The Staggered End of Western Civilisation
Prelude: What I Discovered in New York1
We must consider that we shall be a City upon a Hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.
Modern man is obsolete….It should not be necessary to prove that on August 6, 1945, a new age is born. Nor should it be necessary to prove the saturating effect of the new age, permeating every aspect of man’s activities, from machines to morals, from physics to philosophy, from politics to poetry…
New York, Friday, 13 May, 1994
Estrangement is a finding strange of something that previously seemed and felt familiar; but what is ‘found strange’ is, to begin with, not the thing itself, but one’s unexamined image and sense of it. Seeing now what is afoot in America, what contemporary America really is, I have discarded the images and feelings that blinded me to it. I was blinded by the unreflectingly ‘familiar’ way I have regarded this country, by its manner of representing itself to the world during my lifetime, and by the false notions which are implicit in much rhetoric about the contemporary ‘West’. Unreflectingly, as an English-speaking European, as an Irishman, and despite America’s obvious cultural hegemony over Europe since Hiroshima, I still regarded it as an exotic outreach of Europe, an exotic home from home. There was so much cultural and racial affinity among the exotica that it was easy for me to do that. The United States, for its part, encouraged my illusion by so often representing itself, through its spokesmen, as the bastion of western values, and of Christian civilisation, against all that was alien to these. And I again, for my part, listened uncritically to the grandiose talk, beloved of European intellectuals and politicians, about the modern or postmodern ‘West’; talk which thoughtlessly suggests that Western Europe and the US uphold the ‘western values’ of Goethe, Plato and Dante, and are continuing to develop, though in strange new forms, the ancient civilisation of Europe. Semi-credible until you think about it.
1. From Uncertain Dawn: Hiroshima and the Beginning of Post-Western Civilisation, Dublin, Sanas Press, 1996, pp.26-9.
Estranged, now, for a week or more, from all those images, I have been looking sharply, and with excitement, at what has become for me a strange land. And I am seeing meaning, and a pattern of meaning, which I didn’t see before.
Just beyond the radiation experiments3, in the background, are the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs and their sensational massacres. That, I now realise, was the symbolic break with the old order and start of the new, President Truman’s Edict of Milan, the unnoticed fanfare. Logically, the radiation experiments followed it; Latin melted from the curriculum; figures from Greek mythology and Roman history faded out of the common culture;2 and, in 1963, a Supreme Court ruling ended organised Christian prayer in the nation’s schools. In a flurry of moral re-ordering covering the next twenty years, various actions which Christianity called sins were taken, authoritatively, off the sin list, and new sins (or names for sins) invented, but without calling them sins: anti-Semitism, racism, McCarthyism, censorship, sexism, fundamentalism, homophobia, sexual harassment, fatness, earth abuse, smoking, pollution, unsafe sex, species murder; in certain sects, lookism, ableism, heterosexism, flesh-eating, ageism. For this re-ordering of American morality and religious expression, justification was found in feelings, science, and liberal principle, and in the parts of the Constitution that dealt with religion, equality and personal liberty.
2. It occurs to me that Caesar has survived in the popular ‘Caesar salad’, but Icarus, Prometheus, Medusa, the Gorgon, Augustus, Maecenas, Cato and the rest missed out on culinary embodiment.
3. In January 1994 the US government revealed that, during the thirty years after the end of World War II, medical scientists, sponsored by government agencies, had conducted experiments in which civilians, about 800 in all, were exposed to high levels of radiation, some knowingly, some not. The subjects had included terminally ill patients, mentally retarded children and prisoners in jails. (Added in 2011).
For most of it, the people’s consent, or at least indifference, has been forthcoming. The exceptions had to do with abortion, school prayer and environmental protection. Considerable numbers of citizens remain in simmering revolt against the denial of rights to babies in the womb and the permission given to kill them. Many parents and students still resent the prohibition of prayer in their schools. Farmers, businesspeople and local communities often oppose what looks like the rulers preferring animals and wild nature over people. But the new direction has got strong support in the academy, with academics making their own, theoretical contributions. From the 70s onwards, especially in Eng. Lit., Women’s Studies, and African-American departments, thousands gave courses, or wrote papers, which excoriated European humanism as an oppressive force in European, American and world history. DWEMs, meaning the Dead White European Males who created that humanism, became a term of contempt on many campuses.
