The 21st century’s fiercest conflicts are rural – urban culture wars. Everywhere, including America.

Summary: One fascinating aspect of globalization is reading descriptions of social dynamics in China or Pakistan, and realizing that this applies as well to America. It is one world. That’s good news, giving us a wider range of solutions to learn from — and even borrow. Also, seeing this commonality helps disprove our delusion of exceptionalism. Today we look at one example: the rural – urban culture wars.

"American Gothic" by Grant DeVolson Wood
“American Gothic” by Grant Wood (1931)


From the opening of Hadji Murat, Tolstoy’s last novel (1917); pdf here:

I gathered myself a large nosegay and was going home when I noticed in a ditch, in full bloom, a beautiful thistle plant of the crimson variety … Thinking to pick this thistle and put it in the center of my nosegay, I climbed down into the ditch, and … set to work to pluck the flower.

But this proved a very difficult task. Not only did the stalk prick on every side — even through the handkerchief I wrapped around my hand — but it was so tough that I had to struggle with it for nearly 5 minutes, breaking the fibers one by one; and when I had at last plucked it, the stalk was all frayed and the flower itself no longer seemed so fresh and beautiful. Moreover, owing to a coarseness and stiffness, it did not seem in place among the delicate blossoms of my nosegay.

I threw it away feeling sorry to have vainly destroyed a flower that looked beautiful in its proper place. “But what energy and tenacity! With what determination it defended itself, and how dearly it sold its life!”

Here is an excerpt from an essential article to read about our mad Long War, with insights for both US domestic affairs and our foreign policy: “Terror: The Hidden Source“, Malise Ruthven, New York Review of Books, 24 October 2013 — A review of The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam by Akbar Ahmed.

Rather than exploiting the denizens of “remote tribal regions” as Obama’s speech proclaimed, the terrorist activities associated with al-Qaeda and its affiliates are actively engaging the responses of tribal peoples (the thistles of Tolstoy’s metaphor) whose cultures are facing destruction from the forces of modern society — including national governments — currently led by the United States.

In this, as in numerous other settings, Ahmed puts his finger on the crucial linkage connecting the localisms of tribal conflicts with the broader Islamic notion of global jihad. His theme is not some vaguely defined “clash of civilizations” but rather the clash between metropolitan centers and rural peripheries that is internal to all modern civilizations—whether these be Islamic, Western, Russian, or Chinese. He provides numerous examples to show that the “thistles” of Tolstoy’s metaphor are to be found in a wide variety of regions, including Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Pakistan’s northwest frontier, as well as Berber North Africa, Nigeria, and Aceh in Indonesia.

Ahmed produces an impressive body of data to support his argument that tribal systems are coming under attack everywhere from the forces of the modernizing state. With regard to Waziristan, for example, where he served as a Pakistani political agent before entering academic life, he finds that

every aspect of life — religious… and political leadership, customs, and codes — is in danger of being turned upside down. The particles that formed the kaleidoscope of history and remained stationary for so long have now been shaken about in bewildering patterns, with no telling when and how they will settle into some recognizable forms.

Same analysis, but applied to America

This analysis applies quite well to the culture wars in America, to a large extent a result of the widening gulf between rural and urban populations. Tweaked, Ruthven’s article could read as an article about the Tea Party: a vain attempt to retain power by a cultural besieged and fading group.


Two cultures in the 21st century
One society with two cultures: not a new problem

(a)  Rural culture is dying. The culture wars are to a large extent fought across rural – urban boundaries, and the conservatives are losing. Gay marriage being the latest battle. Hunting is becoming less popular.

(b)  Many rural communities are dying. Literally, as their residents age and their young move to cities. From “Population Losses Mount in U.S. Rural Areas“, Mark Mather, Population Reference Bureau, March 2008:

Many rural communities, particularly in the Midwest, have been losing population for decades and are on the brink of extinction.

The Economic Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture attributes population loss in rural areas to declines in farming and other rural industries, high poverty rates, lack of services, and — in some areas — a lack of natural amenities such as warm winters, forests, or lakes. The fact that most out-migrants are of reproductive age compounds the problem, because it means that fewer babies are being born to replace the aging population. Of the 1,346 counties that shrank in population between 2000 and 2007, 85% are located outside of metropolitan areas, and 59% rely heavily on farming, manufacturing, or mining.

This trend has accelerated since 2008 per an analysis of US Census Bureau data through July 2012 by the Department of Agriculture.

(c)  Partisan divisions are increasingly urban-rural instead of regional

See “Red State, Blue City: How the Urban-Rural Divide Is Splitting America“, Josh Kron, The Atlantic, 30 November 2012. Also see these maps of 2012 election results by county from website of Robert Vanderbai (Prof Operations Research, Princeton):

Election 2012 - by country
From website of Professor Robert Vanderbai, Princeton

Same data, a more dramatic perspective:

Election 2012 - by county
From website of Professor Robert Vanderbai, Princeton

For More Information

About motives of jihadists:

  1. How I learned to stop worrying and love Fourth Generation War. We can win at this game.
  2. We are the attackers in the Clash of Civilizations. We’re winning.
  3. Handicapping the clash of civilizations: bet on America to win

  The way many rural conservatives see the world

Cross and flag



48 thoughts on “The 21st century’s fiercest conflicts are rural – urban culture wars. Everywhere, including America.”

