Friday, June 4, 2010

Arturus Rex

Then Arthur fought against them in those days with the kings of the Britons, and it was he who led their battles.
- Nennius, History of Britain
Everyone knows the legend of King Arthur, fighting to preserve the last vestiges of a civilized, Romanized Britain against the hordes of barbarian invaders bringing a Dark Age of violence, poverty, and ignorance. The Once and Future King.

Historians take a more nuanced view. He almost certainly wasn't a King (Rex); rather, the historical figure (or figures) at the heart of the legend would have been a Dux Bellorum, a war leader of a thoroughly Roman nature. Forget the Round Table; think Legion formations (admittedly evolved considerably from Caesar's day).

But even the historians romanticize the story, particularly the whole fall of Rome and Dark Ages thing. Roman civilization had been falling for hundreds of years before the Eternal City was sacked by the Goths. It's "civilization" was already gone.

Roman literature effectively ends at Tacitus and Juvenal. Arguably the last Roman literary work of any importance was the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and he can only be described as second rate. Later works - anything by Catallus, for example - are an intellectual desert, empty of philosophical or moral narrative. Sculpture too was a shadow of its former glory; even as early a work as the Arch of Septimius Severus is almost grotesque compared to First Century works. Poor composition matched by poor technique. Paintings from Ostia (Rome's port city) are childish in comparison with those of Pompeii two centuries earlier.

Rome's Intelligentsia had been failing from the mid- Second Century, say around 140 A.D. The Dark Ages arrived by the Fourth Century. Certainly it seemed that way to the bulk of the population. Those who were not chattel slaves were bound to the soil as serfs by 330 A.D., by an act of Constantine. Sharecropping the huge latifundia estates, they neither knew nor cared who was running the show. An ever smaller elite, relying on a fabulously expensive bloated bureaucracy, held on by hiring barbarian mercenaries until the barbarians finally realized they were running the show in all but name. It was then but a short step, and sic transit gloria mundi.

Certainly the elites were horrified at the change. For them, it was the beginning of a Dark Age, as the skills they had carefully nurtured suddenly were seen to be worthless by the new Overlords. It's said that history is written by the winners; the history of the fall of Rome was written by the losers.

The current Intellectual Elite sound eerily similar to those ancient scribblers. A world view has run out of gas, and is looking like it will be replaced, and those at the top of Fortuna's Wheel fear that the wheel will keep spinning, and the only direction for them to go is down. The Progressive Agenda has had a 160 year run, but has not produced a truly first rate intellect since John Kenneth Galbraith, or possibly Pat Moynihan. The last 30 years have been a desert, where the interesting intellectual action has all been on the other side.

The other side is most definitely not on the side of central government control, just as Odovacer showed no interest in maintaining the Dominate order. Now as then, local power centers are increasingly important as the central authority runs out of legitimacy. Just when it seemed that Progressivism was triumphant, all its faults have come to the fore:
  • All governments are in fiscal trouble, with a bloated bureaucracy seen to be incompetent to perform the simplest tasks. The more progressive the government, the deeper the fiscal hole.
  • The Intellectual Elites find that the "Long March Through The Institutions" has enfeebled them, making them intellectually unable to adapt their philosophy to meet new challenges.
  • As with Roman provincial governors, the Elites focus their political bloodletting internally, struggling for Imperial control, rather than responding to an increasingly seen external threat. The rest of society sees this, and holds the political parties in even greater contempt.
  • Art is a wasteland, whether you look at film, or literature, poetry, or painting. Only music retains a dynamism, and only because it appeals not to the elites, but to the masses. Compare and contrast: modern orchestral music vs. Rock and Roll.
Like the serf newly bound to the land, society has no empathy for the Elites or their troubles. All of the elite institutions are in disrepute (the scientific establishment, lurching through the ClimateGate scandal, is horrified to find themselves held in not much higher regard than politicians). To a generation of Yale Men, educated at fabulous expense in Ancient Roman Literature, it seems like a New Dark Age is upon us.

Yes, I'm talking about Roman Literature, too. Unlike the Professors, I have a Day Job.

