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Why it feels like 1848 again Our crumbling technocracies recall a revolting era

(Credit: Jon Cherry/Getty)


May 10, 2023   7 mins

“We are on a stormy sea, without a shore”, wrote Alexis de Tocqueville to a childhood friend in the midst of the 1848 revolutions. “The shore is so far away, so unknown,” he added, “that our lives and perhaps the lives of those who follow will pass before we set foot and settle on it.” Though the French aristocrat had prophetically warned about a possible revolution less than a month before the February events, he felt confused about their historical meaning. But he correctly predicted the truth about what Eric Hobsbawm described as the “first and last” revolution that would unfold at the European scale and be experienced as such. More than a straightforward rebellion or even a coordinated uprising, 1848 marked a fundamental transition in the way we conduct politics.

But the great Victorian year of protest actually feels more recent than it has for decades. In its chaos and its power, it resembles our own historical moment, buffeted by populist uprisings and social turmoil, climate rebellion and violent insurrection. “We can take that place,” one man said confidently as he pointed to the Capitol on January 6. “And then do what?” responded his partner in crime. “Heads on pikes!” the first replied without really having the slightest idea of what to do next. As in 1848, radical and even violent protests are now expected, sometimes even desired, but without any clear programme or manifesto. Revolution doesn’t seem unlikely anymore, but at the same time, it’s hard to concretely envision a post-capitalist world.

Whether it’s the bolsonaristas invading the Brazilian National Congress, the gilets jaunes assembling spontaneously in the streets of France, or the “square movements” following the 2008 crash, the more traditional repertoires of contention that characterised the past century seem to be changing both on the Left and the Right. But far from being on the verge of a carefully planned coup d’état or a new social order, contemporary revolts instead resemble that tumultuous mid-century upheaval: “poorly planned, dispersed, patchy and bristling with contradictions” as Christopher Clark notes in his gripping new history, Revolutionary Spring. “The people of 1848,” he adds, “could see themselves in us.”

While the inter-war period and the rise of fascism has often been raised as a comparison for our present, Clark offers us a different and more accurate analogue. Far from being a failed revolution as Karl Marx had thought, 1848 successfully transformed Palermo, Paris and Vienna, and reverberated in Chile and Martinique. The year progressed not as chain or domino effect, but more like our own “populist revolts”: nearly simultaneous, interconnected and rooted in common socio-economical changes, but without being directly caused by one another. It was the “particle collision chamber at the centre of the European nineteenth century”. “People, groups and ideas,” Clark says, “flew into it, crashed together, fused or fragmented, and emerged in showers of new entities” with “profound consequences for the modern history of Europe”. The world, as Bismarck recalled in his memoirs, would never be the same after. Of course, at the time, the hopes of radicals were crushed. Many fled into exile in the United States or London, like the Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, the French socialist Louis Blanc, or Marx himself. For them, the disillusion was intense and the prospects of an immediate socialist transformation had rapidly vanished. But in the years to come, 1848 transformed how liberals, conservatives and socialists alike would relate to politics.

In response to the revolts, which were largely defeated, significant constitutional changes were passed, that slowly defined our modern representative politics and shaped for good the nature of the state and government. These new political constellations were more open to reform and to the aspirations of the moderate elements of society, but the state apparatus was significantly expanded, with the establishment of armed police forces trained to combat insurrections. The armed civic state is taken for granted now, but it was a marked novelty after the period spanning from the Vienna congress of 1815 to 1848. Most regimes had obviously been repressive, illiberal and change averse, but were also, as the historian Paul W. Schroeder has noted, inefficient and quite reluctant to use brute force against their own citizens. This allowed for a proliferation of conspiracies and popular revolts.

For a long time, ordinary people did not demonstrate, rally or strike, but would rather parade in mocking routines, seize grain, invade fields, attack tax collectors, destruct tollgates or sack machines. Conflicts unfolded generally at a local level, with a narrow focus and without coherent political aims. And revolutions themselves were rather the preserve of austere figures such as the Italian Robespierrist Philippe Buonarroti, who favoured revolutionary dictatorship over mass movements, convinced of the difficulty of involving the multitudes. Despite censorship, it was, in fact, Schroeder observed, “relatively easy and safe to promote revolution”. As a result, in 1848, the authorities of Europe weren’t ready to respond properly to the insurrections, used instead to small and carefully-planned uprisings.

In that year, something quite different emerged for the first time. As Clark writes, the uprisings were “inchoate, multifocal, socially deep” rather than anchored in the “seditious conspiracy” characteristics of the 1830s. The revolutionary ideas “reverberated in cafĂ©s and political clubs, circulating in communicative networks that were incomparably denser, socially deeper and more sophisticated than their late-eighteenth-century predecessors”. Even if there weren’t yet “political parties capable of disciplining their members or binding them to commonly agreed positions” or “doctrinally authoritative ‘ideologies’”, it marked the beginning of the end of a certain form of protest. From here on, not only the middle classes and liberals renounced revolution for good, but the emerging working class would progressively work through parties, unions and strikes rather than coups d’états and barricades.

