.

    So, the greater the concentration, the greater the potential. If the concentration drops too low a line is crossed whereafter the resource is economically impossible to extract.

    This is very basic. If you spend more calories hunting for food than you harvest from the hunt, you starve to death.

    So, cycling back to phosphorous and the other finite resources some sustainability guru is concerned about…

    As Catton says, “we extracted minerals from highly-concentrated deposits and dispersed them into the biosphere. Nature will not renew these deposits, at least not on a time-scale likely to help humans.”

    So, all the phosphorous molecules that have ever existed may still be with us, but they are too dispersed for us to mine economically—the hunt itself will cause our starvation. The concentration differential is too small.

    Thinking about rare earths or precious metals… how many trillions of computer chips do you suppose have been manufactured? Each of them may have a little mote of gold, and a speck of tantalum. Some of these motes and specks are more concentrated, perhaps in server farms or supercomputers. But for the most part we have dispersed them in our old cell phones, our televisions, our doorbells and blenders. They are in dumps, and closets and garages and kitchen junk drawers around the globe.

    Try to imagine a global blender collection system. First you collect the blenders somehow. How? With what fuel? They are centralized in some town, and then perhaps are shipped to the next highest collection node. Again, this must happen with so small an amount of fuel that the whole process does not starve itself.

    Perhaps in this intermediate node the blenders are actually cracked open. How? With street urchins? This is what we usually ask China to do, the low-wage work. But it will be manifestly uneconomic to ship whole blenders to China (from whence they came) just to extract the tiny chip that makes the LED light change colour or whatever.

    So let’s say every town of 50,000 people or so has a business that cracks open blenders and whatnot, and extracts chips. They need a building, with electricity and tools and staff and materials handling systems and ventilation systems. The chips are collected and shipped to a still larger collection centre, where they will be crushed for more efficient use of space—again, another warehouse, this one with a hammer mill or a roller mill to pulverize the chips. More ventilation systems to capture the fine dusts and gases, and they all need to pay for themselves. At each of these steps there are losses.

    Current recycling facilities, called MURFs (Material Recovery Facility) can see losses of up to 30%. These are the pop bottle caps and shavings and dusts. They are just swept up and thrown in the dump. These sweeping are still precious resources, they are just uneconomical to recycle. We would starve if we tried.

    Then on to a port city where the chip dust is yet again stored until a big enough shipment has been amassed. In a warehouse—which must pay rent and keep the lights on and have forklifts and operators and all of the accoutrements of our world like fire extinguishers and first aid kits and lockers for the workers.

    Finally, after several shipping containers of powdered computer chips have been stored up, they will be sent to China, or Cambodia or India, where the environmental controls are lower or non-existent, and toxic chemicals can be mixed into the powdered chips to extract the motes of gold and tantalum.

    Fortunately, I have worked in the recycling industry for many years, so I hope you enjoyed the thrilling ride I just took you on.

    This is what managing the cycling of these elements looks like.

    And I hope I have made it clear just how incredibly difficult it is to make money—and therefore keep yourself alive—in the recycling business. In most markets, recycling is heavily subsidized. Not that we couldn’t rearrange capitalism to show true costs, but I don’t see that on the horizon.

    So for the most part, newspaper and cardboard pay for everything else. Almost all recycling streams lose more money than they make.

    So phosphorous is kind of like the chips in our blenders and whatnot. We have dispersed it widely across the planet. We have taken concentrations and diffused them, and there are no guarantees we will be able to create a recycling system that will concentrate enough phosphorous to keep these billions of souls fed.

    Just this morning I scrolled through this post, Why the bathrooms of the future shouldn’t look like the bathrooms of the past, which gives some very interesting history on urine collection for phosphorous recycling, and also humanure collection.

    What is striking of course, is the integration of farming and urban life. There was a sweet spot where human and animal power could supply the city and take away its waste. After we harnessed fossil fuels we were able to abandon that scale constraint, but Gail Tverberg shows the constraint is coming back.

    Fortunately, we early left agrarian populists will be ready and have plans in place to collect your urine. 😉

    • …though to unpack your/Greer’s ecosystem analysis a little, ecosystems indeed disperse concentrated energy into background heat, but then get more concentrated energy in the form of sunlight. Matter, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily renewed. But in a lot of natural ecosystems it’s bound quite tightly within the system – inputs and losses are small relative to what’s cycled in the system (eg. the Hubbard Brook experiments). With human agroecosystems – well, not so much. I agree with Clem that there are ways human ingenuity can help push the envelope sustainably, but I wouldn’t want to overstretch that assumption. So I also agree with you – keep hold of that urine…

      What would interest me is a more quantitative judgment about what the flow of key inputs into and out of a reasonably sustainable agroecosystem might look like, with some plausible assumptions about the possibilities for mining, extending, cycling and recovering (I think it’d have to extend beyond 35 years, though…) My guess is that it might have to look very much more like a natural ecosystem than most farms presently do, which would have some major implications for human ecology. But I don’t know. If the future price of energy decreases then the model might look different again, whereas if it increases… Another way to look at it is that living on a nice, treed, mixed farm feels good, and when you live on such a place buying in and selling off nutrients feels all wrong.

      • Certainly on my plot I can adequately cycle PPN using urine, humanure, grass cuttings (from offsite), leaves, comfrey leaves, discarded veg cuttings and plants.

        I (with the help of others) can perhaps grow a years supply of food for 10 people at full production. Plant diseases/pests may mean that this is not every year.

      • Chris, I sure wish I had a nice, treed, mixed farm, instead of trying to squeeze what we can out of an urban lot. But family circumstances have chosen our next 5-7 years for us, so it is what it is.

        I would tend to look back in history for examples of how resources might sustainably cycle on the farm and between the farm and the city. But even that must get complex fast. The Romans badly degraded ecosystems with their farming. The famous French intensive farmers were mining essentially non-renewable guano from South America.

        According to this article, a dovecot should be quite high on the list of infrastructure additions.

        Pigeon Towers: A Low-tech Alternative to Synthetic Fertilizers

        • Since doves eat mostly seeds, the dovecote idea will only work in places that have a predominance of wild seeds. If one were built in an area dominated by fields of grain planted by farmers, all you do is end up turning food grain into dove manure.

          • Though then one wonders what pigeons are eating in cities. Surely they are not subsisting on the folks feeding them from park benches.

            And we saw these all over Provence, in the middle of fields. Given the long history of it, there must be some math that works out. Maybe it only works out for less intensive agriculture where there are lots of hedgerows? Maybe they don’t damage the standing grain, they only glean the fallen grain? Maybe the farmer feels the payment in grain is worth less than the fertilizer.

            I find this fascinating, especially because they go out and forage for themselves, unlike my rabbits, for which I have to buy in alfalfa pellets.

          • Ruben:
            Flying rabbits… just sayin’

            Just me being kinda coy. But predators do make free range rabbitry kinda difficult. Horizontal gene transfer – wing genes from ducks or geese should be sufficient to lift a reasonable sized rabbit from the attack of a dog, fox, or other bunny based predator. Well, not in our lifetime… but a trip of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And heaven knows I’ve beaten the rabbit drum here before.

            Or what was that rabbit in Monty Python.??.. it was really nasty – I can see it taking on predators. Might be difficult to domesticate, but again, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And coming from Monty Python it already has an English heritage. How could that possibly fail?


          • Thanks for that article Joe. Unfortunately they didn’t say if the historic relationship with the squab included feeding, of if they were left to forage.

            There was one paragraph that mentioned guano was a valued byproduct “ten time more valuable than other manures”.

            I would love to know what sort of a design would work in the urban environment. The dovecot couldn’t be too large, and raccoons would be a concern. But it sure would be nice to have some squab raise themselves for our plate.

      • F. H. King’s Farmers of Forty Centuries covers the nature of a sustainable agroecosystem very well, though it should be noted that the systems he surveyed in China, Japan and Korea in 1909 were operating at maximum population, so famine still happened occasionally.

        A more modern take on this topic is Youngsang Cho’s JADAM Organic Farming, which goes into great detail about the practicalities of nutrient cycling and soil health management based on historic Korean farming practices.

        Regarding the mineral cycling issue- Cotton’s assertion “we extracted minerals from highly-concentrated deposits and dispersed them into the biosphere. Nature will not renew these deposits, at least not on a time-scale likely to help humans” is most likely referring to fossil fuels, not metals, but I would have to check the book.

        Metals production dissipates energy sources (if non-renewable) to concentrate a metal. For most of the basic industrial metals (steel, copper, aluminum), future generations will find them far more available in concentrated form than our ancestors ever did, or we do now. Abandoned cities will be full of them.

