The Battle for the Soul of America in a Fifth Generation Warfare
It is appropriate to begin to understand yourself as a combatant in a war that you may only be dimly aware is being waged. You are in fact operating in the battlespace at this very moment. Consider the implications. Consider that you are marked.
Your self-identification as a combatant, or not, is irrelevant. You have been declared an adversary of the True and Just cause of Democracy. The adversary in this war is a floating signifier anyway, purposefully undefined. Don’t go searching for your name in any database (though you may find it there). The adversary can be anyone, at any time. He is a cipher. The territory under contestation is perhaps even less well-demarcated. As a matter of physical geography, it may be said to not exist at all. And yet we are in it. We are fighting it. The war is on.
Surely, I must mean this in a metaphorical sense. Just as Qanon or Pizzagate or an Alex Jones riff about inter-dimensional reptiloids harvesting adrenochrome in off-world human pod farms is merely a metaphor for a messier, realer, and less grandiose truth — what Oliver Stone charitably describes as the “stories we tell around the campfire of history” — so too to say we are combatants in a war is not a literal fact about our world that can survive the scrutiny of the sober mind. Take this war framework seriously, not literally, in other words.
But then… maybe the distinction is no distinction at all.
The proclamations of those declaring this war leave vanishingly little room for uncertainty. Their rhetoric is becoming more explicit every day. No one can deny this. Even the soberest mind must acknowledge their increasing belligerence.
“In the aftermath of the insurrection on January 6th…” This is by now a common refrain. Oliver Stone also said, or maybe it was Homer, that every war must start with an event. No doubt they have been waiting a long time to declare their intentions, but now they have finally found their casus belli. When they say that January 6th is their 9/11, this is what they mean. It may seem that the incoherent, spontaneous nature of what happened at the Capitol might vitiate such lofty comparisons. But for the regime, all the better. The ambiguity allows for the widest possible net to be cast over their enemy, as John Brennan would have it, the “unholy alliance” of “religious extremists, authoritarians, fascists, bigots, racists, nativists, even libertarians.”
Tag yourself. Not that any of these terms matter. Again, they are floating signifiers. They mean everything and nothing. Importantly, they mean you. They mean me.
Brennan of course is not alone. Just days after he delivered his ominous remarks, his CIA colleague Robert Grenier wrote an op-ed for the New York Times declaring the forces responsible for January 6th — again, never clearly defined — to be regarded in the same terms as ISIS and Al-Qaeda. He spoke of an ongoing “domestic insurgency” and the need to put it down with the same degree of force as his own Counterrorism division applied to jihadists in Afghanistan and Iraq. Stanley McChrystal echoed nearly identical sentiments within the week. Javed Ali, whose bio reads less like a human being’s than the formless node of the Foreign Policy blob that he is, writing for the Security State rag the Cipher Brief, in an article indicative of the borg-like mass to which he belongs, suggested the “New Right,” which includes the usual litany of conservative bogeymen all the way up to those with such alarming views as, for example, being “pro-2nd amendment,” warrants the creation of Domestic Terrorism laws that would include a domestic surveillance program mirroring the British Security Service to monitor online speech and circumvent Constitutional protections against prior restraint.
These views are exemplary of dozens of more public figures, and many more beyond that, who occupy places of greater and lesser significance in the regime apparatus. And here I do not mean the Biden administration per se, but the constellation of regnant institutions and power centers, the Cathedral if you prefer, the so-called Five Hundred Names, who mostly, admittedly, are only known by the shadow they cast over American life. They regard you as their enemy. Whether by weakness or strength — I believe undoubtedly weakness; their crisis of legitimacy explains all — understand your reluctance to submit to their dictates and perversions as proof of your seditionist intent.
Do not take them seriously; but do take them literally.
Fifth Generation Warfare
In 2015, in many ways presaging our present conflict, military historian William Lind, writing under the pseudonym Thomas Hobbes, published his novel Victoria, a dramatization of his concept of 4th Generation warfare. Lind imagines a second Civil War fought by a confederation of Everyman guerrillas who take on, and ultimately triumph over the establishment forces that seek to destroy the American way of life.
Lind is forgiven for indulging in a bit of bloodthirsty political fantasy. The world of 2027 he imagines is not a far cry from the one that exists now, if ratcheted up a few notches. A plague of seasonal racial riots, egged on and excused away under the language of oppression, rule the cities. Pedos and rad-fems consort in the universities to strip away the dignity of straight men in exchange for the sheepskin of the diplomas they are required to produce to be allowed gainful employment. The middle class is being squeezed out of existence, their families collapsing under the weight of cultural antagonisms and debt peonage. The state itself is comprised of dead-eyed, vacuous apparatchiks who believe in nothing but their own self-preservation, and they lean on a kind of proto-Woke Capital Cosmopolitanism to do it.
