Where does civilization come from? More importantly right now, where does it go when it ends?
Roger Cohen at the NYT:
It was the time of unraveling. Long afterward, in the ruins, people asked: How could it happen?
It was a time of weakness. The most powerful nation on earth was tired of far-flung wars, its will and treasury depleted by absence of victory. An ungrateful world could damn well police itself. The nation had bridges to build and education systems to fix. Civil wars between Arabs could fester. Enemies might even kill other enemies, a low-cost gain. Middle Eastern borders could fade; they were artificial colonial lines on a map. Shiite could battle Sunni, and Sunni Shiite, there was no stopping them. Like Europe’s decades-long religious wars, these wars had to run their course. The nation’s leader mockingly derided his own “wan, diffident, professorial” approach to the world, implying he was none of these things, even if he gave that appearance. He set objectives for which he had no plan. He made commitments he did not keep. In the way of the world these things were noticed. Enemies probed. Allies were neglected, until they were needed to face the decapitators who talked of a Caliphate and called themselves a state. Words like “strength” and “resolve” returned to the leader’s vocabulary. But the world was already adrift, unmoored by the retreat of its ordering power. The rule book had been ripped up.
It was a time of disorientation. Nobody connected the dots or read Kipling on life’s few certainties: “The Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire / And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire.”
Until it was too late and people could see the Great Unraveling for what it was and what it had wrought.
Is America weak? We have a weak “leader” in the White House, but is our president the source of our strength? Are we really any weaker than we were ten years ago, or fifty years ago, or seventy-five years ago?
Basically every habitable spot on the surface of this planet has been occupied by somebody since the last Ice Age ended. Why is this planet only partially civilized, and what is the difference between the civilized people and the savages?
Is the decline and fall of American civilization inevitable and irreversible or are our greatest days still ahead? Does it make a difference which one we believe to be true?
What I actually think we are seeing are the death throes of progressivism and socialism. What is sometimes referred to as the “blue-model fail.” As an economic system it is unsustainable. As a religion/ideology it is a cancer on the body politic.
Fair enough, but consider the source — over the past 12 years, the New York Times, when not going on benders on the evils of golf courses and air conditioning, and publishing outright fabulism, has, more recently, published pieces calling for the end of the US Constitution, and mocking the “fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity” of its presidential candidates — only, upon further review, to discover that these extreme worldviews are Catholicism, Lutheranism and Mormonism, bedrock religions of America’s history. Its leading journalists have publicly called the citizens of the American midwest “The dance of the low-sloping foreheads” and filed William S. Burroughs-style stories of openly experimenting with drugs. And of course, in 2008, it went all-in to champion a man who was clearly not ready to be president, to the point of actively burying potentially damaging stories about him and refusing to run op-eds from his opponent.
In the 1920s, there was only one H.L. Mencken, mocking democracy and religion as outdated and the American people as the “booboosie.” In the 1960s and ’70s, there was only one Hunter Thompson, similarly calling America ”just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.”
But as James Lileks wrote, shortly before Thompson committed suicide after a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse, Thompson was “the guy who made nihilism hip. He’s the guy who taught a generation that the only thing you should believe is this: don’t trust anyone who believes anything. He’s the patron saint of journalism, whether journalists know it or not.” A major city newspaper can’t staff itself full of wannabe Menckens and Thompsons, and then blindly wonder why a great unraveling is occurring.
Nihilism and multiculturalism are in agreement on one thing – they both disdain our morals and culture. Nihilism teaches that morals and culture have no intrinsic value. Multiculturalism teaches that all morals and cultures are of equal value. Either way, they agree that there is nothing special about our morals and culture.
Our forefathers thought that America was a special place – better than all the other countries. That was the source of ideas like “Manifest Destiny” and “American Exceptionalism.” There was a time when Americans had idealism, optimism and a belief in something greater than ourselves.
Maybe it’s time to return to our roots.