The Inevitability Of A Dictator
The Left may produce America’s first autocrat in practice, but the Right may need to introduce our first openly authoritarian leader.
Lately, I’ve been thinking less about what’s going to happen in the next few years which, up until recently, was a focal point of this blog. Instead, I’ve been thinking more about what everything is going to look like when it’s all said and done. As you might’ve noticed, I’m beginning to make more predictions about the future as of late. Much of this is the result of seeing events with greater clarity and having many of my worst assumptions confirmed.
Ironically, it’s become more difficult to make near-term predictions, while becoming easier to make long-term predictions. I’m fairly certain about where the U.S. is going to end up. It’s just the question of how long it’s going to take to arrive at our destination and what sorts of crazy things will lead us there. If you buy into the theory of historical cycles as I do, I don’t think there’s much question we’re either entering or already in the midst of a major societal crisis that emerges once every few generations. This is likely the case whether you buy into Neil Howe and William Strauss’ generational theory, Peter Turchin’s secular cycles theory, or even the Malthusian theory.
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Coming to grips with the reality of how late the hour is today involves accepting the fact that when it’s all said and done, our so-called “democracy” will be in name only. Personally, I believe it already to be the case, but it’ll be apparent to most, I estimate a generation from now, that the United States, to say nothing of much of the West, won’t be a place where our votes count for much. It’ll simply be a fact of life, as opposed to a point of contention like it is today. A big reason for why this will be is because America will be so beset by crisis, it’ll have no choice but to vest greater powers into the state in hopes they can extract the country out of its death spiral. Unfortunately, legitimacy crisis tends to strengthen, not weaken, regimes, at least not at the start.
As longtime readers know, I avoid being overtly political on this blog - that is, openly declaring support for certain politicians. I certainly do talk politics, however, as well as criticize specific policies or how policies are applied and it’s disingenuous to think it all should be left out of the discussion. Our society is where it’s at in large part because of choices made by politicians, often without our consent. Understanding politics is important towards comprehending what’s happening in our current moment.
It’s also vital for understanding what’s to come. One thing in particular is the aforementioned shift to greater degrees of autocracy, with the administration of President Joe Biden representing a proto-autocracy. I won’t be getting into too much detail on the topic for the purposes of this discussion, but the direct transition from democracy to authoritarianism isn’t a radical, crackpot theory. At least it shouldn’t be. Scholars all throughout history, from Plato, to Max Weber, to Oswald Spengler, have noted this trend and they’ve been vindicated time and again.
Will Exceptional America buck the trend? Or is our luck going to run out, and soon?
Where Are We Going, Anyway?
I’ve dropped many hints over the past year with regards to where America is headed, though I’ve yet to really lay it out in complete, comprehensive form. Much of it’s due to the fact I’m still developing this narrative in my head, but I think I’ve got a pretty clear framework we can use to start with.
Here’s a broad outline of what I believe the future holds in store for us the next 15 - 20 years:
2025: Superpower collapse.
2025 - 2033: Economic crisis, crime and internal conflict intensifies, the Regime expands power rapidly in response to myriad of crises.
2033: Peak of Regime power. At this time, the Regime’s own strongman will have been in power for years.
2033-2040: Years of mounting, intractable crisis finally add up and lead to the Regime’s downfall. Remainder of the decade a largely peaceful revolution, this time led by the Right and dissident factions opposed to the Regime. Successor regime emerges and is more or less in power by the end of this period.
Yes, it’s a dramatic future, but for now, don’t get too caught up in it. As I often say, there’s a lot of history to cover between now and then. For now, however, I want to skip to the end and talk about the personality or personalities who’ll be in power when it’s all said and done.
Red Caesar? Protestant Franco, and Baptist Pinochet?
The Catholic magazine First Things recently published an essay written by Josh Abbotoy titled Is a Protestant Franco Inevitable? It’s a fascinating piece and I hope you’ll read it in its entirety (it’s not that long), but it’s premise is that the way things are going, the American Right will need to be willing to prove its worst critics correct and shift to a more authoritarian direction in order to counter the leftist Regime’s own authoritarianism.
Controversial to say the least, let’s give the argument it’s due regard. What does Abbotoy mean by “Protestant Franco?”
