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The Dissolution of the Communities

The Dissolution of the Communities

No. 1, Sep.-Oct. 2016 » UNCOVERstory

The “dissolution of the monasteries” took place in England during Henry the VIIIth and the dynastic woes that induced his religious estrangement from Rome, but was subsequently repeated many times throughout Europe, when monarchs and budding republics sought to marginalize the clergy’s political influence by neutralizing its wealth. Something similar comes to mind when analyzing the chaos in Western civil societies, manifesting as political polarization, individual social pathologies and collective disaggregation. Trust in established institutions falters, along with trust in one’s fellow citizens, the public peace falters as demonstrations take on the characteristics of insurrections, and individuals, especially the most vulnerable ones who had the most to gain under the umbrella of “ordered liberty”, are left rudderless and with a justified sense of being betrayed by their elites. The malaise starts from the bottom of society, where the least wealthy and least politically articulate are to be found, gains public recognition as it moves towards the middle classes (or estates), but eventually overpowers the social structures at the top as well. Whether as a symptom of decay in the West or a belated attempt at treatment of the malaise, the Western peoples are slowly disengaging from mainstream politics, seeking new representatives and new/old ideologies, and rejecting the technocratic underpinning of the administrative state and managerial classes that they feel have disenfranchised them in all but name. This last phenomenon was aptly described in the book “The Tyranny of Experts” by William Easterly, but was presaged in the 1940s by James Burnham in “The Managerial Revolution”, which described the hollowing out of democracy by the expediency of requiring an increasingly self-aware class of knowledge workers to run and maintain the complex systems of modern society. I believe most issues start with the community in Western countries and the damage inflicted on it in the past few decades, which underscores the insufficiency of formal institutions and bureaucracies in providing, by themselves, the conditions that led to the thriving of Western living standards, in more than just the economic sense.

This article will reference pertinent research in this field, but aims to limit its description to a vision of the loss of formal and informal social capital within communities at multiple levels, wherein the individual of today’s community has fewer of every intangible wealth than his predecessors – guidance, connection, identity, purpose, stake, continuity between forbears and posterity and meaningful political engagement.

Sickness made apparent

The preeminent American social scientist, Charles Murray, who has successfully skirted the line between dangerously impolitic research and the public respectability to be able to widely disseminate his findings, wrote an article in recent months in the Wall Street Journal [1] explaining the, at the time, unbelievable success of Donald Trump. He couched it in terms of a reaction on the part of Euro-Americans to their visible regression in status, health, wealth and hope for the future compared to their parents and grandparents. He wrote: “For White working-class men in their 30s and 40s—what should be the prime decades for working and raising a family—participation in the labor force dropped from 96% in 1968 to 79% in 2015. Over that same period, the portion of these men who were married dropped from 86% to 52%. These are stunning changes, and they are visible across the country. In today’s average White working-class neighborhood, about one out of five men in the prime of life isn’t even looking for work; they are living off girlfriends, siblings or parents, on disability, or else subsisting on off-the-books or criminal income. Almost half aren’t married, with all the collateral social problems that go with large numbers of unattached males [2]. In these communities, about half the children are born to unmarried women, with all the problems that go with growing up without fathers, especially for boys. Drugs also have become a major problem, in small towns as well as in urban areas”. An extraordinary 96 million working age Americans have dropped out of the labor force, with a 50 fold increase in people claiming disability (from 0.2% decades ago, to 10% today). He goes on to describe how the famous outsourcing of American industrial jobs, 70% held by men of all races, affected their marriage prospects. Meanwhile, the civic culture of their neighborhoods was diluted and then disappeared, along with a loss of orderliness, pleasantry and even safety, which were important to later social mobility. These budding legitimate grievances had forced them previously into a rebellious stance which saw a record electoral win for Republican Ronald Reagan through the massive support of “Reagan Democrats”. Today, when the situation is truly dire, they found themselves with no political option and also the only acceptable target of condescension and contempt on the part of the higher classes in a culture that was increasingly thin-skinned about giving offense to anyone on any grounds, since the offended are endowed with significant moral legitimacy. Meanwhile, the jobs that are being created, either in the service industry or in the new “sharing economy”, have led to the appearance of the “precariat”, individuals whose consumption patterns might be outwardly normal, possessing smartphones and consuming entertainment products, but who lack any form of job security and long term perspectives, which represses family formation and independent living and induces a precarious existence exposed to the vagaries of life.

