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Decadence

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, "A Favorite Poet"

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, “A Favorite Poet”

2,428 words

Delivered to the H. L. Mencken Club, November 1, 2013

About two years ago, when I was still very young, I bumped into a copy of the abridged version of Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of Historywherein he tried to establish a taxonomy of civilizations, a successful effort, it seemed to me, that allowed him to delineate the surprisingly few genuine civilizations — some 23 according to him — that have ever actually existed. Inspired by this effort, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been possible to construct a classification system for societies that have experienced decadence.

It’s clear I think that the decadence that accompanied the collapse of the western part of the Roman Empire was not at all like that of Weimar Germany, for instance. Rome had been overwhelmed by alien occupation, whereas Germany seems to have experienced a sort of moral breakdown in the wake of its defeat in the First World War. Both societies were experiencing economic problems, but there have been very many societies that have been through economic disruption without however falling into decadence. The decadence of Rome and of Weimar Germany therefore seem to have had very different causes. We know that viral meningitis is quite unlike the bacterial variety.

The story of Rome is the story of huge success eventuating in an empire that reduced the individual to a grain of sand, relieved him of responsibility, and created a heterogeneous world in which people no longer recognized each other and no longer felt themselves part of an organic society. Alexander was no doubt a remarkable personality, but his empire, like those of Rome, or of Persia, or of the Soviet Union, ended in decadence, as indeed all empires seem to do, provided they endure long enough. Moreover his project of folding Greece into a world-wide empire marked the end of Greece’s cultural importance.

On balance, it may be that poor countries are less available to decadence than rich ones. The United States, for example, are very rich, even today, but that hasn’t thwarted the onset of our own particular form of decadence which is mostly the result, I think, of too much prosperity, and too much good luck extended over too long a period.

Prosperity dissolves self-discipline and makes it possible for people to engage in antinomian behaviors that are not in their own, or their nation’s, best interests. There is nothing especially immoral about plumbers and electricians believing they have the right to live in $500,000 houses, even though that belief may involve great danger to the over-all economy. Today we see millionaire parents demanding tax-supported scholarships for their offspring, the same millionaire parents who don’t hesitate to lay out thousands of dollars for corrective dental surgery for their pet poodles. These are the symptoms of a society that has become “unrealistically” rich, and unrealistically secure, and that has lost any understanding of the real world that lies in wait just on the other side of the hill.

We have become a nation that has made it unnecessary for prosperous people ever to serve in the military and is willing to defend itself with women serving in front-line combat. Whenever you think our country has become as decadent as it is possible for any society to be, just wait till tomorrow. We’re a rich country, and if we don’t wish to perform military service, we can always hire someone else to do the job for us. We are reminded of the time when Romans lost interest in defending themselves, and chose to sub-contract the job out to illegal immigrants. Not that ever we would behave like that.

Prosperity encourages parents to turn decision making over to their children. The ethos and culture of modern America is essentially an adolescent construct. If my grandfather’s children had attempted to preempt his authority, those children would have had to go through life with some very serious physical disabilities.

Prolonged prosperity is an abnormal condition, and tends to produce abnormal people. For most of history, simple survival has been the first concern. Without that challenge, most people have trouble deciding how to make use of their advantages, especially after the pleasures of consumerism, drugs, and women begin to pall, which usually happens rather quickly. Today we have a government that requires health insurance plans to cover the cost of contraceptives while with the other hand providing for fertility treatments.

Fertility is therefore seen as a disease and as a desideratum at the same time. Moving right along, government may soon, or perhaps already has agreed to subsidize the cost of abortion, a generous provision that cancels the onerous need for women to take a little pill in the morning. Conclusion? Abortions must be a lot of fun.

Yet another result of advanced decadence is the emergence of a class of fantastically wealthy people who find themselves in urgent need of psychotropic drugs and weekly visits to the neighborhood psychiatrist. Today the divorce rate is as high as it has ever been, a reflection of the self-indulgence that renders people incapable of the give and take of marriage.

It may be that decadence is inevitable for people who are not in danger. “Live dangerously,” Nietzsche recommends. The Greek city-states were always in danger, both from each other and from barbarian invasion. Elizabethan England was never so culturally productive as when she found herself under imminent attack from Spain.

