“There were whispered arguments between our parents while we watched TV—arguments about changing the rules, we gathered, that applied to all of us, the dads and moms as well as the kids…”
Naomi Wolf in Promiscuities (1997) on San Francisco in 1970.
During the last ninety odd years Western civilisation has been coming to an end in three revolutions: the Russian and German revolutions, and the Second American Revolution which is still shaping life in the West today. Let me clarify three key terms.
First, a civilisation. A civilisation is essentially a grounded hierarchy of rules covering all of life and making sense, which a community’s rulers and ruled subscribe to over a long period. The community is motivated to keep reproducing itself by the sense that it finds in its set of rules, its framework for life. Some of the rules are circumstantial and therefore changeable; others are essential, forming the civilisation’s defining core.
European or western civilisation. Constructed in Western Europe in the twelfth century AD by Latin, Germanic and Celtic Christians, it later crossed the Atlantic and other seas and lasted into the twentieth century. Its set of essential rules of behaviour made sense to our ancestors for nearly a thousand years.
A revolution. It begins with a group of people who adhere to a new ideology which they believe contains the formula for a good and just life. These believers take possession of a nation’s central government and by unconstitutional means increase its power. Using that augmented power, they preach their ideology, establish new rules derived from it, empower those who support these rules, and disempower opponents. This process takes at least twenty years, maybe thirty or more.
Until the first half of the twentieth century there existed a tacit agreement of European nations, at home and overseas, that all political and military action must respect—or after a transgression re-assert—the essential rules of European civilisation. This tacit agreement applied also to revolutions: the new rules which a revolution enduringly established must not breach the essential European rules. The Irish Revolution and the Italian Fascist revolution operated within this framework.
But three revolutions, in three powerful countries, Russia, Germany and the USA, rejected the rules system of European civilisation. The revolutionaries, finding that European civilisation unjustly limited their power to create the good life they envisaged, made new rules that, while forbidding certain behaviours, justified states and individuals doing things which European civilisation forbade. The Russian revolution maintained its post-European rules system for 70 years. The German Revolution was beginning to establish its rules when it was overthrown. From the 1960s onwards the second American revolution established its post-European rules system in its own country and, by proxy, in Western Europe. That rules system is still in force.
The second American Revolution
The second American revolution began in 1933 during thee Great Depression when Franklin D. Roosevelt became President. The American revolutionaries were Left liberals who called themselves simply “liberals”. Their liberalism required a big and powerful State shaping the lives of people for their good.
Roosevelt brought them to power as advisors and colleagues because he was convinced that their demand for a “Big State” was the best means of tackling the Depression. His New Deal programme greatly increased the power of the Federal Government. When the Supreme Court pronounced twelve New Deal measures unconstitutional, Roosevelt, in effect, got a new Constitution by appointing left-liberal judges who declared the measures constitutional. In 1940, in disregard of American precedent, Roosevelt was elected President for a third term, and later, while America was at war, he sought and won election for a fourth term.
The Big State which the left liberals created reached its apogee with the manufacture of the atomic bomb, its use against two Japanese cities, and the official justification of the resulting massacres. This justification of massacre signalled to the liberals that the State they had worked to create was likely to approve those elements of their programme that rejected other core rules of Western civilisation.
The aim of their programme, given the Big State, was to bring about a perfect human condition. For that purpose, first, there must be an end to the tacit recognition of Christianity as America’s ‘national’ religion, and to the consequent role of Christian morality as a determinant of behavioural rules. Second, categories of citizens who were legally or otherwise unequal must be raised or lowered to legal equality, so as to bring about a fraternity of individuals, equal in law and in their treatment by their fellows. Third, all citizens must have access to education and health services and be equipped with buying power. And finally, with due regard to the rights of others, the desires of individuals must be recognised as rights and realised as far as possible.
Implicit in that programme were Black civil rights and radical feminism; normalisation of homosexuals and of unmarried mothers and their offspring; political and financial empowerment of young people; maximal facilitation of the physically deficient; invalidation of intrinsic personal authority such as that possessed by clergy, males, parents, teachers and the aged; ample social welfare; unshackling of sex and of pornography; legalisation of abortion; and a blank cheque for science. Implicit, therefore, in their programme was a new collection of rules many of which would replace essential European rules, which were traditional in the USA and which they deemed oppressive or unjust.
The culmination of the revolution
Their chance to implement their programme fully came in the 1960s and early 70s. when the US Government and manufacturing industry needed to increase consumption, with its dual yield of revenue and profit. The Government, committed to reaching the Moon, was waging the Cold War and the Vietnam war. Manufacturing industry with the help of computers and automation was producing more goods than it could sell. First Government, then also manufacturing industry, perceived in the unfulfilled parts of the liberal agenda the means of increasing consumption and the consequent money yield.