As the sociologist Charles Tilly later argued in the case of France, 1848 therefore stands in the middle of two crucial intertwined changes that would transform the repertoire of collective action for the following century. The first involved the centralisation of the state into a more complex apparatus, internally coordinated and with enhanced means of coercion. This was coupled with an unprecedented expansion of capital, producing a large and modern working class which populated large units of production. And within this new nexus of capital and state, social movements as we know them began to take hold within an emerging civil society. Change couldn’t be the product of a few heroes dedicated to the revolution, but had to come from organised and ideologically-driven masses. If class struggle was the steam of History, it would now require strong and sophisticated engines to move forwards and channel collective struggles into specific directions. The “social”, as Clark notes, could now “be grasped as an autonomous category, irreducible to politics”.

This transition wasn’t just a concern for revolutionaries. Even conservatives, as Eric Hobsbawm noted, “would have to defend themselves in new ways” and “to learn the politics of the people”. “Public opinion” — a distinctively liberal notion — could not be ignored any more. Defeating insurrections or censoring the press was not enough, and influencing and controlling the masses would become increasingly important over the next decades, shaping a new form of statecraft and political activity. It marked, Hobsbawm argued, “the end
of the politics of tradition”. As the rate of literacy increased, all political forces had to develop their own ideological apparatuses to shape the mentality of large groups, through political newspapers, youth movements or rallies. Politics was slowly embedded in a “thick” civil society, with a large range of deeply networked organisations and institutions that served as intermediaries between citizens and the state. Parties became not just machines to conquer power, but mediators between institutions and citizens, embodying the interests of mobilised and conscious social groups.

This kind of politics, that culminated with the total mobilisations of the first half of the 20th century, would shape the whole political spectrum. From socialists and communists creating their own counter-society within capitalism, to fascists who, while they crushed unions and labour organisations, still tried to fully integrate a broad range of voluntary associations and organisations within the fascist state. In that sense, everything was political, from the sport club to the local newspapers. This held for much of the 20th century, where even during the post-war period, politics remained transactional, and programmes and reforms generally reflecting pre-electoral deals with specific constituencies. It’s only with the more individualised ethos following the century’s own year of global protest, 1968, that this settlement began to unravel, opening the space for the more speculative and public relations-driven public sphere of the Eighties.

And with the demise of social democracy and the collapse of the Soviet Union, collective engines to define human needs and collective endeavours slowly disappeared in favour of a more atomised civil society. That is why, as Alex Hochuli, George Hoare and Philip Cunliffe recently argued, “our political world
retained its external appearance, but if you crack open the shell, there’s nothing inside”. The formal institutions of democracy are still there, but are “divested of popular energies and innovation”. The populist explosions of the 2010s marked therefore what we could call the final disintermediation of politics, an exit from the associative structures that shaped politics for a century: parties, unions, mass organisations. And while the era of apathetic citizens characteristic of the Nineties has come to an end, the renewal of social turmoil and ideological battles hasn’t brought back such engines. People assemble and demonstrate not on the orders of parties and unions leaders but through the spread of messages and call for action posted on social media. We have been plunged back into the spontaneous, disorganised and unpredictable world that shaped 1848.

In the newly digitalised public sphere, political figures combine a strong and charismatic authority with a less mediated relation with their base. They speak to them through Facebook, Twitter, or even their own social media platform, rather than the outmoded bureaucratic structures of the mass parties. Within such a shift, in a sense ending the dynamic that began in 1848, even ideologies are not stable but rather, like in the era of Tocqueville, “an archipelago of texts and personalities across which [are] plotted quite idiosyncratic courses”. Large and influential newspapers have been replaced by a proliferation of media platforms, shaping the ideas of evanescent crowds on specific issues rather than precise political projects. Even the decorporation that went along the proletarisation of labour echoes this. Rather than a labour movement built upon a formalised labour market, we have witnessed a proliferation of the “working poor” and the “Uberisation” of workers. Social conflict has itself deserted the workplace, where the “great resignation” replaced coordinated strikes and mass labour militancy.

Whether it be the syncretic nature of their ideas, the irruption of spirituality into politics, the resurgence of violence, the tension between representation and direct forms of democracy, or even the rise of influential feminist figures and writers, our past decade has allowed the rebirth of the radicalism that ended with the mid-century revolutions. A world that would probably appear more familiar to Blanqui than JaurĂšs. Politics is now everywhere, but in a very different and more elusive sense than during the mass mobilisations of the 20th century.

