On the Delicacy of Civilization

Civilization is amazingly robust so long as everyone in its ambit agrees in a commitment to its fundamental proposals. When everyone in Rome does as the Romans do, Rome is (within her own precincts at least) invincible. But when the phalanx breaks even a little, it tends to fall apart altogether.

But then the phalanx, and the civilization which it serves and exemplifies, is for that reason terribly vulnerable to the least bit of moral deviation from her ends on the part of any of her members.

High civilization proceeds on the basis of a common agreement among all men that things ought to be done a certain way, and in no other. They may not all do them quite in that way, but they must all at least agree that they ought thus to be done. And this agreement must by its nature cover millions of conventions, that none of us notice, and that we all take for granted.

These thoughts arose in me as my wife and I crept up the ramp toward the San Francisco Bay Bridge the other evening in rush hour traffic. Everyone using the Bridge – more than 250,000 people per day – relies on an expectation that no one would think to blow it up, despite how easy it would be to do so. Even the criminal gangsters of a civilization would not think to blow up its bridges – or its dams, transmission lines, power plants, fuel depots, pipelines, subways, or any other of the thousands upon thousands of publicly accessible facilities which have been all built and maintained on the basis of a presupposition that people can generally be trusted to participate the civilization civilly. Even crime is a procedure of civilization. The hit man may shoot the priest, but it would never occur to him to burn the church.

Even the criminal and the gangster must feel, and enact, a certain loyalty to the civil order, upon which after all their own depredations depend for their profits. And this is a loyalty not merely nominal, but also, and primarily, personal, and indeed moral. Gangsters will go to war for the nation they love. What more is war than this, after all? What is it, more than men of all sorts and conditions burying their familiar and tribal disagreements and banding together in a coordinate connational gang to defeat another gang?

But then as we admit more and more men from alien civilizations that hate ours and would see it annihilated, who see it as their religious duty to destroy us, we should expect that all our public works will come under attack, sooner or later. What no mafioso would contemplate, the interlopers among us will eventually do – because they would, and because we make it so that they can.

Civilization is tremendously robust so long as the culture and cult that subvene it defend themselves consistently and thoroughly against their challengers. Practically speaking, the success of that defense depends upon unanimity – upon a pervasive, general, even pre-conscious loyalty to the basic propositions of society, and to the fellows who embody them. Men commit to each other, as friends and brothers; but friends and brothers are known in the first place by their shared loyalty to the cult that, as expressing the logos of their polis, they all love, and would if put to it die for. Such is morale: confidence that one’s folk is in the right, and that right must in the end prevail, nor death nor harrowing nor heartbreak.

We must give our adversaries this: they are passionately, honestly, totally committed to their harebrained notions, and many are willing to die for them.

But let their phalanx be broken by so much as a single shield, and the whole day is put at risk.

That we of the orthosphere exist at all, then, indicates that our civilization is rotted at its very roots. That we could even think such things as we think means that modernism has begun to devour itself. In a healthy culture, such revolutionaries as we would be unthinkable.

Diversity of opinion in respect to first things then is social suicide. It is the death of any social order that allows it. And people recognize that this is so; that is why today, on college campuses (where first things are traditionally plumbed), no diversity of opinion is brooked. Everyone must signal their agreement to the common cult, or be banished. No deviation may be tolerated.

We fool ourselves to think it is ever otherwise. As there is always an oligarchy, a priesthood, a market, a household, so is there always a Party line.

The weaker a society, the more pusillanimous or epicene, depraved, debauched, or just lazy, the more must it insist on public ritual obeisance to its cult in order to forestall its complete deliquescence. What is in itself wrong, and thus weak, must work hard to perdure; what is naturally well fitted to reality need not struggle at all.

Do our adversaries shriek and shout? They do. Their ritual scapegoating waxes incessant, and ever more desperate. What should that tell us?

It should tell us that their civilization is fragile, and liable to shatter; that they know this, and are afraid. When it does, what quiet, relentless, ancient patient thing will then rise up from the depths to overwhelm and replace it? What will happen when men suddenly come to their senses?

Parlous times, indeed. Yet dire as things now seem, we must remember that our challenge today is not different from those of our forefathers, or of our sons. Civilization is always fragile. Patience, then; and courage. Things are ever all made again new. We have every reason to hope. Lock shields!