But beyond the morality play, and the heady drama of the fate of Western man, it’s Lind’s attention to the form and processes of war that are most relevant here. In the 4th Generation war everything is muddled and inexact. Military and civilian life merge into a fluid, indivisible state of mind and being. Everywhere is a potential target. There is a kind of atemporality to it, too. Individual battles never clearly begin or end. Much of it is fought in the digital ether. Fixed points of planning and operation become obsolete, too easily identified and subverted. There are questions about the status of the war itself, and it is often an advantage of the stronger side to plausibly deny there is any war at all.
In the end, Lind resolves these ambiguities in no uncertain terms. His 4th Generation civil war, however abstract and indistinct, eventually reverts to the classic mode. Its wages are measured in lives lost and territory gained. His heroes shoulder their rifles and vanquish their enemies in pools of their own blood. A Christian nation of local, artisanal economies blooms in a Jeffersonian spirit of revitalization. It’s a chilling read, the Minecraft meme brought to life.
But it is in this latter reversion to classic military confrontation where Lind’s map loses touch with the territory we are actually living in. We are not in a war that accommodates armed conflict, nor should we want it to. Let me repeat that for the minders reading this: violence, kids, is not the answer to our current problems.
Rather, some have speculated that what we are living through now is better described as 5th Generation war. A fifth-generation war is one where the ambiguity stands, even more so, but is never quite so manifestly resolved. (This Twitter thread from last October by anon user Reality Gamer provides a useful summary of the concept.)
This war, if we are to adopt the model, which I believe we should — and for which there is much compelling evidence — is fought almost exclusively over ideas. As in Lind’s concept, everything is indistinct, everything is abstracted right up to the point of nonexistence. War and peace, civilian and combatant, battlefield and neutral territory all collapse in a morass of ever-present meta-conflict. The conceptual boundaries between debate, activism, and terrorism are themselves the site of primary engagement. What matters is not who controls the streets in the wake of a clash of forces, but he who decides that the clashes are “mostly peaceful” and their own soldiers just an “idea.”
That is, it is a war over narrative control. Instead of armed battalions, it’s a loose affiliation of entrenched interests — deep-state operatives, media conglomerates, NGOs, lawfare apparatchiks, academics, the many-sided face of globohomo — controlling information networks to shore up their resources and guard against whoever they identify as a threat. These threats and the methods to neutralize them never have to be explicitly stated or shared across the network. In fact, it is better if they aren’t. It obviates the problem of what Edward Luttwak calls the “paradoxical logic of strategy.” Instead, the system, like a black box AI, manages its agenda according to its own hidden processes.
And what is this agenda exactly? To enforce the conditions of consent.
As Darren Beattie has usefully noted, while this agenda has always been in place, the orientation of the propagandists has moved from a persuasion model of consent to a coercion model. In the Before-Times, the pre-history of the Current Year, our consent depended at least on the illusion of private agency. It is true that our televisual masters constructed the shallow fantasies that may have constrained our political vocabulary, and also constructed the stage where these fantasies were managed, but the old propaganda model still allowed for, and even depended upon its audience’s free will to choose the master’s fantasies over alternative ones. There existed, even within the narrowing arena of official knowledge and belief, the collision of competing logics, of competing attitudes and points of view that in their confrontations, however manipulated, however asymmetrical the rules governing these confrontations, could produce a plurality of potential outcomes. The egregore may have been led to water, but it was not yet programmed to drink.
What we are experiencing now is something quite different, the regime on war-footing, no longer confident enough in its own legitimacy to dare put that legitimacy to test. And as is the case for all regimes in such a weakened, sclerotic state, though the strategies and tactics are more diffuse and perhaps less blunt than in eras past, we are treated to the same predictable response: crush dissent, flatten and homogenize the culture, divide and alienate the population from one another, declare a monopoly not just on knowledge and belief, but on the asking of questions themselves. Vaclav Havel, writing on the withering Communist regime of his native Czechoslovakia, described this final desperate effort to coerce the population into consent as the “nihilization of life.”
It’s as apt for our own time as it was for Havel. Consider their broadsides against our cultural past. Consider what they have done to the story we tell about ourselves as Americans. “The story was destroyed,” Havel wrote:
“History was replaced by a kind of pseudo-history… by the kind of artificial activity that is not an open-ended play of agents confronting one-another, but a one-dimensional, transparent, predictable self-manifestation (and self-celebration) of a single, central agent of truth and power.”
This is what they hope to achieve with the Year Zero event of January 6th, and what we cannot let them.