Coming apart

Murray’s findings were supported by research done for the book “Coming apart – the state of White America 1960-2010”, which used statistical data to authoritatively document what everyone knew was instinctively true but was not a mainstream political concern. His article in the WSJ also coincided with the widespread circulation of a study regarding an explosion in drug use among the working class, with a rise in suicides, as well as deaths related to overdoses. For the first time in a century, the members of the historic American nation found themselves on a downward spiral of life expectancy. To Murray, “a significant and growing proportion of the American population is losing the virtues required to be functioning members of a free society”. He theorized the appearance of a vast new underclass alongside the existing immigrant and African-American one, made up of men who don’t make enough money in a year to lift two people above the poverty line, single mothers, or “social isolates”, the products of societal atomization. This final category is the most difficult to conceptualize. They are people who do not belong to organized groups and who do not attend a church except to mark important life events.

Reading his book, I found myself fitting in with his concept of “social isolates”, realizing that it was both a product of Romanian modernity and a legacy from the Communist levelling of Romanian social structures to enforce adherence to preapproved institutions of mass participation and to prevent the rise of parallel structures with political potential which often accompanies benign societal groupings. Romanians, on average, have retained important coping mechanisms like organized religious worship, cultural attachments and reliance on extended families, but these are incomparable to the “fall from grace” of American communities, which had impressed Alexis de Tocqueville 250 years ago with their tendency to productively associate for charity, culture or quality of life. This no doubt played a leading role in the entire Western World for its rapid development on many levels, leading to advanced, orderly and pleasant societies. We designate this informal institutional capital or social capital under the heading of civil society, but it is more than that – it includes the social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from connections among individuals, according to Robert Putnam of Harvard University. This capital is locked in a virtuous cycle with the employment of “social technologies”, which involve human beliefs, social structures, rituals, assumptions, modes of thought and organizations, which both produce social capital (and employ it for goods such as safe communities and high standards of living) and are advanced by it, just like financial capital is invested in technology for the growth of productivity. Many social technologies that have spread throughout the world to varying degrees of succes were initially formed in the West (civil activism, civil associations, entrepreneurship, boudoir and salon artist collectives, and, more formally, joint stock corporations, universities). Our successful mimicry of it will make the difference between our convergence with the West and sullen stagnation.

The philosopher Edmund Burke called these “the little platoons” of society, which somewhat explains why a revolutionary system like Communism had to repress or control them. Another famous book puts its finger on this very issue with regard to the American experience in community decay – “Bowling alone”, by Robert Putnam. He explicitly linked the issues not just with economic malaise, but also with the alienating effect of ethnic, religious and cultural diversity on the group psyche. The most often quoted line in the book says that “in the presence of diversity, we hunker down. We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it’s not just that we don’t trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don’t trust people who do look like us”. The greater the diversity, the greater the loss of trust. “They don’t trust the local mayor, they don’t trust the local paper, they don’t trust other people and they don’t trust institutions. The only thing there’s more of is protest marches and TV watching”. This sounds familiar.

He based part of his research on one of the most diverse human habitation in history, Los Angeles. Until reading his book, I had little inkling of the sheer diversity of civil groups Americans actually belonged to. Unfortunately, his fervent wishes for a restoration of community ties, solidarity and religiosity is more likely within smaller groups like adherents to fundamentalist religions and amoral familists, to the detriment of the wider community and the American identity it should be promoting.