  1. Pingback: The 21st century’s fiercest conflicts are rural – urban culture wars. Everywhere, including America. - Global Dissident

  2. Read Mike Davis, _Planet of Slums_.

    Davis describes in great detail the slums surrounding 3rd World mega cities, in which now live more than 1 billion people. This is a situation unprecedented in human history.
    According to the united nations, more than one billion people now live in the slums of the cities of the South. In this brilliant and ambitious book, Mike Davis explores the future of a radically unequal and explosively unstable urban world. From the sprawling barricadas of Lima to the garbage hills of Manila, urbanization has been disconnected from industrialization, and even from economic growth. Davis portrays a vast humanity warehoused in shantytowns and exiled from the formal world economy. He argues that the rise of this informal urban proletariat is a wholly unforeseen development, and asks whether the great slums, as a terrified Victorian middle class once imagined, are volcanoes waiting to erupt.


    1. Duncan,

      Thanks for the mention of this. How these cauldrons evolve will determine the fate of many nations.

      That China has minimized the growth of these — with its brutal migration control mechanisms — not only might pay off big for them, but also shows their fitness to be a 21st century superpower. Willingness to take harsh but necessary steps for long-term survival.

      I believe their one-child policy will be seen in same way, eventually.

    2. It is still way too early to determine the various costs and benefits of the one child policy. I think that the demographic costs (ie, way too few workers to support the retirees) is going to be a much better cost than some think, but it’s too early to tell.

      1. Brian,

        “It is still way too early to determine the various costs and benefits of the one child policy.”

        Agree! The 21st century has many surprises in store for us, so predictions are difficult.

        “I think that the demographic costs (ie, way too few workers to support the retirees) is going to be a much better cost than some think, but it’s too early to tell.”

        Nicely said, and most experts agree with you. Two offsetting factors:

        (1) The effects of environmental collapse would also be unpleasant, and letting the population grow to 2 billion (the likely result if the one-child policy was not adopted in 1979) would have made this quite likely. Even with their lower population, they’re suffering from severe urban pollution.

        (2) My guess is that we are starting another wave of automation. Like the previous two that means a massive increase in productivity — and unemployment. Now economists see a rising population as a boost to national income. During this period the opposite might be the case. Flat or even falling population (e.g., Japan) might make the robot revolution much easier.

    3. China’s solution to the urban vs rural dynamic is simply to have everyone move into the cities.
      And more, whereas such a massive urban migration (hundreds of millions of people) might normally lead to equally massive slums, China is actually taking active steps to make sure that a decent standard of housing and infrastructure awaits many of these migrants.

      Some of you may have seen the article in The Economist, saying that the Chinese government is planning to spend billions of dollars building millions of new housing units in the short term, according to a specific plan:

      I wonder what might happen if the USA decided to make urbanization and affordable housing a priority, rather than the current system that seems to favor the opposite?

      1. Todd,

        “China’s solution to the urban vs rural dynamic is simply to have everyone move into the cities.”

        That is every emerging nations’ plan.

        China is different in that they rigorously control the process. This throttle allows time to build the urban infrastructure — including jobs — to prevent the massive slums that ring third world cities.

        Also, their demographic bust coming will help provide jobs for the next waves of migrants. They have already passed the Lewis Point, which makes the migration easier to handle — and produces a new set of challenges.

  3. Thank you for posting a link to the book review FM. It is a valuable read. I agree with it entirely. Indeed, it has left me quite astonished, for Mr. Akbad argues the exact same contention I argued earlier this week:

    Radical Islamic Terrorism in Context, pt I” and “Radical Islamic Terrorism in Context, pt II

    T. Greer. The Scholar’s Stage. 9 &10 October 2013.

    Anthropologist Philip Salzman has also written many times on this theme. Those who wish to understand the way tribal identities super charge politics across the Middle East should read some of his work:

    Philip Salzman. “Why the Middle East is the Way it Is.” The Hedgehog Review. Vol. 13 (3). Fall 2011. and

    “The Middle East’s tribal DNA”. The Middle East Quarterly. Vol. 15 (1). Winter 2008. p. 23-33.

  4. I have been thinking about this situation more lately regarding how/what Adam Smith wrote. I think the result of unemployment in his day was: “back to subsistence farming” (or living with relatives/church members some of whom were farmers and some of whom worked).

    Fast forward to urban living today. If you are unemployed, what are your choices? Subsistence farming isn’t one of them. Therefore, some of the basic assumptions of micro-economic capitalism are not valid (my guess). Thus urban slums are very depressed places to be most of the time.

    Note: I am basically a libertarian/conservative, so I believe that many of the assumptions of Smith’s framework are “must haves” for a civilized society: voluntary exchange, economic specialization, etc.

    We need to figure out how to fix the problems that unemployment causes in modern economies. I don’t think it’s entitlement handouts.

    Good luck to us all.

    1. wkevinw,

      That’s out of the box thinking!

      As for the future, I think the next industrial revolution — the smart, or semi-intelligent, machines — will transform many of these questions. Lots and lots of unemployment, combined with rising productivity. This could be wonderful, if we manage it well. Otherwise …

    2. The unemployed, the homeless, I see them every day, err, every day I go to work. They’re sleeping in the stations. I come in just around 7:15 and this is about the exact time that the police come in to tell all the sleeping people that they have to move or get arrested. On the way back home they ask for money — rather than looking away, I look them in the eye and say no. Really I’m just greedy, I want all my money for me. On Saturdays I drive by the Glide church on the way to the Buddhist temple where my Japanese class is held, and there’s a huge line, around the block — I think people are waiting to get food there. My friend works at the library and he deals with all sorts — told me a homeless guy comes by still wearing his military fatigues, he’s pushing around a cart of broken garbage. He makes some noise and they kick him out. I suspect maybe a brain injury from the wars.

