Montesquieu would be one of the first but not last theoreticians of decline and fall into decadence and decay of modern progressive society. For Montesquieu, the slow disintegration of the Roman Empire was not to be seen as a series of unhappy accidents, but as the inevitable unfolding of a pattern governed by a quasi-scientific law. Rome, it was henceforth accepted, had fallen because all empires must fall, and the map of that fall – which was also to serve as an explanation – was to be found in its décadence: in the simultaneous rotting of its cultural life and its military might.
In this sense we’ve seen in our time the end of the universalist pretentions of the Enlightenment Era and its primary ideal of Social Progress. Instead we’ve seen the slow decay and decadence of modern societies and cultures of the European and American enclaves begin to fragment and lose control in a world that teeters on the edge of economic, political, military, climacteric and pathological collapse and decay. Ours is the age of disintegration in which it is no longer a threat of the barbarians without but of those within the very sanctity of our fraying socious who are tearing the social body into a million shreds. Ours is a sociopathic society that has entered the last stages of sclerosis, the cancer is everywhere and like the zombies of George Romero’s classic film we are feeding off the last vestiges of this ancient body like mindless appetites gone bunkoes. A culture of distraction, entertainment, and Reality TV. A narcissistic culture that explores the egoist limits of its decadent superficialness in the extreme mode of Selfies that collapse body into digital hives, a mirrored complex of endless clones and avatars running rampant in the anon world of farcical trolldom.
One remembers Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and of all those various 19th Century decadent satirists who would see in the petty bourgeoisie the coming collapse of Western culture and civilization. As such came those grand narratives of Oswald Spengler (Decline of the West) and Arnold J. Toynbee in his own history of decline and mutation. In our own moment we have such thinkers as movable John Michael Greer in his Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America, or a Morris Berman in Why America Failed? among many others like Chalmers Johnson or Andrew J. Bacevich, etc.
The idea of decline is actually a theory about the nature and meaning of time. So is the idea of progress. The notion of history as progress stands largely discredited today among intellectuals, and especially among historians. They debate instead the origins and history of “the idea of Progress” and how it has served as a powerful cultural “myth” in Western thought. The origin and significance of the myth of decline have attracted less notice. Yet the two ideas are actually opposite sides of the same coin. Every theory of progress has also contained a theory of decline, since “inevitable” historical laws can just as easily shift in reverse as move forward. Likewise, whenever we meet a theory about the decline of Western civilization, we can probably find lurking underneath a theory of progress.
In many ways the notion of social progress is absolutely dead, and yet technological progress and invention seem ever alive as move steadily into a new mythology of technocracy and automation. Experts and machines seem to be the pervasive ingredient of this new era of technocracy that is invading the mind-set of capitalist greed and necessity, while displacing the safety nets of the old democratic strong holds and allowing floods of migrant cheap labor to infiltrate what is left of the old capitalist empires. A great leveling has begun, but not one of decline and fall but of death and squalor for all but a few. There’s a sense that what’s being spread across the globe is not some promise of capitalist accumulation but rather of its wastelands and detritus. We entered the last fragmentation of an Empire of Madness.
Civilization made its forward march from primitive solitude and barbarism to modern or “civil society” in four stages. In his presocial solitary state of nature, man roams helpless and alone; then he forms primitive pastoral and nomadic communities, such as the Hottentot bushmen and Plains Indians of America; the third stage is the agrarian stage, in which men make their living from fixed possession of the land; which leads finally to the civil or commercial stage, in which men shift their social and economic lives from the village and farm to the city and its urban attributes.
This progress is first of all an economic advance, as men and women earn their living in increasingly productive ways, from foraging to herding to agriculture to trade and industry. But it also involves a steady cultural advance. Man finds himself connected to more and more people in more complex and mutually beneficial ways; other human beings are no longer just competitors for a bone to gnaw on or the meager fare from the day’s hunt. They are family and friends, customers and colleagues, fellow citizens in a common enterprise in whom we recognize the best part of ourselves. The rational part of man’s personality increasingly discovers new and exciting outlets. 17 This results in the development of the arts and sciences, literature and poetry: “The more these refined arts advance,” wrote philosopher David Hume, “the more sociable men become.”
