of The Last Ditch in September 1994.
By NICHOLAS STRAKON
We are the dead. Our only true life is in the future. We shall take part in it as handfuls of dust and splinters of bone. But how far away that future may be, there is no knowing. It might be a thousand years. At present nothing is possible except to extend the area of sanity little by little. We cannot act collectively. We can only spread our knowledge outwards from individual to individual....
George Orwell, 1984
Politically and culturally, we are some of America's dead, huddling together here in The Last Ditch.
We're a jumbled bunch of old bones — defunct revolutionaries, shell-shocked reactionaries, failures of the regime's schooling system, American Dreamers who died hard, misfits all. There are even a few of us still dreaming who might protest — like the uncooperative plague victim in the Monty Python film — "I'm not dead yet!"
But we're dead, all right — because of the handful of values we hold in common. We're all individualists. We all love liberty. We all mourn the civilization of the West. And because of those things we have become ghosts in our own land.
Some of us are plain anarchists; others are constitutional republicans, minarchists who can imagine a properly ordered "night-watchman state." One or two of us might propose a slightly wider range of state action — but they won't propose it in TLD.
Some of us come out of the Objectivist tradition of Ayn Rand and stand in a regardful if critical relation to it now. Others nourished their individualism at quite different fountainheads.
Some of us are atheists; others are Christians.
Loyal as we all are to the culture of the West, some of us are skeptical whether a European-American ethnic consciousness can coexist with individualism. Others are sanguine.
We in TLD include "crypto-Copperheads" or flat-out Confederate sympathizers who abhor the outcome of the Late Unpleasantness; others are much more interested in the Present Unpleasantness. Some suspect the latter cannot be understood without reference to the former.
As for how we imagine the Future Unpleasantness, some of us — those reluctant to admit their demise and mount the dead-cart — are able to find hope. They would say, I suppose, that they are fighting in The Last Ditch.
Others — including me — are pessimistic. We consider The Last Ditch not a combat redoubt but just an observation post, from which we can study the mopping-up operations of our great and abominable enemies: totalitarianism and savagery.
This is what I mean by pessimism:
If Americans are very lucky, the entire system — leviathan state, fascized economy, poisoned institutions, brutalized society and all — will collapse in their lifetimes.
If Americans are not very lucky, they will collapse, and the system will survive into a dim gray future.
I think our people have about used up their luck.
In the lead article of this premier issue, Ronald N. Neff begins presenting his vision of "Polite Totalitarianism." It is the theory of the Permanent Regime — a state apparatus tending toward greater and greater power, and greater and greater subtlety, and therefore of indefinite life span. If not absolutely "permanent" — for no human institution is immortal — this regime, as Neff sees it, will likely survive long enough to fortify itself so that it is invulnerable to revolution, and long enough to finish destroying all American liberty. It will do so with the help of the American people, for that is the democratic way.
Neff's article is in four parts and will conclude in Issue 4.
"Polite totalitarianism" ran in the September, October, November, and December 1994 TLDs.
In Issue 2, I will begin a related speculation as to how our Permanent Rulers are engaged in exterminating the remnants of old bourgeois culture and reducing the productive middle class to no more than a deracinated, subservient Outer Party. Our rulers are doing so, I will hypothesize, in cooperation with the radical Left. Call it, if you will, the marriage of the Dark Suits and the Red Guards.
I expect that this article also will be in four parts, concluding in Issue 5.
"Dark Suits and Red Guards" ran in five parts, in the October, November, December 1994, and January and February 1995 issues.
These two pieces — Neff's and mine — will comprise the core assumptions of TLD's founders. Those assumptions are open to debate and revision by other contributors; and I would be happy to see one of our relative optimists prove them wrong.
But I'm pessimistic.
Until they are proved wrong, you will see no pieces in TLD lauding heroic entrepreneurs who, after a 14-year struggle, have managed to privatize garbage collection in Upper Lower Overshoe, Montana. You will see no interviews with "libertarian" technocrats who want [Janet] Reno's Ministry of Love to contract out the background checks of gun buyers. You will find nothing — nothing favorable, anyway — about the efforts of busy apparatchiki to win ballot status and some sort of dreadful "legitimacy" for the Libertarian Party.
