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What's wrong with the West?

The pervading atmosphere in the modern West is one of fear. Left, right and centre; it seems to be accepted in all circles that the West is approaching its spluttering end. We have come a long way in the three decades since Mr Fukuyama proclaimed the end of history, and looking back on it from our new, wisely pessimistic, vantage point we can see that claim for the trivial nonsense it is. Mr Fukuyama’s claim is one that has been regularly made over the world’s history. Whenever an empire reaches its zenith, foolish scholars clamber over one another to proclaim that perfection has been achieved and that their, beloved, civilisation will endure forever. It has never been true before, and I doubt very much it ever will be.

The comment that many, more optimistic, readers might make here is whether the same might be said for doom-mongers. They have been pervasive all through history; most have been wrong. Will future generations look back on people like myself in a similar way that we might look back at a Christian apocalypticist or worse, at a 18th Century Tory or a fanatical Luddite, fighting the flow of progress by stoking up fear of the future? It is a difficult question to answer. The only strong defence is that our civilisation will, one day, die. Whether that is in my lifetime or in the eventual heat-death of the universe, it will happen. And someone will correctly predict it. A great deal of the defence against claims about our decline come from people that cannot, seriously, imagine it collapsing at all. They think it impossible. Or, in the case of many Whigs, they know full well that the UK or the US could collapse at any time, but think themselves above such nationalistic concerns. They think Western civilisation can carry on in the arms of Eastern or Southern Asians, and that the fall of the European countries is no impediment to the spread of what they call ‘modern’ culture and commerce. I do not think this is correct.

I also reject that some of the earlier predictions of our fall were particularly inaccurate. Take the early 20th Century. There was a similar gloom permeating, socialism was rising in power, threatening to overthrow the old order completely. Then followed fascism, exhibiting a similar threat to our civilisation. For a writer at this time, the fall of the West was as obvious as it is to me now. Was he wrong? Perhaps in the long term. But in the meantime the largest war in history was fought to decide whether he would be. At one point in said war, the communists and the fascists had, between them, conquered all Europe but Britain. If it hadn’t have been for a handy civilisation backup generator the English had wisely installed on the other side of the Atlantic years previously, it would have been curtains on our culture and our values and our interwar writer would have been proved entirely correct. This time around we have no hidden stores of power. If Europe and North America fall, the West will fall. The infantile opinion that India will somehow grow to be our spiritual successor is an assumption that requires a complete lack of understanding about India. I will address it an article one day.

Even if the West is not nearing its end, I think it would take a man quite uniquely sheltered to say it is not approaching a clash. Most likely it will face schism within itself and almost certainly it will be sized up against China’s mercantile, dictatorial state and be found wanting. We must reform to save ourselves, but we mustn’t reform so much that we can no longer be called Western. This is the tightrope that all civilisations face if they want to survive. It is not enough to win, one must preserve one’s own character in the process. If China does prove a superior model of government, could we imitate it? Not without sacrificing everything we are trying to protect. If left-right clashes threaten to tear us asunder, could we crush one for the betterment of the whole? Not without succumbing to one of the two ideologies we fought off less than a century ago.

The Second world War only ended 75 years ago. Few of the problems that caused that war have been solved. The economy still rises and falls brutally, leading to depressions like the one that drove Germans into the arms of Hitler. The communists, despite the fall of the U.S.S.R, are back in full force, threatening to destroy every institution that we hold dear. People are more selfish and individualistic than ever before; the rise of the tech companies seem to mirror the rise of the industrialist oligarchs in the early 20th century. All these factors are now beginning to seem like irredeemable flaws in democracy, capitalism and individualism that cannot be righted without the reform of everything the characterises Western society. Arnold Toynbee once wrote that ‘civilisations are not murdered. Instead, they take their own lives’. This is enlightening when looking at the West of today. As worried as I am about China, our main issue seems to be our determination to destroy ourselves. I say with confidence that there has never been a culture before that is so self-critical and full of hate for itself. While this attitude leads to remarkably self-destructive policy, it is also a symptom of the empirical and self-reflective nature of the West that makes it so unique, and so great. Can the West solve these problems without destroying itself in the process? Probably not. The things that make this civilisation so wonderful are exactly its weaknesses, and they are weaknesses that different civilisations, like ‘communist’ China, do not have. China’s close control over the economy has helped smooth out their boom and bust cycle. Their party dictatorship keeps the engine of state purring without disruption, long term strategies can be implemented with confidence they will be able to see them out. Close control of speech prevents criticism that disrupts the peace and propaganda keeps the majority in support of every action, despite being denied a voice. Unpleasant though these things may sound to us, revolution in China does not seem to be forthcoming meanwhile, in the West, nations are shaken by violent mobs over every minor injustice, and even some made up ones.

Inequality is on the rise, the climate is failing, people even seem to be more miserable than ever before. The West’s utilitarian idea that material wealth is the meaning of life has been revealed as nonsense time and time again, yet we are too committed to it. Our economies balance on a knife edge, utterly dependant on increasingly wild levels of consumption. People are plastered with more freedoms and more rights and they respond by supporting movements like anti-natalism, the bleakest idea since suicide and a popular philosophy among the most privileged of my generation. But everything on this incoherent list of Western failings may be rendered moot by its biggest failing of all. A refusal to control our borders on humanitarian grounds has led to levels of migration utterly unheard of in human history, at least unheard of without an accompanying army. Demographics are changing so quickly it has become impossible to integrate new arrivals and whole communities of people now live in the West with no interest at all in preserving its values. Certainly, if trends continue, the UK of my grandchildren’s generation will be less liberal than it was a century prior.

So, what can be done? I am not a Western extremist. I don’t believe individuals are the only things with value in society. I am not economically neo-liberal. I think the idea that these things are a necessary part of Western culture is a falsehood; many of these ideas were very uncommon until fairly recently. If we allow ourselves room to move in our ideologies, perhaps we can maintain our way of life a little longer.

This is what this blog will be about. It will be a discussion of our civilisation, of politics, religion, literature and the future. I doubt anyone will be too interested in my opinion, but I feel l need to publish it somewhere, not least just to get it out of my own head. I will be using this site to ramble any thought that comes to mind, perhaps in a spirit similar to Mr Santayana’s Soliloquies in England, and I will appreciate any comment about what I have to say. That way the system can work a little like a brain-storming session. Left and right are welcome, but please remain open minded.

Kind Regards,

Mr Robert Penda