THE DEMISE OF NATIONALISM (PART 1: THE LOGIC OF EMPIRE)

by James Lawrence

In recent posts, I've been taking a hard look at the delusions of the Dissident Right, and building a case for embracing the black pill.

By "embrace the black pill", I don't mean "abandon all hope and kill yourself". The black pill, in a political context, refers to a creeping intuition that the cause of the Dissident Right is futile. This intuition does not tell us to give up on the actual goods we desire; it tells us to stop pursuing them in self-defeating ways. In other words, we should be abandoning and killing our identification with the present form of the Dissident Right (which we may as well just call the Alt-Right, as it has retained everything but the old brand name).

The sooner we take the black pill, the sooner we can seek white pills: dissident modes of action that are not built to fail from the beginning. Or we can keep smothering the black pill under heapings of cope, which is bound to ensure that it re-emerges in more malignant forms. One example would be the toxic accusations of personal bad faith – "grifter", "shill", "con-artist", etc. – that are levelled at anyone who tries to do anything at all. Another would be the unhealthy dynamic between Alt-Right leaders and their supporters, which resembles the mutual dependency of e-thots and masturbators.

So let's take another step towards the black pill. We can do this obliquely, by drawing an analogy between the Alt-Right and mainstream conservatism.

Before it crawled back to voting for the least worst option with its tail between its legs, the Alt-Right used to dismiss conservatism as useless political cuckoldry. And despite all the mockery levelled at individual 'cuckservatives', no-one in the Alt-Right seriously believed that conservatism just needed better people, more sincerely committed to the cause of conservatism. They understood that conservatism has filled up with empty suits because its purpose is to actualise liberalism, and liberalism is a vain fantasy in a multi-racial bureaucratic state.

Some Alt-Righters also understood that conservatives are worse than useless, because they are useful idiots for progressivism. Liberalism recognises two political goals: pushing back against the bureaucratic state, and preserving the democratic right of progressives to advance it again. So conservatism can only end up as an eternal Sisyphean task – repugnant to aspiring men of action, but well-suited to sinecured time-wasters and stupid sons of gentlemen. 
 
And this futile show of resistance is not some sort of romantic lost cause. By its own 'principles', it abdicates any possibility of victory from the start, which is the only reason why it enjoys the tolerance of the stronger party. It is, in truth, a combination of stupidity, cowardice and fraud, and its only result is to make things worse (for everyone but the sinecured time-wasters and stupid sons of gentlemen). If progressives stamp down the boot of the state, and conservatives retract it from the face of society, then both parties constitute a single mechanism by which the boot stamps on the face forever. 

That said, if we could imagine an even more worthless fake-opposition party, it would be one that actively tries to attract the boot onto the face. Indeed, we don't hear much 'cuckservative' rhetoric from the Alt-Right anymore, now that its own delusions of victory have been shattered. In the present climate, such rhetoric would draw suspicions that the pot is calling the kettle black.

The Alt-Right claims to be fundamentally different from conservatism. On this basis, it attributes the uselessness of conservatives to rotten ideological innards, and its own track record of failure to unfortunate skin ailments (bad optics, bad tactics, bad leaders, etc.). But the man in the street would say that Alt-Right is just a new iteration of the 'far right', and that the 'far right' is just a more extreme iteration of conservatism. Is the Alt-Right not, indeed, a type of hardcore conservatism – which, given what we know about conservatism, would also imply hardcore futility, useful idiocy, and political cuckoldry? 
 
This is the political black pill. In those who accept it, it forces an alchemical separation, between the spirit of dissidence and the right wing of the Left that has always contained and limited it. The latter, i.e. the democratic Right, can hold onto the former as long as it is merely accused of failure. Dissidents are not afraid of dark roads and doomed causes. But what if the democratic Right is built to fail, and to waste dissident energies in the process so that nothing else can possibly succeed? We know that this is true of conservatism, so let's ask how far it is true of the Alt-Right.

