Sunday 6 November 2016

Is the decadent West in terminal decline?

An article in Xinhua, the state-controlled Chinese news agency said that the US election shows 
the twisted mentality of an empire moving downhill.
That makes sense, though I think it is Europe that is in decline much more than America.

Christopher Booker in the Telegraph thinks the same. In an article headlined

It doesn't matter who wins the US election. The decadent West is in terminal decline
he says :
...Britons of the early Fifties could see the society this revolution has now brought about, with half of our children born out of wedlock, same-sex marriage, the all-pervasive cult of empty celebrity, the rise of intolerant “political correctness”, the woefully diminished standing of our politicians, our ever-rising sea of national debt, they would reel back in horror at our “decadence”.
The period since 2000 has been as dramatic as the one 1985-2000. The disastrous wars of the last fifteen years have diminished the standing of the West, while its economic dominance of the world lessens. The euro, immigrants and terrorism pose huge, insoluble problems for Europe. 

This reminds me of historians Neagu Djuvara's and Bernard Lewis's conviction that Europe's inescapable destiny is to become Muslim.

The fact that Europe, more united than at any time since the fall of Rome, feels it requires American, British and Canadian help to defend itself is very telling.

I increasingly feel that we may be living in a period like the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the golden age where Gibbon starts his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Come to think of it, there is something of an outlandish late Roman emperor about Donald Trump, perhaps a rich wheat importer who got his position in an auction held by the Praetorian guard. 

As Goldsmith put it,
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.

Europe has been in relative decline since the late 19th century and no longer enjoys the ascendancy that it once did, measured in all ways, over the rest of the world. Clearly this process is continuing. On the other hand, Europeans are enjoying in many ways a golden age, as are most parts of the world, measured not only in material but in many other terms.

But think how few great men Europe (and the West in general) has produced since 1945, outside the spheres of technology, medicine and hard science. Who are the great writers, painters, composers, philosophers?

Christianity is flourishing in Africa, China and Korea, but Islam is flourishing in Europe. Europe is flourishing vicariously in the former British colonies of the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but they are becoming much less European, less Christian and more multicultural. The old order changeth.


  1. Many people think the West took a wrong turning back in the 60s. Some think the problems started with the First World War. I think the beginnings of the illness go back even further, certainly to the late 19th century.

    Western civilisation started to get very idealistic in the 19th century. The cult of progress started to emerge. Not just scientific and technological progress, but social progress. Things were just going to get better and better and more civilised and if utopia wasn't just around the corner it was definitely in sight off in the distance.

    Democracy, mass literacy, a free press, rapid technological progress - these things seemed to prove that western civilisation was superior to anything that had gone before. The competing ideologies of liberalism and socialism were both utopian ideologies. Universal human happiness was achievable. Society could be remade. Along with the cult of utopia came the cult of the new. New ideas were obviously superior to old ideas.

    At the same time Christianity was in rapid and irreversible decline. As a result ideologies took the place of Christianity and became substitute religions. These substitute religions were all variations on the cult of progress. And any opposition to a religion is heresy or wickedness.

    The cult of progress is, by it very nature, destructive. To build a new society we must first destroy the old one. Everything that has happened has been an inevitable consequence of this. Whenever utopia fails to materialise it just means that more destruction is needed.

    1. You are right about the cult of progress being destructive. In Gladstone's day liberals thought some reforms were necessary and then all would be well but now
      we accept that change is constant. The past is automatically considered oppressive unless proven otherwise. This is the first time outside revolutionary societies like the USSR and Jacobin France where being a traditionalist is considered subversive.

      I have corrected the mistake in my article which now reads: This reminds me of Neagu Djuvara's conviction that Europe's inescapable destiny is to become Muslim.

    2. The questionis: what can we do about it? Are we condemned to stand by and be consumed by change?

  2. I am irked when gay marriage and children born out of wedlock are seen as signs of decadence or have negative doom-spelling conotations. Marriage, as I see it, is a contract. What matters if the parents of children sign or not such a contract? Same for gays: what matters if they sign it? What's the alternative? That they have out-of-wedlock (or perenially pre-marital) homosexual sex?

