If you like politically correct books, run away!
It is immensely difficult to review this book.
There are bits of it I liked immensely and approved uncritically. But there are also bits I disliked strongly and sections I thought made little or no sense. The main character – the book is written in a memoir style, not unlike The Last Centurion – is a strange mixture of positive and negative trends. He is smart and crafty, thinking up new angles of attack very rapidly when necessary, yet he quite definitely crosses the line into bare-faced hypocrisy more than once. The only thing that redeems him from a charge of being worse than those he fights is a self-awareness that should be recognised, if not admired.
The book is set in the very near American future. The main character, John Rumford, is a marine who is pushed into retirement after taking a stand against the introduction of women into the marine corps. This whole scene grates; I can see his point, but at the same time he is very clearly guilty of at least one offense against military order – and, frankly, his treatment of a fellow marine is appalling. There is nothing to say if she is actually capable of pulling her weight or not, as the narrator doesn’t tell us anything about her. (Later, the narrator takes care to justify his sharp treatment of another, far more idiotic, woman; maybe, just maybe, a piece of fridge brilliance.)
I should probably note, for the record, that this is the precursor to a nasty streak of sexism running through the book that tends to suggest women are better off in the home, instead of the battlefield. Rumford clearly believes that women should not be in the military (or the church) – which is arguable – but that they should also be looked after by men. I don’t think there was a suggestion anywhere in the book that women should be armed, even though a woman with a gun is a proven deterrence against rape. Nor does the book recognise the problems that gave birth to early feminism, problems that will probably reappear within a generation in Victoria.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. After he leaves the corps (and discovers that bureaucratic regulations make it impossible to make a living farming), Rumford is drawn into the efforts of a group of people harnessing the power of the people to oppose the ‘Cultural Marxists,’ which might also be known as Social Justice Warriors/Bullies. This is easily the best part of the book, with the main character organising local groups that fight back (non-violently) against the drug dealers and suchlike infesting their neighbourhoods. Rumford goes into considerable detail about how the government, which is supposed to help the poor, actually makes life worse for them – a problem caused, in part, by ‘big picture’ people who put the rights of criminals ahead of the rights of ordinary people. There are many ideas here that can and should be used to take back the streets and revitalise helpless communities, as well as reawakening public participation in democracy.
The downside of this is that the book draws a sharp line between the ‘good’ characters and the ‘bad’ characters. (It is notable that most, if not all, of the ‘bad’ characters are quite incompetent.) One incident explores a protest movement against the insertion of gay councillors into a school. The politician whose idea it was is depicted as the blackmail victim of one of the most radical homosexual rights activists. There is no suggestion that this idea might be born from genuine concern, if ill-expressed. If you view the world in black and white, you will probably applaud the situation; if you view the world in shades of grey, you may find it makes you uncomfortable.
Rightly or wrongly, though, this does touch on one of the most dangerous problems facing the west – the curse of political correctness. A sensible refusal to cause offense has mutated into a flat refusal to hold an open discussion about race, sexuality, abortion and any of the other issues … even though such issues are quite obvious to all with eyes to see. To brand one’s enemies as racist/sexist/etc does not help, it merely makes discussion impossible. If nothing else, this realisation is one that should be borne in mind at all times. Just because someone has a different point of view doesn’t make them an unredeemable scumbag.
Of course not. That’s the kind of thinking that led to the gulags.
The second part of the book covers events in the former United States as the federal government finally overreaches itself and collapses into chaos. Rumford finds himself serving as a military commander in one of the free states (the Northern Confederation, later renamed Victoria), tackling a number of different foes and tactical problems arising from the wreckage of the USA. Some of them are more reasonable than others; on one hand, I have no problems seeing radical regimes rising out of the ashes, but it’s hard to understand how such regimes survive for very long. The international involvement also doesn’t make sense; loaning a navy is, by any reasonable definition, an act of war, while very few current world powers will survive a collapse of the US unscathed. China will probably have a civil war instead of becoming top dog in Asia.
It’s probably better to look at these as a succession of tactical outlines, rather than actual novels. Even so, there are still issues. One of the most striking is the author’s contemptuous attitude to women in both government and the military. A radical feminist faction that actually manages to take and hold power cannot be casually dismissed, no matter how demented it is. The author points out, correctly, just how many flaws there are in the defences they use … but the underlying tactical doctrine, the use of technology instead of boots on the ground, is a male invention. Furthermore, the final solution to that whole issue is absurd. I would not care to be the military officer in training who dared propose it to his superiors!
