*The Dynamics of War and Revolution*, by Lawrence Dennis

by on April 24, 2017 at 12:47 am in Books, Economics, History, Political Science | Permalink

Dennis was actually the first stagnation theorist I read, at about the age of eighteen, due to a recommendation from Walter Grinder.  His strength is to tie stagnationist claims into the political economy of war.  This is from 1940 (book link here), I hope it is no longer relevant:

The importance of clearly understanding the dynamic and purely unmoral function of change cannot be exaggerated at a time like this when the major problem is stagnation.  America’s problem of unemployment could be solved by rebuilding America or going to war with Japan.  The war with Japan is more likely.  Why?  The answer is that our social philosophy recognizes a need for national defense but not for social dynamism.

And:

…stagnation in any culture is far more normal or usual than what we have been accustomed to think of as progress.

I found this interesting:

A civilization must exalt a tradition of heroism.  This it may do in war or pyramid building.  Liberalism never glorified heroism in theory but, in its frontier empire-building days, it exemplified heroism in its practice.

You can read Dennis as an extension of the Henry George model, except he is more bullish about population growth and adds the variable of war.  In the George model, there are increasing returns and so city life becomes crowded and the scarce factor of land captures the social surplus.  Think San Francisco or Singapore.  Dennis assumes diminishing returns, and so the frontier is usually more potent than the city, if only a frontier can be kept open and alive.  But that is hard to do because it runs against the natural desire of so many human beings for stasis, and thus capitalism tends to evolve into a kind of socialistic fascism.

Dennis, by the way, had an interesting life.  Unlike most “alt right” writers, he was half black, but his skin was pale so he was able to pass for white.  (In fact he started life as a child preacher, touring the south, accompanied by his African-American mother.)  He spent some of his energies trying to convince his “fellow travelers” to support civil rights for blacks, but without much success, and he also was desperately afraid of being unmasked.

Early in his career, he was accepted into mainstream American intellectual life and hung out with elites, rising to the top through the State Department and Wall Street.  As the 1930s passed, he became more extreme and the center became more hostile to fascist and semi-fascist ideas, especially if bundled with tolerance for potentially hostile foreign powers.  His career had a long downward trajectory, and during World War II he was tried for sedition, though he got off and later died in obscurity, after a final gig as a critic of the Cold War.  Gerald Horne wrote a very interesting biography of Dennis.

1 Steve Sailer April 24, 2017 at 2:41 am

I’d never heard of the guy, but he had a pretty interesting life:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Dennis

2 Axa April 24, 2017 at 6:44 am
3 Thiago Ribeiro April 24, 2017 at 5:31 am

“America’s problem of unemployment could be solved by rebuilding America or going to war with Japan. The war with Japan is more likely. Why? The answer is that our social philosophy recognizes a need for national defense but not for social dynamism.”

It is a well-known fact that the American regime can only survive by resorting to perpetual war.

4 chuck martel April 24, 2017 at 7:02 am

The well-known fact is that the American regime THINKS that it can only survive by resorting to perpetual war. Of course, that may be true of the regime itself but not necessarily of the land and people that make up America.

5 Thiago Ribeiro April 24, 2017 at 7:28 am

A nation is a group of people organized in a specific way. If the Americans want to keep their Empire and prevent internal desagregation, they need perpetual war. Such is the internal contradiction of the American system.

6 msgkings April 24, 2017 at 2:27 pm

This conversation is like watching two drunk hobos have a fistfight

7 Thiago Ribeiro April 24, 2017 at 2:29 pm

And yet I am winning it handily.

8 msgkings April 24, 2017 at 2:31 pm

Congratulations?

9 Thiago Ribeiro April 24, 2017 at 3:31 pm

Thanks?

10 JWatts April 24, 2017 at 6:25 pm

“And yet I am winning it handily.”

That indeed is what a drunk hobo would say.

11 Thiago Ribeiro April 24, 2017 at 7:28 pm

I doubt an intoxicated hobo would be able to express his superiority so elegantly. And unlike a drunk man, I happen to be in full possession of my facultiea, which means I can mention the noble rules of
the Marquess of Queensberry.

