History has recorded the names
of great barbarian leaders who sacked the weak remains of great
Civilizations: Attila the Hun sacking Italy in 452 a. d. and
Genghis Khan conquering China in 1215 a. d. To that list should
probably be added the conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1519 by Hernįn
Cortés, because the objective of his Spanish masters was as simple as
any barbarian leaders: send home the loot.
The ultimate truth is that all of this, whether it is the subjection of a primitive people by a more advanced people, or the subjection of a formerly more advanced people by a primitive people, is just "The Law of the Jungle" exercised to its fullest extent. The winner is the "strongest" at the time of the battle. Nothing else counts.
This should not be surprising to us. Spengler used a biological analogy to describe the birth of cultures and the death of civilizations. Implicit in everything he wrote about this process was the fact that when two people with two traditions come into contact with one another, only the strongest will emerge as the eventual survivor. The young Islamic faith16 motivated the Arab peoples to a gradual, but spectacular, series of victories over the decaying remnants of both the Persian and Byzantine Empires. This is, yet again, just "The Law of the Jungle" manifested through historical events.
So, it should be clear to us that Civilizations do not all die of a graceful old age. In point of fact, most (if not all, except the West) have been "murdered" by conquest from outside. And, as discussed above, many primitive people, who may well have developed their own Civilizations, have had their opportunities to do so "nipped in the bud" by the advances of a competing people who were "stronger" in some significant sense.
This leads us to the Great Paradox: the thing which creates a Culture, and then a Civilization, is a movement away from "The Law of the Jungle." And yet, the sole rule in the governance of relations between peoples or nations is "The Law of the Jungle." This clear dichotomy between the basis for internal and external relations of any given people should give us some pause.
And we cannot say that this is something mankind has yet outgrown. In the "here and now" of 1996, when Western Civilization has clearly conquered the entire planet, we have an era of peace among those nations who are willing to "toe the line" of rules laid down by agreements between great nations. However, we are just as ready to destroy, militarily, any nation (such as Iraq) which breaks those rules.
I suppose that, in some ways, you could argue that the current members of the United Nations Security Council is a rough equivalent of the First Triumvirate in Rome, because it is closer to "an informal understanding of [several] strong political leaders" than it is to the "absolute authority, dictatorial in scope" which the Second Triumvirate possessed.17 Still, in Roman history, it was only 17 years from the founding of the "weak" First Triumvirate to the founding of the "dictatorial" Second Triumvirate, which implemented true Cęsarism as a despotic Empire. This should give us some pause to consider where we stand in our own historical context, if the predictions of Spengler are to continue to hold true for Western Civilization.
But down through the many conflicts between civilizations and peoples of our world, the usual winner has been determined by which of the combatants possessed the most advanced technology. While Spengler can argue that civilizations come and go on a cyclical curve, he must admit that the technology level of the most advanced Civilization on the planet has generally increased over time.18 This automatically gives that advanced Civilization an almost unfair advantage over any other peoples with whom it comes into contact. That is, in point of fact, the story of Western Civilization and its conquest of every other Culture with whom it came into contact. The associated people were either assimilated or destroyed, at their own option.
And ultimately, what is the advance of technology but a quest to expand the boundaries of Ultimate Truth? Spengler includes advances in mathematics in his chart of "Spiritual Epochs." Whether Spengler realized it or not, that indicates the fact that there is a close bond between our spiritual state-of-mind and our ability to advance technology. Mathematics is the soul of technology, and it is only proper that our understanding of mathematics should be associated with the anti-entropic spiritual soul that drives our Culture. Mankind has consistently lost its way when it failed to recognize that a search for spiritual Truth is identical to a search for scientific Truth!
The primitive religious feelings which are bound up in each Culture, including our own, are all bound up with the forces from "The Law of the Jungle." A religious war is the penultimate battle of "us against them." The most difficult compromises to achieve are those in which religious values are at stake. It is by no means impossible to settle such religious conflicts peacefully, but the difficulty is so great, that war is quite often the easier solution. If you do not believe that, just compare Bosnia (the strife there would appear to be over, after about 4 years of war) with Northern Ireland (it is just in the beginnings of peace negotiations, which have taken a couple of years just to set up, after literally centuries of struggle following the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and over 25 years of "troubles" in the recent past).
The Catholic Pope proclaims himself to be "a man of peace," and yet he is one of the most intolerant people on the face of this planet. He also proclaims that there are just some values, such as a celibate priesthood, which cannot be compromised, no matter how outmoded we might all believe those values to be. From where does this obstinacy arise? It is the product of the source of all primitive religions: a "revealed Truth" which is not subject to alteration to fit the times.19 The Catholic Church and its adherents are clearly responsible for more of man's inhumanity to our fellow man than is any other identifiable group down through history,20 with the only possible exception being the Communists in Russia,21 who were officially atheistic, and thus had no real moral code to rely on.