But among all these similarities, there is a difference. If 1848 led to an ascendency of the centre and the idea of superseding politics through technocracy and scientific government, our time appears to be heading the other way. Technocracy has been shattered, and the ability of the state to effectively govern is at its lowest since the late Sixties. Even if the idea of revolution has made a comeback, we still lack of engines to actually allow collective forms of decision making and to politicise human needs. Despite the development of new forms of digital engagement, the participation of citizens remains narrow and unable to sustain enduring political participation. There isn’t a week without headlines mentioning a riot or spontaneous assemblies or demonstrations. But the question still remains: what’s next?

But as Tocqueville had himself experienced, the end of an era is always an unpredictable process. “I cannot say and have no idea when this long journey will end,” he wrote in his Souvenirs, “and often wonder whether the terra firma for which we have so long been searching actually exists, or whether our destiny is not rather to ply the seas forever”. If the agony of the old can be a long and a painful thing it also, as the story of 1848 demonstrates, opens history to unexpected turns and innovations.


Daniel Zamora Vargas is a professor of sociology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. He is the co-author of Welfare for Markets: A Global History of Basic Income.
DanielZamoraV

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Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
1 year ago

I am not so sure protesters lack the ability to maintain cohesion. The new farmers party in the Netherlands would apparently win the most seats if an election were held today. Trump seized control of the Republican Party essentially as a protest vote. Robert Kennedy Junior could possibly shake up the Democrats the same way – his message is literally the same as Trumps – just put more eloquently. The Canadian opposition leader’s theme is Freedom and he is attracting disaffected people – particularly young people – from across the political landscape. As the author notes – even when movements fail they can make change. I think the Canadian convoy protesters rattled the Laurentian elite badly. With clever leadership it could have shut the country down (for instance with rolling blockades of border crossings) and there were literally not enough police in the country to stop them. I doubt anyone is going to test the patience of that much of the population quite so aggressively any time soon. If they do I also think the civil disobedience will start much sooner and be even more aggressive.

Last edited 1 year ago by Peter Johnson
UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

Speaking of the Truckers lost in Trudeau land…..

haha… in Canada now days – if you are one of the long term Vax injured – they are one of the only nations in the world with a 100% effective medical solution to your problems. Medical Assisted Suicide. And even pay for it, which is good as the Bio-Pharma Industrial Complex will not, haha..ï»ż

Iris Violet
Iris Violet
1 year ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I was with you until the medical assisted suicide; a dignified end at the moment one wishes to go – with due safeguarding, nuance and legal framework in place – is nothing but humanitarian to me. And I’d happily pay for that freedom and choice too.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago
Reply to  Iris Violet

Really? See my blog on the new death culture:
https://ayenaw.com/2023/05/09/the-new-death-culture/

Simon S
Simon S
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

I think your warning is apt and the great Mary Harrington would I believe agree with you.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon S

So what, if whoever agrees with whoever? We can form our own opinions, regardless of endorsement.
What Mary Harrington and others do is supply their own intelligent opinions which can be useful in apprehending the zeitgeist. This article is also very commendable for that reason.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Simon S
Simon S
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

The death culture is for real and Mary has contributed a lot of original thought to the subject. The implications are not pretty and speak to fundamental issues contributing to the 1848 scenario, although I was not commenting on what I agree is an excellent article.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon S

Neither was i commenting on the article itself, rather that adding an endorsement to an opinion doesn’t make it any more valid, or invalid.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon S

Neither was i commenting on the article itself, rather that adding an endorsement to an opinion doesn’t make it any more valid, or invalid.

Simon S
Simon S
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

The death culture is for real and Mary has contributed a lot of original thought to the subject. The implications are not pretty and speak to fundamental issues contributing to the 1848 scenario, although I was not commenting on what I agree is an excellent article.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon S

So what, if whoever agrees with whoever? We can form our own opinions, regardless of endorsement.
What Mary Harrington and others do is supply their own intelligent opinions which can be useful in apprehending the zeitgeist. This article is also very commendable for that reason.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Interesting. Incrementalism is how they work.
If even young children can’t survive on their own, and be subject to abortion, it will be interesting to see how far the abortion lobby will push to extend the acceptable age for abortion, perhaps up to the age of consent…. then determined by pedophiles? That would be an interesting debate to witness.

Last edited 1 year ago by Warren Trees
Simon S
Simon S
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

I think your warning is apt and the great Mary Harrington would I believe agree with you.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Interesting. Incrementalism is how they work.
If even young children can’t survive on their own, and be subject to abortion, it will be interesting to see how far the abortion lobby will push to extend the acceptable age for abortion, perhaps up to the age of consent…. then determined by pedophiles? That would be an interesting debate to witness.

