The Age of Anomie

By Robert Sibley


... Uncertain and afraid

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest decade:

Waves of anger and fear

Circulate over the bright

And darkened lands of the earth ...

– W.H. Auden, September 1, 1939.


Whirl is king

– Aristophanes



FOLLOWING THE NEWS of the anarchy in American cities, particularly since May 2020, with their rampaging mobs, burning buildings, and shattered windows, I was reminded of a post-apocalyptic movie from the early 1970s.

The Omega Man tells the story of Robert Neville, one of the few to avoid succumbing to a global pandemic that turned survivors into glassy-eyed albino zombies. Neville, played by Charlton Heston, is besieged by a cult of homicidal mutants known as The Family. The mutants want Neville dead because as the hated symbol of the old order – technological, scientific, patriarchal, privileged – they blame him for their oppressed condition. 

Never mind that he’s probably the last surviving scientist able to find a cure for the virus. The old order must be destroyed. And so every night the zombie tribe gathers with their torches to lay siege to Neville's fortified apartment, which he defends with an arsenal of weaponry.

With their cowl-like hoodies, black helmets, and military-style dress, the rioters we’ve seen in Washington, Portland, Seattle, New York, Minneapolis, etc. share the movie mutant fashions. But they also share The Family’s burn-it-all-down mindset as they invade government buildings, torch cars, loot stores, and threaten and attack citizens. 

Most recently, on Jan. 6 this year, the world witnessed a mob assault on Capitol Hill the likes of which have not been seen in Washington since 1814 when invading British troops based in Halifax set fire to the Capitol, the White House, and the Library of Congress. “Right-wing extremists,” “Trump supporters,” and “domestic terrorists,” to use President Joe Biden’s phrase, were blamed.  

Five days later, it was the Leftists’ turn. Echoing the riots that followed the death of George Floyd, several hundred members of the anarcho-communist group Antifa, wearing helmets, dressed in black, and carrying shields, marched in military formation through Midtown Manhattan. It was a conspicuous show of intimidation. On Jan. 20, in the hours after Biden’s  inauguration, Antifa groups chanting “we want revenge” and “we are ungovernable” attacked the Portland, Oregon offices of the Democratic Party. In Seattle, they smashed windows and set fires on the streets. 

Could the upheaval that plagued German cities during the 1920s and 1930s be happening in the streets of America, I wondered. Back then Nazis and Communists fought street battles to foment enough political instability to bring down the fledgling liberal democracy of the Weimar Republic. That the U.S. Department of Justice went so far as to declare three cities – Portland, Seattle, and New York – as “anarchist” jurisdictions seemed to suggest that possibility.

Indeed, the level of violence, the sheer fury, along with the failure of public authorities to respond effectively, suggests a disturbing Zeitgeist. While the Capitol Hill riots were deemed “domestic terrorism,” mainstream media described the Black Lives Matter and Antifa “protesters” as “mostly peaceful.” Given the level of violence, the depiction would have been laughable if it wasn’t so hypocritical.

But what disturbed me most was the response of public authorities to the “protests.” I had to wonder why those sworn to maintain law and order would provide de facto sanction to the violence and vandalism. Public institutions in modern liberal democracies and those who serve in those institutions are supposed to be bulwarks against disorder. But this past summer we witnessed state governors, city mayors, municipal councillors, and police officials excusing the breakdown in order to appease mobs with spurious claims about serving “social justice.” Some officers even “took a knee.”



A British journalist who joined the Antifa activists to witness their conduct highlights the failure of politicians and police when he describes Antifa’s tactics outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Portland’s waterfront area. “This federal facility was boarded up, but Antifa likes to try to burn these buildings down with the occupants inside,” Douglas Murray writes in The Spectator. “The Antifa activists hurl projectiles at the boarded-up facility, beating drums to work themselves up into the violent frenzy they crave. Whenever the rioters get within a certain distance of the doors, and only after sufficient siren warnings have been given, the agents of law enforcement break out. They fire tear gas and pepper bullets.

 “A running battle saw the protesters chased back for a time, only for the police to retreat under a barrage of ‘oink’ noises from the protestors including young white women (one in a pink onesie jumpsuit) shouting ‘Nazis’ and screaming through megaphones at the officers about how much the officers’ children would hate their fathers.

 “Antifa’s tactic is to provoke the police into an act of violence on camera so the activists can then claim they are being oppressed,” Murray concludes. “From everything I saw of the police –  including being cleared from an alleyway at gunpoint along with a dozen or so Antifa activists – I would say that most federal agents have the patience of saints.”



