I found this yesterday on Youtube. Despite its length, it is worth more than 1 viewing.
Towards the 2nd half, both Peterson and Shapiro discuss in depth the aftereffects of the Enlightenment and touch upon how it overextends itself thru Rousseau and his ‘Noble Savage’ idiocy, leading to the madness of Collectivism and its descendants. I believe this part of the discussion in particular is of tremendous significance.
Consider the following (and forgive me if it doesn’t all hang together cleanly, as I’m writing this from a stream of consciousness and have a hard stop at 3:30PM local time:)
Both men criticize the post-Enlightenment thinkers who proclaim that the principles of the Enlightenment are completely divorced from the beliefs and precepts of the Catholic Church and the combined body of Judeo-Christian thought. It doesn’t take much effort to realize that those who either advocate a wholesale rejection of Judeo-Christian principles or assert that Liberalism is based on an Enlightenment that is completely separated from Judeo-Christian influence are extremely silly people, as Western Civilization’s foundation is built in major part on Judeo-Christianity, a body of ideas and institutions that predates Western Civilization by at least 3000 years. One need only remember a few glaring examples of this: the response Jesus gave when asked whether one should pay Roman taxes (a response which led directly to the separation of Church and State), or the theological canon created by Augustine with regards to whether scripture or science should be consulted to answer questions about the natural world (where Augustine told the zealots to shut the hell up with their nonsense about scripture being the only source of truth and knowledge, pointing out that you can’t figure out how fast a rock will be falling from a 100 foot drop from reading the Bible, but could find the answer readily if you simply spoke to a physicist.) There are also Judeo-Christian tenets which are derived from earlier influences of Syriac culture, reducing any claims of an absolute sundering between Liberalism and the history of civilized Man to the level of the preposterous.
Peterson and Shapiro go on to point out how this idea of the ‘purity’ of Enlightenment-based Liberalism has nevertheless crept further into the fabric of Western Civilization, deeply eroding the religious portion of our culture’s foundation and, consequently, ‘bleeding out’ a great deal of what has given it meaning and purpose. These gentlemen are recognizing a critical phenomenon in the evolution of Western Civilization that was recognized by Toynbee over 70 years ago, who also saw this rising secularization of Western society as having the effect of ‘hollowing out’ the culture.
Granted: the Church held back the development of Western Civilization during the Dark and Middle Ages thru its indulging in the exercise of secular power over a fragmented polity trying to recover from the collapse of Hellenic culture and rebuild itself into a viable society. Yet the Church itself experienced tremendous convulsions during this period. Example: the destruction of the Templars in the early 14th century who, having turned from militant zealots into extortionist bankers, were crushed by France’s Philip IV. Example: the Catholic-Protestant schism of the 16th century. Nonetheless, this ‘winnowing’ of the Church had a salutary effect. It forced it back into a role as a purely spiritual institution, shaping it for maximum utility to a budding Western Civilization. Recall that after a collapse, a society will do the hard work that the previous culture did not have the will to do – it will abandon institutions that have failed and are no longer useful, retain those that are still of use, and reshape ones that need to be ‘re-engineered’ to make them maximally effective. This is what happened to the Church. One can justifiably argue, in fact, that the birth of Western Civilization would have been IMPOSSIBLE without Judeo-Christianity in its new ‘form’ included as part of the foundation.
We may be well assured, that a writer, conversant with the world, would never have ventured to expose the gods of his country to public ridicule, had they not already been the objects of secret contempt among the polished and enlightened orders of society. – Edward Gibbon, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, Chapter 2.
Note how towards the end of the discussion Peterson and Shapiro agree quite fervently that the decay of spiritual life in America is a prime component of its current malaise and that a revival of spiritual strength is essential to the revitalization of American society. They cite the adoption of spendthrift consumerism, the decline of the institution of marriage, the moronic and shameful ‘hands off’ concept of child rearing, debauched behaviors on the part of youth (drugs, tattoos, piercings, brandings, a greatly extended juvenile period, a sense of defeatism, listlessness and lack of purpose) and the fervent adoption of leftist ideological/pseudo-theological canon as proof of a lack of genuine spirituality, with its instillation of social/behavioral/moral norms, sense of belonging to a community and sense of lifelong purpose. Clearly this tracks quite well with the Toynbee Civilization theorem, but it is worth examining more closely.
Is the decline of Judeo-Christian religious observance one of the causes of the decay of Western culture?
My thoughts are that the correct answer is NO. In my view, it is not a cause, but a symptom.
Creative Minorities arise in dynamic, healthy societies to solve existential crises that the ruling clique (the previous Creative Minority) is unable to contend with successfully thru the curse of ‘comfort with the familiar.’ Whatever solution the new Creative Minority develops will, however, create a new set of problems which will fester over time and flower into a fresh crisis.
As discussed in my earlier rants, the distribution of economic wealth and power is the central problem of both Western and American civilization today. For Western Europe, this problem emerged over 300 years ago. It has resulted in three great conflicts that attempted to bulldoze the problem thru the creation of a Western European Universal State – the Napoleonic Wars, the combined cataclysm of WW1 and WW2, and finally the Cold War of the 20th century.
The outcome of each conflict provided only a partial solution to the crisis; thus, all of these stopgap resolutions ultimately failed. Of course, the French Revolution and Napoleon’s belligerent adventurism broke European aristocracy. But those whose mindsets/outlooks reflected the aristocratic character endured, rephrasing the old concept of ‘noblesse oblige’ into the ‘class struggle’ of the proletariat against the capitalist bourgeoisie. It is this movement – the same challenge with a new ‘face’ – that drove the world wars and the war by proxy between the West and the External Proletariat of Orthodox Christendom embodied by the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe’s Warsaw Pact.
With the 3 1/2 beat rhythm of response and failure having manifested itself in the last 200 years of Western European history, we can see that Western Civilization is now firmly on the road to decay. The final Universal State of the EU is proving to be ‘autoschediastic’ or ad hoc and is already disintegrating after a bare 30 years of life. The still quite youthful American Civilization, however, is encountering this problem for the first time.
The ‘face’ of the challenge that is confronting American Civilization, though at heart the same as that which has defeated Western Europe, has changed in appearance yet again. It built on the centralization of power in Federal hands that was the solution for American Civilization in the Civil War, gained strength and legitimacy in the Great Depression and WW2, and received a tremendous burst of energy from the revolt of the Baby Boomers in the 1960’s, picking up a new ‘identity politics’ mask to switch out from the already battered Marxist facade to facilitate its growth. But while the veil/mask has changed, the goals and methods remain remarkably intact – the undermining and destruction of the current order and its institutions formed by the Renaissance and Enlightenment and its wholesale replacement with a pyramidal structure of top down control by a new elite, aristocrats in all but name, who would impose their definition of societal harmony with all the political, legal, social, economic and educational/doctrinal tools and weapons of coerced conformance.
Peterson and Shapiro advocate a return to spirituality to reignite a sense of purpose and community in the American polity. I disagree. What is necessary is to shatter the vehicle of authoritarianism that Progressives have commandeered to overthrow Western and American civilization – the central government, with all the power it has unconstitutionally assumed from the States and the people.Decision-making power for 90% of today’s outstanding domestic issues must be returned to the regional, state and local level.
The Swiss show us the way today. Western Europe is instinctively exploring this path at the national level (Brexit, to be followed by Italy and Austria) and even locally/provincially (Scotland and Catalonia.) The Romans, believe it or not, showed us the way over 2000 years ago. When establishing colonies in conquered territories, the Romans limited the size of new cities and towns to about 10,000. Once a town reached that size, they would try to siphon off excess citizens by establishing a new settlement at some moderate distance from the original. Thru experience, the Romans had learned that for a city or town to be able to sustain itself comfortably thru its own local means, handle its civic problems and maintain a unified and content polity, it had to remain small.
This is the right way forward for America. Federalism needs to return with a furious vengeance, so that the concentration of legal and financial strength in Washington DC, along with all the corruption, graft, racketeering and influence peddling which such centralization of power inevitably attracts is decisively and irretrievably wrecked. We are a nation of 325M people scattered across a continent, folks. Even without the deliberate sabotage of our cultural institutions by the Left thru canards such as ‘multiculturalism’, ‘diversity’, ‘fairness’ and illegal immigration from regions of the world deliberately favored by the conformity to absolute authority inherent in their home cultures, we would be hard pressed to find complete unity amongst the people in the states of New England, the Mid Atlantic, the Southeast, the old Northwest ‘Rust Belt’, Texas (which is completely unique and beautifully so), the northern and southern Midwest, the Rocky Mountain West, the Southwest, California, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and Hawaii. By reducing issues to local, state and regional concerns instead of elevating everything to a national level, a sense of community, civic duty and belonging will return, and a sense of spiritualism is sure to grow concurrently.
I like to put historical quotes and multimedia in my essays to reinforce the story and make the essay an entertaining read. However, I’m including the video below not because it really has anything to do with the treatise above; I just think it’s a super cool tune. 😉
At the beginning of the 5th century B.C., Xerxes crossed the Hellespont with an army gathered from every subject territory of the Achaemenid Imperium. Per Herodotus, this army may have numbered as many as 2M soldiers, with a logistical train of 5M. 600 warships and 400 supply barges supported the colossal host and shadowed its march down the Greek peninsula.
The Athenians knew they were a primary target and quickly dispatched a high level delegation to Delphi to consult with the Oracle. The supplicants performed the obligatory rituals and approached the temple with laurel branches sacred to Apollo in hand, along with a sacrificial goat and a monetary offering.
Within the temple awaited the Pythia, a purple veil covering her face as she sat on a tripod placed over the sacred vapors emanating from cracks in the floor. When asked by the supplicants what the Gods counseled concerning the Persian invasion, the Pythia removed her veil and spoke thus:
Now your statues are standing and pouring sweat. They shiver with dread. The black blood drips from the highest rooftops. They have seen the necessity of evil. Get out, get out of my sanctum and drown your spirits in woe.
Seeing the doom of their city in the words of the augury, the Athenian delegation resolved to approach the Oracle again. Asking her what the Gods could suggest that they do to save themselves and their city, the Pythia delivered a second divination:
Await not in quiet the coming of the horses, the marching feet, the armed host upon the land. Slip away. Turn your back. You will meet in battle anyway. O holy Salamis, you will be the death of many a woman’s son between the seed time and the harvest of the grain.
Themistocles of Athens, a skilled orator and exemplary strategist, deduced the meaning of the prophecy and convinced the Athenians of his interpretation. From this followed the evacuation of the Athenian populace to the nearby island of Salamis where, after witnessing the army of Xerxes burning their city to ashes, a combined Greek fleet led by the Athenian navy lured the Persian armada into an ambush near a cape of Salamis and annihilated them as the ShahanShah of the Persians watched from his throne atop a mainland bluff.
