As I begin this post, I probably owe my readers a big apology. I left the United States seven weeks ago and haven’t written on this blog since, having had too many other things to do during my travels abroad. But unlike a good, responsible, blogger, I didn’t state my plans up front so that my readers would know I hadn’t simply abandoned the project. Sorry about that.
I will be back to weekly posts sometime this summer. Once I do return, my first serious post will be a book review of a self-published novel sent to me by one of my readers (Thank you Mike McCarthy!). In the meantime, I figured I still at least have the time and means to write what follows.
I don’t know how many of my readers are familiar with the Dungeons and Dragons alignment grid. For a lot of people in my country, who grew up in the 1970s or later, this game was a fixture of our youth, so little explanation is necessary. For anyone else, only a brief one will be needed.
The alignment the grid is a way to categorize characters by their temperament and likely moral decision-making process. Each character’s place on the D&D grid has an ethical dimension – good, neutral, or evil – and a socio-legal dimension – lawful, neutral, or chaotic. Together they make a nine-part square, with True Neutral in the middle.
So, for example, your Lawful Good Paladin might be willing to take a dangerous detour from his quest in order to save an elven-maid from a party of marauding gnolls, but he would balk at the idea of lying to other people to get them to join his mission, and get very squeamish at the prospect of torturing a captured gnoll to find the route back to the gnoll party’s mountain fastness.
But if you replace Lawful Good with Neutral Good, the character still leaps at the chance to save the elf-maiden, while having an easier time justifying the lying and torture. Meanwhile, a Chaotic Evil character might lie and torture for amusement or personal gain, while a Lawful Neutral character, who doesn’t stick his neck out for anybody, will still be pretty good about respecting authority and upholding group norms regarding honesty and the like. Repeat this reasoning process for the other five alignments, and you’ll have a good enough idea of how the system works.
The real-life cogency of such a system is debatable, especially when it comes to Chaotic Good. For example, within the worldview of biblical Christianity (and most other traditional religions) submission to civil and parental authority is a virtue. It’s a virtue with limits, and you may need to disobey human authority figures when compelled by a “higher law” – i.e. it is better to be Oscar Schindler than Adolf Eichmann. But the point is, you can’t be an orthodox Christian and prefer lawlessness.
On the other hand, most young Americans these days love to play as Chaotic Good, and it’s probably the most popular D&D alignment by quite a bit. This is especially so among left-leaning youth. (I grew up in right-wing circles, where our characters were more likely to be Lawful Good or Neutral Good, or Chaotic Evil when we wanted to play as villains).
Speaking more broadly, people on the modern Left are enamored of the figure of the idealistic rebel. There is probably no other culture in the history of the world that has loaded the word “rebel” (traditionally a very negative one) with such bright and cheery connotations.
Perhaps the history buffs among my readers recall how, whenever a peasant rebellion broke out in Medieval Europe, the rebels always claimed that they still respected their king or duke or whoever and were just trying to rescue him from “evil counselors?” But even then, after the rebellion was quelled and its leaders’ heads were rotting on stakes, not a single contemporary historian portrayed their acts positively?
Yet nowadays, when setting the scene for some new epic of space opera or high fantasy, all the author has to do is say that his story is about a bunch of rebels fighting to bring down an empire, and everyone knows that they’ll be rooting for the former and against the latter.
This is because Leftists, who totally dominate pop culture, love to think of themselves as plucky, altruistic rebels courageously defying forces much stronger than themselves. In reality, almost nothing could be further from the truth, but the leftist myth-makers keep at it, always projecting the archetype of a cackling pulp fantasy villain onto whatever right-wing political figure they hate the most.
And no, I’m not just talking about Donald Trump. Did you know that, when George Lucas was making Return of the Jedi, he honest-to-goodness thought he had modeled the character of the Emperor on Richard Nixon? There really is nothing new under the sun.
In short, leftists regard themselves as Chaotic Good. The Right, by and large, accepts this view, with only the ethics reversed, and sees the left as Chaotic Evil.
And when you have an enemy that’s Chaotic Evil, but looks like Chaotic Good to sympathetic eyes, the way to fight it is to become Lawful Neutral. Which is what the Right has done: Right-wingers talk quite a bit about how being good members of a society means accepting that we don’t always get our way, and respecting established laws and institutions anyway because they’re the only thing standing between civilization and barbarism.
But the problem is that the Left isn’t actually Chaotic Evil. Or Chaotic Anything, for that matter.
For well over forty years by now, being a leftist has meant being on the good side of almost all of America’s most powerful people, with the exception of some holders of the (mainly ceremonial) Presidency. Everyone else – the Supreme Court Justices who together wield the imperial sceptre, the trend-setters in Hollywood and academia, the ultra-rich like Bill Gates and George Soros, and so forth – have lent the bulk of their support to leftist causes.
Also, people who commit crimes that are popular among the left, from draft dodging to illegal immigration to statue toppling, have an uncanny tendency to end up enjoying de facto or de jure amnesty.
In the final reckoning, whether or not your alignment is Lawful doesn’t really depend on how much you respect the contents of the statute book. It depends on whether your actions risk getting you punished by society’s power-wielders. Doing 48 mph when the sign says 45 does not make you a rebel. Neither does taking part in a race riot in a Democrat-run state.
There was a day when the Left had real rebels: people like Abbie Hoffman and Bill Ayers, who did things that were likely to get them sent to jail for a long time. That day is gone. From the early 1970s onward, the Left has been Lawful Evil through and through.
