06 March 2016
I wrote a post in 2014 that dealt with the idea that “Cthulhu always swims left”. This catchphrase of Moldbug's has become commonplace in neoreactionary circles, and has even spread beyond. But it has troubled me that it doesn’t seem to be entirely true.
The key point is that nobody in the system has the aim of destroying society. That is an incidental byproduct of the competition for power. When a particular leftist trend gets to the stage where the destruction of the governing institutions becomes imminent, some conservative will actually be allowed to stop it. After all, the individuals in the permanent establishment are choosing the holy policy in order to retain their power; if it comes to a choice between accepting a less holy policy or seeing the institution in which their power resides fall apart, there is less to lose by compromising on purity.
But a compromise made in the face of imminent catastrophe is still made, and can’t be immediately reversed once the threat has passed. It sticks, not for ever but for a generation at least. In the previous article I identified the state of nationalised, unionised industry in the 1970s, particularly in Britain, as close to producing an institutional collapse, which was seen off by Thatcher's economic reforms. To a considerable degree those reforms have lasted; even the most recent Labour government took a line on unions, nationalisation and international trade that was to the right of the Conservatives of the 1960s.
This theory is OK, but looked at critically it is hard to distinguish from post-hoc rationalisation of the failure of the “always swims left” theory. When I put it forward in 2014 that's really all it was.
Today, though, I have the opportunity to make a prediction based on the theory. The position today as I see it is that immigration has got to the point that nationalisation had reached by the late 70s: if not changed, the current policies produce a real risk of institutional collapse within a timespan to affect the careers of present-day decision-makers.
Therefore I think those immigration policies will be changed, drastically, and soon. The obvious chain of events would be a Trump election victory in the US leading to border enforcement, a clampdown on illegal immigrants and a reduction in legal immigration. According to my theory, that is what the Trump candidacy is all about; that means we would not expect to see meaningful changes in other areas of policy.
We might well see broad changes of a superficial nature; an elected politician, like Thatcher, who comes in with a mandate to change a progressive policy has a different image to project than a normal politician, and that will be exhibited in the newsworthy but unimportant elements of the media–political circus. But the central prediction is that the change is not a total repudiation of progressivism, rather a piece of damage control on a limited policy area.
That's the first prediction: if Trump wins the presidency, there will be a massive change in immigration policy, no meaningful change in other areas of policy. I would not even expect to see any significant change in the status of American blacks, for instance.
It is possible to go further, however. Elections are not the major decisive events in history. If Trump does not win the election, the immigration clampdown will happen anyway. It might take a few more years, but the reason it can happen is not because the public is clamouring for it, it is because it is genuinely necessary, and that means it probably will happen. If Hillary wins, it will quite possibly happen even within her term, and if she refuses, then 2020 will see Trump II, with less (but still some) establishment hostility.
There's more though. The popular discontent that produced Trump has also produced hard-left candidates; Sanders in the US and Corbyn in the UK. There are a number of similarities between the rise of anti-immigration politicians like Trump on one hand and these candidates on the other. However, those similarities are all on the “public” side of their popular, anti-establishment appeal, and that is unimportant. If any of these hard-left characters get into power (which seems unlikely at the moment), the result will simply be more of the same. Cthulhu will continue to swim left, and probably no faster than he has done under Blair or Obama. Immigration is likely to be somewhat fixed anyway, but not necessarily immediately.
There is no immediate evidence of any sympathy within the establishment for an anti-immigration position. Why would there be? The permanent establishment is not looking for votes. If Trump loses, having shown any less hostility to him than the next apparatchik will be shameful, and if he wins, there will be time enough to come around to the inevitable. He will have to fight to push his policy through, but the opposition will not be as determined as it would have been ten years ago. Privately, many of those he fights will be OK with losing, as long as it doesn’t look like their fault that the incorrect policy has happened. And once the policy has happened, it will be a done deal; reversing it outright will not truly be on the table for twenty years.