I mentioned that conservatism is based on liberalism, and the foundation of liberalism is the political individual. It is on this point that the Alt-Right defines itself against conservatism. The Alt-Right defence against the black pill is to argue that individualist liberalism is futile, but collectivist nationalism is not.

And this has a surface plausibility. The individual is inherently weak; the nation has strength in numbers. Liberal protections against state power exist only in theory; nationalist secession would create a hard border around an ethnostate. Most importantly, liberals in office recoil from the use of state power, but nationalists running the ethnostate would make full use of it to defend themselves.

But let's penetrate below the surface. Take a look at a modern map of the world. It shows an order of independent countries – all of which are called 'sovereign', as long as they are part of the nation-state system, just as everyone under a democratic government is automatically called 'free'. 
 
But on closer inspection, most 'free' individuals resemble serfs, and most 'sovereign' nation-states resemble satrapies. Individuals cannot "infringe the rights of others", e.g. by contracting legally stable marriages, or defending themselves against criminals. States must be "open societies", and they are forced open by a wedge that starts at democracy and ends up at feminism and multiculturalism. Recall that family and self-reliance are the refuges of the individual, while social and ethnic harmony are the buttresses of the state. To be 'free' and 'sovereign' in theory, both individuals and states must divest themselves of freedom and sovereignty in reality.

Those who fail to take this deal are subjected to some very strange forms of coercion. Individuals are neither flogged nor hanged, but must suffer the more perfect anarchy of a prison system run by its inmates. Nations are rarely invaded (unless they can be forced into the role of aggressor), but they can be starved by blockade, subverted by revolution, or subjected to the noli me tangere democide of aerial bombardment. Violence always shows up the true workings of a political order, and these grotesqueries of Puritan scrupulosity speak volumes about the democratic one. At worst, it is a revolting charade; at best, it might be compared to a type of religious ritualism, like the Mongol custom of executing people without shedding any blood.  
 
But the upshot is that democracy is a political order. And at the global level, it is an imperial political order. Globalism can be treated as shorthand for global imperialism, and most national borders are no less fictive than most individual freedoms. 
 
South Africa had a national border. It was buffered by most of a continent, and defended by nuclear weapons. They still had to capitulate (and while the black population served as a convenient tool of subversion, it was the white population that broke under pressure in the end). The torture process never had to go beyond the softest devices in the democratic toolbox.
 
Now let's take a look at the Alt-Right's most practical and consistent proposal for an ethnostate. It involves moving white dissidents to a remote corner of the US; creating one of those magic national borders around it; and then leaving the remainder of the global empire to peacefully respect the independence of the new state whittle down Nazi Confederate Ku Klux Land as it sees fit.

Cuckservative principles on an international scale
This is 'white flight', i.e. progressive ethnic cleansing, writ large. It is an extreme variation on the theme of conservative political retreat – which, quite naturally, can only stand its ground once it has run itself into a corner. Whether it is the wilful blindness to the reality of state power, or the naive expectation of reciprocal non-aggression, or the perverse compulsion to help the Left purge dissidents from mainstream society and round them up on the fringes, the telltale signs of continuity with Bill Buckley and David French are written all over it.
 
And Alt-Righters think of this twaddle as some sort of 'radical option'! Quite clearly, we have not even begun to chip away at the tissue of delusions surrounding the concept of nationalism.

Let's start with the typical Alt-Right response. This would be to posture as big tough internet race warriors dismiss my above scenario as overly pessimistic. Why assume that secession would only affect a single region of the West? Surely a global empire is inherently unstable. Every nation under its rule would naturally prefer independence. 
 
So if dissidents secede in America, this will inspire nationalists in Europe. If nationalists declare the full independence of a state in Europe, this will fire up secessionists in America. Smash in one of the walls, and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down! And ideally, this will usher in a new order of universal nationalism, in which humanity will enjoy perpetual irredentist war ethnically-segregated harmony.