Small countries, always in danger, seldom fall into decadence. The tiny states of Greece or Renaissance Italy or Colonial America, places where people actually knew each other and actually depended upon each other, lived much more vivid lives, I believe, than the unfortunate subjects of multinational empires who are looked upon as fungible parts of a complicated machine. Life in Republican Rome must have been far more pleasant than under the Empire, and never mind that the Empire was far wealthier than the Republic.

Hellenistic Greece was much richer than Hellenic Greece, and much worse. And so I think that prolonged prosperity is not only the chief cause of our sort of decadence, but also its chief historic characteristic.

Societies that are not prosperous bestow authority on males, as males are more necessary for survival. The male is better equipped to build a log cabin, or kill Indians, or chop down trees. But when a society becomes prosperous, women can play a larger part, and are able to discharge the necessary functions of a settled community. And when a society becomes very rich and stays that way for a long time, those activities in which women are equal or superior come more and more into prominence. Clearly a good society must include the female spirit, and a world without proportionate female participation would be a hell on earth. But in decadence, the tastes and preferences of women may actually come to dominate and to set up quite another kind of hell, the kind we see today in this country, where empathy and niceness and maternalism trump society’s more essential requirements. Nothing can be easier than sitting in a darkened room with a cocktail in one hand while generating compassionate thoughts, a cost-free sort of activity that contrasts poorly with the more masculine virtues of courage, creativity, and intellection. You can read a thousand advice columns today and consult a hundred therapists and never hear any of those words mentioned.

It’s as if you were house hunting, and you’re mostly concerned about the building’s structure while your wife is mostly concerned about the wallpaper. A political candidate who “feels your pain,” and has a sweeter smile than his opponent will sweep the female vote and almost certainly win. This is a symptom of a society that is overly-feminized, overly tenderized, with a condescending view of life in which everyone stands in need of help. Those not in need of help are assumed by liberal women to be almost assuredly evil. They enjoy granting compassion to all living things, but would be humiliated to have it applied to themselves. They harbor tender feelings for certain American Indian tribes that, oddly enough, used women as baggage carriers and articles of trade. Our denatured urban elites have never forgiven the country for refusing affirmative action benefits for the Iroquois. Attitudes are very different among the urban poor, who actually know something about life’s unpleasant features, and who are less susceptible to decadence than to barbarism. It was George Bernard Shaw who is credited with saying that America might be the first society to go from barbarism to decadence without ever passing through civilization. It didn’t seem to occur to him that America could do both decadence and barbarism at the same time.

Without insisting that cultural decline is common to all decadent societies, there’s no doubt that it’s common to ours. A high culture demands an educational platform, and education in America today, with rare exceptions, has become simply a form of egalitarian indoctrination. In the minds of today’s educators, it is far more important for multiracial students to join hands and sing folk songs together than to learn math, or history, or anything else. It wasn’t so terribly long ago that a big city like New York would have a dozen FM radio stations offering classical music around the clock. I’ve been told that no such stations, or very few certainly, still exist. It wasn’t too terribly long ago that publishers were at least partly interested in serious fiction and would try to promote it. Today those publishers have become parts of conglomerates and are interested solely in being able to report good profits to their ownerships. The word “literary” makes a modern publisher groan with exasperation. It sounds so snobbish, that word. I once asked an editor if William Faulkner could be published today, if he weren’t already famous. “Of course not,” she replied. It’s far more profitable to publish mid-brow pulp aimed at well-dressed semi-educated feminist career women domiciled in the big coastal cities. As for the big newspapers, they have just about unanimously fallen into the hands of professional Left-wing agitators, hippies in amber, militating on behalf of political correctness.

Perhaps it’s in common discourse and social behavior that our decadence most readily displays itself. Adults speak like children, and have the same enthusiasms. We have seen fifty-year-old men in short pants and sandals with their shirttails hanging out. Sixty-year olds attending rock concerts. The normalization of gutter speech, the scatological imperative, the coarsening of everything, the replacement of romance by acrobatic sex, the fashion among the young for the most unattractive clothing, tattoos, grotesque haircuts, the demonization, especially among the young, of accomplishment and pride — these are the symptoms of a society in which the young are having a more and more difficult time finding something to rebel against, the crisis of a fissiparous population trying to move in twenty different directions at once.