Last edited 1 year ago by Warren Trees
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Iris Violet

So the wish alone is sufficient? Financial struggles or a season of personal malaise should be considered cause enough for state-assisted self-execution?
I think you have a valid case according to this wording: “due safeguarding, nuance, and legal framework in place”. Within those details however, there’s a lot of devil and some important distinctions to be made. For example: Is the deathwish of a moment good enough for a state-hastened funeral?

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  Iris Violet

But no social program like that ever maintains the promised or assumed “safeguarding, nuance and legal framework.”
As Eric Hoffer wrote almost 60 years ago,
“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago
Reply to  Iris Violet

Really? See my blog on the new death culture:
https://ayenaw.com/2023/05/09/the-new-death-culture/

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Iris Violet

So the wish alone is sufficient? Financial struggles or a season of personal malaise should be considered cause enough for state-assisted self-execution?
I think you have a valid case according to this wording: “due safeguarding, nuance, and legal framework in place”. Within those details however, there’s a lot of devil and some important distinctions to be made. For example: Is the deathwish of a moment good enough for a state-hastened funeral?

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  Iris Violet

But no social program like that ever maintains the promised or assumed “safeguarding, nuance and legal framework.”
As Eric Hoffer wrote almost 60 years ago,
“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I’ve seen those mainly US vacc prop sites. Thet take any death of a young person, anywhere in the world, and add it to their crazed list. I know of a young person who committed suicide by walking into the sea, yet they have the poor person listed on their site as a vac casualty. Sums them up for me.   

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Can you please provide reliable-source data about long-term injury caused by covid vaccines? For extra credit: Give death and severe health outcome data for those who were vaccinated vs. those who were not.

Simon S
Simon S
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

The data is overwhelming but I’ll leave it to others to show you the way as I don’t have the time.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

The question really is…. if he did provide definitive source data, would you change your mind? Likely answer: no way.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Yes. I think I would. If. But where is the data that would make such a transformation possible for me? I will allow that such data might exist or emerge, instead of answering my own little rhetorical question myself, as you have done.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Yes. I think I would. If. But where is the data that would make such a transformation possible for me? I will allow that such data might exist or emerge, instead of answering my own little rhetorical question myself, as you have done.

Simon S
Simon S
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

The data is overwhelming but I’ll leave it to others to show you the way as I don’t have the time.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

The question really is…. if he did provide definitive source data, would you change your mind? Likely answer: no way.

Jeff Hansen
Jeff Hansen
1 year ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Makes me think that medically assisted suicidal should be marketed as the vaccine that cures the disease of living. As you saw 100% effective.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Don’t say Trudeau didn’t have any solid policy achievements – he legalized cannabis, mentally ill kids and prison inmates can now legally kill themselves, you can carry around hard drugs in BC (finally!), we have a new coat of arms with a snowflake on top, and ummm 
 give me sec 
. we gave 6 tanks to Ukraine and ummm – oh yeah a carbon tax on everything and ummm – ummm – there are lots more that I can’t think of right now but he’s been awesome

Iris Violet
Iris Violet
1 year ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I was with you until the medical assisted suicide; a dignified end at the moment one wishes to go – with due safeguarding, nuance and legal framework in place – is nothing but humanitarian to me. And I’d happily pay for that freedom and choice too.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I’ve seen those mainly US vacc prop sites. Thet take any death of a young person, anywhere in the world, and add it to their crazed list. I know of a young person who committed suicide by walking into the sea, yet they have the poor person listed on their site as a vac casualty. Sums them up for me.   

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Can you please provide reliable-source data about long-term injury caused by covid vaccines? For extra credit: Give death and severe health outcome data for those who were vaccinated vs. those who were not.

Jeff Hansen
Jeff Hansen
1 year ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Makes me think that medically assisted suicidal should be marketed as the vaccine that cures the disease of living. As you saw 100% effective.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Don’t say Trudeau didn’t have any solid policy achievements – he legalized cannabis, mentally ill kids and prison inmates can now legally kill themselves, you can carry around hard drugs in BC (finally!), we have a new coat of arms with a snowflake on top, and ummm 
 give me sec 
. we gave 6 tanks to Ukraine and ummm – oh yeah a carbon tax on everything and ummm – ummm – there are lots more that I can’t think of right now but he’s been awesome

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

Speaking of the Truckers lost in Trudeau land…..

haha… in Canada now days – if you are one of the long term Vax injured – they are one of the only nations in the world with a 100% effective medical solution to your problems. Medical Assisted Suicide. And even pay for it, which is good as the Bio-Pharma Industrial Complex will not, haha..ï»ż

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
1 year ago

I am not so sure protesters lack the ability to maintain cohesion. The new farmers party in the Netherlands would apparently win the most seats if an election were held today. Trump seized control of the Republican Party essentially as a protest vote. Robert Kennedy Junior could possibly shake up the Democrats the same way – his message is literally the same as Trumps – just put more eloquently. The Canadian opposition leader’s theme is Freedom and he is attracting disaffected people – particularly young people – from across the political landscape. As the author notes – even when movements fail they can make change. I think the Canadian convoy protesters rattled the Laurentian elite badly. With clever leadership it could have shut the country down (for instance with rolling blockades of border crossings) and there were literally not enough police in the country to stop them. I doubt anyone is going to test the patience of that much of the population quite so aggressively any time soon. If they do I also think the civil disobedience will start much sooner and be even more aggressive.