Struck by the similarities of our current situation to 1930s Spain, I mused on Twitter some months back: “Basically, America is going to need a Protestant Franco.” By this I meant that unless something changes, our anarchic trajectory will soon require a person like Franco to reestablish order, and that this muscular leader would most naturally be Protestant. I didn’t expect the prediction to be controversial. The Spanish Civil War haunts savvy observers of modern politics because we see in it a warning for our own democracy. Stanley Payne recently examined the unsettling parallels for First Things. Or read Nathan Pinkoski, writing in the Claremont Review of Books: “the most unsettling relevance of the Spanish case is its demonstration that modern liberal democracies are not immune to revolution. They can succumb to internal revolutionary processes. Liberal democracies are not guaranteed happy endings.”
If you haven’t figured it out, Abbotoy’s referring to Francisco Franco, the Spanish Army general who defeated the leftist faction in the country’s civil war of the 1930s, going on to rule it under a right-wing dictatorship until his death in 1975. Franco remains a deeply contentious figure in Spain’s history to this day, though recent scholarship, particularly from right-wing circles, has attempted to rehabilitate his image, arguing Franco saved the country from communism and that the Spanish Civil War was a choice between one type of authoritarianism versus another. But we won’t get into that here.
The thesis here is that America will eventually need a strongman who can overcome both societal decline and the powerful forces “managing” that decline. Whether anyone wants authoritarianism or not, there’s no democratic way out of this. There’s a saying wrongly attributed to Mark Twain (nobody’s sure of the exact source) which goes: If voting made a difference, they wouldn’t let us do it. No matter who actually said it, it’s true. It doesn’t even really matter what kind of system we live under; nobody in power wants to relinquish power. It becomes doubly true under mass democracy - there are lots of people with a voice, but there’s still ultimately only a relative few who are actually in charge. This means, in a democracy, you either have power or you have a voice, but you cannot have both. In a mass democracy, you certainly have no power and your lone voice will be drowned in the noise created by the masses.
Given the choice, which would you prefer? Power or a voice? Think about it, but don’t overthink it.
Why a “Protestant” Franco, though? Wasn’t he Catholic? Yes, but America is an Anglo-Protestant country and I won’t entertain any arguments to the contrary. A prospective American autocrat would likely be someone steeped in the country’s traditional heritage and that includes being a Protestant Christian, perhaps devoutly so. Unlike Donald Trump, who was ultimately a dollar store right-wing populist, Protestant Franco would be the real deal: as true a nationalist as the country ever had, armed with a vision and a willingness to make it happen.
More from Abbotoy:
But my simple descriptive quip caused significant ire. Hayes Brown cited my statement as proof that “Conservatives keep calling for an American dictator.” Conservative commentators critiqued Protestant Franco as well. Mark Tooley argued that liberalism is the politics of Protestantism, making a “Protestant Franco” not only misguided and un-American, but also impossible. Nonetheless, “Protestant Franco” has become a meme and Rorschach test in the intervening months.
This is where we creep into philosophical debates, which I’m staying away from, since we talk about more practical matters in these spaces. I’ll just say that we’re reaching a point where the Right may have no choice but to be more open about the need for authoritarianism. The Left, by virtue of being in total control, is able to mask it’s autocracy behind a bureaucracy that diffuses that power instead of having to vest it into an individual or a singular entity. The Left may produce America’s first autocrat in practice, but the Right may need to introduce our first openly authoritarian leader.
Abbotoy says as much:
Is there any point to the dissident right’s speculations about Red Caesar, Protestant Franco, and Baptist Pinochet? Is it all just puerile escapism? No. It is basic realism that any thinking man should countenance. If the current trajectory holds, it is certainly possible that conditions will deteriorate until something like a Protestant Franco becomes inevitable. If that happens, the utopian grading rubric for our politics will vanish. When civil strife starts, you give up the more noble aims of politics and rush to the person who is least likely to kill your friends and family. Is this prospect still remote? Hopefully. But it is possible, and over a long enough time horizon, it is certain.