Thousands of courses and essays, scores of books, taught young Americans to find inspiration elsewhere—in the cultures and civilisations of the druidic Celts and American Indians, in black Africa and spiritual Asia. Commerce, getting the Hiroshima message, promoted popular music with jungle-beats and anti-melodic raucousness. Street and trendy culture, reaching to socialites and celebrities, followed through with ‘primitive’ hairstyles, elaborate tattoos, and pierced body-parts suspending metal rings and bars.
But to return to the start. A central and distinguishing feature of European humanism was its persistent and moderately successful effort to limit war and civilise warriors. Pursued assiduously through the Christian Middle Age, disrupted by Renaissance cynicism and the religious wars, resuming in secular dress in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it continued, with American collaboration, through the early twentieth. For this entire western humanist tradition, massacre was grossly immoral because it spat in the face of Europe’s conceptions of man, of civilised treatment of man, and consequently, of civilisation. Not least, perhaps most, it offended European men’s valuation of women and children as sacrosanct. That’s why I see the Hiroshima bomb as the symbol of the new departure. The symbol, because the actual break and fresh start occurred over a period of several years.
For at least a year before Hiroshima, in Germany and Japan, and with increasing deliberateness, the US air force had been using the destruction of residential areas and the mass killing of civilians as a routine method of warfare aimed at ‘undermining enemy morale’. In Japan, in the first half of 1945, firebomb attacks on scores of cities incinerated a million people. Alone in the big fire-raid on Tokyo in March, when B-29s, flying low, dropping gelled-petrol bombs on wooden houses while crews smelt the roasting human flesh, a hundred thousand women, children and men perished. (A holocaust is a ‘wholly burnt animal sacrifice’, but wasn’t there a special word for sacrifice of many animals burnt together?) Hiroshima, in August, where seventy thousand were killed outright, was different only in that one bomb sufficed, and that many thousands more died of its delayed effects. Hiroshima was a continuation of an existing practice by more efficient technology. But it wasn’t, despite its sensational nature, a decision that massacre was moral. Of itself, therefore, it was neither a definitive break with the old humanism nor the commencement of the novus ordo. It came to stand for both, symbolically, by virtue of what followed and what did not, as the American government and people made their momentous moral choice. Would they let Hiroshima be an immoral and uncivilised assault on the Japanese people, and repent, as did the Germans of their assault on the Jewish people; or would they, by standing over it and all their other massacres, make it a rejection of western civilisation?
Nagasaki followed. The President and leading Americans declared the nuclear massacres justified. The first rule of the new morality was implicitly promulgated: ‘If, in a war, it is believed that killing any number of women, children and men in their homes will shorten the war or prevent deaths of American soldiers in battle, it is right to kill the people; wrong not to’. Put differently, killing women and children to save soldiers or shorten a war was declared the first virtue of the new order. No apology was made to anyone. The rare calls for national repentance were ignored or rebuked. When Nazi leaders were tried and condemned at Nuremberg for killing civilians by various means, doing so by aerial bombardment was deliberately omitted. As confirmation that the United States was committed to the new morality, its government ordered more nuclear bombs, President Truman called for a hydrogen bomb, and the production of nuclear weapons became a routine part of US industry.
To justify this overthrow of the inherited American humanism, or at least to paralyse troubled consciences, Communism, at home and abroad, was powerfully represented as an evil so diabolical and threatening that civilisation and Christianity were morally obliged to fight it by any and every means. The end justified the means. In 1948, during the crisis with the Soviet Union over Berlin, plans were made to atom-bomb scores of Soviet cities. Dissent, on moral or other grounds, was never sufficiently strong to be politically effective. The corporations and the people paid their taxes, the elected representatives voted the funding. As an ultimate expression of popular consent, the angry exclamation ‘Nuke them!’ passed into the American vernacular. (The word I wanted above is ‘hecatomb’.)
It was these subsequent omissions and actions that stamped the symbolism of moral break and new departure on the fateful fraction of a second in August 1945. But the effect wasn’t only retroactive; those years of yes-saying to massacre reach forward to the present to found the American presence in the world, and contemporary American humanism, on a rejection of western humanism made concrete in the thousands of ready-for-action nuclear missiles.
