Saturday, 18 March 2017

Emil Cioran predicts the end of European civilisation

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Vacillating instincts, corroded beliefs, obsessions, and anility: everywhere conquerors in retreat, rentiers of heroism confronting the young Alarics who lie in wait for Rome and Athens; everywhere paradoxes of the lymphatic. There was a time when salon sallies traversed whole countries, foiled stupidity or refined it. Europe, coquettish and intractable, was in the flower of her age; — decrepit today, Europe excites no one. Even so, certain barbarians await their chance to inherit the finery, impatient at her long agony.
The Romanian aphorist Emil Cioran, in Syllogismes d’Amerture (1952) - the English translation of the book is here. 

It's interesting that he said this before the Algerian War, when Algeria still constituted three departments of France.

Pessimism was to Cioran what daffodils were to Wordsworth or butlers to P.G. Wodehouse. Cioran even achieved the feat of being too pessimistic for Samuel Beckett. This broke up their friendship.

Cioran in the thirties sympathised with Nazism and the Romanian extreme right Iron Guard. He later assumed a political position of complete passivity and nihilism whereas Beckett, who had fought in the French resistance, could not suppress some progressive instincts.

Cioran said in 1987
In 50 years' time Notre Dame will be a mosque.
He will be proven wrong about that, of course, but was he right in thinking European civilisation on its last legs? 

A lot of people nowadays agree with him, including Pat Buchanan, who published a bestselling book in 2001 called The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization

That's the argument about immigration and declining birth rates. Then there is post-colonial guilt and left-wing indoctrination in schools and universities. Mark Steyn has said
It's not just that our children are ignorant of the glories of Western civilization, it's that we are actually teaching them to hate those things.
And loss of religious belief. Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s theorist, said at a conference at the Vatican in 2014 that Godlessness, secularism and popular culture have
sapped the strength of the Judaeo-Christian West to defend its ideals
 which are under threat from Islam.

This is not the first time that pessimism has been in fashion, though there seem to be stronger arguments now than for a long period of time. Say between the defeat of Bonaparte and the defeat of Communism.

The idea that civilisation was in decay was in fashion as far back as Juvenal and well before him. By the 19th century the mood among writers and thinkers was generally very optimistic, except for a few unnoticed contrarian reactionaries like Joseph De Maistre and Arthur De Gobineau. But the horror of the First World War changed everything and the idea that civilisation was in danger or in decline took hold.

Albert Schweitzer, for example, in a lecture in Oxford in 1922 said
 It is clear now to everyone that the suicide of civilisation is in progress. 
Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, published in the summer of 1918 in German and translated into English in 1926-7, convinced many that they were living through a civilisation in decline.  The Rising Tide of Color: The Threat Against White World-Supremacy (1920) by Lothrop Stoddard accurately predicted that white men's domination of the world would not continue to go uncontested for long. The Frankfurt School Marxists thought that Western civilisation was an example of false consciousness on the part of the workers and would inevitably be overthrown. Fascists thought only they could save civilisation  from Marxism.

One great fear was that another war would end everything. 
'Who in Europe does not know that one more war in the West, and the civilisation of the ages will fall with as great a crash as that of Rome?’ 
asked British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in 1927. 

Civilisation survived the Second World War but it was not expected to survive a Third. In a sense, though, it had not survived the First. After 1945 other threats to Western civilisation were shouldered out by the fear of Communism defeating the democracies - Orwell's 1984 hung over the Western world as a threat - and the danger of catastrophic nuclear war wiping out humanity. 

After the end of Communism, climate change fears gave the liberals their own secular eschatology, while after September 11, 2011 many feared relentless immigration and the mooted Islamification of Europe.

Does the rise of China mean the long awaited decline of the West? Do the post 1950 mass migrations, in numbers which dwarf the barbarian invasions of late antiquity and the dark ages?

What does decline mean, since the rich world was never so rich or had so many technological or medical accomplishments?

It is noticeable that there have been no very important Western artists, thinkers, writers or ideas since 1950. But there have been huge, unprecedented, scientific and medical advances. They are worth a few great novelists.

Before 1900 it made sense to think of a civilisation being conquered by other cultures, though they were conquered by more civilised peoples, not by less civilised ones. Today there is only one civilisation, but there are still uncivilised people and even peoples.

What does civilisation mean? If it means running water and luxurious bathrooms the USA is much more civilised than Romania. By some other measures Romania is more civilised than the USA.

Assuming civilisation does not decline, will it continue to be Western? 

And what does the West mean?

Where is the West, exactly? Does it include Latin America? South Africa?

Western, by definition, is not universal. It presupposes an antithesis, which is Eastern. For Xenophon and the Greeks of his day the Persians and Egyptians were the East. For the ancient Greeks the East meant authoritarian rule, alien religions and barbarism.

Western values are not universal human values, but the values of a civilisation that began in Greece and extended to the Roman Empire, the Western half of which was conquered by pagan Germans in the fifth century, while the Eastern half was conquered by Muslims, culminating in the fall of Constantinople.