    Not children born out of wedlock but single parents could, at most, worry us more. What is however certainly worrying is, in my opinion, "the ocean of debt". Economic decline and not the alleged decline of the mores is worrying.

    I agree that the economic decline may come from a shift in the worldview of our civilisation: hedonism instead of ambition, a focus on the immediate, a lack of historic vision, of what I would call dynastic thinking at family level and or "generational thinking" at societal level. (And I think especially far-eastern societies have this dynastic thinking over generations.) But I don't see a conflict between the inverse of decline on one side and children out of wedlock or gay marriage on the other side. They are not the cause of decline, they are at most a symptom of our hedonism.

    I may see a link between our focus on the immediate, on the sensual and the erosion of religion and its fall in irrelevance. However, I fail to see how a religion that focuses on gathering treasures for the afterlife and castigates the worldly posessions and bodily pleasures may be seen as cause for the Italian Renaissance palazzi, the Manila galleons, Baroque lavishness, colonial empires, and all shows of worldy power and status.

    About religion I would say good riddance. I just want 19th century ambition and industriousness back.

    However, as long as the Chinese businessmen learn English, dress in suits, copy everything Western our civilisation will live on. If I understand correctly, the Ostrogoths in Italy, Visigoths in Spain, Franks in Gaul saw themselves as vicars of the Roman Empire, they did not see themselves as having routed and replaced it, but as its inheritors.

    1. I am irked when gay marriage and children born out of wedlock are seen as signs of decadence or have negative doom-spelling conotations.

      Homosexual marriage is sterile. Sterility is a hallmark of decadence. Recognising homosexual marriage means recognising a marriage that cannot produce children. It means voting No to the future. It is a vote for death. Cultural death, national death, even spiritual death.

      A society that embraces its own death is most assuredly decadent.

      In this instance I’m making no comment on the morality or otherwise of homosexuality, merely noting that homosexual marriage is indeed a sin of societal decadence.

      As for out-of-wedlock births, if a couple takes on the responsibility of having a child, the biggest responsibility there is, and they can’t even be bothered to make enough of a commitment to each other to get married, they are also voting No to the future. It is an indication of a lack of belief in the future. They are not creating a real family, merely a collection of individuals in a temporary association, an association that can be terminated at any time on the grounds of boredom or inconvenience or mere whim. This is the endgame of liberalism - a vote for cultural death.

    2. This is absurd. First, we witness homosexuality in multiple species, including homo sapiens, over hundreds and thousands of years of evolution and the species thrive. Second, we have a global baby surplus ... more babies produced than wanted, and sterile homosexual marriages can fill that void nicely if they choose to be parents. Third, you appear to assume that perpetuation of the human species has been incrementally achieved by reluctant homosexuals "choosing" under social pressure to pair-bond in heterosexual relationships to produce children. While certainly this dynamic has existed, you would be hard-pressed to produce evidence that this incremental birth rate is what catalyzed the expansion of the human species. I.E., the official acknowledgement of homosexual pair-bonding via legalized gay marriage is extremely unlikely to produce a sudden drop in birth rate. Socioeconomic factors independent of sexual orientation are far more relevant to birth rates.

  3. I agree: "It doesn't matter who wins the US election. The decadent West is in terminal decline". Still I expect something quite positive to happen in CEE once freedom has arrived there. Hopefully this will happen during our life time.

  4. Paul,

    The theme of Western Decline remains a popular trope, going (in its latest incarnation) at least back to Spengler in the 1920s. Indeed, the West was in a bad way in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, but after the Second, the West rose to new importance and prominence under U.S. leadership (untouched directly--on its own soil & capital--by war, rich in resources, and hungry for economic growth). That time has passed, at least in the sense that there is a rising new player in China (much like the Asian scare in the early 20th century caused by the rise of Japan). In terms of absolute predominance, the U.S. has declined, but in relative might, it remains--its political disease notwithstanding--still dominant.

