So very few historians even
attempt to deal with the great sweep of human history that it is
possible to create a very short list for those readers who would wish
to explore this subject further. The first notable attempt was Oswald
Spengler's classic two volume set, The Decline of the West,
which dates from 1918 and 1922. Arnold Toynbee took the fundamental
thesis of Spengler, that civilizations have a predictable cycle of
overall direction, and wrote twelve volumes of The Study of History between 1934 and 1961. In 1968, a year after completing the tenth volume of their now eleven volume set, The Story of Civilization, Will and Ariel Durant wrote a classic short work, The Lessons of History,
which I highly recommend to anyone interested in a full exposition of
what values are common and/or successful among the various
civilizations throughout history.
In order to understand my book, you must first understand my personal belief in the essential correctness of Spengler's assertion that we are now in the final stage of Western Civilization, which stage essentially involves having that civilization crumble under our feet. Spengler's books are very difficult for modern Americans to read because they assume a vast array of learning which our modern educational system fails to impart to our young, and because it was written in a dialect of German that did not lend itself to easy translation into English. Nonetheless, the three charts at the end of the first volume provide a wealth of comparative information.
The first chart defines fourteen stages of spiritual development, which are placed under headings titled with the names of the four seasons. Spengler asserted that Western Civilization is in its spiritual Winter, which he defined as the:
Dawn of Megalopolitan Civilization. Extinction of spiritual creative force. Life itself becomes problematical. Ethical-practical tendencies of an irreligious and unmetaphysical cosmopolitanism.
concluding item in the chart for Western Civilization is the "Spread of
a Final World-Sentiment" which is "Ethical Socialism from 1900."
The second chart defines eight stages of cultural development, and asserts that for Western Civilization, the end of the Twentieth Century will mark the end of the sixth stage. That stage is defined as the "Transformation of Music, architecture and painting into mere craft-arts." I think it is fairly clear that this transformation has occurred. Music is now epitomized by individuals and groups that are mere common men and women. Architecture is a merely mechanical trade. The great painters of the twentieth century, people like Picasso and Dali, are all dead.
The third chart similarly defines eight stages of political development, and also asserts that for Western Civilization, the end of the Twentieth Century will mark the end of the sixth stage, which is defined as the "Domination of Money (`Democracy') Economic powers permeating the political forms and authorities." Now, given that Spengler wrote that no later than 1922, what could be a more accurate forecast of where we stand today in our political system?
To understand what Spengler believes will come next involves your taking the great leap of faith in his assertion that all civilizations are essentially cyclical in nature.33 Once that is assumed, the answer is derived from the third chart statement of what comprises the seventh political stage, which is the "Formation of Caesarism. Victory of force-politics over money. Increasing primitiveness of political forms. Inward decline of the nations into a formless population, and constitution thereof as an Imperium of gradually-increasing crudity of despotism." The analogy for this prediction is the Roman Empire from about 100 b. c. to about 100 a. d., which Spengler defines as covering the rules of roughly Sulla to Domitian. In other words, Spengler conceives of the year 2000 for Western Civilization as being roughly equivalent to the Roman Empire of 100 b. c.34
At the other end of the scale, Western Civilization has its beginnings in roughly sixth century France, about a century after the "final" collapse of the Roman Empire. The pre-cultural period ends, under Spengler's definition, when primitive tribes and their chiefs band together to form a state and a political system. For Western Civilization, that occurred in roughly 800 a. d. with the conquest of Greater France by Charlemagne. Over the centuries, Western Civilization has gradually expanded its boundaries until, in the aftermath to World War II, Western Civilization now covers virtually the entire planet.
While there are certainly local variations, we now have a political and economic system that runs virtually all of mankind's activities. China rejected its ancient teachings, and adopted Western Civilization en masse, when it converted to communism. After all, Karl Marx is clearly a product of Western Civilization. Similarly, India was converted to Western Civilization by England during its period as a colony. The fact that India is now a separate nation is irrelevant. The English installed an English school system which trained all young Indians in Western Civilization. Local religions and customs add some color to the essential ideas of Western Civilization, but India is now a thoroughly Western nation, like it or not. Japan was similarly converted after it lost World War II.