Last edited 1 year ago by Peter Johnson
Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
1 year ago

Interesting. I think many would agree with what I take to be the main points:
1/ Something has gone very wrong with politics in the West and especially the English speaking countries in the last two decades. The polls suggesting that an ever increasing portion of Gen Z is losing faith in democracy are only one indication.
2/ We are heading towards an inflexion point or crisis. Maybe like 1848 as the author highlights. Maybe more like the 1960s. Hopefully not like 1789. It appears Turchin was right.
3/ No one knows what will emerge after the crisis. Perhaps merely a shift in values but with little change to institutions as in the 1960s/70s. Perhaps something more traumatic and authoritarian.
If one considers the status quo unsustainable then I would prefer less commentary bewailing the passing of the golden age of prosperity and liberty and more on what changes can be expected, feared or desired. For traditional conservatives, it may be necessary to recognise that for much to remain the same, it is necessary for much to change (to misquote an Italian). For those with a more Whiggish or technocratic sensibility, it is undeniable that there needs to be more fresh thinking and debate about how we adapt and reform. De Tocqueville was right to say that is hard to know where we will end up but a good start is to work out where we want to go.

Last edited 1 year ago by Alex Carnegie
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Thanks for these nuanced and cogent remarks.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Neil Howe’s The 4th turning is here is out in august and should be worth a read. My reading of the runes – a major push for globalisation (which will fail), introduction of digital ID and CBDCs, carbon taxation/credits, agricultural concentrstion and industrialistion (vertical farrming, gmo, etc), urban intensification (smaller units, air development to concentrate human footprint), censorship on “hot button” topics, renegotition of state liabilities old vs young which will kick in sooner than people think, move to stateism – command and control economy with govt directing credit in a credit-scarce world (the boomers and their money in the markets until recently but now that’s tucked up safely to give them safer returns). At wirst I’m expecting govt default taking down much of the system incuding pensions, cbdcs as the solution to all our problems, and the introduction of UBi to compensate you for your losses provided via MMT. What could possibly go wrong? I probably just need to get out more

Last edited 1 year ago by Susan Grabston
rupert carnegie
rupert carnegie
1 year ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

I agree with many of your points about the current direction of travel. The logical end point of these trends is a number of large states which are far more intrusive – in terms of the supply of credit, censorship, surveillance, etc, etc – than we are accustomed to. USA, EU, China and India being perhaps the four most important examples (with minor powers like the UK ending up as satellites, impoverished Ruritanias or roadkill).

There are, of course, lots of scenarios which could derail this outlook but the issue which intrigues me most – and I feel is insufficiently debated – is “what to do?”. If the original article was a diagnosis and your response a prognosis, we also need a prescription.

Should we accept our collective fate with resignation or are there ways to design and shape a (probably inevitable) stronger intrusive state so as to salvage as much liberty and liberalism as possible?

rupert carnegie
rupert carnegie
1 year ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

I agree with many of your points about the current direction of travel. The logical end point of these trends is a number of large states which are far more intrusive – in terms of the supply of credit, censorship, surveillance, etc, etc – than we are accustomed to. USA, EU, China and India being perhaps the four most important examples (with minor powers like the UK ending up as satellites, impoverished Ruritanias or roadkill).

There are, of course, lots of scenarios which could derail this outlook but the issue which intrigues me most – and I feel is insufficiently debated – is “what to do?”. If the original article was a diagnosis and your response a prognosis, we also need a prescription.