AS THE SUMMER progressed, the street violence morphed into an attack on history as mobs pulled down statues of those deemed out of tune with fashionable progressive ideology. In Philadelphia, a monument to an unknown soldier of the Revolutionary War of 1776 was defaced. Even Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, succumbed to the mob mentality by removing portraits of two former House Speakers from the walls of Congress. It seems she’d suddenly discovered that some of her predecessors supported the Confederacy. 

And so it went. The protesters (read: mobs) turned against anyone whose statue or monument might be deemed questionable regardless of historical evidence to the contrary. Historical knowledge meant nothing; emotive grievance was everything. Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant and even George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were among the toppled figures. It didn’t matter that Lincoln opposed slavery or that Grant led the Union Army to victory against the Confederacy or that Jefferson and Washington were founders of a republic that promised eventual liberty for all. Nor did it matter that Jackson, a founder of the Democratic Party, was devoted to individual freedom or that Roosevelt led the progressive movement in the early 20th century as a champion of “Square Deal” domestic policies that sought fair treatment for all Americans. 

Ignorance and grievance popped up elsewhere, too. In Canada, a Montreal mob pulled down a statue of Canada’s founding father and first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. In Belgium, a mob toppled a statue of Julius Caesar to show their outrage at Floyd’s death. What an ancient Roman general had to do with racism in modern America is a puzzle to me. But then why did a mob descend on Westminster to try to topple a statue of Sir Winston Churchill, the greatest anti-fascist leader of the 20th century West?

No one of goodwill can deny the ugliness of George Floyd’s death or the moral integrity of opposing racial discrimination. But only a few observers were willing to risk opprobrium in pointing out how in many cases last spring protests morphed into assaults on the foundations of liberal democracy and its traditions of tolerance and individual freedom.

Indeed, authorities were expecting even worse riots this spring if a Minneapolis jury hadn’t convicted Derek Chauvin in Floyd’s death on April 20. New agencies reported in the days leading up to the conviction that some cities in the United States had declared emergencies in anticipation as they barricaded roads, boarded up windows, and called in the soldiers to patrol the streets. Minneapolis looked like a city under military occupation, according to Associated Press. More than 3,000 armed National Guard troops, along with police officers, state police, sheriffs’ deputies and other law enforcement personnel were deployed. Concrete barriers, chain-link fences and barbed wire ringed parts of downtown and convoys of desert-tan military vehicles were a common sight. Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of stores and other buildings have been boarded up across the city. As the news agency put it: “There are places today in Minneapolis that can feel almost like a police state.”

Journalist Christopher Caldwell, writing in The Claremont Review of Books, observes how in the immediate aftermath black race-consciousness and calls for black retribution quickly spread to all of America’s racial groups and all its opinion-forming institutions from Apple and Wells Fargo to almost every single newspaper, television station, and university. It seems, says Caldwell, that in the course of a lockdown meant to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic the whole country was also infected with the tenets of campus-style social justice. And all it took was a single instance of police misconduct to bring protesters into the streets with the backing of almost all the political and cultural leaders in the United States.

The ostensible “cause” of the rioting was the death of a black man in police custody — a far less common occurrence than is generally made out. But however deplorable, “that did not necessarily make it racist, let alone an occasion for putting half the country’s cities to the torch,” Caldwell writes. 

Floyd possessed a lengthy record for violent crime, and he and Chauvin had known and disliked each for a long time. That suggests a personal, not a racial, dimension to their confrontation. As Caldwell points out: “Chauvin expressed no racism” in the video of him kneeling on Floyd’s neck; nor did the other four police officers at the scene, including a black officer and an Asian-American officer. Even Floyd’s brother, Philonise, speculated in testimony before Congress that he thought the confrontation was “personal” as a result of the two having worked together providing security at local nightclubs. Yet Floyd’s death was cast as proof of “systemic racism,” a charge that quickly produced burning cities and the conversion of political, business, and educational institutions in the United States and elsewhere to the notion of “race radicalism.” 

This conversion to a racialized narrative is based on “a single structural argument: that blacks are more likely than whites to meet violence at the hands of police,” Caldwell argues in challenging this assumption. While acknowledging that blacks are on a per capita basis “about twice as likely to be roughed up by the authorities,” this is not inconsistent with “black participation in criminal activity.” 

