Decentralisation and America's Cycle of Collapse
The end game always involves opportunities
Like most people with any shred of decency, I was quite pleased (though also quite surprised) by the recent SCOTUS leak that suggests that the highest court may well overturn Roe v. Wade. If this ends up taking place (and so far, the conservative justices have indicated that the attempted bullying by the Left isn’t working), it’s exciting for a number of reasons. Obviously, the fact that defederalising abortion and placing it back into the purview of the states - where it belongs - will result in many, many little babies’ lives being saved. But what I’d like to discuss today is another reason why the Right should be jazzed about this, which is the “defederalisation” part I mentioned above.
Long-time readers know that I like to talk about and apply Peter Turchin’s demographic-structural theory (DST) to current events and that I like to do this a lot. I’ll be doing so in this post as well, hopefully explaining why the overturn of Roe v. Wade is so intriguing, even beyond the exoteric, short-term accomplishment of limiting abortions. To do so, I’d like to briefly cover the history of America’s secular cycle and explain how it follows the more-or-less standard patterns you expect to see from DST analysis. I understand that some might be disappointed to see that America’s history, from a macroscalar perspective, is really not as unique and exceptional as we often like to think, but please bear with me here.
And yes, I will be bringing this discussion back around to the Supreme Court, don’t worry.
To very succinctly summarise what a secular cycle is for folks who haven’t been following my blogs for very long, DST posits that any large territorial polity or empire (which I would also extend to interconnected civilisations comprised of related cultures/polities, as well as religions) will go through a cycle of growth—>stagnation—>collapse—>depression. The first two of these are considered to be secular upswings - a polity is growing, confident, becoming richer and more prosperous, etc. The latter two are the downswing - things begin to fall apart, provinces often break away, quality of life declines, until a “bottoming out” is reached and people begin to put the pieces back together. These cycles typically take 200-250 years or so to complete. While every decently-sized polity goes through these broad cycles (and theorists like Goldstone and Turchin present numerous historical examples from China to ancient Rome all the way back to ancient Egypt), the particulars of any nation’s cycle are, of course, specific to its unique circumstances, both internal and external. So while we can’t say that history repeats itself, it does seem like it stutters an awful lot.
By my reckoning, the United States is nearing the end of the collapse phase of our first cycle. Our independent cycle began, I would say, around the 1760s during and after the French and Indian War. While we were not (yet) formally independent, there was already an essentially “independent” feel to the 13 colonies, who were growing increasingly impatient to strike out on their own. Victory in the Revolutionary War gave America a confidence and the ability to enter into a phase of growth that I believe continued until near the end of the 19th century. This period of over one hundred years is unusually long for a growth phase, but I think can be explained by the extended period of westward expansion into which excess population, elites, and civilisational “energy” could be channeled.
As with all good things, this expansion eventually ran up on geographical and geopolitical limitations, and by 1880 or so the frontier was effectively closed. It was around this time that we entered into our stagnation phase which, despite the seemingly disparaging terminology, still entails growth, but the kind that involves crystallisation and deepening, rather than exuberant expansion. This period in our history ran until roughly the 1960s and involved the intensification of American economic and technological growth, but also a hardening of growing social and economic divisions.
It also began to see the increasing corruption that accompanies another key concept of Turchin’s take on DST, which is elite overproduction. Essentially, socioeconomic elites (in whatever type of social system may exist) have an outsized ability to garner power, influence, and wealth to themselves at the expense of the commons. As a social system in its stagnation phase generates ever more wealth available to access, the elite strata grow (whether by natural population growth, patronage, access to education for entry into the bureaucracy, etc.) and thus the number of people who are trying to “divide up the pie” increases, leading to intensified intraelite competition, which in turn leads to more corruption and attempts to “game the system” to get more for themselves versus other elite groups. This is basically what we saw from roughly 1880-1960 - a society that was still fundamentally prosperous, but with growing intraelite division that was leading to greater social divisions in the commons due to patron-client relationships and the like.
The perceptive reader has probably deduced that what I’ve said above implies that our collapse phase started in the 1960s - and this would be correct. Despite the terminology used (and hey, I didn’t come up with it), “collapse phase” should not be understood to mean that a society immediately goes from Mary Poppins to Mad Max. Instead, what the ongoing collapse phase usually entails is a gradual lessening of social cohesion and the decay of existing institutional structures (things just don’t work as well as they used to, nor do they work the way they were originally intended). Towards the end, even physical infrastructure will suffer because of the ongoing corruption and diversion of wealth into elite pockets.