The trappings of identity

The estrangement of Westerners from their communities is not just based on sweeping changes, but also on small issues which have an alienating influence even on people who have embraced the reigning ideology of diversity and multiculturalism. Sociologist Michael Billig wrote a book called “Banal nationalism” which explained that people are, without being aware of it, submerged in daily reminders of their identity and heritage, while the experience of another country’s banal nationalism will enhance the pleasure of travelling and experiencing new things. While passionate nationalism is expressed through the waving of a flag, banal nationalism comes from the flag unobtrusively hanging above the doorway of public institutions. It is felt in the writing on public announcements, in the kind of money one uses, the language on the radio and the TV, the signs in the street, what people wear, the rituals for greeting and departure, how they celebrate important holidays or whether they celebrate them and many other cues of one’s natural cultural habitat. Having such things in common with people from other nations leads to an understanding of a common cultural heritage which promotes solidarity and comfortable exchanges, such as the Germanic or Latin nations among themselves or the Arab peoples. It can be alienating for any person to experience a rapid shift in their environment related to aspects of banal nationalism, even if they rationally and publicly agree to them. In many cases, these actions can be an accommodation for increased diversity, but can also be an overt measure to generate a post-national country, not rooted in a particular people or cultural tradition, such as what Germany and the United States have been pursuing. The presence of multi-language public forms and signs, new sartorial standards in the streets or even at the beach according to the latest public panics, the American “culture wars” regarding Christmas and Easter and many other issues have contributed to internal conflicts and a sense of estrangement. The latest strike is the planned removal of President Andrew Jackson, one of the most historically significant American leaders, from the 20 dollar bill, in favor of Harriet Tubman, an African American woman who helped hundreds of slaves reach freedom. While it cannot be denied that Harriet Tubman is a part of American history, the change in the relative weights of public acknowledgements of historical figures in the public space is one way of manipulating the perception of one’s own history and the narrative behind it. The explicit marginalization of traditional heroes in the American civic religion in favor of new ones, no matter how objectively different in historical importance, and also accompanied by a repudiation of those heroes’ merits according to current moral standards (the Founding Fathers’ tolerance for slavery in the new nation and of limited suffrage for men and none for women) is an ongoing project for the remaking of the American nation by remaking its history, which is sure to first alienate legacy Americans and then rouse them to opposition.

Malignant neglect

To Charles Murray, part of the blame for the trouble lay squarely with the elites, whose culture and mores would normally filter down to the masses through jockeying for social status, if not outright paternalistic guidance. A new ethos in society, based on post-modern cultural interpretations, did away with traditionalism and the positive role of the past in guiding the present and offering role models (Plutarch’s “Parallel lives” has been used for moral instruction for over two millennia). Individuals were supposed to self-define their identity with as little baggage as possible. Elites were content to self-regulate, but stopped preaching what they practiced to the lower orders, something that was quite present in times past and might have been immeasurably helpful to the less educated and less cognitively gifted for understanding the path to the middle class.

Charles Murray wrote that “the new upper class still does a good job of practicing some of the virtues, but it no longer preaches them”. He explains the widening gulf between elite Americans and the lower classes, which used to be defined also by education, but is now more muddled through higher credential attainment. He looked at divorce rates, illegitimacy rates and arrests which, contrary to the lurid examples that dominate celebrity press, have not advanced very much for the “silent elites”, who remain personally conservative while declaratively progressive and liberal. Even in religiosity, the lower classes are less religiously observant to the minimum communitarian degree than the elites.

For Murray, elites are neglectful, the upper reaches having “become so isolated that they are often oblivious to the nature of the problems that exist elsewhere”. However, one might also infer from the above interpretation that various elites were purposefully setting their potential competition up for failure, since social mobility also involves someone’s downward progression. Their status would be more secure should the proverbial “hungry” challengers arising from the masses of Average Joes never manage to develop into a threat to their own position.

