The Coming “Soft Dark Ages” — by guest blogger Charles Martel

This is an exercise in pure speculation. I invite all here to bring their own notions to the table.

An old friend of mine visited me last Saturday to catch up on things. We walked my dog and began a long conversation that ended later in my backyard over coffee and tea.

Bob is fascinated by history, and has been a long-time contributor to print and online history publications. So our conversations often veer off into that realm. Because we have developed a years-long habit of riffing on whatever thoughts come to our heads, we never know where one of our history threads will go.

We were discussing the dark ages, which not only were characterized by the disintegration of the Roman political order, but also the loss of an immense store of practical technological knowledge: agricultural practices and implements; construction techniques—it would take until the 19th century for Europeans to match the Romans’ road-building prowess—war machines; distribution and warehousing; science; art (which in Roman times was the realm of artisans, not self-absorbed “transgressive” pricks).  

I said that I think we are headed for a “soft dark ages.” That took him aback. “How are we headed there,” he asked, “and how would they be ‘soft’?”

I answered his last question first. They would be “soft” because unlike what happened in Roman times, we have the ability to store gigantic amounts of information in small spaces. One person can carry around encyclopedic knowledge on a flash drive. Multiply him by the millions, and you have a vast repository of recoverable knowledge that is private, widely dispersed, and replicated many times over. No matter how determined or persistent this era’s barbarians—Marxists, Muslims, Democrats, unionists, academicians—they simply would not be able to track down and destroy all modern technological knowledge.

But beyond furtive individual efforts at hiding and protecting the knowledge we would need to create a New America or a New West, there would be vaster, more organized, more collective efforts to protect knowledge until better days. I suggested to Bob three institutions or concepts that would become the next dark ages’ hallmarks: The new castle fortress; the new monastic life; and the new Europe.

1.  The Return of the Castle Fortresses

If the United States, Europe and China disintegrate, as seems likely, there will be a scramble for political power among the remnant provinces, states, and regions. Most power will be wielded by Marxist thugs and old-fashioned warlords, so it would not be surprising to see China devolve to its pre-Qin Dynasty pattern of warring neighbor states, or America’s big cities—Chicago, Detroit, Washington—and its Mexicanized rural regions, become brutal satrapies run by the people like Jesse Jackson, Bill Ayers, La Raza, ethnic mafias, and the like.

Europe could begin a too-late, doomed-to-fail ethnic cleansing of its Muslim underclass, but would probably slip either into fascism or dhimmitude. Poland, the bravest of the European nations, might be able to escape either fate, although that would be doubtful given its lack of firepower and its closeness to the greatest of all the European barbarian states, Russia.

But the barbarians would not win everywhere. Just as Old Europe in the dark ages had its bright centers of learning, protected by force of arms, there would be parts of the world that would not succumb to the new barbarity. They would become mankind’s new castles, fortresses of resistance where decency and unpoliticized science might still flourish.

These new fortresses will not have thick walls and deep moats, although their means of protection metaphorically will be the same. Their moats will be the ability of their computer geniuses to resist and thwart attacks upon their databases, and their walls will be heavily and well armed soldiers and citizens who will unhesitatingly destroy any physical threat to their sanctuaries.

Where will the new fortresses be? Either in lands that can protect themselves or are far enough away from the barbarians that they will be difficult to invade and hold. In the former case, Texas and Utah come to mind, states whose populations are already armed and whose economic infrastructures already lay upon solid technological foundations. More remote places, like New Zealand, Alberta, Baja California, could set up defendable dark age redoubts if they were properly armed, including with nuclear weapons.

There would be secret places, too. Large nations and corporations have set aside fortified places where they can stash tools, seeds, patents, rare materials, genealogies, and other irreplaceable items. Assuming that some of them will not be expropriated  by the new barbarians, these vital repositories of knowledge could be available for a later renaissance.    

