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What Is to Be Done?
An Exchange with John Schneider, Part 2

3,892 words


“The combination of capital has created for [the workers] a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle . . .this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself.”

— Karl Marx

Argument of John Schneider: As I mentioned in an earlier email, during the three or so decades from the middle 1950s to the 1980s, the system weathered a storm with many similarities to today’s — heightened racial conflict, failed presidencies (Johnson, Nixon, and Carter), military defeat and humiliation abroad, economic stagnation accompanied by unprecedented levels of inflation at home, the oil crisis, seemingly irresolvable conflict in the Middle East, the initiation of terrorist acts against the West, the wide-spread discrediting of the political class, and an intense culture war.

At home social tensions reached levels not seen since the Great Depression.  While the conflict and disruption caused by minorities and the Left are too well-known to repeat here, contrary to current nostalgic accounts, at the time there was real fear that these threatened the very foundations of order.

Although in popular myth the political story of these decades centers on the challenges posed by the counter-culture and the civil rights/black power movement, in fact these years also saw the birth and growth of vital movements of the populist Right across the country. Generally, these movements are now treated as comic-book examples of reprehensible prejudice, serving merely to emphasize the continuing need for the affirmative action regime. At best, they are dismissed as examples of white “backlash.”

The story of Dixie’s “massive resistance” to desegregation is well-known, but is of less relevance today than are the struggles which took place outside of the deep South. Beginning as early as the 1940s, urban white ethnic communities resisted the remaking of their neighborhoods, which was taking place through a combination of social engineering and black migration. Through the 1950s this resistance often took the form of youth and gang violence in neighborhoods and high schools, as well as in contested public spaces such as amusement parks and public beaches, leading to clashes such as the 1956 Crystal Beach riot near Buffalo, NY. (See Victoria W. Wolcott, “Recreation and Race in the Postwar City: Buffalo’s 1956 Crystal Beach Riot,” Journal of American History [June 2006])

By the 1960s and ’70s, in the face of mounting urban criminality, the massive destruction caused by the cycle of race riots which began in 1963, and state efforts to force integration on unwilling white communities via fair housing laws, busing, and the construction of public housing in middle class and blue collar neighborhoods, whites began organizing large and sometimes successful grassroots resistance movements. These included organizations such as Anthony Imperiale’s North Ward Citizens’ Council, founded in the wake of the 1967 Newark riots, Boston’s ROAR (Restore Our Alienated Rights) which waged a mass resistance campaign against forced busing in Boston in the 1970s, United School Parents, which was able to seize control of the West Contra Costa County Unified School District board from the liberal pro-busing majority in 1969.

At the national level, the support among blue collar and middle class voters in the north and west for George Wallace’s presidential campaigns in 1968 and 1972 shocked political observers. In the 1968 election Wallace won almost ten million votes and carried five states, showing that a break with the two-party system was indeed possible.

Meanwhile, a parallel grassroots movements around social and cultural issues began to grow, gathering strength in the ’70s, as insurgent groups organized in hundreds of communities around resistance to the introduction of books such as rapist Eldrich Cleaver’s Soul on Ice into high school libraries and syllabi. Across the country concerned parents battled multiculturalist educrats for control of their children’s education. At the same time, resistance to the ERA and abortion mobilized tens of thousands more, causing liberals everywhere to fret over the supposed threat of theocracy.

By the 1980s, however, the system had re-established its equilibrium. As far as the black community was concerned, its elites and middle class were bought off by having political control of many urban areas ceded to them and through the institution of affirmative action policies in business, the government bureaucracy, and educational institutions. Meanwhile, the black masses were pacified by a continued flow of welfare and other government subsidies, as well as trickle-down patronage from black-controlled state and local governments.

Whites on the other hand continued to abandon urban areas with sizable black populations. The defeat of efforts to extend bussing and de-segregation into the suburbs in the 1970s allowed the creation of “Whitopias” across the country. In 1990 the US was as residentially segregated as it had been before the civil rights movement began.