        There will be no shortage of steel for hundreds of years at least. Even when the skyscrapers of modern cities have rusted completely away, those piles of rust will be a far richer ore than has ever been found in nature. We need not return to a stone age for millennia, at least.

        • I forgot to mention Farmers of 40 Centuries, thanks for the reminder, and thanks for JADAM Organic Farming, I will look it up. Have you used any of the JADAM methods?

          On dissipation, I flipped through most of Overshoot, but could not find the reference. I have a pirated copy on my phone, so the screen is small and is not searchable.

          I agree we dissipate the stored energy of fossil fuels, and I take your point that we are concentrating ores into steel our descendants will find useful.

          But we are also dissipating the newly concentrated materials. Again, this is the problem of recycling.

          We have a mine of rich ore. We know where all the ore is, it is right there in the mine. Granted, it is not very concentrated, but nor is it dissipated.

          So we mine and refine the ore, and begin dissipating it. We scatter 40,000 nails throughout the timber of our house. We encase lengths of rebar in concrete. We speckle sewer access covers throughout our streets. Wonderful concentrated materials, but very dissipated.

          We can look at the copper ore from the Kennecot Copper mine, the largest open pit mine in the world. A massive amount of copper has been pulled from the earth, refined, and is now dissipated in impossibly tiny amounts across the planet. A little bit in your light switch, some in your TV, a thin sheet in the bottom of your pots and pans.

          You can see the concept of dissipation of materials if you look at a tree. There it stands, growing, beautiful. It could be shade, or fruit or firewood or building material.

          And then we cut it down and saw it up, and build a house out of it. Those wall studs can never be made into a tree again, nor are they likely to be taken apart and made into another wall.

          But, I agree, we are leaving wonderful stores for the scavenger society of the future. Catton calls us detrivores, but he ain’t seen nothing yet.

          I think it is important though that we keep in mind which future scenario we are talking about. If we are talking about the accepted mainstream vision of wind and tidal power replacing oil, colonies on Mars, and Musk’s Hyperloop highways everywhere, well I am quite sure resource constraints will prevent us from accomplishing that.

          If we are talking about an involuntary return to agrarianism for an indeterminate, though likely much smaller human population, then yes, I think the I-beams and pipes will truly seem like gifts from the gods. I agree there won’t be a steel shortage, as long as what we are talking about is a post-industrial remnant of humanity.

          • I live in the tropics, so the seasonal JADAM procedures do not always apply.

            I have always cycled crop debris and weeds, but through static aerobic dry composting in conjunction with wood chips. I am eager to try the anaerobic methods in the book which amounts to just throwing everything in a large container, cover with water and put a lid on it. When everything is putrid glop, mix it all up into a slurry and feed it to the crop.

            I can also easily try using small amounts of sea water (or salt) for trace minerals, since the ocean is close.

            The thing about JADAM methods is that even though they minimize outside inputs and are very cheap, they are all labor intensive. The author assumes that every farmer has the capability of working from sunrise to sunset. Eight hours a day is his minimum. Whew. My place needs more young backs.

            As for the metals- I still consider the vast majority of metals processing to be concentration. Even a nail in a house or copper in house wiring is far more easily accessible than making either from ore.

            And yes, I’m assuming no fossil fuels. In that situation, no matter how many people there are, even getting steel by breaking up concrete with a sledgehammer for the rebar would be easier than making an equivalent amount from iron ore.

        • Thanks for mentioning JADAM Organic Farming, Joe. I haven’t come across it before, and the description and reviews at Amazon definitely piqued my interest. For anyone who hasn’t read it, I’ll take the opportunity to plug Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical Self-Reliant Gardening. Bonsall’s philosophy of farming/gardening is very much in line with Chris’ observation “that living on a nice, treed, mixed farm feels good, and when you live on such a place buying in and selling off nutrients feels all wrong.” It’s an all-around fantastic book, and I highly recommend it. Bonsall has also written a novel, Through the Eyes of a Stranger, that I haven’t gotten to yet but hope to soon. It’s set five centuries in the future in a place Bonsall calls Esperia, where the focus is on “eco-efficiency” and self reliance. In his Essential Guide, he notes that “Esperia…is not predicated on utopian perfection…It has flaws like every other society, but it has one asset that compensates for every other wart and pimple, and ultimately trumps every achievement of our civilization: It is sustainable. Without sustainability all other accomplishments — including democracy, arts and culture, technology, and civil rights — are superficial and transient.” It sounds like the kind of society that would interest a lot of folks who participate here.

        • For my part I agree that further concentration of ores is a readibly available source of metals which are easily scavenged for future use. Electricity pylons always seem an ubiquitous example. However in this regard the machinery to process and fabricate these ores obviously require power usually in the form of electricity, steam and fossil fuels but also wind, water and solar.

          So power generation is the obvious missing link which usually requires regular maintenance but then there is the use of animals to do the heavy work too.

          On one of my many MOOCs organic farming techniques utilising no dig, crop rotation, companion planting, leaving crop debris on beds and using specially formulated compost fertilizers did tend to produce the greater yields but were very labour intensive.

          This is where I find the neo-peasant model to break down in current times since whilst I have many collegues who desire a return to this mode of sustainability, I have found to my dismay that there is an implicit assumption that this arduous life will be carried out by others. I have even found among the same well-meaning collegues that the food grower is still perceived as the lowly with one collegue even saying to me, please join our merry band of alternatives and we will give you a small room for free when we find our community house. I was quite shocked to say the least that the person giving them life was not treated with more respect and reverence. I say this because it felt like I was to be the inconvenient addition to their spiritual undertakings. So whilst they are busy orgsnising enlightenment seminars in their warm comfortable surroundings occupying positions of privilage, Im working the field providing them with their source of life. Perhaps I misinterpreted them but I did not want to proceed with a group of people who from the start were not offering me a place at the top table. I thought their priorities were completely upside down. Surely sustainable food is the starting point.

          The obvious problem with current society, as pointed out elsewhere so please forgive the repetition, is that a peasant lifestyle does not pay the bills. So in this respect, if a person is paying rent or paying a mortgage in particular, an agrarian lifestyle is not a sustainable livelihood. Moreover the main reason why neo-peasantry is not actively promoted or subsidised is because of the labour intensive nature of the job. Not because it is hard and dirty work, which I love even though I look like a complete tramp when I go into Aldi after a hard days work on my plot of land, but because from a gdp growth point of view, labour intensive agrarianism has opportunity costs in that a tractor and industrial fertilisers/pesticides/herbicides enables farm labourers to work in other areas of the economy, hence the appeal of automating technologies to shift workers into expanding spheres of the economy. So we are not only literally going in the opposite direction to the flow of mainstream thinking but in terms of viability regarding the usual costs of living then it has very little viability.

          Im sorry to bring attention from the future back to the present but I just thought that the rentier nature of contemporary living was a perspective that requires attention since it is highly likely that the rentier nature of life will continue even if faced with multiple societal collapses.

          On a more positive note, I seem to have figured out PPN cycling by using heaps of comfrey leaves which I harvest 2 or 3 times a year from about 40 plants. In permaculture terms this is utilising the edges of my land. So together with crop debris, grass cuttings from offsite, leaf drop, urine and comfrey leaves, I make a compost which when laid about 2/3 inches thick on my beds results in veg that is about 3/4 larger than veg grown in beds with minimalist additions of annual fertilizers.

          Comfrey is supposed to have a nitrogen/carbon ratio similar to matured horse manure and is very adept at mining minerals with tap roots at least a foot deep even after just a years growth and are very easily propagated. Russian bock is the sterilised commercial variety but I dont go for that level of propagation control myself. Borage is in the same family. It is a genus of plant that is specifically native to Europe but I dont know if alternatives exist elsewhere.

          Lastly comfrey tea is a lovely and easy way to sweeten strawberries if added at the beginning of the growing season.

          In general, Charles Dowdings No Dig approach is instructive in terms of producing labour intensive high yields.

          Ill be sure to follow up on Bonsall’s literature.

          Apologies for any repeats in relation to previous blog posts/discussions.

          Have a good day.