Observing, reflecting, reading, I spent over a year in Seattle, returned to Europe, observed, listened and drafted, and seventeen years later wrote the following.
The Staggered End of Western Civilisation
During the last ninety-odd years, European or Western civilisation has been rejected by three revolutions: the Russian and German revolutions and the Second American Revolution. In each case the central aim has been to replace European civilisation with a new framework for life. The Russian Revolution accomplished this for seventy-odd years, the German attempt was stopped by military defeat. While the post-European rules system imposed by the Second American Revolution is still shaping life in the West, its days are numbered, its collapse into social chaos is in sight. Before tracing the course of this fatally flawed venture, third in a line, let me clarify a civilisation, European or Western civilisation, and a revolution.
A civilisation is essentially a grounded hierarchy of values and rules covering all of life and making sense, which a citied community’s rulers and ruled subscribe to over a long period. “Over a long period” (unless a military or natural disaster overwhelms it) because the community is motivated to keep reproducing itself by the sense, and therefore goodness, that it finds in its set of rules, its framework for life. The rules derive hierarchically from the hierarchy of values. This dual hierarchy is ‘grounded’ in the sense that there are interconnected reasons, understood or intuited by the community, for the presence in it of those values and rules and for their order of ranking. Many of the rules are adjustable or replaceable as the centuries pass and circumstances and mentalities change. The essential rules are those whose continuous acceptance is necessary for the civilisation to remain itself. They form its defining core.
European or western civilisation was constructed in western Europe in the eleventh and twelfth centuries AD by Latin, Germanic and Celtic Christians; it later crossed the Atlantic and other seas and lasted into the twentieth century. Among its essential rules were the following:
The West is a Christian community of Christian nations. Its divinity is the Christian God. Whether on religious grounds or for secular motives, national and international law generally subscribe to the Christian principles of interpersonal and international behaviour. Connection with the West’s Roman-Greek-Judaic roots is maintained through the educational system and educated public discourse. An educated man knows Latin. Art is work which has a formal crafted beauty. Frugality and chastity are admirable virtues. Reason takes precedence over feeling and desire. Private property is protected by law. Massacre is grievously wrong and strictly forbidden. Sexual relations are legitimate only in the monogamous betrothal and marriage of man and woman. Homosexual relations are unnatural and abhorrent. Abortion is a heinous crime, pornography a degrading evil that must be denied circulation. Adults do not foist sexual awareness on children. A girl who bears a child without a committed father is a disgrace. Human nudity and bodily intimacies are not for public display, but nudity may be represented decorously in art. Men’s work and women’s work are different. Men have authority and legal preference over women; they accord women social pre-eminence and physical protection. Age has authority over youth.
Such were some of the essential rules which, in combination with others, made sense to the vast majority of our ancestors for nearly a thousand years.
Finally, a revolution—as distinct from a mere coup d’état. It begins with a group of people who adhere to a new ideology which they believe contains the formula for a morally better and more just life. These people, the revolutionaries, 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 are likely to support the new rules, and disempower opponents. This process takes at least twenty years, maybe thirty or more years.
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 to revolutions, meant that the new rules which a revolution enduringly established must not breach the essential European framework of rules. In the early twentieth century the Irish Revolution and the Italian Fascist revolution operated within this framework.
But three revolutions, in three large and powerful countries, Russia, Germany and the USA, rejected the rules system of European civilisation. The revolutionaries, finding that European civilisation unjustly obstructed their power to create the good life they envisaged, made a new set of rules—new do’s, don’ts and do-as-you-likes combined with some old ones—for the purpose of creating and maintaining the good life they aimed at. After Germany’s attempt had been militarily crushed, and while Russia’s novel framework was still in place, the third effort to do likewise, the Second American Revolution, was establishing its post-European rules system in its own country and, by proxy, in Western Europe. That rules system is still in force and we in Ireland live under its sway.
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...
The Second American Revolution was a tacit revolution in the manner—to cite a classic example—of Octavian Caesar’s transformation of Rome’s Republic into an Empire behind the advertised facade of restoring the Republic. It began after Franklin D. Roosevelt had become President in the same year that Hitler came to power. Having decided that a greatly increased, but unconstitutional, state power was needed to tackle the economic and social ravages of the Great Depression, Roosevelt surrounded himself with left liberals who shared this belief. By making formal use, as did Octavian Caesar, of the existing constitutional procedures, he acquired the radically changed Constitution. that he and the left liberals needed.