The election of a fiscally conservative president in the person of Ronald Reagan helped keep taxes low enough and this — together with the liquidation of most American military adventures around the world, a stabilization in the international oil trade, an end to inflation, and the return of economic prosperity — made whites feel like everything was just fine. Affirmative action remained an irritant but really didn’t affect most people directly and, as for the cities, who really wanted to live in Detroit or Newark anyway? Further, with a good conservative like Reagan in the White House, the culture war seemed well on the way to being won by the good guys.

Indeed, without the demographic transformation now underway, this resolution might arguably have been a reasonable and pragmatic way to neutralize the racial tensions which had been building for decades.

The accommodation of the past twenty-five years, however, is clearly in the process of breaking down. For blacks and the now more numerous Latinos, playing the role of junior partners is becoming increasingly unacceptable. Further, their commitment to the affirmative action/welfare state’s entitlements is unwavering, regardless of the system’s inability to support an increasingly large population of “clients” on the same terms as when they were a small minority.

For whites, the conjunctural economic recession, coupled with the country’s long-term economic decline, threatens their continually increasing standard of living, which allowed them to ignore their common concerns while pursuing individual prosperity. Further, with the shrinking white population, whites, as the most productive sector of the population, will be subject to an increasingly onerous tax burden, as the minority population which in 1970 was only about 15 percent of the population grows to 50 percent and beyond.

Meanwhile, the affirmative action regime will need to become increasingly severe in order to maintain the officially-mandated diversity levels, leading to ever harsher discrimination against qualified whites. Finally, last century’s strategy of white flight to the suburbs and beyond will almost certainly break down in the face of the simple numbers of non-whites, in addition to federal and state governments which may be as hostile to the currently-existing de facto segregation as they were to the de jure regime of fifty years ago.

Overlaying this process will be the ever-more aggressive implementation of the elites’ anti-Christian, anti-traditional social agenda. There is every reason to believe that once the Democrats achieve a safe majority — as they have done in California — there will be no limit to the state-sponsored assault on traditional values and their defenders.

Up to now, Middle American whites held enough power by virtue of their numbers to ensure that the federal and most state government(s) would continue to put limits on the affirmative action regime and at least pay lip service to defending such traditional institutions as marriage and the family. It is clear, however, that, if it has not already vanished, this veto power is rapidly evaporating and in another decade or so will be gone entirely. By mid-century, we will simply be one more competing minority group.

So the question to be faced by all of us — racially conscious conservatives, identitarian anti-system rightists (like myself), and white nationalists is: If we can’t just sit back and wait for the deux ex machina of the catastrophe to bring the system down, then what is to be done?

The task, I think, is twofold. In the first place, grassroots, populist resistance movements must be fostered everywhere. As the pressure on them mounts, whites will almost certainly respond as they did between 1955 and 1980, by turning to political activism.

Indeed, the seemingly spontaneous growth of resistance activities around the country is already an encouraging development. The Tea Party movement, in spite of its largely brain-dead leadership, is a particularly exciting phenomenon. While its traditional American libertarian line is a real negative, the NAACP and the commentators of the Left are fundamentally correct about its racial character, since it represents the beginnings of an refusal on the part of whites to pay ever-higher taxes to support the ethnic spoils system and those social engineering projects which threaten to grow out of control once the Democrats really take permanent control of the federal government and the Supreme Court — as they already have done here in California — with predictable results.

Events in Arizona and across the country around immigration control are similarly exciting, especially as the federal government steps in and attempts to reverse the democratic will of the people.

It’s time, then, for the conscious anti-system elements to get up from behind their keyboards and learn to think and act politically — to descend into the streets, not simply to encourage the growth of these movements, but also to contribute to their political content and work to ensure that they are not once again absorbed and betrayed by the elite politicians of the GOP.

The most valuable victory at this point will simply be the re-creation of American whites as a people for themselves — as a people that militantly refuses to accept the denigration of themselves and their history, the destruction of their values and culture, the continuation of the anti-white discrimination that goes by the name of affirmative action, and the extortion of taxes to pay for the racial spoils system known as the American welfare state. The most likely way in which this will happen is precisely through the waging of the struggle itself.

The more such a movement gains in strength, the more likely it is that the system’s contradictions will be intensified and the more likely it is that some political break will occur. The form of that break and what will emerge from it is impossible to say and pointless to predict — but, regardless, now is the time to take the first steps.