      This is what people do. They live on the streets, they sleep in the libraries or the transit stations, the pee and poop in the escalators and elevators. They beg for money. It’s not good. Someday we’ll get a Tuberculosis epidemic or something like that in NY City, and then maybe the government will devise new means to punish everyone. That’s the usual pattern — wait for disaster, then argue over who to punish first.

    3. Speaking of subsistence farming:

      According to Mike Davis, it is the Green Revolution that is forcing peasant baaed farmers out of the countryside into the mega slums. It is that, rather than any attraction ( How do you keep ’em down on the farm after they have seen Gay Paris type thing ) that is the factor here.

      And that gets us into all sorts of things – like how derivatives affect food prices.

      1. Duncan,

        “it is the Green Revolution that is forcing peasant baaed farmers out of the countryside into the mega slums.”

        This happened to the West starting in the late 19th century, as agriculture mechanized. Attributing this to the “green revolution” seems quite daft.

      2. “like how derivatives affect food prices.”

        Not at all, in terms of long-term price levels. Speculators play a large role in short-term food prices — going back to Joseph in Egypt, Genesis 41 — affecting their volatility, but not their long-term level. Do speculators increase or decrease price volatility? Yes. It depends on the circumstances, and varies over time.

        Attributing evil effects to the mysterious doings of speculators — “derivatives” magic! — is also ancient.

    4. Fabius:

      Yes, this does trace back to 19th century futures. As do all our “complex financial instruments,” actually.

      But these are futures on steroids. The book, _Bet the Farm_, is a good introduction:
      From Booklist
      Much has been made of the organic, local, and slow-food movements, but when it comes to feeding seven-billion people, these laudable efforts represent a small fraction of the food supply. Food has become in effect a type of currency, and the universal currency of food is pizza. Kaufman deconstructs a Domino’s pizza, tracing it back to the soil to find out how the massive quantities of wheat, tomatoes, meat (pepperoni), and milk (cheese) in it are produced. Surprisingly, he discovers a different movement of sorts, a sustainability movement being undertaken by the likes of industry giants Unilever, Tyson Foods, and the nation’s largest grocer, Walmart, a company that has taken a proactive stance on the ecological impact of its products. At the Ohio State University’s experimental research station, Kaufman considers the pros and cons of genetically modified food in a world in which new organisms are treated as intellectual property. These examinations lead us on a quest to discover why, in a world of food surpluses, a billion people still go hungry every day as food becomes increasingly globalized, industrialized, and commoditized. –David Siegfried
      From the Inside Flap

      In the last half decade, the world has seen two devastating spikes in the price of food, and a third may be on the way. In 2008 and 2010, farmers gathered record wheat harvests, yet more people starved than ever before—and most of them were farmers. How is that possible?

      In Bet the Farm, Harper’s magazine contributing editor Frederick Kaufman investigates the hidden connection between global food and global finance by asking the simple question: Why can’t delicious, inexpensive, and healthy food be available to everyone on Earth?

      You will find his discoveries shocking.

      Like a detective intent on solving a mystery, Kaufman travels from the corporate headquarters of Domino’s Pizza and Tyson Foods to Walmart’s sustainability research center, to mega-farms and organic farms and numerous genetic modification laboratories. Kaufman goes to Rome to the meeting of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and finally ends up on Wall Street and the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where he discovers the answer to the riddle. His investigation reveals that money pouring into the global derivatives market in grain futures is having astonishing consequences that reach far beyond your dinner table, including the Arab Spring, bankrupt farmers, starving masses, and armies of scientists creating new GMO foods with U.S. marketing and shipping needs in mind instead of global nutrition.

      Our food is getting less healthy, less delicious, and more expensive even as the world’s biggest food companies and food scientists say things are better than ever and that the rest of us should leave it to them to feed the world. Readers of Bet the Farm will glimpse the power behind global food and understand what truly supports the system that has brought mass misery to our planet.

      1. Duncan,

        No doubt this guy will sell lots of books, but this is just silly:

        “Our food is getting less healthy, less delicious, and more expensive even as the world’s biggest food companies and food scientists say things are better than ever and that the rest of us should leave it to them to feed the world.”

        Americans are sold junk food because they like junk food. Food quality is very high, far so than a century ago (a Christmas feast on a Duke’s table in Victorian England would be condemned today). Fresh veggies and such are available in America for those who want it. People buy highly processed prepared foods because they want the taste and ease of preparation. You and others might disagree, but although our language (and many other aspects) is monitored and standards enforced by the politically correct mob, we do not yet have a Food Gestapo.

        As for “more expensive than ever”, food prices — basics, unprocessed — have seldom been cheaper. They’re much cheaper than in the 1970s. There were perfectly good reasons for the spikes in 2008 and 2010, and neither of these was unusual in history. On the FM Reference Page about food are links to posts and external sources disproving much of this nonsense.

    5. Fabius, you obviously haven’t read the book – and concededly there are many books to read and perhaps the above blurb isn’t good enough of a descriptor – but there’s lots more to this book than your brush off would allow.

