by Zory Petzova
The eponymous bestseller by O. Spengler, published exactly a century ago, has caused several generations of readers to melancholy pining at the idea of the inevitable decline inherent in the fate of Western civilization. Despite having perfectly grasped the causes of a decadent perspective, Spengler's thought has the theoretical flaw of considering the history of every civilization as a biological organism which, having completed its natural stages of development, eventually dies. In reality, what dies is not the physical body of civilization, but its elites and the territorial configuration of their domain, as well as the worldview they project onto the collective consciousness, while biologically the "body" is integrated and perpetuated by new demographic forces, regenerating or transforming into something new.
The history of the West is traced in this order of things: the Euro-American conglomerate has its cultural roots in the Greco-Roman civilization, but its biological body has never had well-defined parameters, it has always been extremely plastic, stratified from infinite ethno-cultural assimilations, adjacent or distant, which occurred over the centuries of expansion and incursions from the outside, while its history has always been marked by different rhythms, politically inhomogeneous and contrasted internally, with periods of strong and dramatic conflict and disintegration between the various social components, both on a transversal and horizontal scale. If the peculiarity of Western civilization lies in that anthropocentric vision of the world that perceives nature as an object of transformation and domination by man, it is equally true that it has had, and still has, a spirituality, several forms of spirituality, which transcend the plane of mere survival, so that the kind of propulsion of the historical dialectic, linked to the collective elaboration of the metaphysical dimension of existence, could still prove decisive.
It must be recognized that, despite the theoretical forcing of historical materialism which sees the development of society and of the human being from the perspective of linear and progressive time, some Western societies have not adhered to this "imperative of history", resorting to the possibility of slowing down the race to the future, to take a step sideways, to re-evaluate ancient cultural, spiritual, experiential or, in other words, to prefer a more conservative and traditional paradigm. In reality, the conservative forces in Western civilization have never waned, but in the last century, it [the civilization] has been strongly dominated by the progressive culture, which has pervaded both the fields of politics and the financial and the techno-scientific fields. Spengler's prophetic intuition was useful precisely in predicting the decadent effects of this development, giving birth to his work even before he became a witness to a Germany in ruins, defeated by war. The author had grasped the signs of a "sinister" destiny in the very will of bourgeois society to destroy everything that belonged to the old order, staggering under the blows of its own illusions and utopias.
In the vision of the German philosopher, each civilization is characterized by a soul where its history is preserved and where a common destiny is cultivated. In the ascending period of a civilization (Kultur), predominate spiritual and moral values that give meaning to community existence, which is organized into orders, castes, hierarchies. Each people carries in their hearts a deep religious sentiment that pervades art, politics, economics and literature. When civilization begins to age, its soul (its spirit) weakens and passes to the stage of Zivilisation, where the principle of quality is replaced by the quantity that dominates through the standardization of tastes, the standardization of differences and the commodification of all values. For Spengler one of the factors of the decline is the abandonment of the countryside and of a life on a human scale, replaced by megalopolis as an extreme form of indifferentism, where the human dimension is leveled and replaced by hedonism and money as an end in itself.
For Spengler, the main cause of the decline is inherent in the very engine of civilization, and more properly in the bourgeoisie as the main social force that pulls history under the new symbol of power (money) through the propaganda of the media that continually promote and strengthen the interests and the value system of the bourgeoisie. The German historian's intuition about the deleterious role of the media is formidable, even if it takes a few decades to arrive at Chomsky's great work (composed of several works) dedicated to the sociological study of the manipulation and control system of public opinion through the mass media. In his studies, in addition to highlighting the link between neo-capitalist financial power and media propaganda, the American sociologist offers a revealing description of media mechanisms and their pervasiveness, including "hidden censorship", which is achieved simply by choosing priority and hierarchical structure of the news. The same sources of information establish this hierarchy by being linked to the economic and political potentates who deselect alternative sources, suppressing the pluralism of information itself and providing a single interpretation - what we now call mainstream. However, the most all-encompassing function of the media, which Spengler could not have imagined, is not the only distortion of truth, but the very creation of an illusory reality, causing mass social behavior and phenomena, where the reason and the critical sense of the individual are totally canceled. It is in this short circuit that the most devastating effect of the media is contained because, in addition to subjecting individuals to a continuous bombardment of information, it relegates them to a false but exclusive world narrative, blocking the very process of objective knowledge of reality (the episteme).