The prestige of the Delphic Oracle was at its peak in those days. But now the once sacred site lies in ruins, its purifying springs having ceased to flow, the thermal mists no longer rising from the floor of Apollo’s desolate sanctum. Yet the disorder, menace and tribulations of today rekindle memories of ancient crises and the ways in which our forebears confronted them.
People with advantages … come readily to define themselves as inherently worthy of what they possess; they come to believe themselves ‘naturally’ elite, and, in fact, to imagine their possessions and their privileges as natural extensions of their own elite selves. – C. Wright Mills
We know the nature of the crisis. The federal government taking a dominant role in the nation’s political affairs to win the Civil War but not relinquishing that authority upon the war’s conclusion has led step by step to a challenge of the fundamental makeup of our civilization – centralized control by our ‘wise elders’ driven thru collectivist group conformity/identity versus the freedom of the individual, constitutionally mandated decentralization of political power and respect for natural rights. Our civilization is on the verge of a breakdown, as birth rates further deteriorate, the internal proletariat increasingly loses faith in society’s institutions, and the current cultural leadership in political, economic and social spheres attempts to establish itself as a dominant minority, exercising power as a self-awarded moral and intellectual privilege while tearing down what is left of the current cultural infrastructure in order to replace it with people and frameworks that solidify and expand their preeminence.
Nassim Taleb believes the root of the problem is that our world is run by self-proclaimed ‘experts’ who are in fact not anything of the sort, since their ideas, efforts, programs, policies and principles are based in elegant theory, not reality; furthermore, the damaging consequences of their errors do not rebound on them, but on the rest of us, as these ‘experts’ have no skin in the game and thus suffer no consequences for their failures. Thus, they never learn from their mistakes and, contrary to the natural (Darwinian) ramifications of being found lacking in ability and merit, remain to benefit from their privilege and position, free to continue pontificating from their ivory towers on the intrinsically just precepts of Plato’s Republic while looking down their noses at the ‘ignorant proles’ who are too ‘common’ in their worldview and limited in their education and perceptive faculties to fully understand.
With all of this in mind: how did the Left manage to have a decently successful midterm?
Let’s be clear about one thing: the Left did not achieve its gains thru promoting a detailed platform with an appealing view of the future. MONEY BOUGHT THE LAST ELECTION CYCLE. Every victorious candidate on the Left – and quite a few of the ones who failed, including a far left progressive in Texas who had a $72M budget to contest a senate seat – had ‘anonymous’ donors who provided anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3 of their budget. The DNC had almost nothing to give; for the last two years, their coffers have been empty and they have been effectively bankrupt.
We also know where that money came from – Soros, Steyer, Bloomberg and a handful of others who see an opportunity for colossal profit in the collapse of America by grabbing a tremendous number of assets at fire sale prices. Unlike the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. of the James Bond films, this loose fraternity operates in the open, leaving their enclaves in Silicon Valley and the old money archipelago of mansions in upper New York State to rub elbows with like-minded confederates at Davos.
Though they claim to speak for the poor and dispossessed, Democrats have increasingly become the party of an upper-middle-class professional elite, top-heavy with journalists, academics and lawyers. – Camille Paglia
The money provided to turn the House to a small Democrat majority and flip 7 governorships incurred an obligation. We can already see the form its payment will take. The MSM, already disgusting before, is plumbing new depths of mendacity and vileness in its role as the Minitrue of the Progressive/Neo-Maoist left. House democrats have declared their intent to launch 85 ‘investigations’ against the president and his associates to contrive scandals and controversies with which to feed the MSM megaphone, like a round-the-clock “Two Minute Hate.” And the early indications regarding legislative priorities of a Democratic House are clearly intended to harm and inflame the President’s voting base.
The goal, of course, is chaos in the polity, economic disruption, tribalism and the “death by a thousands cuts” of the Rule of Law. It doesn’t go quite the full distance that would instigate a Civil War, but is more in the nature of a “Cultural Revolution.” Blood has already been spilled – the Republican House baseball practice that was shot up in 2017, the Antifa associate who sent out mail bombs last year that killed two and maimed four, the other Antifa acolyte who gunned down 26 people (including a 9 month old baby) in a church in a SE San Antonio suburb, as well as people who have been assaulted and injured (some permanently) at Antifa riots in Berkeley, Portland and elsewhere. But a Cultural Revolution targets only those who lead the polity and are in positions of authority, along with any of their followers in the internal proletariat who have the nerve to resist. The goal is to capture the polity intact but bereft of leadership, so that it can be herded and then shaped to Revolutionary ends.
This leads to an important question: how many acolytes are there in this Cultural Revolution? Not just the fanatical Red Guard, but others who believe in most or all of the same vision but aren’t quite as ‘enthusiastic’ in the efforts to implement it?
The view of the Establishment as promulgated by the MSM is that a new Mason Dixon line exists in America, with the boundary running between Urban & Suburban America and Rural regions. But logic suggests that this cannot possibly be the case. After all, over 81% of Americans live in urban & suburban areas; thus, the House of Representatives should not be anywhere close to an even split.
Consulting polls to gauge the political divide is a mostly fruitless endeavor. Polls can be quite slanted. Methodologies can be questionable. They can disagree quite dramatically. They can also be horribly wrong. And voters can also be very fickle. Perhaps the ancient Greeks understood human psychology far better than we do, as the divinities of the Hellenic pantheon that served as stand-ins for various aspects of Hellenic culture were often temperamental, vain, irrational, wanton, undependable, callous, sadistic, erratic and foolish – a rather accurate reflection of Ancient Greek society that has more than a little in common with our own. In the end, we can only characterize the American polity in broad generalities – rural areas are usually some shade of red, urban areas are frequently a lighter or darker shade of blue, and the suburbs are typically a battleground. Taken as a whole, Americans seem to be about 1/3 to the right and 1/3 to the left, with the rest waffling.
Trump forcefully appealed to them all, quite energetically and directly. That’s how states previously considered blue bastions turned to him in 2016 and how so many Republican congressmen emerged victorious in suburban districts. It was a highly inclusive message, intended to cross boundaries of race, creed, color, class and gender, and was recognized by many voters as a sincere appeal.
The Left, driven by their deep-pocketed corporate donors, has responded not by seeking to win back the hearts and minds of a majority of Americans, but by waging political, informational, legal and cultural war against political opponents and their supporters in an effort to energize their own base and demoralize that of their rivals. Theirs is not an attempt to revive their fortune thru the traditional democratic process, but to destroy the opposition and grasp absolute power.
If they are successful, what will follow, however, will not be the collectivist, redistributionist, egalitarian paradise of the left’s ideologues. They will become mortal enemies of the State just as much as the Right, as wealthy donors unite in common cause with the political and social elite to impose their oligarchic/plutocratic rule.
Like the Persian host of old, the forces arrayed against us are daunting and could easily provoke despair in even stout hearts. If we were to follow the example of the Athenians and made the journey to Mount Parnassus today in order to seek the counsel of the Pythia, what would she say to us?
There is a history in all men’s lives, Figuring the nature of the times deceas’d, The which observed, a man may prophesy With a near aim, of the main chance of things As yet not come to life, which in their seeds And weak beginnings lie intreasured. – William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part II
I believe the Pythia would recognize that we have a Grey/’Orange’ Champion already – a man from an earlier time, one who is defiant, resolute, unbending and more than a little ruthless. He does not wither, yield or merely defend, but attacks and counterattacks, always regaining the initiative with redoubled ferocity to keep his enemies reeling and unbalanced.
The seeds of our destiny may already be sown, and the Delphic Oracle was esteemed for divining the crop such a planting would likely yield. My guess is that the Pythia would say something along the following lines:
Honor your ancestors, who once toiled and sacrificed for your future; be steadfast and confident, for a mighty pilot has grasped the helm of your ship. Your allies are more than you know, and the helmsman shall steer your course true. You shall have revenge upon those who have usurped your house, like Odysseus of old.
Blue Ridge Parkway (Source: theconstantrambler.com)
In Part 1 of this series we addressed the question “Is America a country or a civilization?” and answered it with a resounding “YES!” America is a civilization in its own right, having branched off from Western European civilization and now charting a destiny independent of its parent. In Part 2, we assembled the ‘toolkit’ for analyzing American civilization from the precepts and methodologies espoused by Arnold Toynbee and the Strauss & Howe Generational Cycle. We are now ready to begin the dissertation in earnest.
Buckle up. 🙂
The following discussion will depend primarily on Toynbee’s framework, as its universality regarding human civilization in general offers the longest time frame and, thus, the broadest perspective. The periodicity of the Generational Cycle, however, as well as its particular applicability to American civilization, will prove to be of service as well.
So, to begin: Is America a Growing or Declining civilization?
Even a cursory review of America’s 229 year history (using the enactment of the Constitution as a starting date) reveals its success as a civilization in establishing itself against both physical and human external challenges – the Revolution, the conquest of the frontier, the wars with Mexico and Spain and three world wars (including the Cold War.) A critical fact to recognize is that labeling the United States a “Universal State” for a decaying Western civilization because of these events would be incorrect. After all, in the war against Mexico, America did not incorporate the conquered nation into its territory but released it to resume its status as an independent country and even paid for the tracts of territory claimed from Mexico in what became the American Southwest. The Imperial Russian claims on the NW coast of the North American continent were also bought, not annexed thru conquest. Cuba and the Philippines, both taken in the Spanish American War, were set free from American suzerainty to become nations in their own right. And finally, America did not consolidate Western Europe and Japan into a territorial empire after the 2nd World War, but released them, provided security and helped them get back on their feet. Alexander and Caesar would have had a stroke over such daftness. America is simply not the stuff of which empires are built.
Once a civilization establishes itself, Toynbee asserts that further challenges to a growing civilization will be internally generated and existential in nature, such that a successful response to a challenge will involve a civilization transforming itself in part or in total to overcome it. This transcendence is necessary so that the civilization might remain vital, and is ironically a result of unintended consequences stemming from the resolution of the previous challenge.
What purely internal challenges has American civilization faced in its short history?
The Constitution itself generated the first major crisis. Thru the strenuous rejection of anti-slavery articles in the original draft by Southern colonial delegates and the urgent desire for unity amongst the original thirteen colonies fueling an atmosphere of compromise, a contradiction between the spirit and application of the Constitution drove a wedge between North and South that flowered into the first major war of the Industrial Revolution. This civil calamity led to the loss of 3% of the nation’s population within the space of 5 years and the economic ruin of the South.