      There is a massive, integrated food system that is – for example – affecting, for example, how tomatoes are grown in Ghana ( with disruption of peasant lifestyles of the sort which we have previously noted. )

      All of this is tied in with the increasingly complex commodities market.

      Please note that I was only discussing food; your comment about Food Gestapo, rather, was barf.

      1. Duncan,

        I did not claim to have read the book, and I know nothing about how tomatoes are grown in Ghana. I gave a quote from the blurb you provided, and said it was false on several levels. And pointed to a page with a wealth of evidence, from multiple authoritative sources, for evidence.

        That does not mean the rest of the book is wrong. It means that one claim from the blurb is incorrect. IMO, this suggests that the book should be read with caution.

    6. The important point is that this book helps explain an integrated system of agriculture, food production and commodities finance.

      This integrated system is having a tremendous impact on rural systems, including those in Africa and elsewhere in the Third World.

      Although this book, itself, does not explore this issue, this impact, in turn, relates to the push Mike Davis describes that is causing so many people to leave traditional rural communities for megacity slums.

      It is this framework which is important.

      1. Duncan,

        I agree, all of those are important subjects. Much as Europe’s diseases reshaped much of the world’s population following first contact, our economic and political systems are reshaping their social fabric today.


      A very good article with lots of data about working poor. Essentially it is “workfare”. I am sure this confuses both the socialist and capitalist extremists. I don’t particularly like it (working people also on public assistance-leads to cost and incentive shifting, therefore economic inefficiency).

      I don’t have a better idea of how to fix this, however.

      1. wkevinw,

        Thanks for the reference to the Testosterone Pit, Wolf Richter’s website. A bright guy, interesting material.

        The article you mention, about the Fast Food Nation study, is IMO very important and well-worth reading.

  5. In addition to Davis’ “Planet of Slums,” there is Robert Neuwirth’s “Shadow Cities, A Billion Squatters, a New Urban World.”

    This underscores major accomplishments and deficiencies of the new urban life. On the one hand, we have bountiful food from a “green revolution” borne from science and corporate based agriculture with modern equipment, chemical based growing & bio-engineering. On the other hand, little thought to over population, resource management & depletion of resources with this population explosion that drives this shift to living in cities. The latterindicates an arrogant inattentiveness to the big picture.

    The ability to bring energy to a focused use is with the urban centers, which means they will dominate and disrupt the rural areas and populations. The aboriginal Native Americans were doomed because of their inability to muster as much energy as the European settlers.

    Further, today’s young heroine, Malala, represents a real threat to both Pakistan’s and the Islamic world’s rural order. Her city-based learning brings in a competing knowledge base that replaces the exiting rural/village culture. Moreover, her new city-based knowledge frees her from the rural/village economic system where she would have been a beast of burden. In both instances, the local power elite is supplanted.

    As we are seeing and as you point out, the contrast between rural and urban is a violent one.

    Energy, in many forms and uses, is on the side of the urbanites. But, the city folk’s inability to deal with substantive logistical problems driven by over population is a real concern. Most won’t listen until there is a real crisis like declining oil production, fresh water depletion, impactful desertification and/or absence of buffer areas to handle waste management.

  6. Fabius Maxius-China’s biggest tool for preventing slums was township and village enterprises and building housing for migrants. No country has faced its level of urban migration.
    The migration control mechanism has been greatly relaxed. But the changes in farm ownership (household responsibility system) meant a lot of surplus labor. The TVEs absorbed most of them. Rest went to cities. Now the issue is to give migrants equal rights to local residents and that too is happening. China always experimentns and experiments in that regard has taken place in different cities.
    “In most parts of the developing world, the urbanization process has been dominated by rural–urban migration and the growth of existing cities. However, case-studies in China’s Fujian Province suggest that this process can also be achieved mainly by in situ transformation in rural areas. Such in situ transformation of rural areas has been driven mainly by two forces, the development of township and village enterprises (TVEs) and the inflow of foreign investment; and facilitated by the relevant policies adopted by the Chinese government since 1978. The former has been very effective in the transformation of rural employment structure, while the latter has brought many physical changes to the previously rural landscape. Being mutually complementary, these two ways of rural transformation have not only benefited and urbanized the rural areas, but kept many farmers in their hometowns, replacing the dominant role of rural–urban migration and the growth of existing cities in the urbanization process.”
    In Situ Urbanization in Rural China: Case Studies from Fujian Province
    For the migrants:
    China urban slum strategy: Can it be a role model for Bangladesh

  7. And then there is the urban agriculture movement that is brought on by the decay of older urban areas. As cities become the owners of vacant properties many of them encourage community gardens. Sort of the cycle of life – what goes around comes around.

    So what happens as cities bring rural into the city? Not saying there is not a problem but there are some looking for a solution.

  8. Not sure about this. 19th century England is really the model for the whole world, since aristocracy is the natural order of things and egalitarian democracy is just a passing phenomenon. The Tory base was the rural landlords, plus the so-called “dependents of the classes” meaning the gameskeepers, butlers, hired hands and others who identified with the landlords. But the Tories had no problems making alliances with the urban capitalists. The Liberals were simply a hodgepodge of enlightened landlords/capitalists, who saw giving better wages and working conditions to the lower classes as a way to avoid revolution. In other words, the conflicts in 19th century England were rich-rich, and any rural-urban slant was purely coincidental.

