Chapter Review – After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies (Part 2)

Part 1

In the previous installment of this series, I discussed some “groundwork” for a post-processual approach to the study and discussion of societal collapse, one that takes into account complexity theory and the demographic-structural theory championed by scholars such as Jack Goldstone and Peter Turchin. Unsurprisingly, the longstanding “progressive” understanding of social development makes a lot of unwarranted – and often just plain wrong – assumptions about societal development while failing to have a really convincing means of addressing social simplification. By synthesising these new approaches, this deficiency can be rectified.

To begin, I’d like to make a couple of points about the concept of collapse. The first is that, at a visceral level, a lot of people don’t really want to think about it, or even contemplate the possibility that it will happen. In a sense, this is natural – people always prefer thinking about the good times rather than the bad,

After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies, Ed. G.M. Schwartz, p. 4

Yet, for every up there is a down. For every golden age, there is a day of darkness that comes. Nobody has yet figured out how to make the good times last and they never will because the sociological forces that drive these demographic-structural cycles at the macroscale level are tied to the very nature of man himself. In a very real sense, “hard times create strong men —> strong men create good times —> good times create weak men —> weak men create hard times…” is hardwired into the nature of humanity. But this hardwiring leads me to my second preliminary point, which is that the reality of collapse (as well as regeneration) is universal.

After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies, Ed. G.M. Schwartz, p. 5

This may be a point that some don’t like, since it is common in Dissident Right circles to think that the United States, or the West, or White countries in general, are somehow immune to the demographic-structural cycles that everyone else is bound by. Yet, this is not the case, and I’d hope that we can intuitively recognise this even without an exhaustive treatment of the various historical particulars. The cycles we see in complex societies are cross-cultural – disparate societies, while having differing exoteric expressions, show remarkably similar fundamental responses to the same kind of stresses.

Now let’s talk about what exactly is meant by “collapse.” The use of this term may seem a bit misleading (hey, I didn’t choose the terminology!) because when many people hear it, the tendency is to think of a descent into some kind of hellish, Mad Max-style anarchy. Yet, while this makes for fascinating fiction, this is nearly always not the case with historical collapses, and indeed is not what scholars in the relevant fields generally mean by it. Instead, the single most salient factor in collapse is the concept of simplificationpolitical decentralisation and social decomplexification being the primary routes that work out over time. As such, “collapse” is a phase in the cycle, one which can stretch out over decades before the “Seneca point” finally snaps and creates a cascade effect that brings the current order down.

After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies, Ed. G.M. Schwartz, pp. 5-6

As I’ve noted before, this “decentralisation” and “social simplification” will be very relevant for the current American collapse and (likely) future civil strife. Indeed, the more complex a polity’s social system becomes, the more profound its disintegration will be. But again, this does not mean that collapse will be equally catastrophic in all places or all at the same time. Indeed, I would suspect that the effects of terminal collapse will be more serious in large urban areas simply because they are more socially complex to begin with and thus more precarious, just as the current on-going effects of our collapse phase already have been (you’re much more likely to see lawless tent cities and organised commercial looting in San Francisco than in Topeka, after all). It’s not surprising that the study of most historical collapse has focused on the effects seen on urbanised society, not the hinterlands. Still, for many Americans, collapse may not mean armed conflict on their doorsteps, it may just mean that the running water and electricity might not be as reliable as they’re used to because of ongoing corruption and incompetence.

Now this ongoing corruption and incompetence is an effect, not a cause of collapse. In one sense, systems can simply become so complex that the actors involved “lose the plot” and can no longer stay on top of things. Yet, simple complexity itself can’t be the sum of the problem since there was obviously a point in an earlier era where they were able to do so. Accompanying the turn from growth to collapse must be a moral or ideological reason.

After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies, Ed. G.M. Schwartz, p. 6

I tend to suspect that this chain of causality reflects the realities of demographic-structural theory (DST) and that the “moral or ideological” reason mentioned above derives from intraelite competition in which a society’s elite, having exhausted its growth potential, falls into an increasingly envenomed factional struggle to centralise the remaining wealth of that society into the hands of the various factions. This often expresses itself under ideological colours, such as left-wing progressives who loot the middle class to enrich themselves and their clients. As a society enters into its stagnation and collapse phases, intraelite competition creates ever-increasing rapacity, which in turn destroys the claims to legitimacy that a governing system may make. Corruption and incompetence go hand-in-hand with this as each level tries to get its piece of the pie, disregarding the common good, and institutions increasingly fail to do what they were originally created to accomplish.

