Are the End Times Near?
A few years back my wife and I flew to Georgia where she was keynoting a panel discussion on feminism at Kennesaw State University. We were picked up at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta by the conference organizers, who naturally engaged Janice in conversation about the devastation wrought by feminism in the culture at large and academia in particular.
At one point I intervened to suggest that feminism was merely a subsidiary issue, as was the case with every other culture-wrecking movement and socially destabilizing factor confronting the Western world: identity politics, neo-Marxism, political correctness, radical environmentalism, “climate change,” “social justice,” outcome egalitarianism, information censorship, trans-national authoritarianism, abortion on demand, anti-meritocracy, chain immigration, “white supremacy” -- the list goes on. Our hosts were initially taken aback, suspecting that I may merely have been playing devil’s advocate, but soon understood the argument I was making. Feminism was no doubt a critical issue, a socially destructive and culturally malignant phenomenon, but only one of many indices of something of far greater import: the approaching disintegration of Western civilization.
Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of The West, published 1918-1922, laid out the trajectory of the enfeeblement and decay that awaited us, developing a theme that went as far back as the Greek historian Polybius, but that, in the wake of a war that wiped out a generation, seemed less a “theme” than an historically imminent reality. The greatest poet of the modern age, William Butler Yeats, felt it in his bones, working out a visionary schematism in his prose volume A Vision and reflecting on the inevitable in his timeless poem “The Second Coming,” written one year after the end of the Great War: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last/Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” Robert Bork’s must-read Slouching Towards Gomorrah hammers out Yeats’s vision in lurid contemporary detail, pointing toward a “syndrome” of collectivist attitudes dominating the culture, the debilitation of the family structure, and a “left-liberal moral consensus” diluting the text of the U.S. Constitution.
In his master volume On the Eve of the Millennium: The Future of Democracy in an Age of Unreason, published in 1995, Irish historian Conor Cruise O’Brien was not sanguine about the prospects for Western civilization in the coming years. Civilizations have term dates and ours is fast approaching, O’Brien felt. He quotes French historian Jules Michelet’s History of France, who speaks there of “this vast concert of naïve and barbarous voices” with its “strange accents [and] fantastic and bizarre harmony,” signaling the end of a customary world. The dissolution is abetted by common lassitude, self-indulgence and studied ignorance, by those, O’Brien writes, “who are indifferent to politics, religion, virtually anything.” We watch “history on the screen with apathy and an occasional passing flicker of horror or indignation,” almost, we might say, as if we do not believe that history can happen here.
Arnold Toynbee in his twelve-volume A Study of History, among my prize collections, articulated a theory of recurrence -- owing in part to The New Science of the 18th Century Italian political philosopher Giambattista Vico -- in which he saw patterns or cycles of growth and decay common to all civilizations, of which he isolated more than twenty-six exemplars. Though maintaining a guarded optimism that correlation is not infallibly causation and that Western Civilization might survive an otherwise inevitable debacle, he posited that once psychological devastation had gone too far, recovery would be impossible. Perhaps it was from reading Toynbee that O’Brien speculated about the onset of apathy and indifference leading to civilizational collapse. He believed we were already there.
Though I disagree emphatically with anti-Trumper Jonah Goldberg on many issues, his Suicide of the West remains a valuable book, confirming O’Brien’s thesis. Goldberg writes that the “corruption of the Miracle of Western Civilization…can only succeed when we willfully and ungratefully turn our backs on the principles that brought us out of the muck of human history in the first place.” The trouble is that “for more than a generation now, the best principles of the West have been under assault. Intellectuals are recasting the virtues of our system as vices.” Goldberg borrows his title from James Burnham’s magisterial 1964 Suicide of the West, in which Burnham writes of a “morphological pattern,” an unmistakable trend or curve. “Over the past two generations Western civilization has been in a period of very rapid decline, recession or ebb within the world power structure.” What we call liberalism is “the ideology of Western suicide,” permitting Western Civilization “to be reconciled to its dissolution.” Although he holds out hope for a transition to a higher order above the parochial divisions of the past, which seems touchingly romantic, his analysis of the liberal virus has rarely been bettered.
I think back to the drive between Atlanta and Kennesaw. What was it I was trying to say? Certainly not that the struggle against the corrosions of feminism should be abandoned. Or that we should ignore the menace posed by the new “Olympians” who, as Kenneth Minogue writes, wish to “acquire power in the service of transforming the order of human life.” (Today we would call it the Great Reset.) Rather, I believed, and still believe, that every manifestation, every symptom of the sickness of our time, the self-destructive corruption, the lies and hypocrisies and weakness of spirit, the coordinated attack on the institutions and traditions that have sustained Judeo-Christian civilization, the digital surveillance project of billionaire Globaliers -- these must be resisted and fought, for there is no other choice but feckless and dishonorable surrender.
But at the same time, we need to be realistic. We are not doomsayers to acknowledge that civilizations fall of necessity, disappear or are subsumed into new syncretic entities, and that ours is no different. The conclusion is foregone, but not yet. In Michael Walsh’s terms from his new book Last Stands, manly virtue fights to the foreordained end. The issue is this: We cannot deter, but we can defer.
What we are really doing, whether we know it or not, is buying time. Western civilization and its constituent nations are too far gone to be retrofitted; our internal enemies have seen to that. As Bork writes, a “soft and hedonistic culture…faces a continuing assault from within.” The prospect is grim. Apathy, indifference, psychological devastation, envy and self-hatred are the norms of our present moment. America, the guarantor and bellwether of the West’s survival, has been hollowed out by its Olympian classes, the political, juridical, informational and fiscal elites -- this was Founding Father and second president John Adams’ deepest fear. In his important 2018 study John Adams and the Fear of American Oligarchy, Luke Mayville parses Adams’ conclusion that “republican governments had always been threatened by elite domination and that America would be no different.”
In the course of time, cowards and parasites -- let us call it the Iscariot function -- will prevail over Great Men and Women. Nation-saviors like Churchill and Thatcher will be cast aside, heroes like Trump will be betrayed by friends and colleagues and openly cheated of re-election. The historical template is Themistocles, the philosophical, Socrates, and the literary, Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. They cannot forestall the vector of decline and will be derided and punished for having tried to do so. As Adams wrote in an April 22, 1776 letter to James Warren, “But I fear, that in every assembly, Members will obtain an Influence, by Noise not sense. By Meanness, not Greatness. By Ignorance not Learning. By contracted Hearts not large souls. I fear too, that it will be impossible to convince and perswade People to establish wise Regulations.” And thus do nations and ultimately the civilizations of which they form part subside and vanish as a result of inward rot, the great baulks of timber that hold them up gnawed and crumbling in a myriad of different places.
History, so to speak, can happen here. It has been happening for some considerable time, culminating in the most recent of a long sequence of hammer blows: the fraudulent election of Joe Biden thanks to widespread electoral malfeasance, the advent of rigorous and pervasive censorship protocols, and the ongoing purge of constitutional freedoms. Indeed, it is happening throughout the Western world. Nonetheless, for those of us who still care and recognize the precious muniment we have been given, let the coup de grâce happen later instead of sooner. The fight continues on myriad fronts.
Meanwhile Janice gave her talk, and maybe feminism took a bit of a hit.
David Solway’s most recent book Notes from a Derelict Culture was delisted by Amazon. It is currently available at Barnes & Noble.