    Revolution was possible in the 19th century, recall, because cheap hunting rifles made guerrillas the equal of a regular army, as long as they fought guerrilla style on land (thus neutralizing artillery and navy). This is why the Afghans of the 19th century could fight off the mighty Russian and British empires. But the regular army of today has weapons that could easily crush any guerrilla army, and the disparity is getting bigger by the year. The only reason the US fails to control Afghanistan is we are fighting with both hands tied behind our back. If we fought Biblical style (kill everything that moves in Jericho, kill all the males rape all the females for other cities), we could bring about peace very quickly.

    As I see it, the Republicans (and Conservatives in most countries) represent the rich who correctly see that revolution is not longer to be feared and thus all the giveaways to the poor and middle-class can be taken back. That the rural poor ally themselves with the Republicans is a matter of chance–the Republicans certainly are doing nothing to help the rural poor and middle-class. The ultimate victory of the Republicans is inevitable, because technology is on their side. Regular armies controlled by the elite (drone armies in the future) can easily crush guerrilla armies of the poor and middle-class, and physical force is the ultimate determinant of any conflict.

    Same thing in the 3rd world. Fifty years ago, the weapons available to the elite in these countries was still mostly just rifles and artillery, and that is insufficient to stop a revolution when the masses can also get their hands on rifles and artillery (abundant in the days of the Cold War, when both US and USSR were ready to subsidize proxy armies). The elite thus were forced into sharing the wealth. Modern weaponry, however, eliminates the threat of revolution. The masses in the 3rd world are being immiserated and THAT is why they are revolting. Yesterday they grasped at Marxism, today they grasp at Al Quada. Grinding poverty matters, not idealogy.

    Immiseration of the masses and creation of an hereditary aristocracy for the elite is inevitable everywhere, barring some new developments in military technology that even the odds.

    1. Frank,

      I think your analysis is sensible, but based on specific and non-consensus use of the terms “aristocracy” and “revolution”.

      Since the development of large societies (beyond tribes and chiefdoms), democracy is rare. But aristocracies are just one of many possible systems.

      As for revolution, the example you give is of a local State fighting off an occupier. That is not common, but occurs in history going back the the Maccabees of Israel breaking free of the Seleucid Empire in 164bc. The many anti-colonial wars of the post-WW2 era are examples of these.

      Real successful revolutions, people overthrowing the ruling political regime, are rare — and almost always are one element of the ruling elites fighting against the central government, usually with their preexisting military forces (e.g., the English a Civil War), or taking control of a piece of the existing army (e.g., the American civil war) — sometimes with foreign help.

      The kind you are, I believe, are like American and a French revolutions. Successes like these are fantastically rare.

    2. Frank,

      A follow-up note: In the classical world they were well aware of the many different kinds of governments. Even today their work provides a useful starting point:

      Here then, so to speak, are opened the very springs and fountains of revolution; and hence arise two sorts of changes in governments; the one affecting the constitution, when men seek to change from an existing form into some other, for example, from democracy into oligarchy, and from oligarchy into democracy, or from either of them into constitutional government or aristocracy, and conversely; the other not affecting the constitution, when, without disturbing the form of government, whether oligarchy, or monarchy, or any other, they try to get the administration into their own hands.

      Perhaps we are following something like Polybius’sequence of anacyclosis: Monarchy, Tyranny, Aristocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Ochlocracy (mob rule). While the sequence varies, the broad pattern is ancient.

    3. I would combine aristocracy with oligarchy, democracy with ochlocracy, monarchy with tyranny. Monarchy/tyranny is a particularly unstable system and usually transitions to something like aristocracy after the first generation. Thus the tyranny under Stalin transitioned to a poorly managed aristocracy afterwards (the nomeklatura of the communist party). North Korea is surely an aristocracy/oligarchy at this point. If Dear Leader does anything to threaten his generals, Dear Leader will surely die and be replaced by a new Dear Leader. Democracy/ochlocracy is also usually unstable, outside of small tribes, because some people ultimately have to be in charge of things and those people will naturally tend to form an aristocracy. Only in periods like the 19th and early 20th centuries, when revolution was a real possibility, is democracy more stable than aristocracy (and even then, there was/is usually an aristocracy of some sort behind the facade of egalitarian democracy).

      A stable aristocracy allows natural leaders to rise from the lower classes, based on merit, thus depriving the lower classes of leaders, and allows passing on some but not all privileges/wealth/power of the current aristocrats to their offspring, so that the ruling class will be constantly reinvigorated with new natural leaders and purged of wastrel incompetents, and thus will remain strong. Britain and the United States are examples of very stable aristocracies. Unstable aristocracies fail to allow new blood in and/or to purge incompetents. This is what happened in old regime France, Russia under the czars, Venice, etc.

      The example I cited of the Afghans was just to show how deadly rifles could be in the 19th century. Read Churchill’s “The Malakand Field Force” (at for details. But even in flatland Europe, rifles could wreck havoc in the 19th century. True, few of the revolutions of the 19th century in Europe were successful at establishing a new form of government, but even failed revolutions and other uprisings weakened states sufficiently to allow invasion by outsiders. Once the aristocrats realized this, they began to cede a great deal of power and wealth the poor and middle-class so as to remove the impetus for revolutions.

      Another point against the rural-urban divide. In the Progressive era in the United States (around 1900) and again in the Depression (1932), rural farmers and urban masses were united against the elites (small-town and big-city). The split was thus clearly rich-poor, not rural-urban. Nowadays, most of the rich elite in places like the Arab world, subsaharan Africa, India, China live in big cities, whereas everyone in the rural areas is poor. However, there are also many poor in big cities in those countries, and any future conflicts will be rich-poor, not rural-urban.