So from the 1960s, the American state began endorsing that agenda through Supreme Court rulings and by legislation. Under the liberal President, Lyndon Johnson, the revolution made its great breakthrough. In the Partisan Review for Winter 1967, Susan Sontag, high-priestess of the American intelligentsia, set the tone for those decisive years when she wrote:
If America is the culmination of the Western white civilisation, as everyone from the Left to the Right declares, then there must be something terribly wrong with Western white civilisation….The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilisation has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of world history.
Campus campaigns against ‘Western white civilisation’ continued into the Nixon 70s. The teachers of the post-western, liberal rules of correct behaviour came to function as a sort of secular State Church or informal, doctrinally paramount “Party”. Since its role had to do with defining correct thought and behaviour, to call it the liberal ‘Correctorate’ seems appropriate.
The principal preaching space allotted to the liberals was in the mass media, including films. But their dominance of the mass media was dependent on, and shared with, business big and small, inasmuch as these same media were the principal public space where businessmen paid to advertise their goods-for-sale. Because their advertising campaigns, like the liberals’ teaching, amounted to telling people how they should act, live and be—much of it, for example, had to do with personal body care—they de facto formed a part of the State-licensed Correctorate. Thus a conjunction of all the interests involved made up that state-liberal system, with ethical, economic, technological and political dimensions, which contemporaries called “consumerism”.
Consumerism spreads to Western Europe
Pressure from the USA led to the imposition of the new State-liberal system in America’s West European satellites. London became the centre from which the new rules system reached Ireland and the Continental countries. The aim of the American rulers was to widen the area of maximal money yield and to counter, with a display of “permissiveness” and prosperity, the communist indoctrination of Eastern Europe. In each West European State, successively, elements of the mass media spearheaded the new rules; a national Correctorate took shape; the media as a whole conformed; and the rulers, in varying degrees, gave legal force to the new teachings and placed correctors at key points in the state administration.
Through the mass media, the Correctorates managed public opinion, Allocating public honour to conforming elements, they hounded or effectively silenced dissident groups and individuals, and dissident writings and speeches. In the Member-States of the European Community, they worked in collaboration with the liberal party in the Community’s central administration, lauding the latter’s liberal directives and insisting on their meticulous implementation.
The net result, with regard to rules to live by, was that a collection of non-Western rules, combined with some surviving Western rules, became the reigning and widely accepted system of do’s, don’ts and do-as-you-likes of North America and much of Europe, Ireland centrally included.
Not a new civilisation
This post-European collection of rules did not constitute a new civilisation. It lacked a civilisation’s basic prerequisite: it did not make sense to the peoples it was presented to for adoption. Thrown together by a late-European ideological sect and its supporting governments, to promote justice, virtue, consumption and power, its sponsors treated overall sense as superfluous. Its rules system constituted, like that of its Soviet counterpart, a utopian experiment not shaped into sense by combined human instinct, reason and experience.
Take a random array of don’ts as taught and administered by the Correctorate. No intelligible ranking of incorrectness was indicated as between don’t kill people with non-state-sponsored bombs, don’t be fat or speak badly of Jews or urge that a law should reflect Christian morality; don’t be smelly or invade another country without the authority of the United Nations or smoke in an enclosed public space or say that homosexuality is a perversion or “deny the Holocaust”; don’t torture prisoners, pollute a river, ban pornography, present women as sex-objects or prevent them aborting offspring, or restrict what adults read, view, say, write or think; and don’t, if a man, beat your wife or pursue a female in the office.
Leave aside the obvious contradictions. Because the consumers did not have available a grounded exposition by the Correctorate of which of these incorrectnesses was gravely, less gravely or only somewhat incorrect, they had perforce to try to gauge this from the Correctorate’s reactions or non-reactions to incorrectnesses as they occurred. And the teaching thus delivered was bafflingly dual. On the one hand, it was to the effect that all behaviours or thoughts forbidden by the Correctorate were, for a variety of variously grounded reasons, very grave. On the other hand, the same teaching indicated—read the contemporary newspapers—that the gravity of many incorrectnesses was greater, lesser or cancelled, depending on who committed them or why; or if there were victims, on which nation, creed, party or sex they belonged to. Inevitably, the conclusion drawn by the consumers was that all the Correctorate’s don’t rules were of more or less equal importance, and were in practice not actually rules.
Virtual do-as-you-likes operated alongside the dos and don’ts. They operated, for example, for art in all its forms, for official killing in righteous wars, as for dress, dancing, social manners, propriety of speech, modes of personal address, utterances about Catholics, Germans, Arabs or other non-protected groups, and for relations with the supernatural on condition that these were kept private. A special do-as-you-like applied to the state of Israel.
For the use of the human reproductive organs the Correctorate’s rule ran as follows: provided that minors and adults use their reproductive organs separately, that if more than one user is involved there is mutual consent, and that a contraceptive is employed unless conception is intended, do as you like in private, or in public to gratify a paying audience.
