Since Charlottesville, most of the alt-lite has fallen into line and is back to to selling merchandise and maxing out their follower counts. Nevertheless, a significant segment still seem to be flailing about in fury and confusion. As I noted in my article about dissident factions, those making money from the spread of ideas tend to be unhappy when the fault lines shift. The alt-lite’s business lies in being just edgy enough so whenever the edge moves they have to pick up and move their market stalls. It’s especially annoying when they’ve written a book or a blog only to find it’s suddenly irrelevant.
I knew they would be indignant and that a great deal of this indignation comes from their self-image as the leaders. But there has been more of a reaction than I was expecting, because like the establishment, they misunderstand their position in a changing ecosystem. Furious that the core alt-right has asserted control over the rules of engagement there has actually been a foolhardy attempt at a takeover. Needless to say, this attempt and its aftermath has been one of the most hilarious things I’ve seen on the internet in some time.
A faction best known for selling e-books, t-shirts, and supplement pills actually thought they had the social and political capital to co-opt a movement from those who have real organizations, go out in the streets, and take physical risks. How is this? This depth of childish miscalculation just doesn’t make sense until we examine on a cultural level.
Such delusional thinking is more understandable when we realize the mercantile caste of society has been ascendant since at least the French Revolution. The obsession with equality that we take for granted is connected to the bourgeois attitude that the customer is always right and two men with the same amount of money in their outstretched palms are effectively the same, to be treated the same. This attitude informs the obsession of the modern world with being popular and inoffensive above all else. This attitude is so ingrained we run even our personal relationships like businesses.
Concepts like honor and loyalty seem like anachronistic ideas from old stories of knights and samurais, or even the creed of alien species like Klingons. It has been so long since any other world view held sway, we have have forgotten any other way is possible.
We see a great example when alt-lite personalities discuss the alt-right as a “brand.” They cannot yet understand anything other than the mass market. Why would they? The business of America is business. The attitudes of the marketplace have dominated the culture of the USA and the entire West for centuries.
When we realize they are going by the rules that have worked for generations which we are all taught our whole lives, it is easier to understand why they are unable to adjust to a changing reality.
The enlightenment itself was a new value system for a rising merchant caste. It is no coincidence that secularism’s original and eternal enemies are the aristocracy and the priesthood who stood in the way of advancement. With widespread literacy and the dawn of an industrial revolution the old order of landed nobles backed by priests was obsolete. Wherever the forces of modernity came into play, the merchants became the new ruling class. Even Japan which was far away, culturally distant, and not exposed to modernity until much later went through the same developments as everywhere else.
A nobility and bureaucracy dominated by a hereditary warrior caste steadily fell from grace as wealth and influence went to the new captains of industry and commerce.
History has its longer cycles that are greater than the parochial span of a human life. We reach a point where all the easy gains from colonies and industry have been taken. In a mature, saturated world, the winnings go to the strongest. In this kind of a world, warriors and barbarians bound by clans and honor re-emerge with a vengeance.
In our present transactional utopia we think money is the source of power. The truth is money is a manifestation of power as light and heat comes from the sun. The light is soon extinguished without its source. The established merchant princes thought money alone could defeat an unusual challenger in the 2016 election and to their complete astonishment they failed miserably. Likewise, a faction of the alt-lite thought wealth and popularity alone would be enough to take over an organically-formed group with ardent devotion to a clear mission. These foolish modern magnates are not unusual in the course of history.
If you read Spandrell’s brilliant series of essays on the Song dynasty, you will learn how a mere 1,000 horse archers was enough to conquer the wealthiest nation on earth—a huge empire of millions. We can also consider the Italian city states, which relied heavily on mercenary armies. They were able to fight each other to a draw but when faced with real armies from real countries they never stood a chance.
The fundamental limitation of money is that all the money in the world is worthless to a dead man. The currency of successful organizational violence is men who are willing to risk their lives. This is a law of the universe so primal and obvious that the wealthy and the educated are bound to forget it. As cultures of honor and prestige again take root, the cosmopolitan bourgeois will have to accept that they are no longer the natural ruling class of society just as the lords and the samurai once had to make way for them. Like their predecessors, they can either accept their proper place in the hierarchy from where they can contribute, or they can go down fighting against the universe itself and maybe leave behind some tragic legends if they’re lucky.