Tam posted what is perhaps the most interesting thing I've read in ages yesterday. She was kind enough to include me with three much smarter bloggers, in a classic Compare And Contrast exercise. As you'd expect, the comments section is filled to overflowing with Teh Smart, both at her post and at the others. Pessimism seems to be winning the debate by about two to one. It's taken a day of thinking, and reading, and commenting, and reading some more, and thinking some more, but I'm even more optimistic than I was.

Culture matters. It is a deep and powerful force, and I believe that the Intellectual Elites have only deflected, not changed the culture. I also think that we're in the middle of a collapse of that Elite, and that the next ten years will be a continual series of catastrophes for the Elite. Consider:
  • The Euro looks to be failing, and likely will not last the year without Greece (at least) pulling out. Germany may be next, the Deutsche volk having run out of patience with the EU leadership in general and the southern European governments in particular. If not this year, then next.
  • All of the European governments have a massive debt problem. This debt is inseparable from the Progressive vision of the welfare state and control by the Intellectual Elite, but is hobbling that vision.
  • The Stimulus has been a failure, and is widely recognized as such. We were promised by the Elite that they had the solution to the crisis because they were ever so smart. Oooh kaaay.
  • Starting no later than 2012, Social Security will go negative, and Medicare will go strongly negative (it is in fact already negative). These are two of the three pillars of US Progressive dogma (Health Care being the third), and it will be a crisis of the Progressive Agenda. It's been building for years, and so the talk of "we'll fix it later; trust us" will be a boat anchor to the Elites.
  • Health Care Reform will start to bite, as people find they have to pay now for benefits later. We'll also find out - now that Nancy Pelosi and company got Congress to vote for it - just what the heck is in the bill. There's a lot that's ugly there, that's going to come out in a slow drip-drip-drip. "We'll fix it later; trust us" only works when the person saying it reasonably can expect trust and respect from the voters. They have none.
Culture matters. An old story from Colonial America describes a visiting English Lord. Looking for the local gentry, he happens upon a man hard at work at his forge. Frustrated at being ignored by the man, he exclaims, "You, there. Where is your master?" The man looks him up and down, spits tobacco not quite at the Englishman's feet, and growls, "That sumbitch ain't been born yet."

Our culture has a deep distrust of authority, and always has. It still does - just watch John Stewart. He's very left wing (annoyingly so, to the point where I can't watch him), but it's there, too. Even John Stewart.

There is a decade of collapse that will keep the failures of the Progressive Agenda front and center, and the Elites are so hollowed out by the collapse of the Elite Culture that they won't be able to respond.

But that's not what makes me optimistic. Yes, the Elites are weak; that's not enough. It needs local barbarian chiefs to decide that it only takes a small step, to gain local advantage. We're seeing this already happening. a dozen governors telling the Fed.Gov to get stuffed about firearms laws, and that the Interstate Commerce Clause doesn't apply to commerce purely within their state. Governors telling the Fed.Gov to get stuffed, and that if it won't enforce immigration, they will:
The governor of the U.S. state of Arizona met with President Obama at the White House on Thursday, to discuss the controversial law due to go into effect next month aimed at illegal immigrants.
So who played Odovacer, and who played Romulus Augustulus? In five years who will play each part? Who is on a part of Fortuna's wheel that's going upwards, and who's on part that's going downwards?

I'm optimistic because I don't need people to agree intellectually with me; all we need is for State politicians to realize that the Federal Progressive agenda is moribund and that there are votes to be gained by running against an incompetent, arrogant, and intellectually bankrupt center.

But we have to get out and vote, to reward this sort of decentralizing effort and punish business as usual. That's why it's so critical to vote incumbents out. Voltaire said it a quarter millennium ago: Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres.

In this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others. Replace "kill" with "vote out" and "admiral" with "Senator", and you've got the words, and the music.

The Elites hate this, and are increasingly deranged in their protests. They see a new Dark Ages. The Dinosaurs smell a change in the air, and roar their defiance.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

That is an awful lot of smart to absorb this early in the morning. Needless to say, I look forward to reading this one again in more detail.

Jim

Paladin said...

We certainly do live in interesting times, don't we :) I really enjoyed reading this.

ASM826 said...

Well, wasn't that all intellectual? And optimistic, too. I agree with your assessments of the situation, but I think we have slipped so far toward the water at the bottom of the bowl that voting in new, more conservative leaders will only slow the process, not reverse it.

Borepatch said...

It's a long post - too long, but I didn't have time to trim it.