This first existential challenge of American civilization was savagely resolved and America became one country again, but legal and social struggles continued for another century after Appomattox. Jim Crow laws and segregation ordnances were enacted in the former Confederacy, reinforced by the savagery of an irregular volunteer militia in the form of the KKK. The final victory over these Confederate ‘rear guard’ actions was realized thru the courts and specific federal legislation designed to enact the objectives of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act.
However, per Toynbee’s thesis, the successful settlement of one challenge plants the seeds for the next. In its triumph over Richmond, Washington D.C. had stamped out the final vestiges of state autonomy left from early post-colonial times. The principles of Federalism enshrined in the Constitution as a check against central government overreach were effectively neutered by the Civil War.
Albert Bierstadt, “Emigrants Crossing the Plains”, 1869 (Source: Wikimedia)
This would be reflected in the evolution of the American political and legal environment at both the state and federal level over the next 150 years. The western frontier was opened, territories were defined, the US Cavalry was dispatched to build forts, protect roads & trails and subdue the war bands of belligerent Indian tribes, U.S. Marshals and Judges were dispatched to bring law and order and, over time, new States were organized and accepted into the Union – all under the auspices and stewardship of the Federal government.
Furthermore, in an effort to populate these new domains as well as feed the tremendous demand for labor in the burgeoning manufacturing sector, the floodgates of immigration were opened to millions of southern and eastern Europeans. There were Italians planting vineyards in the Missouri Ozarks, Basques herding sheep in Montana and Wyoming, Portuguese fishing the Pacific off the California coast, German Ukrainian farmers planting corn and wheat in Kansas and Nebraska, Greek miners in Utah and Swedes starting dairy farms in Wisconsin, in addition to the Polish, French, Sicilian, Irish and other immigrants working in the Pennsylvania iron & steel foundries, the New Jersey clothing mills, the Ohio glass works and so forth. The entire immigration process was vetted and, over time, carefully restricted by Washington.
Edward Moran, “Unveiling the Statue of Liberty”, 1886 (Source: Wikimedia)
Linking the cities and towns of a nation spanning a continent also fell under the control of the Federal government. Railroads, waterways and canals, once the purview of private business interests and individual States, became the concern of Washington in post-Civil War America. Washington’s command authority over the nation’s transportation networks is nowhere better illustrated than by the interstate highway system. In what was once a dominion exclusive to the individual States, the Federal government now compels matching funds from State budgets for the construction and maintenance of interstate roadways.
There were certain benefits to this centralization of political power in D.C. Victory in WW2 and NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs were made possible by the mobilization of necessary resources under central control. Between first beating the Axis and subsequently the Red Menace while concurrently walking on the Moon and sending robotic spacecraft to Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the Great Beyond, it began to seem as if Washington D.C. could do……anything!
It was here, at the seeming Apex of America’s might and glory, that the Yin and Yang of Toynbee’s existential dilemma for civilizations presented itself for a second time to America.
It was the Greatest Generation – the GI’s – that trounced Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany while doing most of the prep work that led to defeating the Soviets (an external challenge eventually completed by the GI’s successors, the Silent generation.) Yet their children – the Baby Boomers – outwardly rejected all their parent’s views and ideas while subconsciously embracing their methods and approaches in general terms.
Boomers are indeed team-oriented, civics-conscious and driven to pursue the Greater Good from the standpoint of concerning themselves with the supposed needs of the Many rather than the needs of the Few or the One. These sentiments, combined with their rebellion against the social and behavioral restrictions imposed by their parents and the growing perception that there was no problem too large or difficult for Federal government to solve, collided head-on with a political, social and economic ideology that had been plaguing Europe for almost two centuries: Collectivism.
The ground-root folly of this piteous philantropy
is thinking to distribute indivisibles,
and make equality in things incommensurable:
forged under such delusions, all Utopias
are castles in the air or counsels of despair. – Robert Bridges, The Testament of Beauty (1929)
The origins of collectivist sociopolitical and economic theory can be traced all the way back to the peak of Hellenic civilization – Ancient Greece during its Classical period. After the conclusion of the Persian Wars, the Greek city states failed to create a pan-Hellenic political union that complemented their already existing economic interdependencies. The failure to constructively address this latest challenge to Hellenic civilization precipitated an extended and calamitous civil war – one that would end after nearly three centuries of slaughter, rapine and destruction with the conquest of Hellas by the Legions of Rome’s late Republican era.
While the opening act of this cataclysm was under way – the thirty year Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens – Plato penned one of his most famous works: The Republic. In a fictionalized debate between Plato’s teacher Socrates and a group of philosophy students, Plato describes the ideal city state in the following general terms:
The state is ruled by a Guardian class divided into warriors and administrators. It is they who are not only the most educated in society, but who decide what constitutes the proper educational curriculum for society. This control includes the right to censor ideas and materials as considered appropriate by the Guardians.
Thru proper education, citizens can be taught to understand their place in society and to pay proper attention to their responsibilities – both to themselves and to their fellow citizens – so that there is perfect harmony.
Human reproduction is the purview of the State. Furthermore, it is the State that raises children and not their parents, so that the State can ensure the child is properly educated.
The ruler of the polity and the Guardian class is a Philosopher-King.
By controlling the education of the entire polity, the Philosopher-King and Guardians ensure that the populace is Good.
Goodness is the ultimate source of Truth.
Plato’s body of work was one of the very few to survive intact after the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the death of Hellenic Civilization. “The Republic” was intensely studied by scholars, the Catholic clergy and other intellectuals during the Middle Ages. Most found fault with it. Some, however, were quite taken with this sophistic pile of elitist garbage. Among them was Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Born in Geneva in 1712, Rousseau’s formative years and early adulthood were spent amongst successful merchants, upper class families, nobility and educated clergy. Education, class and wealth were always central themes of life in his familial, social, commercial, educational and professional activities. A successful writer, most of his social interactions were with the intellectual, artistic and aristocratic elite of France, Germany and England. Despite the praise heaped upon him by many illustrious personages, in the end he managed to alienate almost all of them, and was known to be egotistical, haughty, contemptuous and quick to anger when challenged by others – especially those he considered his inferiors.
Rousseau’s social, political and economic views clearly owe a heavy debt to Plato. They can be summarized as follows:
Civilization creates inequality, envy and unnatural desires, where man values himself only as others perceive him or as he perceives his status, wealth and/or position in comparison to others. Overall, the material benefits of Science and Progress had been harmful to Man, degrading a natural goodness that was most readily manifested when he was in a state of complete poverty.
The worst damage to the innate goodness of Man came from the institution of private property, which was in Rousseau’s day the primary distinguishing factor between individuals and classes.
Man was ‘perfectible’ in that he could be taught/trained in morality and civic duty to counter his individualistic, selfish instincts and mold him to care primarily for the good of greater society.
Everyone must forfeit individual natural rights and accept duties that subordinate him to the group. This is true freedom, as one is free from care for oneself and one’s position in society, since all are equal and care for each other.
Property can be owned only if cultivated, and only at a subsistence level.
The fruits of the earth belong to all, and the earth to nobody.
Writers started doing dystopias after we saw the effects of trying to build utopias that required, unfortunately, the elimination of a lot of people before you could get to the perfect point, which never arrived. – Margaret Atwood, in “A Progressive Interview With Margaret Atwood” by Matthew Rothschild, in The Progressive (2 December 2010)
A common theme runs thru the course of Rousseau’s life which provides an illuminating contrast to his utopian musings. Disinherited in his youth, Rousseau behaved throughout his life as an elitist that had been unjustly displaced from his rightful position by the vicissitudes of fortune and a crass commercial world that failed to recognize his right to an exalted status due a person of his breeding, education, family heritage and social connections. He believed it is was his inherent privilege to tell others what they should do and how they should live their lives. At the same time, he craved recognition by those he considered his peers – landed nobility, along with premier artistic and intellectual figures.
As Plato influenced his own thoughts, Rousseau in his turn heavily influenced Robespierre and other key figures in the French Revolution, as well as Marx and Engels. From this, one can see a pattern develop in the leading figures of Collectivist ideology. When one catalogs the background of people such as Rousseau, Robespierre, Marx, Lenin, Hitler, Mao and others, the following commonalities emerge:
They prize intellect and intellectual achievement-especially their own.
They hold the perception of having been thwarted of their ‘rightful place’ in society.
They develop a world view that society itself is deeply flawed; that those currently in exalted positions are unworthy; and that they are amongst a great multitude that are being oppressed and/or wronged.
They either seek and adopt an ideology that supports their views or develop one of their own, then embark on a quest to fulfill the promise they believe is offered by this ideology in order to fulfill their destiny and take their ‘rightful place’ in a new society of their own making.
We can all readily grasp why some people who live in deep poverty under authoritarian regimes, unable to change the circumstances of their lives in a rigid social structure, might be attracted to any ideology which offers change. However, for a generation that has grown up with stability, order and prosperity, who are significantly better educated than the generations before them, and who are rebelling against the social & religious constrictions and responsibilities imposed by their parents, wanting to be free of the pressures, personal sacrifice and toil that fell on their parent’s shoulders and are about to fall on theirs as they enter young adulthood, their motivations are quite different. I speak of a generation that yearns to express the wondrous, beautiful, individual uniqueness which they believe to offer, that feels entitled to that recognition but, not finding it from a society which demands effort and proof of achievement before acknowledging their assumed quality, discovers a global Socialist/Communist movement that looks like the perfect vehicle for their rebellion.
The Boomers saw Communism violently rejecting the world created by their parents and challenging it energetically, in every aspect and on every front. International Communism scorns organized religion and offers instead a religion of the State – where embracing its theology makes you smarter, wiser, nicer and better than those who adhere to the old ways. You become special, one of the apostles of this new faith that’s so much more humane and caring than what your fuddy duddy old parents espouse. It’s here, it’s now, it’s new, it’s WOW! And everybody’s into it, man, all over the WORLD! You’re carried away by being part of something way bigger than you are, freed by it as you get lost in the multitude, swept up by its power and historical inevitability, because it’s so real, so evolutionary, so REVOLUTIONARY, so……….PROGRESSIVE.
In addition to this there is the horrible — the really disquieting — prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England. – George Orwell, “The Road to Wigan Pier” (1937)
Western Civilization in Europe has faced the challenge of Collectivism three times. The first was in France during the Revolution at the end of the 18th century and extended across Europe by Napoleon in a first attempt at establishing a Universal State. The challenge was beaten, but not defeated, as the ultimate question posed by the challenge – what is a fair and equitable distribution of wealth and privilege across society – was not answered satisfactorily. Thus, a breakdown commenced in Western Europe and the challenge arose again in the manifesto of Marx and Engels. Mussolini and Hitler carried the National Socialist banner very near to victory and the establishment of a Western Universal State in the Second World War. Yet the barriers to social mobility from class and educational privilege, though gravely wounded as a consequence of the conflict, still lingered in Western Europe, opening the way for a third challenge – this one from the Soviet Union, whose threat was, like the previous relapse, both ideological and military.