23 replies on “Alt-Lite and the Weakening of the Merchant Caste”
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The bureaucrats are at the apex right now, not the mercantile class. This is because a bureaucrat can function in a company and a government with little to no change. The political behaviors are the same, and they tend to be rewarded regardless of whether the organization is ‘private’ or ‘public.’
But what class does the bureaucracy recruit from? In Tokugawa Japan it was the samurai who got the government jobs. In our society those pie slices go to children of bourgeois career striver families.
The bureaucratic mindset is more of an epigenetic phenomenon than a genetic one. The emperor of Japan displays a bureaucratic mindset- much of the world’s aristocracy hews to the modern progressive line.
The funny thing to me about your comment was that when I actually got around to reading Hagakure, I found it quite disappointing. It is a bureaucrat writing nostalgically about something he doesn’t really understand. Much like Vatican I was bureaucrats trying to recreate the glory the papacy once had. They could remember and read about the nobility that once was, but they didn’t know how to be nobility, because they were already inculcated into the bureaucratic mindset.
The mercantile class- the real ones, those who have the mindset due to the epigenetic effects of actually having to make ends meet, don’t have any love for bureaucrats either.
By the end of the Tokugawa period, it had been 300 years since the samurai actually had to fight major wars. Funny thing is a lot of the famous manuals come from this period. Even though they had no more battles to fight they still brought a different mentality to the bureaucracy. The topmost samurai elite actually were instrumental in forming what became the militaristic Japanese Empire. In our society, modern gov and corporate work focuses on the shopkeeper’s values of agreeableness, popularity, and inoffensiveness.
I encourage you to think about the idea that bureaucrats are actually a class unto themselves.
i would prefer nobility to be at the apex of society, but for many Americans, shopkeeper is something to aspire to, and something we should encourage if we want to achieve some sort of legitimacy. As people learn how to, and select for mates that allow them to perpetuate a family business, they also tend to improve the gene pool.
But bureaucrats get a position via which they have access to resources, and then they insulate themselves from the consequences of their actions. They purged the nobles while under foolish kings who wanted a divine right, then they purged kings- supposedly for the people. And we can see what they do now- they just get new people. That’s what all this immigration is for. New people who won’t hold them accountable.
Sure the bureaucrats are a class but in most societies you don’t as much have a hereditary bureaucratic caste. The whole point of having bureaucrats is having people who owe their position directly to you to work around an annoying entrenched nobility. At least, when bureaucrats are able to have hereditary nepotism they become more competition for the ruler just like nobles are.
The aristocracy, though hereditary, also originates from one of the bedrock castes at some point. Most of the time in history, the aristocrats are descended from warriors. In certain times and places of unusual prosperity and growth there are sometimes merchant princes.
The priesthood usually legitimates the warriors but in the enlightenment model we have an attempt to create a religion that legitimates the merchant princes instead.
After the revolutionary periods, bureaucracy was unchained, and burst forth like a cancer.
Think about children- their access to resources are based on their parents- the bureaucrat doesn’t grow up. Lawyers, HR people, public policy- all of this stuff are also academic tracks (education also bureaucratized to ridiculous levels). People are put on this track as children and they never differentiate into whatever their class would normally be because they are not exposed to their class environment- they are exposed, repeatedly, to bureaucracy.
Woodley’s research into IQ in the U.K. suggests they’ve been losing IQ points since the Victorian era. I suspect this is so for America as well. The civil war looks suspiciously similar to the revolutions in Europe in terms of what it ultimately did to us.
What is a “striver” and why is it bad?
I see this word used fairly often on alt-right sites.
Being a striver isn’t necessarily bad in itself though in excess it is associated with spiritual shallowness and ennui as life becomes based on impressing others in an atomized mass society. The concept as far as I know comes from agnostic’s blog.
He draws a difference between career, lifestyle, and persona strivers. They are avenues where people compete for status and to him, career striving is best because it can actually produce value and support families while the bottom of the barrel are instagram whores whose striving is pathological.
