Monday, January 30, 2023

Aurelien (3) Nihilistic Political Philosophy

Aurelien warns that western political philosophy has become increasingly nihilistic, and consequently incapable.

We are dealing with the immense and still poorly understood psychological and spiritual consequences of forty years of Liberal Nihilism. (Yes, that’s a concept I just invented, I think.) What I mean by that phrase, is that the uncontrolled growth, and universal application, of Liberal social and political ideas in the last forty-odd years have produced the expected result: we are degenerating into isolated, alienated individuals, with no relations except economic ones, no society, no common points of reference, no hope and no future.

This is the natural result of the thorough-going application of an ideology which has no moral compass except short-term financial efficiency and total personal autonomy, and so as a result, we have lost not only the ability to manage and plan at the level of the community and the state, but even the awareness that such a thing might be necessary. It is also the natural result of an ideology which is fundamentally negative, which is always fighting against things, and so cannot express the positive except as the destruction of a negative: as a consequence we have lost our ability to act collectively, since each of us is a suspicious, hostile, monad, seeing others as a threat; an island entire of itself, as John Donne put it. But now, of course, the bell tolls for all of us.

All of this was entirely predictable, and was predicted, from the tenets of a political ideology of selfishness, that puts individual needs and wants before collective ones, and where the more power and money you have, the more your private needs will be fulfilled. China builds railroads while we build electronic currency markets. Russia does real mining while we do Bitcoin mining. Nobody forced our leaders to banish manufacturing industry abroad, to eviscerate public services in the name of management efficiency or to turn all activities, even education, even social life itself, into machines for generating money for those who have too much already. And now all we do have is money, or the luckiest of us, anyway, who mostly have other peoples’...

There was nothing inevitable to the change which eventually led to Liberal Nihilism: it depended on a series of decisions made by particular individuals at particular times and under specific circumstances. For all that real issues (competition from Japan, oil-price driven inflation, the need to modernise the Trades Unions) were prayed in aid, the actual process was one of deliberate, if incoherent, attempts to impose abstruse, unworkable and even dangerous economic theories, which nonetheless were strongly supported by certain groups, notably the rich.

This wasn’t a conspiracy though, much as some would be comforted to think it was. Nor were the pointy-headed economists behind it consciously evil : they were mostly just misguided and divorced from reality. And even the politicians who adopted these ideas do generally seem to have thought, in their confused and ignorant fashion, that they would be good for the economy, rather than injecting a potentially-lethal poison into it. Beyond a few nutcases, none of them would actually have wished to bring about the situation we have now. But then evil is always easier to deal with than incompetence...

This is why the current situation is so dangerous and so apparently hopeless: elites have so internalised “technical” solutions which are “effective” by the most banal of criteria, that they are literally incapable of thinking any other way even as disaster approaches. Failure to them simply means that the ideology has not been tried hard enough, and they continue to self-inflict pain, as did the Xhosa tribes who famously killed all their cattle in the 1850s, after a prophecy that it would restore their former greatness as a nation.

The worship of “technique” of course, is the opposite of “vision,” even in the debased sense in which that word appears on company PowerPoint slides. Our current leaderships have been trained in technique to the exclusion of everything else, and are obsessed with “technical” solutions to problems, the more complex the better. Ask them what the actual purpose of politics is, and they stammer incoherently. Its hard to believe that the Sunaks and Macrons of the world, with their mere smattering of genuine education, have really thought deeply about the policies they are trying to thrust on their populations: they are as much intellectual prisoners as everyone else. That Macron could possibly believe, at a time like this, that forcing French people to work longer for smaller pensions should be the highest priority for his government, may seem to defy belief. But the fact is that, when all you know is how to build Lego models, every problem looks like a Lego model needing to be built.

And so we live in a kind of Hell where nothing changes, or ever can change, except for the worse. CS Lewis observed once that the only people in Hell are the ones who want to be there, by which he meant that they were incapable of understanding and learning, and incapable of changing their minds. Escape from our current problems is thus dependent on the only thing that is excluded in principle: a change of mind...

