In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Another Newspaper Biting the Dust | Main | R-Rated Linkage »

January 13, 2009

When Did Western Civ Start Going to Hell?

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I'm not sure whether Western Civilization is actually going to hell. In almost any era one can name, there surely were people who thought things were going to pot regardless of what history eventually demonstrated. We can easily determine how the West is really doing if we climb abord a time machine and hop 500 years, say, into the future to check things out.

I happen to be basically an optimist. Yet I am troubled by the efforts in key institutions such as education, government and news media to ignore or even actively wreck the real achievements of Western Civilization.

So let's assume, for the purposes of this post, that Western decline is real and permanent. If this is so, then when did the decline start?

To kick off the discussion, I'll assert that the tipping or inflection point happened during the quarter-century 1890-1914.

Politically, the Imperial powers -- especially the British -- began to lose their stomach for empire-building. (Yes, the Germans caught the building bug during this very period as did the Italians and Americans. Yes, the Great War's victorious powers acquired mandates and other colonial bits. But I regard this as mostly inertia which petered out during the 1930s.)

Artistically and capital-C culturally, the period began with a kind of fin-de-siècle malaise (in France, at least) and generally corresponded to the rise of Modernism which by its nature was hostile to the past.

What do you think?



posted by Donald at January 13, 2009


I believe you have to go back much earlier, Donald. The French and Industrial revolutions bent our civilization so far out of shape that the events of the latter half of the 19th century almost came as an anti-climax to the forces that had been unleashed and were seeking political redress. We seem to be hurtling toward some type of mania for radical egalitarianism and group rights which has its own internal tension. Multiculturalism and political correctness appear to be the twin forks upon which our past is being hoisted as a symbolic victim to this radical egalitarian impulse. We're all dancing to the same tune. It shows up in every aspect of our culture. But make no mistake...the gauntlet was thrown down in the late 18th century. Where will it end? Will it still be "Western"?

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on January 13, 2009 10:38 PM

It would seem from this post that your definition of Western Civilization and the artistic and cultural fruits of its magnificence are rooted in its expressions of imperialistic politics and aristocratic culture. In this post you seem nostalgic for a time when Western Civilization, especially the British Empire, used military superiority to support the commercial (and cultural) exploitation of vast portions of the non-western planet to advance the interests of the very few.

Throughout much of the Western world from roughly the time you posit as the tipping point for Western Civilization going into decline until the mid 1970s wealth, and with it political and cultural influence, became less concentrated in the hands of the very few and became more evenly distributed throughout the populace. Race, family lineage, and other signifiers of inclusion or exclusion from the ranks of the old elite became less important during this period.

This democratization of wealth and power in turn broadened and expanded the cultural and aesthetic parameters. As a small example, folk songs became more acceptable and influential while music composed for elite patrons lost some degree of presumed superiority. When more of the populace became literate and gained the leisure time to read, popular novels supplanted the Great Works as best sellers. One might (although I do not) deem this era of Modernism symptomatic of a declining Western Civilization.

The past forty years has seen the re-establishment of a de facto aristocratic elite. This elite has an aesthetic and a culture lacking, however, in gravitas; an elite disinterested in culture except as a means of flaunting wealth, an elite without any sense of noblese obligé. Here is where I see the real decline Western Civilization. This new aristocracy is not interested in culture, in the ideals or aesthetics that link back to Ancient Greece or Rome, merely in exercising power and appropriating wealth. For me the decline of Western Civilization is not due to Modernism, at least not the Modernist aesthetic, but rather in the rise of super capitalism.

Posted by: Chris White on January 13, 2009 11:28 PM

There's no question in my mind: it was WWI that did it. Western Civilization was psychologically and culturally unprepared for how destructive and horrible total war with modern weapons would be. The shock demoralized too much of our intellectual class, and they passed their disillusionment on to everyone who read their books or took their classes.

Dissent, critique, and contempt for Western Civilization are now the default position of our thinkers. The Western world is run by thousands and thousands of Chris Whites. That can't continue forever.

Posted by: Lawful Neutral on January 14, 2009 5:25 AM


You ought to get a job with one of those diversity consulting firms that shove your BS down the throats of corporate workers.

You've got the loony spiel down pat.

You don't need to be broke. You could be making a living browbeating poor bastards who are forced to attend the diversity seminar.

The funny thing is... you think that you represent some sort of "critical thinking" and rebellion. What a laugh!

Really. Don't you know that "diversity consultants" make $1,000 a day grinding out that pablum? You must, however, be "creative." Although the diversity credo can, in fact, be stated in two sentences, you will be called upon to constantly produce multi-page declarations and PowerPoint slideshows promoting the global benefits of diversity. Here, I'll give you a head start:

"Our corporation will benefit immensely by looking more like our clientele..."

For my part, I date the day we started down the road to Hell to the day when some son-of-a-bitch could make a living as a diversity consultant.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on January 14, 2009 5:57 AM

1850-1900. Yeah, the intellectual foundations of the destruction of Western Civilisation were laid well before, but the cultural "critical mass" wasn't really achieved till then. It took a while for the radical enlightenment ideals to be diffused into general culture. It's no wonder that modernism, socialism, militant atheism and government by the lowest common denominator(Universal franchise) all appeared around this time.