I agee. Merchant is different from bureaucrat.
A quote from the comment section of another blog:
“You obviously have never been an entrepreneur. A small business owner is in a constant state of enslavement to their clients and at the mercy of market conditions. They don’t get to “pick” their clients as they are usually lucky to get them. They also typically make very little money. Even today’s plutocrats, like hedge fund managers and venture capital guys work 80 and 90 hour workweeks. There is nothing aristocratic about that. All business people are proles except for the chairmen of very large corporations or the owners of said stock that don’t have to work at all. In Europe merchants were never considered upper class. For this reason I see many W2 employees as being higher class than many business owners. A government bureaucrat or professor for example. They have cushy positions with real societal influence even if they make less money than your typical businessman, who must spend every waking minute networking, hustling and kissing their clients’ behinds.”
What caste is Trump? Is he not a merchant prince “real estate magnate”?
The bureaucrats do become a problem whenever they try to become hereditary as in our present system. That’s why the bureaucracy were eunuchs or celibate in many societies.
I’m saying we have traditional bedrock castes like farmer, merchant, artisan and they all generally have life pretty hard.
Then you have an elite of the ruler, the nobles, the warriors, the bureaucracy, the priesthood. They are filled by people who rise up from one of the bedrock groups.
One of the core problems of modern society is everyone wants to set up their kids to enter into the elite classes.
The cushy jobs do have a culture of hustling and pleasing others first. Look at how comics like Dilbert or comedies like Office Space resonate with people. And HR enforce that cultural climate.
Trump is of course a merchant prince yet strangely he has become something of a transitional figure.
How do I find those Spandrell essays in order? Is there a list that would allow me to click on them one by one?
Just a quibble: It looks as though the merchant princes actually have defeated the unusual challenger. He was elected, but his election changed nothing — everything proceeds as before.
I wordpress searched for ‘song dynasty’ on his blog and they all came up in order. He also posted them pretty closely in sequence if I remember.
They may have neutralized that unusual challenger once he was trying to operate in their system by their rules. But their reactions of horror, anger, and shock are duly noted as they lost control of the electoral process. They will continue to be triggered into periodic freakouts, as C’ville shows us, every time their world view is punctured.
The Italian mercenaries, the condottieri, were an interesting example of misaligned incentives. As mercenaries they wanted to live and make money; furthermore, they needed to not kill their enemies(other condottieri) because they might need to work together at some point later.
They were arguably very successful in their purpose, which was to bilk the merchant princes. But as Napoleon noted, money is not the best status symbol to reward courage with. You have to speak to something subtler.
What’s more, they had to pay those guys well to have their almost bloodless battles or they’d defect to highest bidder.
The Roman Empire long before them hired entire Germanic tribes to immigrate and do their fighting for them. Naturally this only worked so long as the pay was right and regular, the risks not too great, and the vaults of the paymasters not too tempting a target.
The moment of surrendering the monopoly over violence is the dying breath of a state.
I remember reading a anecdote decades ago in a book by, I think, William Rees-Mogg. It was the supposedly true story of a robber who tried to rob a supermarket, The manager told him something like “look, you really don’t want to go down this road, it’s obvious you need money, I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll buy your guns from you.” He gave the robber the money, the robber gave him his guns, at which point the manager turned the guns on the robber and held him for the police. There is a difference between money and power, even though they’re almost always closely associated.
As for the rest, the Alt-Light simply doesn’t address the real underlying problem, as conservatism doesn’t address the underlying problem – genocidal racism against whites and the turning of the West into a third-world dump. They put cream on the blue pimples, like speech suppression, but they don’t deal with the AIDS underneath. They’re only slightly more based in reality than conservatism is.
“– genocidal racism against whites and the turning of the West into a third-world dump.”
Yep. Whites have no idea what they’re up against.
Most people have to be persuaded one step at a time. Civic nationalism is a gateway drug.
“Civic nationalism is a gateway drug.”
We did civic nationalism. MLK did that. We thought blacks would like us if we’re nice to them. Sorry, didn’t work.