Our politics has become a staged farce for the general populace to bitterly satirize and bicker over while their jobs and pocket books are stripped clean and given the rising machinic phylum. We argue over lackluster leaders, pompous ass fat cat populists who voice the insanity of the hour, but allow the privatization of our lives, nations, and futures without an iota of intelligent discourse. Our tweets and FB signals are filled with Brexit, Trump and the demise of democracy while Wall-Street and the bankers clean house knowing the end is near… this is the new decadence, one that will strip us of the last veneer of human culture and leave us all tottering in the trash-bin of history as the machines become our heirs and that dark night of the world closes over us all in silence and discord.
As Greer explicates it we’re well along that curve in today’s America. The ongoing disintegration of our built infrastructure is only one of the many warning lights flashing bright red, signaling that the wealth pump is breaking down and the profits of empire are no longer propping up a disintegrating domestic economy. Most Americans, for that matter, have seen their effective standard of living decline steadily for decades. Fifty years ago, for example, many American families supported by one person earning a full-time, working-class income owned their own homes and lived relatively comfortable lives. Nowadays, in many parts of the country, a single full-time, working-class income won’t even keep a family off the street. 2
The US government’s ongoing response to the breakdown of the imperial wealth pump has drawn a bumper crop of criticism, much of it well founded. Under most circumstances, after all, an economic policy that focuses on the mass production of imaginary wealth via the deliberate encouragement of speculative excess is not a good idea. Still, it’s only fair to point out that there really isn’t much else any US administration could do — not and survive the next election, at least. In the abstract, most Americans believe in fiscal prudence, but when any move toward fiscal prudence risks setting off an era of economic contraction that would put an end to the extravagant lifestyles most Americans see as normal, abstract considerations quickly give way. (ibid.)
Berman pointedly ironic and satiric tells us as the Googlification of society proceeds apace, we might want to take note of the fact that the “religion” of the Google corporation, according to Carr—that is, its intellectual ethic—is Taylorism: “progress” personified. The prime value here is efficiency, even in thought. The company itself has said that its goal is to get users in and out quickly; in fact, its profits are tied to that process. Prolonged engagement with an argument or narrative is their enemy. “The last thing the company wants is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought,” writes Carr. “Google is, quite literally, in the business of distraction.” Following Frederick Taylor, Google believes that intelligence is merely the output of a mechanical process. There is little room in this world, Carr points out, for “the pensive stillness of deep reading or the fuzzy indirection of contemplation.” In Google’s Tayloresque world, he goes on to say, “Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed.” The cultural impact follows upon the individual one, then: what we are witnessing is the replacement of a complex inner diversity with a new kind of self, one devoid of any sense of cultural inheritance. It may not be too much to say that TDs are generating a nation of buffoons.3
America as a global superpower has been slowly decaying for decades, and is looking more and more like the British Empire of the late 1930s — a global imperium in terminal decline. The US empire, however, despite spiraling into its gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, still seemed determined to impose its will on a world increasingly moving away from such absolutist control. The world — or at least its major players outside Washington, from Russia to China to Venezuela to Bolivia and beyond — was beginning to think of better alternatives. To the Pentagon, such stirrings made the work of Full Spectrum Dominance more urgent than ever. The declining power of the American Century depended increasingly on direct military control, a control the Pentagon tried to establish through a worldwide network of its military bases.4
During this age of decadence something new became clear, the youth were no longer in love with their parental authorities, their culture, their lies. As Angela Nagle tells it, it was amid this ironical in-jokey maze of meaning that the online culture wars played out, that Trump got elected and that what we now call the alt-right came to prominence. Every bizarre event, new identity and strange subcultural behavior that baffles general audiences when they eventually make the mainstream media, from other kin to far right Pepe memes, can be understood as a response to a response to a response, each one responding angrily to the existence of the other. Trumpian meme-makers ramped up their taboo-breaking anti-PC style in response to gender-bending Tumblr users, who themselves then became more sensitive, more convinced of the racism, misogyny and hetero-normative oppression of the world outside of their online subcultures. At the same time, the ‘deplorables’, from the Trumpian trolls to the alt-right, view the Hillary loyalists – the entrenched identity politics of Tumblr and the intersectional anti-free speech campus left – as evidence of their – equally bleak view of a rapidly declining Western civilization, as both sides have become increasingly unmoored to any cultural mainstream, which scarcely resembles either bleak vision. 5