The Right, which still views the Left as Chaotic Evil, thinks that by playing as Lawful Neutral, it is fighting against the Left.
But therein lays a problem: while Lawful Neutral is an enemy of Chaotic Evil, it is a pawn of Lawful Evil.
For a long, long, time, a lot of well-intentioned American right-wingers have attempted, in all earnestness, to fight back against their country’s decay by trying to rebuild trust in their country’s institutions (which are controlled by leftists) and by telling the citizens that, because of the wisdom of our Founding Fathers, they now live (note the present tense) under the best system of representative government in the world.
And yet, none of this has worked, because (1) people who believe in the unconditional bestness of their own country have no motivation to go out and fight for their liberties, and (2) you cannot defeat Lawful Evil if you think that your problems stem from insufficient respect for authority.
Despite superficial differences, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump all had essentially the same act: Ride to the White House on a wave of populist rage, by convincing the Republican base that America’s new ruling class could be defeated through voting for the right candidates, and otherwise working within the existing constitutional order.
Too few people were willing to ask: “What constitutional order? Do you mean the one where voters and their elected representatives have no say in whether the country legalizes abortion and same-sex marriage, whether or not all high schools are required by law to host a club promoting homosexuality, whether illegal aliens are to enjoy de facto amnesty, and whether their country will go to war with Libya, Syria, and Yemen?”
If the answer is, “No, I mean the constitutional order that George Washington and James Madison created,” then you have a conundrum, because the constitution of Washington and Madison can only be restored by the same force that created it – a willingness to resist governments that don’t acknowledge traditional limits on their power.
Which the Right, being Lawful Neutral, cannot do – all it can do is keep submitting.
And the price of submission is that the longer you do it, the more things the other side will think of for you to submit to. In the past, it was queer sex ed classes and race-based university admissions. Now, it’s court-ordered child castrations and endless race riots.
Yes, even the George Floyd Riots are a manifestation of Lawful Evil, because the rioters are only doing the things that the most powerful people in our society – influential leftists in Congress, the judiciary, the media, big business, and so forth – approve of them doing. (To be clear, the approval is more often expressed through lenient treatment of criminals than through explicit egging-on, though the latter is far from absent).
The moment that the rioters threaten a wealthy neighborhood, the police arrive and clear them away. This is because the rioters are a tool of the plutocratic oligarchy, and cannot act without their masters’ consent. They will go away when the oligarchy no longer needs them, but for now, they earn their keep by:
(1) Performing acts of vicariously satisfying violence at the expense of the people that the oligarchs hate the most (the white working class) and
(2) Keeping most Americans so wound up over symbolic racial grievances that they don’t notice the immense role that class privilege and class prejudice play in modern American life.
Conservatives like to think of themselves as the defenders of the present constitutional order, which is essentially good, from the attacks of the lawless Left. The idea that the Left already remade the constitutional order to its own liking several decades ago, and that to keep defending it, at this point, is to be the Left’s tool – that idea is alien to the conservative mindset.
And yet, if right-wingers want to deal with the uncomfortable realities of the present situation, they are going to have to stop seeing themselves as stalwart citizens defending an ancient social order against the forces of barbarism and chaos, and start seeing themselves as peons living under a hostile and non-representative government.
Then, they will need to give up their Lawful Neutral alignment, and switch to something like Neutral Good or even True Neutral – a hard-nosed, pragmatic alignment well-adapted to living under dissolute authorities in an age of decline.
By all means, resist the state if that’s what it takes to keep yourself or your family safe. If, for example, the government decides to change your child’s gender, then flee the country and seek asylum in Russia or some likeminded place – don’t just stay home and submit like everyone else that this has happened to so far.
But don’t fantasize about taking back the country in a 1776 style revolution or a red-on-blue civil war. There are good reasons – which I have explained here – why this is not going to happen in the foreseeable future. And don’t expect that a sudden, apocalyptic crisis will arrive in time to render the whole struggle moot. Prepare for a long and drawn-out decline, because that is what we are most likely to get.
Russia underwent state collapse in the 1980s and 1990s, and it wasn’t the end of the world for the Russian people – just a time of scarcity, crime, political dysfunction, and general misery, in which practical skills like the ability to grow one’s own food, plus close relationships with one’s family, neighbors, and friends, were the best aids to survival. America, I think, has a lot to learn from Russia’s experience.
People love to call me a pessimist for saying all this. I do not think that the label is justified. Decline and fall is the common lot for empires. Nations that have spent a long time wallowing in decadence don’t suddenly grow a spine when catastrophe is looming.
Perhaps it is my religious outlook on life that lets me admit the facts of decline so calmly. Bringing forth a victory from an impossible situation is, in my view, a function of the Gods; us mortals, on the other hand, need to be more humble about the limits of our abilities, and the fallibility of the institutions that we create and sustain. If you hang your sense of transcendental hope on the divine Powers, where it belongs, then you won’t be tempted to hang it on the frail reed of a doomed political cause – like trying to restore America’s zombie republic.
If I really wanted to, I could pretend that the old republic was restorable. I could pretend that if only the forces of law and order managed to turn things around and defeat the forces of Chaotic Evil, our national decline could be reversed.
But I know deep down that it just ain’t so.
And that is why I will continue to leave my sense of abiding hope with divine Providence, where it belongs, and approach worldly matters in a spirit of pragmatism, in the full knowledge that there are hard limits to what can be done when a nation as lacking in courage as our own is confronted with Lawful Evil.