But this, too, is reminscent of conservatives, who are always building up hope that a liberal renaissance is just around the corner. Liberalism and nationalism both served their turn as weapons in the arsenal of democracy. And now, having fulfilled their purpose – the dissolution of traditional social and political structures – they have been reduced to rituals and platitudes under the victorious democratic order. So why should deus ex machina thinking be applied to one and not the other?
 
The answer is that a nationalist renaissance genuinely looks more plausible.  Nationalism is based on political ethnicity,  which has a better claim to fundamental significance than the political individual. 
 
According to Larry Siedentop, in Inventing the Individual, the idea of the individual as a basic political unit developed out of the political struggles of mediaeval Catholic Europe. If this tradition has reached senescence, it will not go back to its youth. But Alt-Righters are confident that nationalism can reassert itself independently, because its ethnic core is universal to all humanity. It has raised its head time and again in the past and will surely raise its head in the future. Indeed, many Alt-Righters assume that the death of Western civilisation would only grant Western nations a new lease on life. 
 
Well, we can't question these claims by peering into the future, so let's take a closer look at the past. Recently, I found a black pill on nationalism in an unexpected place: the history of early China. (My specific sources are Early China by Li Feng, and The Early Chinese Empires by Mark Edward Lewis.)

Collapsist theorising and neo-barbarian larping are common on the Alt-Right, and generally go hand in hand with the hope of a nationalist renaissance. All these ideas, I would say, go back to a common source: the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century AD. Or rather, to a democratic interpretation of this event as a sort of historical morality play, in which autocratic empire collapses under its hubris and freedom reigns anew. (Liberals and nationalists look at this morality play from different angles, but the gist is much the same.)

To contradict this, we need only look at the eastern half of the Roman Empire, which did not collapse. But if we go all the way east, to China, we encounter a civilisation that makes complete nonsense of it. The Chinese ideal of universal empire dates back more than two millennia, and has survived all sorts of shocks and fragmentations. Today, Westerners call China by a name derived from its first empire, Qin, and the dominant Chinese ethnicity uses the name of the second empire Han. And although modern China is obliged to larp as a nation-state like any other, it has no interest in giving up its old imperial territories like Xinjiang and Xizang.

And yet, China was not always an empire. It was once divided into an order of smaller independent states. Here's the Chinese take on imperial rise and fall, from the famous classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms: 

"It is the way of this world that the long-divided must unite, and the long-united must divide. At the end of the Zhou Dynasty, seven kingdoms warred against each other, until Qin conquered the others. And when Qin expired, Chu and Han warred against each other, until Han conquered the other."

Note the fatalism, the absence of moralising, and the easy equation of political division with war. But let's take a closer look at the states behind these names – Zhou, Qin, Chu, and Han. 
 
Prehistoric cultures developed in multiple centres across the core areas of China. The most advanced ones were located on the North China Plain traversed by the Yellow River. According to legend, archaic China had a type of elective kingship, but this was superseded by early monarchical dynasties. These tended to concentrate themselves on a single political centre, where the king would practice divination with the aid of human sacrifice.

In the 11th century BC, the Zhou Dynasty was set up after the conquest of an older dynasty. It lasted longer than its predecessors, and exerted its reach over wider territories. It managed to do so by means of a system called fengjian, which can be roughly understood as 'ancient Chinese feudalism'. 
 
In this system, the Zhou royal house would delegate power to lesser branches of its family. These lineages would then migrate to other localities and rule them as semi-autonomous nobility. The king had precedence over the heads of lesser lineages, who controlled the rest of their households, who ruled over the common people of the conquered territories. It was a network structure, held together by common descent, ritual precedence and also religious cult, because the Mandate of Heaven belonged to the Zhou founder and descended through the royal lineage.