This has been a constant throughout history that enabled the hardening of castes and classes. Alexis de Tocqueville noted that “in France, the kings have always been the most active and the most constant of levelers”, especially by using the phenomenon of the mob as a weapon against the aristocracy and its scheming or the bourgeois arrivistes (later, the industrialist parvenus) displacing traditional elites. This phenomenon of alliance between the highest and the lowest against the middle makes its own sort of sense, though unequal arrangements are inherently unstable and may backfire against the elites, as it did soon after De Tocqueville’s visits to America, when the French Revolution began. Today, we can see the bloody outcomes of the fomenting of violent reactions among America’s Black underclass as part of the pageantry of American electoral politics, as exemplified by the beatification of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown as “secular saints”, which induced the creation of Black Lives Matter and the subsequent riots, police assassinations and general increase in crime rates. The nature of divisive identity politics in multicultural societies means that one does not have to galvanize the entire lower class (which can be dangerous for the elites), but only a few particular segments noted for their sense of grievance or their capacity for community self-organization and self-radicalization. The fact that, for instance, many unassimilated minorities in the West vote as a block (often for the wrong reasons and interests) rather than for the patchwork of political interest that keep the majority divided makes them uniquely valuable politically, and hard not to cater or at least pander to. If things get out of hand, then the low and the middle class ethnic majority which dominates security forces and are uniquely invested in the idea of stability, even for a system that is outright disadvantageous to them, can be used to quell the disturbances. This is a form of “divide and conquer”, since the political activism under the heading of powerful sponsors was being used to keep their communities in check in their first place.

Denying the churn of elites

Such an uncharitable interpretation also follows from elite support for affirmative action (which excludes more deserving individuals from various positions, thereby decreasing competition for those that had already been selected on merit or class privileges), for demographic policies that render previously livable communities into dystopias where mental resources must be dedicated to daily survival and for economic policies which cripple mobility reliant on (expensive) education and access to a bourgeois lifestyle with appropriate roles models in proximity (expensive housing). The dumbing down of school curricula, including in Universities, in favor of academically worthless subjects, lowered standards and political indoctrination, also disadvantages those without prior resources of all kinds, including cultural and familial. As the political commentator and literary critic Joseph Sobran said, “in 100 years, we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching Remedial English in college”. The great threat to elites does not come from the lower classes, but from the steady generational advancement that produces the upper middle classes that then strive to enter the elites. The fall of the middle class throughout the West is also a way of cementing the status of existing elites, who need only accept token new entries among their ranks, like the odd sportsman, celebrity or genius inventor.

We also have to take into account the strong shift in what constitutes the elite, which also has an impact on the political process which further estranges Westerners. Local elites, raised higher through the social capital produced through positive community involvement, were a very strong element of the political machinery. Where still extant, they are relevant to mobilize voters, but exert less control over the positions of politicians, which are defined through a mix of top donors and the electoral elites (strategists, pollsters) grown by political parties and driven by the professionalization and the transformation into a science of the electoral process.

The wider new elite, to which the party nomenclature also belongs, is the managerial elite identified by James Burnham, a group which depends not on property or social quality for influence, but on specific knowledge (engineering, technology, economics, sociology, politics, theology) necessary for the running of the modern state and, in particular, the administrative state which has gradually and arbitrarily usurped more and more of the legislative and executive powers in the polity. Therefore, even if the electorate manages to find a voice, a message and a politician to adopt it all the way to Parliament or the Executive, the fundamental line of action for the State is almost set in stone by the technocrats below it, behind it or, increasingly, above it. This is why, in the West, particularist rhetoric has given way to universalist rhetoric that changes little with the mainstream politician in office, despite the different outward furnishings. As exemplified by the US “Affordable Care Act” and the various public declarations made during its adoption, lobbyists representing special interests are even engaged in drafting important legislation that is so expansive that legislators never even get to read and debate it before voting it in. George W Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” was no different from left-liberalism, before or after him, since both presided over replacement level immigration, wars for the propagation of Western liberal democracy and human rights and the prioritization of foreigners over citizens under universalist morals and values. Consistency is a technocratic virtue, and the right solution, as defined by the managerial class, may change with evidence, but never through popular vote, since objective reality cannot be decided by vote.

To Burnham, the end state of the managerial elite is that it transcends borders and then seeks to dissolve them since it finds more common cause with the elites of other countries (and with the deracinated elites of transnational companies and global institutions) than with the “proles” of their own, something which not only happened in the EU, but was also actively encouraged under the heading of integration. Democracy becomes nearly impossible under these conditions, except as a rubber stamping process, and political apathy sets in, as evidenced both by the ever lower voting rates of the population and the record turnouts when prospective challengers turned out, such as Donald Trump or the Brexit camp of the recent referendum.