It was, after all, the Catholic Church which promoted the Spanish conquest of the Americas for its own selfish purpose: the forced conversion of the "heathen savages" to Catholicism. The combination of Spanish arms and Catholic missionaries was too much for the various Indian tribes to resist. And neither of these conquerors had any need at all to preserve any part of the traditional cultures of the conquered peoples. What has come down through the centuries has been that which the conquered people themselves chose to keep alive, frequently by incorporating their own heathen traditions into some Catholic rituals as an "analog" to that with which they are most familiar. In this way, the Maya transformed the Virgin Mary into an analogy for their "grandmother Moon."
But, as the old saying goes, "one man's `heathen' is another man's `saint.'"22 It is after studying so much of the history of our world that so many historians then come to question the "Ultimate Truth" of their own religious beliefs. Why should Jews be seen as "the chosen people of God," while Hindus are seen as heathen primitives? The only possible answer is that we tend to "self-identify," and thus we have a preference for the traditional sources of our own Culture. There is simply no rational basis to choose one religion over another!23 As Spengler notes, when the leading intellects of a Culture do finally come to that conclusion, the Cultural "soul" dies, and the Civilization hardens into its own form, which will be drawn from that which remains of the now-dead Culture.
In every Culture which Spengler studied, the religious dogma froze in form long before the primitive people of the Culture had developed any significant ability to think rationally and with intellectual detachment. The great crisis point arises, then, when the detached rational intellect finally must confront the frozen religious dogma which underlies the Culture. In every Culture to date, this became the battle of "the irresistible force against the immovable object." The result was always the death of the Cultural soul because these two simply could not be reconciled.
We are now two centuries beyond the death point of our own Cultural soul, and those two centuries have witnessed a great decline in Western Civilization. As I have noted elsewhere, it is increasingly popular to speak of that decline in our political dialog.
Yet, we see the great groundswell of technology lifting us into the future. We are clearly approaching a "cusp." At the "cusp," we will choose between options which will include: destroying technology, like the Luddites, and continuing our Western decline; destroying religion, and reaping consequences which cannot be guessed at, but would all but certainly lead back to "The Law of the Jungle;" or experiencing a religious re-birth, this time moving away from "The Law of the Jungle," and towards "The Golden Rule," and using technology as the basis for any determination of the "Ultimate Truth."
It is, of course, this last option which I hope for, because I believe it leads to some form of Utopia for all mankind. If we can so orient our religious beliefs that they cannot come into conflict with technological "Truth," then we can give birth to a Cultural "soul" which can survive any conflict with "intellect." Along the way, we must harness the engine of technology with that same Cultural "soul." Let's now look at "how."
16 We should not forget, however, that Mohammed is a cultural "contemporary" of the English Puritan movement, and was responsible for the impoverishment of Arab religious thinking by setting it down into a fixed and utilitarian form. It is for that reason that Spengler places Mohammed at the end of the Arab "Spiritual Summer" and just before the beginning of the Arab "Spiritual Autumn."
17 The quotations are from Volume X, page 134, of the Encyclopędia Britannica (1975). The article notes that the First Triumvirate was founded in 60 b. c. by Pompey, Cęsar, and Crassus. That union dissolved into the civil war of 49-46 b. c., which was won by Cęsar, who by that time was the sole surviving member of the First Triumvirate. Cęsar was assassinated on March 15, 44 b. c., and the Second Triumvirate took power in November of 43 b. c. The Second Triumvirate consisted of Mark Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian (who was the heir of Cęsar). It lasted officially until 32 b. c., but was not terminated in actuality until Octavian defeated Mark Antony in August of 30 b. c.
18 There are exceptions. A scholar working in the ancient library of Alexandria, long before the birth of Christ, derived a value for the circumference of the Earth which was highly accurate. And yet, we credit some fifteenth century Italians for figuring out that the Earth is round, not flat! This clearly shows that technological innovations can be lost or forgotten for centuries before they are rediscovered by some new scientist, who then claims them for his or her own.
19 If enough pressure is applied, the Mormons will somehow have a timely "revelation" of some new Truth which is required to fit the times. It happened about like that when they wanted to make Utah into a state. The United States refused for so long as the Mormons condoned polygamy. At an appropriate point, the head Mormon had a "revelation" of an appropriate new Truth, and polygamy was banned in the Mormon Church from that point on. Utah quickly became our 45th state.
20 As part of the justification for this statement, I accept as true the allegations that the Catholic Church in Germany was in some way responsible for the acts of Hitler in exterminating the Jews. If you do not happen to believe in that particular truth, then do some studying on your own.
21 Particularly Stalin, who is rumored to have ordered the murders of up to 30 million people.
22 The "old saying" traces back to at least Lucretius (99 b. c.-55 b. c.) who, in his work "On The Nature of Things," in Book IV, at line 637, wrote: "What is food to one, is to others bitter poison."
23 I thought about this sentence a lot! Like many of the rationalist thinkers before me, I searched for a reason to believe, and I found none.
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