It is not hard to convince people we are living through a revolution. It is only hard to define how far and deep it goes.
One difficulty is the fact that so many of the rights it has stripped us of are not acknowledged in the pantheon of written rights. We have lost the right to face-to-face confrontations, the right to walk the streets, the right to access public buildings. Before this year these rights were so etched into our lives that we could not see them as rights. They were not rights gained through bloodshed or battle, and they were too many to be codified. As Burke says, “If civil society be made for the advantage of man, all the advantages for which it is made become his right.” And man as a social animal has always found reason to find happiness in genuine public life. His rights arose merely from being natural. He didn’t even know he had the rights until they were gone.
No, when I try to drive home the rights we have laid on the altar of Coronadoom, I bring up the right to jury trial. If your state is like mine, that right is now gone. For the second time this year the Chief Justice of our Supreme Court suspended them, supposedly until February first. The right still exists in a way that protects lawyers’ consciences, but paper rights mean nothing. The Founding Fathers would have found the abolition of the jury trial abhorrent. It is worth remembering that 18th Century men risked an agonizing death by tetanus every time they confronted a shard of old metal. But they never would have imagined ending the jury trial because of some rusty nails on the street.
A host of rights have been immolated this past year. They have been sacrificed to a new right, one still unwritten in our New Regime yet which holds in the place of “Liberty Equality and Fraternity” and “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs:” The right to be free from the effects of disease. This right has trumped all other rights and has taken a spot at the pinnacle of our hierarchy of rights, one that informs and negates all our other rights.
Coronadoom is now a principle of government. Emergency orders are in effect in nearly every state. I refer to Minnesota’s, because I know it best and her response has been middle-of-the-road. Our emergency order arises out of statute. The relevant passage reads that peacetime emergencies can be declared when an “act of nature…endangers life and property and local government resources are inadequate to handle the situation.” This clearly provides no sound guidance. The coronadoom is an act of nature, but that is not unique of a virus. It endangers life, but again, that is what viruses do. Astoundingly, the government has decided that its resources are inadequate and thus we must remain revolutionary until the peace. That nominally functional governments could not fund adequate resources after nine months is a travesty, but the governor nonetheless continues to sign executive orders, and the legislatures continues to acquiesce to them. The government usurps power when by its admitted incompetence it should be dissolved.
One can accuse the government of using Coronadoom to its liking, and this is largely so. But this diminishes how much of an active force it has in governing. Unlike the government, Coronodoom is the active force. Trials and government meetings are now conducted through Zoom. The mass is livestreamed. Social life is all available at your computer screen. Everything from the government is hapless and reactive. In truth, more people strongly believe the virus should dictate our policy than that Joe Biden should. If the Corona says we should shut down the churches, we will. If Corona says we should shut down jury trials, we will. If Corona means airlines should abuse toddlers, they may. Insofar that there are scientific principles behind these changes, they are internally incoherent. We enthrone “experts,” but “experts” are just a front for media control, which is just a cover for the fact that we guided by a timorous lumpen-mass of public sentiment and fear.
But I highlight this: These changes all arise from an implicit right to be free from even quotidian disease. Without this underlying belief, held by a huge and influential segment of the population, the lockdowns and all the other transformations could not be broached. There is little you could say about the current virus that you could not say about any virus. Nothing about the Coronadoom is unique. Any seasonal virus can be subject to a litany of horrors: Hundreds of thousands of fatalities every year; “super spreader” events; wretched symptoms targeting the vulnerable and old. Take your pick; obsess over any one of these. Then marvel at the fact that untold generations of men have somehow lived with such a blight for all human history. And certainly the flu is a horrible evil. All diseases are. But it was only this year that we found they should be destroyed. It is as if one generation of Minnesotans woke up and discovered the horrors of winters—deadly cold, icy roads, and short days—and decided to terraform a new climate to avenge this injustice. This seems absurd until you realize this is what we have done with the virus.
