Herbert London: Civilizational Discontents
The barrier between barbarism and civilization is gossamer-thin, a layer of taboos that separates mankind from its base nature. An impulse to ascend is most often pushed into the armory of descent.
Nowhere was this more apparent than the recent Grammy Awards for musical “excellence.” Here were the half literate providing referential status to the half talented. Most of what I heard is dissonance. It was as if music is faintly related to the sounds emerging from electrified instruments.
The sounds were a death-rattle offered as a brutal message for the collective consciousness of the nation. Popular culture presages civilization. Instead of uplifting, art is now an expression of intellectual impoverishment.
There was a time not so long ago when Americans experienced a culture of achievement – even in the popular arts. This was a period of cultural triumphalism. God was in his heaven, parents were obeyed, teachers were respected and law ruled the nation.
This was an era before necrophilia intoxicated Hollywood. The walking dead had not yet captivated movie lots. At the moment, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” has absconded with common sense and mindful opinion. Movie makers appear to be in a trance over blood-shot eyes and walking awkwardly into darkness. And this is called entertainment.
It would appear that the United States has embraced an effete, European model of development just as the Grim Reaper has forced cross-Atlantic colleagues into the bowels of total despair. Debt is driving the mad dash to oblivion with every so-called mature economy living beyond its means. One might well ask what are the conditions that have sapped civilizational vitality. Clearly profligacy is one explanation. Arguably the most significant factor is a loss of confidence. One dimension of this condition, risk aversion, is a national disease as the country of adventurers have become the land of insurance brokers.
Snapping at the heels of the nation’s strength are the critics, professional snipers who are engaged in a permanent war against everything for which America stands. Moreover, these critics are rewarded beyond any reasonable level for their damage. It is as if they are house wreckers who get paid for tearing down edifices still solid and habitable.
The once clearly defined moral boundaries have been erased. Only decades ago 94 percent of Americans said they believed in God; today that number is 72 percent and the trend line is obvious. As God goes, so does standards of propriety and ethical adherence. Materialism is what counts. “I want mine and I want it now,” has become the calling card for a generation that believes it is entitled to wealth.
For many Americans, change is confused with progress. The fact that there is legislative activity falls into the parlance of improvement (read: progress). Of course, not all change is desirable and change for itself is often a mixed bag. We are in a period of upheaval in which the culture of ordered liberty is a casualty of social justice, i.e. remedying inequality with arbitrary laws, bureaucracy, tribunals and government diktat.
To rid oneself of the past that places constraints on change, culture itself must be destroyed as the existential moment is celebrated. The question why is there something rather than nothing? is answered by the belief that nothing is a tabula rasa on which anything can be inscribed. Alas, the “anything” is often the equivalent of nothing.
Ultimately barbarism is never defeated. It can only be put to bed. As Evelyn Waugh noted: Once the prisons of the mind have been opened, the orgy is on…”. Where are the men with chests, the heroes of cultural inheritance? Are they too asleep, lost in the stupor of despair?
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
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