We are more used these days to revolts and revolutions that have an eye towards the future, but for this you have to believe that a different future is in fact possible, and at least some vague idea what it may look like. For a long time, religion supplied a possible conceptual framework, as it still does with some fringe movements in Islam, but in the West its place has been taken by the secular apocalyptic cult I described a few weeks ago, whose ideology is precisely the absolute triumph of Liberal Nihilism. With the abandonment of Marxism, and even of reformist Socialism, and their effective suppression from political discourse in the West, there are no shared alternative frameworks within which a different and better future could even be imagined.

More at

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Aurelien (2) Elitist Political Systems

Political systems right across the western world have become fragile and ineffective, while becoming more and more elitist.

Elections have become a party game in which different members of the elite group take turns at governing. The courts and news media that are supposed to keep them accountable and the security services that are supposed to protect the overall system both come from the same professional, fairly prosperous, political class that lives in the capital and attended the same schools and universities. The problem is that this elite group has become more and more detached from the people that they govern.

People tend to vote for parties that represent, or at least acknowledge, their interests, and if a party no longer does that, they will stop voting for the party, or stop voting altogether. This was an entirely foreseeable consequence of the move towards elite Professional and Managerial Class (PMC)-based political parties.

In the past, for as long as there were genuine differences between parties, and parties themselves had mass memberships, the problem was containable. Most people were prepared to go along with the system, believing that their vote could change things, if only at the margins. That’s no longer true, and not only do people increasingly not vote, which is awkward in a democracy, but when they do vote, it might be essentially a vote of protest against the system, out of a desire to demonstrate a lack of faith in it. So other methods have been required as well...

In most western countries there is now a professional political class, with links of family and education to similar classes in the media, professional and intellectual worlds, who mostly think alike, and who believe, and tell each other, that they know what’s best, and so should be allowed to rule. This political class itself is drawn from a far narrower and far more homogeneous group than at any point in modern history.

So this professional political class, narrowly based and insulated from much of real life, but with close and overlapping contacts with other parts of the establishment, naturally thinks that it knows best...

But this class is only part of a larger PMC, which also includes the traditional establishment professions: law, education, banking, the media, the public service and so forth. Structurally, we can look at much of the rhetoric around the functioning of today’s political system as different expressions of the class power of the PMC, and to some extent a reflection of the competition for power and influence within it...

After all, the elites move between the various spheres, and sometimes occupy them simultaneously: a politician may go on to a lucrative media career, a lawyer may also advise and work for NGOs. If one part of the ecosystem seems to be getting a little out of control, other parts can step in to restore order. Above all, the system is multiply redundant in obstructing attempts from any quarter to challenge its power, or to advance the interests of ordinary people.

Liberalism, the dominant political force in modern western societies, has been elitist since its conception: it’s just that we are more conscious of that now, as the gap between the interests and preoccupations of ordinary people and the PMC continues to grow all over the world.

The sociologist Robert Michels developed what he called the Iron Law of Oligarchy, based partly on his experiences in the German Social Democratic Party before the First World War. All organisations, he argued, even the most faultlessly democratic, ultimately wind up being run by a “leadership class” which takes decisions and renews itself. Anyone who has observed, or participated in, organisations large or small, is likely to find this argument persuasive, but it’s clear that, beyond a certain level of complexity, it applies to nations as well. Perhaps the PMC is, in part, a natural consequence of a complex society.

The problem is the rest of us, and especially those whose only relationship to the PMC will be that of a servant class.

More at

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Aurelien (1) Weak Leadership

After reading most of the substack articles written by Aurelien, I discern that he sees five big weaknesses that are affecting the leading nations of the western world.

1. Lame Leadership
The greatest weakness of the modern West is its weak political leadership.

Yet the West as a whole faces a fundamental problem that no institutional Lego manipulation can cure: the quality of western politicians, intellectually, morally and politically, is lower than it has been at any time in modern history. Oh, history is full of politicians who have not been very bright, and politicians who have been morally dubious. But the dumb were generally kept at the appropriate level, and overt corruption was frowned upon. In general, though, even the worst actually understand something about, you know, politics. As it is, we’re stuck with the equivalent of people who have elbowed their way into the finals of a talent competition through personal contacts, but can’t actually sing.