The only adequate remedy for Coronadoom is unconditional surrender. We were only waiting for one generation to understand this. I can think fifteen years back: The media attempted to make Bird Flu and Swine Flu the revolutionary events. They never took flight. It took something more to describe the basis fact that every generation understood: That we can mitigate the harm of Nature, but we cannot eradicate it. In 2020 this attitude is completely gone.
There is no way to argue with this. One treats Corona as any virus mankind has ever encountered. The other lives his life by a half-understanding of chaos theory, a demented butterfly effect that is now his highest principle of action. The man who says we should live with diseases and the one who says we should uncompromisingly defeat them argue for two competing metaphysical systems, one taking as a basis the fact that seasonal diseases occur and we have to live with them, the other believing we can—or at least should try to—eradicate the virus and, by implication, all viruses. There is no empirical way to disabuse this suicidal metaphysics. Rather, it is the natural effect of the unmooring of empirical science from any coherent vision of reality. The countless generations who had no clue about Germ Theory were much wiser than we are.
But Coronadoom and all its attendant pathologies are part, and only part, of the Revolution of 2020. The Corona has wounded or ground to dust the basis of civil society, but the true depth of the revolution lies in an even more profound and devastating shift. There are protests to these changes from people forced to live in the real world, men who make their living by wages and not capital gains, by engaging in commerce rather than bureaucracy. Twenty years ago protests would have been unnecessary, because the measures imposed would have been impossible. This is no longer so. Reaction to Coronadoom is only one aspect of the larger revolution and a war against Nature. We are living through the final replacement of the real world by the digital.
REVOLUTIONS never come out of the air. If only in retrospect, it is amazing how predictable they are. As philosophers define a formal cause as the place where an object’s form ceases, Revolutions are notable not for their cataclysmic changes but for the stasis they achieve. While they are always accompanied by a whirlwind of changes, the most important characteristic of revolution is the kind of change they henceforth make impossible, namely that of conservatism. Against the revolution, any counter-attacks must be against a new gestalt; they must be reactionary.
This thought came to me when I was reading Plinio Correa de Oliveira: Prophet of the Reign of Mary. The book, by Roberto De Mattei and recently translated into English, is a wonderful overview of Plinio’s theological and political work, and shows the Brazilian was by all measures a great man of the 20th Century.
Plinio was a great reactionary. His seminal work, Revolution and Counterrevolution, charts out the true nature of revolutionary change, which is Satanic, and describes what is necessary for fighting it. This comes out in traditionally Catholic forms: In the reassertion of chivalrous ideals, in the taming of the passions which are the root of the revolutionary impulse, and fealty to the Reign of Mary.
Plinio sees our present chaos as the result of four previous revolutions: The Protestant, French, Bolshevik, and the Sorbonne Revolution of 1968. Each of these revolutions was characterized by a breakdown of hierarchy, which is itself a manifestation of the sacral order, the height of which is God Himself. Plinio takes a cue from Aquinas. “To hate any and all inequality in principle is tantamount to metaphysically placing oneself against the best elements or resemblance between the Creator and creation; it is to hate God.”
The first of the revolutions was an attack on religious and theological hierarchy, the second on the political, the third an attack on property. The fourth, the Revolution of 1968, is perhaps the most subtle of these, and the least susceptible to definition. The previous revolutions were anti-hierarchical but operated on a sort of reason. But the fourth was an attack on the lumen rationis, the light of reason itself. “May of 1968 was an attempt to bring the concept of the revolution from the socio-political to that of human interiority, that is, from society to the individual.” Plinio sees in the Sorbonne Revolution the acceptance of Gnosis, “a being in which all things contradictorily meet and coexist. And coexist in a way that there are no internal frictions or explosions even though it is contradictory. The human mind is unable to fathom how this might be.” The Gnostic despises all types of authority and hierarchy, even the most fundamental of distinctions, that between being and non-being. From this, the principle of noncontradiction is abjured, and the metaphysical basis of knowledge of reality is undermined.
Those who most succumbed to this revolution gained stature, but sacrificed their ability to reason. “The Sorbonne revolutionaries promise a situation that we would call chaotic disorder, but which they deem a healthy earthquake leading to some kind of order. So we have a civilization of instinct (if this can be called civilization) which opposes the dying civilization of the intellect and the will.” This is, to Plinio, commitment to original sin, the same revolt against God and His order as was present in Eden. The revolutionary though is not a mere sinner, but one who accepts an errant metaphysics on a radical scale.