But these ills fade into complete inconsequentiality when compared to radical egalitarianism, a disastrous philosophy that might very well bring about the collapse of a civilization that, starting from the Greeks, has enhanced human life more than all other civilizations added up together.

In a perfectly egalitarian world, there can be no values of any kind. How could anyone be inspired to achieve anything if his achievement is viewed, perhaps even by himself, as of no more consequence than a cup of tea? Why do cancer research when it’s so much more profitable to be a pornographic actor? How could anyone be so unfair as to imagine that some work of art is superior to any other? Everyone knows that all societies are equal, save possibly for the one that arose in Germany in 1933. Who would wish to attend a football game if the players were all absolutely equal? Because in that case, victory would simply be an accident, granting glory to no one. It infuriates egalitarians that some people have more money than others, but doesn’t seem to trouble them, yet, that some people are more intelligent than others or more personable or better-looking.

To make judgments, according to post-modern thinking, is to be biased, and if a person genuinely wishes to prove how fair-minded he is, then really he ought to select his spouse by lottery. Indeed, it seems clear that a great many people have already resorted to that expedient.

Equality incurs tolerance, and tolerance has become but another word for nihilism. It’s easy to be tolerant, if you don’t believe in anything. A civilization practicing high standards must perforce be highly intolerant, becoming more and more intolerant as it becomes better and better.

Equality is possible only at low levels. A society in which everyone is very bad is entirely feasible, but the opposite is not. To promote equality is to promote a form of mediocrity always falling lower.

Today, the pursuit of wall-to-wall equality has not only very largely succeeded but has actually surpassed itself inasmuch as the worst people are now viewed as the best. If you wish to become a talk show host, it’s highly advisable to have practiced sexual deviancy, or to have a criminal record. For famous people, it’s preferable to have your children outside of marriage. Anyone who believes our leaders ought to have at least some allegiance to principles that are the result of thousands of years of trial and error will be seen as a comic figure, hopelessly obsolete. Truly, we have seen that “transvaluation of all values” that might have seemed so attractive to some of us when we were young. Today, those who believe in the possibility of supernal values are viewed as atavists, credulous people who like to imagine there’s more to life than the pursuit of pleasure. (Such people, by the way, are usually those who don’t know what real pleasure really is.) For them, life is but a hailstorm of molecules, and the only restraint on behavior is whether a person can make a profit out of it, or at least get away with it.

Can a civilization like ours continue for very long? We have seen that the western half of Rome fell in the 5th century, but we also know that the eastern half continued on for another thousand years. My view of America is that it probably will subsist for a long time as a rich and powerful country, but that its civilizational and, if I may used the word, its spiritual quotient will remain in subfreezing territory for as long as it continues on.

 

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12 Comments

  1. R_Moreland
    Posted March 22, 2014 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    http://www.counter-currents.com

    Some thoughts:

    I have studied the history of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and asked, how did it happen? Or more importantly, how could the Romans have let it happen?

    OK, now I understand. Just look at today: mass third world migrations into the first world; declining white birthrates; the bread & circuses of the welfare-infotainment state; a growing alienation among white people but one which takes no political form; the treason of ruling elites.

    The latter point is worth considering. At least there were factions within the 5th century AD Roman elite who attempted to salvage the Empire (Stilicho, Aetius, Zeno). Today? Crickets. (OK, there are various nationalist movements in Europe, so maybe it’s not all lost but the USA is behind the power curve on this one.)

    There’s a tendency among some Americans today to believe that we are headed for a collapse, usually conceived of as some catastrophic event (an economic collapse, an EMP attack, outbreak of apocalyptic rioting, whatever). The “preppers” are one symptom of this. The idea seems to be that when the “day” occurs, the barbarians within the gates will finally be visible to the public and then (hopefully) white Americans will wake up and mobilize.