Ultimately, though, central authority had to be backed up by military force. In 771 BC, the Zhou capital was sacked by barbarians and had to be relocated. Over the following centuries, the royal house lost the power to back up its prestige, and the regional fiefdoms gradually evolved into independent states.
 
Early on, the pretence of vassalage and kingship continued. So did the integrity of the dynasty, despite the wars of the regional nobility, as the Zhou king could keep the peace by recognising the strongest state of the day as hegemon. But eventually the Zhou king was reduced to a figurehead, who had no power to control the increasingly violent struggle of the regional states. This warring states era stands as the closest approximation in Chinese history to a Western-style nation-state order. 
 
As the pace of the power struggle advanced, so did the stakes of warfare. Earlier inter-state battles were characterised by chariot warfare, and generals were constrained by a kind of aristocratic chivalry (e.g. allowing an army to cross a river before attacking it). But in the warring states era, battles were won by huge infantry armies, which could resist chariots with their long halberds and crossbows. Casualties increased, devious strategems were admired, and restraint was abandoned to the brutal quest for victory.

Petty-statism on the eve of Zhou dynastic collapse
It turned out that the most successful warring states were the ones on the Zhou periphery. These had the greatest opportunity to expand their territories outward, and gain resources that could be used to dominate the smaller states in the centre. Outward expansion meant absorbing alien peoples: barbarians in the west and north, and primitives in the south. These were distinguished from the core ethnic group by a 'proto-Chinese' identity, called Huaxia. This transcended the Zhou Dynasty (the word itself refers to a mountain called Hua and a pre-Zhou dynasty called Xia), and was bound up with the idea of fundamental differences  between Huaxia and aliens. Of course, it didn't stop the Huaxia from incorporating alien subjects, or enlisting aliens to fight in their ever-more ferocious struggles against each other.

When the soil of a traditional society is disturbed, the result is often a flowering of philosophy. Most of China's intellectual foundation, including Confucianism and Daoism, came into being during the period of Zhou dynastic decline and advancing political fragmentation. These rival schools can be understood as attempting to piece together the various shards of Zhou Dynasty unity, which had originally combined ritual hierarchy, religious cult, and conformity to material reality.

The last of these shards was picked up by a school of thought called Legalism. This was a sort of Realpolitik, which advised state rulers to build up strong monarchies at the expense of the feudal aristocracy. 
 
In the late Zhou, the noble lineages had become an obstruction of power, not a delegation. They were losing authority, as state rulers found ways to rule their subjects directly, and more and more commoners entered government positions. Confucians reacted conservatively, by attempting to restore feudal principles on a new moral foundation. But the Legalist solution was to do away with feudalism and make use of state power. The name of the philosophy comes from the practice of writing explicit legal codes, instead of relying on moral instruction and noble paternalism to keep society in order.

Legalism won out in the warring states era, because it suited the conditions of the time. Society had to be mobilised for war. At home, this meant increasing central power, so that monarchs could rule their subjects and control their bureaucrats without reference to the lineages. On the battlefield, as we've seen, it meant building mass armies out of peasant-soldiers whose infantry tactics were rendering chariots obsolete. The stage was set for a Jouvenelian alliance: the squeezing of the middle element in society, in this case the nobility, by the highest and lowest elements.

The state of Qin, located in the west, was totally reorganised along Legalist lines in the fourth century BC. The nobles lost much of their control over the peasants, and had to suffer the same legal punishments as commoners. The peasants were organised into small families, instead of large clans, and furnished with enough advantages to attract foreign peasants into Qin. This allowed more Qin peasants to be recruited into the army. Thanks to Legalism, Qin gained a military advantage over more conservative states, such as the large state of Chu in the south.

Eventually, Qin deposed the last king of Zhou, and set about conquering the other states. This conquest was completed in 221 BC, and the king of Qin set up China's first empire: the Qin Dynasty. He took a new ruling title, 'emperor' (huangdi), which had a semi-legendary ring to it. He completely abolished feudalism, suppressed Confucianism, and did his best to erase the distinct identity of the defeated states.
 
