Ben Boyce


The energy of civilizations

Posted on October 2, 2018 by Ben Boyce

One of the biggest headliners in the liberal camp, David Remnick (editor of the “New Yorker” magazine), took top prize for the biggest media face-plant when he withdrew his invitation to Steve Bannon (former top policy aide to president Trump and former editor of to be the headliner at the annual New Yorker Ideas Festival.

This was a bad idea from its inception, but Remnick doubled down on his error by backing down after Resistance Twitter lost its collective mind.  Too bad really, because the Bannon keynote might have been the most interesting event at what sounds like a general snooze-fest of dull centrist Democrats and neo-liberal capitalist apologists.

Bannon may be a disheveled and somewhat discredited alt-right figure, but he is a smart man who has identified and amplified themes that are shaping the modern conservative movement.  He is important solely on the basis that he has lodged a few new ideas in the president’s head, which is no mean feat in itself. Bannon has popularized the rhetoric of a few key conservative intellectuals who are concerned about the ‘energy of civilizations.’

He is right about this: the energy of the vast American empire is in decline.  The signs of imperial decline are all around us. The American century was marked by an enormous explosion of activity that created a continent-wide national infrastructure build-out that was the foundation for a 50-year run of widely shared prosperity and peace.  Now, we cannot get the oligarchs and the management class to pay enough in taxes to even maintain the aging infrastructure they inherited.

Meanwhile, China is building out high-speed rail across the Asian continent, constructing vast public water, sewer, and transit projects to support the rapidly growing commercial center cities. It is clear that the 21st century is centered in Asia.

We cannot get sufficient political consensus to build any substantial public infrastructure.  Steve Bannon and the conservative nationalists have identified the problem. Their solutions, like racial engineering through immigration policy, scorched earth authoritarian political tactics, and increased military hard power, will not work to restore American civilizational energy.  The tepid and ahistorical cultural liberal identity politics of the mainstream Democratic Party won’t spark that revival either.

We are in dangerous times.  This current mad, disordered, and nihilistic Republican Administration is not sustainable.  Empires do decline, and often take an entire civilization down with them.

Bernie Sanders’ excellent 2016 primary campaign allows us to speak our true name as out and proud democratic socialists. I have acknowledged that the limits of that discourse in mainstream American politics.  I was ready to fold up my red flag until May Day, but the Republicans won’t give the word ‘socialist’ a break!

They have made the DSA’s long-term goal of popularizing the concept of socialism much easier by tagging every tame ameliorative centrist liberal policy with the Red Star. The same crew that still insists that President Obama and Nancy Pelosi are socialist agents has really done more for our cause than anything we could have accomplished on our own.  

The bottom line for me as a democratic socialist is that what we actually want is pretty basic and definitely achievable, given the vast wealth and intellectual capital of America.  We want humane, cooperative workplaces that pay living wages, a safe place to stay at night, food in the cupboard, free healthcare from birth as a human right, publicly financed education through college, and a few $20 bills in our wallet.  That’s the bread.

We also want enough leisure time to have fun and play, raise children properly, hike our public parks, and have picnics and parties on the weekend. Those are the roses. The age-old demand of democratic socialism is ‘bread and roses.’  Is that too much to ask?

On the local front, progressive candidate Dan Monte is running a spirited campaign for the 10th Assembly District. He may have a fraction of the money that the incumbent, Marc Levine, has in his campaign chest, but a dedicated core group of movement progressives are working hard to make sure that by November, Dan’s excellent progressive agenda will be well known throughout the district.


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