The menace posed by the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact and the Communist Internationale was somewhat unique in history, as best as I can tell. In this case, the third relapse of the challenge was not posed in the beginning by Western civilization’s Internal Proletariat, but by an Orthodox Christian External Proletariat. The Orthodox Christian civilization, centered in Imperial Russia after the fall of the Byzantine Imperium to the Ottoman Turkish onslaught, itself responded to the threat posed by an ascendant Western civilization in 1917 by adopting the West’s own internally competing ideology – Collectivism – in an attempt to re-organize Orthodox Christian civilization thru centralized control of all resources and mount a cultural ‘counterattack’ in order to equal or overtake Western civilization’s leadership in economic, artistic and technological spheres. This effort by an External Proletariat in turn stimulated the West’s Internal Proletariat to resume its ‘class struggle.’
With a third relapse of the crisis, Western Civilization’s response was, per Toynbee’s 3.5 beat cadence, the weakest of all. Western European governments adopted a ‘soft socialism’ that attempted to combine democracy with a large social safety net and detailed central government management of the economy ‘for the greater good.’ Despite such societal window dressing, the ghosts of elitist domination of the halls of power in government and industry persisted – much more subtly than during the days of Rousseau, but lingering like ghosts nevertheless, as class and privilege still exist throughout Western European society.
It was at this point that the growing distance between the USA and Europe became obvious and America came definitively into its own as a Civilization. NATO was formed to counter the Red Army, but America carried 80-90% of the weight of that alliance. Western Europe formed the Common Market and, eventually, the European Union – the Universal State of Western Civilization finally realized – but the economic, political, technological, military and above all cultural scales tilted ever more towards America, as Western Europe declined into an imitative backwater. The signs were clear then and now, as Western Europe increasingly shirked the necessary expenses to maintain its military capability, preparedness and overall capacity for self defense in favor of ever greater funding thru higher taxes and public debt burdens for ‘free’ medical care, ‘free’ university education and other forms of public dole.
Both Catholic and Protestant Christianity – bedrock institutions of Western civilization – are approaching extinction in Western Europe. The most glaring evidence of a civilization in its Disintegration phase is the continuing infiltration of an African and Middle Eastern External Proletariat who, upon arriving in Western Europe, openly and ferociously express their contempt for its people and institutions. The frontier’s boundaries are not only increasingly undefended; the will of Western European nations to even mount a defense is simply not there, as the Dominant Minority no longer seems to believe that the borders are worth defending. The Internal Proletariat gave up on its leaders some decades ago, and their cynicism is deeper than ever as the Dominant Minority, seemingly oblivious, continues sending its future leadership cadres in politics and business to be trained at Oxford, Cambridge and the “Grandes Ecoles.”
This is why they are stagnant; why they no longer create or innovate to any significant extent; why the church is practically dead; why they produce almost no new art or literature of note; why they have no sense of history or sense of self as a civilization; why they won’t defend themselves against Islamic and African invaders or a resurgent imperialist Russia; why they became weaker and weaker during the Cold War; why together they could not squash or even contain the Yugoslav civil war in the 90’s; why 20 years later, the strongest of them working together could not muster the military strength to over throw Muammar Qaddafi in Libya; why their birth rates have collapsed; and why their Internal Proletariat no longer concern themselves with getting ahead or improving their living conditions and economic situation, but instead focus on further reducing their working hours, extracting ever more benefits from their central government and spending their 4-6 week summer vacation in the Greek Isles, Mediterranean Spain or Italy’s Adriatic shoreline, drinking themselves into a stupor and throwing their guts up every night. Western Civilization is a civilization that is very visibly committing suicide, unwilling and unable to firmly confront and resolve a feudal ‘hangover’ in their culture that impedes class mobility.
As the disintegration advances, we will see the Universal State of the EU implode. Separatist movements such as those in Catalonia, Scotland and perhaps Northern Italy might gain strength; in any case, individual nations will either seek their own salvation (as Italy and Austria seem to be attempting at the moment) or simply die (as Spain, France, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Germany and Sweden appear determined to do.)
But what of America?
Particularly on the Left, political thought is a sort of masturbation fantasy in which the world of facts hardly matters. – George Orwell, “London Letter” in Partisan Review (Winter 1945)
The 2nd Turning or “Awakening” of the Generational Cycle burst forth with revolutionary fervor simultaneously with the beginning of a fresh challenge to American Civilization regarding the “reach” of central government power (originating from the measures taken to overcome the previous challenge regarding slavery) during the 1960’s. You can see these early days of the emerging challenge quite clearly by contrasting the speeches of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater to highly receptive audiences at the 1964 Republican Convention against the anti-war demonstrations that erupted across college campuses in the late 1960’s.
The McCarthy era notwithstanding, we are in the throes of confronting Collectivism as an internal, existential challenge to our civilization for the first time. This challenge, however, is of a different nature than the Western European one. Western civilization has been confronted thrice with a struggle between Collectivism and the existing social order, which even today still echoes its feudal past of a rigid class hierarchy. America’s struggle, by contrast, is one between Collectivism in terms of groups and tribes claiming grievances against other groups/tribes and seeking redress, versus the respect for and value of the individual evolved from the broader Germanic cultural tradition that is part of America’s original foundation and enshrined in the Constitution.
In the eyes of the Right, Washington D.C. is guilty of de-facto criminal overreach that violates constitutional limits on federal versus state sovereignty, as well as breaching the effective sphere of control with which the Constitution bounds the federal government in relation to its presence in all aspects of our society. This includes both the lack of enforcement of Constitutional mandates as well as the exercise of power over areas or to an extent which the Constitution prohibits. To put it more succinctly – the Right asserts that the Federal government is operating outside the proper bounds of the Constitution, both in spirit and in fact – as if the Constitution were a ‘living document.’
However, all of the above is, in the eyes of the Progressive Left, not a bug, but a feature.
Secondly there is the fact that the intellectuals are more totalitarian in outlook than the common people. On the whole the English intelligentsia have opposed Hitler, but only at the price of accepting Stalin. Most of them are perfectly ready for dictatorial methods, secret police, systematic falsification of history etc. so long as they feel that it is on ‘our’ side. – George Orwell, Letter to H. J. Willmett (18 May 1944)
If statistics are to be believed, Boomers today are almost evenly split between Right and Left, with the Left side holding a 4 point lead. It is likely, though, that their numerical advantage was significantly higher in the 60’s, which was, after all, the Vietnam era.
Going by Strauss & Howe’s timetable for the current set of generations, the Baby Boomers were born between 1941 and 1960, making the youngest about 58 years old today, with the vast majority of them in their last years in the workforce or already retired as they gradually cede their positions of seniority and leadership in government and industry to the Nomads of Generation X. It is the Boomers’ Leftist members – unconsciously employing their parent’s principles of team effort, civics-consciousness, and suborning the interests and needs of the individual to the Greater Good while concurrently embracing an ideology completely opposed to all that the Boomers’ parents had built and achieved – who executed a “March Thru the Institutions” during the last 3 decades. Their aspiration was to eradicate all the ethical and regulatory norms enacted by their Hero/Greatest Generation and Artist/Silent Generation forebears and replace them with operational axioms, mechanisms and tactics developed to recruit and indoctrinate a younger cadre that was well versed in ‘progressive’ values. Contemporaneously, they strove to prove Rousseau’s belief in man’s ‘perfectibility’ by incrementally converting the rest of American civilization thru a stealthy ‘acclimatization’ into a society based on Marxist collectivist principles. The final objective was to train Americans to become living examples of the “New Socialist Man” idealized by marxist social theorists and polemicists.
The “march” has been manifestly effective to date. Christianity in America – just as much a part of the foundation of our society as it is of our sister Western civilization – is a pale shadow compared to what it was when I was a kid back in the 60’s. It is de rigeur for High School and College students today to pour scorn on Christianity – an attitude instilled in them by a K-12 and college educational system that began indoctrinating students in the ‘evils’ of Christian faith at least 40 years ago. This perspective has been reinforced continually by a mainstream media whose membership is now completely dominated by adherents to the radical leftist canon promulgated by their ‘liberal arts’ professors. Leftist Boomers have also radically changed our laws, our political systems, what is or isn’t acceptable in our culture in terms of art, literature or the spoken word, what we eat and drink, what we do for recreation, how we interact with each other socially or at work, and even our technology choices, both individually and as a society.
Their younger acolytes have gone farther. Social Media has inserted itself into our culture but is under the full control of young Progressives who exercise their unconstrained prerogative over determining the value and/or validity of content, as well as capturing information on us in tremendous detail on a daily basis. Our language is under attack. Our right to speak our minds is as well. The nuclear family has been under assault for decades – parents have lost more and more control over how their children are raised and what they are taught, while the institution of marriage itself has been beaten to a bloody pulp. Even our genetics, skin tone, sexual orientation, ethnic background and gender are subject to scolding scrutiny from self-appointed Progressive ‘clerics’ at universities and in the media, judging what is or is not permissible, acceptable or condemnable, based on the indoctrination they received in their gender/race/ethnic/X – studies college courses.
Progressives continue their Great March relentlessly to this day, rendered inexhaustible from the conviction that they are on the ‘right side of history.’ Behaving more and more like an American version of Mao’s Red Guards who drove the Cultural Revolution, their objective is to smash American civilization as defined so astutely by the Founding Fathers and then build a new world, a ‘fair’ world, a world better than what all previous generations had cumulatively created, where progressives would receive just praise, accolades and reverence for their innate goodness and wisdom and where THEY would decide who merited the fruits of society and to what degree, their cups finally full enough to quench the terrible thirst of their narcissism and urge to dominate others in their thoughts, actions and feelings.
As we have all seen, the divide between the Right and the Left has reached such a level of spittle-flecked vitriol that it has become impossible to initiate a substantive dialogue involving an exchange of ideas and detailed debates on their merits based on facts and logic in order to reach either a decision on the best course of action or to negotiate a workable compromise. Does this internal schism mean American civilization is disintegrating?
While the Internal Proletariat and a faltering Creative Minority in America may be having severe doubts about each other and factionalizing within their own ranks, the surest sign that American civilization has not either broken down or begun disintegrating is the External Proletariat, which in America’s case is the whole rest of the world. American civilization is still a shining beacon radiating far beyond our borders, bringing hope for a better tomorrow to all aspiring immigrants who only ask for a genuine chance to start over while inspiring mimesis of American culture in every corner of the globe.