What will you find instead? First, analyses about what is being done to us, who is doing it, what they get out of it, and how much pain we're likely to have to endure until they're satisfied. On this score, one is discouraged when he recalls the dream of the future that O'Brien, Winston Smith's torturer, savored: that of a boot stamping on a human face — forever.
However, TLD's founders don't intend to let strategic pessimism blind them to events on the tactical level. The Polite Totalitarians are brilliant and mighty — but they are neither omniscient nor omnipotent. They may get ahead of themselves, in their haste and arrogance; they may quarrel among themselves; they may blunder in carrying out a given invasion of society. We'll report on the "battlefield situation" as we see it.
As we survey the battlefield, we may occasionally observe a few lovers of liberty and civility engaging in active, organized resistance. If we find their resistance interesting, we'll cover it — with a skeptical eye. If their resistance is genuine, we'll honor the rebels, despite their optimism.
We will explore the wrong turnings in Western history, and the extent to which flaws in the civilization we love proved fatal. All of us — anarchist and minarchist, Christian and atheist — will confront the remarkable fact that the civilization that gave the world the Industrial Revolution, individualism, the novel, and the symphony also created that behemoth of mass murder and slavery, the nation-state.
Our explorations may lead us to suspect that what we have taken to be a virtue of the West has in fact been an Achilles' heel. For example, of the major modern civilizations, the West has been distinctive in its hospitality toward the colors, fragrances, tastes, sounds — and practices — of exotic cultures. It's worth asking whether that trait invigorated the West with new blood, or poisoned it with tainted blood.
I expect our analyses and situation reports and explorations to be intrinsically interesting. But if TLD's founders consider political proposals and movement activism counterproductive, our culture extinguished, and our cause lost, what really is the point of our enterprise? Why should we bother preparing an Issue 2 of TLD? Why should you read it?
Because even in defeat we still have our lives to live. I'm sure all of us "dead Americans" want our "deaths" to remain metaphorical for a long time! We might prolong our haunting presence if we can find practical answers to some urgent questions:
• Can we avoid — evade — flee — hide from our conquerors for a while? Can we live relatively human, civilized lives while doing so?
• Clearly, for as long as our rulers permit us to do so, we must keep our children far from the government schools, where they would be taught totalitarianism by their teachers and savagery by their fellow "students." But then what should we teach our children to prepare them for living in their dark new world?
• Where can we look for consolation? I know what answer our Christians might offer. Does it lead to quietism? Where can TLD's atheists look? To the great art, music, and literature of the West? Does that lead to mere escapism?
• The theme song of a terrifying TV show — "Cops" on the Fox network — asks: "Whacha gonna do when they come for you?" What are we going to do when the regime's thugs come for us, or for our neighbors, friends, spouses — or, in the worst nightmare, for our children? Our rejection of activism in no way implies surrender in such circumstances — but the question is a thorny one, particularly if the choice is between risking martyrdom, whereby we would deprive our survivors of our aid; or submitting in hopes of protecting some of what we cherish.
We will seek answers for the above, but three matters are not in question.
First: we might as well forget about fomenting a cultural and intellectual revolution in our time. It's too late. Our adversaries are completing their revolution; we are out of time. But whatever happens to American civilization in the near term, people will go on inhabiting this land for centuries, even millennia. We must — in Orwell's words — "extend the area of sanity little by little," from individual to individual, in hopes of reaching out to that posterity. Those "post-Americans" — perhaps living under a regime weaker than ours — might derive a timely warning from our legacy, assuming it survives the memory hole of our regime. In any event, leaving such a legacy is an act of loyalty to the human future.
Second: whether anyone hears us or not, heeds us or not, joins us or not, we hold it an honorable mission to stand and witness as darkness falls. It's an act of loyalty to the good that our civilization once represented.
Finally: although we may think of ourselves as old bones, our rulers regard us as children — wayward, unloved, casually abusable children, at that. But we are adults. We are men and women who ought to be free. We must purge ourselves of illusions, lest we be children, as well as slaves. We must attempt to see and speak of our world as it is, in all its horror.
That is an act of loyalty to ourselves.