Reactions to the senselessness
It was not simply that this chaos of rules did not make sense. It was also experienced as senselessness by those white Westerners to whom its white Western sponsors presented it as a life framework. For the most part, they experienced it as senselessness unreflectively, in that depth of their being where generations before them had trained them by heredity to assess—in a combined act of reason, feeling and intuition—any presentation purporting to be a framework for life. And that encounter with senselessness, when their minds and hearts were seeking sense, sent distress pressing into their consciousness. To be precise, white Westerners found that consciousness of the collection of rules-to-live-by that was presented to them was accompanied by a pain of soul—a hunger for sense and a feeling of offence that it was not being provided. Nothing more natural, then, than that they should want to annul that pain and, collectively, feel little desire to reproduce that white western life.
The pain was abundantly evidenced by the many tons of mood-changing and hallucinating drugs imported into the West every month; the huge production and sale of pharmaceutical antidotes to psychic distress; the profusion since the 1960s of professional soul-healers of many different kinds; the many methods from big rock concerts to binge-drinking by which young people tried to achieve some suspension of consciousness; and the high incidence of suicide mainly by men and of self-harming by girls and women. Those were the years in the history of Europe when women stopped singing as they went about their housework, and boys stopped whistling in the street.
The West’s protracted suicide
When people encounter in their collective life a famine of sense, motivation to reproduce that life flags. In the latter decades of the twentieth century the fertility of white westerners fell increasingly beneath the necessary average for population stability of 2.1 children per woman. In the USA the government forecast that white people would be a minority there by 2042. For the European Union the fertility rate was 1.5, and several of the larger European countries were expecting sharp declines in population in the next twenty-five years.
The demographic situation of the white West repeated that of Communist Russia in the latter decades of the Soviet Union. While rampant vodka addiction was lowering Russian male life expectancy, Russians noted with dismay that in the foreseeable future, due to their low fertility rate, they would constitute a minority in the Union.
The key thing that human beings look for, subconsciously, in the life framework presented to them by authority is that it privileges reproduction, that is, the conception and birth of children and the cared-for raising of them to puberty. If the proffered set of rules does this, it is possible that the rules as a whole will make sense to them. But if such privileging is not evident, then the entire rules system will appear senseless. In the white West from the latter part of the twentieth century, the prevalent set of rules downgraded and discouraged reproduction by privileging recreational sex of every kind, preferably with a contraceptive. Hence, fundamentally, the ongoing protracted suicide of the white West.
Consumerism’s ersatz sense
The consumerist-liberal system had an effective means of countering, in day-to-day living, the conscious impact of the hunger pain. On top of the training that people had inherited from the generations before them in assessing for sense the life presented to them, another skin-deep training was now superimposed. From tender years onwards, the consumerist economy, and its accompanying teaching, conditioned them to accept an ersatz sense in place of the real sense they craved for.
This ersatz sense was provided, mainly, by the continuously increasing power to buy things and to do things which the consumerist economy supplied to individual consumers as well as to states and business firms. For the consumers, the persuasive force of this increasing power to buy and do was actualised in two interlocked ways. Repeatedly it enabled them to acquire more, bigger or costlier things, and these included the powers of new gadgets and machines that enabled them to do more things than they previously could. The result was that most consumers, most of the time, believed in the surface of their minds that, despite the stress of living it, this present life was a good life.
As the new Millennium arrived, that was the situation. For as long as the power to buy and do of governments and consumers kept increasing, the West’s post-European system would continue to function. It still had some years to go before it would match the 70-year life span of its more conservatively post-European Soviet counterpart. That the Ameropean system could last as long as did its former antagonist seemed possible. That it could endure much longer was excluded by the extreme fragility of its life-support mechanism.
Inevitably, within a matter of years, there would be an end to the continuous increase of the power to buy and do, and with that the main source of the system’s ersatz sense and social glue would vanish. Nothing would then remain to prevent the direct and continuous impact of its senselessness on the consciousness of westerners, nor to make the system’s senseless and unloved life framework seem a good life. Bereft of its life-support mechanism, the chaos of its values and rules would translate into violent social chaos and disintegration.
Postscript fifty years from now
What was inevitable happened. With that, the final episode in the staggered and war-filled end of European civilisation concluded. The three successive powerful rejections of it within less than a century had indicated a shared conviction among twentieth-century Europeans, in Europe and overseas: a conviction that the civilisation which their ancestors had created, and which had enabled them to lead and dominate the world, had exhausted its usefulness and required replacement.
The two replacements, Russian and American, which lasted through several generations, failed because neither of them provided the only adequate substitute: a new civilisation. Instead, they offered utopian constructions fashioned by the pursuit of unlimited power and perfect justice, which the peoples involved experienced as senseless. And so it was that, in the historical succession of great civilisations, Europe’s followed Rome’s and ended.
The full text of this essay is at www.desmondfennell.com