Posted by: Slumlord on January 14, 2009 6:05 AM

On a walk the other day, I caught myself thinking of Prince Albert, one of history's all-time good guys. And I compared him to Prince Philip, also consort to a very long-reigning English queen.

The present-day consort has expressed the desire to come back as a virus lethal to humans. None of this shocks the world's intelligentsia, who rather tend to sympathise with the Duke's aspiration.

It seems to me that Prince Albert would never understand such a statement, let alone utter it himself. In that brief period of Victorian confidence when Albert flourished, the intelligentsia were so proud of Jenner's smallpox work and Bazalgette's stupendous sewer-engineering that sympathy with germs and bugs was out of the question.

Whereas I don't believe our civilisation is in permanent decline, I'd respond to Donald's hypothetical thus:

Our civilisation was clearly in decline when the successor of Prince Albert expressed a desire to do a better job on humanity than smallpox or typhoid before Jenner and Bazalgette.

And the clever people thought that was okay.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on January 14, 2009 6:51 AM

Around 1950.

That's when Western Europe started admitting non-European guest workers en-masse.

The Western Civilization has gone through all kinds of calamities: the bubonic plague, Ottoman invasions, 30-year war, the World Wars, Bolshevism, etc. However, they all occurred in a closed system, ie., once society recovered from the disaster, it continued existing.

But the Population Replacement of the past 60 years is unprecedented. And if successful, it will be the death of the West, as there is no recovery from being replaced by someone else.

Posted by: PA on January 14, 2009 8:10 AM

Posted by Chris White at January 13, 2009

What a bunch of bullshit.

Posted by: TP on January 14, 2009 8:41 AM

Prince Albert, one of history's all-time good guys

Al was a more feisty sort than you might imagine ... he lent his name to one of the most horrendous body piercings imaginable, because he reputedly had one himself.

As for the bigger question, my response is a yawn. Western Civilization is like everything else. It has its ups and downs, and if it is in a down phase right now - not that I believe that to be the case, but whatever - it will change.

Posted by: Peter on January 14, 2009 9:17 AM

So, to votes are in. On 2 Blowhards the consensus is that an aristocracy of white male European nobles equals Western Civilization. All moves toward expanding that definition have equaled decline.

And this on a blog where audio erotica is being lauded as a wonderful addition to our culture just a few postings away.

Posted by: Chris White on January 14, 2009 9:18 AM

The Renaissance.

When the people of Rome didn't rise up and lynch Julius II for razing the old St. Peter's to the ground and replacing it with the baroque monstrosity that is the new St. Peter's. Modernity's dark side is revealed by the desire, not to add to the old, modify it, improve it...but to obliterate it. And the dark side was present, accounted for, and fully manifested in the grandiose megalo-plans of the Promethean Pope.

Old St. Peter's was salvageable. That no-one thought of lynching the Robert Moses of his time for his Promethean madness (although the Sistine Chapel is a damn sight more attractive than a freeway, I admit) saddens me to this day.

P.S. Every word of this comment is serious. Seriously!

Posted by: PatrickH on January 14, 2009 9:30 AM

Read Pitirim Sorokin's majestic work "Social and Cultural Dynamics". He posits that civilizations move in cycles alternating between a spiritually driven mode (peaked in the West in the 12th century) and a materialistic mode (started post-Renaissance). Between those two periods is a golden age where there is a synthesis between the two modes (the Renaissance). We are now in the terminal part of a late materialistic age. In all the civilization cycles he studied, that age ends in a cataclysm (and a new spiritual age is reborn from the ashes). It is a fun parlour game to debate whether it was late Romanticism (Wagner), early Modernism, the 20's, WWII, the 60's or MTV that started the cultural crash. Simply put, without a spiritual foundation, people get bored with materialism and they look for religious substitutes and cheap thrills. Eventually, it all explodes in an orgy of self-hatred. So we can get on our various soapboxes and decry the radical egalitarian liberals or elitist conservatives, in the end, we are subject to a set of powerful cultural and social forces that are like the currents in an ocean.

Posted by: Simon on January 14, 2009 9:31 AM

When Did Western Civ Start Going to Hell?

Real answer: It didn't. Things are far better now than they were in the early 20th century.

Snarky answer: When you turned 40? Get off my lawn!! ;-)

Posted by: JewishAtheist on January 14, 2009 10:05 AM


Violent crime rates have been declining since the invention of strong centralized states (about 1500 in northern Europe, end of the 1800s in Italy). Special case: wars kill a far smaller percent of the population than before -- 1/6 of French males in WWI compared to 1/3 or more of German males in the 30 Years War.

You want to see real cultural depravity, visit Hogarth's London, or Paris at the same time. Torturing animals used to be considered fun.

Who will argue that one of the central goals of civilization is to make people less barbaric? Mission accomplished, bitches.