Looking at the existing political resources can be discouraging, but I really believe, as I said to you today, that we’re in a position potentially similar to that of the Left in the late 1950s. What remains of the traditional hard Right movements is as generally useless (and even embarrassing) as were the remnants of the CP and SP in those days. Yet, beneath the surface, there was a ferment underway which was able to create a powerful New Left in less than a decade. I think that we, on the Right, have entered a similar age.


Response of Michael O’Meara: John, this is unconcealing (as Heidegger would say) in its overview of the last few decades. Your emphasis on the changing nature of the affirmative-action regime, as it responds to demographic developments, is particularly good in demonstrating how the system is beginning to undermine itself.

There are, however, several minor points I would contest, for they impinge on our larger differences about the present crisis.

First off, I believe this crisis is qualitatively different from that of the 1970s — that it is, indeed, a terminal crisis. It’s true, as you claim, that in this earlier period there was also a sense of general decline — “Carter’s malaise” — and that racial/cultural tensions were becoming threatening.

The problems of the ’70s may have resurfaced, but because the general context is so much different from that decade, it makes these problems qualitatively more serious — and potentially system destroying.

Internationally, the ’70s were a decade of humiliating defeat (Vietnam), lost prestige, and retreat — as the Soviet Union (which would collapse in the next decade) seemed to be overtaking the US almost everywhere. The economy was in a slump and the culture wars of the ’60s still simmered. There’s no question that this was experienced as a bleak period for the US. But no major restructuration of the global order occurred (though movement was mounting in the Global South to challenge US hegemony). The Cold War status quo nevertheless prevailed, even if the US was forced to retreat here and there.

What has changed since then is the collapse of the Soviet Union, the advent of unipolarity (which the neocons used to justify their militarily aggressive empire building in the Middle East), mass Third World colonization of the First World, and the devastating economics of globalization. These changes — whose implications have been world-shattering — are creating a situation which, I believe, will lead to breaks in the system, through whose cracks a new global nomos will emerge in which US hegemony becomes a thing of the past.

This will affect the dollar’s role as the world’s reserved currency and, domestically, add thick new layers of economic complication to the system’s ability to meet its various domestic obligations and pursue its imperial crusades abroad. At some not-too-distant point these strains are likely to become unbearable, causing the system (which is already worn out, dysfunctional, and beset by boondoggles of ever more colossal proportions) to implode.

My view of Ronald Reagan also differs from yours. Yes, he paraded as a fiscal conservative and a defender of traditional values. But, in my mind, this was part of his administration’s neoliberal window-dressing. Up to Reagan, Roosevelt’s old Social-Democratic system, with its labor-management partnership, still prevailed. In cahoots with the insufferable Iron Maiden, Reagan helped dismantle this regime, which had begun to economically stagnate in the ’70s, and introduced the neoliberal principles (“supply-side economics”) that would deregulate everything and enthrone financial capital: with its globalist ambitions, its maniacal privatizations, its multifront offensive on popular living standards — and the floodgates it opened to Third World immigration.

As Reagan’s “conservatism” supplanted notions of the public good with the primacy of the profit motive, it could not but create a social-economic situation, whose market priorities lent themselves to the moral transvaluations and anti-white policies of the Left’s Cultural Revolution. Not coincidentally, the social permissiveness of the Sixties’ anti-materialist hippies gave way to the social permissiveness of the materialist yuppies. It’s my impression that even the best conservatives (like Pat Buchanan) still refuse to acknowledge that the other side of Reagan’s “market-friendly” policies was a hedonistic consumerism.

I also don’t think the Right today is in an analogous situation to the Left of the late ’50s — except to the degree that the anti-system forces will need to go through a metamorphosis as significant as that which produced the so-called New Left in the early ’60s.

Given America’s liberal creedal foundations, the country has always been inherently disposed to “progressive” politics; the Left simply needed to find a way to intersect this disposition, which wasn’t too difficult, given that it had already seduced the country’s largest cohort group: the TV-educated babyboomers.

By contrast, the present establishment Right, as well as a good deal of the so-called “alternative” and racially-conscious Right, has, in fact, yet to break with the underlining premises of liberal modernity, especially in its over-arching fixation on the economy and its identification with the indefatigable individualism of its Protestant culture and market values.

