Darkness Before the Dawn

2024 is more than an election year, it portends a fall. But no matter what happens, we must prepare for what comes after–an era of true self-government.

Published in Underthrow Series .

A man is no less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years.
–Lysander Spooner

Some facts are both unstoppable forces and irreducibly social. They are facts because millions of people accept them as such and experience them at once. They are unstoppable in that no single person can prevent them–at least, the probability of preventing their occurrence is vanishingly small.

Imagine trying to prevent Christians from singing carols, Jews from praying at the Seder table, or Muslims from fasting during Ramadan. Of course, we can imagine the heat death of the universe or a giant meteor smashing into Earth. Otherwise, the Abrahamic faithful will sing, pray, and fast as the case may be, and there is nothing you or I can do about it.

Similarly, ordinary Americans will become absorbed in Fall Football or March Madness. Fans will congregate and cheer (and pray) with equally religious zeal. Again, certain human events, though irreducibly social, orbit our lives, and exert their gravity upon us whether we like it or not.

Election Year

2024 is an Election Year. And like Christmas and the Final Four, elections are inevitable. They are both institutions and rituals with the same curious gravity as religious observance or team sports. Even though they may not be terribly secure or fair, we’re stuck with them. They are enormous spectacles designed to give pliant voters the illusion that they are in control.

In 2024, in the United States, hundreds of millions will pick a team and gather to worship at the Church of State. It will all culminate in a day that partisan throngs send their prayers to the voting booth. The Cult of the Presidency will be reinforced for four more years, and the Congressional Priesthood will continue driving the American Empire toward insolvency and decline.

And there is nothing you can do about it except be ready.

Collision Course

2024 is a year of liminality, not just because it’s an election year and change is written in the rules, but because other unstoppable social facts will converge in the lives of people at home and abroad. Consider:

1. Debt levels are unprecedented, and debt service is gobbling up more and more of the federal budget.

2. Americans are so polarized that neither side is likely to accept electoral outcomes, whatever they are.

3. People are increasingly aware that the national security state (deep state) is in control and that national elections are but bread and circuses auctions.

4. Deep-state psyops are becoming increasingly ineffective as people become less credulous, more mistrustful, and less hopeful.

5. The vast nexus of power between the corporate state, elected officials, and the deep state is headed toward collapse.

Happy New Year!

I realize all of this sounds bleak. But when you take time to consider the inexorable logic of these events hurtling into an uncertain future, a dark certainty takes over the mind. The rest is timing. In other words, when one set of unstoppable social facts collides with another set, something’s got to give.

There’s probably little you or I can do about our current servitude or our nation’s decline except quote Lysander Spooner and shake our fists in the general direction of Washington. But we can muster our dwindling resources and gather our strength to seize the moment after the fall. In other words, while there is little we can do about any of these social facts, or about their eventual collision, we can be prepared for that window of time when a crisis becomes an opportunity.

America’s Decline

Collapse is not always sudden, like a souffle falling. Nor is it followed immediately by the sound of a firing squad, as with the execution of the Ceaușescus in 1989. Sometimes the process is more drawn out, as with Rome. How on earth did people live with the fact of an Eastern and Western Empire? How did they make do without the system that built the aqueducts and roads?

Just fine, apparently.

If America’s decline roughly parallels that of Rome, we’re probably in the bread and circuses stage (or empires and entitlements). Our governance systems are somewhere between malaise and paralysis, occasionally lurching to manage a crisis or project power. Only a small minority is starting to question whether any of it is sustainable. But it’s growing.

Looking forward, we have set the stage for what former Atlantic writer James Fallows thinks of as a coming era similar to late antiquity in Europe, in which “duchies and monasteries” experimented with different forms of civic- and civil association.

“Yet for our own era’s counterparts to duchies and monasteries,” writes Fallows, “for state and local governments, and for certain large private organizations, including universities and some companies—the country is still mainly functional, in exactly the areas where national governance has failed.”

Fallows seems vaguely plaintive, though, as if he assumes all of this centralized governance had been necessary, but that we’ll somehow make do with a suboptimal system. Despite quibbling about the optimal loci of power, his point stands: We will do okay without Washington. Maybe all this time, it’s been just a weight on our backs and an illusion, like a rucksack full of rocks we were told was gold.

It might not seem like much in the interregnum, but I believe our twenty-first-century duchies and monasteries are going to be beautiful and bountiful. But just know that before we enjoy that beauty and bounty, we will have to get our spiritual and moral houses in order. I say this not as a moralist, but as a realist. Because the rules we write and the culture we build all begin in the deepest places in the heart.

A New Unstoppable Social Fact

If it all comes down, the powerful will fall. At that moment, we must extend our sovereignty and lock arms in solidarity with those who share our commitments. There are only two forces of change in the world, after all, persuasion and coercion. So when the hard times come, silver-tongued demagogues will be waiting in the wings, and there will be wolves clawing at the door. We will have to refuse them, defend ourselves, and be prepared to self-govern–not by choosing “a new master once in a term of years,” but really self-govern.

We must integrate new practices and adopt new systems:

– Strong common law and private arbitration
– Strong federalism and local empowerment
– Mutual defense and private security
– Mutual aid and community charity
– Sound money and competitive currencies

We will have to totemize these principles and tabooize central authority.

Indeed, we will have to make governance strictly opt-in. We have to build an unstoppable social fact around the very idea of opt-in government–because if we don’t, we’ll go right back to those old election spectacles that allow the powerful their orgies in distant capitals. They will just go back to using us as milk cows. They’ll resume plundering us for new “programs” with baked-in bureaucratic incentives and a mission to expand ceaselessly.

We can’t let that happen again. But before we can say never again, we’ll have to get through the fall.

Max Borders is a senior advisor to The Advocates. He also writes at Underthrow.

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