Modern medicine starting in the 19th C and after has been improving everyone's quality of life, reflected in people getting taller during the 20th C. Another reason why wars aren't as nasty as before.

Sub-elites have it better than ever in the economy, due to the Industrial Revolution. Real income per capita shot up exponentially.

The imperial powers lost their taste for empires because they were a friggin sink. Who cares about who gets some oversized litterbox in the Middle East or Kalahari? The only major country with any sanity here was Germany.

We know more about how the world works than ever before -- probably fewer big discoveries per year, but we certainly aren't getting more clueless about science.

The only place you see actual recent decline is in the high arts and allied social sciences (Freud, Marx, etc.). But as I showed at Gene Expression -- search "death of Marxism" -- most of these stupid trends started biting the dust in the 1990s.

The idea that you'd ask a psychoanalyst about anything today is laughable, while in the '50s or '60s it would've been the prestigious thing to do.

So, there's been a century-long dark age in the high arts, but that's hardly evidence of "real, permanent decline." In civilizations, dark ages come and go -- in the other parts of the world, dark ages are the resting state.

Posted by: agnostic on January 14, 2009 11:59 AM

Allow me to clarify certain parts of my take on this topic. As I see it, and as many far more learned and eloquent than I have explained it, the arc of Western Civilization is one of expanding inclusion in terms of power and influence – politically, economically and aesthetically. From Plato's Republic to the Roman Senate to the Magna Carta to the Declaration of Independence Western Civilization has gone from the presumed divinity of absolute monarchs through expanded hereditary nobility on to "merchant princes" then male landowners followed by all white men and eventually to our current state of relatively universal inclusion. Seen in this way it is difficult to say that there has been a decline in Western Civilization unless that decline began when the King was no longer seen as a demi-god. I would certainly not argue that it is in decline.

Perhaps the clearest example to refute the notion of Western Civilization's supposed decline is China. No longer an isolated, separate Eastern Civilization with its own unique culture, China is increasingly defined by the very Western construct of communism while in recent times it has paradoxically embraced global capitalism. Even if the seat of greatest power shifts westward once again, as it did from Greece to Rome to Western Europe to America, this time so far that it comes back around to the East, to Asia, nevertheless the philosophical hallmarks of Western Civilization remain intact.

It is only by looking at relatively short segments of time and then picking and choosing various peaks and valleys within that period does the argument that Western Civilization is in decline seem tenable.

And on a personal note, am I the only one getting a chuckle from being hectored by ST for my opinion that the modern era does not equate with a decline in Western Civilization? The Shouting One is well known around here for many things including his fondness for motorcycles and automobiles, musical abilities that find their outlet in bar bands that perform blues-rock, his Filipina partners, and his computer expertise. All of these would seem to be symptomatic of decadence and decay if one is inclined to think of the modern era and all its fruits as evidence of the Decline of the West. So, which is it ST, are you an embodiment of the decline of Western Civilization? Or is the supposed decline of Western Civilization being touted here merely the perpetual carping of elders who rue the debased nature of society at the hands of kids today?

Posted by: Chris White on January 14, 2009 1:08 PM

WW I was the beginning of the end. I brought to a crashing halt a golden age in the arts and sciences -- and a century of peace and unprecedented economic growth. And started a century of unprecedented tyranny and murder.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on January 14, 2009 1:25 PM

I'll throw my vote in for WWI. What has happened since is the playing out of ideas formed earlier. Few really new ideas have entered the public discourse since. Simply put: our culture is running on fumes.

Also, I agree with Simon's post.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on January 14, 2009 1:30 PM

You misrepresented my vote, Chris.

You are the white man's Jesus Christ. I acknowledge and applaud you for martyring yourself for blacks, women and gays (although you didn't actually do anything).

Meanwhile, I gave at the office. You see, I've actually had the corporate job and I've been subjected to the BS that you keep spouting. You've got life ass-backwards. You should have gotten the corporate job, taken your diversity beating with the rest of us, and gone home to a private life in which you refuse to mouth the pieties of PC BS.

You're sort of like an old party hack in the Soviet Union. While everybody else is hiding out in their homes to escape the party purges and the hideous indoctrination sessions, you're burying yourself in party propaganda during your private time. You're religious about it. This sort of behavior cannot be fathomed, but there always a few hacks like you.

So, when I get home, I hang the black bodies from the trees in the backyard, handcuff the women to the stove and head out to beat up some gay guys. All this so that you can play Jesus Christ, martyring yourself for the sins of white men.

How else could you satisfy your craving for martyrdom? I'm doing you a favor.

Yes, the laws, societies and customs created by white men are superior to those of every other culture on earth. Put on your hair shirt and suffer for my sins. I don't give a damn.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on January 14, 2009 2:17 PM

The First World War destroyed the fabric of Western Civilization, at least in Europe, and fascism and communism solidified and accelerated the decline. Europe is now beginning the long slide toward demographic oblivion, which tells us everything we need to know about how Europeans view their collective future. After WWII, the United States was the bastion of Western Civilization; but we are now destroying ourselves as a result of our financial excesses and imperial overreach. The West may face a long period of decline. The real question: Can Western Civilization become vibrant again? What would it take?