The terms “Red Caesar,” “Protestant Franco,” and “Baptist Pinochet are variations of the same concept. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll refer to them collectively as “chief.” Caesar was obviously the most famous chief in history, the product of a republic in perpetual crisis (sound familiar?) whose autocracy restored a measure of stability, but ultimately ended the republic in the process. We’ve already discussed Franco. Augusto Pinochet, like Franco, was a military officer who led a coup in Chile in 1973 against a president in the midst of serious crisis which threatened to destabilize the country.
All three figures are highly controversial and I’m neither going to defend nor criticize them. I’ll emphasize only that Caesar, Franco, and Pinochet aren’t the stereotypical thunderous right-wing populists who come to power via elections. They often don’t, but the one thing they do have in common with their democratically-elected counterparts is that they are the result of bad times. Popular culture may paint them as party-poopers who show up to ruin everyone’s good times, but they’re the consequence, not the cause, of instability.
Here’s the bottom line [bold mine]:
More fundamentally, the possibility of Protestant Franco should change our political behavior. Politics always, everywhere, has a threat of violence and the strongman lurking behind it. The historic norm is that the threat of violence in politics is very explicit, but our original constitutional republic subordinated threats of violence under reasoned deliberation and rule of law, with reciprocal respect for the results of the process. For my money, republicanism is still the best form of government for that rare people who possess the civic virtue requisite for self-governance. And it is America’s true civic tradition. But circumstances have changed in a way that makes a blind faith in the continued binding power of the old constitutional order not only misguided, but risky. Given the facts of mass immigration and the collapse of the family and civic society, to what extent does it even make sense to discuss America’s old civic tradition as if it said something authoritative about our future? The old American order is an aspirational goal for the right-wing, but it is far from operative under the current regime. Reciprocal participation in the republican process has broken down, imperiling the government’s ability to secure basic goods such as order and security. Any regime that fails to provide such basic goods has a limited shelf life.
The key to understanding Abbotoy’s argument is that whichever variant you prefer, such a leader emerges and gains power out of necessity. Like Abbotoy, I too believe that America’s own strain of republicanism is the best form of governance there is for our country. But it was something intended for a certain kind of society with a certain kind of population. It was never meant to be a mass democracy, nor was it ever meant to service multiculturalism, no matter what today’s political propaganda suggests.
Obviously, America isn’t a pure democracy, but the point is that we weren’t ever supposed to be a place where this many people would have a say in the political process, nor have political leaders ever really listened to the body politic for generations now. The only way the system can work at this point is through centralization of power. If you can’t satisfy the masses, you need to at least be able to control them. It seems ridiculous now, but tell me - every time a crisis occurred in this country, did people demand the government play more or less of a role?
The inability of the state to provide order - the most fundamental of reasons for the state’s being - is the biggest reason for the emergence of Caesar-like leaders. Modern examples include figures like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, with more contemporary examples being Nayib Bukele of El Salvador. Both are known for their hard-line tack towards crime and rule of law, using the brute force of the state to establish order and create a better society. It works, too. Almost overnight, El Salvador went from being a murder capital of the world to being one of the most safest countries in the region, if not the world. It has allowed the country to be born again, with tourism increasing and even seeing a return of Salvadorans who escaped the country due to its high crime, along with all sorts of nice things made available to the public, including a fabulous national library. The Miss Universe pageant was just held in El Salvador.
The U.S. is like neither country. However, the U.S. is a diverse, multicultural, multi-ethnic state. For now, a veneer of democracy holds, but in the long run, it won’t be enough to keep the country together, at least in harmony. Relations may seem peaceful currently, but if, say, the economy was unable to continue providing a high standard of living for hundreds of millions, social strife would increase markedly. Already, you can see how short fuses are. Why does anyone think everyone would “come together” when times get tough?
Lee Kuan Yew may not have been talking about America, but I think he once bluntly explained why democracy will eventually fail here, as relayed by Sumantra Maitra [bold mine]:
Lee Kuan Yew, perhaps the last true “Philosopher King” politician, once posed this question to the people in his book on democracy. He said that, in a multi-ethnic and modern state, you can ultimately have order or democracy. You cannot have simultaneously the fullest forms of both. The purpose of democracy is basically giving choice to those who share the same understanding of society and a similar ethos and cultural priors. Democracy is not possible in a society that doesn’t share those, and too much freedom and rights in such a scenario leads to chaos and disorder, which in turn necessitates the rise of someone to reestablish order.