This is important, because in the end it’s people in systems who make systems work. Good systems can, and do, bring on mediocre people, but through the activities of their members, not through some kind of magic. If you’ve worked in large organisations, you know that good people can make even poor systems work better, but bad people will eventually bring even the best system down...

But bear in mind one thing: all of these people and their “advisers” were there because they wanted to be. They fancied their own abilities enough to thrust themselves forward for positions of real power at a time of crisis, and to tell people to trust them. So they deserve to be held to a very high standard of personal competence, honesty and intelligence: this isn’t a widget factory or a hedge-fund we’re talking about here...

For these and many other reasons, the typical parliamentarian in many countries is now a relatively young and inexperienced figure, parachuted in from outside, who has no particular contact with any community or area, no interests or experience outside politics, and no personal qualities except ambition. They do not, and cannot, claim to represent the community, although some formal deference may be paid to local issues and personalities. The basis of their power is not local, but in the national or regional organisation of the political party they want to represent. Inevitably, they are faithful exponents of whatever their party’s ideology may be for the time being...

If aspirant politicians no longer come from a defined community, no longer represent defined interests, no longer have local ties and loyalties, no longer have previous experience to draw upon and no longer have to appeal to an electorate which expects a modicum of intelligence, capability and character; and if besides all that they are driven exclusively by personal ambition, ready to compromise any idea and abandon any ally for a sniff at power, then you get something like the present mess in Britain...

But it’s worth pointing out that the worst political class in modern history is having to confront an unprecedented series of crises, any one of which would have strained the capabilities of a much better class of politician. Something is going to give, and soon.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023


Some of the most thoughtful articles that I have read in rececent times are published by a person writing under the name Aurelien on Substack (Aurelien was emperor at a time when the Roman Empire was disintegrating). He writes that he has had a long professional career in government, before and after the Cold War, and in many parts of the world. He claims to have been to enough places, met enough people and done enough things, to have some idea about how stuff works in real life (Given his age, I am presuming he is “he”). I agree with his basic premise that we are at a turning point in world history, and I believe that he has something useful to say about it.

The following quote describes the changes he is concerned about.

As you get older, you become more and more distrustful of people who tell you that, “we are living today in a tme of unprecedented change.” Normally, that’s just an excuse to make life worse for you, get money from you, or force you to do things you don’t want to do. Ironically, though, we are now at a point of major change that hardly any of the usual suspects are prepared to recognise, because, for once, it’s their version of the world which is being upended.

Put simply, we are one of those periods in history where things move extremely rapidly, and after which nothing is ever really the same again. It’s accepted that 1914, 1945 and 1989 were like that. It is pretty clear that we are now living in such a period, for all that the political classes of the West are desperately trying to avoid seeing it, and to discourage the rest of us from doing so.

Like most seemingly violent changes, this one has been building up for some time. The roots of it lie in a whole series of progressive, unconnected, but cumulatively catastrophic errors made at the end of the Cold War, essentially by people who wanted the illusion of change without the hard work of actually deciding and implementing it. True to the short-term benefit-maximising culture that has dominated the last thirty years, the future was expected to be much like the present only more so, and anyway capable of looking after itself, so we only needed to think about the next few years at any one time. Liberal political and economic ideas would spread without limit or resistance, it was thought. NATO and the EU would expand forever, without resistance or consequences. Western domination of the world economy, of international trade and international institutions, would continue forever, without resistance and ever more intensively. At some vague, indeterminate, point in the future, it was thought, the whole world would come to resemble a brown-bag lunch at a progressive American think-tank. The fact that if something can’t go on literally forever there must be a point at which it stops, was somehow overlooked. Indeed, if there is a single phrase that encapsulates the intellectual lethargy of the last thirty years, it’s “we’ll worry about that when it happens.“ Well, it’s happening now, and western elites have absolutely no idea how to deal with it (Politics is like Engineering).

Friday, January 20, 2023

Two Years Before the Mast

Last year I read Two Years Before the Mast by RH Dana. The following is a synopsis of the book prepared for me by ChatGPT.