Posted by: Larry Phillips on January 14, 2009 2:40 PM

That Sorokin thing sounds like something a math person could easily turn into a simple two-variable system of differential equations, a la Peter Turchin formalizing Ibn Khaldun's theory of assabiya and ethnic group conflict.

Thanks for the suggestion!

Posted by: agnostic on January 14, 2009 3:14 PM

I agree with Chris. Isn't it odd that the democratization of wealth and culture corresponds with what is being deemed the decline of Western civilization? Even talking about decline (which the original post doubted was occurring) is an exercise in confirming a conservative sensibility.

I agree with Chris' point about current elites not being capable or interested in leading true culture, but in pandering and supporting their socio economic position. High culture now is simply a throwback (ie opera, classical music, art of the 19th and 18th centuries). Whatever is new is decidedly "low" culture. The Queen listens to command performances from Oasis, for example, in an effort to appear au courant.

Posted by: myron on January 14, 2009 3:27 PM

I don't know when it started, but it reached a peak around 1968. I lived through 1968, and I am certain that something awful peaked at that time, even if I'm still not sure exactly what it was...

More seriously, about 1870. WWI was only a symptom of the decline, although a pretty bad one.

Tschafer (A not at all noble white male)

Posted by: tschafer on January 14, 2009 4:22 PM

Gandhi was once asked what he thought of western civilization.

he responded that he thought it would be a very good idea.

Posted by: Ramesh on January 14, 2009 4:26 PM

What decline? Artistically and culturally the West is more vibrant than ever. Ironically the popular trash that scolds here and elsewhere point to as a herald of our decline are all completely Western products - television, action movies, video games, porn - all of this is essentially, quintessentially, Western, or better said, American. And it is the traditional cultures of the Islamic world and East Asia that are being fast eroded by our values, such as they are, not vice versa. Western Civ may be headed in a cultural direction a lot of us don't like, but I think calling that direction a "decline" is a bit much. And only someone who hates the USA could possibly think Western Civ peaked before WWI. I consider science our preeminent achievement - far greater and more important than the works of Brahms or Charles Dickens. The real peak of Western Civ to date is somewhere around the Apollo 11 moonlanding and recent discoveries in genome sequencing, but we still have mountains to climb, and we will climb them.

Posted by: vanya on January 14, 2009 5:23 PM

Maybe we should distinguish between culture and civilization? I was thinking of the former: the obvious decline in art, music & literature. On the other hand, science is doing well, maybe too well, and that's a product of western culture too.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on January 14, 2009 5:47 PM

Patrick, I do take your point about papal vulgarity.

That porch that got stuck on to S. Maria in Trastevere in the very early eighteenth century is my nomination for the worst example. (I guess they'd had plenty of vulgarity practise by then.) Most of the great basilicas have been rebuilt and remodelled, so no problem there. But who would deposit a pompous, colourless row of columns, topped with overdressed saints, right in front of such a cute and colourful medieval structure?

If Renaissance-boosting Italians ever lecture you about the vulgarity of Irish Catholicism, just show 'em that porch. (You could also point out that the marvellous S. Clemente on the other side of town has been in Irish care since the 17th century. They got the nephew of guy who made the putrid porch to fix up S. Clemente. It was a nice job.)

Posted by: Robert Townshend on January 14, 2009 5:48 PM

Allow me to tip my hat to JewishAtheist for the most succinct expression of the basic view I was too earnestly attempting. While I may have more sympathetic views of the high arts and social sciences than agnostic & Myron their comments also offer salient points. And Ramesh gets points for eliciting a hearty chuckle.

ST - You have created a character in your mind that you mistake for me. It grows tiresome attempting to deflect or refute your misguided misinterpretations of what I say. How a post about whether or when Western Civilization went into decline becomes another tedious rehash about diversity training and my supposed martyrdom is beyond me.

Posted by: Chris White on January 14, 2009 6:13 PM

Western Civilization has always been in decline. Western Civilization has always been in ascendancy.

It depends where you're sitting and what part of the movie you're paying attention to.

For what it's worth, I believe civilization came to crashing halt when people stopped wearing hats and men stopped smoking pipes.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on January 14, 2009 6:33 PM

he responded that he thought it would be a very good idea.

Ghandi was an idiot.

Posted by: PA on January 14, 2009 7:23 PM

If the Athenians had listened to Alcibiades and not fallen into Lysander's trap at Aegospotami all would be well.

Posted by: Joseph Moroco on January 14, 2009 8:02 PM

When what Peter calls the 'Glorious Natural Pelt' began to decline in popularity in the Western world, to the point where it has become an endangered species.

Right, Peter?

Posted by: anon on January 14, 2009 11:10 PM

August, 1914.

That was an inflexion point.

The major one.

Posted by: Lexington Green on January 14, 2009 11:22 PM

I think there has been a real decline in political systems. I'd say the inflection point for that came with the American and French revolutions, though all earlier attempts by aristocracies to put limits on royal power were the real starting point.