Modern Westerners would expect this sort of thing to provoke rebellion, and it did. Soon after the death of the first emperor, a troop of soldiers were marching through the old territory of Chu. They were delayed by heavy rain, and could not reach their posts on time. The punishment for lateness was death, which was the same as the punishment for rebellion. So they naturally decided to start an uprising and restore the glorious independence of Chu. 
 
This uprising was crushed, but the rebellions spread elsewhere. It didn't help that the second emperor was a puppet of scheming court ministers, who had forged a letter from the first emperor ordering the rightful heir to commit suicide. Suspicion of bureaucracy was part of Qin's Legalist tradition, which recommended whittling down all intermediaries between the ruler and the people. But in this case, total obedience to the authority of the ruler allowed the bureaucrats to gain control.
 
So the Qin Dynasty was brought down. A new order of petty states was established, under the hegemony of the new king of Chu, who had been one of the rebel leaders. If we stopped at this point, Chinese history would confirm the morality-play interpretation of the fall of Rome. Autocratic empire collapses under the weight of its hubris! Freedom reigns anew!
 
And then another rebel leader, who had been given the state of Han to rule, initiated a new war of conquest and set up a whole new empire. This was China's second empire, the Han Dynasty.

The Han marriage of petty-statism and empire
It is certainly true that the Qin Dynasty had collapsed under autocratic hubris. So the founding Han emperor set up his state in a different way, as a sort of compromise between the principles of Zhou and Qin. The eastern half of Han territory was under his direct rule, but the bigger western half was left to autonomous kingdoms (mostly ruled by his own relatives). 
 
These kingdoms eventually rebelled, or allied with the enemies of the emperor. So they ended up being overthrown and reabsorbed by the emperor. Petty-statism, which lives upon war, could only wither in the peaceful climate of empire. Indeed, petty-statism was reduced to a tool of empire – and it was an effective one, to judge from the fact that the Han Dynasty lasted four centuries to the Qin Dynasty's fifteen years.

At this time, Confucianism came back into fashion under the patronage of the state. This suited the general transition to a mix of hard and soft power, after the pure hard power of Qin had proven too brittle. The first Qin emperor had retained too much of the warring-states order in peacetime: he had marched the peasants around in huge building projects, instead of demobilising them, and he had made it all too clear that the other states had simply been subjugated by Qin. The Han Dynasty did a much better job of projecting universalism, and this did wonders for its public order.
 
Not coincidentally, as the state turned to conservatism, aristocracy made a comeback. The peasants fell back under the control of great local families, and this time the state had much less incentive to preserve their emancipation. For one thing, the new elite had risen up through the civil service, so it lacked the rebellious attitude of the old feudal aristocracy. But more importantly, the state no longer needed an emancipated peasantry, because it no longer needed a mass conscript army
 
Initially, the Han state continued recruiting peasants for military service. But once the autonomous kingdoms had been wound up, there was no longer any need to mobilise armies in the Chinese interior. What the state needed was a permanent professional army, to fight long border campaigns against nomadic barbarians like the Xiongnu. This army had to be recruited from convicts, professional soldiers, and barbarian tribesmen. It had to stay on the frontiers of the empire, both to fight the nomads and to absorb their military culture – an impossible task for peasant infantry.

Many of these developments were bad for the empire, at least in the long run. The rise of great families and the enserfment of peasants caused taxpayers to vanish off the registers. The rise of frontier armies was even more ominous, because they ended up becoming loyal to their generals. All of this would contribute to the fall of the Han Dynasty in 220 AD. The state had perceived some of the dangers and made some attempts at addressing them. But the conditions of unified empire no longer permitted the radical will-to-power of the warring states era.
 