To Plinio, the height of the 68-ers’ folly came with the European Parliament’s 1994 acceptance of the licitness of sodomite relationships. As an American, I might place the true apex in 1990’s Casey v. Planned Parenthood, where the Supreme Court enshrined as principle that “the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.” This is the principle of Gnosis raised to the highest levels of government. It affirms the State has no power to define the basic distinction between living and dead, and at the same time has the power to permit murder.
Though he passed on in 1995, Plinio saw a Fifth Revolution on the horizon. Its contours were not clear, but he recognized the rise of Islam, as well as the popularity of Satanism and witchcraft, would play a role. And exact contours aside, he saw the secular tendency of true revolution could only lead to transhumanism—that prideful man would ultimately sin himself out of his own being.
One fault in Plinio’s thinking is the conflation of revolutionary and liberal impulses. He avers that revolutionaries suffer from pride and are driven by concupiscence. This seems too easy. Robespierre and Lenin were anything but libertines. The fault of revolutionaries is not concupiscible; it is an intellectual error about the natural of reality itself. The greedy, mindless, rapacious character is more at home in the bourgeois liberal than the revolutionary. Plinio the reactionary is surprising easy on the liberal. And modern revolutions are not really separable from liberal progress. The tendencies of rationalism, anti-clericalism, and democracy were apparent in France all through the 18th Century; the Revolution was only the point when these tendencies could no longer be feasibly opposed.
But all this aside, Plinio firmly grasps that revolution is an attack on hierarchy, which is also intrinsically an attack on God’s natural order. The Church hierarchy and the Old Regime are not so obviously a part of this order. The revolutions of the 20th-into-the-21st Centuries have made the antipathy to Nature much clearer. And what we have seen in 2020 is the Fifth Revolution envisaged by Plinio. It is another great leveling on par with the revolutions of the past. Its target this time is the very essence of place and being—itself.
THE CORONADOOM and its attendant miseries are only the most obvious form of the metaphysical revolution. Commerce, government, judicial process, religious worship—all must wither and die for the sake of Corona’s unconditional surrender. There was a brief period of time when our reaction to Coronadoom made sense—the two-week span to “flatten the curve” and prepare for the unknown. Every following has been as wild and stupid as an animal flailing in fear. But we cannot confuse the secondary effects of the revolution with the root causes. This would be like focusing on the enrichment-by-theft of the French bourgeoisie while ignoring the Revolution’s transformation of the concept of the state. And the root cause of our present revolution is the supplanting of the real world by the digital. Since the Fall, man has always acclimated society and government to Nature. But as a principle we have established that we are unable to govern ourselves because of working of a fairly regular disease. These insane and illogical reactions could not have been considered even twenty years ago, because that would have been technically impossible twenty years: We have simply moved everything online.
The revolution of 2020 is the inflection point in transforming civil society into a digital thing. This process has been in effect for decades, but now it is impossible to turn it back. The Revolution has already taken place; Luther has already posted his Theses, Rousseau has already published Le Contrat Social. There is no similar intellectual basis for the present change, because we no longer live in a world guided by the intellect. The comparable event was probably the iPhone—that little schizophrenia porno device that would have been banned if we had a government interested in protecting its people. Now those little devices will be integral to involvement in social life and government.
There is an attack on thing-ness—what the scholastics called quiddity. The old order required so many more beings than you need today. The logic of any social need, such as buying and selling, such as voting, such as being tried by one’s peers, such as praising God, all required a place to conduct them. Man knew these tasks had a great importance, and their immanent logic required their own places. A gesture of love once had to be written on paper; music once had to be kept in an album. Their existence in antique stores proves they were valuable enough to have a place for the function they served. There will be no antiques from our age. Even the most adamant and iconoclastic puritan did not think that worship could be conducted in the market or the field. All these places served a human end, one whose disposition struck man interiorly but had to be realized in material if they were going to be realized at all. To borrow a phrase, our entire civilization was an extended phenotype of what is critical to man’s soul.