    In fact, many of the ills cited, such as single-parent families and violence, remain in long-term decline. In many ways, Western societies remain better off than ever, even with migration, trade, and economic distribution issues that seem very difficult to resolve and that a leave a large segment of the (older white) population ill-at-ease. Other issues, like gay marriage, are changes for the better, although this change proves jarring for some, although this change happened so much more quickly and with such declining resistance, that it's quite amazing.

    But as much as I find many narratives of decline unpersuasive, more sentiment than reason, I believe the risk of decline to be much greater than we'd like to believe. Changing mores, although important, are not the most important factor. Energy, ecology, and the cost of complexity are the keys.

    Rather than go on at length, anyone who cares should consult the works of Joseph Tainter, Thomas Homer-Dixon, Peter Turchin, and William (Patrick) Ophuls about he current risks of significant (and not just relative) decline or even collapse. I've reviewed the work of each of these thinkers on my website, and I'm now in the midst of re-reading Ophuls, the most comprehensive of these writers and the one most grounded in the tradition that runs from Plato to Rousseau and beyond (as well as one deeply knowledgeable about the ecology of civilization).

    If decline is imminent, it won't be from the barbarians at the gate or the mores of elites (although neither is unimportant), but from the lack of cost-effective energy that our society that needs to continue its modern, industrial capitalist trajectory.

    BTW, I hope that tomorrow the U.S. dispatches, at least for the time being, the barbarian in the gates & send him slinking back to Trump Tower.

    1. I think that Europe is certainly in decline and has been for a very long time. As Neagu Djuvara, doyen of Romanian historians, pointed out to me when I interviewed him the biggest change in his lifetime is that the USA suddenly became far more important than Europe. In 1939 it was the other way around. Perhaps it is not Europe so much as Christendom that is in decline. Djuvara says it is inevitable that Europe will become Muslim. It is clear that the mostly white mostly Protestant America we all take for granted is in decline to be replaced by another America.

    2. This article will interest you.

      "There is, of course, much racism in American history, and there are enormous crimes for which Europe continues to strive to atone. But neither anti-racism nor respect for other cultures should be turned into a national or civilizational suicide pact. Here what Irving Kristol famously wrote about Sen. Joseph McCarthy comes to mind: “There is one thing that the American people know about Senator McCarthy: he like them is unequivocally anti-Communist. About the spokesmen for American liberalism, they feel they know no such thing.”
      In the now global faceoff between Western civilization versus mass immigration fused with multiculturalism, Kristol’s words describe with uncanny accuracy the dichotomy between Donald Trump and his supporters on one hand and those most feverishly denouncing him on the other. Among the former, for all their faults, are those who want, unequivocally, Western civilization to survive. About the latter, no such thing is certain."

    3. Perhaps it is not Europe so much as Christendom that is in decline. Djuvara says it is inevitable that Europe will become Muslim

      I don't think anything in history is inevitable. But in this case it's certainly highly likely that Europe will become an Islamic civilisation.

      It's kind of amusing (in a very bleak way) that the United States seems to be so delighted by this prospect. Once France goes Muslim the US will be facing an Islamic nuclear power with nukes that almost certainly actually work (unlike say North Korean nukes which may or may not work). And delivery systems that almost certainly actually work.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Miscegenation is gross and should be outlawed again.

    2. Intermarriage between ethnic groups is the solution to racial problems.

    3. The difference now is that (increasingly over five centuries) the world has stopped being regionally isolated -- and a unified world market (with a corresponding set of common cultural points) has been emerging.

      Whereas we can describe "one civilization being conquered by another" in the past -- the situation is (more and more) that all regional cultures are being drawn into a larger process.

      "The West" was among the conquers of other cultures (Aztec, Inca, Ming China, and more) & played a significant role in the modern globalized order. But it too is being subsumed in "whatever is coming into being."

      To think in terms of "internal collapse" or "conquest" or "decline" of largely regional "civilizations"is thinking stuck in pre-1800 logics.

      "The West" is not in decline -- it is being morphed into a coming thing (the details of which are still unwritten/unresolved). It only LOOKS like decline to traditionalists who viscerally fear/hate/disparage change.