12 rayward April 24, 2017 at 7:14 am

“The answer is that our social philosophy recognizes a need for national defense but not for social dynamism.” Whose social philosophy? Silicon Valley’s, with its $120 million juicer and childish obsession with flying cars? “Silicon Valley is full of very smart people, but they don’t always get the laws of physics.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/24/technology/flying-car-technology.html Maybe the “social philosophy” is learned, learned in places like Harvard Business School. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/24/books/review/golden-passport-duff-mcdonald.html The American car companies put the money men in charge and they almost destroyed an industry. GE put the money men in charge and they almost destroyed a great company. The money men rule the world! And for what purpose? To generate more money for the money men. Why would the money men wish to “rebuild America” since there’s little in it for them. The money men prefer to fund $120 million juicers and whatever nonsense the boy wonders in Silicon Valley dream up. Maybe the only way out of this is war, made more likely by the election of a carnival barker to preside over government. War, what good is it? War destroys capital, and by destroying capital it reduces inequality and puts the money men out of a job. The alternative is a financial and economic crisis that causes asset prices (and with them, inequality) to plummet. Either is an inefficient way to reduce inequality and put dynamism back into the economy. But the money men aren’t likely to go gentle into that good night, so it’s likely the only way to pry control from the money men and set the economy on the path of Cowen’s Great Reset.

13 John Smith April 24, 2017 at 11:20 am

I’m just going to leave this right here… https://lilium.com/

And that is awesome.

14 JWatts April 24, 2017 at 6:30 pm

Agreed that is indeed pretty awesome.

15 The Anti-Gnostic April 25, 2017 at 9:11 am

War is also dysgenic.

16 JonFraz April 25, 2017 at 1:30 pm

Re: War destroys capital, and by destroying capital it reduces inequality and puts the money men out of a job.

The Black Death was a far better equalizer, and its effects far more long-lasting than any war. The plague made land worth a good less while making labor worth a good deal more– and did not damage the existing infrastructure, such as it was.

17 Slocum April 24, 2017 at 8:54 am

Except, of course, the antiwar sentiment in the U.S. in 1940 was quite strong and the U.S. didn’t choose to go to war with Japan, it was the other way around. The U.S. is sometimes criticized for being ‘late’ to both WWI and WWII. If not for Pearl Harbor, the U.S. would have been much later (and might not have showed up at all). And WWII was (and will be) the last war of mass economic mobilization. Given the nature of modern high-tech weaponry, national economies will never again be converted over to wholesale arms production. The shooting wars the U.S. has been involved in since have been too small to have any significant effect on employment.

18 ladderff April 24, 2017 at 9:06 am

Slocum,

Antiwar sentiment may have been strong then but it was not strong enough. There are many strong sentiments in America today that somehow fail to manifest in policy, while others do. That’s what power is: getting your way.

The notion that war was forced upon a peace-loving and innocent Roosevelt administration is basically chauvinist myth.

19 Slocum April 24, 2017 at 10:14 am

Was it strong enough to overcome a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor? No, of course not. Is it true that FDR knew about the impending attack and didn’t warn the Navy? I don’t buy the conspiracy theories, but I also don’t think it ultimately matters — if the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor when it was on alert rather than unprepared, it still would have started a war. And yes, I’m aware that the U.S. had been making life difficult for Imperial Japan to pursue it’s military conquests (aiding the Chinese, imposing a trade embargo) — but those kinds of actions are what is now recommended as alternatives to war.

20 ladderff April 24, 2017 at 4:52 pm

Slocum,

You are reciting the victor’s history books. You’re overemphasizing Pearl Harbor—the better question would be, if the Japanese hadn’t taken the bait, do you suppose there would have been no Pacific war? Maybe, maybe not; according to the OP, Lawrence Dennis, without the disadvantage of hindsight, predicted war, and he was right. But anyway: victor’s history—fine. Let me respond to the last sentence then.

These actions are recommended as alternatives to war by whom? Passive voice is in the throat of the devil! During the comparatively sane 19th century trade embargoes and military aid to belligerents were—naturally!—considered acts of war. As you say, the rules changed, alas. Did these “alternatives” to war ever avert war? Under the old rules, you would have no trouble spotting the US as a criminally reckless, belligerent state in every decade of the twentieth century and beyond.