The stealth disenfranchisement

The act of “salami slicing” the electorate for political strategy, tailored messages and strategic confrontation have become key elements of the political manual, but have undermined National unity. The effect is not due entirely to the greater diversity identified by Putnam’s research, but also internal cleavages in the still extant majority under new and varied pretenses for disunity. The traditional rift is class, and has historically been the first to be exploited, but today we have gender identity, sexual orientation, political orientation, origin, value signaling etc. In “Up from liberty” in 1959, the Dean of American conservatism’s rise and fall, William F. Buckley Jr, wrote that: “Democracy’s finest bloom is seen only in its natural habitat, the culturally homogenous community. There, democracy induces harmony. Harmony (not freedom) is democracy’s finest flower. Even a politically unstable society of limited personal freedom can be harmonious if governed democratically, if only because the majority understand themselves to be living in the house that they themselves built”.

Incidentally, this factor is behind the enthusiasm accompanying the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the US Presidential election. Both left identity politics at the door and spoke to unifying concerns for Americans, such as lack of opportunities and wage stagnation. Trump, in particular, who won the Republican nomination, appealed to a wide swathe of American society through a specifically colorblind civic nationalism which pits American citizens who accept the dominant American culture that had made it great in the past, against the rest of the world. The usual tactic for both the American Left and Right was to utilize social issues of no importance to the big donors in order to divide the electorate in opposing groups, with hardened identities reliant on exclusion of others, which are then unable to unify to pursue common economic interests through political action. For example, take Hillary Clinton’s campaign speech to a crowd that yelled no to every question: “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow, would that end racism? Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the L.G.B.T. community? Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”

Joseph Sobran described these tactics and also the natural phenomena that churn a sufficiently large population into new groups and classes, bringing them together and driving them apart, as the eternal tension between the “nativist” and the “alienist”. The nativist occupies the current moral or social center of society, is sufficiently pleased with it and with his clearly defined status and role, as well as the avenues open to him for advancement. Nativism endorses conservatism, tradition, continuity, legacy and caution. The alienist represents those in the periphery – the deviants, the malcontents, the rebels, revolutionaries and visionaries – who find the current status-quo lacking or disadvantageous to them and seek to change or at least challenge it. An excessively nativist population becomes stagnant or narrow-minded, while an excessively alienist population will tend to disintegrate and end up in some form of civil conflict. Some form of equilibrium weighted towards nativists may be preferable, but the past few decades have seen exclusively alienist trends in culture, education and worldview that have eventually trickled downstream into politics. The rewards of that are being reaped all around us, as Western societies seem unable to right their ruinous course, even though course adjustments are supposedly a principal benefit of democracy.

Relevant research in this field was carried out by Jonathan Haidt, whose book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” explained the increased political polarization in the United States as the emergent property of millions of individual acting out their political preferences in sync, as a result of innate personality preferences given form by the existing political taxonomy and accompanying rhetoric. That the political leaders may be in some form of metaconspiracy while overtly engaged and believing themselves engaged in political contest against each other (presented as a titanic struggle every time) can be debated. It is less clear why the average individual would go along with it, splitting up families, generational ties and also potential political alliances which could be used for tangible gains. Jonathan Haidt used 1 to 5 scales for measuring attitudes towards and relative importance given to opposing concepts like care/harm, liberty/oppression, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation. He associated the results with the political leanings of his test subjects and found marked differences between conservatives and liberals. This explains how even the most ethnically and culturally homogeneous society may end up with a vibrant political life or even civil war, but his research points to another issue, which is the increased opportunity to act out politically based on personality preferences which had been within the population all along. A basic argument for the pessimist and reactionary is that things were better before, either within his lifetime or before it. Leaving aside migration as a source of political shifts and frictions, why would the predecessors of a disunited population have acted in a more unified manner, despite their own personality differences? For one, circumstances like outside threats often lead to a more unified front. Secondly, the technologies for implementing agitation and divisiveness have improved immeasurably, whether through modern communications and targeted communications, the use of scientific knowledge to tailor messages and so on. Ultimately, it is also due to the weakening, part intent and part accident, of the social capital which tied families and communities together all the way to the national level. That related tribes often fought against each other in the past is a given, and social technologies (like currency with the head of the ruler on it or state religions) were needed to keep them together, but conflicts within families and villages were not as common, since they went against established ties, traditions and hierarchies, and also impacted group survival.