Ideologically and culturally, virtually all the anti-system forces (including that peculiar cyber tendency which calls itself “white nationalism”) seems congenitally unable to think outside the parameters of the country’s liberal Protestant heritage.

A metapolitically-armed Right, I suspect, may possibly (hopefully) emerge from the coming anti-system struggles, but not vice versa, as is happening in Europe.

Such an American New Right, if it is to succeed, will, moreover, have to privilege its European heritage or else it will constitute no Right at all. For above all the one thing we seek to conserve amidst the reigning nihilism is the biocultural heritage we inherited from our patria, Magna Europa. Indeed, once we recognize that we are an outgrowth of European civilization and that America was no gift of Yahweh (as those Protestant Bolsheviks of the 17th century thought), then perhaps we will finally escape the Americanist ideology that sees the country as somehow free of those historical and cultural restraints which affect other peoples — for it’s history and culture, or rather the denial of history and culture, that are, I believe, at the heart of the crisis afflicting not just American, but Western Civilization.

This gets me to my final point. You speak of American whites creating themselves “as a people for themselves” — assuming that they already exist as a people “in itself.” This Marxist principle — which holds that the objective existence of “a class in itself” is historically insignificant until it becomes “a class for itself” (i.e., self-consciously ready to assert itself) — was, of course, crucial to the development of the great labor and nationalist movements of the last century and a half. I fully accept the importance you attribute to this process. Nevertheless, in my understanding of US history, it’s never been possible to speak of white America as a nation in the European sense.

This is not simply because American identity was historically more racial and ideological than ethnic, but also because the particular evolution of the American “people” was such that the country never experienced the centuries-long ethnogenesis that goes into organically forming a self-conscious nation.

In fact, I would argue that only today, for the first time in US history, the challenge European Americans face presents them with a significant “Other” — the non-white hordes crossing our borders — and thus with the potential to discover, in opposition, who they are.

The truths unconcealed in this struggle, like earlier labor struggle against the bosses, cannot but help European Americans to recognize and affirm the blood-culture that distinguishes them from the non-whites presently representing America’s officially designated future.

The battles that lie ahead may therefore possibly make our people more conscious of themselves as a “people” and of the necessity to act “for themselves.” This is the way nations arose in the past — as tribal confederations settled conquered lands, growing, under the auspices of their shared myths and struggles, into a single people.

If such a national awakening should occur in the ensuing struggles, perhaps then we’ll see the emergence of an American nation — “for itself” — reborn as a nativist offshoot of the European “nation” from which we Americans take our primordial identity.

The type of grassroots and populist struggles, which white people are now beginning to wage, constitute, as you argue, the central arena for all who care to participate in the key political movement of our time.

My quibbling with you here is just a roundabout way of saying that your persuasive argument helps me better understand how the Tea Party will find its way toward the Whiskey Rebellion.


Reply of John Schneider: Your latest response treats so many major questions in such a provocative way that a proper response would take far more space than we have here, so I will limit myself to a few observations.

Regarding the challenges facing our elites at present and in the near future, I think that we both recognize that the system under which we live has survived similar crises in the past. We also agree that the trials it will undergo in the coming period will take place in a context that makes the solutions of the past much less viable. We differ, however, in our evaluation of how likely the powers-that-be will be able to “keep it together” and thereby avoid potentially fatal systemic crises. Contra your view, I continue to believe that the elites are probably sufficiently flexible and creative to endure, unless some political agent is able to intervene successfully.

As far as your evaluation of the Reagan era is concerned, I essentially agree with your assessment. I described him above as a “good conservative” in part ironically, but I also would argue, giving him credit for sincerity, that his presidency precisely demonstrates the utter failure of that variant of classical liberalism which poses as conservatism in this country.

In discussing the parallels between the late ’50s and today I did not mean to indicate that there is an identity between the two periods. I do believe, however, that like the late ’50s/early ’60s, when a mass New Left seemed to spring out of nowhere and in the process transcend both its establishment and its alternative institutions, there is a similar possibility that such a movement of the Right could arise in the coming years.