21 JWatts April 24, 2017 at 6:37 pm

“You are reciting the victor’s history books.”

Yes, the books that accurately recount a surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Frankly, you are arguing against a historical fact, without even attempting to disprove it.

“During the comparatively sane 19th century trade embargoes and military aid to belligerents were—naturally!—considered acts of war.”

Well no, that’s not true. They might have been considered casus belli. They were not generally considered “acts of war”.

22 ladderff April 24, 2017 at 10:20 pm

JWatts,

I appreciate your frankness, but frankly neither of us knows who was or wasn’t genuinely surprised by Pearl Harbor. Slocum says it doesn’t matter anyway, and I have, arguendo, accepted that, so, I have no problem with historical fact here.

I am not familiar with the work of Lawrence Dennis and there’s no point running over this general, well-worn territory in this thread. I just think the three of us are probably supposed to be on the same side, and this sort of myth we all grew up with is getting in the way.

[I am not an expert on classical international law either, but I’m not going to fall for the “not touching you, not touching you” defense, and neither would any sovereign nation have before 1914.]

23 y81 April 24, 2017 at 9:34 am

I don’t know much about Singapore (sort of like Tyler doesn’t know much about faraway universities like Yale or Missouri), but in San Francisco, isn’t the capture of social surplus by property owners dependent on land use controls? If there were no density controls, competition among a large number of landowners soliciting bids from a large number of builders would hold land values down to level that equalized returns among factors, and competition among builders for tenants (or condominium purchasers) would hold prices down to that level for the finished product. Note that the social surplus is actually captured by the holders of development rights, not landowners per se, although the two are normally the same people.

24 Bob April 24, 2017 at 1:15 pm

Most developers these days borrow as much money as possible to buy land and development rights. They make their money on the capital gain and use the rent to pay interest on the loans they took out to buy the the land and development rights. They’re like homeowners with mortgages who can gain from home price appreciation but have to pay the interest and principal on the mortgage loan.

25 Edgar April 24, 2017 at 10:04 am

So Tyler yet again for the umpteenth time, in what he imagines will pass for a subtle and learned manner, attempts to lump Trump and Trump-supporters with fascists, authoritarians, and war-mongers. Because, as all astute US academics know, deregulation, tax cuts, and friendliness to business, are the essential hallmarks of fascism. The entire breadth and depth of understanding that Tyler, the NYT, WP, et al, have for Trump and his supporters is that they are bad, bad people. I suppose one could just ignore them but where else are you going to find this caliber of slapstick comedy?

26 Tom G April 24, 2017 at 10:40 am

“A civilization must exalt a tradition of heroism. This it may do in war or pyramid building” <<
The current Democrat faux liberal tradition is to exalt the "victimized losers".

Calling the losers or the victims "heroes", or even just implicitly treating them as such, is a celebration of failure, and to some extent a part of the stagnation — since the failures failed to improve, or even win.

The celebration of victimhood will fail to make a lot of positive progress; but might well lead other countries to follow Venezuela's decline.

27 The Anti-Gnostic April 24, 2017 at 10:43 am

I find Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis more compelling and consistent. There’s also the historic cycles of imperial rise and fall described by Sir John Glubb a/k/a Glubb Pasha.

28 Li Zhi April 24, 2017 at 11:27 am

Now I know where Tyler got his Complacency ideas from. It’s just another name for stagnation.

29 Wonks Anonymous April 24, 2017 at 2:54 pm

You know Tyler previously wrote a book entitled “The Great Stagnation”, right? And Dennis wasn’t the first to come up with theories of decline.

30 peri April 26, 2017 at 10:32 am

Thanks, TC – he was new to me too. But no, the biography doesn’t sound like it’s much use, as it seems to hew tediously to a theme of “racial passing” above all else. The paranoia about that, even today, is pretty funny. Way to deny someone the full measure of their humanity.

I don’t know whether Dennis’s activity – which seems to have consisted only in his writing – merited the charge of sedition. I can see why he would have become such a tiny footnote, though, as his trial shows very clearly that McCarthy got his playbook from Roosevelt. And the fact that much of the trial evidence against him was not his own words but read-aloud passages from unrelated Nazis, also seems to presage the intellectual spirit of our own time. “Only connect!” indeed.

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