Notice how the ex-Warsaw Pact nations of Eastern Europe, now free of Soviet domination, did not turn to their immediately neighboring Western civilization as a potential ally against a resurgent Russia. They approached America, who in their eyes is vastly more robust than Western Europe not just from a military standpoint but as a civilization. Observe as well how the Hindu civilization of the Indian subcontinent aligned itself with the Soviets after independence but is now puzzling over how it can rid itself of its socialist trappings in the least painful manner possible while warming up to America. Even China is feeling the radiating warmth of American civilization. The undercurrents in China’s Internal Proletariat reveal an urgent desire for accelerating the adoption of American practices and concepts in the political, social, economic and legal arenas, as they struggle against a Dominant Minority which still refuses to relinquish its power, privilege and position.
Not even in the Dar Al Islam are we viewed by anyone other than the cadres of psychopathic jihadists as a mortal enemy. Many an average citizen in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Malaysia and Indonesia wants an iPhone so they can stream Youtube videos and the latest Marvel Superhero movie or shop online for blue jeans and Nikes. The great majority of people in the last vestige of the Syriac civilization may have varying levels of resentment or suspicion of America, but very few of them want to destroy it. Instead, they want to emulate its success as best they can.
Astonishingly, even among the jihadi ranks are those who quietly view America with great admiration (and perhaps are not even fully aware of the irony.) Some of you may recall a story by Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis where he relates a series of conversations with a sunni jihadist captured in Iraq who at one point asks him if, when the war was over, he might have a chance to emigrate to America to start his life over.
It is nevertheless plain to see, however, that America is in crisis. Today’s political strife reflects an existential crossroad for American civilization in the form of a struggle between individualist-inspired federalization versus collectivist-inspired centralization of government power. The seeds of this crisis were planted by the North’s choices in its effort to prevail in the Civil War, with these seeds sprouting and flowering (pardon the pun) in the Awakening of the 1960’s. A crucial indicator of the growth of this crisis is provided by the national birth rate, which has now fallen to 1.8 – a record low. We are experiencing a classic Toynbee civilization challenge and a Generational Cycle 4th Turning crisis period in a perfectly synchronous harmony. We are most certainly standing on the cliff’s edge of a breakdown.
“The Gust”, Willem van de Velde the Younger, circa 1650-1707 (Source: sailingwarship.com)
The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard. – Excerpt from a verse in the Katha-Upanishad – 1.3.14.
Are we about to enter a second Civil War?
This question is on the lips of many people on both the Left and Right. We don’t have Senators and Congressmen showing up to congressional sessions with guns under their jackets, as they did in the weeks and months before the Confederacy opened fire on Fort Sumter. Nor have any fistfights broken out yet on the Senate or House floor. The rancor and hostility between the parties in Congress, however, is palpable. The febrile hysteria of the MSM and its blatant propagandizing against the Right are evoking disgust even from some on the Left. Nonetheless, the intensity of the agitprop continues to grow and is clearly intended to provoke unstable and weak minded individuals to acts of violence and mayhem – events which have already occurred multiple times, almost exclusively against public figures on the Right. To my surviving family members who experienced WW2, it has the familiar sound of a prelude to war.
The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human. – Aldous Huxley, “The Olive Tree” (1936)
The secession of the Confederacy from the Union was a definitive line in the sand, and we appear to some extent to be moving in that direction. Campaigns calling for greater autonomy from Washington, separatism or outright secession at the State level began during the 8 years of the Obama administration, initiated by citizens on the Right. The northernmost counties of California, a half dozen eastern counties in Colorado, and the states of Texas, Arizona and Utah saw various such initiatives reach state legislatures, some even reaching ballots for public votes. When the winds of political fortune shifted to the Right in 2010, 2014 and most especially 2016, people on the Left began agitating for autonomy or secession, most notably in California, where they will put the issue to a vote in 2020.
Per Strauss & Howe, this cycle’s 4th turning likely began with the 2008 financial panic. If the cycle holds true, it won’t be until 2028 or thereabouts that the crisis will definitively end. They also note that in each 4th Turning, a potential solution to the current unpleasantness begins to present itself right around the 8th year. Furthermore, somebody steps forward from the crowd and becomes a rallying figure – a member of the Prophet Generation for that cycle who points the way forward to victory. Strauss and Howe call this individual “The Grey Champion.”
Sometimes this champion is two or three people. As an example – the role of the Grey Champion was fulfilled by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams during the Revolution, each of them from their cycle’s Prophet Generation, bringing different but complementary behaviors and approaches to the effort. More often it is a lone individual, such as Abraham Lincoln, also a member of the Prophet Generation of his cycle.
In general, a Grey Champion can be recognized by the following characteristics:
He will have many enemies on both sides of the conflict, all of whom share a deep and abiding hatred of him.
He will be perceived as not truly belonging to either faction of the conflict, but to be above both.
His solutions to current difficulties will be both principled and original.
His manner will be fierce; his commitment unrelenting; his resolve unwavering; his approach uncompromising.
He will instill courage in the souls of those who are despairing of the grimness of the situation.
He will come across to his detractors as a pitiless, egomaniacal narcissist.
His enemies will revel in his setbacks, hurl invective at him at every opportunity, and wish for or even plot his overthrow or assassination.
He will break every rule, norm and standard that gets in the way of his ultimate objective: ensuring that his nation is victorious.
We can identify this Grey Champion readily, folks. He’s already emerged, though he is not actually grey.
This new regime will enthrone itself for the duration of the Crisis. Regardless of its ideology, that new leadership will assert public authority and demand private sacrifice. Where leaders had once been inclined to alleviate societal pressures, they will now aggravate them to command the nation’s attention. The regeneracy will be solidly under way.”–Strauss & Howe, “The Fourth Turning”
There are several things which frustrate Europeans about us to no end. One is that we never quail in the face of adversity or difficult tasks, which European political figures, media and academia choose to view as naivete and adolescent impetuousness. Another is that Americans are driven to solve their problems right away and tire very quickly of the endless talk that Europeans think will magically resolve their difficulties – in effect, waiting for the problem to magically solve itself while they have polite conversation over tiny glasses of sherry in well appointed salons. But one thing in particular about America utterly exasperates Western Europe: the ability of America to reinvent itself time and again.
I do not pretend to be a Delphic Oracle. My ability to forecast whether or not America will settle this existential challenge by force of arms is no better than anyone else’s. Both the Strauss & Howe and Toynbee methodologies agree that these sorts of schisms occurring after a period of 80-100 years of relative peace are most often settled by a major war. Logic would dictate against it, as the geographic position of the Left, concentrated for the most part on the coasts and in major population centers, would make a Progressive military victory a virtual impossibility.
But logic seems to have little hold over the political and social leadership of Progressives nowadays. In fact, their colleagues in academia have extended Progressive doctrine – derived from classic Marxist thought and enhanced by theory, stratagems and practices employed by Soviet, Maoist and other socialist tyrannies, as well as leading Leftist theorists such as the notorious Saul Alinsky – to include the tenet that arguments based on facts, evidence, data, logic and reason are irrelevant if they are presented against a Progressive principle or initiative supported only by emotional commitment. This is further evidence that Progressivism has so distanced itself from the Democratic party of Truman and Kennedy that it can no longer be considered a genuine political ideology, but has instead moved firmly into the realm of theology and religious canon.
All we can be certain of is this: The crisis is upon us, and we have our Grey Champion.
I cannot augur whether the Collectivists or Federalists will triumph, or how the struggle will play itself out. If the Collectivists win, it will indicate that the extant Creative Minority who already has near complete control of our civilization’s institutions will have a free hand exercising its will on the Internal Proletariat, becoming a Dominant Minority in the process. Collectivism is, after all, severely authoritarian, both in theory and practice, notwithstanding the childish lies progressives tell themselves or the hackneyed selling points with which they sprinkle their agitprop. Remember that National Socialism in Italy and Germany arose thru the mechanism of democratic elections, so it would not be out of the question that a similar event could occur here. American civilization, as young as it is, would then enter a Breakdown phase, and we could expect the Dominant Minority to attempt retrieving the support of the Internal Proletariat most likely thru military adventurism, per the general pattern identified by Toynbee.
But the ferocity of the reaction against encroaching Collectivism has surprised me, and I still have quite high hopes that we will prevail. I believe Trump fits the role of Grey Champion more completely than anyone in America’s history, and is the strongest example of this prophetic figure our young civilization has yet seen. Just as importantly, the necessary qualities of clear-headed reasoning & analysis, command of the facts and the fortitude to effectively deal with reality are glaringly absent in the Collectivist camp, leaving them ill-equipped for the struggle ahead. If they think Revolutionary fervor will be enough to carry them through, they’re in for a rude shock. Jihadists were foolish enough to shake the dragon’s tail in 2001, and have brought death, fire and ruin upon themselves for the last 17 years.
My hope is that the American electorate is just as sick and tired of the tribalism, virtue signaling, victimhood performance theater, “you can’t trust your own lyin’ eyes” demagoguery to distort reality & thwart common sense, campus & media Thought Police and politically correct “Newspeak” as I am to definitively reject Progressivism, both at the ballot box and in daily life. I hold out hope for at least the younger half of the Millenial Generation, who has left me with the impression that they have a very dim opinion of Progressive ideology/theology. In any event, the next 24 months or so will clarify whether my hopes are in vain or not.
We are still in the thick of the fight, folks, and if we prevail, we likely have a good 10 years before we can expect to have it all behind us. Victory for us against this challenge will not bring back the America of the 1950’s or even restore the America of the 1990’s. America will look markedly different – an essential outcome in the growth of a civilization. But I have no doubt that it will be a wondrously beautiful thing to behold.
The following captures the flow of my sentiments on this topic better than any piece I know. I hope you are as moved by it as much as I am.
6th Century B.C. vase depicting Achilles, Athena and Ajax during the Trojan War (Source: historynet.com)
We ended Part 1 of this discussion by posing the following questions:
How did we get to this point?
Where are we going as a civilization?
Is our civilization still growing and evolving, or in fact dying?
A growing plurality of Americans has turned away from organized religion. Furthermore, confidence in our political, economic, legal, media and social institutions is extremely poor and worsening. Have we reached a point of no return? If Yes, what happens next? If No, how do we move forward?
In order to even begin a conversation to address these concerns, we first need to provide ourselves with an appropriate set of analytical tools. As mentioned previously, I’ll be assembling this toolkit from the works of Toynbee and Strauss & Howe.
In his masterpiece “A Study of History”, Toynbee identifies twenty one societies in the roughly 10,000 year history of humanity that fit his criteria of a ‘civilization’, as opposed to just a nation, city or tribe. There are interactions between some or many of these civilizations both in terms of ‘space’ (either by geographical proximity or at least contemporaneous contact thru trade, diplomacy and/or war) and ‘time’ (where an older civilization generates a successor or has some significant level of influence over a later culture.)
