The Times That Try Men’s Souls

Something has gnawed at me for the last several weeks, thoughts related to the nature and future of the West; of the status of Western Civilization itself. I, like you, have heard from certain segments of the talking class that the West is in peril. However, in a significant way, many wrap the truth of that in a brazen lie. The notion that the situation is dark, we will suffer but in the end, we will win – we have seen that theme used before. How, why, by what means will this salvation come – this is the question that puzzles me every time I hear this theme repeated, either by screaming wing nuts or more polished upstart ‘journalists’. I am left with the impression that their words are part of a grift (best case) or a coordinated campaign to pacify and confuse people (worst case).

 

My mind has whispered to me, “you ought to write the reality”. Given enough space and words, I am convinced it is possible to layout several arguments that would paint a very different picture. One could make the argument that in the West two cultures struggle for power, we long ago passed the point of a political divide. One is matter, one anti-matter, both cannot exist side by side indefinitely, one or the other must kill the other. The argument would indicate that only one of these cultures is capable of killing the other. What was, and is, traditional American culture, this unique heir to Western Civilization – that thing that sustained the West for so long relies upon three permanent things; the rule of law, a Christian worldview, and right-reasoned ideas from Greek Philosophy. In the West, these three permanent things have existed in a balance, all of the elements in their place, counter-balancing the others in just such a way that allowed us to develop art, government, economies, and concepts of the individual and the state that are perhaps the highest human achievement. Not perfect, as nothing made of man is, but decent, adequate, and superior to other attempts.

 

One could spend pages highlighting how in the very midst of what we have been something else grew and developed, ebbing and flowing at various points in history, but now rising to the point of usurping and replacing the whole of the former. Historically, when the balance of the permanent things in the West is upset, terrible things happened. Communism, Jacobinism, statism, fascism, and secularism, all of these were born in the water of our culture, but all were nurtured and grown through the application of imbalanced nourishment.

 

What shall become of us once we expunge Blackstone, Cicero, Plato (corrected by Aristotle), Aquinas, and yes, even Calvin from our foundation? What happened to Germany when they inserted Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger into the basement, replacing support beams? What of when the French brought on Rousseau? Russia Marx? New ideas are not bad because they are new, but new ways of approaching foundational issues that are unrelated to the existing architecture have generally always brought bad ends. A Chevrolet transmission is built to go into Chevrolet automobiles and to do otherwise takes care, and sometimes fails.

 

I thought perhaps at least one chapter should be devoted to France. We often forget the influence of France on American culture, how fond our elites, professionals and the dandy class were of French culture. As late as the 1930s many in the American military were enamored with French military theorists, despite what perhaps ought to have been obvious to them. Americans were, and perhaps to some degree still are drawn to French fashion, and for much of our history have been. But a realist's assessment of France would tell us that French civilization committed suicide, or was murdered in the late 18thCentury. French art after their revolution and the mass murder of decency demonstrates a marked decline, from beautiful, to fuzzy and weird in the expressionist era to the point where a sterile pyramid passes for art in front of the Louvre. Riding the reputation of Napoleon’s successes many believed France a great military power in the 19th and 20th centuries, but history tells us differently. Russia occupied Paris in 1814, Prussia in 1870, Germany almost in 1917, and Germany in 1940. It is not inaccurate to say that in each case if other nations had not intervened on behalf of France, the nation might simply not exist. There are real consequences to a nation and a people destroying the culture and the foundations that made the nation – France can teach that lesson.

 

But then I am reminded again of what we have become. How can another school filled with little children be the scene of murder? Why are we incapable of even asking the right questions? Surely the problem is much more complex than guns, if we somehow removed all of the guns the problem with people that commit these acts would persist. We are not capable of asking that question, this existential question. I suspect the nasty truth of it all is that the real problem is not just an American problem, it manifests here as mass shootings, but I suspect the real problem, the dark evil, exists across the West, it merely manifests differently and less obviously in Britain, Germany, and France. We cannot ask and answer the right questions because our foundation is out of balance, we are now missing a leg or two of the stool.

