A Reader Review of Forging The Hero
“The Barbarian Economist,” Jim Chappelow, sent me a review he wrote of Forging The Hero. He makes me sound smarter, more well-spoken, and better looking, than I actually am, but for what it is worth, here’s his review (my commentary is, as always, bold and italicized, in parentheses). –JM
Note: Jim provided a metric fuck ton of assistance in fact checking my notes on the economic issues. That having been said, there were some things I disagreed with him on, looking at it from a non-economist PoV, so any factual errors should still be assumed to be my own. Jim did not receive monetary recompense for his assistance with the books (I sent him copies of TRP1 &2 in gratitude, after the fact), or for this review.
Forging the Hero
By John Mosby
Warhammer Six Press, 2016, 202 pp.
Reviewed by Jim Chappelow
Reviewer’s disclosure: This reviewer assisted with some editing and fact-checking some of the economic content for sections of chapter 2 “An Inconvenient Whimper” and received autographed copies of The Reluctant Partisan vols. 1 & 2 in return for this assistance.
Bottom line up front: Despite a few minor flaws, Forging the Hero may be the most influential book I have read this year. If you have any interest in neo-tribalism, applied Germanic heathen practice, or prepping/survivalism and you have not read this book, then you are behind the times. Fix yourself.
Forging the Hero is the short, but information dense, culmination of Mosby’s Reluctant Partisan series, which places the author’s work squarely in the neo-tribalist movement. (It is actually intended to be separate from The Reluctant Partisan series, but he’s right, after a fashion, since so much of the information ties together in that “Non-Generational Warfare” motif. –JM)Weaving together the subjects of survivalism and Northern European heathen spirituality (Culture. I’m pretty sure I didn’t bring anything specifically spiritual into the book….–JM), Mosby brings a huge dose of pragmatic realism to both subjects while synthesizing them into a valuable new contribution and kicking a number of sacred cows along the way. Despite some noticeable issues regarding editing and structural emphasis of the evidence presented, Forging the Hero is likely the most important piece in either subject in some time. Overall, Mosby without a doubt succeeds in his exposition of his vision of the why and how of neo-tribalism as a survival strategy to survive and thrive amidst a declining empire. In addition to the successful presentation of his content, the author’s engaging style and witty off-the-cuff remarks keep the material interesting throughout.
The first seventy pages of the book are given over to Mosby’s case that the United States, as an imperial power, is a society in decline. One of the most refreshing elements of this book is found in this section; the author’s emphasis, even insistence, on realistic assessment and critical thinking skills as key to coming to grips with the (end of) the world around us. Relative to the conspiracy theories and chicken-little-ism of typical survivalist writings or the LARPing and esoterica of much of the alt spirituality literature, Mosby’s no-nonsense approach really makes Forging the Hero a book for rational, sensible people and not for wild-eyed nuts. Even better, his emphasis on critical thinking skills then becomes a recurrent theme throughout the book in his methodology, argumentation, and advice on tribe building.
Mosby lays out his introductory case primarily based on two typologies: Sir John Bagot Glubb’s ages of imperial rise and fall (particularly emphasizing Glubb’s indicators of the Age of Decadence, which mark the fall) and Dmitry Orlov’s five stages of collapse. In both cases, Mosby packs his text with historical illustrations from past empires now crumbled to dust and recent historical evidence from the United States, ranging from a detailed narrative of the 2008 financial crisis to Gallup survey data on American’s confidence in various social institutions (and, if you think President-Elect Trump and his cabinet choices are going to change the course of history, you REALLY need to read this book, if I do say so myself…–JM). Walking the reader through these two typologies over the first two chapters of the book, the author concludes that: 1) “The American Empire is dying.” (p.70), 2) the collapse will NOT be “some sort of conveniently sudden, immediately catastrophic, easily recognized event” (p.43), but rather a creeping, regionally varied, episodic degradation of American societal institutions over decades, and 3) the solution is neither “a futile struggle to hold on to that empire” (p.83), “vot[ing] your way out of it” (p.71), or “armed insurrection” (p.71), but rather 4) the establishment of self-sufficient “tight-knit community, with shared values, traditions, and customs” (p.72) “focusing on your own friends, family, and neighbors and their needs and desires” (p.69).
This section of the book showcases Mosby’s impressively wide and deep understanding of human history as he ranges from the Great Wall of China to 21st century Wall Street, from the Marian Reforms to the Counter-Reformation. This strength serves him well in building a convincing case, though it occasionally bogs the book down in overly pedantic accounts of the chosen historic examples. This in turn contributes to a generally rambling start to the book; rather than cramming in lots of marginally connected but detailed evidence, this part of the book could have been structured a little more carefully to concisely present pieces of evidence directly connected to specific arguments in a more linear fashion (in my defense, as those who have taken classes with me will gleefully, or ruefully, depending on their perspective, point out, my writing is really no more pedantic than my lecturing…–JM). It might also have presented a way to estimate more precisely where along the curve of collapse we are in The Current Year, particularly with respect to Orlov’s five stages since they are hypothesized to follow roughly in sequence. This initial rambling does not necessarily detract from his overall argument, though it may make it a little hard to get through for less patient or erudite readers as it constitutes nearly the entire first half of the book.