    • Nice story . Entropy in action. And nice little right agrarian populist farms too. Got to be inclusive and diverse in our brave new world, I hope

    • Ruben:
      Moi, coy? Ahhh, blush. 🙂

      But I do want to quibble with your point:
      So, all the phosphorous molecules that have ever existed may still be with us, but they are too dispersed for us to mine economically—the hunt itself will cause our starvation. The concentration differential is too small. [end quote]

      I agree we will not be “mining” P once current concentrated deposits become uneconomic. But mining is not the only way to go. Likewise, Bill Catton is only correct in a constrained way. His notion that nature will not renew these deposits on our timescale is pretty hard to puncture – and I don’t even want to. There are, however, other ways to get at these resources. And Chris is exactly right to notice that solar energy inputs to our Earth ecosystem help us offset the entropy losses (dust and so forth).

      Have a look at the review by Vance et al. linked above. All the technology involved in the plant ‘mining’ of soil borne P is driven (paid for) by photosynthesis which we both know is driven by solar energy. And while solar is not totally free – it is remarkably inexpensive. Once we come to a place where we are rationing incoming solar radiation then perhaps a conversation about NTE could be worth hearing.

      I do like your points about recycling. It is a sticky matter. And the metaphor of hunting too scarce a resource until starving is also one to keep close at hand. At some time downstream (as has already occurred in many localized instances) the proper combinations of resource, technology, and social capacity might not be present. No apple pie.

      So before the pie runs out we have to sheppard what we have, develop technologies and social capacities in ways such that trade offs can be made in a timely fashion. For the most part we’ve muddled this far. If we don’t kill ourselves through civil unrest first we might manage to muddle along for a bit yet.

      • Thanks for the pdf on P, Clem.

        It is good to know there are other routes for P collection, though I would tend to agree with Vera that pee collection would be the best place to start. I have on occasion peed in a yogourt container and diluted it for the garden, but it is not a habit, nor have I installed a urinal or a separating toilet.

        As I think Chris said, it would be interesting to try to imagine what could be grown given all of these further constraints. Intensive farming gets a lot more extensive if you have a field of crops gathering phosphorous, and another one sequestering nitrogen, etc, etc.

        To bring other people into our side conversation—

        Clem dropped by A Small and Delicious Life for a comment on Vertical farms: A bad solution to the wrong problem. Noodling over solar powered farming, I took Chris’ estimate of 100 litres of diesel being needed per hectare, and ran it through some estimates of how much human labour that is equivalent to.

        And it turns out 100 litres of diesel might equal four human labourers, working for a year.

        So a farmer working a hectare of land, who decides to apply what many people would consider the laughably small amount of 100 litres of fuel, totally inverts the labour from being solar powered to being 80% fossil fuelled. Just 25 litres of fuel does as much work as the farmer does all year.

        I found this completely gobsmacking, as we mull over low-energy and solar powered farming.

        • The lentils mentioned in the Tansley Review on P (link above) are legumes. So the same plant is both fixing atmospheric N and scavenging P that is not readily available to other crops such as corn. Point being that you don’t need two different crops to provide these services. Oh, and lentils are a nutritious grain in their own right.

          What’s more, I’m guessing rabbits would eat the vegetative lentil plants… so if you fill your backyard garden with lentils you can feed the bunnies, fix N, accume P, and leave some go to seed for 1) next year’s crop, and 2) a pulse for a mid-winter pot of soup. Do double check on the rabbit feed angle though… don’t want to give them something they shouldn’t have.

          • 😀 That sounds great Clem.

            Rabbits can eat pretty much what humans eat, though they also like nibbling bark and whatnot. And they shouldn’t eat too much brassica or they get gassy.

          • The comment by Ruben that “[R]abbits can eat pretty much what humans eat” is just nonsense. For a start rabbits are vegetarian.

            Here’s a good link covering rabbit diet:


            Hay doesn’t feature in recommended human diets.

            Keeping rabbits as micro-economic meat livestock is one of the fashionable sustainability/permie tropes that pops up quite regularly. Salatin has a lot to answer for IMO. European rabbits (typically the species used for meat) need adequate shelter, water and appropriate food, they’re not well suited to living above ground in heat or cold and they need protection from predators. I’ve read and heard of some appalling accounts of people serially killing rabbits by uninformed animal husbandry; often poor feeding. If you’re going to keep animals do it properly. Finding information on their care is generally readily available from various interest groups. IMO there’s no excuse for what amounts to animal cruelty.

            While I’m up on the soapbox about uninformed sustainability, I don’t understand why people like JMG have had so much influence over the apocalypterati. IMO he hasn’t shown a deep understanding of renewables, energy systems, thermodynamics, finance, technology or economics. So why do people take seriously what he says in these areas? He writes an often entertaining polemic. But that doesn’t make him a reliable source of technical expertise. There’s plenty of actual doom and gloom to get concerned about without channeling cant from this prolifically otiose autodidact. But I do think he’s done a wonderful job of attracting visitors to his site where he can sell his novels.

            My two bob’s worth. Should help with the comment count 🙂


        • David, thanks for the links on rabbit diet for those who may be considering branching out into small, furry livestock.

          I agree with David that you should not make husbandry decisions based on a few sentences in a blog comments section. Do your research!

          Here in North America, the rabbit bible is Rabbit Production.

          And I am sorry I confused you David. Clem and I were talking about bioconcentrating phosphorous, not about rabbits, and he offered that lentils collect P and N, and perhaps the leafy bits could be rabbit feed.

          I assumed that everyone would know that grasses are the base diet for rabbits, but perhaps you didn’t know.

          Given a base grass diet, in fact a very common rule of thumb, for rabbit breeders and rabbit clubs, is that if we can eat it, they can eat it.

          I guess everyone just assumes you know that does not mean meat. Again, not too much in the cabbage family, nor too much of the watery lettuce family, like iceberg. But then again, humans shouldn’t bother with iceberg either. No nuts, not too many branches from stonefruit trees. Explore your weblink, there are plenty of resources.

          For those of you considering rabbits, David is quite right they don’t like heat. Shade is required, and active cooling if it gets really hot.

          But rabbits are delighted by cold, David—they are, after all, covered in fur. The key thing to manage cold is to give them shelter from wind and wet, and make sure they have liquid water. With liquid water and nice alfalfa, they can make a lot of heat.

          Keeping water liquid in our rabbit tractors is no small feat during our cold spells, so I would probably rethink things if we were in a much colder climate.

          We keep rabbits in order to be assured of the animal welfare of our dinner, and have arranged our rabbit operation to that end. In fact, just a few hours ago we had a slaughter day with three 12-13 year old girls, all of whom remarked that they were expecting more gore, trauma and screaming rabbits—nothing like the calm and quiet they experienced.

          You might even call it a religious experience—we do.


          As for JMG, he seldom makes “technical” arguments—though I have yet to see him lose one when he does. As i point out in my article about pie, there is a lot needed other than technical knowledge in order to make change.

          This fact is sadly lost on many technical people. A writer would never tell an engineer how to build a bridge, but the engineer too often seems quite confident in their knowledge of communications. I personally have lost track of the number of engineers I have had to lash back into their cubicles and away from the comms.

          We need only look at the failure of climate change communications to see how that worked out.

          More broadly, we can look around this world to see what technical expertise has wrought—and I don’t mean that as a compliment.

          JMG is a tonic, and sometimes a vaccine.

  24. Thanks for all the comments here – a SFF record. Some high quality contributions from everyone who’s commented, I’d say, from which I’ve learned a lot. Also some slightly less high quality ones on occasion. Hopefully we can all agree to try to keep the contributions sharp, but not barbed.

    On the matter of dovecotes, people may be interested in this from Joan Thirsk’s history of alternative agriculture in Britain: “Another food resource which underwent heavier exploitation after the Black Death was the dovecote. Pigeons were a useful source of meat all the year round, as well as supplying much valued dung, but the right to keep a dovecote was deemed in the Middle Ages to be the prerogative of manorial lords. This restriction was doubtless a mercy as far as ordinary farmers were concerned, since the damage done by pigeons to their corn crops was much resented by poor men…[After] the great mortality from plague reduced the pressure on grain supplies…dovecotes began to multiply. Considerate lords compensated tenants who suffered damage to their crops”.

    Brian’s comment on the nature of agrarian society and the populist politics that emerges from it nicely captures for me the strengths and limits of agrarian populism. To my mind, here in England there is currently very little of what might be called an agrarian society from which to build a populist politics – which is both a curse and a blessing. The blessing is that it provides an opportunity for a ‘best of both worlds’ metropolitan-agrarian fusion. Though I’m not optimistic that the opportunity will be taken. Or that it’s easy to achieve.

    After this post, I’m partly tempted to leave the issue of migration well alone. But it’s kind of topical at the moment, and I guess Vera’s comments deserve some kind of an answer, so maybe I’ll queue that up next.