Over the last century, Western culture, understood as a complex of intellectual, religious and artistic manifestations, is progressively expanded by the development of sciences and new technologies, which overlap with industrial progress and trade. Thus the prophecy of the imminent sunset, of a deeply skeptical Spengler towards progress, joins the new domain of scientific positivism. When man is the only and indisputable agent of scientific discovery, culture understood as a common identity ceases to have the primary role in the formation of individuals, because it is the single individual who determines the processes of transformation and change of culture. The common culture ceases to be the protective lump of what is a stable and closed system of ideas and society becomes an open platform for events of innovation, competition, exchange and interconnections. The culture of the individual becomes something interpretable and relative that changes constantly and in this way falls into the mercy of those who manage to impose themselves and dictate the rules of culture, which are market rules, in a powerful way.
Updated in our days, this order of things gives us the framework in which the same politics is co-opted and subjected to the pre-eminence of the techno-scientific paradigm, making the legislative process free from any regulation the big-farm-tech corporations that operate on the global market. The banking and financial deregulation, triggered with the abolition of the Steagall act in 1999 by B. Clinton, is followed by the promotion and full confidence in the new "bigs" of the economy and their promises for the future, where the States themselves are to pay large sums of public money to the latter. So it happens that, again in the field of US politics, in 2008 B. Obama becomes the first president to refuse public funding to break through the spending ceiling that otherwise would have been imposed on him in the election campaign, opening the door to unlimited funding by the big-farm-tech corporations. No downward change even on the part of the new Democrat candidate J. Biden, whose exploit shows not only the definitive mutation of the democratic party into an ultra-liberal party, but the race for radical change towards a post-democratic society, where the electoral vote will no longer have any meaning because it will be decided by computer algorithms.
In a figurative perspective, we can say that the current pandemic wanted to be the representation of the cracked order of the system, of the social chaos caused by an "unexpected" that creates mistrust not only in the ability of the institutions to deal with it, but also in the existential role of the real economy, which becomes almost useless and cumbersome. This crisis of confidence can be fully replaced by technology and science as the new legislators, who enjoy an almost dematerialized, almost green, aura. Moreover, announce that the control of the situation is possible, because they have the vaccine - the public good global most coveted in history, but to have it you need a punishment, a purgatory: the imposition of the lockdown and the mask not as protective measures of scientific validity, but as symbols of religious obedience towards the new rulers. The arguments of the exponents of technocratic power are no longer empirical, but moralistic and religious, functional to a new "sacred order". But an authority that is trying to blame and punish its subjects, not only demonstrates that it does not have the means to change reality towards an acceptable order, but recognizes that it cannot do so transparently, and through persistence and repression it does not than to declare one's frustration, and therefore one's failure.
We live in a liberal society, centered on the idea that freedom is guaranteed by law: this is the founding principle of Western civilization. The cult of freedom (the blessing of freedom), enshrined in the American Constitution, is total, but the pandemic has made us understand the intrinsic contradictions of the democratic system (which, according to Spengler, was oligarchic by definition) has made it clear that neo-liberalism is based on positivism understood as order and progress. So, if one or the other fails (order due to an epidemic, or progress due to an economic crisis), then freedom is suppressed without much hesitation, reducing the free citizens into helpless subjects. This is because guaranteed freedom is not freedom, but an instrument of control. In other words, what is freedom in the Western value system?