    4. Frank, with all due respects, the United States retreats defeated from both Afghanistan and Iraq. These are the actual facts.

      Defeated armies are not superior, they are inferior.

      And it would behoove the American military to learn from its mistakes rather than to repeat them. Otherwise, it will doubtlessly encounter further defeats.

      1. I agree with Duncan. The US military is configured to fight WW2 or WW3 — wars past or future — but not the wars of our time. 4GW is the dominant form of war today, and the US military does not have a clue how to win such a war (although many individuals in it well understand 4GW, but they’re not running DoD).

    5. Duncan: The United States never really fought seriously in Afghanistan or Iraq. Is this actual fact too hard for you to understand? Did we try the old decimation technique: line up all the males and kill every tenth man, repeating over and over until we get submission? The main reason we were in Afghanistan in the first place was to show we were tough, which is high-school-level thinking, but we couldn’t be too tough or we’d alienate our Allies (Europeans, Japan, etc). Both victory and defeat are meaningless when you are acting at this high-school-level. You could even argue that the whole purpose of invading Afghanistan was to get a bunch of US soldiers killed so we could then prove to everyone that we have big cojones and aren’t afraid to get hurt. Really juvenile. (As for the goal of preventing terrorist attacks on US soil, there were and are vastly more effective ways to accomplish that than invading Afghanistan.) Iraq was even more idiotic. I still don’t know why we invaded there, other than perhaps so GWB could show he had bigger cojones than his dad. Certainly Iraq was not about oil, since we already had a big presence in south Iraq from the first gulf war and thus had control of the oil there.

      The right way to fight wars of our time, in case it isn’t obvious, is to NOT fight them. Instead, give weapons to the enemies of our enemies (and there are always some of these around) and let them do most of the fighting for us, with our own forces only stepping in occasionally to turn the tide of battle. What happened in Libya recently, for example. Looking back at Korea, this hands-off approach wouldn’t have worked, because our weaponry wasn’t that much better than what the enemy had. But it would have been the right way to go in Vietnam. The south Vietnamese would have lost, had we followed this strategy, due to their corrupt and incompetent leadership, but so what? That would have offered a fine lesson to other countries threatened by communist takeover to get their leadership in order or else suffer under communist rule. As it is, we sent the message that would we do all the fighting and bleeding ourselves, which was an idiotic message to send. We’re lucky the Soviet Union and China were both weakened due to economic mismanagement so that there were no consequences to our Vietnam stupidity. It seems to me we HAVE learned how to fight 4GW–the Libyan approach.

      No argument that the military is bloated with weapons to fight WWII and the Cold War all over again.

      1. Frank,

        “Duncan: The United States never really fought seriously in Afghanistan or Iraq. Is this actual fact too hard for you to understand? ”

        Duncan is correct. Since WW2 foreign armies have fought scores of local insurgencies. Some lightly, sometimes fiercely. It does not matter. Except for a few special cases they always lose.

        There are dozens of posts explaining this on the FM website, citing the large professional literature. See the FM reference page about Military Strategy.

        It is one of the great propaganda coups in US history that we have fought three major insurgencies, lost all three, and yet theAmerican people know not even the basics of insurgency warfare. You cannot chat on the subway without finding people knowledgable about our tanks, ships, and aircraft — yet do not know their low effectiveness in 4GW.

  9. While I agree in general with your thesis, FM, I need to differ about the Tea Party.

    As you know, I’ve had some dealings with different parts of the organization and I would most definitely not characterize them as “Rural.” They think of themselves as rural and they incorrectly hearken back to the Thomas Jefferson theory of yeoman farmers as the basis for their political philosophy, but they are definitely NOT rural.

    My observations of a limited pool of Tea Party members is that:
    – They, in general are better educated than the average American and many of them have very high incomes
    – The high income people tend to dominate the public discussions because, true to their Ayn Rand roots, the group tends to view superior wealth as a result of superior intelligence and/or capabilities. The possibility of luck, specialized skill, and being born to wealthy parents plays no role in their thinking
    – There are strong tendencies towards being evangelical Christian (although I truly think they’d accept Jews and even clearly non-terrorist white Muslims without many problems), which would have Rand rolling in her grave.

    Less charitable observations are that:
    – They strongly believe that servitude is the natural state of mankind and they tend to think of themselves as the natural ruling class.
    – They believe America is a free country BECAUSE people have to work so many hours to break even. Tea Party members tend to wish that we would abandon the 40 hour work week and the minimum wage so people would have to work more hours to break even. For some reason, they tend to believe that would make people’s minds stronger and make people more free
    – They are overwhelmingly Caucasian, I can’t think of a single non-white in my dealings with the organization but they don’t view themselves as racist and after dealing with them, I kind of believe them but they don’t make sense
    – Most Tea Party members are badly out of touch with the news. A lot watch Fox News but most don’t even bother with that, correctly identifying it as badly biased. They tend to believe the more news you get the less you understand about the current situation. I’ve not been able to get them to rationally explain this to me
    – Most dangerously, they very strongly tend to believe that the Apocalypse is very near and they want to do everything they can to make it happen sooner than later
    – They overwhelmingly favor allowing everybody to own guns and be required to carry and legally use them on people. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard that a Tea Party member with a gun could prevent a mass shooting simply by being there. Based on personal observations, very few Tea Party members who are not already members of the police or military should be allowed to carry guns in non-hunting situations.