Like you, I recognize that the current institutions and discourses of both the mainstream and the alternative Right are woefully inadequate — especially in the stubborn insistence across almost the entire spectrum of the Right in clinging to the very ideology, liberal individualism, which lies at the core of the current order. This too, however, is not so different from the position of the Left fifty years ago. The Democratic Party then was completely committed to a Cold War liberalism which would become one of the main targets of the New Left, while the existing organizations of the old Left were in decline and disarray.

I acknowledge, of course, that there are important differences as well. The most important of these, however — and the one which makes clear just how much more difficult our task will be than that of the New Left — lies in the distinction between our movement and theirs as social phenomena. The movements of the 1960s, for all their radical bluster, essentially represented a rebellion by one sector of the elite against another — it was more a matter of the system’s growing pains. As you wrote of France’s soixante-huitards in New Culture, New Right:

Retrospectively, the French student rebellion of May 1968 appears to have been less a revolutionary challenge to the liberal order, which it seemed at the time, than a radical spur to its on-going subversions. . . . While spouting the revolutionary teachings of Mao Tse-tung or extolling the heroism of Che Guevara, [the student radicals] displayed an occasional idealism. But this was mostly the gloss of an individualism whose anti-authoritarian and hedonistic impetus constituted less a revolt against postwar society, as Herbert Marcuse thought, than a youthful assertion of its underlying tenets. . . . Thus, instead of assailing the socioeconomic structures of bourgeois society, the May Events actually sought the final liberal triumph over whatever ‘obscurantist’ traditionalisms still lingered in European life . . .

Because it did not really challenge the capitalist system — it merely completed the bourgeois revolutions which started hundreds of years ago — the Left’s counterculture easily established its hegemony in the decades after the ’60s.

Our task, by contrast, will be much more difficult because it will be a truly oppositional one. In insisting on the specific, the organic, and the permanent, we will fundamentally oppose the global, atomized, and soulless “culture of appetite” (E. Michael Jones) which is the natural product of mass consumption capitalism.

Whether we succeed or not (and what “succeeding” actually means) is less important than simply waging the struggle, since the struggle itself is what will make us a people for ourselves.

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  1. White Republican
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    This is the kind of debate that I would like to see much more of among White nationalists. Discussions among White nationalists of “what is to be done?” are usually shallow and insincere. I think that a major reason for this is that few involved in such discussion rarely live with these problems as thinkers or activists. This is not the case with the present discussion. Its protagonists are civil, articulate, intelligent, well informed, open minded, and experienced.

    White ethnostates can be created only by revolutionary means. But how many of us think as revolutionaries? It is easy to say that revolutions are long, unpredictable, and dangerous eras, but how many of us truly comprehend these things?

    Revolutions are not events but eras, and revolutionaries need to be “in form” if they are to win them. White nationalists therefore need to develop a revolutionary mentality, doctrine, and discipline. When I refer to “discipline,” I refer not only to the political necessities of command and obedience, but also to the need for an evolving body of thought and practice informed by praxis.

    The French psychologist Roger Mucchielli argued that the conditions of revolution are more psychological than material. In his interesting little book, La subversion (Paris: C.L.C., 1976), he wrote (pp. 44-46):

    “On doit constater que les conditions socio-économiques de la révolution (exploitation du travail, misère, chômage, pouvoir ne tenant pas compte du bien commun et se mettant au service des intérêts d’une classe possédante minoritaire, etc.) et même les conditions politiques (privation des libertés publiques, terreur policière, idéologie imposée, dépossession des droits légitimes, etc.) ne deviennent motrices de la révolution que s’il y a un état d’esprit révolutionnaire, une volunté de lutte. C’est cet ‘état d’esprit’ qui fait la révolution, sinon il y a résignation parce qu’il y a peur ou respect. On peut et on doit donc ‘travailler’ au niveau psychologique, faire échec à la peur et au respect, créer l’aggressivité chez les uns, la complicité chez les autres.

    “Or ces sentiments, ces attitudes et ces conduites peuvent être induits ou fabriqués de toutes pieces . . . , et il s’agit de savoir appliquer les lois psychologiques et psychosociales correspondentes. L’important n’est pas la réalité de la vie mais ce que les gens croient. Le ‘moment’ de la révolution n’a plus à tenir compte de ce que les communistes, marxistes orthodoxes, appellent ‘les conditions objectives, déterminable par une analyse socio-économico-politique.’ Ce ‘moment’ doit être défini en fonction d’une stratégie psychologique et à partir d’une volonté révolutionnaire.