 

Fundamentally though, realizing that we as a culture are incapable of even pondering the fundamental questions related to such heinous evil, I am left with a secondary question. How does a people ever recover from this level of depravity? It is a fair question, perhaps the most significant of our time. Idealists believe they have the answer, ‘take away the tools and treat the symptoms’ – but their prescription ignores the cause, their worldview leaves them incapable of even identifying the cause.

 

The issue is something of a bellwether, it is not the only indicator, but it is significant; perhaps in a way that those that do so much performative gnashing of teeth on social media in the immediate aftermath of such events will never understand.

 

Should we be at all surprised by the growing din of dissatisfaction and agitation at home, rising crime, unspeakable violence, and entire segments of the population living in a government-induced state that debars them from any hope of legitimately participating in society? If our government has proven, repeatedly, to be so carefree with the principle concept of the rule of law ought we be surprised by crime and looting? Does the fact that the US has been at war more years since the end of the Cold War than all conflicts of the 20th century combined have any impact on our ever-decreasing view of the value of life? Of property? Of human dignity and freedom? Ought we be surprised at the current cavalier, reckless, and irrational behavior of Western governments toward Russia, risking total war over a circumstance we ourselves had a large role in creating? Do we have a right to complain about bad governance when so many of our fellows are so easily swayed by empty promises, turning a blind eye to hypocrisy and lies?

 

One could write these things, providing historical examples of how empires devolve into corruption, depravity, and lastly endless wars during the waning phase of their existence. But these things have already been written, beginning with the history of the Peloponnesian Wars and on we can see the pattern. Human nature is a general law of history and men seem to repeat their most egregious errors over and over. One could write it, but it is already written, one need only check a library to find it. The astute among us sense this as truth already without full knowledge of the historical record.

 

So, while such a book ought to be written, and I am sure that it could be – I have the outline on my computer – I am not sure it has a real purpose. Yes, people ought to be wary of charlatans that paint their lies in truth, issuing dark and forboding predictions (many that seem to come true, for reasons beyond the scope here). They identify the problem and ride the truth of that to sell pillows and supplements, and then provide you with hope. An almost cult-like hope reminiscent of the theme used by Q; dark times ahead, we will be saved and throw off the darkness and then live a bright future. But how, all things considered, how? How does one put the cap back on the bottle of so much depravity, how does one reset the culture to a point that the foundation is back in balance? Is there a historical example of people that have done this in the past? A full book version would spend some time explaining that neither Germany nor France did, Japan either. That last one is a shocking claim but simple to prove. I find no examples in history of the future these deceivers predict occurring, anywhere, ever, except in one place. Ancient Israel (not speaking of the modern nation-state), and what a story that is considering how long it took them to recover from their folly, and what a hard road it was. And frankly, their story was much less about them and much more about grace and divine guidance and intervention.

 

Ultimately, such a book if anyone ever wrote it, ought to be much less about hope in collective humanity and government systems and much more about how humans deal with the struggles and trials of great transformations and the death of old ways. It would not be doom and gloom, although the reality of it all ought to elicit no small degree of sadness. Thematically, I would think of the book as hospice for a dying culture and for those that love the culture. A way to accept, move on, and retain something of what was, even if it is in small ways. None of it would be intended to inspire defeatism, the Siege of Masada is something I believe would be told in this unwritten book. Humans should do their duty, stand for a cause and act in ways that align with real principles no matter the odds or even the likely outcome.

 

I do not know that I ever will write this book. I do not know that I have the capabilities to do it justice. I do not know that it is required. Sitting on a table next to my reading chair is a collection of books, things written by men much more gifted and intelligent than I. Within those volumes is the entirety of everything I would write. There is nothing new under the sun and as Clyde Wilson wrote recently, good and farseeing people knew all of this. Some of those good and farseeing people struggle now with hopelessness, but they should not. They need only lift and shift their hope to a different source.