    But I’d consider that the collapse is not a singular event. Rather, it is a gradual process, something which has been going on for decades, and will continue doing so until some symbolic point which future historians will proclaim as the “Fall.” (Much as modern historians date the end of the Western Roman Empire as 476AD, though any number of other years can be argued–I’d rate the Islamic conquests of the Roman Near East and North Africa in the 7th century as being the point of no return.)

    We are not living in normal times; we are living in an era of crisis, but one which is so slow motion it is barely on the radar screen. Look at the symptoms we see today in America (and the White world):

    * The inability to deal with urban gangs, especially those composed of blacks and third worlders. The gangs show many similarities to warlord bands which have wrecked havoc in much of Africa, and are in de facto control of many inner cities. Sort of like barbarians setting up shop in the midst of a Roman province and declaring their own kingdoms.

    * An obvious analogy is with the “youths” who have burned and pillaged their way through many ancient European cities. The rioting in Britain, car burnings, the creation of No Go zones, all will be judged by future historians as similar to the Sacks of Rome.

    * The mass migrations from the third world into the first. The historical precedence of “movements of peoples” with consequent cultural change is almost too obvious to mention.

    * The decline of infrastructure. Every now and then, we see some article about “x” percentage of bridges or highways in the USA having become unsafe owing to a lack of maintenance. More ominously, some cities have had their electric lights go out owing to self-inflicted economic ruin, or theft of copper wire. A foundation of civilization is keeping those aqueducts running, so where are we?

    * The truly bizarre inversion of values. Literally tens of millions of white people could make a convicted communist terrorist like Nelson Mandela into a demigod — yet ignore the studied terrorism and murder directed against white people globally (e.g., farm attacks in South Africa). Add in to this the lunatic credulity of the Amy Biehls of the world.

    It’s the lunatic credulity that gets me. How does anyone in their right mind maintain a belief in egalitarianism when it has led to a massive loss in White/Western territories globally, cities (from Johannesburg to Detroit), populations, genes and even sovereignty (white population displacement)? Is it due to mass delusion? A total system of hostile elite agitprop? Wishful thinking for a people who lack the intestinal fortitude to fight and die for their civilization and race?

    Is liberalism truly the “ideology of Western suicide?”

    But if it is an ideological issue, then what is the countervailing ideology?

    • Armor
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:31 am | Permalink

      R_Moreland: “At least there were factions within the 5th century AD Roman elite who attempted to salvage the Empire (Stilicho, Aetius, Zeno). Today? Crickets.”

      The Romans should have tried to preserve the state institutions in Italy. But the Roman empire was a disaster for the rest of Europe. The Romans killed millions of people, beginning with the elites, they destroyed their societies, their religions, their languages, enslaved the survivors. It was much worse than decadence. Once Spain, Gaul and Britain had been colonized, those countries didn’t start producing great writers like Italy. In Britain under Roman occupation, Roman generals were able to have hot baths, but the local intellectual life had been killed. When the Roman army left Gaul, the Germanic invaders simply took over and started exacting tributes. New local elites could not emerge until much later.

      People never try to explain what was lost with the collapse of the Roman state. I guess the centralization, the order, the roads, the schools, the concentration of people and the accumulation of wealth in one place were a favorable environment for intellectual freedom and for the progress of science and of European technology. But the rest of Europe was probably sterilized by Roman rule.

      “I’d consider that the collapse is not a singular event. Rather, it is a gradual process” /…/ “we are living in an era of crisis, but one which is so slow motion it is barely on the radar screen”

      The crisis is very visible to most people and they are becoming anxious. Even without a brutal economic collapse, now it won’t be long before they realize that the government wants to kill them. It is surprising that there has been no rebellion from White people yet, but the idea that it will never happen is counterintuitive and frankly absurd. I think there will be no liberal replacement for today’s White liberals who take part in destroying the lives of the next White generation.

      “Is it due to mass delusion? A total system of hostile elite agitprop?”