“Blacks make up 26.9% of arrests, about double their percentage in the population (13%). They are twice as likely to encounter the police at their worst because they are twice as likely to encounter the police, period. In fact, the black percentage of arrests grows as offences become more serious: 38% for violent crime in general (three times their percentage of the population) and 53% for murder (four times their percentage of the population).”

Caldwell concludes that while America’s police officers have their faults, “racism is not among the more obvious ones, and where it exists it is hardly systemic.” He also notices that in many of the anti-racist demonstrations a significant proportion of those tossing bricks and denouncing the police were from the ‘white privilege’ class. So, he asks, if it really wasn’t “racism” that brought “the children of the ghettos and the children of elite universities into the street together to battle the system with their midnight processions and their firebombs,” what was it?




THE FRENCH SOCIOLOGIST Émile Durkheim’s concept of anomie may be helpful in answering that question. Dictionaries generally define the condition of anomie as a lack of moral standards and lawlessness on the part of an individual or even a society. Durkheim drew on the term to explain the far-reaching changes in social norms that he witnessed as a result of industrialization and secularization in 19th-century France. 

According to Durkheim, the condition of anomie, whether individual or collective, exists in society as a consequence of social disintegration and the disappearance of values and traditions –  religion for example – that had once bound the society together. Anomie emerges during periods of heightened social, political, and economic change. During these times social norms and political institutions no longer receive the general adherence, confidence and trust they once did. Those living through this interregnum between the collapse of an old order and appearance of something new feel disoriented because they no longer see the values they were taught to respect reflected in the social order around them. The result is a lack of meaningful connection to others and a feeling of anxiety about one’s life. The result, Durkheim argued, is the dérèglement, or derangement, of society itself as people, individually and collectively, lash out in resentment at a political or social system that no longer provides the means for maintaining a stable and purposeful life.

Anomic periods are especially possible when new ideas about social mores and values conflict with old ideas. As Durkheim wrote in his most famous book, Suicide: A Study in Sociology, anomie is particularly noticeable “when society is disturbed by some painful crisis or by beneficent but abrupt transitions.” 

Sociologists since Durkheim have extended the concept of anomie with a theory of structural strain, positing the notion that when a society fails to provide people with legitimate means to satisfy culturally accepted goals, they may look for other ways to get what they want, including illegal means. In other words, moral deviance, crime, and social upheaval are the consequences of anomic conditions in society. 

Anomie highlights a perennial debate in Western political thought, which can be divided into two camps. In one camp are those who subscribe to an optimistic notion that has gained many intellectual adherents since the Enlightenment: People are generally good and flawed social structures and institutions are to blame for making them bad. Drawing on the thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the optimists maintain that fixing the institutions will change everybody’s behaviour. And when the institutions are ruled by corrupt and oppressive elites, it is time for the victims to pull them down. (Today, as we are all taught, the oppressor is the “white male” and all his “privileged patriarchal” structures and values that must be brought down, but that’s a topic for another day; it’s not going away anytime soon.)

The other camp is composed of those more pessimistic about the human species, regarding it as driven by instincts often inimical to social order. Sturdy institutions and authoritative (as distinct from authoritarian) leaders are needed because we are all sinners, to use the Judeo-Christian metaphor for the flawed human condition. The pessimists look to the thought of Thomas Hobbes for guidance, recognizing as he did that a strong state is necessary to foster those moral and ethical traditions that can keep the forces of chaos at bay like a campfire that needs constant tending to maintain a circle of light amidst the surrounding darkness. Pessimists tend to be conservative.

Durkheim inclines to the Hobbesian view even while promoting a Rousseauian outcome. He tries to solve the problems of human nature by postulating a “collective conscience” that allows self-serving individuals to accept the moral authority of a social order and its control on their impulsiveness so long as they can obtain reasonable satisfaction of their desires. In periods of rapid change, however, whether from economic hardship or excessive prosperity, people are willing to challenge the legitimacy of the prevailing collective conscience if it no longer meets their needs and desires regardless of the coherence of those needs and desires. 

This turn against traditional social order both fosters and reflects anomie, according to Durkheim, observing that anomic conditions can take many forms – economic, political, social, and psychological. Nonetheless, each demonstrates the dissolution of the “collective conscience” and consequent dérèglement of people’s lives.  

Surely the violent events of the last year qualify as a period of dérèglement, collective and individual. If so, I’d like to consider three sources, “three d’s” for this disorder: disaster, demographics, and derangement.