2. The New Monastic Life

If the fortresses hold, they will become the new monasteries. Instead of patiently copying barely understood manuscripts from a fallen civilization, the new monastics will preserve the old science that they already well understand and attempt to build on it.

The ends they pursue will be the advancement of medicine (especially countermeasures to the barbarians’ chemical and biological weapons); the protection of personal data against spying or theft; the subversion of the barbarians’ computer and weapons systems (think Stuxnet); and the preservation of seminal texts that will one day replace the adulterated, denatured literature of the new emperors.

In contrast, the science of the barbarians will, because of barbarians’ nature, focus on predictable ends: refining the capacity to deliver death, whether it be through abortion, euthanasia, or mass murder against political opponents; improving methods of surveillance and the control of communications, “education,” and literature; honing tools designed to hunt down wealth or knowledge and expropriate it; and finding ways to increase the lifespans and sexual abilities of the rulers.

3. The New Europe

In the old dark ages, Europe itself was the physical locus of quiet scholarship and the preservation of old knowledge that later flowered into the Renaissance. In the “soft dark ages,” ones cushioned by the existence of fierce armed “monks” in well-defended freeholds, the New Europe will be a state of mind. In some ways, it will be how the Catholic Church sees itself: No matter where you go or what language you speak, there are the universal constants of the Mass and the Magisterium.

Similarly, wherever our new defenders of knowledge and decency find themselves — Patagonia, the Outback, the remote Rocky Mountains, the bowels of Obama-ite Chicago — they will share a common love of truth and real science. They will know how to detect falsehood and be indifferent to the barbarians’ enticements. Whatever secret handshake they develop, it will be something that the barbarians might know exists, but will, like their Vandal and Mongol forerunners, never understand.

How long will it take for the soft dark ages to run their course? Who could tell? My concern is that there remain a core of people who will resist the thugocracy, bloodlessly and not, until the thugs’ own fatal contradictions do them in. The United States defeated the Soviet Union because the USSR not only lived a lie, but because it had long before killed off its best and smartest people.

That pattern will repeat itself among our Marxist, Muslim, and academic brethren. But while they will be doomed to repeat a history of failure and debasement, our destiny will call for us to recreate the wonderful things that men once called “the West” and “America.”  

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  • Don Quixote

    Gee, CM, you missed your calling.  You should write a series of science fiction books based on this prediction of the future.  You’re off to a great start.  Personally, I think Western Civilization will end with a wimper of submission, not the bang of disintegration you expect.  The “new Dark Ages” if it comes at all will come from Muslim efforts to return civilization to the 7th century, and that will be a temporary setback at worst.  Time will tell, but I doubt either one of us is young enough to live to see it.

  • Karl

    I agree.  This could be the basis of a science fiction novel.

  • David Foster

    If the knowledge exists in written form…whether as physical documents or as computer files…it still doesn’t do any good unless there are people with sufficient conceptual understanding to make effective use of it.

    In the novel Karl mentioned, the monks who have dedicated themselves to saving mankind’s knowledge find an ancient schematic diagram for some kind of electronic control system, but have no way of comprehending what it’s really about.


  • Ymarsakar

    There are also homesteads in various states that have arms caches, farms, and have set themselves up with various resources. If I had to go anywhere, I’d go to one of those places locally. But if a centralized citadel needs guards and security specialists, there’s always a supply of those in the US. It’ll be like 300 BC in China, where individuals with knowledge in Wu-Shu, are highly sought after as advisers and military generals/strategists.

     I came across this link. NSFW

    This how the Western world is right now. Take a look, if you dare.

    Now think. Problems would still exist, but without the Left, they would never have gotten this bad. But people continue to repeat the mantra “there is no Leftist conspiracy to destabilize Western civilization and morality” as if that will protect them. Well, has it? 

  • Ymarsakar

    David Foster, that’s why people who can teach this stuff will be a lot more important than technicians and specialists that can do it. It will require far more creative and independent thinking than is considered the norm by Leftist cults.

