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American Decadence:
A Response to James Traub

[1]1,980 words

When I was in high school and Obama had just been elected, there were various articles in our spheres complaining about the inherent flaws of democracy. Democracy was bad and always would be, because it enabled idiots to have equal power to the responsible and intelligent. To the latent nationalist and libertarian-misanthrope in me, leftist political victory was proof that the stupidity I witnessed in my peers was manifesting in world-historical decline. It was around this time that words like “degeneracy” and “decadence” became meaningful for me, and I toyed with the idea of doing some kind of writing or radio content mocking the signs of what we now know as Clown World.

How curious it is then that about eight years later, we see the same doubts about democracy coming from the left. The electoral victory of Trump has called into question America’s collective intelligence and empathy for so many liberals that many of them call into question the legitimacy of a system and culture that gives them prominence.

The article “The United States of America is Decadent and Depraved [2]” by James Traub tries to tackle this subject. Like many liberal commentators on the Trump era, he understands that Trump is a symptom of cultural decline, but will never address the real sickness.

He begins by implying a parallel with the Roman Empire, whose decline correlated with “marks of imperial decadence, grotesque displays of opulence and wealth”, the “collapse of reason and science, and “terminal self-absorption.” This reminded me of “Black Fake History Month” on the Daily Shoah back in February 2016, in which Greg Johnson and Mike Enoch discuss the ancient kingdom of Kush [3]:

If you look at the material culture of Kush, it’s exactly what you’d expect of a post-colonial African civilization, namely you can see a steep decline of the quality of everything they do, in the quality of the architecture, in the quality of the art, everything gets crude, exaggerated, and blingy…the Egyptians really loved bling, but this goes way off the rails. And finally as this civilization goes on, and it goes on for almost thirteen hundred year…you start noticing that hieroglyphics are being used simply for decoration, they lost any knowledge of it as writing…

It is not hard for many people, including liberals, to imagine why a civilization would start to fail when its African nature came to the fore. If my own experiences are any guide, blacks tend not to take the initiative to maintain complex organizations of people, let alone an empire, art, or an intricate writing system. In our own time the issue is not so much that we have a large black population, but rather that the unleashing of our own African nature is prized over the aesthetics of the dignified and self-sacrificing white man.

The main issue with the article is not the prose or historical parallels, but its self-contradictory analysis. Traub wants to condemn Trumpism while sounding like he’s doing an autopsy.

“We think anyone who doesn’t pursue self-interest is a fool.”

We cannot deny that Donald Trump’s persona represents the apex of ruthless self-interest. Neither would we as white nationalists bother to deny that America worships low forms of entertainment, giving a man like Trump a pathway to the presidency.

Imagine improvement. Celebrities more refined than their predecessors” —Millennial Woes [4]

Traub writes that in the Roman Empire, Louis XVI’s France, and the Habsburg Empire, decadence came to the people through bad leaders.

In fact, the energy that was unleashed in millions of red-state Trump supporters was the opposite of decadent. It was absolutely cadent: it offered hope. It was not a sign that the tens of thousands who appeared at his rallies had somehow lost their sense of propriety, but rather that they felt they had a unique chance to fight back against a system that resented them. The symbol of that neglectful culture for many was Barack Obama — not because he is black, because white and Jewish liberals so openly celebrated his blackness. The fact that so many conservatives allowed themselves to indulge in the birther theory shows just how ready right-wingers are to fight for themselves if they get the moral authority.

Traub argues that “in a democracy, the process is reciprocal”: decadent elite leads to degraded behavior, and a debased public chooses the worst leaders.

Is he wrong? I suspect that Traub overestimates the role of leaders, and misses out on the weakening effect of prosperity (not to mention the presence of influential hostile ethnic groups).

To his credit, he points out: “It is the right, of course, that first introduced the language of civilizational decay to American political discourse.” He cites Patrick Buchanan and Newt Gingrich, the latter of whom has used the phrase “multicultural nihilistic hedonism.”

Here I can only scratch my head. Is that not the problem? Is that not the kind of real decadence that we live with? Isn’t Trump a kind of antidote, however disappointing in practice, to nihilism? Isn’t multiculturalism the essence of the left/right cultural divide in the first place?

He notes how the “relatively calm” voices of Rubio and Jeb! dropped out early. I guess ‘calm’ is one way to put it; weak and flaccid would be another. Better establishment punching bags for the bombastic Trump could not have been easily found. How many men have imagined themselves on stage berating the media? How many people who would otherwise have gone on believing the GOP establishment’s talking points about WMDs in Iraq are now a bit wiser on the foreign policy question? Rand Paul was talking about the CIA’s role for years before the South Carolina debate, but it took Trump’s powerful delivery to make it stick in the minds of millions. We were all so bored and insulted with the Republican options we were given for years. Voters went with “cynicism, selfishness, and rage” because they felt the retaliatory glee at showing the system just how much they respected it. In Traub’s words: “Trump functions as the impudent id of this culture of mass contempt.”

