To an increasing number of our
leaders, the decline of our Civilization seems oh so obvious. In a
speech which the national news media took note of only for the purpose
of embarrassing him,13
Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich decried the decline in civilized
behavior by our citizens, and cited as the causes for uncivilized
behavior: a welfare system which discourages work; a criminal justice
system which tolerates drug dealers; and an educational system that
fails to teach. Speaker Gingrich saw those three factors as the
principal causes for the decline in our ethical standards. His
prescription for change is to reintroduce the "work ethic" as a basis
for welfare payments, toughen the criminal justice system, and reform
education to ensure learning is a life-long pursuit and to ensure some
instruction in morality.14 This set of proposals is short-sighted, to say the least.
To take a broader perspective, we need to first look at the fundamental forces which drive the formation and dissolution of a Culture and a Civilization. Since the Culture is formed first, its origins are the most basic. As Spengler theorized:
"A Culture is born in the moment when a great soul awakens out of the proto-spirituality of ever-childish humanity, and detaches itself, a form from the formless, a bounded and mortal thing from the boundless and enduring."
of saying this same thing is that virtually any group of primitive
humans is capable of giving birth to a Culture if their leader(s)
perceive a strong religious motivation to unite a people or peoples for
the purpose of achieving a spiritually satisfying goal. In other words,
the motivation which drives mankind to form a Culture is, in fact, of a
strongly religious nature. In essence, it is an essentially spiritual
or religious system of thinking which creates the necessary abstract
thought forms to create a Culture out of nothing at all.
The Culture which would eventually give birth to Western Civilization was, to a large degree, a product of the interaction between Charlemagne and Pope Leo III. That interaction was, also to a large degree, the product of the training which Charlemagne received at the hands of his father, Pepin III (the Short). But in retrospect, it is not so much what Charlemagne did, or the influences of his father and the Pope, which caused Charlemagne to become the central figure of Western Civilization. That position is one which was bestowed by history, based upon the image of Charlemagne as "the prototype of a Christian king and emperor."15 By its inclusion of the word "Christian," that phrase itself illustrates the birth of a Culture as the marriage of a religious belief with a will to exert power over the affairs of other men.
So, here is the essential thought: the soul of a Culture is closely related to the strong religious beliefs of the leaders of the people within which the Culture is to take root and grow.
At the other end of the timeline, when the affairs of kings are unmasked as being nothing more than the affairs of strongly ambitious men, the close relationship with the underlying religious belief system disappears, and cynical resulting thought patterns destroy the life of the Culture. Spengler saw this occurrence this way:
"[A Culture] dies when the soul has actualized the full sum of its possibilities in the shape of peoples, languages, dogmas, arts, states, sciences, and reverts into the proto-soul."
In other words, when the underlying religious beliefs of the "soul" of the Culture cease to motivate mankind into the formation "peoples, languages, dogmas, arts, states, [and] sciences," at that point the "soul" and the Culture die. But the "peoples, languages, dogmas, arts, states, [and] sciences" live on, in the form actualized by the Culture, and we call this "life after death" experience "Civilization." Again quoting Spengler:
"Every Culture stands in a deeply-symbolical, almost in a mystical, relation to the Extended, the space, in which and through which it strives to actualize itself. The aim once attained - the idea, the entire content of inner possibilities, fulfilled and made externally actual - the Culture suddenly hardens, it mortifies, its blood congeals, its force breaks down, and it becomes Civilization."
The essential thought here is that, once you perceive the rise of Civilization, the Culture is dead!
The "soul" has been removed from the existence of the populace, and
religion no longer inspires mankind to the attainment of higher
This is not to say that mankind loses all motivation entirely. Material well being is still one of the strongest motivating factors known to mankind. But material well being is rooted in an essential selfishness which virtually prohibits the accomplishment of truly great objectives, each of which is based primarily upon the sacrifice of material well being. As an illustration of this, lets look for a moment at the prototypical view of our Culture of a great artist: he has little in the way of material wealth during his lifetime (i. e., he suffers), and his artwork rarely sells for any significant amount of money during his lifetime. If that is the life to which a great artist is condemned, why would any sane person choose to become a great artist? The answer is that they are motivated by a higher power, in the form of the "soul" of the Culture. Is it any accident that the vast majority of artworks which we now recognize as being among the greatest which Western Civilization has produced are based on themes or settings related to Christianity? Of course not. The "soul" of the Culture is Christianity, and that will always be the place where great artists will look for motivation and inspiration. And the audience itself will always feel most moved when a relationship with the religious "soul" of the Culture is present in any work of art.
So, what is the force which drives "The Decline of the West?" It is, rather, the lack of a force; it is the failure of the now-dead "soul" of the Culture to support further developments (or as Spengler would say, to actualize further possibilities).
And what is the great force which killed the "soul" of Culture? Spengler himself cited to Nietzsche for the answer: intellect kills our religious "soul."
The religious "soul" of a Culture is based primarily upon a myth (just about any myth, as it turns out). Intellect exposes the myth for what it is: a fabrication. Once the myth is so exposed, it cannot any longer motivate or inspire mankind to the achievement of higher objectives (i. e., those objectives which require the sacrifice of material well being). When they are appropriately inspired by some great myth, people are quite willing to lay their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on the line for some truly great purpose. But when we come to the point of recognizing, based upon our intellect, that the myth is a fabrication, we begin to see self-sacrifice as merely foolish.
Altruism is very much out of favor at the present point in our Civilization. Many conservative thinkers, such as Ayn Rand, have denounced altruism, and asserted that no man can be truly free unless he first purges himself of all altruistic motivations. These same thinkers strenuously argue that the only proper motivation for mankind is the selfish motivation of material well being. Any other motivation imposed by society at large for any other reason is all but robbing the man at gun-point.
The essential silliness of all this is that selfish motivations are most closely related to "The Law of the Jungle," and it is the return of rule by those forces which conservatives such as our Speaker most decry.
13 As an introduction to his remarks, Speaker Gingrich cited a recent news story about a woman who hatched a plot to kill another woman and steal her baby by cutting it out of her womb, and then claim that the baby was hers. In the process, two of the pregnant woman's three other children were brutally killed. The family of the dead woman complained that Speaker Gingrich should not use their personal tragedy in support of his political rhetoric, and the national news media played this to the hilt.
14 A close examination of the policies actually advocated by Speaker Gingrich fails to disclose any strong bias towards the agenda of the strongly reactionary Christian Coalition. Perhaps the Speaker is not as strongly attached to that pressure group as many of us would believe.
15 Encyclopędia Britannica (1975), Volume 4, page 44.
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