A year before he starved to death in February 1919, the Russian writer Vasily Rozanov published the essay The Apocalypse of Our Time. Looking at the events of the previous few months, he not so much wrote as wept: “Russia faded away in two days. At most – three.”
In 1925 TS Eliot wrote the poem The Hollow Man, where he too sounded an apocalyptic motif, albeit its different variation: “This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper.”
A major country fading away in two days, three at most, testified to the world (for which Russia was a metaphor) indeed ending with a bang, an instant violent outburst. Yet the two writers weren’t at odds; their themes meet at counterpoint.
It isn’t either a bang or a whimper, it’s both. What finishes off civilisations is indeed a protracted whimper, a slow erosion of will and atrophy of self-confidence. This brings a civilisation down to its knees (or one knee, as the case may be). When a bang arrives, as it usually does, it merely administers a coup de grâce.
This is exactly what happened to the Roman Empire. The Romans no longer understood their own society. They no longer knew what role they themselves had to play in their community, or what role their community played in the general scheme of things.
Mired in confusion, they resorted to decadence. Misguided in their overall direction, they got lost in a warren of blind alleys. They tried to probe every path, but there was no way out – they were running in place. Fatigue set in. Step by step, the stuffing went out of their previously taut muscles, and they fell prey to barbarian attacks.
Such is the aetiology of the senility to which historians usually ascribe the demise of Rome. And not only Rome. RG Collingwood, our underrated philosopher, extrapolated to a general principle:
“Civilisations sometimes perish because they are forcibly broken up by the armed attack of enemies without or revolutionaries within; but never from this cause alone. Such attacks never succeed unless the thing that is attacked is weakened by doubt as to whether the end which it sets before itself, the form of life which it tries to realise, is worth achieving. On the other hand, this doubt is quite capable of destroying a civilisation without any help whatever. If the people who share a civilisation are no longer on the whole convinced that the form of life which it tries to realise is worth realising, nothing can save it.”
Collingwood died in 1943, but if he were alive today, he’d no doubt observe every symptom of the collective disease he so perceptively diagnosed.
We too are no longer certain of our fundamental convictions. We too have replaced stern resolve with decadence. We too have lost the will to defend ourselves.
The major difference is that we haven’t yet had this point hammered home by a barbarian onslaught. But few are the optimists who maintain that such a development is improbable. Even fewer are the realists who point out that the barbarians have already attacked and won. Except that in our case they came from inside the city walls.
The vandals may fly any number of flags, each of them false in the sense that none would be faithful to the barbarians’ impelling animus. They may inscribe whatever slogan seems promising: anarchism, racial and sex equality, BLM, global warming, anti-nuke – whatever actuates mass passion at the moment, whatever makes the walls totter.
Arguing against the slogan of the day is pointless, especially since, taken at face value, some of them are unobjectionable, what Karl Popper would have called unfalsifiable. For example, who in his right mind would object to the slogan ‘black lives matter’ by saying no, they don’t?
Accepting slogans at face value, or rather pretending to do so, is a time-proven mechanism of craven, abject surrender. A robust civilisation with an intact will to defend itself would be strong enough to see through the slogans and respond with all it has to the murderous intent they camouflage.
Shifting history to the proscribed subjunctive mood, how do you suppose any Victorian prime minister, say Peel, Disraeli or Salisbury, would have responded to an orgy of rioting and looting accompanied by attacks on the Union Jack and other cherished symbols of the nation?
Would they have failed to see the rioters as the deadly enemies of our very civilisation? Would they have instructed the police to show solidarity and only use force when absolutely necessary or not even then? Of course not. They would have seen themselves as the strong arm of a collective will and acted accordingly.
Such a collective will no longer exists. That’s why it’s really useless to invoke the names I mentioned. Those prime ministers would have acted decisively and ruthlessly not because they were better men than today’s lot, but because they had the power of society’s convictions.
Today’s governments are reaping the harvest of defeatism and acquiescence nurtured over many decades. Having lost a unifying centre – spiritual, cultural, social and therefore political – our civilisation has been ceding one by one its positions at the periphery.
No politician can these days have a career unless he professes affection for whatever false flag is hoisted by the enemies of our civilisation. No one in public life can let slip that he sees the hatred and murderous intent hiding behind the flags.
Any idiocy, ignorance or madness merits serious discussion, or what passes for it nowadays. If our enemies insist that there exist 57 sexes, not just two; or that it’s perfectly normal for a man born as a woman to produce a child by a woman born as a man; or that capitalism is destroying ‘our planet’ with carbon dioxide; or that women constitute an oppressed minority; or that various ethnic groups are being targeted for institutional violence; or that children should vote and therefore add their gonadal input into government – we can’t just tell them to shut up and go back to work.
We no longer have the power of our convictions because we have neither convictions nor power. What we have is boundless confidence that what happened in Russia, circa 1917, or in Germany, circa 1933, or for that matter in Rome, circa 410, can’t happen here.
Oh yes it can, ladies and gentlemen: the whimper has been going on for too long to preclude a bang.