Skip to comments.When a Civilization Goes Mad
Posted on 08/16/2011 11:32:17 AM PDT by Kaslin
It begins with self-doubt; it ends with self-destruction.
Historian Arnold Toynbee, who developed the theory of challenge-and-response to account for the survivability of civilizations, has said that great civilizations are not murdered, they commit suicide by not meeting their challenges. A variation of this historical insight may be phrased thus: When a civilization or an empire feels inwardly that it is dying, or as Oswald Spengler put it in The Decline of the West, that it wants to die and wishes itself into the darkness, it begins to go mad. Collective madness is a sure portent that an end is approaching, that an axial transformation is about to occur, that an entire worldview or cultural habitus is on the verge of disintegration. It signals that a people has surrendered to a mortal destiny, repudiated its sustaining tradition and condign principles, and indeed has gone so far as to regard the enemy at the gates as a form of salvation. They were, those people, a kind of solution, say Constantine Cavafys effete Romans in his celebrated poem, Waiting for the Barbarians.
Western politics, Raymond Ibrahim has said, discussing the befuddled American and European outreach to the Muslim Brotherhood with its clever, phased project for infiltrating Western society, have descended into idealism and fantasy. The same can be said about the state of the Western media. The media are like the neural pathways establishing connections between the various parts of the world brain. When they begin to transmit false representations and misleading messages, the response to world events is at best incongruous and at worst drastically contorted. Both public sentiment and public policy lurch about in a kind of no-mans land, unable to make contact with things as they are. Obviously, there will always be a certain amount of misfiring in the circuitry, but when the entire system is warped and deformed, it becomes next to impossible to properly read the empirical world and react in appropriate ways. This creates a disjunction between mind and reality, which is one definition of madness.
The gradual but unrelenting insinuation of socialist and neo-Marxist doctrine into the liberal West, after it has been reliably shown to falter or collapse wherever it has been implemented, is still another index of severe mental disconnect and maladjustment to reality. Command economies are proven to be inefficient, and the welfare state, predicated on the punitive taxation of a shrinking and increasingly insolvent productive base to subsidize ever-inflating entitlement programs, has been properly described as a gigantic Ponzi scheme. Redistributionist and womb-to-tomb security states, as Margaret Thatcher famously said, will eventually run out of other peoples money. Nevertheless, this ideological will-o-the-wisp continues to be diligently pursued.
Or consider the phenomenon of multiculturalism, as interpreted and practiced in the West, which has led the countries that have adopted it into a state of social and political bedlam. Based, as Salim Mansur argues in his new book Delectable Lie, on the false idea another official lie, really that all cultures are equal, it is progressively destroying the Wests liberal democratic heritage by extending recognition to groups defined through collective identity and by elevating ethnicity over nationality. As a consequence, under the glazed and permissive view of the political class, the social fabric has critically unraveled, no-go enclaves have sprung up in many cities, the specter of homegrown terrorism haunts the public square, the structure of Western law and normative conduct has come under threat, and growing tension is the order of the day. Multiculturalism has seen the heritage culture adapting to the demands, institutions, and usages of immigrant societies rather than the other way round.
Indeed, the European Union has promulgated laws which militate against the criticism of Islam on the grounds of hate speech. Politicians, journalists, and ordinary citizens, like Geert Wilders, Lars Hedegaard, and Elisabeth Sabbaditch-Wolff, respectively, have found themselves prosecuted in court for warning their fellow citizens against the infiltration of radical Islam into the body politic. The same travesty is being repeated in Canada, whose misnamed Human Rights Commissions, which are essentially kangaroo courts that are not required to follow the rules of evidence, have tried such forthright and respectable journalists as Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn for offending Muslim sensibilities. If this is not madness, I dont know what is.
Perhaps the most conspicuous current example of collective delirium was the election of Barack Hussein Obama to the presidency of the United States. A man with no record of significant prior achievement, who sat for twenty years in the pews of a dubious church under the ministry of an anti-American and anti-Jewish, hate-spewing pastor, who has associated with various compromised individuals such as former PLO spokesman Rashid Khalidi, antisemite and black supremacist Louis Farrakhan, unrepentant former terrorist Bill Ayers, pro-Islamist plutocrat Khalid al-Mansour, and corrupt businessman Tony Rezko, whose political sentiments lie far to the Left, whose dossier remains in large measure under seal and whose verifiable biography is to a disturbing degree a matter of conjecture all this and much more should have alerted the electorate to his gross unsuitability for office, prompted the legacy media to investigate, and disqualified him immediately from running for the Democratic nomination.