The situation we’ve seen in America (as well as many other places, both east and west) since the late 1960s demonstrates this DST-predicted intraelite competition. Elite interest groups (including those on the “libertarian” Right) have been packing as many immigrants into the country as possible, trying to build beholden client networks. The quality of public institutions like universities and government agencies, as well as of private corporations, has declined precipitously as they have been ideologically cordycepted. Elections which could be finalised in a single night using 1970s-era technology now drag out for weeks as progressives manipulate procedural outcomes to install their personnel into offices which can be used to loot what remains of the treasury. Meanwhile, the very inequalities in wealth which progressives say they oppose become wider and wider as Heritage Americans get pushed out by globalist transnational fiat. All of these things are classical expressions of intraelite competition that precedes terminal collapse.

It’s important to remember that all of this occurs as these elites seek to centralise all power and wealth into their own hands. It is this centralisation that drives the sort of social complexification that eventually collapses. During the earlier growth phases, this complexification finds constructive outlets, such as building businesses, economic expansion, scientific research that leads to genuinely new technologies, and so forth. With the turn to collapse, complexification degenerates into things like the creation of ever more intricate legal systems designed to loot the common folk, and basically any other way in which competition from below can be muzzled, no matter how intrinsically destructive these might be. Intraelite competition is tolerated, but not from incipient rising elites from outside the current power structure. There’s a DST reason for why the current US political establishment hates Trump and wants to destroy MAGA, just to provide one salient example.

We’ve also observed other expressions of this socially destructive type of centralisation,

After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies, Ed. G.M. Schwartz, p. 6

When traditionalists warn about the assault on the family, they are not being puritanical humbugs. Societies which have strong family and kinship ties are difficult for centralising elites to coopt and the claims of these elites are harder to enforce. This is, of course, why the transnational elites have sought to undermine the traditional American family, destroy paternal and parental authority, and disconnect children from their larger kinship ties. Social atomisation is always the tyrant’s friend because it removed natural human bonds and centralises them into dependence upon the elites. As such, drag queen story hour and no-fault divorce are as much symptoms and drivers of collapse as are the current looting and ideological rigidification.

But the thing is, your collapse phase won’t last forever and the things that elites do which contribute to this phase undermine political legitimacy and will result in decentralisation. The question now is, “what comes after this sociopolitical simplification takes place?” Once the shooting (or whatever) is over, what comes next?

After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies, Ed. G.M. Schwartz, p. 6

This is a good question which basically depends on just how bad the collapse point is and how far the simplification goes. It also, of course, depends on the nature of the preexisting systems in place. In the USA, it’s likely that we’ll see the various states serve as legitimising agents after the coming breakup. This is due to the fact that, try as they might, the centralising efforts of the elites have not been able to successfully reduce the states into mere provinces and the states still retain a good deal of real power (even if they have been browbeaten into not exercising it like they could). Because they retain a good deal of independent power over their internal functioning, the states – especially if working in concert as regional blocks with common interests – are already positioned to “take up the mantle” from a decaying FedGov. As such, short of something like a nuclear exchange taking place, we’re unlikely to see “Mad Max” take place in the USA.

The corollary to what I said above, however, is that what eventually does emerge after collapse is almost assuredly not going to be like the United States that existed before.

After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies, Ed. G.M. Schwartz, p. 6

There will certainly be some continuity of social and political forms. Culture is, after all, very persistent. Short of total population replacement (which TPTB are admittedly trying to do here and in Europe…), underlying culture persists regardless of state entities and political structures. Political forms also persist to a degree (since they’re what the people who have a living memory of pre-collapse circumstances remember), but since those political forms are also likely to be considered part of the problem that led to collapse in the first place, people may not be as tied to them as they are to their culture. So for a post-collapse North America, while we will likely (and sadly) not see the emergence of monarchial government(s) as you might in Europe, the forms of republicanism that do emerge will be much more restricted and closer to classical, pre-liberal types.

After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies, Ed. G.M. Schwartz, p. 7

Now this is a point that needs to be emphasised again. Societies evolve because of a complex interplay of internal and external factors. The circumstances that guided a nation’s development in the directions it went during any particular period of time are essentially unrepeatable. So once the present system falls apart, whatever ends up replacing it may have some superficial continuity but will not be what we currently have (and this is a good thing). But folks who think collapse is going to be a reset button that allows us to load a save game from some point earlier in America’s history and play from there are going to be sorely disappointed.

At this point, I’ll wrap up this installment of the review. Next time, we’ll discuss the implications for collapse and regeneration that external forces such as migration, invasion, and trade networks can have in a polity.

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