The chilling effect

This is also enforced through political correctness and related speech codes, either formal (in the workplaces or social venue) or informal (common knowledge). In many EU countries, speech codes can be enforced through law and deviations punished harshly. In the US, with the unique presence of the First Amendment, speech codes are enforced informally, through the ever present and sometimes applied (“pour encourager les autres”, as Voltaire wrote) threat of attack, social ostracism, career derailment and public shaming which also induces a sense of isolation that further inhibits speech and even thought, in a way lifted from George Orwell’s works, as well as those of Saul Alinky and his “Rules for radicals”. This is a tremendous problem for the numerous members of the lower classes, whose lack of education or formal learning was ameliorated through implicit and informal group learning through the transmission of wisdom and knowledge about the world. This constituted a sort of political acumen that contrasted with the unworldliness and naiveté of “ivory tower intellectuals”, whose ideas were sometimes proverbially so stupid that only an intellectual would entertain them.

Political scientist Timur Kuran wrote a book called “Private truths, public lies” about the effects that political correctness, taboos, enforced edicts on information, have on democracy, especially on preference aggregation and discovery. Without the possibility of saying what you want and distilling it to a politically relevant and actionable preference, the resulting preference that politicians act on and base the legitimacy of their actions on is falsified and does not correspond to reality. This could be by design, wherein members of the public are made to feel that their own preferences and beliefs are less widely held or somehow morally illegitimate (“this is not who we are”, “wir schafen das”), especially with the diminishment of community and civil group communications. It could also be a side effect of restrictive measures aimed at other goals (like the European suppression of politically undesirable associations, symbols, figures related to fascism), and politicians are genuinely surprised when reactionary forces invade the public space, since they had no conventional way of assessing grievances to anticipate problems. With the falsified preferences enshrined in the public discourse, valuable collective experience and wisdom is never passed on, which accounts for the rapidity with which political choices have shifted at the level of Western societies in areas such as the national interest, the positive vision of history and legacy, the rights of minorities and the privileges of majorities etc. Just to give an example, Americans counted only 20 years between support for gay marriage making you unelectable to public office and opposition against gay marriage making you not just unelectable, but actionable in court under hate crime and discrimination laws. These are shark infested waters for even the canniest social operator and elite to navigate, let alone for the average citizen who should be involved politically, but has to stay out of the game for his own good.

The greatest heist

The final argument in what would otherwise be a very long exposition is the esoteric issue of theft and waste of social capital in the communities afflicted by social pathologies. While the exact proportions may not be identifiable scientifically, it is natural to assume that the character of a community depends on the habits, assumptions and behaviors of its members in the aggregate. Such a community may survive the first few foreign elements, whether actual cultural foreigners, or members of a different national subculture. At a certain point, however, the changes become apparent and a successful prior community begins to fail, having less trust, less social activity, less security than before. This means that social capital has evaporated or been wasted. At the very end of the spectrum, the community might change its demographics and character entirely in just a few short years. This is what happened to Ferguson and Baltimore, the sites of the recent riots in the United States. This is what happened to Compton, in California, an upper middle class community where President George W. Bush was born (European community, as most of them were before 1965’s Hart-Celler act that opened the third world immigration floodgates), which became monolithically African-American by the time the local gangster rap group NWA became famous in the 1990s (their hit song, “F*** the police” did not improve local social capital), and in an even shorter timeframe has become completely Hispanic. Nothing can survive from the original community in such conditions and monuments to the fallen of the Vietnam War may as well be the partially destroyed statues of past civilizations in Byron’s “Ozymandias” for the current community. These transformations occur when communities lack awareness of their wealth in social capital, the means to enforce compliance with local cultural norms, or the right to freedom of association that would enable them to discriminate whom they allow into the fold. This is, currently, the difference between accepting social housing and refugee shelters in one’s neighborhood and fighting the imposition from above, either legally or in the press or through the outbreaks of “direct democracy” like arsons and riots. Other communities have found ingenious ways to avoid the loss of social capital due to rapid population growth or diversification, such as using environmental protection laws to avoid new real estate development, especially cheaper and dense development that automatically entails a different demographic (younger, less affluent, lower class) than what the community currently consists of.

