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Peter St. Onge: “Four Pillars of Civilization” Under Attack

Originally posted by Peter St. Onge on his substack:

A few days ago Tucker Carlson did a video about the elite “anti-human death-cult” that’s using “climate change” to reverse the industrial revolution. Returning us to an age where abject poverty — even famine — was a daily reality, while freedom was a distant memory.


During the 15 minute interview, Michael Shellenberger said something that bears comment, that “The pillars of civilization are cheap energy, meritocracy, Law and Order, and free speech. And all four of those pillars are currently under attack.”


This strikes me as a solid list of some of the most important load-bearing walls of civilization that are currently under coordinated attack by the left. And if these pillars go the world we know will be gone.



Four Pillars of Civilization

So how exactly are these pillars holding us up?


The list breaks into two hunks: pillars that maintain prosperity — cheap energy, meritocracy. And pillars that are more fundamental, holding up both prosperity and freedom.


Of course, the two are related; historically, prosperous people demand and mobilize for freedom. Starving people do not.


Cheap Energy

Starting with the prosperity, cheap energy literally transformed mankind. The burning of coal in the 18th century enabled the industrial revolution. Which transformed the world from millennia of survival-level stagnation to a world where every generation has a hard time imagining what life was like for their parents, let alone their grandparents.


Indeed, if you teleported a Roman peasant into 16th century Italy, life would be familiar. The legal system, the property rights regime, how people spent their days. School, career, retirement would all be familiar.


In both eras, almost everybody lived on a farm. Some were artisans, a rare few became intellectuals, artists, or philosophers.


There were minor inventions here and there — better plows, new methods of drying fish. But progress was counted in decades — even centuries.


Now teleport that same 16th century Italian peasant to today and it’s almost unimaginable. According to a YouGov poll, the most popular careers in America right now are Youtuber, musician, artist, actress, and professional gamer.



Meritocracy is an even more fundamental requirement than cheap energy. Because if we aren’t choosing by quality then institutions fail, and our modern prosperity is built on complex organizations. There are companies alone that employ millions, to say nothing of interconnected institutions like legal communities or the academia-science nexus.


These complex organizations enable complex machines. For example, a single Boeing 747 contains 6 million individual parts which all must function in perfect harmony. Those 6 million parts are produced by tens of millions of people in hundreds of thousands of companies all over the world.


All of this, too, must function in perfect harmony for the individual parts to work.


Now multiply that times everything we use — the refrigerated supply chains that keep food from spoiling on the way from the farm, the electricity or water systems that keep cholera out of the water supply. All of this must work perfectly, millions of parts and tens of millions of people.



Law and Order

Aside from the injustice of innocent men condemned and criminals running free to victimize the innocent, from an economic perspective losing law and order crushes prosperity even more thoroughly than losing meritocracy.


This is for two reasons: the obvious risk of government tyranny, and how a perverted or non-functional legal system crushes incentives to build and create.


After all, if a man doesn’t know what behavior will be punished, or whether his property and even freedom is secure, he won’t invest in the future. Why spend decades building if it can be snatched away. If losing meritocracy guts institutions, losing law and order prevents them existing at all.


We know this today because history is full of failed or corrupted legal systems. Indeed, there are failed countries even today, such as parts of Somalia or Congo. All live on the edge of starvation. Men live for today, grab what they can, devil take the hindmost.


Free Speech

Finally, the most important: Free Speech.


Economically, free speech serves two essential functions: diagnosis and repair. Together, it’s a form of insurance against policies that would collapse the rest of it.


After all, if we can’t communicate, we either can’t see problems coming, or we might blame the wrong thing. We might see there’s not enough food, but we don’t know why. The government might tell us its global warming, or greedy business, or the ever-popular saboteurs.


We become the frog in the boiling pot who’s fast asleep.


Worse, without free speech we have no way to organize and fix it. Historically, elites are small and their victims are many, but elites typically hold an organizational advantage — standing armies, back-room cabals. Without free speech the many cannot organize against a predatory few.


We become the frog who’s paralyzed.



What’s Coming Next

In the grand scheme of history, we’ve only just begun to unravel our civilization. I’d date the start to the Progressive era a century ago, when totalitarian socialism gained the upper hand by making a devil’s bargain with liberal democracy: give us control and we will let you sit on the throne.


Over that century, the totalitarians have advanced in fits and starts, each time pushed back as free speech rallied the victims. So it was after World War I, after the Depression, and in the 1960’s reaction against government authority. Each time the totalitarians broke it, and the masses rejected them.


I think we’re entering another major offensive from the totalitarians, which I’d date to 2016 when Brexit and Donald Trump convinced the totalitarians they’re losing. They reacted as they always do, by over-reaching for control. And, like past offenses, they are going for the pillars. The load-bearing walls holding up civilization.


These next couple years will be critical: Will they consolidate their gains and enter a new era of totalitarianism, perhaps as bad as 1300’s absolutism in Europe. Or, once again, will free speech allow us to diagnose and correct the threats in time. This time fortified by the internet — by the very fact you can still read this article.

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