Mosby follows up with about a ten page digression into methodology and epistemology intended to justify the approach of the remainder of the book. “This is a book about philosophy and ideas, but it is about putting those ideas to work in a practical, functional way.” Here, the bottom line is balance; between academic and experiential learning and between various disciplines of learning about past human experience in periods of imperial decline. Mosby is a firm believer in Thucydides dictum “the society that separates its warriors from its scholars will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting done by fools” (it has, since publication, repeatedly been brought to my attention that this is, apparently, falsely attributed to Thucydides. –JM) This qualifies the author himself on the topic at hand, as both a widely read and well educated student of history and as a combat veteran with years of experience surviving in violent, Third World backwaters. It also qualifies his approach to the subsequent discussion of survival in a decaying empire as a blend of first hand experience, historical analogy, anthropological evidence of extant tribal cultures, and inspiration drawn from Northern European (and to some extent Christian) myth and legend.
At this point, Mosby introduces his major thesis for the second half of the book. “The solution to surviving the decline of empire is the embrace of our barbarian, tribal heritage” (p.84), “recognizing the existence of your tribes as a social construct that will allow your cultural values, customs, and traditions to survive the decline of the American Empire.” (p.85). He differentiates the tribe from both the cosmopolitan, corporate collective of the imperial state on the one hand and the atomistic individualism of mass consumer markets or “rugged individualist” fantasy on the other. Whether they take the form of organically evolved kith-and-kin groups or intentional communities (“sodalities”), Mosby’s tribes share some common, and according to the author universal, characteristics: mutual exclusivity, meritocracy, frith (and its corollary, honor), and orlog.
Mosby’s discussion of the Germanic heathen concepts of frith, honor, hamingja, and orlog is just excellent (as I point out in the book, when comparing these with the Pashtunwali, these are not strictly European concepts. They are universal human tribal concepts. I just chose to use the northern European/Germanic terminology, because, well, that’s where my ancestors came from…–JM). In particular, his treatment of these as practically applied principles that should (and must) define tribal living in a post imperial era is some of the best I have seen from any heathen author. This is one of the most important contributions of this book, and I strongly recommend reading chapters 4-8 as the real core of Mosby’s philosophy and vision of neo-tribalism as a survival strategy. Importantly, he makes clear how these concepts apply to survival groups of other spiritual persuasions, and draws parallels to Christianity and other traditions. I find little to criticize and much to praise in this section of the book, which I will leave for the reader to explore.
That said, his discussion of the principles of mutual exclusivity and meritocracy could be improved I think in two respects. Firstly, here would be a good place for more extended historical, mythological, and anthropological evidence to be brought to bear, especially given the wealth of such evidence presented in the early chapters of the book on the decline of empire and the preceding section that makes the case for the use of these types of evidence to support just the kind of argument that he makes here. In particular, I would have liked to have seen more concrete historical evidence as to the natural hierarchies and sharply differentiated identities of tribes in the late and post-Imperial period.
Secondly, Mosby couches his overall argument in terms of Pre-Christian Germano-Celtic tradition, but at the same time tells the reader, “If you happen to be of African, Asian, or Amerindian descent, these principles still apply, although your ancestral cultures probably utilized different terminology for the same fundmental, universally human principles.” (p. 90, footnote 99, emphasis added). More historical, anthropological, and mythological evidence would be very helpful here in order to establish that these principles are indeed universal and that observed differences in tribal form, identity and practice across cultures and times are indeed only terminological in nature.
(In both cases I think that other social science methods may be useful, including social/evolutionary psychology and economic theory.)
Other highlights from the core section of Forging the Hero that really stand out to me are Mosby’s insightful description of reciprocal gifting as integral to building, binding, and sustaining the tribe; his thoughtful discussion of the role of women, children, and non-warrior (“wizard” or clerical advisors) men in the tribe (a refreshing treatment in fields heavily dominated by Viking warrior and tacti-cool-guy imagery); and his explicit advocacy of ancestor veneration as both fundamental to tribal spirituality and a sustaining force for tribes over time.
The final three chapters of the book delve deep in to real-world applications for Mosby’s theories. Here he covers some very practical ideas on the topics of tribe building (ch. 8), a realistic discussion of the morality of violence in a survival context, martial virtue, and combat mindset (ch. 9), and individual preparedness (ch. 10). This is top notch information and advice that I personally either am, or will be in the near future, incorporating myself and recommend to the reader. Though highly useful, some of it will already be familiar to readers who follow the Mountain Guerrilla blog or have read previous Reluctant Partisan volumes.
One final criticism I would note is that Forging the Hero is replete with typographical errors and that the citation of sources is sometimes inconsistent and incomplete. These do not rise to the level of interfering with the clarity of the content and in the author’s defense may be partially due to a rush to publish given the recent explosive growth in the field of popular literature on neo-tribalism (it has more to do with being a shitty typist, and having sub-par editors, apparently..–JM.). They may not always even be noticeable to readers not familiar with standard academic style and attribution, and this book is not intended for an academic audience anyway. I expect that the author might tell anyone complaining about these to fuck off in any event.
In the final analysis, despite a few minor flaws and points of improvement, Forging the Hero is a work of enduring value, which will be passed hand to hand among any who care about the topics addressed therein. It compliments and on some points compares favorably with recent works by other authors on the topics of neo-tribalism, Germanic heathenry, and survivalism, and it is perhaps a unique success in having so effectively integrated these topics. My only real regret with this book is not having read and begun to implement it years ago (funny, as I pointed out to Jim, my regret with this book was not having written it years ago…–JM)