For Europeans the questions arise: will Muslims be in the majority in Europe one day and, if so, what will Western mean then?

26 comments:

  1. Well, it seems obvious there are other civilizations lurking behind the superficially universalized post-1945 Western managerial-technocratic system. From a report to the Office of the Secretary of Defense:
    http://www.isegoria.net/2017/03/the-nine-strategic-consequences-of-chinese-racism/#comments
    "First, virulent racism and eugenics heavily inform Chinese perceptions of the world. United States decision-makers must recognize that China is a racist state, much closer to Nazi Germany than to the values upheld in the West. Most often, the Chinese do not even recognize their racism as a problem. They believe that racism is a Western phenomenon and that Westerners are obsessed with race. This obsession is seen by the Chinese to be a strategic vulnerability of the West, whereas China is not affected by racism."
    (...)

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  2. Excellent article. So you are saying that you think that the West will endure? But are you taking into account that now, unlike back in the early 1900s, European women are functionally barren? That is a new factor you must think on, and reformulate your forecast.

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    1. I am not saying that the West will endure but the piece had become long enough and so I left it there. Europeans are dying out but newcomers replace them. We are threatened by the end of Christendom but will that mean the end of civilisation? In any case I want Europe and the developed world ro remain Christian.

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    2. In any case I want Europe and the developed world ro remain Christian.

      Unfortunately western Europe hasn't been Christian in any meaningful sense for a long long time. As far as western Europe, Australia and the US are concerned Christianity is a dead religion.

      It saddens me because European civilisation cannot survive without Christianity, and I'd like European civilisation to survive. I think the chances that it will survive are very very remote.

      And this has little to do with immigration. If immigration were to be stopped tomorrow European civilisation would still continue to die.

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    3. I added to my article - then saw it was too unfocussed and pruned it drastically.

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    4. The reasons are what? You think without religion no society can survive?

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    5. Abu Daoud 1937, – 3 July 2010 was a Palestinian known as the planner, architect and mastermind of the Munich massacre. Why did you choose this name since I know you are an American Christian conservative?

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    6. David in Banja Luka19 March 2017 at 18:19

      The father of David?

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    7. David in Banja Luka19 March 2017 at 18:22

      I find it hard to believe the US has become de-christianised. How do you come to this conclusion?

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    8. Christianity is silent on the continuation of European Civilisation. Moreover practically all the leaders of modern Christianity (outside of Russia) are working actively against it. The Pope openly sides with invasive Muslims against Europeans wanting to protect their cultures.

      The thing that made the West great and unique was European genes forged over 10s of thousands of years, not Christianity which has free ridden on European civilisation for the past two thousand. If Christianity was the most crucial thing then Brazil and Nigeria would be great places to live. They’re not.

      Even more annoying than the term "Christian civilisation" is the neologism "Judeo-Christian civilisation". At the very least, it is a redundant term. Of course Christianity has its roots in Judaism but nobody calls the 4th of July an Anglo-American holiday.

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    9. The reasons are what? You think without religion no society can survive?

      Without religion I'm sceptical as to how you can avoid social atomisation, selfishness, hedonism, the collapse of the family, nihilism and despair. Without religion you're likely to end up with a society based either purely on money or purely on power.

      A society might survive without religion but in the long term I don't think it will be very pleasant and I'm not sure it will qualify as civilised.

      Atheism can work fine for individuals but I'm not convinced it can work for a society.

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    10. Christianity is silent on the continuation of European Civilisation. Moreover practically all the leaders of modern Christianity (outside of Russia) are working actively against it.

      That's absolutely true and it's why I describe the West as post-Christian. The remnants of Christianity are not Christian at all, they are merely SJWs indulging in emotionalism and cheap phony spirituality. Real Christianity started to die out in the 18th century under the assaults of scepticism and liberalism.

      Even more annoying than the term "Christian civilisation" is the neologism "Judeo-Christian civilisation".

      There is no such thing as Judeo-Christian civilisation.

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    11. 'My kingdom is not of this world.' John 18: 36

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  3. Just read this excellent article https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/denmark-brink-interview-iben-tranholm-erico-matias-tavares.
    There is some hope; Russia and the former eastern block countries have reacted to the many years of secular eschatology by an impressive Christian revival. Will that happen in the West with Christianity, or will the young just convert to Islam to get what their parents have rejected in Christianity, and some more. About refugee quotas: I have been wondering lately what is the final goal? There is no temporal limit to these quotas, just a number per year. Will the Arab regions designated as refugee source, be depopulated and how soon? Is the reason for moving these populations the harsh weather conditions, an attempt to mitigate some perceived climate change doom, or just strategic?

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  4. Cioran strikes me as a bit o.t.t. in the French manner and idiosyncratically confused... Spengler perhaps said it better... but interesting little essay also trying to bite off more than it can chew... I I would suggest that without Judaeo Christian basis there would not be what we call western civilisation - the Greek and Roman civilisations would have gone the way of Babylonian or Carthaginian cultures.... buried in the sands of time.
    Rob de V

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  5. It is noticeable that there have been no very important Western artists, thinkers, writers or ideas since 1950. But there have been huge, unprecedented, scientific and medical advances.