But the emotional frenzy surrounding his candidacy ensured that sanity would not prevail in outing a man whom Robert Kimball has called a typical hothouse product of our self-satisfied liberal elite. Kimball continues, with much justification, that tens or hundreds of thousands of people will suffer because of our naïveté and Barack Obamas malevolent stupidity. The sequel has made it amply clear to all but the partisan, the myopic, and the myriad barnacles clinging to the ship of state and dependent on the largesse of the Democratic Party that America has been gravely weakened both domestically and abroad, and that it might not recover. And yet it is entirely conceivable that Obama may be re-elected to the most powerful office in the world. We recall it was not only a besotted American electorate that hoisted him on its collective shoulders; all Europe also went berserk over the man. Even the Israelis treated him like royalty when he gave his lying Sderot speech. If this is not madness, I dont know what is.
These are only a few examples, which could be multiplied indefinitely, of a civilization losing control of its future. The riots we are currently witnessing in the UK, ignited to a great extent by an entitlement culture that cannot meet the expectations it has created, is only a modest symptom of what is coming down the pike. The overall spectacle we are observing today the dramatic erosion of a sense of civic responsibility, the nihilistic relativizing of moral principle, the insidious effects of political correctness, the reluctance to deal adequately with terrorism, the mounting hostility toward Jews and Israel, the return of autocratic rule in Europe with the appointment of authoritarian bureaucrats answerable to no one to the European Parliament, the cosseting of Islam, the election of incompetents, as in the U.S., as well as in Britain, Sweden, France, Spain, Australia, and many other places the list goes on and on are infallible harbingers of cultural and civilizational decay. Good things come to an end, just like everything else. It seems highly probable that the United States in particular and Western civilization in general have begun to circle the drain. The symptoms of an imperium in its dotage are unmistakable.
The greatest civilization the world has ever known has lost confidence in itself, infected by a plague of self-doubt and self-recrimination. Having lost its bearings, it is no longer willing or able to think clearly, to make difficult choices, to defend its patrimony and resist demographic subversion, to accept the need for sacrifice, to value the radiant catalogue of its triumphs and achievements in art, science, technology, medicine, and statecraft, and, with its declining birthrate, even to reproduce itself. This is total madness. Further, the leftist illiberal trajectory it has embarked upon, as Caroline Glick writes, has led to the bid to criminalize ideological opponents and justify acts of terrorism, a radical political shift that will destroy the liberal democratic foundations of Western civilization.
Is a return to psychic health at all possible? Do civilizations convalesce? Can those who follow the maxim of the Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations the object of life is to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane influence events for the better or at least defer the inevitable? Is the writing on the wall erasable graffiti or is it, shall we say, Biblically indelible?
Any way we look at it, the prognosis is not encouraging. As Martin Heidegger deposed in a 1966 Der Spiegel interview, the only one of the philosophers utterances that keeps on echoing, Only a god can save us now.
Only God can save us now.
Only God can save us now.
If we think of any society as one entity - or as one flawed individual - then the psychoanalysis might apply.
But this modern nation; the USA is an amalgam of small communities and 50 States. That regionalism mus be preserved at all costs. Those enclaves where family and faith are still paramount.
In order to remain one Nation Under God, we must not become ONE NATION without God!!!!!
Pinging to this excellent article.
The Consummation of Empire
carrol Quigley in “The Evolution of Civilizations” describes the rise and fall of six or seven civilizations (he says there are about 24 real civilizations in history). He notes that they fall because the rise of intellectualism destroys the ideological basis (generally a religion) which produced the civilization. So with nothing to believe in people turn to the irrational substitutes which claim to have answers or to pleasure-seeking and nihilism.
As people refuse more and more to fight for their civilization when it is attacked or uses its military, it becomes incapable of preserving itself from the attackers from outside the civilization. All those examined fall to invasion from lesser developed areas on the fringe of the civilizations.