So the Han Dynasty collapsed. But it collapsed into a contest of imperialist warlords, not a restoration of petty-statism as an end in itself. China would go through a lot of chaos, much of it caused by barbarians, before empire was restored in the early Middle Ages. But once this was achieved, the principle of empire would gain a lasting ascendancy over division, creating the stereotypical picture of later Chinese history as a mere succession of imperial dynasties following each other.
 
That's all I have to say on ancient China. I'm pretty sure none of it has shaken anyone's faith in a Western nationalist renaissance. (Don't worry, we're getting there.)

I'd say that my argument looks deceptively weak at this point. Note that I've made no attempt to project the modern definition of 'nationalism' onto the Chinese warring states. And so far, the Chinese story of empire looks like nothing more disconcerting than a Sonderweg: an alternate historical path. Well, the Chinese path still ends up at nationalism in the modern day. So surely we can conclude that nationalism is the norm, and continuous empire is the aberration. At a stretch, we might throw in some dismissive rhetoric about the Orient, where freedom must grow sluggishly from servile yellow blood and arid despotic soil (etc. etc. etc.)

Needless to say, that's not the point I'm trying to make. What I am trying to do here is to puncture Western delusions through the unfamiliar medium of Chinese history. (An art perfected by Spandrell at Bloody Shovel, who has a lot more expertise on the subject.)
 
What I've presented is not an alternate historical path, but a logical progression of the state: from feudalism, to multi-statism, to empire. This also applies to the modern West, much more fundamentally than nationalism applies to modern China. The value of the Chinese account is that the process is relatively clear, because ancient Chinese history is irrelevant to modern democratic propaganda. 
 
Fortunately, we can find a middle ground of clarity in the history of Western antiquity. 
 
When Alt-Righters are challenged to back up the claim that nationalism is universal, they find it easy to cite examples from the classical era. Greek city-states like Athens and Sparta are known for 'civic patriotism', but this was not distinguished from ethnic nationalism. Athens reserved its citizenship for the children of Athenian citizens, and discriminated against metics (resident foreigners). Sparta passed laws against importing foreign customs, and associated its helots with a separate ethnic group that had been conquered by the Spartan one. Like the Huaxia in China, they had a common identity as Hellenes, but this did not demand submission to a single political centre.
 
But why not go back further, to the archaic world portrayed in the Iliad? Here, as everywhere, we see basic political ethnicity: there are Greeks (Achaeans) and Trojans, they are at war, all must suffer for the actions of one or two, etc. And yet, regardless of whether this poem is myth or history or both, it presents an ethos that fits very awkwardly into a nationalist view of the world. Everyone on both sides seems largely interchangeable in cultural terms. And the impetus for the war – the abduction of Helen from her husband Menelaus – is more of a personal spat than a racial tide.

At least, this is true of the aristocratic characters. We do meet one character who comes across as subhuman: Thersites, a common soldier on the Greek side, who dares to ask his commander why he has been fighting for ten years as an extra in an aristocratic soap opera. Here's what he says, before one of the beautiful people wallops him for his insolence:

"[King] Agamemnon...what ails you now, and what more do you want? Your tents are filled with bronze and with fair women, for whenever we take a town we give you the pick of them. Would you have yet more gold, which some Trojan is to give you as a ransom for his son, when I or another Achaean has taken him prisoner? or is it some young girl to hide and lie with? It is not well that you, the ruler of the Achaeans, should bring them into such misery. Weakling cowards, women rather than men, let us sail home, and leave this fellow here at Troy to stew in his own meeds of honour, and discover whether we were of any service to him or no."
 
Quite clearly, Thersites is asserting the collective self-interest of the Greeks. But this had little to do with the reason behind the Trojan War. By abducting his host's wife, the Trojan prince Paris violated the sacred law of 'guest-friendship'. This – quite suitably for our argument – was called xenia, and it entailed lavishing ritual hospitality on a stranger far from home. (Apparently the ancient Greeks were less than familiar with the writings of Sir Arthur Keith.)
 