    And then amongst other things we have an energy analysis for neo-peasant Wessex in the offing.

    Don’t touch that dial…

    • That is very interesting history on pigeons. Which only encourages me to raise them in urban environments where there is little corn or grain for them to destroy, and yet so many remain so fat and happy.

  25. I’ll look forward to the piece on migration. I found David Fleming’s Surviving the Future, particularly his chapter on Culture, helpful. Helpful, I should add, in dealing with this topic in a non-political way, indeed a fairly agrarian tone. A difficult topic to deal with in the absence of a growth economy. Thanks as always for the challenging reads. And, congrats on the thoughtful commentary by your other readers.

    • Interesting. I found Fleming’s approach quite political – I hopefully have a review of his book coming out in the next issue of ‘The Land’, in which I criticise his concept of culture – quite relevant to the present discussion. Ah well – let the debate continue!

  26. Joe, being in the Tropics, what’s your take on the so-called ‘Syntropic’ approach to farming practised and taught by Ernst Gotsch et al? Is it a silvoarable approach tailored to that climate?

    • Yes and no.

      Where I live at 2300 ft elevation and 80-100 inches of rainfall, the climate is subtropical and moist. If left alone, the land would quickly return to thick forest, but would then be dominated by feral introduced species, such as yellow guava and eucalyptus.

      The edible animal population would be mostly pigs, bearded turkey and several varieties of pheasant. If neighboring higher elevation pasture was abandoned, feral cattle would be everywhere.

      Such a landscape would be very suitable for hunting and gathering, especially since it would take minimal effort to make sure there was plenty of banana, plantains and avocado in the forest mix.

      But there is no commons here for that kind of life. Most of my neighbors are, like me, small holders, having 5 to 20 acres of land. Larger ranching parcels abut my property with sizes ranging from 20-160 acres. Multi-thousand acre cattle ranches are within a mile or so.

      As a small-holder in this climate, one of my ongoing tasks is just keeping the ‘jungle’ at bay so I can maintain control of what grows where. I have huge amounts of biomass that can be easily grown, limited only by the labor and equipment needed to harvest it. A chain saw and a 6″ Vermeer chipper are my best friends. I don’t know what I would do without at least a little fossil fuel to run them.

      In sum, my property is a hybrid between a syntropic food forest and a conventional farm, but would look more conventional than foresty to a casual observer.

      I have pastures in which I encourage food trees to grow in suitable spots, a dedicated nut orchard, several gardens, the largest being 1/2 acre on which I mostly grow taro, which is my starch staple and should provide about half the calorie supply, and a greenhouse, chicken coop and sheep. My arable land area is limited by the terrain, which is on the side of an extinct volcano, and has slopes that average 10%, with many areas much steeper. The terrain precludes using a tractor for most things, so I have only a walk-behind BCS garden tiller.

      All-in-all not a bad setup, but still a lot of work. Perhaps in a collapse situation, survivors in my landscape could let things go and live off a syntropic landscape, but we must wait awhile to find out.

  27. Following Clem’s lead, I’d be happy to bet on grid longevity and against fast energy descent. There’s been a number of posts on this blog arguing the opposite recently. As I’ve said previously, I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest that the grid will go away soon due to fast energy descent causes. And I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest that we will soon face a fast energy descent. I think both of these memes waste a lot of time and mental energy that would be better spent on how to deal with real sustainability issues.

    So perhaps a wager?

      • Wonderful supposition. And what possible good would a few extra pounds (or dollars, rubles, gold bullion) do… you couldn’t eat them. One supposes that the mere knowledge that you were right offers little comfort either.

        On the other side of the wager one needs to presume that opponents won’t do anything to sabotage the result. And of course we might also anticipate the excuse making that will naturally come from those on the short side.

        In the original offer to place a bet I even had to acknowledge that if the timeline set is too ambitious I myself may not live to see the finish. So all in all I’m not convinced collecting on the bet is the reason I would place it to begin with.

        Perhaps a different approach could be set up… say we meet back here in ten or twenty years and have a conversation about the state of the world, the grid, global temperatures, and rabbit husbandry. Then if we still have a grid and an operating internet, we can at least bash each other about the opportunities for another ten or twenty years.

  28. It’s a deal! If I am able to contact others who comment here in ten or twenty years I will be amazed, but very pleased. Not only will civilized discourse still be possible, but, in the case of the twenty year span, I will still be alive and still communicating intelligibly in my late eighties.

    Then again, if things are much as they are now, world population will be approaching nine billion and the climate will have been set up for thousands of years of much hotter temperatures. Looks to me like whoever wins the wager, we all lose.

    Perhaps we will then, as you say, “bash each other” over whether fast collapse would have been better than climate devastation.

  29. For the “Jetsons will never make it” crowd… check this out:


    A robot that kills weeds in a standing crop. Organic no less. My hoe is nervous. Will this really work? So far it seems to actually be operating as shown in the paper (this is in Germany, and I’ve not seen one myself… though one suspects a youtube video should be out there somewhere). Will this work in real life? How much energy is needed? It could be outfitted with PV on top, though I doubt PV by itself will drive the whole beast (at least in its current implementation).

    Will the Republic of Wessex have an army of these?

    Scary stuff. My next dog will be named Astro…

    • Remember Robocop? The remote field worker might never know that the Roboweeder went rogue… long after the damage is done.

      Ah… the whole disheartning paradigm… complexify complexify complexify.

      Anyone tried weedflamers? I love my spot weed flamer, but never have used the field one.

      • Vera, I haven’t used a flame weeder. But, in Canada, one of the rock stars of market gardening is Jean-Martin Fortier, who wrote the book The Market Gardener.

        Fortier does use a flame weeder, and thinks it is an absolutely critical tool, especially for crops like carrots.


          • Fortier does have a beautiful farm, from the pictures I have seen.

            To add onto the discussion of drawbacks of the Fortier method—

            My wife and I attended one of J-M F’s one day workshops and enjoyed it very much.

            Fortier made it clear he is a bit of a doomer, and so over beers at the end of the day, I asked,

            “Since the economy is contracting, and for many reasons we believe the trend will be a general worsening of quality of life, what is your succession plan—what will you do when people can no longer pay for gourmet baby lettuce mix or pints of berries for $6.50?”

            And he had no answer, which quite surprised me.

            I wrote about this more in a post (which I also linked in the comments of Chris’ earlier thoughts about J-M F that Ernie mentioned).

            So, if I can beg the indulgence of our host, I will yet again link to my own blog.

            Is our localism too artisanal?

        • I liked Fortier’s book, and there is no doubt that he is a very skilled farmer and produces huge amounts of food from a small acreage.

          I don’t know his plans for his new farm, but his existing market garden is dependent on importing all of it’s nutrients. Like another “rock star” farm in California called Singing Frogs Farm, Fortier finds it much easier to produce fantastic results by being willing and able to purchase large quantities of compost and apply it to his land in great depth.

          I see nothing wrong with it really, but we should realize that lavishing large amounts of outside organic nutrients on small acreages cannot be seen as any kind of universal farming technique. There just isn’t that much biomass to go around.

  30. Reproduced from Confederation of Soviets of the Atlantic Archipelago (CSAA) facebook group.

    ‘Organic Regionalism’

    Between the local and the national another scale of authority is suggested by organicists as a means to reorient England. If planner-preservationists saw the region as a unit of modem planning, organicists offered a different regionalism, decentralized and ruralized: ‘The whole secret of England is her regionalism. She is one but composite in infinite variation.’ Organicists build up the region from geology and topography as a counter-modern unit. For [H.J.] Massingham regional symbolism could include the most traditional country squire: ‘his values are individual, co-operative and regional … The regional idea as the nursing ground of the home and family sense is contrary both to individualism and the automatism resulting from it, and the squire is regional both in history and in vocation.” As part of his ‘Alternative to Death’ [Viscount] Lymington proposed a regionalism of ‘ecological comity’, with “each ecological region as self-supporting as possible”: “England should be divided into regions which have an ecological and historical background rather than the arbitrary regions evolved for war-time defence … functional development and self-government should take place within these regions.” ‘

    David Matless, Landscape and Englishness, (2nd ed. 2016)
    Alternative to Death: The Relationship Between Soil, Family and Community. Viscount Lymington (1945).

    If bonds of community are based on organic regionalism (Bioregionalism), it makes me think that the partisan prejudiced-based politics of left/right is mainly a national-scale concern which would, over time, dissipate if the primary focus of self-determination was at the regional-scale.

