The Centre Cannot Hold
What comes after Liberalism?
It has been said by others interested in postliberalism that what comes after Liberalism will be Bonapartism. So what is it, and to whom does it appeal?
For a treatment of the end of Liberalism, see here.
In this two part post I will discuss the nature of the political settlement of the Regime, which I think is a form of extremism. This centrism is a type of managerial technocracy, whose contempt for the populations it rules will contribute to the character of the system which will replace it.
I will also examine the idea of Bonapartism, considering the views of Edmund Burke, Antonio Gramsci, Karl Marx and Napoleon I and III.
What is Bonapartism?
The insincerity of our politics
Centrism, Managerialism, Paternalism
The extremism of Regime governments
A crisis of power
This idea I owe to Kevin Michael Grace, who produces the KMG show on YouTube. He wears his cultivated insights lightly, presenting a view of the contemporary world informed with some of the most valuable insights I have encountered anywhere. Droll, sophisticated and charming, Mr Grace is a treasure. If you like what I go on about, you would certainly find him rewarding.
What is Bonapartism - and why should I care?
‘Bonapartism’ takes its name from the Napoleons. Firstly from Napoleon Bonaparte, former general of the revolutionary army of France, later Emperor. The term broadly describes a populist movement owing its allegiance to some idea of the people, and to the nation, perhaps led by a militaristic figure.
It is relevant because its power comes from a genuine appeal to give voice to the mass of the people who are ignored by the existing political settlement. This is why Bonapartism matters - because it will likely happen to you.
Some Marxists would describe it as an ideological error, thinking of it as a bourgeois revolution. Why is this relevant to you? Bonapartism is what happens following the kind of social and political crisis which we all inhabit, and whose scale is international where formerly confined to a single nation at a time.
The attempt of Bonapartists is to appeal to the broad mass of the people whose will is ignored by Western Liberal Democracy (WLD) as a rule. At times, it become impossible to ignore the fact that the elected government’s interests are opposed to those of even their own supporters, as well as the wider population.
In moments of strength for WLD, this policy of ignoring the will of the people is announced as a matter of principle, and is of course championed by the Regime media. The examples of Roy Jenkins and of Lyndon B Johnson demonstrate this habit of Liberal Democratic leaders, which has been generously termed ‘paternalism’. This is to distinguish it from the exercise of power against the democratic mandate, which it is, and to give its obvious authoritarianism a mantle of fatherly respectability, as if the leader were simply moving his benighted family in a wiser direction than that which they can alone discern.
This shepherding of the electorate against public opinion is the hallmark of Blairism, which is the ruling principle of the British political system. It functions well when the ideological contradiction of popular will with political practice – identity laws, minority privilege, the abolition of capital punishment and the failure to enforce the drug laws, for example – is practised against a perception of rising prosperity or at least the availability of cheap consumer goods. Thus, the function of Western Liberal Democracy is to allow parties who champion centrism whilst promoting a globalised extremism to gain and retain power. It is a cycle of repeatedly – deliberately - broken promises, and is a pattern of which many people in the working and middle classes are palpably tired.
To defy popular will in this way is to distort – or reveal – the principle of presumption. In voting for a party under WLD we presume they will act in accordance with the performances they have given to attract our votes. If we cease to believe in this ritual we cease to vote, as it is simply mummery.
Mummery’s The Word
The mummer used to come to the village, giving a spellbinding performance for money. People would pay because their lives lacked entertainment and event. Politics is not, however, the kind of performance which brings relief. It provides not enchantment but its opposite. Why? The mummer came to perform, and the charm was welcomed as a break from reality. What was presumed came true – the mummer would capture your mind and emotions for a time – and a price – and then leave.
By contrast the mummery of modern media figures such as politicians is a broken promise from start to finish. They are presumed to be presenting an honest set of policies on which the voter must decide.
The moment they begin to campaign they seek to charm, to entrance, to capture your mind and emotions - in play of complete sincerity. It is this that distinguishes the politician from the popular entertainer. The performance of the politician is not reported, nor much described, as just a show to stir the passions. It is presumed to be genuine.
Politics becomes mummery when we recognise it as simply a show. The bandwagon rolls in, the fanfare and the bloom of camera flashes, the microphones and rosettes – it is so obviously staged to the disillusioned. How could anyone remain under such a cheap spell?
Consent ruins everything
The other presumption is on the side of power – that of the victorious party. The claim to legitimately exercise authority is based on presumed consent. This means that since a majority voted for that party, whatever that party does is legitimate, because they presume you have consented to it.
To have powerful people appeal to you in a show of sincerity is nothing more than pandering, but it works since it flatters our vanity. To realise that canvassing is mere theatre, that the new government will decide what it likes regardless of your wishes is to become disenchanted – which is almost as unpleasant as the realisation that you do not matter to professional deceivers.