I am reminded of an exchange in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, in which Ramsden accuses Tanner of “posing as an advanced man.” Tanner replies:

“…what is the worst you can fairly say of me? Thief, liar, forger, adulterer, perjurer, glutton, drunkard? Not one of these names fit me. You have to fall back on my deficiency in shame. Well, I admit it. I even congratulate myself; for if I were ashamed of my real self, I should cut as stupid a figure as any of the rest of you. Cultivate a little impudence, Ramsden; and you will become quite a remarkable man.”

While the left expresses shock at a declining culture demonstrating a will to live, we might point out how leftist leaders function as the id of this culture of mass complacency and envy.

“…diminishing relevance of the word ‘we.'”

“While majorities choose, they do so in the name of collective good.”

I once said to a liberal friend that I thought nations were like an ethnic group. She gave me a confused look and replied “in what way is the United States in any way an ethnic group?” The response revealed a common assumption in the relative stability/permanence of the American nation-state. But there are many ethnic groups in the US. If such vast swaths of rural, conservative white Americans are so hopelessly uncooperative, the logic behind forcing them to stay in the same country is only going to get more nakedly cynically economic. Is access to white people a human right?

Traub cites LBJ’s great society, and describes the transfer of wealth to the disadvantaged as a kind of chivalry. Chivalry is an interesting word: if medieval chivalry was centered around the behavior of men toward women, which was assumed to be a permanent relationship between the strong and weak, what does that imply about people of color in America? Are they to be the perpetual net receivers of wealth due to an inherent law of nature?

Traub goes on to talk about “decadent” tax policy. This is a weak argument. How different would the tax policies of Rubio, Kasich, or Jeb! have been? He says that Reagan would have considered the rewarding of political supporters while punishing others as “grossly unpatriotic.” Things are good because they are old, I guess.

Traub does make a few accidentally prescient observations, such as:

“Trump is as much symptom as cause of our national disorder.”

He points out that the CDC has chosen to stop using phrases like “science-based,” which are “now regarded as disably left-leaning.” It is easy for liberals and cucks to think that Trump voters are merely ignorant and stupid. We would have to give them a lot more credit if they acknowledged that these attitudes from conservatives are responses to implicit attacks on their identity. If you can’t fight for your race or even religion in an unabashed way; if you can’t be politically incorrect in the public sphere, then that energy is going to shift into other areas of debate.

He notes that our society has a kind of “contempt for public good,” and that we engage in an unhealthy “worship of the marketplace.” It is when he uses examples that the argument gets too easy to pick apart:

“The British have the gift of ironic realism. When the time came to exit the stage, they shuffled off with a slightly embarrassed shrug. That, of course, is not the American way.”

“Our political elite will continue to gratify our worst impulses so long as we continue to be governed by them. The only way back is to reclaim the common ground … that Donald Trump has lit on fire.”

This point makes much more sense if we replace the phrase “political elite” with “mass media.”

“[T]he churchgoing folk of Alabama were perfectly prepared to choose a racist and a pedophile over a democrat … orchestrating hatred of the other that was practically dehumanizing.”

Setting aside the false claim that Moore is a pedophile, the acknowledgment of the presence of an other in the first place rather legitimizes politics as a weapon amidst group struggle. The media, as Bannon pointed out not long ago, is the opposition party. In a White ethnostate, senate races would be between candidates whose constituents shared pro-white values. It would be on the basis of a rejection of these values that an honest media could disparage a candidate.

Traub writes that America has lost:

But the real question, given the rise of American nihilism that we so generously export all over the world, and the swift rate at which White Americans torpedo into minority status, is: how are we still functional?

This is the frame from which we need to be asking these questions, and not shaking one’s head at the loss of collective morality. We ought to marvel at the strength that carries us through the valley of the shadow of clown world. I predict that a critical mass within politically-engaged Generation Z will seek to change the world from a worldview of technological advancement yet social and economic impoverishment.

It is true that there are lots of examples of civilizational decline that can be said to mirror our own. The benefit in noticing such a pattern is in identifying the roots of that decline, and discovering the basis of an ascendant nation.

Traub’s goal is the condemnation of the nationalistic right; racial, economic, religious, and cultural.

Ethnocentrism is in a way a symptom of decadence. This is not because it dissolves empires, but because it jolts into life the dead nerves of the national organism. It is out of this European racial feeling that the very cohesion and compassion that our leftist commentators lament losing is based. Those who note American decline ultimately note the decline of the white man, whose rises and falls are the undulations in world standards and world peace. If Traub and others sincerely fear the destruction of American character, then he and everyone else across the Earth should advocate the creation and defense of White countries. If those fears prove unnecessary and the decadence recedes, it will be because White Nationalists will have won. The restoration of American political life will mean no more or less than the restoration of European spirit, hope, unity, and grit.