  31. This title just popped up from a citation alert that supposedly keeps me up on some issues… now if there were just a few professionals around here who could have a look and see what they make of it… [sorry Ruben, I guess coy is in my blood – but the host here is a Sociologist by training, if he weren’t so all fired busy…]

    The Environment in Anthropology (Second Edition): A Reader in Ecology, Culture, and Sustainable Living
    Nora Haenn, Richard R. Wilk, Allison Harnish,
    Copyright Date: 2016 Published by: NYU Press Pages: 592

    The link takes you to a TOC page where one finds a great deal of material covering subjects we’ve either discussed or imagined we should be discussing.

    • That does look very interesting. It even gave me a lurch of desire to join academia so I could get paid to write about these ideas.

      Fortunately that quickly passed. It is quite sunny here today and my wife is baking lavender shortbread for Imbolc. I bet I could plant peas, and I probably will, just to see what they will do.

  32. The Ideas program on CBC Radio had a three-part series called the Orwell Tapes.

    In Part 2, at 16:25, they say, “One of Orwell’s friends described him as, “A radical conservative who valued the old concept of England, based on the English countryside, in which to be conservative is to be against any change that leads to inequality.””

  33. There’s a long tradition in Britain of radical rural conservatism, encompassing the Romantic poets, the distributists, the likes of Belloc, Chesterton and indeed Orwell, and onwards to contemporary figures like Roger Scruton, and also inflecting other movements such as guild socialism. I think it’s picking at a genuinely important set of issues, but it’s also deeply contradictory inasmuch as vast inequalities were the essence of rural life in ‘old England’ and a major response of rural working class people was to get the hell out whenever they could and build a better life in the towns. Attempts to resolve such contradictions have taken its adherents to all sorts of points on the political compass – socialism, fascism, ‘one-nation conservatism’, neo-feudalism and so on. I guess we’re at a historical juncture now when all of those possibilities, and more, are back on the table. Hence the need I feel to speak for a left agrarian populism.

    Thanks for the reference, Clem. It does look interesting. And there was me, thinking that I was SO original – once an anthropologist, always an anthropologist…

    • I feel to speak for a left agrarian populism

      Apologies for earlier grumpiness, but really, how is that different from “egalitarian agarian populism”? I really don’t find the adjective “left” enlightening in this context.

      And there is, I’ve found, often an offputting tribality in people who use the word as a mark of approval (though at least you don’t talk about the “struggle”, which always makes me think of Cumberland wrestling).

      • No need to apologise – I only started blogging to alleviate my grumpiness by sharing it. However, I’ve found that often a grumpiness shared is a grumpiness amplified. I guess there’s a lot of it to go round.

        Anyway, I guess left agrarian populism isn’t necessarily different from ‘egalitarian agrarian populism’, depending on the understanding of ‘egalitarian’. You could, for example, have a very weak egalitarianism (‘people who were born in this jurisdiction have the right to buy a farmstead in it, if they can afford it’) or a very strong and consequentialist one (‘everyone has to obtain the same level of wellbeing from their social entitlements’). For me, ‘left’ signals a position somewhere towards the stronger end of the egalitarian spectrum (contrast, for example, with the right-wing populist position linked by Vera below, which rules out non-whites, illegal immigrants and Muslim refugees from egalitarian purview, and tries to define a ‘true’ working class identity).

        But I guess I need to define that position more explicitly than just ‘left’, and I don’t particularly want to use ‘left’ as a mark of tribalism. If I did, my tribe of left agrarian populists would be small indeed.

        I do, though, want to distinguish the kind of populism I’d like to see from what’s on offer from Messrs Trump, Goad etc. Is ‘agrarian populism’ adequate to the purpose? Maybe. I’m still thinking about this at the moment. Quite grumpily.

  34. Perhaps I have my history wrong but it was the Whigs that tended to promote aristocratic landowners in the rural and the rich bankers and merchants in the urban. The Tories (turning into the Conservatives in 19th C) tended to promote the interests of the lesser rural gentry and urban industrialists. Hence Whigs tended to be protectionist with their mercantilist concerns whilst the Tories promoted free trade with their capitalist concerns. The Great Reformation Act changed the political landscape for both parties leading to the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party.

    The Enclosure Movement was the precurser to this largely urban political transformation

    The process of enclosure created a landless working class that provided the labour required in the new industries developing in the north of England. For example: “In agriculture the years between 1760 and 1820 are the years of wholesale enclosure in which, in village after village, common rights are lost”.[2] Thompson argues that “Enclosure (when all the sophistications are allowed for) was a plain enough case of class robbery.”[3][4]

    W. A. Armstrong, among others, argued that this is perhaps an oversimplification, that the better-off members of the European peasantry encouraged and participated actively in enclosure, seeking to end the perpetual poverty of subsistence farming. “We should be careful not to ascribe to [enclosure] developments that were the consequence of a much broader and more complex process of historical change.”[5] “[T]he impact of eighteenth and nineteenth century enclosure has been grossly exaggerated …”[6][7]

    Enclosure is considered one of the causes of the British Agricultural Revolution. Enclosed land was under control of the farmer who was free to adopt better farming practices. There was widespread agreement in contemporary accounts that profit making opportunities were better with enclosed land.[8] Following enclosure, crop yields increased while at the same time labour productivity increased enough to create a surplus of labour. The increased labour supply is considered one of the causes of the Industrial Revolution.[9] Marx argued in Capital that enclosure played a constitutive role in the revolutionary transformation of feudalism into capitalism, both by transforming land from a means of subsistence into a means to realize profit on commodity markets (primarily wool in the English case), and by creating the conditions for the modern labour market by transforming small peasant proprietors and serfs into agricultural wage-labourers, whose opportunities to exit the market declined as the common lands were enclosed.[10].

    So fleeing the land by particularly poor landworkers was as much a matter of circumstances than it was an example of. rural labour flight. Simply put, they were no longer in demand and so excess supply meant decreasing wages. Thus the urban workhouses became a more appealing prospect.

    That said perhaps a left agrarian populism would be one that focuses on class and alienation especially as nothing much has changed since the Great Reformation Act. -especially now Red Labour (and unions) are effectively without power these days – except that we are all now alot wealthier as a result of capitalism.

    This recent article captures the problems of class and alienation pretty well within the context of degrowth and the problematic field of jobs, energy descent and environmental degradation.


    • Agreed, there are always complexities around defining terms like ‘conservatism’ in particular historical cases. The Whigs and the Tories indeed represented various mixtures of (upper) class interest.

      The commercialisation of farming and the flight of the rural working class to the towns certainly accelerated in the 18th & 19th centuries, though it long predated that period. Fleeing the land by poor landworkers is surely an example of rural labour flight by definition, and is always responsive to circumstances. But it seems to me that England more than most European countries furnished opportunities for a class of ‘low-born’ people on the make to turn money into social status. Which is why the idea of a radical rural conservatism is quite a tricksy one. Though I’d accept that it does have some material to work with, and rural class structures can be pretty complicated.

      • It certainly is. On my travels I’ve come across wealthy upper class landowners who are very supportive of experimental agrarian communities and those that arent. I’ve similarly come across middle and lower class rural folk who are curious about neo-peasantry and those that think it is hippie nonsense.

        Thats why I think your approach is best – regional agrarianism. Start small and scale up. Frome area seems interesting in this respect. Wessex and West Wessex in particular seems to be abit of magnet for like-minded agrarian folk and certainly seems a good place to start in terms of working towards a critical mass of eco-agrarians or neo-peasants compared to anywhere else. It is perhaps also the area of England with the greatest level of aristocratic ownership but not sure about that.

        Still dont see how a critical mass of people will be developed who will take to the streets or be unified in some other way, who are both demanding greater access to land and are reactionary to the status quo of current landownership.

        I get the impression radical conservative thinkers of the industrial revolution period were trying to preserve small-scale rural economic activity in the face of land monopolisation and the desolution of quintessential english rural life as well as trying to bring the notion of cottage industries into an urban capitalist environment with the equality bit more concerned about the prejudices between high and low culture.

        Not read that much but I do find political economic history fascinating. Why we didnt do it at school I will never know.

    • Stephen, I would only quibble with your statement that enclosure allowed the farmer to adopt “better farming practices.”

      Better for whom and for what? For the peasants? For the soils? For the biodiversity? For the resilience of the culture? For the durability of the community? For the sense of place and meaning? For the climate? For food security? For sufficient access to nutrition?

      We can say the farming practices more effectively and quickly enriched the landowner.

