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Tag Archives: mercantile

Alt-Lite and the Weakening of the Merchant Caste

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.

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