The disaster is obvious and needs little comment. While the protests may have initially been propelled by grievances about racism, the coronavirus with its lockdowns and job-killing economic consequences provided the reagent to an already volatile mixture. It didn’t help that in an era where the government is regarded as responsible for providing cradle-to-grave care, many politicians proved incapable of leadership that transcended partisan interests in responding to the pandemic. Toss demography into the mix and the conditions were ripe for what political scientist James Q. Wilson once called the “barbarian invasion” of a new generation inflicting itself on an older generation.

In his 1974 study, Thinking about Crime, Wilson observed that in the 1950s and well into the 1960s, the “invading army” (those aged fourteen to twenty-four) were outnumbered three to one by the size of the “defending army” (those aged twenty-five to sixty-four). By 1970, however, the ranks of the former had grown so fast that they outnumbered the latter two to one, a demographic state that had not existed since the early 20th century. Today, according to American demographers, the ratio of invaders and defenders is four to one. 

Until this past year, it didn’t look like Generation Z would be too barbaric. The early battalions of Gen Z – those born, say, between 1996 and 2006 – seemed a quiescent lot, subdued by economic uncertainty and devoted to digital living. Then came COVID-19 to drive the old folks and those pushing middle age – Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials respectively – indoors. As Caldwell suggests, that left the streets to the young. Taking their instructions, values, and grievances from social media peers, these twenty-somethings occupied undefended territory – as the rampages in Portland, Seattle, and New York attest.

I was reminded of the essential lesson in Plato’s Republic. Socrates, Plato’s main character, tries to educate the young men of Athens to direct their desire for accomplishment and recognition toward civic duty and the maintenance of order. Our modern pedagogues, on the other hand, regard education as therapy and promote a slavish mentality that teaches everyone except white males to regard themselves as victims of oppression. They eschew Plato’s knowledge that social order is threatened when the spirited young are not challenged to live up to purposes greater than self-interest or directed to the service of transcendent causes. 

Perhaps even more disturbing than the mob anarchy of the past year is the intellectual cowardice of authority in kowtowing to spurious ideological fashion. The fact that so many public officials and even corporate leaders bent their collective knee to shaming rhetoric about “systematic racism” and “white privilege” reinforces evidence of the abandonment of mature thought in modern society. To put it another way, we are witnessing the increasing infantilization of society. 




WE'VE BEEN HERE before. Between the summers of 1967 and 1968, cities around the world were convulsed by violence. During the “long, hot summer of 1967,” parts of Detroit became a near-war zone as black residents confronted police. Sixteen people were killed, including a police officer and a soldier, and hundreds were injured. In France in May 1968, the government of President Charles de Gaulle was close to collapse following rioting throughout the country. In Chicago, eleven people were killed and dozens injured in an explosion of rioting, looting, and destruction triggered by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. 

The period is regarded with nostalgic indulgence by those with progressivist tendencies. “In the years around 1968, utopian exhilaration swept across the student universe,” wrote social critic Paul Berman in his 1996 book, A Tale of Two Utopias: The Political Journal of the Generation of 1968. Many believed that “we ourselves – the teenage revolutionaries, freaks, hippies, and students, together with our friends and leaders who were five or ten years older and our allies around the world – stood at the heart of a new society.”

I prefer the Hobbesian perspective of playwright Tom Stoppard, who was born and raised in Czechoslovakia before emigrating to the United Kingdom in 1946, two years before the Soviet Union occupied the country. In a 2008 article in The Sunday Times entitled “1968: the year of the posturing rebel,” Stoppard said he couldn’t understand why the youthful protestors in London and Paris would regard the liberal democratic societies of the West as oppressive or tyrannical when the Soviet foil was so obvious. “I was embarrassed by the slogans and postures of rebellion in a society which … seemed to me to be the least worst system into which one might have been born – the open liberal democracy whose very essence was the toleration of dissent.”

Anyone who monitored the anarchy of recent months might reach a similar conclusion. These “revolutionaries” were having the time of their lives as they torched courthouses, danced around toppled statues, and stole stationery from congressional offices.

Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existentialist, coined the phrase “bad faith” to describe those who engage in emotional self-deception. Those indulging in bad faith lack authenticity in claiming their cause justifies violence. In the case of the mobs, whether in Seattle or Washington, the pumped-up outrage disguised an infantile pleasure in smashing things behind a mask of moral virtue. As Theodore Dalrymple (a.k.a. Anthony Daniels, the bestselling author and former prison psychiatrist) observed in a recent essay in The New Criterion, “The Choleric Outbreak”: 

There is, I am afraid, a joy in itself in destruction; when it is united with both impunity and a sense of righteous indignation, of outrage, it becomes delicious and unstoppable … Their righteous anger allows them with a good conscience to do what they would not normally do, especially when they are in the anonymizing company of many others of like mind … Their righteous indignation gives them the locus standi to throw a brick through a plate-glass window.


The case of Clara Kraebber, a university student from a well-to-do New York family, illustrates both Dalrymple’s point and Sartre’s concept. The 20-year-old was charged after she participated in a three-hour BLM “protest” in Manhattan in early September that caused $100,000 in damage to businesses in the Flatiron district. According to newspaper reports, she was one of seven youths arrested after marching with the “New Afrikan Black Panther Party” and the “Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement” as they moved through the streets chanting “every city, every town, burn the precinct to the ground,” smashing storefront windows along the way. 

Other arrests included a model, an actress, an art director who’d done work for Pepsi and Samsung, and the son of well-known comic book writers. They were charged with rioting, the media reported. Some were also charged with having weapons and burglary tools. Their mugshots indicate all seven are white.

The New York Post profiled Kraebber, describing her as an undergraduate at Rice University – tuition $50,000 a year – and her parents as a child psychiatrist at Columbia University and an architect who owned high-end homes in two states. The paper quoted a police officer regarding Kraebber’s arrest: “This is the height of hypocrisy. This girl should be the poster child for white privilege, growing up on the Upper East Side and another home in Connecticut.”

Not that the rioting was limited to well-to-do whites. The New York Times reported in early June on the case of two non-white lawyers, Colinford Mattis and Urooj Rahman, who were charged with tossing a Molotov cocktail into a police vehicle. Both are children of immigrants, according to the Times, and went on to graduate from prestigious law schools – Princeton University and New York University Law School respectively.

The legal duo joined thousands of others on the streets of New York to voice their outrage over racism. But a witness took a photo of Rahman looking out the open window of a minivan, Molotov cocktail in her right hand and holding a chequered black-and-white keffiyeh scarf over her face with her left hand. It was past midnight, long after the demonstration had ended. Yet, according to prosecutors, Rahman was seen getting out of the van, walking to an empty patrol car and throwing the gasoline bomb through a broken window. Allegedly, she’d been offering Molotov cocktails to others as she cruised the streets.





Privileged Guilt

SOCIOLOGISTS AND PSYCHOLOGISTS have long tried to understand the motives that propel people to take part in violent events when they have little at stake – no skin in the game. Helmut Schoeck, an Austrian-German sociologist, argues that envy is often the psychological motive behind protests on behalf of social justice and the self-justifying violence of mobs. But an equally important dimension is envy-avoidance in which people feel themselves to be guilty of being unequal or privileged. They have “guilt-tinged fear of being thought unequal” when they compare their own prosperity or accomplishment with others, Schoeck says in his most famous book, Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior

This sense of guilt doesn’t necessarily mean a person will forsake their prosperous life and join the less fortunate. Instead, they extirpate their guilt by demanding that society join them to overcome the world’s inequities. Says Schoeck: “I have no doubt that one of the most important motives for joining an egalitarian political movement is this anxious sense of guilt: ‘Let us set up a society where no one is envious.’” It’s the perfect formula for progressivist Antifa-types; if you aren’t part of the revolution of the righteous, you’re part of the problem. 

While Schoeck’s sociological theory underscores the anomic mentality of the cancel-culture mobs, some commentators have also noted similarities between the woke radicalism of groups like Antifa and Stalin’s show trials and the “struggle sessions” of Mao’s cultural revolution. “Like the communist elites, woke insurgents aim to enforce a single worldview by the pedagogic use of fear,” political theorist John Gray writes in a June 2020 essay on the Unherd website. But unlike Leninist revolutionaries, the wokers have no vision of the future. “In Leninist terms they are infantile leftists, acting out a revolutionary performance with no strategy or plan for what they would do in power,” he says. “Rather than aiming for a better future, woke militants seek a cathartic present. Cleansing themselves and others of sin is their goal,” with little thought for the consequences. 