    In the Wild Wild West, people who went to the West on wagon trails carried a lot of resources with them, depleting and throwing away dead weight as they started. They could only bring a few books, but these were the ones that taught them useful skills, not theory. So when they found a place to settle, they would attempt to attract immigration: especially those who can teach their children things such as horse back riding, fighting, shooting, survival, hunting, etc etc.


  • Danny Lemieux

    Excellent, excellent scenario projection, Hammer! 

    I think that, when the collapse comes, it will be very sudden, similar to the “sand pile effect”. Events will just build-up and build-up, artificially supported by existing institutions, until it all collapses like a pile of sand in an hourglass.

    What is happening in Europe with the Euro or within the U.S. with government spending offers good examples of how flawed systems build up criticality like a house of cards, while institutions try frantically to stave off collapse. In reality, these efforts not only avoid the obvious (i.e., financial collapse) but ensure that the impact of collapse is even more severe that it would otherwise have been (here’s a mind game: would we have been better off if the U.S. had declared bankruptcy and restructured itself 10 years ago?).

    I am not at all sure that Islamization will be successful. I tend to agree with Col. Ralph Peters that the Europeans’ ability to react to threats in violent, genocidal ways is way underestimated. Sadly, it will likely be bloody awful but I think that a hardened core of European heritage will survive and emerge from the rubble.

    Also, the Middle East is about to lose its oil /energy monopoly big time. When that happens, all that will be left are homicidal, dysfunctional countries with populations totally incapable of creating or generating value (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia), torn apart by internecine warfare (Iraq, Libya, Sudan) or even the obtaining the necessary resources with which to survive (Egypt). Stripped of oil revenues, they will revert to the barren lands, much as they were during the Ottoman Empire.

    As for the U.S., I don’t know. We have our own developing problems south of the border — see this horrendous account of what is really going on by Michael Yon here: From what I read, the Mexican gangs already field an army of regulars 120,000-strong and have killed 42,000 people to date (with some help from the Obama administration). That’s a real war on our border, folks.

    What saves our country, in my humble opinion, is a citizenry that is armed, locked and loaded. I read somewhere that just the state Michigan (population: 10 million) can field 900,000 armed citizens, many with military training. Imagine the equivalent numbers for Texas! This will have a big impact on keeping civil order during the worst of times. I don’t think these citizen armies favor the Left, btw.

    A violent future being a given, though, will it be worse than it was for Texas during the Commanche wars? I don’t think so. That being said, I would estimate that half of the people in this country will not be prepared for the new reality that is about to impose itself on us. Whether they learn to survive in the brutal realities that are starting to become evident will remain to be seen. 

    China and Russia, too, face forbidding futures.  

  • Caped Crusader

    GEE WHIZ!!! Just canceled my membership in the Optimist Club! And I sent back my fruitcake for a refund.

  • David Foster

    One thing to consider: automated systems increasingly have so much knowledge embedded in them that the knowledge of their human users tends to erode. For example–with the availability of GPS, how many people still learn celestial navigation? All of the spherical-trigonometry stuff is certainly well understood by the people who write the code for the GPS receivers, but they are a vanishingly small segment of the population.

    With the proliferation of cheap calculators, lots of people don’t understand how to do basic math.

  • suek

    >>…unlike what happened in Roman times, we have the ability to store gigantic amounts of information in small spaces.>>
    For that storage of gigantic amounts of information in small spaces to be accessible, we’d have to have electric power.  Do you think the power grid would still be available?  I question that.
    Of course, you could also have individual sources of power, but that means you’d have to have generators, which require fuel…again…availability?    Or maybe solar?  no batteries, of course, but daytime use would be better than nothing.
    Didn’t we have this conversation – or one similar – before?  Something to do with a person who has all sorts of books of info stored in a warehouse in a town in California which, when I checked on where it was, turned out to be located in the heart of earthquake country at the edge of one of the San Francisco bays that extends pretty far inland…   Think tsunami bait…!