“The main purpose is to have a well-ordered society so that everybody can have maximum enjoyment of his freedoms. This freedom can only exist in an ordered state and not in a natural state of contention and anarchy.” LKY wrote, arguing that multi-ethnic states are imperial and require benevolent, far-sighted strongmen to maintain order. “The exuberance of democracy leads to undisciplined and disorderly conditions which are inimical to development.”
Nobody likes autocracy and certainly nobody likes tyranny. But as with all things in life, intent matters. Sure, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Yet, can anyone dispute Lee Kuan Yew’s actions failed to establish a peaceful and prosperous society, one that’s the envy of the world? Can anyone tell the rest of us what Nayib Bukele should’ve done instead of imprisoning all those criminals while still bringing murder and crime down quicker than anyone believed possible, making El Salvador an attraction for the world, not a repellent? All this talk of “eroding democracy” and “human rights abuses” end up sounding like excuses for why the government can’t hold up its end of the social contract. As we saw in San Francisco recently, with the right incentives, even anarcho-tyrannical governments will suddenly find the wherewithal to clean up the streets. They can do right by the people. It’s just that they don’t want to.
It’s Just Not Our Thing
But are we truly asking too much? Certainly the state should provide order or at least not impede a citizen’s right to life and property. It’s just that a Red Caesar, Protestant Franco, or Baptist Pinochet may amount to wishful thinking because they’re far too out of step with America’s history and traditions. The argument has many critics, including one James M. Patterson.
In a rebuttal to Abbotoy published in Law & Liberty, Patterson explains how Francoism and authoritarianism, more broadly isn’t the Anglo-Protestant way. I’m not going to post his explanation here, because much of it drifts into the philosophical, going beyond the scope of what’s being discussed here and more likely to obfuscate than clarify. I recommend you do the research, if only to learn more about our history, but the lesson here is that Americans, throughout our collective lifetimes, have resisted chiefdom - vesting power in a single figure, more specifically - on cultural, philosophical, political, and even religious grounds.
It’s a fact. The U.S. is a young country and maybe we just haven’t lived long enough yet, but it’s true that Anglosphere in general - U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, etc. - don’t have a long history of dictatorships, coups, and all the other building blocks of autocracy. You need to go back to the Middle Ages for that, much of it occurring in the present-day British Isles.
In addition, anyone who wants to defend Francisco Franco’s legacy must do so with caution. Even if it’s true the alternative was simply a different type of tyranny, the reign of Franco wasn’t a good time and it would be a generation before things began looking up for Spain. Here, I’ll quote Patterson:
After the war, Franco oversaw a failed autarky that impoverished and isolated the country from the rest of Europe. By the combined efforts of propaganda and the generous use of state violence, he was able to preserve his control. Franco’s advancing age loosened his grip on power, as did the desire of many Spanish to integrate into the postwar democratic West. Only in 1959, with the imposition of the Plan de Estabilización, was the Falangist corporatism ended in favor of freer trade and openness to investment. Soon after, he began to liberalize his regime, delegating his authority to advisers and watching hours and hours of soccer. God blessed Franco with a long life, but this blessing was a curse on Spain, whose people were resigned to awaiting his death in the hope that whatever came next would be better. Thankfully, it was. Upon his death on November 20, 1975, Franco was succeeded by King Juan Carlos, who immediately began to transition Spain not into a centralized Catholic monarchy but a liberal democracy. The Catholic Church in Spain to this day remains moribund, Her churches empty and graveyards full. Using the idiom of his present-day American admirers, one is tempted to ask what Franco’s conservatism conserved?
Similar things can be said about Chile under Pinochet. Not every society where chiefdom was implemented ends up a nice place like Singapore or El Salvador.
The problem with Patterson’s argument is that he takes the prospect of “Franco” too literally. Of course comparisons between 2020s U.S. and 1930s Spain are limited and fall flatter the more you attempt to draw similarities. What Abbotoy and others who make such arguments for Franco is merely that a powerful central leader will become necessary at some point because internal conflict and systemic destabilization will become so strong, the existing leadership simply won’t be up to the task. They’ll instead do what regimes typically do in times of trouble: close ranks and resort to strict self-preservation, even at the risk of subjecting society to lethal levels of chaos and disorder.