Social and institutional capital is valuable in itself, because it provides a higher living standard, even for those who do not contribute to them. They can also be used by the unscrupulous to exploit the community in a way which accelerates the destruction of social capital. This is what happens in under-policed and law abiding areas which see a greater influx of people with different attitudes and norms, especially the most criminally prone demographic, young men. This is at the heart of Germany’s social and policing crisis, where naïve local people and ineffectual police departments used to herbivorous and obedient Germans are faced with aggressive and boisterous migrants with an injured sense of entitlement. Western communities where women are afraid to walk outside alone in the dark or even daylight cannot be said to have much social capital left un-frittered.

This is also a form of free riding, from the libertarian and “propertarian” perspective, since somebody is surely benefiting financially from the social capital consumers’ presence, but they do not also bear the full cost of the interlopers’ presence (a libertarian condition insisted on by Hans Hermann Hoppe as a necessity for open borders), which must then be borne by the community which did not prevent the abuse of the commons. This refers not just to welfare and infrastructure (schools, hospitals), but also to the informal institutional commons, such as the rituals and assumptions of daily community life. It is the capital associated with this commons that is converted into benefits consumed by the interloper and indirectly captured by those who stand to gain from his presence, like business interests, politicians, NGOs and so on.

For the informal institutional commons to be maintained, everybody must pay the opportunity cost of what they would gain by abusing this capital. The difference between a shop with an open space, where one browses the goods at his leisure and the frictions of commerce are lower and its velocity higher, and a shop where no browsing is possible and the seller stands behind a bulletproof pane of glass and bars to serve you lies in the number of people who would try to rob it for gain. By foregoing the profits of robbing the neighborhood supermarket, the informal institutional commons that leads to a pleasant shopping experience is maintained. By foregoing the various illicit satisfactions of petty theft, vandalism or even serious crimes like assault and sexual assault, a more civilized community can be maintained for the benefit of all. But this only lasts until an abuser destroys the commons and forces people to adapt to protect their loved ones and their property. Some commons are more resilient and flexible than others. Whereas a neighborhood that does not lock its doors will quickly start doing so when valuables disappear from some homes, another community, with less informal institutional capital but also some safeguards (locked doors, reassuring police presence) can absorb, for some time, a higher incidence of illicit capital consumption. Ultimately, social capital is so valuable (even if one does not realize it) that the end of migration in an unequal world will not come when income in real or even nominal terms has been equalized, but when living standards have been equalized by falling to the lowest common denominator. Before this point, income parity had been achieved, but there was still social capital to be consumed while shirking on its maintenance or replenishment.

For the unfortunate victims of such events, which have neither the resources to establish themselves in a more amenable community, nor the resources to insulate themselves from dysfunction, life takes on a darker turn. Scarce mental resources are spent on quotidian worries such as safety of self, family and property, leaving less for contributing to community welfare or for correctly thinking about one’s future welfare, let alone practice good political judgement. Neither do formal institutions long survive the interlopers, especially when they affect the social capital of that institution as well. Westerners no longer trust their media, having converged with their less developed peers in cynicism. Some do not even trust their police, like the citizens of Rotherham in the UK when they learned that a long term, widespread child abuse and forced prostitution ring made up mostly of immigrants (victimizing native girls, over a thousand during a ten year period) had been shielded by elements within the police itself that happened to value the social capital of their familial and ethnic ties to the perpetrators more than the social capital of the community, as well as a cowed central government whose functionaries are afraid of being accused of racism. Neither should the German citizens trust their police and media, which have withheld valuable information regarding their safety and their communities from them for fear of political backlash, wherein physical harm to a member of the community rates less than the loss of political capital to the institutional elites.