      It is due to the Jews, and to the Whites who won’t say so even though they have all the information needed. When Jewish lobbyists want to change immigration laws or launch an invasion of Iraq, they rely on their own politicians in the political institutions. So, it is much more than agitprop. It relies a lot on censorship, intimidation, buying up people. For example, you are not allowed to speak against race replacement in the Jewish media. I think you know that already. So, there is no point in asking where the problem comes from. We know who it comes from.

  2. Armor
    Posted March 20, 2014 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    I like to think of the ancient Greeks as heroic people who had a strong sense of their place in the cosmos, as well as a sense of tragedy, and who believed in the power of the will, and in fighting to survive and thrive. By comparison, it is said that today we have become a consumer society, with very mundane preoccupations. It is true that there is a problem with materialism. The government thinks that increasing the Gross Domestic Product is more important than preserving society. And the advice of the media is that our fellow humans should be used for casual sex, not for long term human relationships. But there is nothing wrong with buying lots of things. Actually, consumer society isn’t the problem. Our problem is that we are no longer part of a human scale society, and that we have no say on our collective future. Indeed, our governments have decided to destroy us. But if we realize that the White race has been around for thousands of years, has created the modern world, and is now threatened with annihilation… That knowledge alone should be enough to give us back a sense of our place in the cosmos!

    Donar van Holland: “I would define decadence as the failing of the will to power, either by an individual or by a group” (…) “To me, the main driver of decadence seems to be the belief in nothing, a feeling of powerlessness in a universe inhabited by gigantic uncaring corporations.”

    We need a human-scale racially-homogeneous society, and maybe then people will find back their optimism and will power. But the more immediate problem today is that the anti-white forces have a lock on power. That is why we have not achieved anything yet, and why normal “right-wing” people get discouraged. Anything they try is soon ruined by the anti-white leftist ideology. So, instead of fighting against decadence in every field of social life, I think White people should get together and explicitly come out in favor of White interests, against Jewish power and race replacement.

    • Arindam
      Posted March 23, 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      ‘Our problem is that we are no longer part of a human scale society, and that we have no say on our collective future.’

      This line brought to mind something that Alexander Dugin wrote:

      ‘Liberalism fights against all forms of collective identity, and against all types of values, projects, strategies, goals, methods and so on that are collectivist, or at least non-individualist. That is the reason why one of the most important theorists of liberalism, Karl Popper (following Friedrich von Hayek), held in his important book, The Open Society and Its Enemies, that liberals should fight against any ideology or political philosophy (ranging from Plato and Aristotle to Marx and Hegel) that suggests that human society should have some common goal, common value, or common meaning.’

      (Source: http://openrevolt.info/2014/03/11/alexander-dugin-the-war-on-russia-in-its-ideological-dimension/ )

      In other words, this outcome was intended…

  3. Donar van Holland
    Posted March 20, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Decadence is the failing of moral standards. Therefore, its meaning depends on the moral ideas of the thinker.

    If these standards are derived from Christianity, then the fin the siècle can be considered as decadent. On the other hand, we might view the fin the siècle as a resurgence of the pagan other half of our tradition. As a pagan I do not share the negative Christian evaluation.

    Our times I consider truly decadent, however, because now even our pagan standards are being ignored. Christianity has got its revenge. Its secular heir, liberalism, has undermined all belief in quality, discrimination and excellence.

    Is this state of affairs the inevitable outcome of prosperity, the lack of danger, or “the idea that survival is guaranteed”? I must concede to Jack Donovan e.a. that crises often let our pagan values reemerge. But taken to the extreme we end up with the Marxist idea that culture is determined by economic relations. This would also mean that White Nationalism has no chance until the inevitable collapse of the system.

    I would define decadence as the failing of the will to power, either by an individual or by a group. This will presupposes a belief, however small, that power can indeed be attained. Otherwise, a passive depression is all that remains. This was probably what what ailed Germany after WW I. Then an artist came along who restored her belief…

    To me, the main driver of decadence seems to be the belief in nothing, a feeling of powerlessness in a universe inhabited by gigantic uncaring corporations. In this depressed condition, tolerance and security become the prevailing values. Tolerance as a rejection of the seriousness of standards: they are not believed, not to be enforced, and one’s own life must certainly not be evaluated by them. Security as an aversion to taking even the smallest of risks.