  • Michael Adams

    Your own Carolingian dynasty was a notable counter current in the Middle Ages, except for that unfortunate part about selling slaves to the Arabs.  I’d also recommend, Cathedral, Forge, and Water Wheel, by Mr and Mrs. Gies. They explain how technology was actually progressing through most of the Medieval period.
    There’s another point for discussion, the causes of the collapse.  Many historians have blamed pure politics for the decline, and perhaps they are right.  However, Henri Pirenne, in Medieval Cities was sure that the Western Empire had a fairly soft landing, until the Arabs cut off Mediterranean trade, and the Vikings looted the cities.
    A third, more recent hypothesis was that the minor Ice Age that shortened Skadinavian growing seasons and caused a drought in Arabia, sending the Arabs out into civilized lands, may have provoked the decline Pirenne described, as well as a general economic decline caused by failed harvests, spoiled grain, etc.
    In those two, related hypotheses, more fossil fuel production, and continued attention to military technology would make for a very different course of events, que no?
    There’s a third difference.  The Romans had little appreciation for innovation, especially in technology, which slowed its development and, worse, its dissemination. Anyone who remembers that the O’Boy is in favor of weakening US patent law, making it conform, for anyone who knows about such things, more closely to Socialist  patent law, which does not recognize that there can be “new and useful improvements not obvious to one skilled in the art” In Socialist thinking, all improvements are natural developments to the skilled.
    OK, so, have I at least made clear that I have three very specific reasons to see O’Bama as the cataclysmic President? At any rate, as much as I liked Canticle, and even Redwall, I am more focused on applying the lessons of the past and trying to change the future.

  • David Foster

    Romans vs Middle Ages: it’s noteworthy that while the Greeks and the Romans were familiar with the waterwheel, and there were a few significant installations, they made little effort to fully exploit it. The Middle Ages, on the other hand, developed waterpower extensively, not only for grain milling but also for powering furnace bellows, trip-hammers for metalworking, cloth fulling, etc.

  • Ymarsakar

    From what I read, the Mexican gangs already field an army of regulars 120,000-strong and have killed 42,000 people to date (with some help from the Obama administration). That’s a real war on our border, folks.


    One guess what the Left will do about that, given that they profit from the war directly. Guess they weren’t kidding about blaming Bush for war profiteering. 

  • gpc31

    Great post. Alasdair MacIntyre’s “After Virtue” is relevant here.

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  • Karl

    Jerry Pournelle often writes about civilization.  One of his comments is:
    Dark ages happen not when you forget how to do something, but when you have forgotten that ever you could do it. The French peasant in the dark ages didn’t even suspect that his ancestors during Roman times harvested nearly an order of magnitude more grain per acre than he could. Part of that discrepancy was climate change – the Roman Warm period was over and the Viking Warm hadn’t come yet – but much of it was lost farming techniques.
    And we are definitely in a dark age. We do not know that once there were no illiterates who had been through more than five grades of school. Essentially none. I once asked my mother, a rural Florida first grade teacher in the 1920’s, how many of her pupils left first grade who had not learned how to read. She said there were one or two every couple of years, “but the didn’t learn anything else, either.” Which describes the situation. The notion that a child of dull normal or above intelligence would leave first grade unable to read was simply unthinkable. Now – well, now we cheer if half the kids in first grade can actually read at “first grade level”; and of course grade level reading is silly to begin with. If you can read you can read. You may not know the meaning of many words, but you can read them. But we have forgotten that this was ever true.

    Happy new year!

  • Louis_Pasteurs_stroke

    Ha! You’re all so optimistic!  The very near future will probably look more like “The Stand”.

  • Ymarsakar

    Not so much forgotten as brainwashed by the Left to believe in the Leftist version of history, rather than the true history.

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  • Ymarsakar
    This is how other cultures handle mass media concepts of beauty.