Should we accept our collective fate with resignation or are there ways to design and shape a (probably inevitable) stronger intrusive state so as to salvage as much liberty and liberalism as possible?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Thanks for these nuanced and cogent remarks.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Neil Howe’s The 4th turning is here is out in august and should be worth a read. My reading of the runes – a major push for globalisation (which will fail), introduction of digital ID and CBDCs, carbon taxation/credits, agricultural concentrstion and industrialistion (vertical farrming, gmo, etc), urban intensification (smaller units, air development to concentrate human footprint), censorship on “hot button” topics, renegotition of state liabilities old vs young which will kick in sooner than people think, move to stateism – command and control economy with govt directing credit in a credit-scarce world (the boomers and their money in the markets until recently but now that’s tucked up safely to give them safer returns). At wirst I’m expecting govt default taking down much of the system incuding pensions, cbdcs as the solution to all our problems, and the introduction of UBi to compensate you for your losses provided via MMT. What could possibly go wrong? I probably just need to get out more

Last edited 1 year ago by Susan Grabston
Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
1 year ago

Interesting. I think many would agree with what I take to be the main points:
1/ Something has gone very wrong with politics in the West and especially the English speaking countries in the last two decades. The polls suggesting that an ever increasing portion of Gen Z is losing faith in democracy are only one indication.
2/ We are heading towards an inflexion point or crisis. Maybe like 1848 as the author highlights. Maybe more like the 1960s. Hopefully not like 1789. It appears Turchin was right.
3/ No one knows what will emerge after the crisis. Perhaps merely a shift in values but with little change to institutions as in the 1960s/70s. Perhaps something more traumatic and authoritarian.
If one considers the status quo unsustainable then I would prefer less commentary bewailing the passing of the golden age of prosperity and liberty and more on what changes can be expected, feared or desired. For traditional conservatives, it may be necessary to recognise that for much to remain the same, it is necessary for much to change (to misquote an Italian). For those with a more Whiggish or technocratic sensibility, it is undeniable that there needs to be more fresh thinking and debate about how we adapt and reform. De Tocqueville was right to say that is hard to know where we will end up but a good start is to work out where we want to go.

Last edited 1 year ago by Alex Carnegie
T Bone
T Bone
1 year ago

One thing I really like about Unherd is its commitment to platforming diverse viewpoints.

I completely disagree with the premise of this article. I abhor the Jacobin and Marxist idea that the Ends Justify the Means. I don’t want to live in a world where people think its OK to act out violently, subvert or distort the Truth in a Machavelian/Utilitarian way to achieve an End Goal. Just because the other guy does it doesn’t make it right.

But I do think there’s value to Non-Compliance in the face of Regimes that suppress opposing viewpoints. And that’s really the entire issue in our world. We can’t debate. We have the appearance of debate but its rarely if ever done in good faith with two participants interested in understanding the folly of their own worldview.

The best ideas are not winning. You can’t have Democracy when a Universal Ideology is imposed and all political dissent is labeled conspiracy or misinformation by a Press that operates like State Media.

T Bone
T Bone
1 year ago

One thing I really like about Unherd is its commitment to platforming diverse viewpoints.

I completely disagree with the premise of this article. I abhor the Jacobin and Marxist idea that the Ends Justify the Means. I don’t want to live in a world where people think its OK to act out violently, subvert or distort the Truth in a Machavelian/Utilitarian way to achieve an End Goal. Just because the other guy does it doesn’t make it right.

But I do think there’s value to Non-Compliance in the face of Regimes that suppress opposing viewpoints. And that’s really the entire issue in our world. We can’t debate. We have the appearance of debate but its rarely if ever done in good faith with two participants interested in understanding the folly of their own worldview.

The best ideas are not winning. You can’t have Democracy when a Universal Ideology is imposed and all political dissent is labeled conspiracy or misinformation by a Press that operates like State Media.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
1 year ago

Damn, my waffleometre just broke…

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
1 year ago

Damn, my waffleometre just broke…

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 year ago

”But he correctly predicted the truth about what Eric Hobsbawm described as the “first and last” revolution”

In that word salad of an article I tried to find what the Stalinist Commie Hobsbawm’s ‘Correct Truth’ was. (who would sit at the Milliband family dinner with the Marxist papa, and Ed looking up at both men in awe and admiration as they talked their Marxist Dialectic…)

I never did track the correct truth in the article down though, it was like looking for that one true gravel in the rotating cement mixer drum – if it is there you are not going to find it…haha Hobsbawm – I was Amazed when he died the British MSM from every side gushed about this nasty guy…. I knew then the MSM was totally pwned, haha

Anyway – no idea what the article was about – I tried to figure it, but it must be lost in the churn…..

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 year ago

”But he correctly predicted the truth about what Eric Hobsbawm described as the “first and last” revolution”

In that word salad of an article I tried to find what the Stalinist Commie Hobsbawm’s ‘Correct Truth’ was. (who would sit at the Milliband family dinner with the Marxist papa, and Ed looking up at both men in awe and admiration as they talked their Marxist Dialectic…)

I never did track the correct truth in the article down though, it was like looking for that one true gravel in the rotating cement mixer drum – if it is there you are not going to find it…haha Hobsbawm – I was Amazed when he died the British MSM from every side gushed about this nasty guy…. I knew then the MSM was totally pwned, haha

Anyway – no idea what the article was about – I tried to figure it, but it must be lost in the churn…..