Between 1937 and 1946 a Supreme Court packed with sympathisers reversed thirty-two earlier interpretations of the Constitution extending back over a period of 150 years. In 1940, in disregard of American precedent, Roosevelt sought and won the Presidency for a third term. Four years later, while America was at war, he sought and won election for a fourth term and died in office in 1945, the same year in which Hitler died.
The Big State attains its apogee of power
During the 1930s, and with the help of the emergency powers required by the war, the left liberals, calling themselves simply ‘liberals’, had succeeded in getting their ‘Big State’ constructed. They had used it mainly for a reorganisation of the economy and of social welfare. The Big State reached its highpoint of power with the manufacture of the atomic bomb, the use of this weapon against two Japanese cities, and the official justification of the enormous resulting massacres.
Massacre was forbidden by western morality and law. When massacres had previously been committed by westerners, they had been retrospectively condemned by the prevalent public judgment, and the ban on such action vigorously re-asserted. The official American declaration that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki massacres were legitimate had—apart from making the USA the first ‘superpower’—four important consequences. By implication it justified, retrospectively, the previous American and British aerial massacres during World War II. It declared indiscriminate massacre to be henceforth an optional element of American warfare. It licensed the American state, and by extension its British and French allies, to construct thousands of weapons of massacre similar to, but more powerful than, those two American bombs. Domestically, it sent a signal to the liberals about the state they had worked to create; namely, that it was likely to approve those elements of their programme which rejected other core rules of western civilisation.
The liberal programme
The liberals’ ultimate aim was to use the Big State, the mass media, the universities and science to bring about a perfect human condition. For that purpose, first, there must be an end to the tacit recognition of the Christian religion as America’s ‘national’ religion, and to the consequent role of Christian morality as the chief indicator of behavioural rules. Second, categories of citizens who were legally or otherwise unequal must be raised or lowered to legal equality, so as to create a fraternity of individuals, equal in law, in their treatment by their fellows, and in opportunity for advancement. 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, men, parents, teachers and the aged; ample social welfare; unshackling of sex and of pornography of all kinds; 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. These new rules, combined with some European rules that seemed useful, would affect, besides laws and behaviour, thought and language.
Culmination of the revolution
The liberals’ chance to advance their programme further 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 required more money to manufacture atomic bombs and missiles for the Cold War, to put a man on the moon, to finance the war in Vietnam, and to pay for a big social welfare programme. In the early 1970s 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 with that the flow of revenue and profit.
From the 1960s the American state began endorsing that agenda selectively through Supreme Court rulings, by legislation, and administratively. 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 these historically decisive years with the following ringing phrases:
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.
Vigorous campus campaigns against the values and historical exponents of "western white civilisation" continued into the Nixon 70s.
Emergence of the ‘ liberal Correctorate’
The teachers of the post-western, liberal rules of correct behaviour, thought and language came to function, tacitly, as a sort of secular state church or informal, doctrinally paramount "Party". Henceforth, regardless of which political party was in government, this collective would retain its pre-eminent teaching status.
The emergence of this secular teaching authority brought the USA tacitly into line with the practice in revolutionary Russia and Germany, where the Christian clergy, as the principal public teachers of Europe’s essential rules of right and wrong, had been replaced (or in the case of Germany had begun to be replaced) by a supreme Party teaching new rules. For convenience of the narrative this de facto new American authority needs a name. And since its role had to do with defining correct thought, speech and behaviour, to call it the ‘liberal Correctorate' seems appropriate.
The formation of this state-liberal system was a case of ambitious political power, and a new ideal vision of the good life, working together towards their distinct objectives. A phenomenon known to history, it operates like this. Rulers who wish to increase their power regardless of the rules, while continuing to rank as virtuous, find substantial common cause with innovative idealists who want society reshaped by new rules that empower people. The rulers increase their power by enacting the idealists' new rules, selectively, to their own advantage, while the idealists celebrate them as enlightened rulers. The idealists end up powerful in a semblance of their envisioned life that has been tailored to suit the rulers' interests. (In this particular instance, the rulers' interests required, both among individuals and as between swathes of the citizen body, an inequality of living conditions, education and political influence as extreme as in Communist Russia, along with a capitalist inequality of financial power.)
