Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad refers to the U.S., and by extension the West per se, as an ofuli (sunset) power. Nothing apparently new here. Ezra Pound’s 1920 poem “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” had famously written off Western civilization, and by implication the U.S. — since the fate of the former is coterminous with that of the latter — as “an old bitch gone in the teeth … a botched civilization … two gross of broken statues … a few thousand battered books.” Six years later Oswald Spengler published The Decline of the West, putting paid once and for all to the soaring adventure of Western civilization which, he proclaimed, has lost “its desire to be … and … wishes itself out of the overlong daylight and back in the darkness.” More recently, the grand old man of American letters Jacques Barzun, in his magisterial tome From Dawn to Decadence, knelled Western culture as “old and unraveling.” Ahmadinejad is in more venerable company than he could have imagined — or deserved.
I’m reminded, too, of those striking lines from Shelley’s great poem “Adonais,” lamenting the death of John Keats but containing passages that are universally applicable:
… a Power
Girt round with weakness — it can scarce uplift
The weight of the superincumbent hour;
Is a dying lamp, a falling shower,
A breaking billow; even whilst we speak
Is it not broken?
There’s nothing especially novel in the fact that great powers decline and civilizations wane, crushed under the weight of the “superincumbent hour.” The rise and fall of empires was the central theme of major historians like Polybius, Gibbon, Vico, and Toynbee. It is a leitmotif in the narratives of various civilizations. The Mayan “Long Count” calendar, for example, calculated a sequence of time cycles ending on December 21, 2012 — a doomsday prospectus exploited by the blockbuster film 2012. The notorious Toledo Letter of 1184 announced the end of days in 1186 and, when the moment passed without devastating confirmation, continued to circulate suitably updated. St. Augustine’s biblical eschatology of the seven Aetates (states, ages) from creation to consummation, elaborated in Book XXII of City of God, was taken up by the 12th-century Franciscan monk Joachim of Fiora, who posited three historical ages or statuses, leading after a global upheaval to the “eighth day of eternity.” Joachim thought he lived in the 40th generation of the second status, two generations from the consummation. As Rob Kutner drolly suggests in Apocalypse How, the end of the world has been expected since its beginning. The premonition of millennial advents has always shaken the human psyche.
But something is now happening in the West that may truly spell the end, not of the world but of Western civilization’s long historical trajectory. A plague is spreading far and wide that may be described as an intellectual bubonic taking its dismal toll among those it has infected. It is called political correctness, a malign consummation par excellence. “Political correctness,” says Charles Krauthammer, “is not just an abomination. It is a danger, clear and present.” The fine National Post columnist Lorne Gunter begins a recent article: “Political correctness will be the death of Western civilization because unlike our earlier forms of pluralistic tolerance, PC is willfully blind to the lack of reciprocal tolerance in other cultures.” Political correctness, he concludes, “takes tolerance to a culturally suicidal degree.” We welcome and extenuate those whose most profound desire and intention is to destroy us.
The idea of Western self-immolation has enjoyed a long shelf life among contemporary intellectuals, from James Burnham’s 1964 Suicide of the West to Howard Rotberg’s just-released Tolerism. As Rotberg observes, “Cultural and moral relativism, moral equivalency, and political correctness have all contributed to a modern political culture whose elites and cultural symbols evidence, not only an undue tolerance of the illiberals, but a disturbing element of self-hatred, cultural masochism, and delusions about the difference between social tolerance and political tolerance — and an elevation of tolerance over the principle of justice.” Author and democracy advocate Brigitte Gabriel has recently added her voice to the campaign against this infusorial scourge. “A pandemic of political correctness,” she charges, “has chained, blinded, and muted American leaders.” And as she rightly points out, alluding to the event that is being spun and re-spun by the media and entrenched officialdom as the one-off act of a deranged Army major rather than the premeditated deed of a radical jihadist, “the Fort Hood terrorist attack is a direct tragic consequence of political correctness.”
Political correctness is without doubt one of the most effective weapons in the real unacknowledged war that is being waged today, the war of self-subversion. It relies on the strategy of specialized euphemism to avoid naming things or events honestly and directly, gutting the vocabulary in order to avoid giving offense or to dodge the labor and inconvenience of confronting unsettling circumstances. What one recoils from naming, one cannot identify and adequately combat. Political correctness is different from what we might call “ordinary lying,” from misrepresenting, exaggerating, or omitting facts to promote our perceived advantage. It is a form of lying to ourselves with the surreptitious purpose of either flattering our presumed righteousness or evading the need to respond to menacing developments with vigor and courage. Political correctness is the lingua franca of what editor Beryl Wajsman calls “an ungracious age filled with inelegant self-absorption.” It is the idiom of cowards who, by refusing to name things candidly and unequivocally, will ironically bring upon themselves precisely what they wish to escape. For to call a thorn by the name of “rose” will not stop the bleeding when we pluck it.