Forming the Resistance
When vast swaths of non-compliant Americans are declared domestic insurgents, it behooves us to conduct ourselves accordingly. This is not to say that whatever might broadly be called the ‘Dissident Right’ ought to assume a defensive crouch, or retreat into passive quietism until the regime exhausts itself. Though we may be in the midst of a 5th Generation war, some of the old rules still apply, and the insurgent, however diminished, however outgunned — metaphorically, of course — has certain advantages he can make use of.
Another war historian, David Gallula, describing the Cold War spasms breaking apart and reforming the global map after World War II, wrote in 1965 what has become the textbook on the nature of insurgencies. Gallula was a man of his time, and most of his examples are superficially outdated, Communist rebels from Greece to North Africa to Southeast Asia asserting themselves with greater and lesser effectiveness throughout the Third World. We are not Communists, and this is not the Cold War, no matter how much our State Department might wish it were so. Nonetheless, Gallula provides a few key insights that broadly apply to our fight, and that we ought to keep in mind as we ask the question of what comes next.
To begin, the site of contestation in the 5th Generation war against our decrepit regime is not firstly the halls of power, certainly not the Capitol building, and not even really the formal political arena at all. Borrowing from Yarvin, I’d echo that Republican electoral victories are not sufficient for breaking the regime until the Republican candidate sees himself as an outsider prepared to tell the regime that it must submit. Still, contra Yarvin, winning political fights is good, where we can get them, and there are ways of engaging in local politics, especially, that may achieve certain desired effects. But ultimately, political victories are downstream of a more fundamental fight, which is winning the support of what Gullala coarsely calls “the population.”
To put it in more accessible terms, the right will win if and only if it can infiltrate the mind of the ‘normie’ and exterminate the parasitic brainworms sucking the life from his better judgment and the resolve to do anything about his rapidly declining prospects.
His relative material comfort, despite the economic headwinds brought on by Corona and the ongoing outflow of resources from the middle-class, make this a difficult, though not impossible sell. The normie must be prodded. The normie must be pulled along. The normie must be given the opportunity and incentive to cross the rubicon into what for him is forbidden, and potentially hostile, intellectual and moral territory. He must be granted the license to self-consciously rebuke the epistemic authorities and expert class he has for a lifetime been conditioned to trust with his self-understanding.
That is, the normie must be given a cause. This cause must exist outside the political paradigm within which he has been accustomed to understanding these conflicts. Scott Alexander is not entirely wrong to propose that Republicans wage a “class conflict” against the strata of elite sense-makers who despise them. It is indeed a righteous cause, and an effective message. He is wrong however that Republicans, as such, ought to do this. No. This is not a partisan conflict against Democrats — though there is much overlap. This is a conflict of insurgents against a failing regime. That is the way it must be framed and its campaigns prosecuted.
I am cautiously optimistic that Americans understand this cause and the nature of their enemy instinctively. There is no denying the rot at the heart of American life, of Western life. There is no denying the ever-presence of the bugman and his sickly designs for us. The energy leaking out against this is everywhere in sight. However misdirected, however frenetic and decoupled from meaningful objectives, a spirit of disobedience obtains. They feel the quickening incursion of the public life into the private, no doubt accelerated by Zoom World and the bright eye of our screens watching and recording our every thought. Americans can feel caught in a straightjacket of preference falsification and coercive moral decrees, the stiltifying HRization of their inner universe. What a bleak and limited existence!
And where they can’t feel it, we must guide them. We must articulate the shape of the enemy so he can see and understand its character. Human life versus pod life. This is an easy choice, but only once you understand it as the nature of the proposition before you.
Finally, as Gullala observes, an insurgent movement in its infancy is necessarily small. It is necessarily weak. It needs time to build. It cannot on day one confront the regime on its turf and presume to use the regime’s own weapons against it. Again, this is not to advocate for quietism, but rather to recognize the limited usefulness of operating within the domains of social and political activity the regime already controls. You are not going to take back the universities or Hollywood or the news desk. Infiltrate these places and expose them for what they are, but to destroy them rather than to save them.
Before anything else, we must build a culture of our own. Any meaningful insurgency will be downstream from its capacity to imagine. Direct action politics will flail and follow, rather than lead, if it is not tethered to the kind of self-understanding that can only be achieved through art. The regime understands this, if only intuitively, and the ban waves and censorship are an attempt to tear apart the communities where this art can be cultivated and shared. But they are not yet omnipresent. They have not yet, as in Havel’s Czechoslovakia, managed to altogether “nihilize life.” There are cracks still to penetrate. There is, deep in the American soul, a resilience that is not yet extinguished. Build the communities, forge the relationships, online and off, where this resilience can manifest and triumph over the enemy and its machines.
This is how we win.