      • Yes I take your point but within the historical context of the industrial revolution and the emergence of capitalism then increased land productivity using less labour inputs and the surplus/displaced labour being utilised in urban workhouses and factories to support capitalist growth did indeed increase the wealth of nations and has indeed increased prosperity for most within industrialized societies.

        However within the historical context of the present then it has become all too apparent that this increased prosperity comes with ecological costs and so we are now witnessing a huge contestation around the concerns you highlight.

        I tend to see time as a spiralling process so whilst history evolves it also repeats itself somewhat but never exactly since the repeat version always incorporates the evolution. In this respect we are reassessing our past in order to better circumnavigate our future.

        For me neo-peasantry is inevitable since at some point soon, humanity will need to discriminate between low, medium and high human impact activities in order to remain within ecological limits. As such low impact economic activities will be valued more and more and might even be seen as the meek that inherit the earth. Therefore I have no doubts that neo-peasantry will become a reality and at the moment is just an idea that is ahead of its times. In a sense we are at the cutting edge of evolution or on the tip of the arrow of time.

        The issue of left and right, in the context of agrarianism is regarding social justice and how limited resources once ecological limits have been (scientifically) identified are distributed. This left/right articulation seems to range from an ‘each according to their need, each according to their ability’ position which is variously perceived as rightwing since not only is this decided largely by the community itself but is in itself highly contested in terms of perceived need and perceived ability so should be left to the market place of ideas. The left on the otherhand is the position of more egalitarianism tendencies which are largely determined by rational bureaucracies since it is perveived that communities left to their own devices will invariably create internal hierarchies. Therefore there are those that believe in natural ordering and the sub-division of communities into classes like we see in Nature, especially in the animal kingdom with the view that these species have found a natural symbiosis with the natural environment and so emphasise class collaboration and others who aspire towards a more geo-engineering approach whereby class differences can be moulded into an amorphous blur of bio-physical equality whereby well-being is computed by technocratic reasoning. Each affords a different set of liberties and rightly or wrongly can at present be loosely described as liberalism vis a vis conservatism. For me the solution to all your concerns is a confederation of self-determinimg communities which takes the egalitarianism of the left and the community freedom of the right so rather than having an overall system being dictated by elites whether liberal or conservative, we have a network of self-determining regional communities which are shaped by the communities themselves with individual freedom and choice being exercised by individuals choosing which community to join and align with which of course is always open to change as the individual changes and evolves. So a person may move to different communities over their lifespan. This heterarchical system might raise concerns regarding overall sustainability but not is the confederacy the space to work out these issues but also I trust, perhaps naively, that there will be enough low impact communities to counterbalance the medium and high impact communities.

    • Thanks for the link. I kinda like his style. And the hoagies/Super Bowl sentence is a fine way of defining populism, at least for a US audience. I agree with more of his analysis than feels quite right. But he does pretty much confirm the outline of right-wing populism I sketched above: an alliance between part of the business class and part of the working-class, at the expense of other sections of the population, including other sections of the working class. There’s a lot of slippage going on between Trump ‘speaking to’ certain people and ‘speaking for’ them. I wondered about that in relation to Brian’s comment above: “all agrarian movements have learned the hard-way that no one speaks for them but them.” Will Trump-supporting agrarians have some hard lessons in store there? Are they really speaking for themselves, or is it good enough just to vote for someone who as Goad (is that his real name?) puts it, “speaks with the direct crassness of somebody from my neighborhood”?

      • Glad it was of use.

        I don’t think he claims to be pro-white-only. He bitches that the Dems wrote whites out of the equation. But maybe I just don’t know enough of his writings.

        Now see, I can wholeheartedly throw my weight behind “egalitarian agrarian populism.” And I don’t mean the weaker sort. But I can’t throw my weight behind anything left right now, not with the loony spectacle we are witnessing. Saw a vid yesterday where a guy was punched out cold at one of the airport demonstrations by the people chanting “peace” etc. Bloody thugs, cloaking themselves with rainbows to justify their brownshirt behaviors.

      • For me there is an obvious alignment between liberal elite interests incuding business with liberal working/middle class interests and an alignment with conservative elite interests including business with conservative working/middle class interests.

        Hence the egalitarian argument falls both ways in that rightwing populism resents being excluded from a egalitarian perspective in that formally Democratic supporters with an inclination towards conservative values perceive that the ‘Dems wrote whites out of the equation’ by primarily focusing their attention on canvasing immigrants, refugees etc. In this respect, the Democrats were rejected for not living up to their egalitarian credentials.

        Hence, a scholarly definition of xenophobia, according to Andreas Wimmer, is “an element of a political struggle about who has the right to be cared for by the state and society: a fight for the collective goods of the modern state”. In other words, xenophobia arises when people feel that their entitlement to benefit from the government is being subverted by other people’s rights.[7].

        Thus rightwing populism (conservatism) has In fact a leftwing trajectory at least economically whilst left wing populism (liberalism) (i.e Pro-eu and Anti-Trump social movements) has a rightwing trajectory economically. What we are then witnessing is a very contested battle between the haves and have nots of liberalism with the haves and have nots of conservatism over economic and cultural rights.

        • Leftwing populism IS NOT liberalism. They share some common ground, but they also have very distinct differences. Here in the US, the sloppy lumping together of the center left all the way to the radical fringe is all too common, but that doesn’t make it accurate. The result is that you end up in a world where Republican voters actually believe that Barack Obama is a socialist and that Democrats/liberals are all violent anarchists who break windows and punch people at protests.

          • I should amend my final sentence as follows:

            The result is that you end up in a world where [some] Republican voters actually believe that Barack Obama is a socialist and that Democrats/liberals are all violent anarchists who break windows and punch people at protests [or at least encourage/support/condone that kind of behavior].

        • https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left-wing_populism

          I think the unfortunate truth is that current leftwing populism as expressed in current media platforms does indeed include significant amounts of social liberalism and is aimed specifically at ‘conservative’ elites and their perceived democratic followers.

          The Culture War that has ensued, in particular in the US, but is now being exported to the UK, is essentially over nationally derived economic and cultural rights vis a vis internationally derived economic and cultural rights – both are which are internationally sanctioned human rights and in my humble opinion are a contestation around article 28 of the UN Convention of Human Rights.
          However in many ways the multiple contestations traverse virtually every article.
          In a sense we have reached the zero-sum nature of international human rights frameworks and it will only take an approach that can transcend the divisive nature of current forms of left and right populusm to get beyond the resulting Culture War.

          I’d suggest this approach would be ecologism with both meanings now relevant.
          since not only xoes human rights frameworks need to be adapted but also liberalism, socialism and conservativism need to be adapted.

          I personally dont see how you can qualify your statement that leftwing populism is not liberalism when current left populist movements are in general advancing international liberalism in their narratives which have been incubated for the last few decades in US educational institutions. Conservatives and more so liberal conservatives are appalled by this narrowing of liberal values into a reactionary ideology.

          However, perhaps we are having entirely different conversations and whilst I’m talking about current expressions of leftwing populism, you are talking about a more theoretical perspective which you are yet to define.

          • Perhaps we are, in fact, talking past one another. My point, quite simply, is that liberalism is a distinct political philosophy, not a catch-all for everything left of center. Here’s a relevant passage from Freedom’s Power by Paul Starr, a book that’s been instrumental in refining my own understanding of what liberalism is and does:

            “While sharing some common ground with socialists and populists, liberals have favored a more circumscribed role for the state and often deplored the unwillingness to compromise, sentimental delusions, tendency to romanticize ‘the people,’ susceptibility to authoritarianism, and occasional violence on the left.”

            He goes on to say that “there has also been a productive tension between liberals and the left” and that “liberalism without a left is missing a punch.” Although Starr wrote this over 10 years ago, it’s a good window into some of the friction (and energy) within the Democratic party during the 2016 election and in the early stages of Donald Trump’s presidency.

          • Ernie said:
            liberalism is a distinct political philosophy,

            Of course the boundaries between schools of thought can be drawn in various places. Andrew Dobson’s Green political thought argues for “ecologism” as a distinct politico-philosophical grouping in its own right – he gives the other major schools as “socialism”, “liberalism”, “conservatism” and “feminism” (that last one seems a bit surprising, but he does of course make a case).

            I do think there is a tendency for people to get attached to the words themselves forgetting that they are ultimately just words. (Which is why I suspect Chris seems so keen on keeping the word “left”, even though he knows that it has been used for all sorts of things).

          • I definitely take your point but liberalism and its incumbent value system csn be used philosophically in terms of moral enquiries and can be used politically (as well as economically and culturally) to promote a particular narrative usually in opposition to another ideological narrative.

