For some time now, the “Fourth Generation War” (4GW) theories of military action advanced by a small circle of writers, including Martin van Creveld, William S. Lind, and John Robb, have gotten attention among high-IQ and forward-thinking people. These theories are far too complex to recount here, and what I’m going to say requires some familiarity with them, so if you aren’t familiar with them (and if you aren’t, you should take the time to make yourself so), you can start with this archive of Mr. Lind’s columns or his current work at TraditionalRight, Mr. van Creveld’s book, and Mr. Robb’s blog. Everyone interested in conflict of any sort in the 21st century should read it.
“Conflict” here is a key word, because a conflict can take the form of a war, or of a political or philosophical conflict, or of an economic conflict, or any combination of the above. The popular historian Dan Carlin once reminded his audience (which includes me) that not every revolution involves guillotines or palaces being stormed. There is a strong case to be made, for example, that the United States has had several revolutions – some violent and some not. 1776 and the ultimately unsuccessful secession movement of 1861 are the obvious, violent ones, but one could say that a revolution came with Roosevelt in 1932, and another one with the social revolution of the 1960s. The hallmark of a revolution is not so much bloodshed as a rapid transformation of a society. Even the people themselves look different on opposite ends of a revolution – look, for example, at pictures of ordinary people in 1963, and again only a decade later in 1973. They don’t look anything alike – as if they were people from two faraway countries, or from time periods a century apart.
So not every revolution involves guillotines, and not every insurrection involves AK-47s. And yet, the rules of successful struggle are defined by the zeitgeist of their times. That is, in fact, exactly what Lind et al. are getting at when they name their theory “Fourth Generation War”. It is the way of conflict in our times, and is shaped by its unique realities. Bringing these ideas together reveals an important insight – that a mildly adjusted version of 4GW theory is, in fact, applicable to any sort of modern conflict.
It is so because, on virtually every level, the zeitgeist of our time is FSD vs. 4GW – Full-Spectrum Dominance vs. Fourth Generation War. On one side are large, institutionalized powers with expensive, complex, high-tech systems that allow them to (at least theoretically) dominate a field of conflict from top to bottom on every level. FSD is the philosophy of the US military, and it is also the philosophy of the cartel of institutions that Mencius Moldbug has named “The Cathedral”. On the other side, you have 4GW: relatively small, loosely-affiliated associations of fighters who use relatively simple and widely-available tools, and who have turned their relative small size and light weight into an advantage in the face of an enemy with a powerful but clumsy and heavy-handed methodology.
The non-mainstream right in this country – and especially the new philosophical insurgents of neoreaction and the Dark Enlightenment – has developed organically into a non-militarized 4GW entity, operating on a philosophical battlefield and battling an opponent that bases its strategy on FSD. This, again, deserves more of an exploration than I can manageably give it here, but let us have a quick overview of it.
The Cathedral (I still wish for a different term to describe it, but this one seems to have caught on) is an unusual FSD opponent in that it does have some 4GW elements to it (it should tell you something about the perceived legitimacy of large established institutions that even the biggest FSD entity of them all prefers to be decentralized). It is not a traditional state, it has no formal organization to it, and its power is distributed and decentralized. It is both stateless and, in its international universalism, operates as a sort of meta-state that transcends borders. And yet its ideological rigidity, its means of idea transmission, and its enforcement methods give it many statelike qualities. Remember, whoever exercises power over you is your de facto government, because their position in your life is on all practical levels indistinguishable from that of a government. And the Cathedral is very powerful indeed – it sets policies, it manufactures public opinion, it ruthlessly punishes offenders, and it makes and breaks leaders in politics, business, and media. Some of this is done via explicit government action, and some is not. The Cathedral is a global cartel that controls multiple organs of power, and can use whichever suits it best when it needs a meme propagated, a rule (formal or not) instituted, or an enforcement action undertaken. In this way, it transcends and surpasses the state – it is even more of a Full-Spectrum Dominance entity than any mere state could ever be.