Perhaps its most evident expression at the present time is the general reluctance to take the objective measure of one of the most troubling actors on the political proscenium, Barack Obama (whom I sometimes think may as well be surnamed Obaminejad, given his destabilizing impact on the United States). This is surely the case with a majority of Americans (and, of course, the flaccid Europeans) who persist in regarding him as someone who has drunk deep from the well of wisdom rather than the gutter of Chicago politics. Portraying the president as anything but the man who has clearly revealed himself in action and executive fiat — a man who by temperament and conviction is deeply hostile to the welfare of his country and whose policies threaten to plunge the United States into debacle and collapse — will serve no one’s ultimate interests. Regrettably, the indisputable facts of his administration have, at least up to now, been unable to gain serious traction on the frictionless surface of politically correct language and thinking, which insists on lacquering the president with choice epithets rather than seeing and naming him for what he is. Referring to Megatron as Optimus Prime and behaving accordingly is a certain way to invite disaster in a transformative era.
But the facts abide nonetheless. Barring a 180 degree turn of mind, the man who is shaping up to be the worst president in American history — indeed, he may have already achieved that dubious honor — will bring his country to its knees, ensuring both the dissolution of American solvency and the eclipse of American power. It cannot be said often enough:
The man who has scrubbed the word “terrorism” from the official lexicon and replaced it in politically correct fashion by “man-caused disasters”; who apologizes profusely to the anti-liberal Islamic world for American initiatives, thereby mistaking the comparatively innocent for the incontestably guilty; who supports the would-be Honduran dictator Manuel Zelaya and snuggles up to despots like Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez, Bashar Assad, and Mahmoud Abbas; who spends the family income like a drunken parvenu and prints money like there’s no tomorrow (which there may not be); who attempts to ram injurious and costly bills like health care “reform” and cap and trade into law; who has embraced the dubious science and furtive profiteering of green energy conglomerates; who has thoroughly Nixonized American politics by allowing his personal animosities to intrude upon his public comportment; who has acted like a rank amateur in the field of international diplomacy, betraying his Eastern European allies, refusing to support the widespread revolutionary movement in Iran while catering to the mullahs as they proceed on their relentless march to nuclear capability, and who, owing to his misguided ultimatums, is singlehandedly responsible for the current stalemate in the Middle East peace process; who has permitted his subordinates to work against the country’s security by, to cite one instance, having them accuse his own intelligence agencies of illegitimate practices; who is reducing America’s military deterrent capacities at the very time that the vultures are gathering round; who brings the 9/11 terrorists to stand trial in a civilian court, a decision, as David Horowitz writes, “which will divulge America’s security secrets to the enemy since civilian courts afford defendants the right of discovery,” and which, as Ronald Kessler suggests, in gifting foreign terrorists with the same constitutional protections American citizens enjoy, risks the possibility they could be acquitted; who displays a truly staggering ignorance of both American and world history (and who among his many deficiencies has piquantly failed to master the Austrian language); who has placed under legal seal many of the personal records and documents that would allow the American people insight into his past, and has employed DOJ attorneys to quash the ongoing birth certificate controversy, spending, according to reports, 1.4 million of taxpayer dollars in the process; who, in violation of the spirit of the Constitution, bows obsequiously to the Saudi king and the Japanese emperor; who has recruited into his administration distinctly unsavory lieutenants and coadjutors, some of whom have professed communist sympathies; and who has attempted to suppress or simply denied his relationship with equally shady characters on the American political and religious scene — if this man is not frustrated in his efforts, the United States will see the end of its tenure as the world’s leading power and may never recover its primacy on the world stage.
The best-case scenario is that things are, shall we say, hopefully changing and the tide of public sentiment is reversing — even the twittering classes may be having second thoughts. The only question that would then linger is whether the president might experience an (unlikely) revelation and decide to change course or whether he can be turfed out of office before he does irreparable damage. But I suspect that the above-quoted lines from Shelley remain poignantly relevant. “Even whilst we speak, is it not broken?” I think, too, of those elegiac phrases from Leonard Cohen’s brilliant song “Closing Time”: it “looks like freedom but it feels like death.” For as Cohen chants, despite all the revelry and hoopla, there will be “hell to pay when the fiddler stops.”
Is the fiddler still playing or is the dance now done? Are we witnessing “a dying lamp”? Is Ahmadinejad right? Has political correctness successfully shielded a ruinous president from public disclosure and, in so doing, ensured the approaching dusk of a once great power and the Western world along with it? Will tolerance trump justice? Will the Decepticons win? Is America about to enter the third status? Is this how an empire disintegrates, not with a bang and not with a whimper, but with the presumption of false grandeur and the rhetoric of cant and doublespeak?
I have a very bad feeling. I sense that if Barack Obama gets his way, backed by the most corrupt political party in living memory and reinforced by a seditious and cheerleading media, America will have been transformed beyond recognition as it limps into the sunset of its days.