If this distinction of place seem tame to us compared to the revolts that leveled pontiff and layman, king and pleb, it is only because we don’t appreciate what we are losing. Being and place have a position in the hierarchy of being, in the sacral order. They have the greatest distinction of any thing under the sun: They are flush full of being as opposed to non-being, they made that jump from zero to one, which is a greater leap than from one to one million.
Physical existence is no longer necessary; the purpose of these places can be fulfilled in the otherwise homogenous environs of the internet. The logic that drove the creation of these places still stands: We still need to buy and sell, we still need to legislate, we still need to worship God. But these needs are interior to man, and it no longer needs to be made immanent in real places and things. The digital suffices to capture the function. The courthouse is not necessary for trials, the statehouses are not necessary for government. Your market or church are no better than your armchair.
Witness what has occurred. The world awoke to find itself completely dependent on ZOOM. To call this hasty is an understatement. Has there ever been an instance of a people so quicky pledging fealty to one largely unknown corporate entity? How much confidential information has been shared and stored on Zoom? Real world interactions have become the supplement to the digital ones, not the other way around.
The revolution is apparent in the second happening of the year: The coordinated color revolution in the form of BLM riots. Everyone with any sense knows the “root causes” of these riots were bogus. Their putative means and ends are incoherent. But they operate on the same principle enunciated above: That physical space no longer really matters.
This is no great change. Cities have been approaching irrelevancy since the 1960s. The average American was terrorized out of the cities by violence, but this could not have been allowed to occur if cities actually played a crucial role in industry and politics. McLuhan said at the time: “The circuited city of the future will not be the huge hunk of concentrated real estate created by the railway…What remains of the configuration of ‘cities’ will be very much like the World’s Fair—places in which to show off new technology, not places of work or residence.” More can be added to this: The modern city exists as a radical training camp and cesspool of minority ballot-stuffers. The suburbs, where the decent urbanites fled, are now irrelevant and could be replaced but for inertia and bias against small towns. The digital world is the material world, and the happenstance of where you physically exist is now more about recreation than anything else.
The riots this summer were another periodic fire to clear away the underbrush of sane people. The riots in Minneapolis in St. Paul very conveniently resulted in the torching of trash shops in gentrifying neighborhoods. In St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood this is hilariously obvious. The rioters ruined multiple strip malls but left unscarred the new luxury apartments and soccer stadium right off of Snelling Avenue—grotesque illustrations of white privilege if there ever were any. Meanwhile, the Walmart in the area had already shut down, and the lightrail line has the potential to boost property values. The same facts played out on Minneapolis’s Lake Street. The whole progress of the riots looks like an attempt to shove out borderline-sane white and move the black underclass in their place.
Most of the people who still worked in Minneapolis in late 2019 came from the suburbs. As of 2020 they no longer need to suffer past the human offal on their transit route. The people who still live there are zealots. The riots were an endurance test to find who could be trusted. They don’t need families; they have immigrants for work replacement. They don’t need a tax base; in places like Minnesota the Met Council lets them leech off the suburbs, but if that fails the Federal Government will always step in to bail them out. Even after the tumult of the 60s, the inertia of past civilization lingered on in our novels, in our cityscapes. Cities once existed as a genuine center of culture; now they are hubs of cheap entertainment. They once were the very root of civilization; they now remain very really only to destroy it.
Look at the Minneapolitan: He latches onto liberal and Marxist notions of progress, even though the intellectual bases for that progress have been ground to dust. He lets his feelings be manipulated by sterility because Mother Science gives him drugs to dull the pain. He trusts the government because it integrates him into a communal existence which is the only community he has. Even if his material condition has not been advanced—even if rents have ballooned these past ten years, even if anarchists burned down his favorite bookstore and Somalis carjacked him at gunpoint—his position in the world is better. These material injustices are no match for the vacuous Justice evident all around him, seen on every streetcorner proclaiming Anarchy, all while the forces of the State squash the Corona-plague with the powers of decency and science. He looks over all material reality with the haughtiness of a Buddhist monk, seeing it for the joke it is.