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

– WB Yeats, The Second Coming

14 thoughts on “On the Delicacy of Civilization

  1. Pingback: On the Delicacy of Civilization | Neoreactive

  2. A few years ago I was in a video conference with about 50 people, hosted by Alan Keyes. At some point in the duscussion I asked Dr. Keyes to discuss the importance of “societal cohesion” to the preservation of the nation. He seemed to be taken a little off-guard by the question, and his commentary – mostly having to do with trying to reason people into embracing ‘proposition nation’ principles, as I recall – disappointed me greatly. What I was *hoping* he would address is the stupidity of bringing in hordes of foreigners whose world view is incompatible (more or less) with a world view necessary to protect and preserve our national character (that which is worth preserving, that is), and save us from the fate of Rome et al. Dejected, I thanked him for his answer and politely excused myself from the conversation. Lol.

    Nice write-up.

  3. Pingback: On the Delicacy of Civilization | Reaction Times

  4. Kristor outdoes himself again. Superb article. Consider the new policy in the United Kingdom to combat dreaded ‘extremism’. It is a program designed to flush the media and academia with a charge to promote that which the government defines as ‘British values’. They are as follows:

    “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”

    When your nation’s government actually has to promote the nation’s supposed values, it becomes quite clear they are fabricated. Why on earth would a healthy nation need the government to impose its own values on itself? The fact is these aren’t values, they are, in their interpretation by the elite, diktats of a cult desperately trying to stem its own decline. The Western man, having lost his religion and thus the values that once sustained his existence, is easy picking for an organized and hostile invader.

    • Thanks, Mark.

      “… democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs …”

      The contradiction implicit in liberalism is here made explicit; for, what is liberal society to do about those in its midst who believe differently about the rule of law, toleration, and so forth? Respect and tolerate them? The liberal mantra presupposes and supervenes upon an unnoticed but pervasive general conviction that it is right to behave like Englishmen. But this can work only among men who are mostly like Englishmen.

  5. Do our adversaries shriek and shout? They do. Their ritual scapegoating waxes incessant, and ever more desperate. What should that tell us?

    It should tell us that their civilization is fragile, and liable to shatter.

    I disagree. The scapegoating is not a last-ditch attempt to uphold their values. The scapegoating is the entire point behind their values. Our enemies claim to be liberators struggling against an oppressor. If the oppressor were definitively defeated, then the struggle would end. But if the struggle has ended, then that means that whatever social order which they have achieved must be obeyed and reverenced.

    Our enemies cannot bear this. One of their mottos is “Rules were made to be broken.” For them, all rules are mere conventions that grind down the holy individual. All rules must come from the oppressor class. Their own rules, of course, don’t count… until they do.

    Let’s give up the tactic of calling our enemies weak. That trick only works in their hands. It’s meant to put us on the defensive. They have been ruling over us for generations. If they are weak, then what does that make us?

    Our present situation is the nightmare which the genuine Right has been warning everyone about since time out of mind. It is not an aberration. The Reign of Terror is not the decadent last stage of the Revolution; it is the purpose of the Revolution.

    • While I sympathize with much of what you say – the Left does indeed appear hideously strong these days – I can’t agree with some of it. Granted that the Reign of Terror is inherent to the Revolution, but it is rather a side effect than the main thing. I doubt that the French Revolutionaries turned to each other before they got started and said, “Tell you what, let’s slaughter the clerics and the nobles, *so that* we can then turn and start slaughtering each other.” People just don’t work that way. If they wanted to slaughter each other, they’d get to it directly, and spare themselves the trouble of destroying the state first. But of course they did not at first want to slaughter each other at all.

      The purpose of the Revolution is always to generate a new and utopian humanity – to immanentize the eschaton. Only once this project begins to gather steam do its proponents discover that they are going to have to start killing or ostracizing anyone in order to bring it about. NB that in saying this I am treating the October Revolution and all its progeny as latter phases of the French Revolution. The latter Revolutionaries like Lenin understood quite well that murder would be necessary.

      Some degree of scapegoating seems to be endemic among deficiently Christian polities. The difference between traditional pagan societies and modern Revolutionary societies in this respect is that the latter have systematically eliminated the gods from the economy of sacrifice. With no gods to appease, moderns cannot ever effect a fully satisfactory bout of scapegoating. Having rejected with the gods the dependent notions of ritual and purity, they cannot obtain ritual purity even for a moment. Thus while a traditional pagan society could sate consciences with a few regular periodic sacrifices, Revolutionary society cannot. It is insatiable. It must resort to more and more frequent, more and more extravagant displays of scapegoating, that in turn more and more insult the conscience. It is a vicious cycle.