  6. I think we've vastly misunderstood later Roman emperors, like Claudius II, Probus, and especially Aurelian. So the analogy might be kind of skewed. I get it, however. Even Ghengis Khan lamented his descendants wouldn't stay hungry.

  7. Well I'm not sure I agree with the wording of the question. But as to it's "meta" query; yes, the "west" is in decline in it's cultural, economic, and political influence on the rest of the world.

    Some would say that this is a bad thing or caused by any number of character flaws organic to western culture, politics, etc. There probably is some truth to that, but a larger fact is that cultures and societies come and go, and usually lose influence (or "decline") due to human nature that is common to all that are classified as human. It happened to the Romans, and the Ming Chinese; and, it will happen to the "west" as well.

    As far as the "decadent" west: that is a subjective term - one that I would agree with, but subjective nonetheless.

  8. It is a pre-historical question. We will never know. Enjoy life! Soon we will be dead. Brutal? PS. Roman Empire was not declining but a transformation in something different. Humankind is evolving on a multilayered ground.

  9. the answer is in Oswald Spengler's "Decline of the West" 1918

    1. yes and Dr. Lottrop Stoddard's books such as The Rising Tide of Color, The New World of Islam, The Revolt of The Underman, etc. where the topics of mass Third World migration into the West, the rise of radical Islam, and the cultural decline that resulted in such isms as crapitalism, socialism, fascism and marxism. All this was warned against long ago by this American prophet and seer.

  10. No doubt, the world is "restless". The "old order" does not work any longer. We, in the West, have had it our way for too long. The alt-right movements in Britain, Germany, France and, now with Trump, in the US, appear to be a desperate and likely futile attempt to circle the waggons and hang on. The "decline" is more evident in Europe than in the US because the US, insular and more and more isolationist, has remained largely untouched by the flood of refuges from failed mid-eastern and African states, even though ironically the US is largely responsible for the destabilization of these regions. However, the jury is still out on the incoming Trump administration, but, given his populist and nationalist views, his inexperience, his choice of advisors and cabinet members, the rise of radical white supremist groups, and wide-spread street demonstartions, the States might very well destroy themselves from within rather than succumb to outside pressures.

  11. Decadent? Yep - that's one word for it but everybody & his dog is doing their level best & risking life & limb to come & live with us in our wonderful decadent society - why? because it's miles better than what they have (or haven't) in theirs. Those who wish in their misguided intolerant & brainwashed ideas of Medieval morality to destroy us, still need & use the West's mobile phones, pick up trucks, pressure cookers, weaponry & everything else they can't make for themselves to foment their ideology in their unindustrialised, forever backward looking unscientific 'paradises'. Even naive young girls going off to join their Kalashnikov toting heroes tell each other to" make sure you take plenty western bras with you!"
    And, now don't get me started on 'health tourists' boarding the 'Nigerian Maternity Express'.
    Phew . . . that's enough decadent ranting for one morning; time for a depraved dose of Imperialistic caffeine & flag-flying toast with some decline & fall flavoured pate.

  12. Comparisons of Trump to any Roman Emperor seem off to me. Our times seem a lot more like the run-up to the collapse of the Roman Republic. Republican institutions dissolving under solvent of unfettered egalitarianism and purchased power. Perhaps Trump as the new Crassus?

    Thomas Meehan

  13. Think you're off by a few centuries, he's more like a War Pro Consul Like Cincinnatus.

  14. Rome, after MA passed on had no outward threats. The empire focused inward. Internal forces were at work which would undermine, and ultimately destroy it. Rome had ceased to be a single unified Republic. Instead it had embraced multiculturalism and abandoned its old religion in favor of those from the East. Government became larger and taxes increased. Roman Legions were used by generals to become Emperor. They also shrunk in size. By the 5th century, Rome was a poor empire in the West.

  15. In my opinion, "decline" is a question of one's viewpoint. I strongly agree with two points made in the foregoing: (1) that decline is the view of "traditionalists who viscerally fear/hate/disparage change", and (2) "humankind is evolving on a multilayered ground." One thing history demonstrates to me is the eternal adaptability of mankind. Change is certainly happening, but this needs not to be interpreted as decline, just a different kind of future. Let's think positively!