It’s fun to noodle over “theories” of History.
Academics, of course, are all in on “social” explanations of historical phenomena. Being weak, ineffective people themselves, with no experience of life, the very idea of a Caesar frightens and repels them… so they construct theories of History in which it is impossible for a Caesar to exist. On this view, “social forces” (what they used to call “the relations of the means of production”) tore the Roman Republic apart; the Empire was its inevitable next stage. Assign whatever name you like to the Imperator — whether Caesar, Marius, Sulla, or Miles Gloriosus, he’s just the temporary face of the vast, impersonal social forces that control our fate. None of this “History is just the biographies of great men” for them!
The eggheads have a point, though, albeit not the one they think they’re making. The Roman elite’s social system was designed to produce a certain type of man. Whether Gaius Julius Caesar was personally the embodiment of that system, or a perversion of it, is irrelevant — the system was designed to produce men like Caesar, fellows with a very particular set of skills. Eggheads have never seen one, but anyone who has kicked around the world outside the ivory tower for a bit has met that type of guy. The skills themselves are fairly common, at least in embryo. Whether a potential Caesar becomes actual might well be merely a question of opportunity and scale.
A terrifying notion, that, when you look around the modern West. The one characteristic all effective elites have in common is the self-knowledge that they are the elite. The British, for instance, thought nothing of sending some 19 year old kid, whose slim formal education was mostly Latin and Greek, off to govern the Punjab. It worked, largely because that kid, whatever his defects of intellect and ability, had character, of the kind you just don’t get without a pedigree stretching back to Hastings.
Again, if you’ve ever met one of the horsey set you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, the most accessible American equivalents are the sons and grandsons of career army officers. Think of Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump, as played by Gary Sinise in the movie. That kind of guy always completes the mission, or dies trying, because it’s simply unthinkable that he won’t. After five generations, West Point is in his DNA…
… but that’s the thing: West Point isn’t West Point, and hasn’t been for at least thirty years now. This kid went to Ranger school, did a tour in Afghanistan, and was commissioned in the 10th Mountain division after graduating from West Point. In case you don’t feel like clicking, he’s the kid who took selfies with a Che Guevara shirt under his cadet grays and “communism will win” scribbled on the inside of his hat. Note the timeline: The kid was commissioned after those selfies made the Internet rounds. He still graduated, and for a time was an active-duty officer in the United States Army.
Bad as that is, there’s much worse. Notice the passivity of it all. What were any of the parties involved trying to accomplish? If Cadet Che had wanted to get kicked out of the service (as it seems finally happened, according to the linked article), there are a million easier ways. In fact, cadets at West Point are volunteers. The Army makes a big production out of this: If you can’t hack it at the Point, you’re simply not officer material. All it takes is a letter to the commandant, and you’re out — Cadet Che could’ve been drinking beer with his fraternal socialist comrades at Big State 24 hours after turning in his resignation.
Even the kid’s form of “protest” was passive. There’d be a certain utility, I suppose, for the Revolution if the kid had written “I’m a Communist sleeper agent” on the inside of his hat — evidently our standards are so lax that we don’t do basic background checks on our potential military officers. But he didn’t write that. Instead, he wrote “Communism will win,” a passive, bloodless statement … and that’s it.
The passivity is the truly terrifying part. A West Point graduate is among the elite if anyone is — he has command of at least a platoon of heavily armed trained killers, and the radio one of them carries has the power to call in armor, air strikes, cruise missiles… and yet, not “I’m a communist,” not “¡Viva la Revolución!,” not even “Lenin lives!” Just… “communism will win.” How, comrade?
The Rotten Chestnuts archives, like the archives of our parent site, are filled with mentions of modern Americans’ weird fixation with the passive voice. It’s Liberalism’s go-to tactic — it’s never “I propose a code of conduct;” it’s always “there should be a code of conduct.” Always “Such-and-such might be perceived as offensive;” never “Jane might be offended.” It’s always someone else, somewhere out there, who is doing and saying — or, crucially, should do or should say. Even on the rare occasions where they propose specific actions by named individuals, they always make sure it can’t actually happen. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal” springs to mind — because she’s so very, very stupid, she actually put in in a bill, so everyone in the Democratic Party had to make the rounds of the Sunday shout shows to denounce actually voting on proposed legislation, also known as Congress’s sole legitimate function, as dirty pool.
What we have, in short, is an elite that has convinced itself it loathes the very concept of elitism. They’ll lecture you endlessly on what superior people they are, but will never actually show you, even when it’s the easiest thing in the world. I know I keep banging on about college towns, but they’re the perfect example of the phenomenon. The hard Left controls everything in a college town. See, for instance, Berkeley, California. Any college town in America could do all that, plus some, with little more than a vote in the faculty senate. Yet they never do, and it’s not just hypocrisy — yes, yes, Big State doesn’t offer to take in “refugees,” but I guarantee you they more than tolerated that “Occupy ___” nonsense back in the days. Remember that? Whatever happened to all those people camping out in city parks, anyway? Am I the only guy in America who remembers shit that happened less than a decade ago? Is this thing even on?
The point is, a culture can survive an incompetent elite for quite a while; it can’t survive a self-loathing one. This is because the Great Man theory of History, like everything in history, always comes back around. History is full of men whose society doesn’t acknowledge them as elite, but who know themselves to be such. Napoleon, for instance, and isn’t it odd that as much as both sides, Left and Right, seem to be convinced that some kind of Revolution is coming, you can scour all their writings in vain for one single mention of Bonaparte?
That’s because Napoleon was a Great Man, possibly the Great Man — a singularly talented genius, preternaturally lucky, whose very particular set of skills so perfectly matched the needs of the moment. There’s no “social” explanation for Napoleon, and that’s why nobody mentions him — the French Revolution ends with the Concert of Europe, and in between was mumble mumble something War and Peace. The hour really did call forth the man, in large part, I argue, because the Directory was full of men who were philosophically opposed to the very idea of elitism, and couldn’t bear to face the fact that they themselves were the elite.
Since our elite can’t produce able leaders of itself, it will be replaced by one that can. When our hour comes — and it is coming, far faster than we realize — what kind of man will it call forth?