The third and final part of the book covers the large-scale adoption of ‘retro-culture;’ a regression, of sorts, to the technology used during the Victorian Era. There is something to be said, as the author notes, for living in an idealised community, such as the Shire (from The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings, which the author mentions by name). On the other hand, I simply know too much about the past to consider it a smart move. The Victorian Era was very good for the people on top, but rather less good for everyone else. Little House on the Prairie sounds good; Pioneer Girl makes it clear just how hard life actually was for the settlers. There’s also the additional problem that the Shire was practically defenceless (and perhaps the last major settlement of Hobbits in existence) and did get occupied during the War of the Ring. Victoria is not defenceless, but how long will that last?
(Alternate The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings: Smaug discovers where Bilbo actually comes from and flies off to lay waste to the Shire, instead of Laketown.)
Victoria does avoid the trap of a top-down adoption of retro-culture (unlike almost all the other radical groups in the novel) but it walks headlong into another trap. I don’t see that much difference between dictates from on high and communal pressure to conform. The spread of Radical Islam follows a similar path; it starts with encouraging people to conform and ends with forced compliance. There is an indefinable air of smugness around the book’s founding father character, who on one hand refuses to approve a law to force the imposition of retro-culture while planning a social crusade to force its imposition.
I am a child of the digital age. I know that technology brings problems – hell, every new development brings problems. (The Victorians complained about steam ships, of all things.) Yes, there will be problems with advanced technology being used to build weapons (the author specifically discusses genetically-modified diseases) but advanced technology can also be used to cope with the problems. Many of the moral headaches caused by technology owe their source to older problems, not technology. The failure to provide consistent morale leadership is far more damaging than internet porn.
But it is the failure to understand such leadership that undermines all attempts to renew it, including the solutions depicted in this book. Morale leadership requires adherence to two basic rules; ‘let he who is without sin’ and ‘don’t be a dick.’ Compromising those rules destroys morale leadership; the Catholic Church, for example, completely ignored the first rule when trying to come to terms with abusive priests. Politicians who seek to hammer minority groups (everyone from homosexuals to smokers) for political advantage merely act like dicks, further undermining morale authority. The reason gay marriage is the gift that just keeps on giving, as far as liberals are concerned, is that it is, at base, an issue of freedom. To draw morale lines requires the ability to look beyond the next election and justify, for the ages, the reasons for those lines.
Freedom is important – and yes, sometimes, that includes free-dumb. Adults should be allowed to make their own personal choices – and to deal with the consequences.
The author has several of his female characters declare that they are content to be homemakers, content to leave outside affairs to the men. (And yet, the women are one of the largest forces behind one of the wars of the post-USA era.) They may be happy there – but not all of them will be. To insist that women remain within a very limited sphere, based on their gender, is a direct assault on freedom. It is sickening when Saudi Arabia does it in real life and yes, it is sickening in the book. If someone chooses it of her own free will, that’s fine, but someone else shouldn’t have to pay a social penalty for merely choosing to seek her own path (as long, of course, as non-consenting people are not harmed.)
There is a lot to like in this book. Non-violent grassroots activism may well hold the key to renewing the West. Taking back local government is vital if freedom is to survive. But there are attitudes in this book that grate … and, at the same time, pose a threat to freedom just as dangerous (if less insidious) as those of the Social Justice Warriors.
One of them is worth giving special mention, because it touches on a very important present-day issue: the slow conversion of universities and colleges into indoctrination centres for the young. They preach the evils of western civilisation, while ignoring the far greater evils of all other civilisations. Midway through the book, the main characters – having allowed a bunch of academics to set up yet another indoctrination centre – carry out a massacre, killing them all. Part of me would like to applaud this, but the rest of me is horrified. Ideas are not killed by creating martyrs, but by dismantling them piece by piece. Deprive the SJWs of their tricks and let them compete on equal terms. They will not win.
Nor is there any solid reason why the new college even exists. A major problem in the US today is the need for a college diploma to get anywhere, even though many courses are padded and have little to do with the sought-for job. (See this blog post for details). Why would this happen in Victoria, where the ability to actually do a job is more important than a piece of paper? Why would students go there if they can go straight into a job? And tackling this problem in real life would be simple, given the right amount of political will. Grassroots activists can push for college courses being slimmed down to the bare essentials, or discarded altogether.
This book will make you think. And that, perhaps, is the most important thing of all.