A Melancholy Calculation

Pictured above: Angelus Novus (1920) by Paul Klee

Nothing is too big to fail, including civilizations, and ours is no exception. The decline of the West is historically inevitable, subject to the universal principle of entropy that functions on every plane of natural existence, including the cultural. The agencies by which it works on this level are readily isolated: the endemic vices and pathologies of human nature (greed, resentment, hatred, envy, sloth); the tendency to take for granted the benefits, rights and privileges that have been painfully won in the past and gradually squandered in the present; the eclipse of historical memory and the concomitant exhaustion of mental vigilance. Whether decline can be retarded is, of course, an open question, but one thing is certain: pushback is futile absent the recognition of the symptoms of decay.

Perhaps the most evident sign of civilizational devolution is the inability or unwillingness to acknowledge reality, to come to terms with things as they are, and to oppose the suppression of objectivity and its substitution by fantasy, illusion and wish-fulfillment. The resonating dictum of the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Parmenides from his fragmentary poem On Nature—variously translated as what is, is, and what is not, is not!—sounds like an empty tautology. But it has relevance for our present historical moment, with respect to the cultural and lexical inversions of contemporary thought and discourse. Apart from its metaphysical implications, which we won’t go into here, the Parmenidean maxim expresses the criterion for survival, the need to separate truth (aletheia) from opinion (doxa) and to recognize things as they are if an individual, a culture, a people is to transact successfully with the existing world. But when thought and action come to be governed by the anarchic principle that what is, is not and what is not, is, a process of social, political and epistemological disintegration invariably sets in. This is the condition in which the West finds itself today.