Early in his Study, Toynbee decisively rejects historical models that characterize the rise and fall of civilizations as analogous to the birth, growth, maturity, senescence and death of an individual human being. He argues that the history of civilizations is instead commensurate with a group of free climbers scaling a massive and precipitous cliff. Occasionally a climber encounters a physical obstacle impossible to overcome and gets stuck. Others may pause to rest on a ledge for an indeterminate period. Finally, there are those who, perhaps after sliding back to some extent, transform themselves into a stronger climber with a modified set of skills and resume the climb. This last is the most frequent type observed by Toynbee.
From Toynbee’s model one can observe the time scale between the commencement and demise of a civilization all the way to the creation of its successor to be a span of two or more millennia. He breaks this progression into three parts: an establishment and growth phase, an end to growth (which he terms a ‘breakdown’), and a decline & collapse, normally followed by an 800-1000 year ‘interregnum’ before the remnants of the extinct civilization are reorganized and, with new institutions replacing those which had failed, concludes in the dawn of its heir. He likens this last part as symbolically equivalent to the Phoenix of legend which, consumed in its own flame, rises from the ashes of its funeral pyre stronger and more magnificent than before.
I will do my best to summarize the details of each phase below. If the summary proves insufficient, please feel free to consult the original volumes for a more elaborate description, but be warned: as beautifully written and wonderfully informative as it is, Toynbee’s body of work is quite long and the prose is dense with meaning, as well as being gorgeously eloquent and extraordinarily erudite. You will need a full dictionary by your side and will find yourself searching for the meanings of various words in languages other than English – including French, Latin and Ancient Greek. I limited myself to the Sommervell abridgement, which is itself over 1,000 pages, and am satisfied that I have done enough.
We begin with a society that appears in a given region and is distinct from any surrounding societies in at least one cultural aspect (and typically more) – social, legal, economic, political or technological. By coming into existence, this society demonstrates that it has both mastered its immediate physical environment and held its own against any external enemies. As a consequence of these two successes, the society demonstrates that it has established itself and – assuming its energies are not totally consumed by contending with its physical environment or defending its territory from invaders – now has the ‘leisure’ to develop further, thus entering its Growth phase.
Thomas Cole, “Course of Empire – The Arcadian or Pastoral State”, 1834 (Source: Wikipedia)
A civilization that is growing will exhibit the following general characteristics:
Having proved itself against external challenges, the society from then on faces challenges that are primarily internal in nature.
These challenges are, in fact, direct results stemming from whatever solution the civilization developed to successfully meet the previous challenge. (Ex: to survive an invasion, a civilization transforms its government, legal framework, social structure and economy to support the war effort. Once the invader is expelled, the populace wishes to return to a peaceful society in order to both enjoy and benefit from the fruits of victory, but the political and economic leadership that has prospered from their role in the war resists changing their ways, citing ‘the need for order and security.’ A crisis inevitably ensues.)
To meet these challenges successfully, the civilization will either adopt new institutions or effectively modify existing ones.
The individual or group internal to the civilization which successfully addresses a challenge will itself rise to positions of leadership. They will become a ‘Creative Minority’ who serve as an example for the rest (known as the ‘Internal Proletariat’) to emulate/imitate (termed ‘Mimesis’ by Toynbee.) Whatever leadership clique that had been in charge of the civilization before (having achieved their pre-eminence by solving the previous crisis and becoming that era’s Creative Minority) will be displaced by the new Creative Minority.
An ‘External Proletariat’ outside of the civilization’s borders arises. This group may be, on occasion and in parts, an enemy of the civilization, but is more inclined on the whole to admire it and will desire to either join it or emulate it partially or wholly as best as it can. The ‘radiance’ of a growing civilization can spread amazingly far, thus affecting tribes, peoples and nations at surprising distances from the civilization’s actual political boundaries. Thus, an External Proletariat can be quite large and varied, with the strength of the civilization’s ‘glow’ fading gradually over distance.
We can see from the above that further challenges to a civilization once it establishes itself are actually problems that are of their own making. To contend with the problem, the civilization is not struggling with an outside power but with itself. The better this civilization is at confronting and resolving these problems is a measure of its capacity for self-determination.
The “Mechanism” of Growth
Is civilization an individual thing, like a person? Or is it like a collection of ‘cells’ completely subordinate to the whole, like a living organism? In Toynbee’s view, neither characterization is sufficient. He reasons that Civilization is the sum total of relationships between its individual members. These relations arise from the synchronism of their individual fields of action. From this develops a common ground, and this common ground is what we call a society.
Toynbee also points out that society is a field of action, but the source of all action is the individuals who compose that society. An individual or small group/cadre can cause the whole of society to move in a particular direction, once they are all allied to this movement under the inspiration of the provoking individual(s). The trick is for the creative individual or a Creative Minority to both break a civilization’s ‘cake of custom’ themselves in a constructive manner and then convince the Internal Proletariat thru some means (oratory, demonstration, inducing them to pursue the experience of discovery themselves, inspiring the social act of Mimesis/imitation, what have you) to follow the Creative Minority and adopt this New Way. In this manner, a Creative Minority leads the Internal Proletariat and together they solve a civilization’s current existential crisis/challenge.
Finally, Toynbee notes that as a civilization grows, it will further differentiate itself from other civilizations by the choices it makes in successive acts of self-determination, forging its unique future while generating solutions to successive trials. This differentiation can take many forms – religion, art, industry, inventiveness, architecture and so forth.
Thomas Cole, “Course of Empire – The Consumation of Empire”, 1836 (Source: Wikipedia)
As a civilization resolves a crisis, only to be presented over time with a fresh challenge whose generation is attributable to the resolution of the previous one, the cycle of new trials eventually comes to a halt when the civilization encounters a predicament which it finds itself unable to resolve. This is, in Toynbee’s view, a failure of further self-determination. When such an event occurs, internal growth ceases and the civilization’s engine of self-evolution ‘breaks down.’
The characteristics of a breakdown are as follows:
The existing Creative Minority fails to find a resolution to the latest dilemma and instead digs in its heels, resting on its laurels and defending its recalcitrance on the principle of “what worked before is what’s best.”
A new Creative Minority fails to surface to address the issue, either by an accident of fortune, or because the Internal Proletariat fails to be swayed by the upstarts, or because the existing Creative Minority successfully represses them.
The Internal Proletariat loses confidence in the Creative Minority and begins withdrawing their support and Mimesis.
Social unity begins to fray. Civil strife can become common and extraordinarily cruel & sanguinous – as bad or worse than any barbarian invader’s depravations.
The existing Creative Minority begins transforming into a Dominant Minority, ruling less and less by admiration and increasingly by writ of force, seeking to coerce the Internal Proletariat into returning to a posture of Mimesis.
The Internal Proletariat, outwardly obedient, quietly responds with growing hostility to the ruling clique and begins to resist passively (for the most part.)
The External Proletariat begins to lose its admiration for the bordering civilization and grows increasingly hostile towards it – particularly in a military sense. The border between the two consequently begins transforming from a political and/or geographical one into a fortified frontier.
There are obvious examples of this throughout the history of Rome, China, Persia and others. Toynbee’s work is rich with examples from across the globe and thru all historical eras. Such periods are often referred to by later generations as a “Time of Troubles.”
A breakdown is not necessarily decisive. Civilizations do recover from them if a new Creative Minority does find a way to rise and lead its fellow citizens down a new path. The existing institutions which have failed to answer the crisis at hand will either be modified or discarded and replaced, and the civilization will resume its growth vector.
But in cases where this new savior or team of heroes does not arise, the existing ruling clique will develop solutions which are nothing more than stopgap measures – fixes that utilize existing institutions and only provide partial relief, which in terms of software engineering is often referred to as a ‘kludge.’
These kludges work to a certain degree and for a brief period. In the early part of such periods, both the Internal and External Proletariats are calmed by a seeming return to normalcy, and all seems well. But the rot has set in, and the unresolved issues which constitute the original crisis again assert themselves.
In his analysis, Toynbee discovered a remarkable pattern associated with civilizations in breakdown. There seems to be a rhythm to it – a 3.5 beat cadence of crisis, partial relief, relapse, partial and weaker relief, further relapse, particularly weak relief, and then a final and catastrophic return of the challenge. During each ‘beat’ of the rhythm, existing institutions are damaged and eroded, with some failing along the way. If, in none of the three beats does the civilization sprout a Creative Minority to lead them out of crisis, the final resurgence of the impasse precipitates a permanent slide into decline which Toynbee frames as a ‘disintegration.’
Thomas Cole, “Course of Empire – Destruction”, 1836 (Source: Wikipedia)
In this woeful chapter of a civilization’s history, its attempts at constructively dealing with the last trial have conclusively failed. Instead of a functional solution, the dominant minority attempts to ‘freeze’ everything in place and preserve its inadequate institutions for the sake of order and to maintain a grip on the reins of power.
A rather important lesson to be learned from this is that a civilization’s disintegration is actually a suicide. The wound is a self-inflicted one, stemming from the civilization’s loss or abandonment of self-determination.
What are the ‘symptoms’ of a Civilization that is decaying/disintegrating?
The existing Creative Minority completes its transformation into a Dominant Minority, ruling by force.
The Internal Proletariat is coerced by the brute strength of the State into obedience. Though there may be a temporary reconciliation stemming from the Dominant Minority bringing a final end to the internal civil disorder caused by a ‘Time of Troubles’, it is a brief respite only. Sometimes the Internal Proletariat will openly revolt after a time, but direct action usually fails. The more common response is passive rejection of their rulers.
The civilization becomes highly belligerent and vents its ferocity on the External Proletariat in an eruption of territorial conquest. This begins the Universal State period, where the Civilization extends its territories well beyond the original political borders. This has the temporary effect of drawing the Internal Proletariat and Dominant Minority together.
The Dominant Minority has a transient burst of creativity channeled into military affairs, legislative and administrative frameworks for exerting control over the newly created Imperium, philosophy, literature and art which reinforce the assumed legitimacy of the Dominant Minority, and even some technical innovation in the form of engineering and architectural improvements that originate from military necessity.
The External Proletariat now becomes implacably hostile. A state of war becomes a fixture of the relationship between it and the disintegrating Civilization, and the light of that Civilization no longer radiates past its fortified borders to positively impress the External Proletariat.
The social and economic strains on the Civilization grow worse as the failure to overcome the original challenge that led to breakdown festers like an open wound and the continual state of war causes ruinous taxation, economic devastation and ever increasing hardship. The political architecture becomes poisonous as well as administrative bureaucracy grows in size and reach, becomes corrupt and fatally wounds the Rule of Law. The relationship between the Internal Proletariat and the Dominant Minority worsens until it collapses, and a permanent social schism emerges as the Internal Proletariat withdraws and becomes cynical, bitter and disillusioned.