    “Mieux encore, l’analyse historique des révolutions montre que celles-ci sont le fait d’une toute petite minorité active. Même pendant la grande Révolution française de 1789, les historiens ont découvert que les ‘section’ de Paris, groupant en principe les citoyens ayant le droit de vote (chacune d’un effectif théorique de 3.000 environ) n’étaient fréquentées que 200 à 300 citoyens chacune, donc par moins du dixième de la population active. Au moment du succès de la campagne de propagande nazie en Hesse, selon les chiffres de Tchakotine, il y avait 90% d’électeurs ‘passifs’ et seulement 10 % d’électeurs ‘actifs,’ c’est-à-dire militant dans un clan ou dans l’autre, ce qui, même si l’on octroie aux partisans de Hitler la supériorité numérique, les dénombre comme formant entre 1/10 et 1/20 de la population électorale.

    “Enfin il faut constater que les motivation qui mobilisent les esprits et les coeurs n’ont rien à voir avec les réalités objectives : ce sont les mythes qui font que les hommes se lévant et marchent, s’exposent et se font tuer, ou au contraire s’arrêtant et se cachent. Les mythes sont des images-forces, des imaginaires collectifs capables de fasciner les consciences d’un groupe ou d’une masse parce qu’elles trouvent des satisfactions ou des valorisations profondes.”

  2. White Republican
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    When writing my previous reply, I deliberated as to whether I should refer to metis as well as praxis, but chose against this for reasons of time and length. But after re-reading the chapter titled “Thin Simplifications and Practical Knowledge: Metis” in James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), I think that the concept of metis warrants discussion in relation to the discipline of a revolutionary movement.

    Scott rightly observes that (pp. 309-310):

    “Any large social process or event will inevitably be far more complex than the schemata we can devise, prospectively or retrospectively, to map it. Lenin had every reason, as a would-be head of the vanguard party, to emphasize military discipline and hierarchy in the revolutionary project. After the October Revolution, the Bolshevik state authorities had every reason, once again, to exaggerate the central, all-seeing role of the party in bringing the revolution about. And yet we know–and Lenin and Luxemburg knew–that the revolution had been a close call, relying more on the improvisations, missteps, and strokes of luck that Tolstoy described in War and Peace than the precision of a parade-ground drill.”

    To use the words of Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant, revolutions present “situations which are transient, shifting, disconcerting and ambiguous, situations which do not lend themselves to precise measurement, exact calculation, or rigorous logic.” Metis is greatly needed in such situations. Scott writes (p. 313):

    “One hesitates before introducing yet another unfamiliar term, such as ‘metis,’ into this discussion. In this case, however, ‘metis‘ seems to better convey the practical skills that I have in mind than do such plausible alternatives as ‘indigenous technical knowledge,’ ‘folk wisdom,’ ‘practical skills,’ techne and so on.

    “The concept comes to us from the ancient Greeks. Odysseus was frequently praised for having metis in abundance and for using it to outwit his enemies and make his way home. Metis is typically translated into English as ‘cunning’ or ‘cunning intelligence.’ While not wrong, this translation fails to do justice to the range of knowledge and skills represented by metis. Broadly understood, metis represents a wide array of practical skills and acquired intelligence in responding to a constantly changing natural and human environment. Odysseus’s metis was in evidence, not only in his deceiving of Circe, the Cyclops, and Polyphemus, and in binding himself to the mast to avoid the Sirens, but also in holding his men together, in repairing his ship, and in improvising tactics to get his men out of one tight spot after another. The emphasis is both on Odysseus’s ability to adapt successfully to a constantly shifting situation and on his capacity to understand, and hence outwit, his human and divine adversaries.”

    One may recall Dominique Venner’s suggestion, in Le siècle de 1914 (Paris: Pygmalion, 2006), that today we need the virtues of Odysseus more than those of Achilles. As a good historian, Venner appreciates the role of contingency in history.

