Saturday, June 6, 2020

Uncomfortable Lessons from the George Floyd Riots

As city block after city block burns, the George Floyd Riots are forcing Americans to confront some uncomfortable facts. One of these is that, from the Left’s point of view, riots are an effective way to get political change. Another is that the people who claim to stand for law and order are all pushovers.
A lot of people on the right have spent the last week or two talking about how infuriating or appalling it is to hear the media call the George Floyd Riots a “protest.” I am not one of those people, for the simple reason that I have long since ceased to get emotionally wound up in the behavior of the American news media.

And yet, while I am not infuriated or appalled, I must admit I am at least surprised by what’s going on. I honestly didn’t expect the glorification of random violence to so quickly become the norm among the chattering classes. After all, if I recall right, nobody ever insisted on calling the Rodney King Riots anything but a riot. This time, though, it’s different.

Now I am not going to go so far as saying that this marks the beginning of the end for America, or that it’s some sort of tipping point. Right now, we are still quite a ways away from the level of violence that our country trudged its way through in the 1960s. Even so, there are some uncomfortable lessons here, especially for those of a conservative temperament, who value public order and continuity.

1. This Stuff Works

It’s a pretty common thing to look at any outbreak of political violence (or even just plain old civil disobedience), say that the problem that sparked it is real (in this case, that George Floyd’s death was a clear case of murder), but that breaking the law is always the wrong way to deal with it, and then go back to one’s ordinary, comfortable life in the confidence that eventually, everyone else will too.

At the same time, hardly anyone at all would be talking about the death of George Floyd if the riots hadn’t happened. It’s ugly, but it’s the way the world works. The price of being a polite, nondisruptive protester is that almost everybody ignores you.

A riot is different. Just consider the biggest long-term consequence of the Rodney King Riots. Ever since 1992, it has been common all across America for police departments, when training new officers, to show them the video of the LAPD beating Rodney King and say “don’t do that.”

Are there more ethical ways of getting attention than burning and looting random, private businesses? You bet. This is not like the Boston Tea Party, in which Sam Adams’ boys made a point of destroying no other property except the tea whose importation they were protesting, and they carefully searched departing tea partiers to make sure they hadn’t yielded to the temptation to stuff any tea in their pockets.

No doubt a more ethical way for Black Lives Matter to protest would be to erect barricades on prominent streets, defend them with clubs and stones, and burn hated public figures in effigy, while avoiding even the appearance of random mayhem or self-aggrandizement.

Would conservatives still wail about the rule of law? Of course they would. But if the goal is to put a halt to business as usual – which of course it is – then a ‘Day of the Barricades’ is a tried-and-true tradition with a long history of effectiveness in revolutionary politics.

2. Nobody Has The Courage To Fight Back

At this point, the rioters are winning. What they’re doing is an effective (though clearly immoral) way of making George Floyd a household name and getting the people who killed him arrested and charged.

Obviously, not everybody involved in this madness shares that goal. One side is concerned with getting everyone in America to talk about police brutality (and maybe also getting a new TV from Target while they’re at it). The other side is supposed to be concerned with defending law and order, and protecting both public and private property from senseless destruction.

And the people on the law and order side are nearly all pushovers.

Why did the Minneapolis Police Department evacuate their police station and allow the rioters to burn it to the ground? There’s no need to guess: the department’s spokesman said it was “in the interest of the safety of our personnel.” Why did President Trump hide in the bunker of the White House when the rioters showed up on his own lawn? Probably for the same reason.

And even in the midst of the burning and looting, the media still managed to hound Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, into apologizing for his ‘racist’ former belief that NFL players shouldn’t kneel during the national anthem.

This is the behavior of people who have no courage. It’s also the behavior of people in the comfortable classes who feel, deep down, that they have no skin in the game.

Drew Brees used to claim – as many conservatives claim – an emotional attachment to the American flag that required him to speak up whenever it was disrespected. As it turned out, that emotional attachment wasn’t as strong as his emotional aversion to being called a racist.

Donald Trump, despite all his bluster, would rather hide in a bunker during the peak of the rioting than actually order his forces to quell the riot. If you’re the president, you can hide for a while, and then walk right back out into the same life of wealth, power, and status that you had before. If you’re just an ordinary businessman whose bookstore or restaurant got razed, then you don’t have that option.

The Minneapolis police let their station burn because they didn’t want the media to whine in the event that defending it meant shooting somebody. They know that eventually the storm will blow over, and they can go back to work in a new police station, paid for by somebody else's money.

This won’t go on forever, but I’m pretty sure it will go on for at least another decade or two, because…

3. America’s Culiacán Moment is Coming, but it’s Still a Long Way Off

Back in January I wrote about how the future of the United States will likely look like the present situation in Mexico, in which the central government, too weak to keep order, slowly surrenders control of large parts of the country to heavily armed gangs. In Mexico’s case, an important nobody-can-ignore-this moment came last October, in the Battle of Culiacán. That’s when 700 Sinaloa gunmen, wielding 50-cal rifles, rocket launchers, grenades, and armoured vehicles, defeated the Mexican National Guard and demanded that the Mexican government release the imprisoned son of the Sinaloa Cartel’s leader.

The Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, complied, as many people expected him to; he had, after all, run for office on a platform of rapprochement with the drug cartels. His reasoning – that surrender was necessary to prevent further loss of life – was the same as that of the Minneapolis police who let their station get burned down by the mob. (To be fair, the city that the cartel had just captured was home to over 700,000 inhabitants, and had Obrador not acquiesced, he would have been facing a huge massacre).