    Have there really been huge scientific advances? Anything to rival Darwin, or general relativity, or quantum mechanics?

    Technological progress seems to have stalled as well. I'm old enough to remember when people could fly across the Atlantic in a passenger jet at twice the speed of sound. I'm even old enough to remember men walking on the Moon. Such achievements now seem so far out of reach that they're more like science fiction.

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    1. David in Banja Luka19 March 2017 at 18:18

      Interesting comment.
      Yesteryear - Concorde and Apollo missions v today - the internet and smartphones.
      Technological progress seems to have been consumerised?

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    2. Yesteryear - Concorde and Apollo missions v today - the internet and smartphones.

      In yesteryear we wanted to explore new frontiers. Today we want to download porn, post puppy pictures and find out the latest celebrity news.

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  6. The fall of the western civilization will not be brought on by Islam or dark skinned refugees but by the dizzying descent into triviality, caricature and pure non sense that is permeating our world. This has been going on for some time but it is really picking up speed in this age of reality shows and twitter battles between heads of states and rap artists.
    Not much of a surprise, really, when our time can best be described as the time of the 144 characters, the always on connection to an internet that has devolved into a cesspool (at least 95% of it) and the Kardashians.

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  7. Difficult to discuss a civilization that has no religion.

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  8. One value of this essay is that it documents how talk of "end of civilization" has ALWAYS been a theme of a certain kind of politics -- that issued angry calls for extreme, conservative militancy.

    Christian elements of European cultures gave way to a highly productive secularism -- with benefits of science & social mobility. Some have always seen such secularism and modernism as footsteps of death and devil. (My favorite is Hilaire P. R. Belloc.)

    It's no accident that (as Paul points out) Emil Cioran "sympathised with Nazism & the Romanian extreme right Iron Guard." His themes of danger & decline are deeply congruent with European anti-semitism & anti-modernism.

    We can study such polemical anguish -- but let's not mistake their howls for prophesy. The future they hated (a century ago) has arrived. It is flawed (of course), but their claims were false.

    Their modern co-thinkers rechew that political cud for our own, more recent times -- with no more claim to truth.

    Eric

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    1. "We can study such polemical anguish -- but let's not mistake their howls for prophesy. The future they hated (a century ago) has arrived." If the future they hated has arrived, doesn't this mean they were prophetic?

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    2. One value of this essay is that it documents how talk of "end of civilization" has ALWAYS been a theme of a certain kind of politics

      What you're overlooking is that sometimes those who are prophesying the end of civiisation are right. Civilisations do end.

      And sometimes they don't end but they turn really nasty and unpleasant for a very long time and then take a very long time to finally die.

      We can study such polemical anguish -- but let's not mistake their howls for prophesy. The future they hated (a century ago) has arrived. It is flawed (of course), but their claims were false.

      Their predictions were pretty much spot on - we have a civilisation that is rabidly materialistic, selfish, infantile, atomised, decadent, degenerate and nihilistic. And the end result for individuals is to a greater and greater extent loneliness and despair. If not for Prozac the collapse would already have happened but we wander about in a drug-induced haze obsessing about celebrities.

      So the prophets of doom were uncannily accurate.

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    3. Brilliantly put, but in fact people in the Western world have on balance never had it so good.

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    4. Brilliantly put, but in fact people in the Western world have on balance never had it so good.

      Yes and no. In material terms, yes. But if we're doing so well why is it that so many of us cannot deal with this utopia without taking our medication? Why do so many people sit in their lonely rooms downloading porn? Why do people need trigger warnings to shield them from reality? Why do our strong empowered women need safe spaces in which to hide from reality? Why do people need to rush off to therapy when the wrong candidate wins an election?

      I grew up in the 60s. I don't idealise my childhood or my youth because they were not particularly happy timers for me. But on the whole Australians back then were happy and relaxed. Today Australians are tense and watchful and people get absurdly angry if you disagree with them.

      No-one would deny that material prosperity is a fine thing but it seems that we have given up a great deal in order to achieve that prosperity. And it's not even a real prosperity - we live comfortable lifestyles sustained by very uncomfortable levels of personal debt.

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    5. I have forgotten my Latin and have no Greek but I dimly remembering lots of this sort of lament for the past in ancient writers - Juvenal especially. Horace nostalgised about 'consule Planco' - the year when Plancus was consul in Horace's youth. G.M. Young sweetly translated it as 'when Lord Rosebery was Prime Minister'.

      I sympathise but it was ever thus. You remember Squire Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer.


      Mrs. Hardcastle: Ay, your times were fine times indeed; you have been telling us of them for many a long year ... all our entertainment your old stories of Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlborough. I hate such old-fashioned trumpery.

      Squire Hardcastle: And I love it. I love everything that’s old: old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine; and I believe, Dorothy (taking her hand), you’ll own I have been pretty fond of an old wife.

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