    Scott continues (pp. 314-316):

    “All human activities require a considerable degree of metis, but some activities require far more. To begin with skills that require adapting to a capricious physical environment, the acquired knowledge of how to sail, fly a kite, fish, shear sheep, drive a car, or ride a bicycle relies on the capacity for metis. Each of these skills requires hand-eye coordination that comes with practice and the capacity to ‘read’ the waves, the wind, or the road and to make the appropriate adjustments. One powerful indication that they all require metis is that they are exceptionally difficult to teach apart from engaging in the activity itself. . . .”

    “Those specialists who deal with emergencies and disasters are also exemplary of metis. Firefighters, rescue squads, paramedics, mine-disaster teams, doctors in hospital emergency rooms, crews that repair downed electrical lines, teams that extinguish fires in oil fields, and . . . farmers and pastoralists in precarious environments must respond quickly and decisively to limit danger and save lives. Although there are rules of thumb that can be and are taught, each fire or accident is unique, and half the battle is knowing which rules of thumb to apply in which order and when to throw the book away and improvise.”

    “The examples thus far introduced have been mostly concerned with the relation between people and their physical environment. But metis equally applies to human interaction. Think of the complex activities that require constant adjustment to the movement, values, desires, or gestures of others. Boxing, wrestling, and fencing require instant, quasi-automatic responses to an opponent’s moves, which can be learned only through long practice of the activity itself. Here the element of deception enters as well. . . . Many sports combine both the cooperative and the competitive aspects of metis. A soccer player must learn not only the moves of his or her teammates but also which team moves and fakes will deceive their opponents. Such skills . . . are both generic and particular: while each player may be more or less skilled at different facets of the game, each team has its particular combination of skills, its ‘chemistry,’ and each contest with an opposing team represents a challenge that is in some ways unique.

    “On a much bigger, high-stakes canvas, war diplomacy and politics more generally are metis-laden skills. The successful practitioner, in each case, tries to shape the behavior of partners and opponents to his own ends. Unlike the sailor, who can adjust to the wind and the waves but not influence them directly, the general and the politician are in constant interaction with their counterparts, each of whom is trying to outfox the other. Adapting quickly and well to unpredictable events . . . and making the best out of limited resources are the kinds of skills that are hard to teach as cut-and-dried disciplines.”

    “Surveying the range of examples that we have touched on, we can venture some preliminary generalizations about the nature of metis and about where it is relevant. Metis is most applicable to broadly similar but never precisely identical situations requiring a quick and practiced adaptation that becomes almost second nature to the practitioner. The skills of metis may well involve rules of thumb, but such rules are largely acquired through practice . . . and a developed feel or knack for strategy. Metis resists simplification into deductive principles which can be successfully transmitted through book learning, because the environments in which it is exercised are so complex and nonrepeatable that formal procedures of rational decision making are impossible to apply. In a sense, metis lies in that large space between the realm of genius, to which no formula can apply, and the realm of codified knowledge, which can be learned by rote.”

    Incidentally, I think Scott’s ideas on metis help explain why the French revolutionary nationalist François Duprat never had disciples who could carry on his work in his spirit after his assassination. Reading some of Duprat’s writings, notably his “Manifeste nationaliste révolutionnaire,” I am struck by the degree to which they are informed by metis. His thinking was highly disciplined and directed towards political ends (in the sense of “grand politics” rather than “petty politics”). He thought at a much higher level at which he wrote. His writings were not esoteric, but his understanding of what he wrote about often was. I think that Duprat was up to Friedrich Nietzsche’s standard of genius: “What is genius? To will an exalted end and the means to it.”

  3. Michael O'Meara
    Posted September 2, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    As one White Republican to another:

    This is very good. You should write for this site.

    I will have to consult Scott and Muchielle. The latter’s work seems to bear on Philippe Grasset’s argument that the most conspicious aspects of the present crisis is the psychological exhaustion it highlights, while Scott’s ideas seem close to Jean-Paul Baquiast’s studies on the incapacity of ‘superorganisms’ to manage their future. I can use both your references. Thanks.