            Liberalism in this more political context is undeniably being used by the curent left populism with regards anti-brexit and anti-trump and in particular within an internationalist perspective.

            I agree that liberalism as a distinct philosphical system is different to how liberalism is being used to contest more national conservative perspectives. I agree there is overlap with other contemporary schools of tbought but Id also say that they are evolving as political/economic and cultural circumstances change .

            I tend to find the distinction between social liberalusm and economic liberalism useful, especially in a more political context but that said even different global regions interpret different schools of thought differently to some degree,especially in terms of the role of the state vis vis civil and civic society.

            Whats more confusing is that we can have liberal conservatives, conservative liberals, progressive liberals, liberal socialists, conservative socialists, etc etc. So I agree with Martin that ideological positioning is often a self-construction and in the case of current left populism the tendency is to self-identify as progressive liberals who are utilising liberalism (as opposed to any other ideology) to promote their aims and objectives. But as I said, I take your point and its probably wrong to identify left populism as liberalism although they are using liberalism as their main political vehicle.

            Does this mean conservatism is not strictly ‘right’ either?

          • I hope I don’t end up regretting this, but Stephen, I wonder if you might help me understand why you provide the link to Bruce Frohnen’s piece.

            What I’m specifically curious about are your labels for the political ideologies being championed (or trashed) in Bruce’s piece. Just so that I don’t respond later with words that wouldn’t be appropriate.

          • Hi Clem.

            I just put that link in because it highlighted the exasperation that educational institutiins arent facilitating a broad spectrum of ideological perspectives and that reactionary liberals are using liberalism in a very narrow context to promote a specific worldview. These conservative academics think that a liberal education should be a broad education and should allow for a diverse environment in which to engage with rational discourse rather than students and teachers be subjected to the vagaries of the campus thought police. Obviously the latest episide at Berkeley is an example. Ive listened to Milo in interviews and found him articulate with at least reasoned disagreements whereas his opponent simply starts shouting at him with all these prejudiced emotive remarks. I dont understand why these reactionary liberals cant respond with a reasoned and rational discourse. According to Bruce, it is because they are not being equipped with the intellectual toolkit to do so because of the lack of a liberal curriculum at university level.

            I dont know the full context of these sorts of debates but it does seem strange to me that students have a riot instead of engaging in rational discourse.

            What inadequacies are they hiding from comes to my mind, rightly or wrongly. But perhaps these students feel that rational discourse will simply maintain the status quo so let’s have a riot instead.

            However I do take back my assertion that leftwing populism is liberalism. However I do maintain that that these left wing populists/reactionaries are using elements of liberalism aa opposed to elements of socialism or conservatism to advance their cause.

  35. I agree that it’s easy to get hung up on the words – which is why I did try in the post above (a long way above…) to explain what I meant by them, and why I’m not going to get into arguments about whether I’m a ‘real’ populist, socialist, liberal etc. But inevitably explanations demand further clarifications, and so it goes on… I find the Starr quotation useful – it captures some of the reasons why I’d endorse a liberal critique of socialism, and also in silhouette some of the reasons why I’d partially endorse a socialist critique of liberalism. If populism is going to be anything more than a belief in what the majority of ‘the people’ think at any given time – which I think it really should be – then it inevitably has to position itself with respect to other political traditions. For me, the ones that are most important to reckon with in defining a contemporary agrarian populism are liberalism and socialism, but the agrarian conservatism that Brian alluded to above also seems to me important. Thanks for the discussion, anyway – I’ve found it informative. I plan to come back to it later in the year.

    • I’m sorry about the accusations of real/not real nature. I guess my presumption was that a populism that aligns with what I perceive to be eu liberal elite interests is inherently not populism – especially in terms of its anti-elitist definitions – as opposed to a populism that is actively rejecting eu liberal elite interests.

      However, now, following this long and interesting discussion, its perhaps possible for populism to use more liberal or socialist narratives in opposition to conservative elite interests as well as a populism to use more conservative narratives in opposition to liberal elite interests.

      I can’t help but feel at this stage of my thinking that populism in its current usage is in essence no different to democracy and so I’m not really sure why populism is being used at all other than to describe popular sentiments around specific issues.

      • Here is a good article on populism. Us v Them: the birth of populism

        “a language whose speakers conceive of ordinary people as a noble assemblage not bounded narrowly by class; view their elite opponents as self-serving and undemocratic; and seek to mobilise the former against the latter.”

        So, Bernie and Clinton both have roughly liberal goals. Sanders’ approach is populist, whereas Clinton is more Neoliberal.

        It is the approach to politics, not the content of the politics that is populist.

        • I think your final sentence is a useful of way of putting it, Ruben, and it’s much the same conclusion I’ve been moving toward, as well. The writer of the article to which you linked, John Judis, also wrote a short book entitled The Populist Explosion (I mentioned it up thread) that was published last year (after Brexit but before the US election). In it, he mentions Argentine political theorist Ernesto Laclau as having a noteworthy influence on his own book. Judis’ writes that “Laclau portrays populism as a logic that can be used by the left as well as the right.” Similarly, and as Judis mentions in the linked article, historian Michael Kazin refers to populism as a “language.” This, it would seem, is a large part of what makes populism such a slippery term. Unlike liberalism or socialism, it’s not a fleshed out ideology with a lot of historical weight. Instead, it’s a political pattern that pops up here and there under somewhat specific circumstances, one that doesn’t necessarily hold together well in the long term, especially when it rises to power (Syriza in Greece?) or once enough of its demands are met by the powers that be (as with The People’s Party at the end of the 19th century here in the US).

          • It is interesting how Populism is being misunderstood, given there are other familiar parallels.

            For example, authoritarianism can be right or left. Authoritarianism refers to the methods used to enact policy, not the content of the policy.

            But I guess for us in North America it has been several decades of fairly tight Venn diagrams: the left-ish side has a basket of policy and a philosophy of implementation. The right-ish side has a different basket of policy and a different philosophy of implementation.

            So perhaps we have just conflated policy and implementation in our minds.

        • In many ways I think there is scope for a philosophical framework for populism if its definition does play on the dichotomy between the noble assemblage of the people and self-serving elites. I say this because if constituencies (in the UK) or some other smaller politic was democratically self-determining to the extent that licensing, planning, budget and development decisions were decided by local vote/referendums then it is much more difficult for self-serving elites to control and manipulate communities for their own ends. Similarly if the centralised state was transformed into a decentralised confederacy then elites wil find it difficult to exert their will over the people. Hence populism essentially hybridizes all schools of thought including liberalism, socialism, anarchism, conservatism, libertarianism etc and at the same time allows different communities to align more or less with different schools of thought. Personally I see this as preferable to the current system whereby democratic outcomes results in half the population satisfied and half the population dissatisfied. Even though there will still be no doubt dissatisfied citizens, the ratios are spread out over smaller political bodies with the dissatisfaction closer to the democratic centre of gravity. I suppose regional devolution is the obvious next step in this respect.

          Populism within a more political context does seem to describe efforts to build a critical mass of popular support for a specific policy agenda that is perceived as radical or disruptive for the status quo or prevailing norms.

          Leftwing populism seems to be considered a popular policy agenda that focuses on state intervention regarding the public provision of goods and services whereas rightwing populism seems to be considered a popular policy agenda that focuses on state intervention regarding the private provision of goods and services.

    • I’m pleased to hear that you find the Starr quotation useful, Chris. If you’re at all interested in reading the book, though, beware: He’s a gifted communicator and makes a very convincing argument for a renewed commitment to liberalism, so, if you’re at all sympathetic to liberalism (which I think you clearly are, at least in some respects), you just might walk away with the desire to advocate for agrarian liberalism. Since the “left” descriptor would be largely unnecessary with “liberalism” in the name, you’d have the added bonus of appeasing Martin, as well. 🙂

      • I’m sorry to be contentious but in my opinion there are two fundamental problems with liberalism as it is currently practiced, both of which can be discerned when we take a closer look at the oft stated sentiment of live and let live.

        Liberalism evolved from humanism which as a body of thought and a way of life reinterpreted religious ideas around natural order and natural rights into the right to self-preservation and the golden rule (the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated oneself). This humanist interpretation of natural rights consists of both negative rights (obliges inaction) and positive rights (obliges action) which together confer both rights and responsibilities onto individuals.

        However over time the positive dimension of responsibility was incrementally constructed to emphasize the negaive dimension of rights which became formulated as the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (at least within the American Constitution). Around the same time, the Enlightenment interpretation of natural rights (now known as liberalism) led to a somewhat different emphasis in terms of liberty, equality and fraternity but still the positive dimension of responsibility was not as clearly stated as the negative dimension of rights.