    Far too many Tea Party members are, in my opinion, either mentally ill or badly out of touch with reality (not just a broken OODA loop, more like shattered). They are far more likely in a mass shooting to either forget their weapon or pull it out and start shooting in random directions. Or they would cause a mass shooting simply by pulling out their weapon in frustration and start threatening people.

    This leads to my last point about the Tea Party. Although a surprising number are wealthy, they uniformly feel like their back is against the wall and it is time for them to fight or die. Obamacare and what FM would call rational government services (good medical care for all, good roads for all, expanded internet access for all, improved schooling for all) are viewed as literally being signs of the anti-Christ. I know this doesn’t make any sense but it is true of the small communities with which I associate.

    Do not expect the Tea Party to back down in the current budget crisis, they view a government default in a very positive light.

    1. Pluto,

      (1) “I’ve had some dealings with different parts of the organization and I would most definitely not characterize them as ‘Rural.’”

      I value first person evidence, but it works better for some kind of evidence — and not well for others. Demographics of a national group cannot be determined by casual personal observation. Fortunately, we have surveys.

      Who are the Tea Party activists?“, CNN Polling Center, 18 February 2010 — “Activists in the Tea Party movement tend to be male, rural, upscale, and overwhelmingly conservative, according to a new national poll.”

      From the poll results:
      [caption id="attachment_56923" align="aligncenter" width="467"]CNN Poll of Tea Party CNN, 18 February 2010[/caption]

      (2) “Do not expect the Tea Party to back down in the current budget crisis, they view a government default in a very positive light.”

      They are shock troops. Generals do not consult shock troops. They are deployed as needed to change the overall battle. In this case, they are the Overton Window in action — pulling the entire political spectrum to the Right. Successfully. If the right wing of the GOP is destroyed as a result, but the core of the Democratic Party becomes more plutocrat friendly (e.g., Obama signs a grand bargain cutting the core “New Deal” safety net but preserving military spending), they’ll mark it as a win.

    2. Thanks for the input, FM. I’m surprised by the rural count. I would have said that they were most suburb and exurb but I respect your data.

      Visiting a Tea Party meeting is, for me, similar to visiting a Lexus dealership that accepts lots of lower grade trade-ins. I don’t associate luxury vehicles with rural areas (and I grew up in a borderline rural area).

      I understand what you are saying about the Overton Window and I can see why, but the fervor of these shock troops is like nothing I’ve ever directly seen. It far surpasses the overall mood of the anti-Vietnam crowds (caught the tail-end of that conflict, it might have been different in 1968). They have considered the possibility that they might be expendable in the eyes of their leaders and they do NOT like the idea. I cannot say what their response would be if your prediction is accurate but nothing happening seems like the most unlikely scenario at this time.

      My best guess is that they would infiltrate the remnants of Republican Party and turn it into a very unpopular organization (far less moderate than it is now) which would tend to drive the country to the Left.

      From the perspective of the Plutocrats, the Tea Party has turned into a “nuclear option,”. An enormously powerful force but increasingly dangerous to use. These people imagine they have tasted political power and they do not want to be pushed back into the bottle. In many ways they seem to have a lot in common with the pro-government guerrillas in Columbia; on the surface a force in the Plutocrats favor, but a liability in the long run because of their fervor and the methods they use.

      1. Pluto,

        History shows that we cannot reliably predict the evolution of inchoate mass movements. My guess is that the Tea Party movement consists of natural followers. In fact, that’s their chief characteristic IMO. So far they are led by small folks — petty, charlatans, grifters — and the agents of the 1% via their media and organizations. But that could quickly change.

        The good news is that Tea Party consists largely of old folks — not likely activists due to age and all that they have to lose (the opposite of the members of the Freikorps). The bad news is that the good news is wrong (from the CNN poll cited above):
        [caption id="attachment_56929" align="aligncenter" width="446"]CNN Poll of Tea Party: age CNN Poll, 17 February 2010[/caption]

        “My best guess is that they would infiltrate the remnants of Republican Party”

        The odds of that are imo similar to them building an Ark B and traveling to another planet. Unless they get competent leadership. Then all bets are off.

        “From the perspective of the Plutocrats, the Tea Party has turned into a “nuclear option,”. An enormously powerful force but increasingly dangerous to use.”

        I doubt that. So far it has proven quite useful, and easily led. But the Fat Lady has not yet sung. Lots of innings left in this game. This is the primary point of my posts about the age of wonder we’ve entered. In effect we have entered the OZ books. Each chapter is a surprise. Look, flying monkeys!

    3. Tea Party is just another epiphenomena. Unless you are sending big bucks to politicians in exchange for favors, which most of the Tea Party is not doing, participation in politics is irrational. But people with plenty of time and inchoate anger on their hands have to expend that time and energy somehow, and expending it via political involvement is no more irrational than expending it supporting sport teams or whatever. And as with sport teams, it really doesn’t matter which team you support. Just pick a team and scream loudly in their favor and boo loudly against the opponent. The concentration of wealth and income chart shows a steady rise ever since the 1970’s, long before their was any Tea Party. To me, Tea Party members are like those sports fans who pick whichever team is most favored to win the championship as “their” team. The rich are clearly winning, so the Tea Partiers decided to climb on board the bandwagon and celebrate. Never mind that the upper-middle-class is next in line to see their living standards chopped.