To better understand the current state of things, we need to return to the etymology of the concepts. For the ancient Greeks, freedom (Eleutheria) had three meanings: free is who is born of parents who are not slaves, who is not subservient to the foreigner and who is not subservient to a tyrant. It is not an abstract and ideal freedom, but a physical freedom, inherent in the social statute. Modernity enriches the concept of freedom with the set of inviolable rights, such as the right to life, property, freedom of thought, religious and political freedom, where it is implied that if these rights are violated by the authorities, the subjects are entitled to oppose and overthrow these authorities. With these principles, developed by Locke, the concept of liberal freedom is introduced. However, it is substantially transformed by Rousseau and his Social Contract, where freedom is defined as the obedience of citizens to the laws they have given themselves, only that for the deliberation of such laws the principle of majority is not valid (as in Locke), but of a virtuous elite who embodies the "general will". For Rousseau whoever does not obey the laws or rejects them violates the "general will" and must be forced by the sovereign body to correct itself, must be "forced to be free". The Roussian conception of freedom becomes not only communitarian, but of a coercive nature and there is no doubt that this conception coincides perfectly with the logic of management of the current pandemic, where the obligations imposed must not be discussed for their sensibility or not, but accepted as proof of altruism, confirming a civic sense that imposes its own dictatorship.
The future of the West is all about its three founding pillars - Freedom, Democracy and Episteme, which are the coding DNA of this civilization. If the core of his spirit is damaged, there will be a sunset without a resurrection, an indefinite wasting and agony. The pillar of the episteme, as previously pointed out, is today seriously compromised by information and its means of dissemination which tendentiously divert objective knowledge of reality. As for the pillar of democracy, it would be superfluous to dwell here on its conceptual interpretation and practical-political implementation, but it would be necessary to recall a fairly premonitory fact: when democracy takes shape in Athens in the 6th century BC, it was born against the oligarchies. It was born for a government of the many against the privileges of the few and the descent of its parable roughly coincides with the decay of the Hellenistic civilization and the advent of Roman domination. During the Roman rule the concept of democracy disappeared, replaced by the category of law and the "res publica". Unlike the Greeks, the Romans brought the application of technology and rational intervention in the natural order to much more efficient levels. But although there may be a vague analogy between the dynamics of then and the dynamics of today, it must be specified that there can be no comparison between the Roman imperialist elite and the western globalist elite, because what we know today is an elite incomparably stupid and disastrous. The democracy of modern Western systems, mainly representative, is based on transparency and compliance with complex electoral rules and procedures, but it remains a pure formality when the bodies that govern the West are formed without being elected by anyone, operating in total self-referentiality.
Today the pessimism of Spengler's "The decline of the West" gives breath to those who distance themselves from Euro-Atlanticism by looking at the Asian economic boom with admiration and reverent devotion, without realizing that Asian countries are the hyper doubled product of neoliberal globalization, where social injustice, lack of rights and environmental unsustainability are much more exasperated than in the West. It is precisely because the countries of the East obsessively aspire to Western standards and the status symbols of consumerism created by European ingenuity, the West should withdraw into itself, drawing a new-old image of itself from its enormous mnemonic potential, but above all by renewing its elite, because the West is the only civilization that knows how to rethink itself, reflecting on the rest of the world.
The rebirth of the West, rather than from a geopolitical war, will come from the liberating revelation of unspeakable secrets that have been affecting its hierarchical order for decades and that will be made public. Secrets that have produced infinite forms of censorship, increasingly fueling the implosion of the system. How long has the West lived in a state of asphyxiation without being able to say the name of its oppressor? Undergoing the suppression of language and thought itself, at levels never before in its history: the tyranny of fairness.
"The West is nostalgic for its Athens with its values and intellectual resources: democracy, tolerance, freedom of speech, philosophy, agora, science, ethics, poetry, tragedy. For a long time it had Jerusalem which gave laws, models of behavior, prescriptions, prohibitions, theories, mystifications. Athens teaches us about beauty and how to think ethically. In Jerusalem, ethics are replaced by the ten commandments, by rules to be obeyed, by left-wing authoritarianism." (Gilad Atzmon)
The confrontation in the West is metaphysical and spiritual and there are real figures who cover it. The stage on which the story is decided is before our eyes and we, for better or for worse, are directly involved.
Original column by Mrs. Zory Petzova (Scholar of social paradoxes in their multiplicity and interference with human nature):
Translation by Costantino Ceoldo
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