    How to restore the belief in, and the will to, power? On a personal level, I have great results with the practice of Zen meditation (though within a pagan, not a Buddhist world view). It somehow restores the belief in possibilities and it is often quite energizing. Furthermore, personal contacts with other fighters for white children are quite stimulating too. Probably this is also the key for restoring the will to power of whites in general.

  4. Stronza
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    A very good article It is kind of sad-funny, though, that decadence becomes problematical only when the hoi-polloi have the nerve to aspire to the same lifestyles and comforts that the aristocracy have been enjoying since the dawn of time. We’ve got to know our place and stay there…

    • rhondda
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

      Are you saying Stronza that say a boy from working class parents, father a trucker, mother a waitress and he is a whiz at math and reads voraciously should have to be content to be a trucker? That he cannot have aspirations above that and be given the opportunity to go to a school where his potential is realized for the good of the race? What does ‘we’ve got to know our place and stay there’ mean?

      • Stronza
        Posted March 19, 2014 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

        “What does ‘we’ve got to know our place and stay there’ mean?”

        It means I was being sarcastic but it didn’t work.

  5. Arindam
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    ‘Clearly a good society must include the female spirit, and a world without proportionate female participation would be a hell on earth.’

    I live (and indeed, grew up) in one of the most completely male-dominated societies on this planet – where the male population outnumbers the female by 2:1, and where government, religion, media, etc.. are all in male hands. I can assure you, it is much closer to heaven on earth than the opposite: the kind of place where you can walk in the darkness at four in the morning, and worry about nothing more than accidentally stepping on a cat.

  6. Jim
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Lots of valid points here. One thing that is even more discouraging about American decadence is that it may not even be producing any interesting cultural products. In the past, when civilizations went through their own decadence, late flowerings of art and literature were not uncommon. The “fin-de-siecle” period of the late 19th century in Europe, often cited as an example of a decadent society, produced several fascinating cultural expressions such as Symbolist art and poetry, avant-garde music, etc.

    Maybe we are too close to see any such compensatory silver linings in our decadent cloud cover. Maybe something of cultural value is being produced that will be emblematic of America’s decadence- but it surely isn’t apparent in our “pop culture” that now sweeps over the world. Miley Cyrus’ tongue may be our trademark for this era, along with our idiotic female population that voted, in a dream of perfect feel-good harmony, for Barack Obama.

  7. Armor
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    “It may be that decadence is inevitable for people who are not in danger”

    On the other hand, decadence itself is a danger, as is racial annihilation. White people have never been in greater danger than today. If they realize that, it can give a new meaning to their lives.

    Besides, what we have today is not real decadence, which would mean that things are naturally falling apart. Actually, there is a lot of Jewish activism behind our so called decadence. If the problem was an unidentifiable and unexplainable decadence-inducing miasma in the air, it would be difficult to fight. But we know in fact the problem comes largely from our enemies at the top of society. The enemy has largely been identified. It is all the easier to fight.

    It is extraordinary how confident the Greeks used to be 2500 years ago. Even though they were only small tribes, they were not afraid to think for themselves. I think what gave meaning to their lives was not simply the danger, but also their independence, the fact they were small tight communities. They did not recognize any authority above them. Collectively, they were in charge of their own lives. By comparison, most people today seem domesticated, as if they were the property of the government. Our social life has become poorer, and the Jewish media tell us that our history has come to an end anyway.

    The solution is that White people must organize against the anti-white forces. It is surprisingly difficult to launch the movement, but it will probably start snowballing soon after it gets started. And if we manage to save our race, I think what we need to do afterwards is to reorganize in smaller racially homogeneous independent countries, with an effort toward autarchy. There is a lot to be said in favor of industrial concentration as a means to lower the costs of production. But the social cost is too high. In the end, it is better to have a decentralized system where the agricultural and industrial activity continues to exist in every place.

  8. Robert Pinkerton
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Respectfully submitted to this forum is the proposition that Decadence begins with the idea that Survival is Guaranteed. Survival is not guaranteed, by Nature or by the Gods; it comes only through effort, and even then, “… Nature hath fixed nothing sublunary…”

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