Two Years Before the Mast is a memoir by Richard Henry Dana Jr. about his experiences on a two-year voyage from Boston to California on a merchant ship, the Pilgrim. The book covers his experiences on the ship, including the harsh living and working conditions, the camaraderie among sailors, and the dangers of the sea. He also describes the various ports they visited and the people they met, including a brief stay in California during the Mexican-American War.

Dana, a Harvard student, left his studies to go to sea in 1834 to recover from an eye injury. The book provides a detailed and accurate portrayal of the life of a sailors at sea in the mid-19th century, with descriptions of the daily routine, the weather, and the relations between the sailors. He also writes about the ports they visited and the different cultures they encountered.

The book is considered an important historical document as it provides a rare first-hand account of the conditions of American sailors at the time, and the challenges they faced. It is also notable for its descriptions of the California coast, which was still a remote and little-known part of the world at the time.

The thing that struck me from the book is the ability of humans to cope with intensely difficult circumstances. The desperate conditions that the sailors coped with during frequent storms were almost unbelievable.

I have read several accounts of British sailing ships during the Napoleonic wars. They always had a large number of sailors. I presume they needed a big crew so that sails could be changed quickly during the manoeuvring of a battle with the enemy. They had sufficient sailors to change the sails on all the masts at the same time.

The merchant ships Pilgrim and the Alert on which RH Dana sailed had very small crews; only about twelve men, which meant about six in each watch. When one was sick, they often had only five sailors on a watch. When the sails need to be changed, they often had to do one mast, before moving on to do the other two.

When they sailed around Cape Horn, on both the way out and the way back, they experienced terrible storms. The temperature dropped below freezing, and icebergs in the sea had to be avoided. The sailors were constantly sent up the mast to change the sails in stormy conditions. While on the decks, they wore gloves to keep their hands warm, but they had to take them off before they went up the mast, because it was two hard to grip the rigging while wearing gloves. After being on the masts for several hours, their hands got so cold, they had to bang them repeatedly against the sails to thaw them sufficiently that they could grip the sail they were furling or reefing.

I was also amazed by the engineering of these ships. The crew could remove the top half of a mast if a storm was coming, or replace a mast or spar that got broken while at sea. All this was done with blocks and tackle and some men straining on a capstan to raise and lower the heavy mast with ropes. I am amazed that they even attempted to do such a complex task.

I was intrigued by the way the captain and officers constantly kept the men working. Once the basic work was done each day, they would be set to work cleaning the decks and repairing ropes and sails. I presume that the officers felt they needed to keep the men busy so that would not get troublesome. The officers would often find a reason why they had to work on Sunday, which was supposed to be a day off.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Fun with 666

In his revelation, John says that the number 666 is a key to the identification of the Terrible Beast that dominates much of the vision. The usual approach is to identify a political leader whose name adds up to 666.

In Greek and Hebrew each letter of the alphabet doubles as a number. Gematria is the practice of calculating the numeric equivalent of words and phrases by adding up the numbers associated with each letter. Technically, Gematria refers to calculation in Hebrew while Isopsephy is the Greek equivalent.

The English alphabet doesn't normally carry numeric values but this practice has been carried into English using numbering systems similar to the ancient languages. This has become known as English Gematria. When I was a child, we sometimes wrote messages in code by using numbers instead of letters.

Many political leaders have been suggested by interpreters of Revelation. Early scholars attempted to identify the number 666 with Nero, but for various reasons, this did not work. In more recent times, people tried to link the number to Hitler and Stalin, but all these attempts have eventually failed.

The usual approach is to identify a dangerous political leader and check if his name adds up to 666. However, checking thousands of potential names is rather tiresome, so I decided to work the other way around by looking at the Greek alphabet and determining what sets of characters would add up to 666. I was surprised by how few options there are.

The difference in scale of the three components of 666 (600, 60, and 6) means that each one has to be made up of a different set of Greek characters. This also means that the characters for six, sixty or six hundred and above cannot be used. These are shaded in blue in the table.