        As a result we now have an economic and a social liberalism which both emphasize inaction (with state mediation) to allow people their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with no explicit sense of responsibility that ones’ pursuit of happiness may and does cause harm and damage to others due to the zero-sum nature of life..

        This is the current state of play with the EU’s four economic freedoms and its Convention on Human Rights. They do not actively oblige right-holders to consider the consequences of their pursuits for happiness and progress. In other words the EU and liberalism in general promotes irresponsible liberty. Therefore the first fundamental problem with current conceptions of liberalism is that they do not actively incorporate the positive dimension of responsibilty in the form of the golden rule.

        The second and more fundamental problem with liberalism and its live and let live sentiment is that it does not take into consideration the ecological reality of the life/death relationship between all lifeforms. As such liberalism is an idealistic abstraction divorced from ecological realities which is why liberalism (and rights frameworks) can only ever be abstracted to humans (and human pets) with the exception of some protected species.

        Thus liberalism is fundamentally speciest in its outlook, maybe not in theory but certainly in practice, since to extend negative rights to all life forms would result in the collapse of food chains. Therefore liberalism is strictly anthropocentric and as such, as an ideological paradigm is unable to address problems of an ecological nature, which it can be argued will become more pronounced as the liberalism of humanity destroys the environment more and more.

        I don’t doubt that Starr has perhaps addressed the over-emphasis of negative rights over positive responsibilities which I’d be interested to know but the problems of applying liberalism to the ecological world as a whole seem to be alot more problematic. So much so that the right to life would need to change from an absolute inalienable right to a relative and alienable right which means liberalism would change to social darwinism overnight.

        • Stephen:
          Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is from the Declaration of Independence, not the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps just a careless mistake, but coming from a Brit it does take on a certain flavor of a more grave misunderstanding.

          The Declaration was written for the wider world, but aimed at a particular and very specific audience. It is not a living document, open to amendment. Our U.S. Constitution is open to amendment – thus our notion of it being a living document. I for one would like to think a notion of Life, Liberty, and a Pursuit of Happiness are to some extent protected within the Constitution. At the moment we have an additional 50 constitutions among the various states of the union (these varying in age). As we move through time we have been blessed with documents defining the mechanisms to set our rules of self governance as we see fit. It has changed, and will likely continue to do so. Ultimately it is what we can convince each other is appropriate (to the level of a majority of some size) that will determine where we go next.

        • Clem. Yes forgive that oversight although it does not detract from my wider argument that both American and European liberalism have tended to emphasize negative rights over positive rights but European liberalism perhaps less so.

          However to repudiate your argument I draw your attention to The Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which declare that governments cannot deprive any person of “life, liberty, or property” without due process of law.

          To quote the Fifth Amendment
          Main article: Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution
          No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.[85]

          So whilst pursuit of happiness and protection of property are not identical, in terms of their intent within the wider understanding of liberalism at that time, the difference is insignificant in moral and philosophical terms since property/land is very much a part of the pursuit of happiness as this blog testifies.

          In this respect the US Constitution does indeed include the trinity of Liberalism as was commonly cited in most Westernised countries at the time. Nonetheless, it was my intent to cite the Declaration of Independance as an example of how liberalism had transformed from its humanist roots towards an ideology that is fundamemtally flawed on two counts and whilst the first flaw could be addressed through constitutional revision by creating a bill of rights and responsibilities for example, the second is alot more difficult to address.

  36. Chris,

    There has been a great deal of back and forth about the definitions for, and nature of, populism, liberalism, leftism, conservatism and on and on…. I am a person who would enjoy debating politics ad nauseum, but I think that since, in my understanding, the context of this blog is the future of small farms (in a future where industrialized agriculture is likely collapsing), people should be mostly considering how political behavior can facilitate the transition from industrial agriculture to lots more small farms.

    If there are to actually be more small farms in the future, what kind of politics helps get people on the land and in position to be farmers? That would be the first priority. Then what kind of political structure is likely to be able to keep them there while everything else pretty much falls apart?

    These are important, but not easy questions to answer, and if ever I join in a discussion of politics here, please remind me to keep my comments relevant to the future of small farms.

    • I would tend to agree. This is a very short response I wrote to this article

      The reasons why liberals, socialists, populists, libertarians ,and conservatives need to take a step back from partisan tribalism and start learning humility and empathy.

      “Climate crisis (and ecological crisis) will be expressed as economic and political crises which will only expose further already existing cultural faultlines.”

      I think ecologism captures this sentiment fairly well.

    • This is a short piece I wrote elsewhere which at least creates a political platform that can facilitate a region of small farms.

      Populism and Sustainable Development – Transformation of cultural-ecological systems from a populist perspective.

      Populism as an anti-elitist political agenda frames sustainable development as a socio-economic cultural enterprise foremost which is achieved by facilitating a global order by which different communities are allowed to base themselves on different socio-economic cultural identities and lifestyles.

      By allowing people to identify, affiliate, align and adopt different socio-economic cultural practices and form place-based communities on the basis of popular free will, populism argues that the different self forming and self-identifying communities will naturally counterbalance one another in order to achieve the sustainable development goals.

      As such populism believes in the power of the people to make the right decisions for themselves and their environments no matter their cultural identity.

      Thus free will free from the constraints of discrimination and elite control alongside a fair distribution of resources to sustain different cultural communities are the two main objectives of populism.

      Sustainable development from a populist perspective is therefore achieved by facilitating the creation of diverse place-based socio-economic cultural communities that are based on diverse socio-economic cultural outlooks.

      Hence populism frames society as a patchwork of diverse communities each with value systems and cultural practices that are democratically legitimated. In this sense, freedom of movement is a means to align oneself with a culturally appropriate community and not as a means to universalise liberal multiculturalism across all communities. In this respect, the cultural rights of self-determining communities determines the extent to which freedom of movement is possible. Therefore whilst freedom of movement ‘between’ different communities is an absolute given, access to communities is determined by the community itself and so in this sense freedom of movement is a right that is relative to the democratically chosen cultural rights of different self-determining communities.

      This therefore requires parliamentary politics to transform itself into a confedaracy in which different communities can negotiate with one another subsidiarity issues regarding public goods and services including eco-system health and wellbeing as well as represent the diverse cultural arguments about how we can live and prosper as different self-determining communities under the protection of a shared democratic confederate nation-state..

  37. Chris, thank you for this blog. The idea of a neo-peasantry excites me. I grew up lower middle class and I’m relatively the same now being part of a landscaping company. I’ve been dreaming of having a small organic farm and I’m not giving up. I’m continuing to garden on rented land and plan to expand from this.
    I have been wondering if your ideal type of populism was of the left. Personally, I was part of the evangelical conservatives until the age of 26. After that I swapped to a far left perspective. Now, after about 10 yrs I’m drifting somewhat to the center, I think ( still very liberal on LGTB rights).
    I’ve been a reader of JMG for years as well. I think he may be somewhat happy to see someone on the political right get elected. He’s centrist, and for liberal things like mass transit on local scales, but I suspect more libertarian on the national scale. So, I think that explains some of his recent writing, which I don’t like as much as his pre-2016 posts either (the recent peak oil post being an exception). He may also be not too upset with the downward stair steps that globalization and industrial civilization is taking.
    Back to leftist populism, how is some of your vision including some type of conservatism? Is it due to a low-tech preference? I fit in that camp.
    Is it due to thinking that the little farms should be family owned and not collectively run by cooperatives, especially not a state run collective? Small scale coops have interested me at times, but I ultimately don’t want to share the decision making authority of my farming interprise with multiple people, I don’t want to spend lots of time in lengthy meetings. Is this due to me having the means to purchase ( with a small mortgage in the near future) +/- 15 acres on my own? Maybe if I had no savings, tools, or livestock right now I’d be more interested in being part of a cooperative and sharing decision making authority in order to make farming possible at all. This realization makes me feel like less of a collectivist than I thought I was a few years ago.
    As for the % of the population we may need in farming, I’ve often thought 25% would be enough. 20% probably would as well. There was a book written titled A Nation of Farmers that puts the estimate a bit higher, possibly in the 50% range, but I can’t remember exactly.

  38. Thanks for your comment, Lee. I’ve only just been able to approve it because my internet’s been out for a day – kind of a sneak preview of the future collapse predicted by Joe. It sucked.

    Thanks for all the other comments too. I’m planning to post another brief response to some of these points soon – internet permitting.

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