Society divides between those willing to continue the audience participation of Liberal Democracies, and those whose understanding will no longer permit the suspension of disbelief necessary for all successful theatre.
Town, Country and the Great Divide
The spectacle of Liberal Democracy is championed by an urban culture. This reduces to areas of high population churn whose membership provides and supports the Regime media and its allies in the corporations, for whom many urban dwellers work.
Employment in these media and corporate roles is one driver of migration to urban centres, but their feeder schools – the Universities – are another. The values of the University are the values of International Rainbowland: open borders, alphabet pride, the destruction of the family, hatred of God, oikophobia and of concepts such as the career victim. Curiously this also includes Liberal Interventionism – the principle that war is an instrument of civilisation. These are the values of the Nowhere People – war, immigration, normlessness and hedonism.
To the obvious nodes of employment and the purchase of the credentials it requires can be added the effect of mass scale society. High concentrations of human population tend to produce abnormal behaviours – it drives them, and it thereby attracts people who have developed them otherwise. Cities are hives of oddity, perfectly anonymous places of mutual indifference and so highly conducive to developing the kind of extreme individual self promoted by late stage Liberalism and its privileging of so many weird identities, consumer and otherwise. If you are a freak, you don’t stand out in the city. Your otherness is something to be prized, as these experiments in self are the only real power you have in a system of population management based on the complete abolition of restraint and the promotion of the many resulting addictions.
These urban concentrations are the bases of political power and the strongholds of Liberal Democratic ideology. Under Blair, London was championed as a model of success for the multicultural society. It is a claim we can no longer hear, it being no less false now as then, for two decades on the noise of reality has drowned out the signal of the Regime.
The second stronghold is the supposed centre of the political field. This is a phantasm, another pretence made real by repetition. The idea is that there is a ‘centre’ to which all reasonable people must accrue, being persuaded by neither Left nor Right. These poles are designated extreme simply by virtue of the centre naming itself.
In fact it is the ‘centre’ that is extremist, and it is ‘centrists’ whose votes support it. Today the most aggressive programme of centrism is that of Emmanuel Macron, whose ‘centrist populism’ has been designed to exploit disaffection with the centre right of Sarkozy, and the centre left of Hollande.
It is an answer to the dissatisfaction brewed by itself. The remedy to the anger felt at the political charade being exposed to the voters is, in the mind of Macron, the arch-centrism of globalisation, mass immigration, greenwashing, rainbow rights, repressive COVID measures and the dismantling of the French way of life. This much-hated man has negotiated a means to power by being less despised than the establishment fakes his party was designed to replace. It has done so, but its time in the sun appears to have passed. The Left and the Right are back in France, with the centrist blue and red parties reduced to minority interests.
Centrists everywhere broadly support a programme of the destruction of national culture and the debasement of living standards as a matter of principle. This tessellates well with the deracinated urban population, of natives with abandoned bonds and foreigners loyal to another creed and culture. The city is where anything goes, especially at night, where daily life affords many examples of anarcho-tyranny.
Could anyone have predicted this?
Edmund Burke said that the concentration of political power in the urban population would lead to an overall cheapening of society and of its institutions, making everything once authentic an ersatz fake. In his 1790 pamphlet Reflections on the Revolution in France, he said
...if this monster of a constitution can continue, France will be wholly governed by the agitators in corporations, by societies in the towns, formed of directors of assignats, and trustees for the sale of church lands, attorneys, agents, money jobbers, speculators and adventurers, composing an ignoble oligarchy founded on the destruction of the the crown, the nobility and the people. Here are all the deceitful dreams and lies of the equality and rights of men.
He also envisioned the rise of Bonaparte himself, showing how
armies have hitherto yielded a very precarious and uncertain obedience to any senate, or popular authority; and they will least of all yield it to an assembly which is only to have a continuance of two years.
Burke correctly assessed the fragility of the power base of the Jacobins, and his prediction of the outcome seems unusually precise.
In the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full of faction, until some popular general, who understands the art of conciliating the soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his personal account. There is no other way of securing military obedience in this state of things.
Finally, Burke opines that this will result in the total concentration of power within such a figure.
But the moment in which that event shall happen, the person who really commands the army is your master; the master (that is little) of your king, the master of your Assembly, the master of your whole republic.
The dangers of this form of politics - akin to dictatorship - were not unknown to Burke, who considered the proper relationship between state and subject as a kind of partnership.
The state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico or tobacco, or some other such low concern ... it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.
Here he outlines what must be satisfied for the state to be stable.
Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place.
The appeal of Napoleon Bonaparte was secured not only in his ability to electrify his troops, and command the amazement of nations with his victories - it was his status as a man of the people. The people excluded from power by the urban concentration of government under royalism and revolutionaries alike. It is this factor, vouchsafed by his revolutionary credentials and service, which distinguishes his rule from mere authoritarianism. Bonapartism is an animated populism, giving one body to the soul of the excluded masses.
Part two will follow presently.