For some strange reason, many public authorities seem to support such a cleansing. In June last year, Seattle officials allowed anarchists to seize six square blocks of the city’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood. Local politicians ordered police and firefighters not to enter the area. During that time, according to the online site Clarion Project, crime jumped, including homicides – two teenagers were shot to death in the zone – as well as robberies and aggravated assaults. 

Portland, meanwhile, endured months of “protests” marked by vandalism, property destruction and killing. According to the Clarion Project, amidst the chaos – shootings increased by 140% compared to the same period a year earlier – the city council slashed the police budget by $15 million and cut 84 positions. That included, ironically, the Gun Violence Reduction Team and the police team that handled emergency response incidents.



What accounts for this retreat of authority in the face of disorder? Maybe history offers some guidance. In his 1957 book The Pursuit of the Millennium, historian Norman Cohn examined how apocalyptic thought played out in violent social movements in Europe during the Middle Age. I read it as an undergraduate in the 1970s when it was much-cited by commentators trying to explain the protest movements of our generation. 

According to Cohn, these social movements reflected the revolutionary desires of their participants, with Jewish and Christian apocalyptic traditions providing the psychological framework to justify them. Between the 11th and 16th centuries, these movements saw mobs rampaging across Europe. Adherents were convinced the world was full of evildoers and God’s holy people, namely themselves, had to cleanse the world to establish the purified kingdom of righteous believers. 

The existence of large numbers of economically-dispossessed and socially-marginalized people fostered that era’s anomie. Disruptions of traditional ways of life from urbanization and the emergence of a mercantile economy that did not require unskilled labour stirred widespread resentment of elites. Millenarianism, says Cohn, offered “the disoriented, the perplexed, and the frightened” the opportunity for revenge against the oppressors they envied. 

Movement leaders, often literate and in positions of authority, found ready recruits among the poor. Jews were targeted in bloody pogroms while Catholic churches were defiled by vengeful mobs resentful of priestly privilege. Persuaded by their own righteousness, cleansed of their own sins, the roving mobs justified murder, rape, and pillage as acts of purification. And since they were the Elect, they could expect, as Cohn writes, to be “amply compensated for all their sufferings by the joys of total domination or of total community or of both together; a world purified of all evil and in which history is to find its consummation.”

It may be premature to identify the mobs of today with antinomian millenarians. But it is telling that while the cancel culturalists, Antifa fanatics, and social justice warriors are insistently secularist, they display a mindset similar to that of the religiously motivated millenarians. 

So, are we entering an era of Endarkenment? Do “autonomous zones” mark the beginning of “decivilization,” to borrow a coinage from psychologist Steven Pinker? Or does Tom Stoppard’s description of the 1960s’ as “little more than a saturnalia” apply also to the woke radicals?

Maybe President de Gaulle had the right response. When he spoke on radio to the French people in 1968, he cast the protesters as children in need of discipline. “He scolded the nation, scolded the naughty children,” Padraic McGuinness wrote in the January 2008 edition of Quadrant magazine, of which he was then editor. “Enough, he said, of the ‘chienlit’ – there was some debate in the following morning’s papers as to exactly what this folksy phrase meant, but it meant, in effect, s---ting in bed.’ In other words, stop soiling your own nest. Go home and stop all this.

“Like a balloon when the neck is released, the whole thing deflated,” said McGuinness, who recalled listening to the radio address in a Paris bistro. “You could almost hear the air whistling out as the tension collapsed. Like ashamed, naughty children, people began dispersing. This was the real end of the ‘revolution.’” 

Is that what we need, a leader who can deliver the necessary chastisement? Not that the West has leaders with sufficient authoritative appeal to warrant a respectful hearing. Or will Gen Z follow the example of the Boomers who, after the halcyon days of the 1960s, eventually turned to career, kids, and consumption? The answer, I suspect, depends a lot on what happens with Covid-19; how long it goes on, how profound the effects on society. The millenarian mobs were particularly virulent during the Black Death. 

Maybe that’s why I keep thinking of the final scenes in The Omega Man. Robert Neville eventually finds a cure for the virus and gives it to a small band of survivors – whites and blacks, it should be noted – whom he had discovered on his wanderings. But it’s too late for him. When the zombie mob finally traps and kills him, the newly inoculated survivors have to flee the burning city, leaving it to the rampaging mob.


Robert C. Sibley is an award-winning journalist and author and a regular contributor to THE DORCHESTER REVIEW. He has worked as a Senior Writer at the Ottawa Citizen, and is an adjunct research professor in political science at Carleton University, where he has lectured on modern political thought.

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