I guess my view is pretty moldbuggian.

Posted by: Martin Regnen on January 15, 2009 2:26 AM

"Ghandi was an idiot.
Posted by: PA on January 14, 2009 7:23 PM"

i think you just made gandhi's point for him.

Posted by: Ramesh on January 15, 2009 4:30 AM

When what Peter calls the 'Glorious Natural Pelt' began to decline in popularity in the Western world, to the point where it has become an endangered species.
Right, Peter?

Oh, absolutely. Nothing is as guaranteed a sign of societal decadence than the worship of the hideous pedophilic Bald Eagle.

On the brighter side, fashions - in grooming as well as clothing - do change, and change quickly. It may well be that more and more women will come to the realization that looking like prepubescent little girls is not the way to go and will return to their perfect natural states. Indeed, there is anecdotal evidence that a shift of this sort is underway in Asia.


I believe civilization came to crashing halt when people stopped wearing hats

Speaking of changing fashion, men's hats (real hats too, not baseball caps) seem to be mounting a comeback, at least to a modest extent.

Posted by: Peter on January 15, 2009 9:00 AM

Robert Townshend:

If Renaissance-boosting Italians ever lecture you about the vulgarity of Irish Catholicism, just show 'em that porch.

Gack! That is bad, isn't it? Good to hear that we Irish haven't bollixed everything up, given our tendency to schmaltize and kitschify everything we touch (visually, that is--our national talent for Blarney doesn't translate into the gift of a great eye, does it?).

So, there's another plausible date for the decline of Western Civ: 1702. Mark that in your calendars, Men of the West! Mark it and weep!

Posted by: PatrickH on January 15, 2009 9:49 AM

Come on. The real decline began with Emperor Constantine when we Westerners abandoned our old gods en masse for an Eastern religion.

Posted by: vanya on January 15, 2009 10:57 AM

i think you just made gandhi's point for him.

Nope. It is not uncivilized to call someone an idiot.

Was Ghandi an idiot? Well, he was a Western-educated lawyer... so he was an idiot to study from barbarians, given his stated opinion on the Western civilization, or lack thereof.

Anyway, if Western civilization "would be a good idea," then who pray-tell is civilized? The people who burn widows, spit on untouchables, and smother infant girls? Glib, was Mr. Ghandi, but off-mark.

Two more data points about Ghandi being an idiot. For one, he became an activist while visiting South Africa. Was he upset by the British' treatment of the Africans? Actually, no. He was offended tha the couldn't ride on a train with whites, but with "coloureds," whom he considered beneath him. That alone doesn't make him an idiot, but given his ideals, it does make him an idiot.

Secondly, he went on hunger strikes to keep the Hindus and Muslims from going their separate ways, and sabotaged these efforts, leaving India with millions of Muslims within its borders. So in a way you can blame last December's Bombay massacre on Ghandi.

Posted by: PA on January 15, 2009 11:44 AM

"Western" "civilization" began its "decline" when humanity turned from the worship of the Old Ones.

Cthulhu R'lyeh Fhtagn!

Posted by: Howard P. on January 16, 2009 8:22 AM

I agree with some here. The arts have been in a bit of a decline, but I don't feel it's some kind of "Great Decline" or anything, just an ebb in the ebb and flow of these kinds of things. In the sciences and in the way we treat each other, Western Civ has greatly improved in the past 100 years. Hugely. Unprecedentedly. And I don't see it stopping any time soon.

I'll also agree with some here that the decline in the arts can be seem most egregiously in the elite of our society. Not the cultural elite, although it is there too, but the financial elite. The arts in general, at least in the US, is seen as a somewhat feminine pursuit, unseemly for a Man. That's a rather new and particularly American viewpoint, and it's to our detriment.

Posted by: JV on January 16, 2009 11:44 AM

PA, you can also add another thing about Ghandi that raises eyebrows. In the thirties, he suggested that if the Jews would just commit mass suicide, all the problems in Europe would go away. No kidding.

Posted by: Bob Grier on January 16, 2009 1:35 PM

I have to agree with all those who identify World War I as the beginning of the decline. With a speck of common sense on all sides, it could have been a nice little war: a few skirmishes, some battleships firing at each other and missing, the odd cavalry charge for old times' sake. Instead, nobody reckoned with the new technology of death, and insisted that the opposition had to be taught a lesson. Well, it was a lesson, right enough. And beyond the millions who bought the farm or were crippled for life, there was the loss of confidence in Western civilization. A culture can survive even terrible human losses, but not loss of belief in itself.

That isn't to say everything was right with Western civ, of course, but in the years before the Great War most aspects of life — not just technique — in the West were progressing. Afterward, not.

When I saw this posting I made a little wager with myself how many comments would appear before Donald got the inevitable Marxist spanking for being nostalgic for elitism, white male privilege, cultural and economic imperialism, etc. Didn't take long, did it? (See Chris White, second at bat.)