Probably too intellectual, too. ;-)

wolfwalker said...

With most of this I have no quarrel. Not even with the optimism, which I really, devoutly hope will prove correct rather than the cynicism which I usually feel, and which drives many of my political comments here and elsewhere.

This, however, caught my eye:

Art is a wasteland, whether you look at film, or literature, poetry, or painting. Only music retains a dynamism, and only because it appeals not to the elites, but to the masses. Compare and contrast: modern orchestral music vs. Rock and Roll.

I don't entirely agree.

First, on literature: there's at least one substrain of literature that retains some energy: speculative fiction, which term encompasses SF, fantasy, and the recent spinoff genre of "alternate history fiction" a la Turtledove and Stirling.

Second, on music: there's at least one genre of music that manages to appeal to both the Elites and the Masses: movie and TV soundtracks. There's some damn good composers writing movie music, and some damn good music coming from their pens. John Williams is one example; James Horner is another. There's also a guy named Christopher Franke, who wrote some wonderful stuff for Babylon 5. And many others.

Tam said...

I liked it.

The question is, have people suckled at the teat too long?

The Siamese twin of Progressivism in America is Populism; the mantra of "Gimme" isn't only chanted in housing projects and college campuses, but on farms and factory floors across America. The idea that somebody else's money is up for votes dies hard.

Aretae said...

Great post. Hard to say much more.

LSP said...

Thoroughly enjoyable post and, despite enjoying the odd bout of Catullus and the few historians that have come down to us from late antiquity, think you're on target.

States as Barbarian fiefdoms is particularly good.

Here in the Missions the people mutter angrily about leaving the Union... who can blame them?

WoFat said...

"Liberal" always fails. "Stomp yo ass" wins most all of the time.

Six said...

I find myself optimistic as well BP. I believe there are still enough hard working, tax paying middle class Americans out there to make a political revolution not only possible but inevitable.

Beautiful post and linked to.

Newbius said...

I got to the end of this and said "Wow". Then I wondered to myself why you aren't on my daily reads.

I've fixed that...

Stan said...

That was a mighty fine post there Mr. Borepatch of long winded repartee'. Stan spits some tobacco juice your way. lol...

Unfortunately I agree voting the SOB's out is a fine, dandy, and rational proposition, but when they "elitist clowns" are only replaced by other puppet elites you run into the same corruption and incompetence debacle we continually face today.

If you would like to look at a microcosm of how this plays out; you would need to look no further than that not so Golden state of progressive California where you have a billionaire punching it out in a nasty "who's more liberal" campaign against another 100+ millionaire just the right to go up against Jerry "past liberal government failure" Ronstadt really old guard Establishment Brown.

So you in all reality when you vote one termed out fraud, you just get the next elitist walking up to take the throne.

Though there is little doubt we as a society are on a direct collision course with the darker side of history.

The Old Guard as with Napoleon's, will not surrender, and thus the people will be only left with the more definite and permanent course of action.

As with all things coined "To Big To Fail", History has taught us the valuable lesson that they are in actuality "To Big Not To Fail".

No government that has lost it's moral compass and ethical soul can survive the on slot of the angry suffering masses in the end.

So bring on the barbarians, and where the heck do I sign up for duty. lol....

I'm not quite sure at this juncture if that makes me a pessimist, an optimist, or just a plain old pillaging opportunist?

Borepatch said...

Stan, it was WAY too long winded. I didn't have time to trim it down.

I do think that there's political hay to be made in ripping the guts out of the system, but it will take a new generation of politicians who can bypass the K-Street money guys and go directly to the voters via new media.

Sarah Palin is actually blazing the trail here. With a budget of basically zero, she's able to drive the national agenda ("Death Panels") via Facebook. It will be very interesting to see what this develops into.

But it's new form will own nothing to the existing Old Guard.

Rollory said...

Regarding Arthur, this may interest you:

http://www.celtic-twilight.com/camelot/rudmin/index.htm

As for music, I advise you to stop and actually LISTEN to the words in modern music, and consider the meaning. It is as empty of sense and significance as nearly anything else in the modern world. Country music and inner city rap are equally vapid.

Borepatch said...

Rollory, that's a very interesting link.

As to music, there's good and bad, deep and shallow. Country music in particular is something that I post about weekly.