As for the alternative right as a 4GW entity: yes, much can be said about the manner in which a 4GW entity uses an FSD opponent’s size and strength against it. But perhaps it is more important, in this limited space, to emphasize a few points about the nature of 4GW entities. The first is that the alternative right’s lack of formal organization or centralization is at this point a net positive. FSD entities are very good at destroying point targets and making examples out of the leaders of meaningful opposition groups (as opposed to controlled and/or functionally powerless opposition groups, which FSD entities routinely allow to exist for show). A look at the fates of Wikileaks and its frontman Julian Assange after they ran afoul of the Full-Spectrum Dominance of the American security state should tell one all one needs to know about that. Another important point is that 4GW involves actors who don’t necessarily want to recreate the institutions that they’re fighting (for example, groups like al Quaeda that both are stateless and have no particular ambitions to become a state). It is, in fact, the primary distinguishing feature of the alternative right as a political movement that they have given up on politics as constituted in Western-style democracies. They are not going to vote, or form a political party, and no one among them is going to run for office, nor would they even if they thought they were electable in a mass democracy. Similarly, few wish to capture or take charge of the Cathedral or its branches. Part of this is the understanding that the Cathedral is something like the One Ring – too powerful and terrible to remain in human hands; something that must only be cast into the fires of Mt. Doom. But another part of it is the understanding that the radically decentralizing effects of technology – its global reach and lowering of barriers to entry – are beginning to make many of the Cathedral’s organs start to slowly melt away on their own. Just as the Iraqi insurgents realized that events would force the U.S.’s retreat eventually, so we must realize that events and technology will, or at least will provide the opportunity to, render the Cathedral obsolete. It is already possible to bypass the Cathedral and set up parallel institutions – and doing this is another signature of 4GW entities (Lind is fond of citing the example of social and charitable institutions often set up by stateless Islamic groups like Hamas). Why take over newspapers, for example, when they are going bankrupt on their own? Why take over the universities when talk of a “higher education bubble” is everywhere? Why not just get ahead of the curve and create our own parallel institutions; accept that they will, at least for some significant amount of time, be smaller, and focus on quality over quantity?
(This, incidentally, is one reason why I argue that there is only a limited amount, tactically speaking, that we can learn from reading the likes of Saul Alinsky. Leaving aside the question of whether leftist tactics would work for a rightist movement or whether we would even want to use them, there are also the truths that Alinsky was the product of, and wrote in, the pre-internet age, and also that his goal was to capture and use existing institutions while ours is not).
What this all amounts to is a few things. First, all people on the alt-right should take some time to read deeply in 4GW theory (the links above are a fine place to start). Second, contra techno-doubters like Bruce Charlton, the internet is a blessing to us that allows our 4GW struggle to continue. Third, we should remember that 4GW is, as John Robb put it, open-source war – so you should write much, read much, share the love, encourage others, don’t worry too greatly about who gets credit for what, put ideas out there even if they’re half-finished, refine half-finished ideas you find from others at will, and remember that the goal is victory.
UPDATE: Two important developments have taken place in the short time since this piece was first published.
The first is that Gamergate, which started as a sex scandal, developed into a consumer revolt against corrupt journalism, and has become, as of this writing, the latest target that the Cathedral wishes to crush, has come to provide a good early model of how to run a 4GW-style insurgency against a cultural/political FSD adversary. Whether Gamergate succeeds in its stated goals or not hardly matters – it is, in fact, unlikely that they will, as their stated goal is to force a branch of the Cathedral to reform itself, which is simply a non-starter. But their resilience and persistence in the face of heavy, sustained attack; the very fact that they’ve continued long past the point where many larger and (theoretically) better-organized targets have collapsed and surrendered, shows that they are worth paying close attention to. Certainly, some of their tactics, such as exiting compromised institutions en masse and starting up smaller parallel institutions focused on quality over quantity (specifically the exodus from 4chan and the founding of 8chan) have been exactly the sort of things that I’ve been advocating.
Again, Gamergate may not succeed in its stated goals, but, in true 4GW fashion, even if, in its failure to attain them, it wakes people up to the true nature of the Cathedral and turns more smart people against it (and it most certainly is doing that), then the Cathedral’s victory will be entirely Pyrrhic.
The second development is that Castalia House has published a handy collected edition of Mr. Lind’s writings about military strategy in a single Amazon ebook titled On War. I recommend it most highly.
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