A Look at America's Crossroads Moment

Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion, a periodical devoted to literature and the arts.  He is also publisher of Encounter Books and author of many books.  The latest is Where Next? Western Civilization at the Crossroads, which appeared for the 40th anniversary of The New Criterion.  It includes essays by many prominent writers like Victor Davis Hanson and Anthony Daniels.  The essay I summarize and comment on below is Mr. Kimball's essay from that book, with the same title.

"Every "Age of Enlightenment" proceeds from an unlimited optimism of the reason . . . to an equally unqualified skepticism."

—Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West 

Mr. Kimball, an erudite essayist if there is one, opens with some rumination on cultures and men at a crossroads, pondering the choices available.  Kimball asserts that a "dark and bloody crossroads" also stands before us, "posing different and perhaps even more ultimate questions." 

Kimball says it is inevitable that there is a decline in the West, but he points out that, in fact, the decline is of "Christendom."  This decline "results in the decaying moral vocabulary of Christendom but also the values of words like 'virtue,' 'manliness,' 'womanly,' or 'respectable. ... Christendom names a dispensation in which the individual possesses intrinsic moral worth ... predominantly classical and Judaic, which flowed into and helped nurture and define that baggy creation we call 'the West.'"

Kimball rightfully regrets the decline of academia.  "That is where we are today: occupying a husk of decadence assiduously emptied of vitality.  Princeton, Yale, Harvard, and the rest of the querulous educational establishment are sodden with money but spiritually and intellectually bankrupt."


Kimball points out that when a society is in decline, it acts in opposition to the elite and adopts the customs and behaviors of the proletarian, resulting in "sense of drift," "truancy," "promiscuity," and general "vulgarization" of manners, morals, and the arts.  The elites, instead of holding fast to their own standards, suddenly begin to "go native" and adopt the dress, attitudes, and behavior of the lower classes.  He makes a great case for what Arnold Toynbee called "barbarization of the dominant or, rather 'once-dominant' minority."

Mr. Kimball emphasizes that the drift of the culture is measured by what we tolerate and accept as a normal variant.  That invites what Senator Moynihan proper characterizes as "defining deviancy down."

Mr. Kimball references Michael Anton's warning about a world in which Western civilization is overrun and destroyed by unfettered third-world immigration: wholesale cultural suicide in which demography is weaponized and deployed as an instrument of retribution.

"This racial spoils system is one giant totem looming over the crossroads we face."  The Sexual Revolution's heterodoxies are energized to disestablish the family as the central institution of human society, the citadel of orthodoxy.

Mr. Kimball discusses in depth the negative impact of the administrative state and its impact on the founding concepts of self-governance, and government by consent of the governed.  He reminds that the managerial revolution drives the government by an army of expert elites, a leviathan of officialdom with invasive and controlling powers acquired surreptitiously.


Mr. Kimball deplores that in 2020, the World Economic Forum at Davos announced its blueprint for a "Great Reset" in the wake of the worldwide panic over COVID-19.  It is obvious now that, for our own good, governments and oligarchs planned absorption of liberty by the extension of bureaucratic power.

He cites C.S. Lewis on tyranny:

A tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. ... [Those] who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

Glenn Ellmers of Claremont pointed out the tension between constitutional government and technocratic government, populated by unaccountable elite of "experts" whose leading characteristic is faith in their own prerogatives.  This "permanent government," Ellmers writes, "is a powerful force.  It has established its own legitimacy apart from its political or constitutional authority."

Bureaucratic rule is defended as essential to solving, in a non-partisan way, the problems of modern government and society, but as their power over people has grown, they have become increasingly autocratic and enamored of their anointed status in the administrative state.  Kimball reminds us that this progressive project is as much a Republican as a Democratic pursuit, with both parties fully committed to the administrative (could we say fascist?) state and its progressive woke agenda that is their new order of constitutional authority.  Welcome to Davos. 

Kimball asks, who rules?  The people, articulating their interests through the metabolism of ordinary politics — or unelected elites, who claim high expertise, and of course use deceit and the Noble Lie to control the populace, and are prepared to marshal the coercive power of the state to prevent anyone or anything from cluttering up their plans for utopian enlightenment?  This is another description of the crossroads we face. 

In conclusion, Kimball says:

My own belief is that humanity, as Churchill discerned, is at the crossroads of an awesome moral divide. Recent advances in the technologies of artificial intelligence and genetic engineering — cloning, stem-cell research, and the like — confront us with moral problems for which we have no ready-made solution. ... [I]t is easy to be a technological optimist.

It is impossible, I think, for any rational person to say "No" to science and technology. The benefits are simply too compelling. ... But can we afford to acquiesce and issue an indiscriminate "Yes" to scientific progress? Without an equal growth of Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love, Science herself may destroy all that makes human life majestic and tolerable. 

If that seems hyperbolic, consider Yuval Noah Harari, the Davos-friendly, bestselling author of pop-philosophy books warning — or crowing (it's not always easy to tell) — that human beings are just about to exceed their shelf life and need to be replaced by something better. "We are really acquiring divine powers of creation and destruction," he said in a recent interview. "We are really upgrading humans into gods." 

It's all quite breathtaking. ... It is part of the crossroads at which the West finds itself today.

John Dale Dunn, M.D., J.D. is a retired emergency physician and inactive attorney.

Image: Carsten Tolkmit via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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