Posted by: Rick Darby on January 16, 2009 3:09 PM

In order to understand what people mean by the decline of western civilization, you have to define what it is. You also have to understand how it arose.

Western civilization is comprised of basically three things: Christianity, in particular protestant christianity, as it fled Europe to escape from the purges of the Catholic Church; the Enlightenment, or progess based on science and reason; and the creation of universal literacy and a substantial middle class, replete with freedoms to speak openly, be physically and socially mobile, and to acquire and keep substantial amounts of property.

Therefore, the decline of western civilization is when these things have come under assault. And all of them came under full assault in America in the early 1800's. The Catholic Church encouraged mass immigration from Catholic countries to the United States in the early part of the century (and still are, by the way--whose behind the big push to erase the border with Mexico?), and the CC was also instrumental in creating the Civil War against the protestant South. The Pope actually endorsed the South and wanted to establish a monarchy there--to crush the protestantism in the south. There were French troops stationed in Mexico to invade the south when it was spent from the war. There were also British troops stationed in Canada to do the same to the North. But Russia, which took a hit from the French and British in the Crimean War, sent its fleet to New York and the west coast, and teh war ended too soon with the total surrender of the south. The monarchies of Europe almost did it. That's the real reason why Lincoln is a hero.

The Enlightenment was put under assault in the late 19th centruy with the rise of Rousseau and Marx--the assault on the rise of industrial society which created the middle class, and the back-to-nature nonsense that promises to return the populace to serfdom.

The rights and propserity of the middle class was put under assault by the formation of the large trusts and corporations which were formed prior to and just after the civil war. The corporations took a hit in the late 19th century, but in the 20th century, especially after WWII, that changed for the worse.

Of course, all these ideas come from the thinking class of Europe, where the old aristocracy including the Vatican) were trying to reverse the progress of human freedom, while conquering what would now be known as the third world.

The culture of stupidity that is deeply ingrained in the Chris Whites and jewish agnostics of the world began in Old Europe and will indeed result in a new form of fuedalism here and everywhere around the world. Its been a long time in the making, but they are putting the last touches on their victory. And its great to have "useful idiots" like comrade White and jewish agnostic to cheer on the collapse.

Everywhere you look, you will see the negation of biblical Christianity (as opposed to Catholicism, which I know well and grew up with), the enthronement of emotion and hedonism over reason, and the attack on prosperous industrial society and individial rights for earth worship and collective group rights. Who do you think is funding this? Who owns the media? Who runs the universities? Who funds the arts? The elite, mainly the european elite, and their american lackeys, that's who. There's your answer.

Posted by: BIOH on January 16, 2009 3:24 PM

"Nope. It is not uncivilized to call someone an idiot. "

it is you idiot!

"Well, he was a Western-educated lawyer... so he was an idiot to study from barbarians, given his stated opinion on the Western civilization, or lack thereof."

hehe idiot! he didnt START OFF thinking the west uncivilized. he ENDED UP thinking that.

"if Western civilization "would be a good idea," then who pray-tell is civilized? The people who burn widows, spit on untouchables, and smother infant girls? Glib, was Mr. Ghandi, but off-mark."

hehehe idiot!gandhi didnt call THOSE people civilized either. he just turned his back on every uncivilized barbarian, including those that wore spiff suits and dresses, lived in roman maoleums and performed the most unspeakably uncivilized deeds that you continue to see around you even to date.

"Two more data points about Ghandi"

hehehe idiot. are you actually laboring under the delusion that you are gathering evidence for your statements statistically correctly?

"he became an activist while visiting South Africa. Was he upset by the British' treatment of the Africans? Actually, no. He was offended tha the couldn't ride on a train with whites, but with "coloureds," whom he considered beneath him. That alone doesn't make him an idiot, but given his ideals, it does make him an idiot."

this must be the most idiotic of all your statements. I mean, listen to your incoherence here. Gandhi started at a place he could: at home.he tried to make his neighborhood better, and thus the world. the first thing he wanted changed was for HIS OWN hindu people to start cleaning their own toilets(in south africa) instead of having lower caste scavengers. the fucking social climber!

As far as the african populations, I think I'll take nelson mandela's word (and the african national congress' - a political party founded by Gandhi)over the idiocy spouted by you, thanks

"he went on hunger strikes to keep the Hindus and Muslims from going their separate ways, and sabotaged these efforts, leaving India with millions of Muslims within its borders. So in a way you can blame last December's Bombay massacre on Ghandi. "

wat? habla anglais. what exactly does this piece of incoherence mean? are you saying osama bin laden sent people to india to kill (hindus and muslims, more muslims than hindus) because there are muslims in India?

hehehe idiot.

" In the thirties, he suggested that if the Jews would just commit mass suicide, all the problems in Europe would go away. No kidding."

Posted by: Ramesh on January 16, 2009 6:30 PM

the other idiotic post: "In the thirties, he suggested that if the Jews would just commit mass suicide, all the problems in Europe would go away. No kidding.
Posted by: Bob Grier on January 16, 2009 1:35 PM"

this was Gandhi's actual idea, paraphrased by (the other idiot) Alexander solzenitzyn, when he accepted his nobel prize.