      Once American middle class living standards have been knocked down to world standards, which will take another 20 years, the anger will have dissipated and Democrats and Republicans will once again be as similar as Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee, just like back in the 1950’s, except instead of both supporting a New Deal egalitarian society, both will support a vastly more class-stratified society than ever before in American history (something resembling 19th century Britain).

  10. I also think the urban elite are scared to death, especially the government elites. The vets tearing down the fences at the WWII memorial is an example- watch for more of this if things don’t improve in the private economy.

    The elites are generally “non-productive” or COUNTER-productive in today’s economy: government bureaucrats, educational bureaucrats, financial types (e.g. “banksters”), and Hollywood/entertainers- none makes anything of much redeeming value.

    The rural and urban underclass understand this.

    I believe the elites think this makes for a dangerous tinderbox.

    1. “I also think the urban elite are scared to death, especially the government elites.”

      We can only guess about such things. I have heard serious people tell me that with conviction since the late 1960s.

      Tthe current demonstrations are street parties to what we have seen in the past. The endemic race riots, the radical left violence in the 1970s — let alone the far more intense violence before it.

      Oligarchic systems also have low levels of public violence. It allows the proles to vent accumulated stress. Such things are no threat to the regime.

  11. Fascinating article. There exist a number of startling articles out there, mostly in the New York Times, chronciling the depopulation and radical aging of the midwestern United States. In much of the midwest, elementary schools and high schools are shutting down, mom & businesses are closing, and old age homes are merging because of the massive population loss.

    Whenever high schoolers graduate throughout the midwest, they typically leave for one of the coasts, East or West, because there simply aren’t any jobs in the midwest. This leaves an increasingly aging population who feel (correctly) as though their entire way of life is disintegrating. These people were told that they could build a life, have kids, work hard, and they’d thrive. Instead, they discover that the jobs are disappearing, their kids are leaving for either coast as soon as they hit age 18, and their entire way of life is evaporating. Some small midwestern towns have fallen into ruin, getting reclaimed by the plains grasses and wild dogs. And it’s accelerating, as the world economy globalizes.

    This is probably a large part of the rage mentioned in so many GOP polls. These people are watching their entire way of life vanish, and they can’t do anything about it. No wonder they’re incoherent with anger and frustration.

    See articles like:
    “Population loss in cities continues, with ‘black flight’ latest trend,” council of state governments midwest.

    “Three fifths of midwest’s cities are in population doldrums,” The Business Journal.

    “Midwest — and its economy — needs immigration reform,” (an article demonizing immigrants for the midwest’s economic problems, apparently not realizing that globalization is a much larger force, and one that can’t be stopped with simple solutions like erecting a wall on our Southern border), Crain’s Chicago Business Journal.

  12. I’m late to this article and probably no one will read this, but anyway….

    I spent 2 weeks in Kansas this summer attending to aging relatives. Truly a depressing state of affairs everywhere I looked. A small town right off I-70 in the center of Kansas, middle America. In it I found rot and decay and decline of America I didn’t expect. The neighborhood was blocks of old folks, people on disability, drug addicts, stray cats, old pickup trucks held together with bubble gum and bailing wire, surrounded by farm fields and oil rigs and a campground with a resident reindeer. It seemed very bleak. There were few children or young people.

    Everyone lived on some kind of government dole. The farmers, the disabled, the old folks. Most of these people came from local family farms going back 3 or 4 generations to early 20th century homestead land grants. They came from hardy folk who tamed and farmed the prairie. They have nothing left now.

    The farm land has all been sold off to agri-conglomerates. City water has been strictly rationed for the last 2 years. Residents dependent on the municipal water supply have been notified that the water is not drinkable due to agricultural chemical pollution.There are no jobs, no services, and no opportunities. Nobody with any kind of gumption or dreams lives there.

    I thought I was making a trip to the heartland of America and I found myself in rural slum. Many people I talked to were aware that things have gone terribly haywire, but they couldn’t quite put their fingers on what had gone awry and why the they were in such terrible straits, gone right down the toilet in their own lifetimes of 40 or 60 years. I felt sorry for such proud salt-of-the-earth-people, but they didn’t really seem inclined to do anything to alter the situation, it’s like they’re waiting for history to magically right itself back to the way things used to be.

    They didn’t talk about Washington, or Syria, or the NSA, or mortgage fraud, or financial corruption–those things are all a million miles away from their daily reality. They truly had no idea how all of that plays on their lives and has stolen everything they had leaving them stranded with $3.89 gas, no public transportation, no family farm, and no jobs.

    It reminded me greatly of rural Russia (where I have spent some time). Like rural Russia, the few will stay because that what they know how to do, and and the rest will leave while the countryside becomes more and more empty. It’s not a war, there will be no revolution in Kansas, they’re just too worn out trying to survive. It’s not urban vs rural as rural will lose because of the utter dearth of wealth and opportunity and ideas.

    The coming unrest will be urban intellectuals all vying against each other for control of the financial wealth and valuable coastal real estate. Everyone else is going to be collateral damage devastated by the plundering.

    1. gardener1,

      Thanks for your first person account.

      Much of the farming belt is doing well, as a result of high and rising land prices, strong ag prices, and hence low unemployment. Your comment reminds us that not everybody shares in that prosperity.

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