As for the situation here in the United States, one can only imagine how much worse the riots will be during the next round of the political cycle, when a Democrat holds the White House and the whole administration is sympathetic to the rioters.

In an eclectic article at the American Conservative entitled Fleeing the Collapsing Imperium, Rod Dreher is comparing President Trump to Tsar Nicholas II, a weak and indecisive leader who failed to react to the Bolshevik threat until it was too late.

A key difference between Russia then and America now is wrapped up with the fact that to have a 1917-style revolution, you don’t just need a Nicholas II, you also need a Lenin. You need an insurgency that is organized enough, and intellectually coherent enough, to actually take over the government, not just burn some stuff, yell about how the police department should be defunded or abolished, and then go home.

The modern American left is incapable of producing a Lenin, either now or at any time in the foreseeable future. Give them a few more decades, though, and we could have our own President Obrador, and our own Battle of Culiacán.


  1. I just found your blog from a link you left on ecosophia. I really dug this essay and look forward to reading more of your work. The ideas here reminded me forcefully of Spengler's haunting words:

    "A nation is humanity brought into living form. The practical result of world-improving theories is consistently a formless and therefore historyless mass. All world-improvers and world-citizens stand for fellaheen ideals, whether they know it or not. Their success means the historical abdication of the nation in favour, not of everlasting peace, but of another nation. World-peace is always a one-sided resolve. The Pax Romana had for the later soldier-emperors and Germanic band-kings only the one practical significance that it made a formless population of a hundred millions a mere object for the will-to-power of small warrior groups. This peace cost the peaceful sacrifices beside which the losses of Cannae seem vanishingly small. The Babylonian, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian worlds pass from one conqueror's hands to another's, and it is their own blood that pays for the contest. That is their peace. When in 1401 the Mongols conquered Mesopotamia, they built a victory memorial out of the skulls of a hundred thousand inhabitants of Baghdad, which had not defended itself. From the intellectual point of view, no doubt, the extinction of the nations puts a fellaheen-world above history, civilized at last and for ever. But in the realm of facts it reverts to a state of nature, in which it alternates between long submissiveness and brief angers that for all the bloodshed world-peace never diminishes that alter nothing. Of old they shed their blood for themselves; now they must shed it for others, often enough for the mere entertainment of others that is the difference. A resolute leader who collects ten thousand adventurers about him can do as he pleases. Were the whole world a single Imperium, it would thereby become merely the maximum conceivable field for the exploits of such conquering heroes. "Lever doodt al s Sklav (better dead than slave)" is an old Frisian peasantsaying. The reverse has been the choice of every Late Civilization, and every Late Civilization has had to experience how much that choice costs it."

    1. Violet, I'm glad you enjoyed the essay. Maintaining this blog has been quite an experience for me - when I started, early last year, my own intellectual horizons were much narrower than they are now, and what drove me to do it was frustration with the way that people on the political right - basically, the milieu in which I was born and raised - acted like most of the important elements of American civilization were still intact, and that either a big win in the next election, or some other grand happening, was going to turn things around and restore the kind of country that conservatives felt like we used to have, and deserved to have again.

      My argument, on the other hand, was that this wouldn't happen, that the big turnaround we had been fantasizing about for fifty years or so wasn't going to show up, and that America would keep declining until we hit rock bottom, after which a much-changed country would rise up out of the ashes. But my ideas were still only vaguely developed, and I didn't really know where to go with them.

      Then, a few months later, I found the Ecosophia blog, and via some links in the comments of Ecosophia, I found Dmitri Orlov and the Vineyard Saker. And then I could start figuring out what to do with my ideas.

      Peak oil and climate change were serious issues now, and the printing press at the Federal Reserve suddenly wasn't the most unsustainable pillar of the American economy. Our foreign policy was starkly imperialistic, and the American empire was bound to suffer the same fate that overextended empires always do. The Republican Party wasn't the only party which worked by winning over idealistic voters with empty promises. And so forth.

      With the neo-Spenglerian view of history, I now had a well-developed cyclical shape of time that let me see not only the decline of nations and empires, but the decline of the philosophies and worldviews on which they are based - including the Faustian myth of perpetual progress, and the Magian myth of a righteous remnant awaiting the Apocalypse, which have helped make the political discourse of our time so irrational.

      Indeed, it has been quite the journey!

  2. What an excellent essay!
    A hundred years from now, if civilization still exists, scholars will mark these riots, and the accompanying mass hysteria, and most of all the gutless response of the 'authorities', including the conservative ones -- as a turning point in the decline of the republic.
    From a gentle slide down the snow-covered slope, arrested from time to time by a heave of the unfortunate climber's ice axe, but picking up speed ... we have gone over an -- not yet THE -- edge.
    So ... what are patriots to do? We are bereft of any real leadership. National Review reads like Time Magazine.
    In situations like this, you first of all do the small necessary things. When you realize you are lost in the Rocky Mountains and night is approaching ... you take some immediate steps that will guarantee your short-term survival, and hope that on the morrow you can start finding your way out.
    For us, at this moment, one of those short-term steps is reconstituting the heart of an alternative state -- to put it bluntly. This means coming into the existing militia movement: patriots of every race, color and creed should come to -- where you will find like-minded individuals. I'm going to repost this excellent essay there.
    However, I should say this: there are no inevitabilities in history. We make our own history. With Romain Rollande, we must have "pessimism of the intellect, and optimism of the will."