As the civilization’s least effective and/or completely archaic institutions fail, one that gets cashiered and replaced wholesale in every instance is religion. Having been impressed over time with the External Proletariat by its energy, tenacity and growing success, the Internal Proletariat turns to it for inspiration and imports a theology from the enemy which the Internal Proletariat then makes its own. Art, fashion and civil norms cross the frontier bulwarks as well, to be adopted by the Internal Proletariat.
As total collapse approaches, the Dominant Minority gives up on trying to tug the Internal Proletariat back to them and instead crosses the gap from its side in order to draw closer to the Internal Proletariat. Accompanying this is a steep decline in standards for civility, morals, art and dress. Eventually, all three groups – the Dominant Minority, Internal and External Proletariats – become so similar that their differences are reduced to minor factors.
Eventually, the border barricades collapse. Having lost its military superiority thru inadvertently training its enemies over time how to fight against it effectively, and unable to sustain the war effort further due to loss of social cohesion, an economy destroyed by the ravages of war and the tax burden imposed to pay for it, along with the vitality-crushing load of a bloated imperial bureaucracy, the Universal State falls. The Dominant Minority, Internal Proletariat and External Proletariat merge and, after a period of chaos, begin the task of reassembling a functional society by re-vitalizing old institutions, scrapping useless ones and developing new ones appropriate to the times – including ones that finally resolve the original challenge that the dead Civilization failed to overcome . Thru this ‘interregnum’ of 8-10 centuries, a new Creative Minority gradually emerges to organize and lead this revitalization, culminating in the birth of a new Civilization.
There are several types of ‘false starts’ that present themselves during the decay – attempts by the Dominant Minority to salvage the present by either returning to a mythical past when their Civilization supposedly worked gloriously well (Archaism) or to make a blind leap into the future and start again from scratch (Futurism.) Both of these are doomed to utter failure.
Archaism comes up short because the institutions and practices which may have worked in the past are no longer suited for the present – especially when dealing with the existential challenge whose failure by the then Creative Minority to resolve in multiple attempts precipitated the decline. Furthermore, Archaism attempts to crystallize the Civilization into an unalterable form, resulting in its ultimate sterility.
Futurism seeks to scrap everything currently employed by the Civilization that keeps it up and running (even in its current debilitated condition), wiping the slate clean to create all things from new and in a perfect form. Utopian idealism always fails, however, on its first encounter with reality.
The Strauss & Howe theory has attracted quite a bit of attention and criticism over the last two decades. Supporters believe it to be uniquely insightful due to its focus on the effects of major historical events on peoples and nations and their observed reactions to such events over an extended period. Detractors criticize the methodology as ‘touchy feely’, non-rigorous, overly malleable and non-falsifiable ‘pop culture’ historical analysis.
My own view is that the theory is useful not as a precise surgical instrument with which to analyze history but as a ‘wide angle lens’ providing a general overview. It is not a tool of prophecy or fortune-telling, but a general guide. There can be no question that ‘great’ events can trigger mass movements and attitudinal shifts in populations – the experiences of my father and his Italo-American immigrant family in New Jersey with the Roaring Twenties, Great Depression and WW2, as well as my mother’s experiences and those of her extended family in Italy during the war, shaped their outlooks, how they chose to live their lives and what they imparted to me as life lessons in my formative years.
Let’s look at the main precepts of the Generational Cycle theory below:
The theory works primarily for societies that have dynamic social structures. Any society with a rigid social hierarchy – where one’s destiny is determined solely by accident of birth – does not lend itself to analysis with this toolset.
The duration of a cycle is, very roughly, 4 generations. The length of a particular generation can vary by as much as 20% compared to the equivalent portion of a previous cycle. Estimates of these lengths are, by their very nature, rather qualitative, and are quite naturally influenced by historic events. Thus, a typical cycle can be anywhere from 80-100 years in length and is measured from one existential crisis to the next.
Cycles can be disrupted. As an example: the Civil War resulted in over 1M deaths, roughly ¾ of them soldiers between the ages of 13 and 43, and a total of 3% of America’s population at the time. The social and economic effects were tremendous, especially in the South, driving migration to unsettled western territories. The South did not recover economically for half a century. During the postwar period, a tremendous influx of new immigrants flooded the United States, mostly from non-Germanic nations, whose integration into American life also greatly affected the social fabric. Because of these factors, the cycle did not clearly reassert itself until the beginning of the 20th century.
The role of each of the 4 generations in each of the cycle’s 4 periods (called ‘Turnings’) depends on the average physical age of a given generation in a particular stage of a cycle. The physical age is broken into 4 categories – childhood (where a basic outlook on life is set), young adulthood (where a generation begins emerging into the world and coming into its own), middle age (where a generation takes the reins of political, social and economic leadership in society) and old age (where a generation withdraws from public life into retirement.)
The 4 periods of a cycle are known as a High (Society has solved/survived the last crisis and a period of order, prosperity, organization and community optimism prevails), an Awakening (where public institutions and the order they bring to the community come under attack for suppressing individualism), an Unraveling (where public institutions, now fatally undermined from the Awakening, are widely distrusted and the individualism that sprouted from the Awakening is ferociously embraced), and a Crisis (where all institutions are destroyed – a very dangerous period often including a major war or severe civil strife. In this, the Generational Cycle agrees with many historians, including Toynbee, who have observed that a people or nation is highly susceptible to engaging in a major military conflict every 80-100 years – as if a given nation or people has forgotten what war is really like, as there is no one still alive to remind them.)
The 4 generations, each born into a particular period of the cycle which shapes their outlook, are called Heroes (the children of a Prophet generation whose childhood occurs during an Unraveling and who, as young adults, encounter and solve the subsequent Crisis), Prophets (the children of a Hero generation whose childhood is spent in the peaceful, tranquil order and group cooperation environment of a High and who, as young adults, rebel against that order in favor of individual expression and personal freedom), Nomads (children of an Artist generation who in their early youth observe the institutional degradation of an Awakening and, distrusting those same ineffective or damaged institutions, enter young adulthood knowing they must rely on their own resources and cut their own trail thru the wilderness of the future – a feeling that I have known all my life (see the prologue of the 1st installment of this series)), and Artists (born during a Crisis from Nomad parents and overprotected by them, they enter adulthood as conformists, consensus seekers and compromisers, and are highly supportive of and deeply impressed by the Hero generation which precedes them.)
For me, a simple way to understand the underlying principles of the Generational Cycle is to remember that, by and large, each generation thinks it’s smarter than their parents. 😉
The interactions between each generation during a given period, when they are all at different stages of their lives and have different social standing with respect to one another, is what creates the events and outcomes of that period of the cycle.
In order to provide a focus for the discussion, let’s capture the main characteristics of the generations in our own time using the Strauss & Howe tools:
Baby Boomers – a Prophet generation and children of the (Hero) GI Generation, born 1941-1960 (approximately.) As young adults, they rebelled against their parents, called themselves ‘Hippies’, advocated ‘Free Love’ and ‘Flower Power’, and adopted a “Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out” attitude to life. They are now approaching or are already in retirement. It is this generation who gave birth to the Millenials (the next ‘Hero’ generation) and who are supposed to generate a ‘Grey Champion’ that, with a voice of fire and brimstone, rallies the young Heros and points to the path which they must follow in order to resolve the Crisis and restore the polity to the kind of order and prosperity which they remember from their own childhood.
Generation X – that would be MY generation, folks: the Nomads. Born from 1961-1981 and children of a “Silent” generation of Artists, we are self-reliant and wary of authority. Fundamentally pragmatic and rising into positions of power at this point, we are expected to provide the practical guidance and mission directives to Millenials thru the Crisis.
Millenials – born 1982-2004, whose parents are the Boomers. It is hoped that this will be this cycle’s Hero generation which will triumph over the Crisis and establish a new Golden Order; a generation that is supposed to be self-confident, team-oriented, civics – conscious and driven by concern for the Greater Good.
My own experience has been more….nuanced. Some millenials I’ve met have a despicable sense of self-importance, narcissism and entitlement with a strong elitist tint. Their mere presence is a divine gift, their self-awarded greatness based not on achievement but on the mere fact that they draw breath, accompanied by an obsession with receiving continual validation and exercising control. They are, in short, the worst possible products of what is now a very ‘progressive’ educational system heavily based on ‘participation’ awards. There are other millenials, however, who I have found to be stunningly humble, genuine, honest, driven to prove themselves, anxious to achieve worthwhile things and quite eager to learn. As best as I can tell, the dividing line between these two general types of millenials is age. Those born, say, from 1982-1993 seem more likely to exhibit the negative traits, while those born later hold promise. There seems to be a genuine divide between them as well, as I’ve seen the two groups clash heatedly.
Generation Z (the Homeland Generation) – beginning in 2005, those of this emerging generation are the Artist children of Generation X. Early data suggests they will play their usual support role to the Hero generation of Millenials, though I suspect they will align themselves with the younger half of that group.
And now that we have our full set of analytical tools, what does their application to our current situation tell us?
I’ll begin a step by step analysis in the next post. 🙂
Note: this is the first post here by Triple Sphinctered Wombat. Be sure to give him a good welcome. -Thales
I remember a summer evening in June 1968 at a modest house in northeastern New Jersey when I was a snot-nosed lad of 5. The extended family had gathered at the home of my father’s aunt Millie for dinner. My great aunt was a wonderful woman, a very devout Catholic and extremely kind hearted. Her one fault was that….well, her spaghetti sauce was runny. But nobody really cared – we were a large, multigenerational Italian family whose American roots began with ancestors who cycled thru Ellis Island at the very beginning of the 20th century, and we hardly needed an excuse to be together.
After dinner, everyone decided to take some of the cool evening air in Uncle Louie’s tiny but well tended back yard. With a few fireflies zipping about, the adults all began chatting with each other in random groups while us kids immediately began working off dinner by running around like banshees. These were days where children were expected to play outdoors and weren’t immediately diagnosed with a hyperactivity disorder and given medication.
I remember how wonderfully happy I was. We were all together – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, great aunts and uncles, cousins. I felt safe, secure, loved and protected on a cool early summer’s eve.
The grown-ups were gabbing away happily about the daily trivia of their lives until someone mentioned the TV news and……Vietnam. A wave seemed to pass over the adults as they all expressed agitation and dismay over the images they were seeing on the nightly news. The conversations became anxious as their faces registered confusion, horror and even a dose of fear.
Please understand – these were people who had come thru the Great Depression and the Second World War. Some of the younger men had served in that war. My mother had emigrated to the United States 10 years earlier and had experienced the war in Italy as a civilian – seeing family members lose their lives, family friends taken away by “Le Fascie Nere” or Wehrmacht troops to never be seen again, being buried alive in a bombing raid and quite nearly dying under the rubble, starving a little more day by day as food got ever scarcer and the Allied advance stalled in the Appenines – you get the picture.