Unfortunately, you cannot convince someone who not only believes the system is both working exactly as intended, but that the U.S. is simply going through a bad patch which will eventually pass. Last bit from Patterson:
Abbotoy says, “Reciprocal participation in the republican process has broken down, imperiling the government’s ability to secure basic goods such as order and security. Any regime that fails to provide such basic goods has a limited shelf life.” The appropriate response should be: “You must be new here.” The United States regularly experiences national crises and tragedies, and our republican institutions have served us well enough to handle them. By no means are they perfect, but they are much better than Franco’s.
If someone really believes this, of course they wouldn’t see the need for chiefdom. I get the sense that Patterson believes that because the country hasn’t gone off the cliff, everything must be fine, but we all know that not going off the cliff doesn’t involve much more than a sense of self-preservation. Better yet, let’s the turn the question back on him: what would we be preserving today by maintaining the status quo? What of our institutions are doing right by us?
Is anarcho-tyranny, which is undoubtedly institutionalized, serving us well? Does he even believe it exists? What about the erosion of our liberties, highlighted by the fact nobody can even speak of the obvious? The fact that our political leadership and protected classes do whatever they want and need not follow the rules? Patterson later speaks of “civic virtue” - what’s he talking about? What sort of civic virtue exists in America? Why would it exist when we can’t even speak openly and honestly about what we see happening all around us? Why would it exist when Americans are so demoralized at a time when the standard of living has never been higher? What sort of civic virtue is it when Americans are more critical, in some cases more hostile, than they are supportive of their country?
I could go on forever, so I’ll just say that if Patterson believes all is well, so be it. I can’t change his mind. I’ll only add that presidential systems are uniquely susceptible to instability and eventual breakdown into authoritarianism, something noted by the late political scientist Juan Linz over 30 years ago. The U.S. has certainly defied the odds and there’s no doubt the uniqueness of our institutions and the culture from which they emerged from get the credit for that. However, one thing our institutions were never meant to accommodate was ideological capture, at least of the cultural Marxist variety that defines the Regime today. Ideological capture, not a failure to adhere to the Constitution, is what’s undoing the republic and eroding democracy. Ideological capture is not something our institutions were ever prepared for.
I keep an open mind about these things, though. I’m more than happy to entertain the possibility, 15 - 20 years from now, nothing will have changed and we’ll still be having these arguments. Over the course of hundreds of years, anything and everything could happen to this country, including authoritarian and, eventually, collapse. But there’s nothing that says it needs to happen in the next 15 - 20 years, let alone our lifetimes. It’s just that it’s one of those things you can see from here, even if we’re not quite there yet.
So… Who’s It Going To Be?
Let’s say my prediction holds and that Josh Abbotoy is correct: a Protestant Franco or any other variant of chief will be necessary at some point in the next generation or so. Who’ll it be that plays this role?
I can’t give you a name, of course. I’m quite confident it won’t be anyone of prominence today, most certainly not Donald Trump. But be it a Caesar, Franco, or Pinochet, one thing they all had in common was that they were insiders - figures who were part of the ruling class or close to it. They tended to be military leaders, though not always. Even George Washington, the closest America ever had to a “Caesar,” served the British Empire as a military officer before he joined the cause of independence. I think it’s less important that they were military officers and were men of prominence, in leadership roles to start, and possessed the influence necessary to marshal men and resources. It just so happens that military leaders tend to fit the bill better than most.
One important aspect of an American chief is that he likely won’t become a long-term dictator. Rather, he’ll be a stabilizing figure, someone who temporarily fills the power vacuum left by a serious political crisis. Once the crisis abates, the worst American Chief may do is play the role of kingmaker - appoint a successor or boost a potential successor who’ll be voted into office once the state of exception passes and we return to a more democratic model of governance. Either way, I expect that figure to remain true to our best traditions established by George Washington himself at the end of the American Revolution and remain in power no longer than necessary
Which brings me to a critical point: there’s nothing that says Red Caesar, Protestant Franco, or Baptist Pinochet need to be the same person. They may very well emerge as distinct individuals, all playing a necessary role at different points in the future. The temporary dictator may likely be followed up with more of a populist figure, elected into power by the body politic in hopes they can maintain the stability established by their predecessor. The populism may seem like a regression, but it’s likely to be necessary, given the “ancien régime” will still exist and hold considerable power, specifically within the managerial state. To prevent today’s political status quo, represented by the likes of President Biden, from regaining power, the successor must be a radical figure willing to rock the boat as it steers it away from the edge of the world, while still maintaining the stability established by the predecessor.