The construction of consumerist liberalism
The liberals represented their programme of new values and rules as a means by which people could become enlightened, modern and free. This implicitly elitist appeal won dominance for the new doctrine in the humanities faculties of the universities. As a tacit payback for the support of government and business the liberals preached their programme in tandem with the message that everyone had the right and ability to become rich and to consume at will, and that the rise in material well-being of the 1960s would continue into the future.
The principal preaching space which the innovators acquired was the mass media, including films. Here their pedagogical dominance was dependent on, and shared with, business big and small, inasmuch as the mass media were the principal public space where business, paying taxes to the state, paid to advertise its goods-for-sale. Committed to the liberal programme because its doctrines promised rising profits, the advertisers also felt a kinship with the reformers’ zeal to shape and improve lives. Their campaigns like that of the liberals amounted to telling people how, for their own good, they should think, act and be; much of it, for example, had to do with personal body care. Thus they de facto formed an adjunct to the state-licensed Correctorate.
It was in this context that the left-liberals’ programme of social ethics adapted readily to economic neo-liberalism and became in effect consumerist liberalism. The conjunction of all the interests involved made up the state-liberal system, with ethical, economic, technological and political dimensions, which contemporaries called simply ‘consumerism’.
It worked this way. The hybrid Correctorate and its supporting legislation issued rulings and exhortations which promoted material and sexual consumption with a good conscience, rather than the previously inculcated virtuous restraint. Advancing military technology, by its offshoots, supplied a never-ending array of new, empowering tools for the consumers to buy. Buying potential and activity were maximised through payments by the state to the poorer citizens, encouragement of all women and teenagers to earn money, incomes constantly rising, goods promotion by television and radio in every home, and the prolongation of active individual life by advances in medicine. Thus mass consumption, together with the instigation, nourishment and exploitation of it under both forms, material and sexual, constituted the main motor of the economy, society and the state.
Powerful as instigation was the Correctorate's reasoned assurance that all these new ways of thinking and behaving, so much at variance with the old ways, constituted ethical advances, liberations from thraldom, justice finally achieved. All in all, the West’s consumerism of the late twentieth century was the culminating realisation of the centuries-old drive by westerners to acquire, collectively and individually, ever greater power, but not just more power, more ethical power, in the sense of ability to do more things and bigger things, including things previously illicit, and be justified.
Consumerism spreads to Western Europe
In London's Sunday Times, 21 October 1962, Maurice Wiggins wrote: "Freedom of speech includes the temporarily unfashionable freedom to express a certain scepticism of liberal shibboleths." "Every little authoritarian these days pays lip-service to liberal ideals…" wrote Judith Pakenham in the London Spectator, 18 January 1963. They were speaking of ‘liberals’, not in the old British Liberal sense, but in that new small-l, American sense which was to become the normal usage in English-speaking countries.
In the 1960s, while the American state’s imposition of the new liberalism in the USA was under way, pressure from the USA via London began the imposition of the new state-liberal system in America's West European satellites. (As it happened, the ‘Europe’ on which it was imposed was a politically united entity that had rejected the Europe of history: a dynamic community of competing nations bound by a common history, culture and religion in the manner of classical Greece.) Ostensibly the purpose of this ideological colonisation was to spread personal liberation by replacing the oppressiveness of European civilisation with enlightened rules of virtuous living. The realpolitik 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, mass-media sympathisers with American left liberalism introduced 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. The ideological takeover included the Brussels bureaucracy of ‘united Europe’, so as to colour accordingly its flow of directives to the governments of the member states.
National liberal correctorates and ruling Communist parties
From the late 1960s onwards, in North America and Western Europe, the national liberal correctorates functioned much as the national Communist parties in the Soviet satellites, except in one respect. Whereas the leading doctrinal role of the Communist parties in the "people's democracies" was constitutionally formalised, that of the liberal correctorates was exercised, with the tacit support of state and business, extra-constitutionally, as a matter of fact.