The recent fall of the Soviet Union should only have been expected, if you believe in Spengler, and was actually discussed and/or predicted by the Durants' book, written in 1968.35 China, Cuba, and the other recalcitrant/reactionary states left in the world will come around eventually. The rest of the world is in no particular hurry because the entire rest of the world is clearly under control, so these few "out of synchronization" states can be tolerated so long as they do not make war against the rest of us. Eventually, the mere fact that over 90% of the world's nations are living in peace and freedom with one another will create the internal dissent necessary to cause the overthrow of these last few vestiges of a wartime state form.
So, what is Western Civilization?
Western Civilization has an essential religious base of Christianity, even though the practice of other religions is presently tolerated. For those who practice non-Christian religions, that practice must be conformed to Christian values, or else the eventual wrath of the state will be incurred. For example, there is a world-wide movement to restrict Islamic practices to one wife rather than four. The "one wife" practice is Christian, even though monogamy is also a practice of many religions.36 Christians do not believe in human sacrifice,37 so other religions must not sacrifice humans in order to be considered as acceptable.
The "center of gravity" for Western Civilization is still Western Europe. Eastern Europe, the United States, and in fact, the entire world, now all find themselves looking to Western Europe for leadership in matters that affect all mankind. While the United States still sees itself and its President as the leaders of the "free world," citizens of Western Europe see the United States as still living in the past while Europeans are going about the creation of the future. This difference in outlook probably has more to do with national pride than it has to do with reality. The truth of the matter is that we are now a true global village. People from all around the world can watch major events from nearly anywhere in the world live, and if not live, on their evening news.
But the majority of citizens of the United States still identify themselves as descendants of Western European countries. This gives the United States an underlying cultural heritage which is essentially Western European in nature. Again, while there are clearly local variations, our essential systems of laws and politics are the same throughout all of Western Civilization. With the world-wide news network, we here in the United States can easily follow, and display interest in, the elections for President of France or Russia, or for the Prime Minister of England.
Thus, these are the values which are common throughout the vast majority of the known world: popular democratic elections; a fundamentally integrated economic system; laws and courts which are similar enough in function to be recognizable to anyone, anywhere; and fundamental religious beliefs which are at least compatible with those of the Western Christian Church. Those things comprise Western Civilization. Those things also make it possible for any of us to get on a jet plane today and go virtually anywhere at all on the face of this planet and feel welcome and at home. It is true that there are always exceptions, and that occasionally a tourist will stumble across an ancient taboo by failing to read or heed the guidebook. But such traps are clearly less common today than they were just a few decades ago. And the instant dissemination of our global culture, through our global electronic mass media, makes us all more like each other with each passing day.
The end result is that each of us has the capacity, with a little education as to what to seek, to look inside ourselves and find everything which is essential to the culture of Western Civilization. This is true because we are each the end products of roughly a thousand years of cultural development, and those of us alive today have probably seen the best that Western Civilization has to offer.
33 Spengler had a very German outlook on this, and attempted to fit each civilization he studied into a rigid time line. Toynbee was much more flexible in this regard, and thus his comparisons are better.
34 It is fascinating to note that, considered on this time scale, the Second Coming of Christ would be due in roughly 100 years, as the year zero corresponds to roughly the year 2100.
35 See The Lessons of History, 1968, Chapter IX, page 66: "The [Russian] Revolution took a Communistic form because the new state was challenged by internal disorder and external attack; the people reacted as any nation will react under siege - it put aside all individual freedom until order and security could be restored. Here too Communism was a war economy. Perhaps it survives through continued fear of war; given a generation of peace it would presumably be eroded by the nature of man." How true. Remember, in George Orwell's classic novel, 1984, the communistic state form was perpetuated by an artificially created constant state of war. Thus, the greatest move to defeat Communism was for the enemies of the so-called "West" to make peace with it.
36 That practice has its essential roots in the fact that there are still roughly as many boys born as there are girls born. When something causes the ratio of births to be vastly different, a different ethic will arise. The Islamic practice of multiple wives has its real root in the fact that early Islamic tribes were constantly involved in rather vicious warfare which resulted in many casualties to the men. Thus, the warfare eliminated many of the men who would be suitable mates, mandating some form of polygamy in order to make more babies, half of whom would grow to be warriors whose mission would be to spread the Islamic faith.
37 Some would say that the ritual sacrifice of Jesus Christ takes the place of human sacrifice in Christianity.
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