In some ways, this democratically elected figure is the key character in the story of the future. American Chief can restore order, but only temporarily. In the long run, someone who represents the will of the people, chosen by the people, must lead the country out of the storm. Due to lingering chaos, this leader will likely need to govern autocratically, similar to Nayib Bukele of El Salvador. They may end up less successful and unpopular, similar to Boris Yeltsin as he led Russia out of communism. In the interest of managing expectations, I’d reckon their time in power to be tumultuous, with lots of bending, but ultimately not breaking.
An unfortunate, dare I say tragic, fate may be in store for this leader, similar to the way it typically ends for most autocrats, be they on the left or right, successful or not. Once again, the successor will matter most. In my story, at least, this new figure may not be democratically elected, depending on the circumstances under which they emerge. It’s here we’ll return to a Caesar/Franco/Pinochet-type leader, and they could very well be the dictator the Regime spends night and day warning us about today. Instead of using power to stabilize, they may use that power to take even more power, ultimately employing it to establish a whole new order.
Ancient Rome’s first true emperor, Augustus, is the marquee example of such a figure. But we don’t need to go that far back in time. Likely the only example of an authentic authoritarian in Anglo history, my guess is America’s first real dictator will fit the mold of England’s Oliver Cromwell. He’ll likely come to power when the existing political and social order finally collapses and an even bigger authority vacuum exists at all levels. But at this point, we’re talking well past the foreseeable future, so we’ll end the story here.
We’re In For A Wild Ride
This is about as much speculating as I’ve done and, though certain to generate controversy among my readers, I hope everyone takes the time to think long and hard about it. No matter what happens, I think the future will be a crazy time and the stability we’ve come to take for granted will be a distant memory by the time today’s kids are our age. Personalities define the times and while we might not be able to point them out in a crowd today, their names will definitely become part of our history and shape the world that’ll be the rest of our lives.
So what do you think? Is a Red Caesar, Protestant Franco, or Baptist Pinochet in America’s near future? Who do you think it’ll be? What do you hope they can accomplish? What about an American Augustus or Cromwell? Will the republic itself one day be succeeded by something else?
Share your thoughts in the comments section.
UPDATE: John Michael Greer wrote on X:
The alternative, of course, is that nobody seizes power in a period of chaos, which would lead to systemic collapse. However, this rarely happens: nature abhors a vacuum. In a period of chaos, somebody would take control. I’m not saying an American Chief as I’ve described them would definitely come to power in such a situation, but rather that such a situation is where an American Chief would arise.
More from Greer:
Certain to disappoint many on X (formerly Twitter). As I stated earlier, nobody of prominence today will be American Chief. I’d go as far as to say the more well-known they are, the less likely it is they’ll end up in a position of power. Greer’s profile definitely doesn’t fit Donald Trump. The key factor, I think, is proximity to power, which is why I believe the one who becomes American Chief will be an insider, not an outsider.
That in turn rules out all the online personalities, whether it be Bronze Age Pervert, Curtis Yarvin, the list goes on. Influential as they might be in spades, they lack proximity to power, and being a thought leader isn’t the same as being a political leader. Even Trump wasn’t anyone’s idea of a right-wing populist until he became a serious contender for the presidency and it wasn’t because he thought great thoughts. Rather, it was because he communicated, at the highest level, what millions of Americans were feeling, even as he had no capacity for action.
If Greer’s profile is accurate, someone in their 40s would make them either a young Generation Xer or an old Millennial today. In my future, they’d be a middle-of-the-pack Millennial in 2033. For all the scrutiny my generation has received, the reality is the first national leader we produce may turn out to be the American Chief.
So yeah, who’s it going to be?
Max Remington writes about armed conflict and prepping. Follow him on Twitter at @AgentMax90.
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