In both instances the doctrinal teaching authority, using the homogenised mass media and the multi-party parliament, defined the set of values and rules within which society in general, and the political parties, churches and other institutions, were required to operate. But whereas the Communist parties did this by imposed constitutional right, the liberal correctorates did so by using the mass media in two ways concurrently. While giving prominence and honour to ‘correct’ elements in society, they allocated to dissident institutions, individuals, writings and speeches, treatment ranging from selective presentation to hounding or effective silencing. They thus won sufficient acceptance of liberal values to induce a parliamentary majority to legislate accordingly. The correctorates called their system “pluralism”.
In the prevalent discourse in the communist countries the word "socialist" was made to connote "good". In the English-speaking countries the case was similar with "liberal", in the language of citizens who ranked as right-thinking. Conversely, the negative connotation of the ideological terms "right" and "right-wing" in the communist East was reproduced in the prevalent discourse of the liberal West.
Frequently in the 1960s, and to a degree in the 1970s, serious talk of "revolution" had occurred in the political talk and writings of western radicals. Gradually, as a tacit signal that in the West, as in the East, a definitive revolution had already taken place, that word passed out of politics into commercial advertising, where it served in the promotion of new soap powders and face creams.
The net result, with regard to rules to live by, was that in North America and much of Europe—Ireland centrally included—a collection of non-European rules, combined with some surviving European rules, became the reigning and widely accepted system of do's, don'ts and do-as-you-likes.
The radical evil—the radical senselessness, with which the world presents itself—must be explored to its core, in order to tackle it with hope of overcoming it. The only adequate response is a continuous, humble, undogmatic search for hierarchies of values.
The new system’s intrinsic sense-lessness
For a post-European rules system to enduringly replace that of European civilisation, it would need to make lasting sense to the great majority of westerners, as the European rules system had for many centuries so evidently done. In other words, it would need to offer a new civilisation. But the production and presentation of civilisation-creating sense is the fruit of creative interaction, employing all the human faculties, between a people’s rulers and ruled over a considerable period.
The post-European collection of rules—new ones combined with some old—that by the 1990s had come to hold sway in the West did not and could not make sense to the human collective, white westerners in the first place, on whom it was imposed. Thrown together by a late-European ideological sect and its supporting governments, to promote justice, virtue, consumption and power, its sponsors had treated overall sense as superfluous.
What white westerners were faced with was a framework for life similar to that which had confronted every so-called ‘primitive tribe’ after its rules system had been adulterated by colonising Europeans. The resulting hybrid of new and old lacked, a priori, two qualities which a set of rules-to-live by must possess to make sense to a human community: namely, a venerated source, divine or human, guaranteeing the rightness of the rules, and a single rational structure pervading all domains of life from the most abstract to the most particular.
Small wonder, then, that the hybrid framework imposed on such tribes had, in one instance after another, produced a condition of anomie or normlessness, and with that—together with a lot of alcoholism, suicide and prostitution—a sort of creeping despair and the gradual dying-out of the tribe. The fact that among the ethnic groups that made up the contemporary USA, the American “Indians” had the lowest fertility rate illustrated this phenomenon in action.
The hybrid rules system imposed on the white western ‘tribe’ lacked those two abovementioned qualities necessary for sense. Clearly without a venerated source, it was also in practice an orderless hotchpotch offensive to reason. And leaving aside the intrinsic senselessness of the hybrid system, this was independently the case with by far the larger part of it: the left-liberal, evolving into consumerist-liberal, collection of rules.
Chaos of the liberal rules system
Assembled piecemeal over several decades and variously grounded, these new rules comprised qualitatively undifferentiated do's and don'ts for parts of life and virtual do-as-you-likes for other parts. Among the do's and don'ts, the latter predominated. They were taught much as if the things not to do when driving a car were to be imparted without distinguishing in order of importance between failing to glance regularly at the rear-view mirror, passing on the inside, driving on the wrong side of the road, and starting in second gear; that is to say, in a senseless manner, useless to the would-be driver.
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 civilians unless collaterally in righteous wars, don't be fat, or think 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 think or say that homosexuality is a perversion or "deny the Holocaust"; don't torture prisoners, pollute a river, treat women as sex-objects, ban pornography that does this, or prevent women aborting offspring; don’t restrict what adults think, say or write or, if a man, hit your wife or children, or pat a female colleague’s bottom in the office.