Much of this is driven by worsening intraelite competition and the open breakdown of social order into self-interested factions (like it or not, Boomers, this is what the civil rights movement(s) were essentially designed to drive). Those of us old enough to remember know that basically none of our institutions - from government to universities to corporations - work as well for regular, everyday Americans as they did even in the 1990s. That’s because these institutions aren’t yours anymore. Instead, they’re patronage portals for various left-wing factional constituencies like BLM, transgenders, gays, and incoming immigrant elites. The good news is that, like all other collapse phases, the things driving our collapse won’t last and will be reformed or replaced as we enter into our (future) depression phase. The bad news is that because of the world’s globalised system, most of the hucksters will be able to split with our money before we can get it back from them.
Now this brings me back to what I wanted to say about the impending Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Concomitant with growth to stagnation and continuing for a time into collapse is the gradual centralisation of power and wealth in a society (this is much the reason why elite overproduction and competition become worse and worse). Historically, this has been the trend throughout our current DST cycle. State powers were gradually eroded and subsumed by the federal government (which especially accelerated after the Civil War, naturally). Corporations consolidated into monopolies that had to be combated with legislation (a process which itself centralised more economic power into the federal government’s hands). Even activities that traditionally belonged in the private realm, such as charity work, gradually became the province of the federal government. On and on I could go (but will spare you). But we all understand that power, wealth, and influence have been centralised into Washington DC, New York City, and a few other power centres dominated by our modern elites.
If the SCOTUS overturns Roe, this really will represent a sea change with regards to the trend in centralisation. In 1973 the federal government, via its most sovereign instrument the courts, in one fell swoop removed abortion from the purview of the states and cemented it (for all time, at least so they thought) as an unalterable federal “right.” If, in 2022, that same sovereign instrument now yields to the inexorable decentralising trends of our late stage collapse phase, it will be a signal that cannot be ignored by any. It’s no wonder the radical Left is flipping out so badly. They understand that it isn’t just (or even primarily) about the right to abortion of ugly cat moms who can’t find a man anywise. Rather, they know that it’s an act of decentralisation, of the collapse of their carefully built system of federal presumptions and patronage networks.
I mean, this “regression” back towards increasing decentralisation has been taking place for quite a while now and largely as a response to the Left’s misuse of its power. States are beginning to openly nullify federal laws in ways that would have been literally unthinkable in, say, 1950. In 1934, pretty much nobody of any consequence was going to tell FDR that he couldn’t have his National Firearms Act. Now, half the states are routinely telling the BATFE to get bent. Across the board, states are defying both federal overreach and the woke Left’s agenda in general, taking the culture war to the Left in a way the Right has not had the nerve to for decades. Even something like an Elon Musk buying a major social media platform and refusing to enforce woke Left speech strictures on it represents decentralisation from the near-monolithic left-wing control over culture generation and expression. None of this should surprise us - even with as squishy as the Republican Party is, eventually “right wing demagogues” (i.e. people who just stand for normality and reasonable governance) will eventually be pressed into service and the current collapse phase order will, well, collapse.
Expect to see this trend in decentralisation grow. Even if we don’t see outright secessions (though I wouldn’t discount this as a distinct possibility going forward), we will continue to see many states either openly defy, or else just studiously ignore, the federal government on an increasing number of issues. Expect many states to begin beefing up their own internal military power, as both Texas and Florida have been doing. Also expect states to begin asserting the ability to refuse to allow FedGov to call up state National Guards for whatever reason (even though this is technically illegal). In short, as our collapse phase nears its end and the current crop of Left elites prove unable to keep the lid on everything, expect to see power flow back to the states.
This doesn’t mean the Left won’t try to stop it, of course. They’ll crack down. They’ll try to cut off highway monies or whatever. They’ll try to economically punish recalcitrant states. Eventually, they’ll probably even arrest some state politicians. They may even get shot while trying to arrest some state politicians, precipitating the sort of “fracturing crisis” that often brings down collapsing regimes. The point is, the decentralisation trend is well under way already, and the current Left elite are too stupid and too arrogant to try to find ways to defuse it rather than just bullheading their way into accelerating the trend even further.
But - and here’s the really fun part - they have no choice in this because if this decentralisation is legitimated by the sovereign Court, then there’s no turning back. From their talk about it, the Left greatly fears that Roe v. Wade could be the brick holding the seawall together and if it washes away, the rest will soon follow. The thing is, they’re not wrong. Much more than just some sterile stare decisis precedents being overthrown, the whole foundation of their “loot n’ scoot” patronage structure will be undermined. What if states and their populations are no longer held captive by a national media and a nationalising government? What if states could get away with crafting their own voter ID laws without being constantly under threat of some Hawaiian judge overturning them? Gun laws? Transgender laws? Civil rights laws? The HORROR. Having a republic that actually functions like a republic is the radical Left’s worst nightmare.
So we shouldn’t be downhearted that there is a coming collapse. Cliodynamically it’s inevitable, sooner or later it will reach its terminal state. Our side needs to focus more on being ready for it and preparing to bring off the types of social and political systems we want to see arise after it than to vainly try to prevent it from happening. The depression phase is where all that stuff happens and we need to be getting ready for it.