“…The obsession with equality that we take for granted is connected to the bourgeois attitude that the customer is always right and two men with the same amount of money in their outstretched palms are effectively the same, to be treated the same…”
I’ve never heard such deep far reaching societal behaviors explained in such clarity. I hate to sound too much like a fan boy but you keep coming up with these zingers. I’ve seen all kinds of book length essays on why we should all be considered equal but could it be as simple as this? Everybody’s money spends the same. How long did it take you to think of this? It immediately stuck out to me as strong idea. A bed rock societal idea. Did you just throw this idea out or did you think about? It’s very good.
I think sometimes people confuse issues into some kind of deep existential voodoo when in reality the reasoning for actions is much more simple.
“jb” talked about the robber selling his gun to the manager is another example from Sir William Rees-Mogg . It’s a huge massive world view based on “The efficiency of Defense vs the efficiency of offense”. I’ve noted this before as this set of books covering this had a great effect on my thinking.
“Blood in the Streets: Investment Profits in a World Gone Mad” (1987)
The Great Reckoning: How the World Will Change in the Depression of the 1990’s (1994)
The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age (1999)
When offense is stronger you get large entities. Nation States like we have today. This was brought in by gunpowder which needed large States to buy cannon. A good cannon could blast a feudal strong hold into dust in a few days. Before gunpowder you needed years long sieges to take a castle. Gun powder favored offense. Before it favored defense. James Dale Davidson and Sir William Rees-Mogg called this Meta Politics. Offense preference promotes consolidation of power. Defense promotes splitting of power.
They say that the microprocessor is attacking the centuries long power of offense vs defense equation and defense is on the rise. This doesn’t just include offensive smart missiles. It also includes weapons that can be designed better with computers. 3D printing is in it’s infancy. It’s rapidly increasing as it’s a tool that can be used to make better copies of itself. Another good example is Israel’s war with Hezbollah is Lebanon. Israel wase able to stand back and bomb but could NOT take territory. Shoulder fired anti-tank weapons combined with machine guns to keep troops back wiped them out. They were even driven out of the Gaza strip. Special forces went into to Gaza, their APC was blasted and then they were machine gunned when they tried to leave. They had to back up and use artillery.
You can see this break down due to the changing fortunes of offense vs defense all over. Propaganda is being broken down. So many sites that there’s no way to censor them all. I wonder can we swing this to our favor? It would seem to be time to change the Constitution back to it’s original form and have Senators appointed by the State legislatures instead of being voted on to increase States power.
This doesn’t bode well for the Left. Their whole reason for being is to tell everyone else what to do, take their money and tell everyone how to live their lives. The Left can get any level of Diversity they want immediately by just moving to it. To be left alone in inherently conservative.
“How long did it take you to think of this?”
Imagery and metaphor comes pretty naturally to me. Most people I meet seem to lean heavily towards either procedural or intuitive thinking but I feel like I use an odd blend of both modes. I might use a notepad app on my phone to write some bullet points about the main points I want to cover in my next article. But the “zingers” as you call them just kind of surface once I I’m on a roll. Takes a few hours of solid work to write an article if I’m not developing a completely new concept or doing a lot of research. I might have tried to be more of a fiction writer than an essayist but I feel like we have to build a society that can secure our basic security and survival first.
Even bigger than the cannon was the advent of professional state armies that made the feudal warrior caste obsolete. Didn’t we both like Rise and Fall of the Great Powers? One of the main theses of the book is war has gotten steadily more expensive since standing armies replaced knights. All that silver from the mines of Peru only allowed the Habsburg Holy Romans to keep pace with huge loans that paid for wars all over their empire. They racked up massive debts fighting the Dutch for years and got little out of it.
The tides have finally turned when 4th gen warfare can outmaneuver and defeat outrageously expensive armies. I have a feeling the IDF has an incomparably bigger budget than Hezbollah.
I think the 4th gen concept applies to more than just military might, though. The US political system for example is simply too slow to keep up with modern society just like conventional militaries with their cumbersome command structures and logistics can’t pin down a few thousand decentralized guerillas.
Same goes for an ossified education system, health care system or whatever else we care to name.
The underlying problem is the whole method and philosophy behind the 19th century-style nation state is obsolete. We’re still trying to use a system developed in the world of the telegraph in the time of the internet.