The once obscure call-out culture of the left emanating from Tumblr-style campus-based identity politics reached its peak during this period, in which everything from eating noodles to reading Shakespeare was declared ‘problematic’, and even the most mundane acts ‘misogynist’ and ‘white supremacist’. While taboo and anti-moral ideologies festered in the dark corners of the anonymous Internet, the de-anonymized social media platforms, where most young people now develop their political ideas for the first time, became a panopticon, in which the many lived in fear of observation from the eagle eye of an offended organizer of public shaming. At the height of its power, the dreaded call-out, no matter how minor the transgression or how well intentioned the transgressor, could ruin your reputation, your job or your life. The particular incarnations of the online left and right that exist today are undoubtedly a product of this strange period of ultra puritanism. These obscure online political beginnings became formative for a whole generation, and impacted mainstream sensibilities and even language. (Nagle)
Lastly, and most interestingly, F. Roger Devlin is an alt-right writer, a white nationalist, an MRA and anti-feminist, read by MGTOW adherents and a range of rightist anti-feminists. He is perhaps one of those who has attempted to theorize a more serious anti-feminist politics. Devlin is a contributing editor to The Occidental Quarterly: Western Perspectives on Man, Politics and Culture and also writes for VDARE. His essay ‘Sexual Utopia in Power’ argues against ‘today’s sexual dystopia, with its loose morals and confused sexual roles.’ It explores ‘female hypergamy (mating up), narcissism, infidelity, deceptiveness, and masochism.’ It also argues that ‘the breakdown of monogamy results in promiscuity for the few, loneliness for the majority.’ (Nagle)
On this last point, I think he’s getting to the central issue driving this kind of reactionary sexual politics, perhaps even the central personal motivation behind the entire turn to the far right among young men. The sexual revolution that started the decline of lifelong marriage has produced great freedom from the shackles of loveless marriage and selfless duty to the family for both men and women. But this ever-extended adolescence has also brought with it the rise of adult childlessness and a steep sexual hierarchy. Sexual patterns that have emerged as a result of the decline of monogamy have seen a greater level of sexual choice for an elite of men and a growing celibacy among a large male population at the bottom of the pecking order. Their own anxiety and anger about their low-ranking status in this hierarchy is precisely what has produced their hard-line rhetoric about asserting hierarchy in the world politically when it comes to women and non-whites. The pain of relentless rejection has festered in these forums and allowed them to be the masters of the cruel natural hierarchies that bring them so much humiliation. (Nagle)
While gender non-conformism is nothing new, and has certainly been ever more mainstream since the beginning of the sexual revolution and the gay liberation movement, this is part of the creation of an online quasi-political culture that has had a huge and unexpected level of influence. Other similar niche online subcultures in this milieu, which were always given by the emerging online right as evidence of Western decline, also include adults who identify as babies and able-bodied people who identify as disabled people to such an extent that they seek medical assistance in blinding, amputating or otherwise injuring themselves to become the disabled person they identify as. You may question the motivations of the right’s fixation on these relatively niche subcultures, but the liberal fixation on relatively niche sections of the new online right that emerged from small online subcultures is similar in scale – that is, the influence of Tumblr on shaping strange new political sensibilities is probably equally important to what emerged from rightist chan culture. (Nagle)
In our time the chief anti-hero of this new myth was Trump in America and Brexit in the UK, both allowing the political fabric of the global empire of Capital to become corrupt while both are entertaining corporate court with extended examples the latest installation of elites and sycophantic collaborators. Trump unlike his antecedent, Nero who – according to legend, at least – was prepared to fiddle while the city burned; and the decadence of his morals was readily revealed by the fact that his mimicry of the affectations of the Greeks extended as far as marriage to a castrated male slave. Instead Trump’s is the blatant last man of Nietzsche who has no elegant pretensions, but suborns politics to the street fighter methods of the WWO like a take-down body slam.
Montesquieu, in claiming that there was an underlying logic to the fate of Rome, implied that some such pattern would be repeated in other empires. Our own Global Civilization is carrying the seeds of its own inevitable destruction, because a secure, rich and comfortable aristocracy of power brokers is bound to and slowly enervated by addiction to luxury capitalism, until the time finally arrives when the new barbarians rise not from without but from within the tottering towers of power that even a Trump can no longer keep at bay.
- Herman, Arthur. The Idea of Decline in Western History (p. 2). Free Press. Kindle Edition.
- Greer, John Michael. Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America (pp. 268-269). New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Berman, Morris. Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline (Kindle Locations 2323-2333). John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition.
- Engdahl, F. William . Full Spectrum Dominance (Kindle Locations 2238-2244). . Kindle Edition.
- Nagle, Angela. Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan And Tumblr To Trump And The Alt-Right (Kindle Locations 138-154). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.