He analyzes the Mesopotamian, the Canaanite, the Minoan, the Egyptian, the Classical, and Western Civilization. And finds the same things in them all in their rise and fall. The Western Civilization has been the only one which has come to the point of collapse (three times) and managed to reform itself and continue. He did not make a prediction as to whether it could do this again and puts the crisis of the 1930s at the heart of what must be reformed.
puts the crisis of the 1930s at the heart of what must be reformed.
Awesome pictures by and awesome artist. The Luminous School was fantastic and proof that American artists are or were as good as any in the 19th century at any rate.
For the most part I agree with you, but as a HUGE fan of the Pre-Raphaelites, I'd contend that movement only could have started in Europe under the protective wing of Ruskin.
My Senior Thesis for my Art History BA was on Cole's Voyage of Life. I spent many hours in the National Gallery, completely engrossed in those paintings, and indeed, they are amazing.
In a story with truly bizarre parallels to today, the Byzantine Empire was split into four factions. The Blues, Greens, Reds and Whites.
The Blues were the largest faction, and had been supported by the Emperor Justinian, but had been persuaded by the more radical Greens to join with them and overthrow the emperor.
But the empress Theodora I refused her husband’s plea to flee Constantinople and abdicate the thrown to the Green leader. Instead she called a peace conference, in which the Blues and Greens flooded into a giant amphitheater. Then she sent in a trusted slave with a bag of gold to the leader of the Blues, and reminded them that the emperor had long supported them.
They took the hint, and as a group, the Blues left the amphitheater, leaving the Greens who were more than happy to rule the whole empire for themselves. But after the Blues left, the amphitheater was surrounded by the army, who then went in and killed the Greens.
Simply by eliminating the most radical group of people in the empire, Theodora I extended the life of the empire by another 200 years.
The interesting comparison with today is if you envision these factions as we do today. Blue States and Red States, with the radical Green faction threatening our nation at every turn.
It just shows what one person can do. Empress Theodora I, by the way, was eventually given Sainthood.
Possibly, depending on your definitions of these terms.
The Roman Empire was in the process of falling apart in the 2nd century, but strong emperors rescued it for a couple more centuries.
The Byzantines had multiple episodes of collapse or semi-collapse over a thousand years followed by resurgence.
The Chinese imperial system fell apart many times from warlordism and invasion over three thousand years, but always came back in recognizably the same form.
Of course, the question is whether these examples were really the "same civilization" when they bounced back, or had morphed into what was essentially a new one.
The Nika riots.
Estimate half the city destroyed and 30,000 rioters killed.
Has parallels to the way Jehu handled the Baal worshippers. Get all your worst opponents together in one place and then send in the military.
Quigley says that the rise of civilizations are powered by what he calls “instruments of expansion”. For the Classical civilization, for example, it was slavery.
Western Civilization has had three periods of crisis and reformed itself three time going through three instruments of expansion: commercial capitalism, state mercantilism, industrial capitalism, we entered into the stage of monopoly capitalism around 1900 which produced the disaster of the 1930s and resulted in what he calls a “pluralist economy”. Whether this will be a successful reform of monopoly capitalism is still up in the air.
I am also a huge fan of the Pre-Raphaelites. They would or might be the only exceptions to my claim. However, if women were really as beautiful as they represented I would be in deeep trouble since I love nothing more than a beautiful woman.
There is a gal who works a half a block away from me who looks like she stepped out of a Rossetti painting. Every now and then when I'm leaving for lunch or home at the end of the day, I'll catch a glimpse of her walking to her car. Simply stunning.
And as I read that, it occurred to me, perhaps the sacrifice that must be made in order to preserve some semblence of civilization is the sacrifice of the cities. Let them burn; let them riot; let them riot and loot and burn until there’s nothing left to steal and nothing left to do except to beat one another senseless as they turn to stealing from one another. Then as the electricity begins to fail and the water supplies are cut off, they’ll begin to consume one another in a frenzy of killing while the saner members die attempting to flee the cities only to find themselves dying of hunger and thirst and feral animals having insufficiently provisioned themselves for the attempted escape. And the few that do manage to make it to the next town or village will be greeted by the well placed bullets of the righteous and their torn bodies will be burned in the town square.
That’s a heavy price to pay for the preservation of civilization, but it’s a price we should gladly pay.