When she arrived in America in 1958, she experienced what America’s Greatest Generation had built in the post-War years – a nation brimming with civic duty and pride, whose freedom, prosperity and peace seemed miraculous compared to the trials all of them had experienced in their lives. Yet just as the nation they had helped build was about to plant its flag on the moon a full half dozen times, they were being presented with video clips of men who could have been their friends, neighbors, cousins and in some cases even sons or nephews who were fighting and dying in a foreign land they knew nothing about for reasons that they could not decipher – and they couldn’t understand why such a thing could be happening.
As young as I was, I perceived the profound unease and bewilderment enveloping the adults in that backyard and felt something shift in my soul. The bedrock of my stable, protected and nurtured existence cracked as I recognized their profound disquiet, a result of the unexpected and wrenching change in their world. The need to understand what could have affected them so – men and women who shepherded me, taught me, cared for me, encouraged and guided me, people who never left the house without putting on a suit, shirt and tie or a proper dress, who created the order and tranquility into which I had been born – started that night, and evolved into a yearning to discover the underlying truths of the course of human history. It’s been a lifelong and serious hobby of mine to understand not only who we are as a people and how we got where we are, but to delve into the lives of individuals, creeds, tribes and societies across the span of mankind’s recorded past, so that I might learn enough to have an inkling of what the future might have in store.
In the following series of essays I will apply, as best I can, all that I have learned and deduced (rightly or wrongly) on the topic of human history to delineate where I perceive America to be today not just as a people but as a culture/civilization, as well as where it may be headed. I will refer as needed to the work of William Strauss and Neil Howe and their Generational Cycle of history, and will depend even more on the exhaustive 12 volume treatise of the history of mankind composed by former University of London professor Arnold J. Toynbee which he called, with stunning modesty, “A Study of History.” I believe it necessary to employ both theories and their methodologies in this discussion as I have come to the conclusion they are concurrently manifesting themselves in American culture in an accidental yet nevertheless near perfect synchronization.
With this in mind, I will begin by immediately borrowing a page from Toynbee and specifically define the “Object of our Inquiry.”
Per Toynbee, America can be classified as one amongst a relatively large set of European ‘parochial states’ which constitute a Western Civilization birthed by the Renaissance and Enlightenment, these events being the product of a 1,000 year medieval ‘interregnum’ following the demise of the Roman Empire, itself the last manifestation of a Hellenic civilization which is the direct ancestor of Western culture.
Such a categorization of America has historical precedent per Toynbee’s thesis. Among his examples: from the collapse of the Sumeric civilization there arose Achaemenid Persian, Assyrian, Phoenician, Babylonian and Judaic states, all considered part of a ‘Syriac’ civilization with shared roots for their languages, political structures, social norms, customs and religious beliefs (though the Persians broke from this last factor thru Zoroastrianism, as did the Hebrews thru Judaism.) Toynbee cites other examples with which historians broadly agree, and the USA is considered by most people in modern times to be a European ‘spawn’ under a Western civilization’s ‘aegis.’
However, with the greatest respect to Toynbee, for whom I have profound admiration, I must dissent.
Consider the following factors:
The first colonists to arrive on American shores were Dutch and English. (Yes, the Vikings beat them by 400 years, but they didn’t stay.)
The single largest group of immigrants to America came from Germany in the early to mid-19th century. The third largest group was from Scandinavia (Danes, Swedes, Norwegians and Finns), arriving nearly the same time (more or less) as the Germans.
If we mark the official establishment of the United States of America from the ratification of the Constitution in 1789, we can legitimately state that America’s beginning coincided almost exactly with the start of the Industrial Revolution.
From #1 we see which groups poured the foundation for American culture, and from #2 we can identify the groups that both preserved and greatly reinforced this foundation. Crediting the creation of America to Europe in a collective sense is thus grossly imprecise. It is far more accurate to attribute America’s early formation specifically to Northern European Protestants.
Allow me to explain my thesis in detail.
Europe’s protestant nations were predominantly or overwhelmingly populated by invading (and homicidally competing) Germanic tribes during Rome’s republican and Imperial eras, sharing cultural characteristics between one another that sharply differentiated them from their Celtic neighbors/enemies. Among these attributes were a respect for the individual over the group; the combined use of statutory and common law; respect for private property; personal responsibility; and the recognition of equal or near equal rights for women. Notice how these aspects influenced even religious choices. After all, there are very fundamental reasons why the Germanic areas of Europe are protestant, whereas the Gallic regions are catholic and the Slavic ones orthodox.
A surprising number of people – most especially on the left – seem to have forgotten that this Germanic cultural foundation, combined with the explosive growth of the industrial economy, was the key to integrating successive and massive waves of immigrants in the latter half of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. The fresh influxes of migrants during that period were mostly from non-germanic nations – primarily Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland, Poland and Russia (if I skipped anybody, please don’t take it personally.) These were people who for the most part were fleeing the grinding poverty of permanent lower class status in their home countries. Feudal customs pertaining to social class and status, along with the tradition of ingrained resistance to social advancement, persisted with significant vigor across Europe (and still do, albeit in reduced form and varying by country in this day and age. NOTE: from personal experience, it’s noticeably more evident in Gallic countries than Germanic ones.)
People with the courage to leave all that they had ever known in exchange for a chance to start fresh had the necessary mindset to embrace a new life. The factory environment – with its respect for rules and regulations applicable equally to all employees, rewards for efficiency, productivity and extraordinary contribution, and opportunity for financial and social advancement – not only vaulted these non-Germanic immigrants into a middle class existence, but proved to be the perfect training ground for helping them join the American melting pot. People from non-German nations and cultures learned thru their factory jobs that the Rule of Law trumps the Rule of Man; that what you earn belongs to you; that you are responsible for your own success or lack thereof; and that what you gain from your hard work and achievements cannot be denied you either by archaic custom or by someone with inherited privilege and position, as there was no multi-generational hereditary aristocracy to lord over you and deprive you by ‘divine right’ or medieval tradition of what you had earned from the sweat of your brow.
It was these same Germanic cultural traits that most readily embraced the organizational and social principles necessary for the rapid growth of industrialization, both in America and Europe. One can readily observe, for instance, that it was in the Germanic states where the Industrial Revolution advanced most rapidly and successfully, while the non-Germanic regions struggled much more with industrialization and lagged quite far behind.
But concluding that America is essentially a Germanic parochial state within broader Western Civilization would be a mistake. To understand why, we need to examine factor #3 .
It wasn’t just the non-Germanic European peoples who left a dead-end social and economic status in their home countries, but the Germanic ones as well. When they came to America – a country whose birth occurred at the very beginning of the Industrial Revolution – all of them made a conscious decision to join something new, young, fresh and growing and, most importantly, to leave their roots behind.
Toynbee observed in his travels to America that immigrants to their new land – the 1st generation migrants – clung to their original country’s language and traditions rather strongly. However, their children – the 2nd generation of migrants – while using their parent’s language at home, would almost invariably use their adopted country’s language and traditions as a first choice, and that their own children – the 3rd generation – would almost always forget their grandparent’s tongue and customs. We have all seen and experienced this ourselves and can observe it in today’s descendants of more contemporary immigrations from Cuba, India, Vietnam, Japan, Iran, China, Puerto Rico and Haiti, where the second generation is already quite thoroughly Americanized. The 1st generation is almost always the driving force behind this, even if they tend to cling to many of the old ways and their original language.
What benefits and losses have we and our ancestors incurred for this?
Granted, the Germans and British make better beer than we do. The Irish and Scots have better whiskey (though I am a big fan of Jack Daniels – within reason, folks; I’m not a lush. 😉 ) The French, Spanish and Italians have better wine. The Swiss, Italians and Belgians have delicious chocolate – truly like nothing we have here. And there are uniquely beautiful things that Europeans have inherited from their history and traditions – castles, cathedrals, ancient cities and towns, art, sculpture, literature, music…we could go on with these comparisons for quite a while. Yet for the purposes of this discussion, none of it matters in the slightest.
We are, in summary, the product of borrowing features from Europe’s civilization (such as statutory codes and common law practices, individualism and natural rights, early democratic and republican governing concepts from the Greeks and Romans passed down and gradually refined over the centuries), deliberately discarding everything else and modifying, enhancing and improving on what we took to make it our own. America is a BREAKAWAY culture that has become a civilization in its own right, separate from Western civilization – which is more appropriately defined as Europe west of the Elbe.
This is why Europeans find us rather alien, incomprehensible and even frightening. We have become so different from them in so many ways that we can no longer be said to share a common culture. And, truth be told, though we have lost some genuinely beautiful things by discarding the past of our ancestors, we have gained quite a bit in return. After all – it was not Europe that split the atom, invented the transistor or laser or personal computer, just to name a few of this civilization’s achievements. To make the contrast as stark as it can be: America started in 1789 as a strip of coastal forest and alluvial plain on the northeast edge of the continent, with 3-4 million people plowing a few acres of rocky New England ground to raise a crop, riding horses or carriages to get around and carrying muskets to defend themselves. 180 years later – the lives of two long-lived men – this same country planted six flags on the moon. (SUCK IT, EUROCOMMIES!)
It should be obvious at this point why I will be using not just Toynbee but also Strauss & Howe’s Generational Cycle in this series of commentaries, as their theory is so well suited in application to dynamic societies – ones where there is no rigid social structure or hierarchy supported by hidebound tradition to confine a culture’s citizenry to predetermined lifestyles and associations.
And now that we have fully defined the ‘Object of our Inquiry’, we will be able to proceed to the point of the discussion – assessing where American civilization stands at this point in its history. The situation is one worth examining in depth, as there are more and more people – not just pundits and talking heads in the MSM, but among an already large and continually increasing number of the regular citizenry – who are openly discussing the possibility of a breakup of America into separate states and the likelihood of civil insurrection or even war.
I, for one, thought that things could never again be as bad in my lifetime as they were in the 1970’s. However, nobody back then was talking about ‘echoes of 1860’ in our daily civil and political discourse, whereas nowadays it’s become a genuine and widespread concern.
America has had crises, tumult and upheaval before. We have found a way to survive and recover from them all. But it seems fair to ask nowadays: is this time different from any of the last ones? And we should also ask ourselves more broadly:
Where are we going as a civilization?
How did we get to this point?
Is our civilization still growing and evolving, or is it dying?
Organized religion is clearly waning as a rallying point for a growing plurality of citizens. We are also losing confidence in our political and spiritual leadership. Have we reached a point of no return? If yes, what happens next? If no, how do we move forward?
We’ll begin this discussion in depth in the next essay.