Return of the Dark Ages?
Recently, in these pages, Spengler (David Goldman) used the examples of right-wing homosexual Milos Yiannopoulos and Chinese classical pianist Yuja Wang to illustrate the collapse of the value-system painstakingly erected over centuries by a fusion of Judeo-Christian morality and Greco-Roman ethics.
Also recently, Pankaj Mishra published a book entitled Age of Anger: A History of the Present, in which he proclaims the end of the era of “enlightenment” and the dawn of a new, but technically advanced and therefore even more dangerous, dark ages.
What is surprising to me is that anyone should consider these developments surprising. Leave aside the huge (or to quote the current president of The United States “yuge”) hypocrisy content of a civilization proclaiming those ideals while practicing human slavery, only ended in 1865 in that bastion of liberty, The United States, and in 1889 in Brazil, practically into the 20th Century. Let’s refer only to the past century itself, which was by far the bloodiest in the history of mankind. Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane must be green with envy in whichever circle of Hell they reside.
Three global wars, a devastating and long-lasting depression, the rise of totalitarianism of the right and left, and a dozen genocides, bookended by Norman Angell’s The Great Illusion of 1910 which heralded the end of wide-spread warfare and Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History eight decades later, which declared that political democracy and the market economy had triumphed permanently.
So much for morality and ethics and so much for the prophecies of the pundits. World War I began four years after the great illusion and the end of history lasted a bit longer – until 9/11/2001 heralded the first great global conflict of the 21th Century. Fifteen years later it is still raging with no end in sight and the vaunted Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman values are under vicious attack everywhere.
Goldman and Mishra are just as right as Angell and Fukuyama were wrong. But they perhaps do not go far enough. Not only values but the very fabric of civilized society is under attack, an attack using the most advanced technologies. The concept of truth, for example, which not many years ago would have seemed unquestionable is now more and more relative. Facts are what various groups and individuals say they are, not what they are in fact (sorry, couldn’t resist). A flaming example is last year’s declaration by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that the Jews never had anything to do with the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is the equivalent of declaring that the Roman Empire never existed and George Washington was a fictional character. This from an organization supposedly dedicated to education, science and culture.
As the West declines, who is rising? The unholy trinity of Iran, Russia and China, three states ranging from the totalitarian to the authoritarian; three countries run by kleptocratic elites hiding behind religious and secular dogmas. Two are already thoroughly nuclear equipped and the third will be in a few short years – yes, facilitated by those pillars of Western values the US, France, Great Britain and Germany. The great writers of satire could not have done better.
So what now? Where is the leadership or potential leadership to confront the forces of the new dark ages? Donald Trump? Angela Merkel? Francois Hollande? Our hypothetical satirist must be smirking in the background. Unless the remnants of Western Civilization can find the resources and above all the will to successfully confront the contemporary religious and secular fascists within and without, darkness will indeed continue to descend.