Leave aside the contradictions in that sample. 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, thoughts or language 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 really rules. Thus the liberal system lacked a third quality necessary for a people’s set of rules to make sense: namely, consistent application, reflected in corresponding condemnations and punishments for breaches.
The do’s and do-as-you-likes
Much the same would appear if we were to look at a bunch of the consumerist-liberal do’s. In passing, for the plight of young mothers was special, note the particular array of unranked obligations that fell on them if their behaviour was to be correct. Widely broadcast do’s of equal imperativeness exhorted them to meticulous body care, paid employment, personal assertiveness, vigilant child-rearing in person or by delegation, diligent participation in the consumerist good life, and successfully orgasmic sexual intercourse.
Intensifying the normlessness were the many virtual do-as-you-likes which operated alongside the do's and don'ts. They were ‘virtual' in the sense that the positive rules they contained were so minimal as to leave caprice or desire substantially in command. In the Correctorate's teaching, virtual do-as-you-likes operated for art in all its forms, for official killing in righteous wars, for borrowing and lending practices by banks, as for dress, dancing, social manners, modes of personal address, utterances about Christians, freedom-fighters, or other non-protected categories, and for relations with the supernatural on condition that these did not impinge on the body politic. A special do-as-you-like applied, in defiance of international law, to the behaviour of the state of Israel.
The new rules and human reproduction
In a fourth and decisive way the new set of rules offended against sense. Innate in human beings as in other animals is an overriding imperative to reproduce the species or in its lieu a representative group. Consequently, in a framework for living presented to a human community, the fundamental element in determining whether it makes sense to it or not is the cluster of rules relating to reproduction: that is, to the conception and birth of children and the raising of them to adulthood by their father and mother. If that cluster of rules seems unfavourable to reproduction, then, a priori theentire framework fails the test of sense. The liberal element in the hybrid rules system was not only unfavourable to reproduction: it communicated disregard for it.
Invariably, the basic rules in this zone of behaviour are those which apply to the use of the reproductive organs. The Correctorate's new rules ran as follows: provided that minors and adults used their reproductive organs separately, that if more than one user was involved there was mutual consent, and that a contraceptive was employed unless conception was intended, do as you like in private or, in public, to gratify a paying audience.
These basic rules sufficed of themselves to signal that the liberal rules system did not respect the collective instinct to reproduction. But the ideological outgrowths from rule changes made the disheartening message clearer still. Out of the simple decriminalisation of homosexuality had grown an aggressive celebration of it; out of the decriminalisation of abortion, an imperious assertion that its legal availability was a necessary characteristic of a good society and that it was a good thing if a woman chose it; out of the opening to women of careers previously closed to them, had grown public celebration of any kind of female achievement or public service except that of good motherhood; and out of the ending of legal preferment and privileges for men had issued a downgrading of fathers. Add that the ending of social disapproval of sexual intercourse outside marriage had metamorphosed into the ubiquitous representation of sexual intercourse as primarily a recreational activity. Small wonder, then, that only in the aftermath of the greatest wars of the past did so many households consist of a mother living alone with young children.
Direct reactions to the pain of senselessness
For this combination of reasons, white westerners, partly consciously, mainly subconsciously, experienced the West’s new rules system as senseless. For the most part, they experienced it as senselessness unreflectively, in that depth of their being where countless generations of human beings 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, when their minds and hearts were seeking sense, sent distress pressing into their consciousness. To be precise, white westerners found that consciousness of the rules-to-live-by that were presented to them was accompanied by a pain of soul; a feeling of offence that sense in life was not being provided to them by their society. Nothing more natural, then, than that they should want, as individuals, to annul that pain and, collectively, feel little desire to reproduce that white western life.
Sensitive young people, on the threshold of life, are particularly attentive to the framework of rules presented to them. Little wonder then that many of them practised various methods of annulling the pain. Some, mainly females, did so by superficial self-injury, in an effort to manage the pain by transferring it from soul to body. More commonly, male and female, they sought the desired annulment, recurrently, through a temporary or partial annihilation of consciousness. Recurrently, they did this through binge-drinking or drugs or reckless sex, through motorised speed or shrieking self-immersion in celebrity pop concerts or hours-long disco dancing; or, ubiquitously, by means of personal stereos or mobile phones feeding distraction, suspending reflection. Or else, as we know well in Ireland, they increasingly opted for annihilating consciousness permanently; if female, often irresolutely and unsuccessfully, if male, usually with full resolution and success.
