In the Last 60 years, there has been a profusion of writers lamenting the collapse of Western Civilization. Whether measured by the statistics of increased crime, increased family problems, loss of virtues, political or economic or ecclesiastical instability, most Catholic and Christian thinkers are in agreement. Western Civilization is in decline.
A google search for “the Decline of Western Civilization” seems to bolster this observation: 147,000 search results for this exact phrase, and this, in English only.
Butler Shaffer expressed a common, popular conception of this decline when. in 2009, he observed
It is interesting — albeit not pleasant — to witness the collapse of Western civilization. A vibrant system that once was productive of the material and intangible values supportive of human well-being, has reached a terminal state. Civilizing principles and practices that found sufficient — albeit inconstant — expression in Western societies, have deteriorated into an acceptance of corruption — provided it is carried out in high places — and the celebration of violence — provided it is directed against plausible categories of wrongdoers. In such ways has the multi-trillion dollar looting of taxpayers on behalf of an entrenched corporate-state plutocracy combined with the ongoing conduct of endless wars against endless enemies to send a morally, intellectually, and economically bankrupt culture to an awaiting black hole.
The editor of the Rogue Government Blog, wrote in 2010, that the collapse of Western Civilization was a complex consequence of non-rational political and social actors. He founds his analysis upon the observation that civilization is based upon, what he calls, “rational self-interest”, and that when the general population fails to cultivate this, internal order in the society fails, and the civilization collapses:
If reasonable men can agree to these rules, then society can become prosperous and enjoyable. If they reject them, then man is locked into a constant political war for resources. These ideas and ideals can be categorized as “rational self-interest” and extended to imply not only political but also economic principles. Rational self-interest entails mutual cooperation and trade of the fruits of one’s freely chosen labor so that people in a just societal order can pursue happiness of their own accord and allow others to do likewise. The proper and dignified life for man is one of personal challenge and triumph over obstacles, and the laissez-faire economic order provides all but the most helpless, clueless, and lazy the opportunity to eventually succeed.
When the clueless, the lazy and indolent are rewarded for such behavior, entropy takes over, and the end of civilization is inevitable, especially when these disgregational forces are impelled by political networks, such as socialists, progressives, and communists.
However, the Evangelical writer, James B. Jordan, writing in 2007, went deeper into the problem regarding the whole notion of “Western Civilization”. In the first installment of seven part essay, he drew attention to the fundament relationship between religion, history, and founders of culture:
Once that tradition is gone, the culture cannot be put back together. Cultures are not like stones in a wall, which if it crumbles can be rebuilt. Rather, cultures are like Humpty Dumpty. When an egg and its yoke are broken, then all the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot put it back together again. When a culture is gone — and ours is — the only valid possibility for the future is to lay the foundations for a new culture. Within the history of a culture, a Josiah can rebuild it; but when a culture is gone, new Abrahams are needed. When things fall apart, and the center can no longer hold, we must be Abrahams. Otherwise the rough beast will take over Bethlehem.
All these views of society collapse are cogent and not to be discounted. A recent Russian author, Dmitry Orlov, writing about the collapse of the Soviet Union, has studied the phenomena of society collapse in this new book, The Five Stages of Collapse; recently reviewed by Carolyn Baker, in April of this year. Orlov has proposed 5 solutions to each of the 5 aspects of society collapse, though he limits himself to a merely material analysis.
My own views as a Cultural Anthropologist
The entire concept of “civilization” is a very complex one, which cannot be summarily explained by simply one methodology or analysis. We can look at aspects of culture or society organization and seek to discern the causes and forces which are molding and changing them. But hard and fast empirical rules/laws are not to be found in the human sciences, simply because man is a free agent, not a necessary agent. Moreso, when you admit, as Christians do, that man is God’s creation, called by Him to eternal life, and ever the subject and object of His merciful interventions into History.
One aspect, therefore, I’d like to remark upon, is what I call the eSquandering of Civilization. The proliferation of electronic devices and means of communication, their fascination for the weak minded and those inclined more to sentimentalism and experientialism that rational cognitive reflection or meditation, is leading the vast mass of mankind to reduce his societal relationships to artificial means.
This is only a trend, not an absolute factor, as obviously, we still have predominately human personal interactions. But the trend, however so small, is having a remarkable impact on several particular aspects of society, which I enumerate here:
- The first of which is the neglect of reading serious literature.
- The second of which is the neglect of writing about serious matters.
- The third of which is the neglect of listening to what others are in fact saying.
- The fourth of which is the neglect of refraining from making an immediate reaction or comment.
- The fifth is the neglect of reflection or reasoned meditation.
Each is having an impact on a different aspect of what it means to be a civilized human being.
Take for example the constant use of the Internet and TV-services. The annual cost alone per family is squandering financial resources which could be used to purchase books for a family library, and thus create a permanent heritage of useful and worthwhile information accessible to themselves and their descendents. Instead, they pay monthly fees for monthly services, the utility of which is momentary, the value of which is temporary, and the effect of which is merely utilitarian, based on pleasing the emotions or serving practical affairs of daily life. The resulting loss to the book industry, means that thinkers who are worth being read, cannot get published; and thus society as a whole loses the precious gift of their contribution to civilization, which is thus squandered by neglect.
The lack of writing about serious matters, is causing the loss of the ability to think in a reasoned manner, because you cannot express yourself in writing about a serious topic, in a manner worthy to be listened to, without using the tools of reason. This means the loss of the acquisition of skills for writing, and thus the loss of future writers who would have influence the betterment of civilization by their contributions. The squandering of talent.
The neglect of listening is the most serious problem. Because without listening there is no communication or social relations based on reasoned discourse. And that means the utter collapse of society organization. The squandering of human relationships.
The neglect to refrain from immediate reaction, is reducing individuals’ ability to act on a rational basis rather that on gut-feelings or suspicions. This is leading to the formation of a culture based on irrational impulses, and thus to the creation of a new barbarism for societal order. The squandering of humanity.
The neglect to take time out and think seriously about a problem before speaking or writing or acting about is, is the final blow to civilization. It is leading the next generation into a culture where decision making skills are woefully lacking or impaired, when the decisions regard long term planning, prudential discernment, and the selection between what is lasting and what is ephemeral. And that means the next generation will not be able to sustain the civilized order when it is put at risk by calamitous events or urgent or severe problems. The squandering of intelligence.
A Christian solution to eSquandering
We are seeing the collapse of Western Civilization for all of the above reasons. We need to return to Our Lord and Maker, Jesus Christ, and learn again from Him, what it means to be human, civilized and rational. This we can do only with faith, prayer, and repentance from a culture of sinful preoccupation with the ephemeral, which is merely the result of an age which is so forgetful of God, that it is becoming oblivious to being itself.