As it happens, xenia persisted among aristocrats in the later city-state order. It could be used to forge ritual personal ties with foreign aristocrats, or even barbarians like the Persians. On the one hand, this was a useful way for a city to conduct diplomacy. On the other hand, it was vaguely subversive of patriotism, because the aristocrats tended to consider xenia as being more important.

The Greek alliance against Troy
Two further points on the Iliad should draw our attention. The first is that the Greek commander Agamemnon is a first-among-equals leader, which is why Achilles is able to defy his will (over the rights to a foreign girl, but let's stop kicking nationalism for a moment). The second is that Thersites' mini-mutiny is the high point of popular participation. Throughout most of the story, the heroes slaughter the common soldiers from chariots, and only their personal duels bear any narrative weight. 
 
Loose sovereignty, chariot warfare, aristocratic chivalry and snobbery – it would seem that we are looking at a world roughly comparable to the first half of the later Zhou Dynasty in China. The parallels continue as we move forward in time, to the classical era in Greece and the warring-states era in China.
 
In China, populist rule arose in tandem with petty-state warfare. And so it was in classical Greece. Chariots had become obsolete, and battles were won by infantry tactics, in city-state wars that escalated into increasingly serious violence. Cities were vulnerable to tyrants, who would seize power in popular rebellions and redistribute the land. Spartan oligarchy and Athenian democracy had many differences, but they both tried to hedge against tyranny by maintaining some form of citizen equality.

In Greece just as in China, there were those who wanted to preserve petty-statism indefinitely. None of it mattered in the end. The logic of division is competition, and the logic of competition is the selection of a victor. Petty-state division has a logical destination, and that destination is empire
 
Sparta could not become an empire, despite defeating Athens, because the other city-states would not allow it. The only result of this was that all had to bow to the imperial power of Macedon, which emerged from the periphery in much the same way as the strongest warring states in China. Alexander the Great dismissed city-state wars as "battles of mice". Upon conquering Persia, he embraced universalism at breakneck speed, trying to breed a mixed ruling class by marrying his Macedonian officers to Persian women
 
After the breakup of Alexander's empire, if some nostalgic for the classical heyday had picked the next victor out of a hat, he could not have made a more conservative choice than Rome. Again, it didn't matter in the long run. The logic of empire prevailed, and Rome simply took a more gradual path to autocracy and universalism. The latter of these two developments entailed abolishing its distinct citizenry, filling its army with barbarians, and first syncretising and then abandoning its civic religion.
 
By this point the nature of the logical progression should be pretty clear. It begins with a rudimentary political order. The centre, assuming there is one, possesses a loose form of sovereignty over its localities. Political power is channeled through an elite social network, spread thinly over the top of society. The dominating principles are dynasty, aristocracy, and the natural universalism of all social elites.

Eventually, the centre declines, or social organisation outpaces its ability to maintain control. Multiple political centres come into being and start to vie for supremacy. Society has to be organised accordingly, so political authority reaches further down into its grassroots. An alliance is forged between power centres and the common people, who set about marginalising rival elites at home and fighting other power centres abroad. 
 
Thus, at this stage, aristocracy is eclipsed by populism and nationalism. But both of these principles depend on petty-statism, which is not a stable order. The logic of division is competition, and the logic of competition is the selection of a victor. And this is a good thing, as the competition has a tendency to escalate into a wildfire of uncontrollable war.
 
But one of the political centres inevitably wins the war, and establishes an empire. Inexorably, nationalism and populism decline in importance, because they are no longer fed by inter-state rivalry. In one sense, society comes full circle, back to the first stage in which a single network of elites rules over the regions of a culture-area. But the total central authority achieved in the second stage is preserved in the third (although elitism and regionalism might always escape its control). This ought to tell us that state power is the kernel, and nationalism and populism are the two halves of the shell.

In the second part of this post, we'll apply this reasoning to the modern West, and justify the charge that the Alt-Right is a futile conservative opposition.

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