      This is why the Reign of Terror is inherent in the Revolution.

      You are right to remark that the Left is constitutionally incapable of recognizing that it is itself now the Establishment. It exists not to serve any order, but only as a rebellion. It dare not therefore ever rest, but must busy itself always discovering and rooting out ever more rococo sins against political correctness, that can then in turn serve to justify the insatiable demand of its adherents for a steady supply of suitably abhorrent scapegoats.

      Does the Left understand us as weak? It seems to me rather that they think of us as immensely strong – a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” the Power to whom they bravely speak Truth. They think of their Presidents as embattled, stymied on every side by evil Republicans. I’ve heard these sorts of things from their lips.

      They *need* an apparently strong adversary, to motivate the hunt for scapegoats.

      What’s more, I think they may be correct about their enemies to the right. Men are naturally conservative, and they like what works. Falsehood and incoherence are inherently unstable, for they don’t work; and the contradictions in Leftist doctrine being so pervasive, its adherents cannot but suffer constantly a fair degree of cognitive dissonance. They feel this; that’s why they need so much Prozac. Unprincipled exceptions only get you so far. They know they are diseased, if not consciously then organically.

      When the mass of simple men awaken in defense of their families, the Left will be blown away like chaff, as when the Warsaw Pact fell. The archons of the Left witnessed that fall. They know how quickly paradigms can overturn. They know that there is a real danger they might themselves soon end up in tumbrils.

      And there is pervasive unease out there about the stability of our civilization, a nagging worry that it is a house of cards about to come tumbling down. The interesting thing is that our material civilization is more robust and wealthier than ever. The approaching crisis of the Leftist modern order, while real enough, will transpire primarily in the realm of the imagination – of the Narrative, the Cult, and of the Fake Economy.

      • Yes, Kristor, well put. The victory of the Left is in the mind. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, O’Brien tells Smith that the battle-ground of Ingsoc’s revolution is the mental conception of reality of the subject. The Left in North America has created a second reality. The Left enforces this second reality with punitive sanctions on dissidents. But it is a house of cards, precisely, like the USSR. Mr. Trump’s non-PC expressions demonstrate how vulnerable that second reality is. Fear keeps us enslaved. Speech is the antidote to fear. Money buys a good deal of courage. We pauvred commoners must learn to be fearless as well as moneyless.

      • Most people are idiots, thus are influenced easily by popular culture which is today run by the elite. They are made into morons. But for situations that directly affect them, as does immigration, unless they are actually ideological, they will take the sensible approach. It is exactly for this reason why people cannot be trusted to make wise decisions on the large scale (and even on the personal scale, but we cannot change that). Democracy is a disease for exactly this reason. Once again, I must say, vox populi est non vox dei.

  6. There is a fellow named Phillip Bobbitt who, some years back, published a great, fat book called The Shield of Achilles. In this he discusses the rise of the market state, a polity held together by nothing but the promise of shared prosperity: it’s really nothing but a corporation with territory. He remarks that such a polity must expect to pay much more for soldiers, police, firefighters, teachers and such, since there will be no national mythos, no sentiment, no sacrifice.

    We might see this as the final triumph of contract over status, since citizenship is one of the last forms of status, and governments are intent on replacing it with something that looks much more like contract.

    This will hasten your collapse scenario, since a massive influx of aliens changes alienates the native population. They become strangers in their own land, and so less concerned with what becomes of its bridges, dams, laws, institutions, etc. If you tell the natives they are wrong to think that the country is theirs, that it is in some mystical way my country, you should not be surprised to find that they no longer treat it as theirs.

  7. “But with the Internet we have this multiplicity of ways in which man’s sinfulness can be manifested. There is this ease with which we do things online that shows how concealed from us and others all the implications of our actions are. The impersonal nature, the ability to alter and even remove our own words, and else: all this creates a false world (and worlds). This is exactly why individuals are capable of pretending to be other than they are, which is also possible in person, but to a limited degree, whereas in the virtual world the possibilities become almost endless.”

  8. Pingback: The Verdict of Paris | The Orthosphere

  9. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/11/15) | The Reactivity Place


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