The hipsters in Uptown already live the most unlifelike kind of lives. They work service jobs—baristas, daycare providers, NGO staffers—and their relationship to the economy is notional. They produce nothing of value. They rent apartments in beautiful old buildings which, compared to the horrid architecture of suburbia, might have appeared by aliens or Aztecs. The things they buy are produced by some slaves in the Orient, and if one homogenous piece of plastic is lost they have no real reason not to simply replace it with another. The three-month shutdown was an exercise in showing how many men’s work was inessential, that the average citizen was the spender of money, not the producer of goods, and that the consumerist economy could survive with walking utility functions with $1,200 in their pockets.
The people who love the riots are the same people who love the facemasks, partly out of political comraderie, even more because they both move the zeitgeist away from the material world of real interpersonal encounters that formed what we think of as History up to this point. And the more sophisticated you are, the more likely you despise that History, not only in its concrete form but in the logical and spiritual roots from which is developed. The facemask is assent to the future, a denial of selfhood as the price of destroying the past.
Disturbingly, young people seem more willing to wear masks than the old. This perhaps says something about the quality of healthy rebellion in this generation; it says more about their complete integration with the digital world at the expense of the real. St. Thomas told us that our souls are the substantial form of our bodies. The souls of young people seem to be a broader thing. The young generation have already lived a bulk of their lives through social media. Their thoughts are quickly made social, and open to derision or empty praise. Their habits are dulled by constant stimuli. Their most intense experiences are very often not attached to a place, only a particular moment of time on their phones. Those pursuing intellectual honesty and free thought already live the most vibrant part of their lives behind avatars. Their selfhood is only in part encompassed in their faces or in their persons; they are more social, not in any way that would have been recognizable in the past. To the young, sociality already means ceding the self. The face muzzle only solidifies this fact.
All the Coronadoom measures could be removed tomorrow—they should be. All the BLM and Antifa protests could go into remission, just as they had for the four years when they were not advantageous to attack the Trump presidency. It may be that the “Great Reset” rhetoric has gone too far. None of this matters. If all these things disappeared tomorrow they could be restarted next month to a similar flailing panic, and another acquiescence. The physical world can be upended for one quotidian disease, and it can upended for another. We may see some increase in in-person interactions in 2021, but nothing will change the fact that we have passed the point of inflection, where in-person interactions are seen as an exception and not the rule.
What we lose is literally indescribable. No one can write poetry about digital “meeting places.” Art is an interplay of ourselves and nature. Electronic communication does not allow our thoughts to be reified. In turn, we have much less to reflect upon. What did it mean for a guilty defendant to see one’s sentencing judge face-to-face? What did it mean for your local congressman to shake your hand? What did the smell of incense mean in your churches, or the presence of a beautiful woman sitting on a parkbench? We cannot assign values to these things the way our experts can ascribe efficiency gains to staying at home. We only have our precipitously declining mental health, which to our experts is only brain chemicals anyway.
An excellent trend on the right has been to encourage the formation of real life organizations. Those organizations will now be quashed not because they are political, but because they are organizations. A huge and influential part of the population believes this, perhaps not the disingenuous crooks on the top, but certainly the neurotic and timorous mid-managers who enforce policy. The belief in the rightness of associating in person without government regulations, even a bowling league, will soon be counterrevolutionary.
This all constitutes a huge political change. But the Fifth Revolution, like all revolutions, is most notably a denial of nature. The world is governed by ideas, but made rich by things. In a happy society, idea and thing support one another. All around us are outward shows of Christian life and Republican government. These shows are unsupported by the actual ideas that rule over us, and have been for generations, but at least provided us an outward sign of what a good society looked like. We enter into a world more dependent on intellect, with broader freedom over things, place, and time; we enter it on the impetus of spurning the bounds of Nature and History. What we lose is the connection between what is tactile and the ideological, the physical world we were created for and the ideas that govern us. We lose what was taken for granted by all previous generations, the notion that life, in its unity of material and form, is a kind of sacrament.