Find some useful precedents. Umbria, a section of Italy north of Rome, for example, has been remarkably indifferent to 500 years of its history. The Umbrians have been invaded, burned, or bullied by the Etruscans, Roman Empire, Goths, Longobards, Charlemagne, Pippin the Short, the Vatican, Mussolini, the German Nazis, and, most recently, the World Trade Organization. Umbria has managed not only to survive but keep its culture, a reminder of the durability of the human spirit during history’s tumults, an extremely comforting thought to an American these days.
We don’t have to go that far back, though. Consider the novel, 1984. Orwell saw it coming, only his timing was off a bit. The dystopia described in 1984 is so overwhelming that one almost forgets that most residents of Oceana didn’t live in it. Orwell gives the breakdown. Only about two percent were in the Inner Party and another 13% in the Outer Party. The rest, numbering some 100 million, were the proles.
It is amongst the latter that Winston Smith and Julia find refuge for their trysts, away from the cameras (although not the microphones). The proles are, for the most part, not worth the Party’s trouble. .
Orwell’s division of labor and power was almost precisely replicated in East Germany decades later, where about one percent belonged to the General Secretariat of the Communist Party, and another 13% being far less powerful party members.
As we move towards – and even surpass – the fictional bad dreams of Orwell or Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World,’, it is helpful to remember that these nightmares were mainly the curse of the elites and rather than those who lived in the quaint primitive manner of humans rather than joining the living dead at the zenith of illusionary power.
This bifurcation of society into a weak, struggling, but sane, mass and a manic depressive elite that is alternately vicious and afraid, unlimited and imprisoned, foreshadows what we find today – an elite willing, on the one hand, to occupy any corner of the world and, on the other, terrified of young men with minimal weapons.
Many years ago some people built castles and walled cities and moats to keep the bad guys out. It worked for a while, but sooner or later spies and assassins figured out how to get across the moats and opponents learned how to climb the walls and send balls of fire into protected compounds. The Florentines even catapulted dead donkeys and feces over the town wall during their siege of Siena.
The people who built castles and walled cities and moats are all dead now and their efforts at security seem puny and ultimately futile as we visit their unintended monuments to the vanity of human presumption.
Yet like the castle-dwellers behind the moat, the elite is now spending huge sums to put themselves inside a prison of our own making. The densest concentration in America of police per acre, for example, is around the US Capitol.
Strange as it may seem, it is in this dismal dichotomy between countryside and the political and economic capitals that the hope for saving America’s soul resides. The geographical and conceptual parochialism of the castle dwellers who have made this mess leaves vast acres of our land still free in which to nurture hopes, dreams, and perhaps even to foster the eventual eviction of those who have done us such wrong.
Eric Paul Gros-Dubois of Southern Methodist University has described Orwell’s underclass this way:
“The Proles were the poorest of the groups, but in most regards were the most cheerful and optimistic. The Proles were also the freest of all the groups. Proles could do as they pleased. They could come and go, and talk openly about whatever they felt like without having to worry about the Thought Police. . .[Orwell] concluded that the hope for the future was contained within this group.”
Make the local about far more than lettuce: Because of the foregoing, the role of the local in American life has assumed an enormous yet still largely unrecognized role. It is no longer just about sensible communities, friends or wise bulying habits. It is our major bastion against the bastards. Sadly, liberal Amerias become increasingly federocentric, assuming that those speaking of states or local rights are just right wing nuts. This ignores the history of every important progressive movement in America: from the abolitionists, to the populists, labor unions, environmentalists, and the advocates of civil rights. In each case, success was based not on playing the elite’s game but through mass decentralized organizing and pressure. Few things scare national politicians more than people getting organized.