Monthly, from Afghanistan, Columbia, Mexico and other producing countries, tons of mood-altering and hallucinating drugs arrived to dull the West's pain. Used by some young people, but mainly by their more affluent elders—they were illegal and therefore dear to buy—these, along with alcohol and self-immersion for long periods in mind-numbing work, served when an acquired ability to ignore the pain proved insufficient.
To these manifold efforts of self-help were added two phenomena characteristic of the age: an unprecedented profusion of professionals of various ilk offering to cure or alleviate psychic distress, and massive production by the pharmaceutical industry of medicaments with a similar purpose. 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.
Protracted collective suicide
As in the case of the colonised “primitive tribe”, when any human collective encounters in its collective life a famine of sense, motivation to reproduce that life flags. What seems, rather, to make sense is a protracted collective suicide. Significantly, by the early 2000s, among the ethnic groups in the USA, white people had, after the American "Indians", the lowest fertility rate. For the European Union that rate had fallen to 1.5, well below the 2.1 children per woman needed for maintenance of the population. 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 Russia in the latter decades of the Soviet Union. There, the similarly utopian rule-changing under Communism had produced rampant vodka addiction with a steep lowering of Russian male life expectancy, Russians noted with dismay an increasing fall in their fertility rate in contrast to that of the Union's Asian republics. In the foreseeable future they would be a minority in the Union.
Ersatz sense eases the hunger pain
The consumerist-liberal system included an effective means of countering, if not the famine of sense, then the conscious impact of the hunger pain. As a result, most westerners most of the time managed to suppress consciousness of it. On top of the training they 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 the Correctorate's teaching, conditioned them to accept an ersatz sense in place of the real sense they craved for.
This substitute sense was provided, fundamentally, 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. The persuasive force of this increasing power to buy and do was actualised for the consumers in two interlocked ways. Repeatedly it enabled them to acquire more, bigger or costlier things, and these included the powers of new tools that enabled them to do more things than they previously could. Among the many secondary powers thus conferred on consumers were the ability to pause a television programme while answering the phone, to use cellular phones for many things besides phoning, to fly through the air to a holiday resort and to live lives increasingly longer than those of their ancestors.
While such benefits, in the eyes of most people, gave material sense to the life on offer, a central message of the Correctorate's teaching furnished it, for some, with moral sense. This message, constantly repeated, told them that those who thought and lived in accordance with the Correctorate's rules lived a freer, more just and kinder life than the western generations that had preceded them and than all the other peoples that had inhabited, or that now inhabited, the planet.
The net result was that most consumers, most of the time, believed in the surface of their minds that this current life of westerners was a pretty good life. "Stress", everyone recognised, stress of body and soul, regularly accompanied the living of it. But stress with recurrent depression, most westerners resignedly accepted, was an inevitable condition of living a life which despite all—despite even its moments of clear, shocking vision—was a pretty good life.
As the new millennium arrived
As the new millennium arrived, that was the situation. For as long as the power to buy and do of governments, corporations and consumers kept increasing, and the teaching that this new western life was morally the best life ever, continued to have force for some, the West's post-European system would continue to function. Dating its launch from that first, momentous rule change of 1945, it still had some years to go before it would match the life span of its more conservatively post-European Soviet counterpart. That the American 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. Ipso facto, its vaunted moral superiority would become an irrelevant twaddle. 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 disintegration.
Addendum fifty years from now
What was inevitable happened. With that, the final episode in the staggered and war-filled end of European civilisation concluded. That end had begun with the rejection and replacement of European civilisation by the Russian Revolution. The fact that this operation was soon followed by the Nazi German and American left-liberal rejections, and that the latter was democratically supported by millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic, indicated a shared conviction among many twentieth-century Europeans, in Europe and overseas. It was 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, grafted onto some remnants of European civilisation, utopian constructions fashioned by the pursuit of perfect justice and unlimited power, which the peoples, being made up of human beings, experienced subconsciously as senseless. So it was that, in the historical succession of great civilisations, Europe's followed Rome's and ended.