The slaughter of cities

Since people with the means to do so are likely to flee the community, abandoning any hope of rebuilding its social capital (“white flight” is a phenomenon witnessed from the US, to South Africa, to Sweden and everywhere in between where civilizations clash), communities quickly change, as surely as any forced expulsion and colonization ever would. In cases like Detroit, this is accompanied also by physical decay of infrastructure and the industrial basis, as employers have no reason to stay there and the inhabitants do not pay enough taxes (or the informal opportunity cost) to maintain the civilization they inherited. This might even serve various interests, or be the result of a dispassionate process like globalization.

Christopher Guilluy’s geographic study “La France périphérique: Comment on a sacrifié les classes populaires” makes a showcase of Paris, arguing that its problems are due less to the marginal community full of immigrants, but the veritable ethno-class cleansing of the city under globalization. He argues that globalization has turned Paris into a global “alpha city” which houses CEOs, heads of international institutions and other elites, like fashion designers, and their managerial elites, who have need of servants, low cost services and menial laborers provided by the migrants. But the increasing cost of living within the city itself and the change of its economic structure has led to an exodus of middle class and formerly middle class French, who find their livelihood disrupted and would be a hated “Other” if they were to accede to becoming a minority in the minority-majority social housing of Paris. While the menials will be a source of future tensions since social mobility opportunities are not apparent for their offspring, the current issue is that wide swathes of the French have become redundant to the global economy, which partially explains the large structural unemployment that France has had ever since signing on to the General Agreement of Trade and Tariffs and with the enlargement of the European Economic Community. This was always placed at the feet of rigid French dirigisme that made it uncompetitive, but, in a world where your competition can be a Bangladeshi working for pennies or a local migrant working for less money and less respect than a native, competitiveness based on debasing the living standards and protections of a “pampered” working class is a ruinous sort of behavior for a democracy, or even an autocracy that still needs some form of popular consent. That the French electorate is feeling especially mutinous or at least disaffected is natural.

This process has been repeated in many cities throughout the West, such as London, which is now minority British and in the midst of celebrating handing over the reins of power to a cultural alien. American cities, with their famously decrepit inner cities, characterized by a casual proximity between slums and centers of financial power, have also gone down this route. There was even a book written about New York’s ethnic and economic transformation, termed “The Slaughter of Cities: Urban Renewal as Ethnic Cleansing” by Michael Jones which described the disappearance of working class Manhattan (Black and White) and its textile and manufacturing industry, all to be replaced by clerical work in just a few fields, such as finance, and the incredible expense of living in the new environment. This also happens to be the city in which Donald Trump was born and has lived his entire life, which may account for some of his worldviews.

Conclusions

We have not seen the last of the “bonfire of the communities” or of the increasingly frantic efforts of those affected to regain some semblance of their former tangible and intangible wealth. Some will stumble and fail and be trapped in a vicious cycle for a while longer (a situation that cannot last, will not last), while others will end up exchanging one evil for another (hopefully a lesser one). Just like Americans say that a conservative is a liberal who got mugged in the park, a sufficiently exasperated community, both with their troubles and the elites and institutions not addressing them, is liable to turn towards “men of action” promising redress and succor in exchange for support in a disruptive course. History is full of such examples, a minority of which turned out well, and the rest devolved into cycles of dissolution and retrenchment under authoritarianism. Finally, some communities will have managed to reverse their process of decay for the foreseeable future through the proper exercise of political activism and empowerment, under clearly expressed preferences. It may be the case with Donald Trump in the United States, Marine Le Pen in France or Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. Nothing can be expected from the mainstream politicians invested in the status-quo, so the political mainstream must be changed before the politicians are, in the words of German playwright Bertolt Brecht, done electing a new people. The situation of Western communities, reflected at the level of politics, is aptly summarized by William Butler Yeats’ poem:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

Notes

[2] Shades of Europe and Cologne spring to mind.
 
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OEconomica No. 1, 2016