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
1 year ago

“We lack of engines … to politicise human needs.” Hmm. Interesting and as always here, beautifully thought-out and expressed. But to me, the problems we face are precisely that we have over-politicised human needs since 1848. The technocracy was not the end of radical politics, simply an efficient vehicle to transport those politicised needs to the front lines. New front lines, where even extreme change is rendered peacefully, saturated with mundane corporate euphemisms, guaranteed to calm opposition. “Nothing to see here, all perfectly reasoned and reasonable.” The new ‘norms wars’ are so effective that what was considered abominable and illegal a generation ago is now revered and sacred. And that is why people are apoplectic with undirected rage. “How did we even get here?”

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
1 year ago

“We lack of engines … to politicise human needs.” Hmm. Interesting and as always here, beautifully thought-out and expressed. But to me, the problems we face are precisely that we have over-politicised human needs since 1848. The technocracy was not the end of radical politics, simply an efficient vehicle to transport those politicised needs to the front lines. New front lines, where even extreme change is rendered peacefully, saturated with mundane corporate euphemisms, guaranteed to calm opposition. “Nothing to see here, all perfectly reasoned and reasonable.” The new ‘norms wars’ are so effective that what was considered abominable and illegal a generation ago is now revered and sacred. And that is why people are apoplectic with undirected rage. “How did we even get here?”

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Boughton
N T
N T
1 year ago

that was a lot of shell for nothing in the middle.

N T
N T
1 year ago

that was a lot of shell for nothing in the middle.

David Barnett
David Barnett
1 year ago

There is no such thing as a post-capitalist world – only transition from one sub-species of capitalism to another.
The era we are exiting is the rigged-market crony capitalism where certain big players (such as banks, big corporations and government bureaucracies) have special, underserved privileges which allow them to gather resources to themselves at the expense of the rest of us.
I would like to think we could transition to free-market capitalism. However, our rulers, hell-bent of preserving their unearned and thoroughly abused privileges, are attempting a return to feudalism.
The civil unrest this neo-feudalism project causing could easily collapse our civilisation into no-market capitalism. In no-market capitalism the majority starve while a remnant survives to rebuild individually on their own plots of land, accumulating capital by dint of their ownefforts and ingenuity. Eventually trading will resume.
Do our elites have the wisdom to abandon neo-feudalism and allow a peaceful decentralisation of power by unrigging the marketplace?

David Barnett
David Barnett
1 year ago

There is no such thing as a post-capitalist world – only transition from one sub-species of capitalism to another.
The era we are exiting is the rigged-market crony capitalism where certain big players (such as banks, big corporations and government bureaucracies) have special, underserved privileges which allow them to gather resources to themselves at the expense of the rest of us.
I would like to think we could transition to free-market capitalism. However, our rulers, hell-bent of preserving their unearned and thoroughly abused privileges, are attempting a return to feudalism.
The civil unrest this neo-feudalism project causing could easily collapse our civilisation into no-market capitalism. In no-market capitalism the majority starve while a remnant survives to rebuild individually on their own plots of land, accumulating capital by dint of their ownefforts and ingenuity. Eventually trading will resume.
Do our elites have the wisdom to abandon neo-feudalism and allow a peaceful decentralisation of power by unrigging the marketplace?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

in 1848 Britain ruled the globe, the country was owned and run by people with talent and a sense of duty, huge self made social mobility saw the post industrial revolution entrepreneurs join the ruling classes, … and most importantly the equivalent of Shapps, Raab, and 98% of the current Tory MPs were clerks or servants, and there they and their ilk should have remained.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

in 1848 Britain ruled the globe, the country was owned and run by people with talent and a sense of duty, huge self made social mobility saw the post industrial revolution entrepreneurs join the ruling classes, … and most importantly the equivalent of Shapps, Raab, and 98% of the current Tory MPs were clerks or servants, and there they and their ilk should have remained.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
1 year ago

“The formal institutions of democracy are still there, but are “divested of popular energies and innovation”. Well, what’s the point of the formal institutions, if they can’t even repair potholes properly?

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
1 year ago

“The formal institutions of democracy are still there, but are “divested of popular energies and innovation”. Well, what’s the point of the formal institutions, if they can’t even repair potholes properly?

Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
1 year ago

What’s next? China. A totalitarian, surveillance state. It was said in the eighties that globalization would make China more like the West and democracy would flourish there. The opposite is happening the West will become like China and democracy will end. This is inevitable because it is the only way the elites will be able to keep their power. In the end the masses will welcome it because it will end the turmoil that everyone is sick off, and that is only going to get worse, and promise stability.

Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
1 year ago

What’s next? China. A totalitarian, surveillance state. It was said in the eighties that globalization would make China more like the West and democracy would flourish there. The opposite is happening the West will become like China and democracy will end. This is inevitable because it is the only way the elites will be able to keep their power. In the end the masses will welcome it because it will end the turmoil that everyone is sick off, and that is only going to get worse, and promise stability.

Chuck Pezeshki
Chuck Pezeshki
1 year ago

One of the biggest mental model problems we have is we have no agreed upon, or coherent model of how societies evolve or devolve, relative to the information available to them. We are stuck believing, somehow, all this is arbitrary and just raining down on top of our heads.
Of course, just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, or that it is arbitrary. It’s not. Here are some hopefully helpful ideas on how postmodernism has helped create this desolate landscape in the context of abandoning human development in the face of increased pressures for individual atomization. https://empathy.guru/2021/08/08/information-fractalization-and-the-consequences-to-society/

Chuck Pezeshki
Chuck Pezeshki
1 year ago

One of the biggest mental model problems we have is we have no agreed upon, or coherent model of how societies evolve or devolve, relative to the information available to them. We are stuck believing, somehow, all this is arbitrary and just raining down on top of our heads.
Of course, just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, or that it is arbitrary. It’s not. Here are some hopefully helpful ideas on how postmodernism has helped create this desolate landscape in the context of abandoning human development in the face of increased pressures for individual atomization. https://empathy.guru/2021/08/08/information-fractalization-and-the-consequences-to-society/

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
1 year ago

“To sail is necessary, to live is not.”

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
1 year ago

Thanks for your analysis. In my improvised readings of history, I have developed a curiosity of that 1848 revolution, or whatever it was.
So your analysis rings true. As for your comparison to our present era, we shall see. Yet, whatever we do see developing in megatrends and micro-orgainizstions, in riots and peace . . . in the ubiquitous dominance in this still-new, as-yet-not-fully-examined social media drug-dependency, we are at a moment in history where absolutely nothing will surprise me.
But whatever happens, I have this vague wariness, this ill-defined sense that it will be destructive, as if there is most likely a period of tearing down institutions before any serious rebuilding of new ones can begin.
I do know this: as a former Republican in the USA, I cannot support either party now. I suppose I am a citizen of a brave new world, because some courage will be required to venture out/into any political or institutional development that purports to restore normalcy, especially since the normalcy we had before was not worth preserving.
And I do know this: your Euro 1848 seems like a better arrangement than our American 1865.

Jonathan Saxton
Jonathan Saxton
10 months ago

I just came across this essay, so, sorry for the late comment. What I want to contribute is that I think this analysis is right insofar as it applies to the traditional middle and working class (MC/WC) in the US. But I think it does not apply to the college-educated elite. In fact, I believe what’s happened is that this elite has progressively disenfranchised the MC/WC while arrogating to itself, and elaborating upon, the organizations and institutions of the “thick” civil society that guarantee access, agency, and privilege.
This has brought us to this moment where the MC/WC is disempowered and largely disaffected from “gov-ment,” as Reagan used to call it.

Hendrik Mentz
Hendrik Mentz
1 year ago

Zeitgeist. Thrilling post. Helped me understand and connect what is in the blood with mind. Apropos, I recommend Maryann’s interview of David Hughes (link below) who argues that because the previous paradigm of rule rooted in a liberal international order and the fiat-based financial system is no longer fit for purpose from a ruling class perspective (i.e. the top 10% globally with 76% of the wealth) the technocratic class (governments, academia, MSM and big tech) – far from ‘crumbling’ (as the subtitle suggests) – is in fact conducted a ferocious psychological operation akin to a military operation aimed at locking down society. If so ‘what’s next?’ (quoting the essay) is a fait accompli unless. as the headline suggests there is a revolution, which Hughes predicts might be set off in France. 1848 vs 1984, perhaps? | video (link): Willing to Kill–Prof David Hughes on psychological warfare, class war, and establishment corruption

Hendrik Mentz
Hendrik Mentz
1 year ago

Zeitgeist. Thrilling post. Helped me understand and connect what is in the blood with mind. Apropos, I recommend Maryann’s interview of David Hughes (link below) who argues that because the previous paradigm of rule rooted in a liberal international order and the fiat-based financial system is no longer fit for purpose from a ruling class perspective (i.e. the top 10% globally with 76% of the wealth) the technocratic class (governments, academia, MSM and big tech) – far from ‘crumbling’ (as the subtitle suggests) – is in fact conducted a ferocious psychological operation akin to a military operation aimed at locking down society. If so ‘what’s next?’ (quoting the essay) is a fait accompli unless. as the headline suggests there is a revolution, which Hughes predicts might be set off in France. 1848 vs 1984, perhaps? | video (link): Willing to Kill–Prof David Hughes on psychological warfare, class war, and establishment corruption