Only three combinations of numbers add up to six. These are
    α,ε       1+5 =6
    β,δ       2+4 =6
    α,β,γ     1+2+3 = 6

Three combinations of numbers add up to 60
    μ,κ       20+40 =6
    ι,ν       10+50 =60
    ι,κ,λ     10+20+30 = 60

Three combinations of numbers add up to 600.
    υ,σ       200+400
    ρ,ϕ       100+500
    ρ,σ,τ     100+200+300 = 600

There are a few other combinations that will work, but they need a lot more letters, which indicates a very large and complex name.

The result surprised me. The easiest way to get 600 is with the letters υ,σ. These add up to 600 and their English equivalent is “US”. Wow.

My first options for 6 and 60 were α,ε and μ,κ. The English equivalent of these letters is AMEK. That rung a bell, but needs an R to be clear. Surprisingly, the third option for 600 has is ρ ,σ ,τ. When I took the ρ to get AMERK. I was left with σ,τ, which in English is ST, an abbreviation for “States”.

I am not sure it is legitimate to use vowels a and e twice, but doing so gives α μ ε ρ ε κ α     σ τ. The English equivalent is AMEREKA ST.

I guess you can say that John should have been more accurate than that, but it is not bad.

This result might be significant, or might just indicate that you can get what ever result you want if you put in a little effort.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Isolation and Coercion

I am not sure where I got the following quote, but I copied it down because it seems to be pertinent to our current situation.

Modern society tends to be made up of lonely, isolated people. They will often feel like they are surrounded by people they don’t know, don’t like, and don’t trust. They can easily slip into assuming that people who don’t believe what they believe and don’t want what they want are a threat to them.

These feelings of vulnerability often develop into demands for political coercion with the aim of making people think and behave like us. If politicians stoke these fears, it can easily lead to bloodshed.

The problem is that we don’t know how to live with people who are different, so we want to force them to become like us. The Old Testament had rules that required foreigners living in the land to be treated with empathy and kindness. We need more of that empathy and kindness today.

Friday, January 06, 2023

Bias and Justice

(From The Moral Core: The Biblical Perspective on Justice by Dean Brackley, SJ. I found this through Ray McGovern.)

Most modern, Western conceptions of justice stress its essential impartiality. For us, judges who are supposed to symbolize justice … could not be considered proper judges and at the same time be biased, prejudiced, and partial. Bias is incompatible with our abstract concept of justice.

Biblical justice will have none of this. It is forthrightly biased, prejudiced, and partial. More accurately, it recognized that all systems of justice are biased, covertly or overtly, and it opts for overt discovery of the bias. Biblical justice theory is biased and it admits it.

Its bias is two-edged: it is unequivocally partial to the poor and suspicious of the “rich.” This meaning is etymologically grounded in the very word for justice, since the biblical root for sedaqah, the prime Hebrew word for justice, has from the first a bias towards the poor and needy. The related Aramaic tsidqah meant “showing mercy to the poor.” Our modern tendency is to think of justice in terms of criminality or litigation. Our justice is concerned with trouble. The biblical preoccupation is wholly other. Justice is “good news,” especially “to the poor” (Luke 4:18).

So positive (versus punitive) is the terminology used for justice. God says (literally), “I will not do justice … to the wicked.” Justice applies to the innocent.

Justice is not reacting to evil, but responding to need. Woe to those who “deprive the poor of justice” (Isaiah 10:2). The prime focus of this justice is not on the guilty, but on victims and the dispossessed.

Deuteronomy says: “You shall not deprive aliens and orphans of justice.” What justice requires is spelled out in detail: never “take a widow’s cloak in pledge” or a poor man’s cloak if he needs to be warm — even if it is owed to you by a mathematically strict standard of justice. “When you reap the harvest in your field and forget a swathe, do not go back and pick it up; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.” When you are harvesting your olives or your grapes, leave some behind: “What is left shall be for the alien, the orphan, the widow” (Deut. 24: 10-22).

This early and often repeated formulation of justice primarily involves not contracts or torts, but compassion, benevolence, and redistribution. Augustine summed up the tradition simply when he said: “Justice consists in helping the needy and the poor.” The poor, quite simply, are God’s children and they are marked out for special handling. That special handling is the prime work of justice.

Because of its overarching concern for the poor, biblical justice is not quibbling legalism. It is large-hearted and magnanimous. It must, in the course of life, descend to the picky details of legality, but its heart is not there.