"Gandhi once said that if there was a choice between violence and cowardice, he'd pick violence anyday. There is no excuse for cowardice, which in its essence just results from serious attachment to oneself. However, that is NOT to say that courage implies violence.

While violence maybe better than passivity, retreat, and cowardice, the lesser of two evils is still evil. Non-violence comes from a space of power, strength and inner resolve that love will transform the anger of the oppressor. It is not to say that when someone hits you, you don't hit back. It is, rather, to say something much more powerful -- that when someone hits you, the strength of your love will shake the foundation of anger and negativity that resulted in the oppressor's action. "

but to understand this difference, you savages must first evolve.

which is why , like gandhi said, it's a good idea.

Posted by: Ramesh on January 16, 2009 6:38 PM

wasnt pretty but someone had to do it.

brown man's burden

Posted by: Ramesh on January 17, 2009 9:09 AM

It is important that we take up the brown man's burden indeed. Let us work to spread the caste system throughout the world.

And while we're at it, let's bring back suttee.

A toast to the brown man's burden! [Taking a big hot quaff of cow's urine: "The Cistern of Life"]

Posted by: Mr. Untouchable on January 17, 2009 9:46 AM

youll have more respect for your civilizational superiors once you become brown enough to share it...or at least your nose is.


Posted by: Ramesh on January 17, 2009 2:07 PM

It might be interesting for Donald to drop back in to give us his definition for Western Civilization, especially given that some of the comments offer definitions that would surely be considered suspect by many, if not most, Western Civilization scholars. And I find it interesting that the token liberals around here seem to be arguing that Western Civilization is quite healthy, thank you very much, while the comments of those who lean right seemingly find it in decline.

Posted by: Chris White on January 17, 2009 2:55 PM

If I wish to apply for membership in one of the forward castes, will you have me? I fear that no amount of brown-nosing will bring that about.

Posted by: Mr. Untouchable on January 17, 2009 7:44 PM

almost everyone in the / canada know what cow uine astes like...coors light.

Posted by: Ramesh on January 17, 2009 9:11 PM

On the "decline of the west":

1. I think the demonstrable demographic suicide of the founding peoples of the West must indicate something significant.

2. The Great Sixties Cultural Revolution (1965-70 in the US, somewhat different dates for other locations) initiated a whole series of profound changes in, especially, what became the last stronghold of Western self-confidence (the US) following the self-immolation of the European homeland as a result of the two World Wars. For example, just watch Youtube footage of the 1963 March on Washington and marvel at the utter normality of those speaking, and in attendance-with the exception, I guess, of Bob Dylan. It is clear that they want assimilation into Christian middle-class(white) America. I'm sure a lot of them had (subdued) hatred for white America-but not the contempt that latter became common. Also compare the sweet sounds of Motown to the cynical aggressiveness of Rap.

3. The US: in the long run deficits matter.

4. The rise of PC/Multiculuralist dogma in the '90's signals a further loss of confidence.

Posted by: icr on January 17, 2009 10:38 PM

Thoughts on the dominant ideology of today's West:
Please can we stop using the stupid expression "political correctness gone mad" . First, political correctness is a stern, fierce movement which is completely sane and sets out deliberately to stop us from saying - and thinking - various things. It is not a joke, nor is it out of control. It is deliberate, purposeful and serious. Those who enforce it plan to change the world and they will succeed for as long as we treat PC as a laugh, or as some sort of batty bureaucratic mix-up which will go away in the end.
-Peter Hitchens
Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.
-Theodore Dalrymple
I refuse to treat political correctness as an academic eccentricity and present it instead as a tool of managerial control. Universities are not the only context in which pc and its accompanying mantra about diversity have taken over. Churches, corporations, and the media push the same partylines, but without government interventions we would not be worrying about the legal consequences of not paying sufficient respect to state-designated victims. This fact is so obvious that one has to speculate on the reasons it is ignored – particularly on what today passes for the Right.
-Paul Gottfried

Posted by: icr on January 17, 2009 10:48 PM

The Enlightenment, due to all the revolutions, social and political, that sprang from it - the American and French Revolutions; the rise of humanism, liberalism, and Marxism; the decline of the position of the Church in society, and the subsequent decline of the Faith as a whole; the end of aristocracy and the rise of the nouveau riche and the managerial class, etc.

Posted by: anon on January 18, 2009 8:35 AM

That anyone can view Western Civilization as peaking in the period before the Enlightenment is fascinating. I for one have no longing for the lost opportunity to live a short brutal life as an illiterate, ill fed, unhealthy serf serving the interests and whims of petty tyrants who claim without question that God and heredity gives them the right to my very being. This is exactly the sort of life nearly all of us, absent the Enlightenment, American and French Revolutions, humanism, liberalism, etc. would no doubt find as our lot. To think that the pre-Enlightenment era was the peak of Western Civilization one must be a masochistic fool or else believe themselves to be of ancient noble lineage and thus exempt from the short brutal lives the vast majority lived in that period.