  4. White Republican
    Posted September 3, 2010 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    Michael O’Meara,

    If you want to get a copy of Roger Mucchielli’s La subversion, which is out of print and hard to find, the best way to get it may be to order it from Duquesne Diffusion ( You might like to know that there is an article in Réfléchir et Agir, no. 18, Autumn 2004, on Mucchielli’s ideas on subversion. I know of this article only by reference. Vladimir Volkoff’s reader on disinformation, La désinformation: arme de guerre (Lausanne: L’Âge d’Homme, 2004), includes long excerpts from La subversion.

    James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State is in print and is readily available. It is a profound, wide-ranging, and stimulating study of what the author calls “high modernism” and what others have called “scientism” and “social engineering.” You might like Scott’s remark in the introduction (pp. 7-8):

    “As I finished this book, I realized that its critique of certain forms of state action might seem, from the post-1989 perspective of capitalist triumphalism, like a quaint archaeology. States with the pretensions and power that I criticize have for the most part vanished or have drastically curbed their ambitions. And yet, as I make clear in examining scientific farming, industrial agriculture, and capitalist markets in general, large-scale capitalism is just as much an agency of homogenization, uniformity, grids, and heroic simplification as the state is, with the difference being that, for capitalists, simplification must pay. A market necessarily reduces quality to quantity via the price mechanism and promotes standardization: in markets, money talks, not people. Today, global capitalism is perhaps the most powerful force for homogenization, whereas the state may in some instances be the defender of local differences and variety. . . . As we shall see, the conclusions that can be drawn from the failures of modern projects of social engineering are as applicable to market-driven standardization as they are to bureaucratic homogeneity.”

    The chapter titled “The Revolutionary Party: A Plan and a Diagnosis” is well worth reading concerning the Marxist-Leninist model of the vanguard party. The Italian revolutionary nationalist Gabriele Adinolfi also makes excellent points in Pensées corsaires: abécédaire de lutte et de victoire (Éditions du Lore, 2008). Adinolfi writes of the left (p. 361):

    “Le défaut principal des choix de la gauche réside justement dans la confusion qu’elle a presque toujours faite entre la mécanique et l’esprit, entre l’anatomie et la réalité humaine.

    “Une vision d’ensemble embrouillée ; due justement à la confusion entre le scientisme et la science, entre le moyen et le but. L’exemple le plus clair de cette folie est dans le choix des soi-disant systèmes stratégiques. Ceux-ci ne sont pas autre chose que les modèles préfabriqués de la révolution et de la prise du pouvoir. . . . C’est à ces systèmes que la gauche scientifique accordait ses actes. Pendant des années, elle a longtemps oscillé entre le léninisme et le gramscisme, c’est-à-dire deux systèmes foncièrement prétentieux et irréalistes. Il faut voir que Lénine lui-même n’a pas appliqué le léninisme et on comprendra que certaines catégorisations sont en même temps abstraites et pathologiques.”

    In other words, such leftists have shackled themselves by uncritically accepting “prefabricated models of revolution and the taking of power.” Adinolfi counsels against (p. 334)

    “l’attachement inconditionnel à des symboles déterminés, comme la répétition dogmatique de modèles préétablis et se fonde exclusivement sur la diffusion d’interprétations mythiques. L’histoire et l’expérience nous enseignent cependant que le manque de dynamisme et la tendance à se replier sur soi-même, loin d’assurer la continuité à laquelle on aspire, entraînent une corrosion interne par une sorte de loi de putréfaction.”

    I believe that there is a need for a vanguard. I also believe that a vanguard should recognise “the indispensable role of practical knowledge, informal processes, and improvisation in the face of unpredictability.” A vanguard cannot be created and cannot function without these things. As Scott writes (p. 6):

    “Designed or planned social order is necessarily schematic; it always ignores essential features of any real, functioning social order. This truth is best illustrated in a work-to-rule strike, which turns on the fact that any production process depends on a host of informal practices and improvisations that could never be codified. By merely following the rules meticulously, the workforce can virtually halt production. In the same fashion, the simplified rules animating plans for, say, a city, a village, or a collective farm were inadequate as a set of instructions for a functioning social order. The formal scheme was parasitic on informal processes that, alone, it could not create or maintain. To the degree that the formal scheme made no allowance for these processes or actually suppressed them, it failed both its intended beneficiaries and ultimately its designers as well.”

    I’ll have to look at the writings of Philippe Grasset and Jean-Paul Basquiat that you refer to.

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