Posted by: Chris White on January 18, 2009 11:12 AM

OK, Chris, I'll give you a break.

You know what's really great about this American democracy built by white men? The democratic and economic principles created and expanded by those white men put in place a society that has ultimately been able to extend the full benefits of citizenship to everybody, including your beloved gays, women and blacks.

White, western society is the only society that has managed to develop in this way. That is the genius of the English legal system and the American democratic system... the two great political inventions of white men.

White men don't need to hang their heads in shame. We didn't enslave the world. We liberated the world with our ideas, our inventions, our laws and our political systems. Not to mention our blood and sacrifice.

White men are the inventors of the great "liberation" that you so admire.

I think that what most of us are saying here is: Why turn white men into villains now that the fruits of the great emancipatory efforts of white men are ripening? That is madness. We are, I believe, on the precipice of the destruction of Western Civ if we continue down this road. The true genius of white men is that we constructed a political system that, within 200 years, abolished slavery, emancipated women and led to the election of a black man as president.

We white men have done a great job. What's needed now is recognition of our forefathers amazing accomplishments, not condemnation of white men. We're the heroes of this story.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on January 18, 2009 2:25 PM

If only that idiot Gandhi could take part in this discussion.

Posted by: Sister Wolf on January 18, 2009 6:54 PM

People are comfortable referring to figures like Gandhi and Mandela. You can name an orphanage or a cricket trophy after guys like that.

However, post-colonial and third-world figures who left things in better shape than might be expected...that would make a list even I'd have trouble looking at it. Just try it:

Lee Kuan Yew
King Hussein

Some marginal choices there, I know. But it makes you think. Only their mothers could love most of 'em. I can admit to a grim admiration for the first three mentioned above. After that...

Perhaps the key to solid achievement in the developing (or whatever-you're-supposed-to-call-it-now) world is to follow a firm policy of disappointing all the luvvies, all the clever people. And even when you're fulminating against the capitalist West...make like the capitalist West.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on January 18, 2009 9:44 PM

ST - As one of those arguing that the decline of Western Civilization will be in the future because so far it seems to be moving forward just fine, I'm certainly not calling for white men to hang their heads in shame, far from it. Where we seem to part company is over whether white men have exclusively brought about all of Western Civilization's advancements and glories. Also, perhaps, whether white men are intrinsically superior beings. Western Civilization is not for me synonymous with white men.

To recognize, applaud, and adopt the good to be found in Asian art, African music, or women's folk wisdom is not to denigrate or attack white men. Just as offering criticism of global corporate capitalism, the leadership of which tends to be dominated by white men, is not the same as rejecting either Western Civilization or white men as a whole.

My default position is that any and all cultures have strengths and weaknesses, glories and shames. I see one of the many great strengths of Western Civilization being its ability to embrace and absorb new ideas. Those new ideas may come from outside as well as inside the culture. Take, for example, the way early Western Civilization recognized and adopted the Arabic number system and the mathematical language that system enabled. I therefore count it as a positive sign of the continued climb of Western Civilization that it has extended its scope far beyond the limits of Europe or white men to so many others.

Posted by: Chris White on January 19, 2009 10:04 AM

'If only that idiot Gandhi could take part in this discussion.
Posted by: Sister Wolf on January 18, 2009 6:54 PM""

He would have said t donald pettiger

"I know a way for you to get out of yur hell." (paraph..gandhi the fim.)

Posted by: Ramesh on January 19, 2009 10:34 AM

Chirs: "I therefore count it as a positive sign of the continued climb of Western Civilization that it has extended its scope far beyond the limits of Europe or white men to so many others."

A fair point, but we should expect that they will transform it into something entirely different, to turn it to their own uses. As we're seeing now in India and China.

None of this means that Western Culture is thriving. Thriving things are generative, and there's none of that happening now. When the west rediscovered it's past in the Renaissance, you wouldn't have said it meant Greco-Roman culture was thriving. It made for something new.

Likewise the dispersion of western ideas in the present time. The seed isn't spread until the fruit ripens and is eaten - and by that time it's dead.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on January 19, 2009 1:44 PM

Todd, I think that's true, but is Western Civ, or any Civ, a static entity? I think some have been and that has been their downfall. Western Civ has historically been adaptable and malleable, while still remaining somewhat recognizable through the ages. I believe that is why it has survived. Is the current Western Civ the exact same as it was during the Renaissance, or in the 19th century, etc? No. Will it be the same in the 21st as it was in the 20th? I don't think so, although it won't be lost either. And in fact, I believe it will become more dominant. Whose culture (both high and low) do developing countries look to? Western, and particularly, American. And with the distribution of information becoming more and more accessible and widespread, that will only increase, I believe. Of course, those countries put their own spin on it and spit it back out as something slightly different (I'm thinking Japan as the primary example) wherein we in the West re-consume it. It's an established process that a) cannot be stopped and b) will only increase as technology to distribute and consume media advances.

Posted by: JV on January 19, 2009 5:03 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?