And So It Begins?
So another year has drawn to a close. Having bid adieu to 2015 I cannot help but feel very few will feel sad to be rid of it. At the very least it will be remembered as the year that Pax Americana heaved its last dying breaths. For better or worse, the illusion of American predominance has been shattered as from Asia to the Middle East to Europe events have conspired to show just how impotent that once great power has become under the last eight years of stewardship under Barack Obama. To be fair, the two presidents who preceded him likely deserve as much of the blame as our deal Chicago community organizer. George Bush Sr. may well be remembered by history as the last great President of a great United States of America for certainly his term was the last one that saw an America of any real achievement on the world stage. Under the elder Bush, the United States shattered the last remnants of the Soviet empire and decisively began the enforcement of watchful peace across the globe by foiling the ambitions of Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War. Looking back, it is truthfully hard not to see this as America’s zenith, with all that followed being naught but one long fighting retreat.
But it is another illusion that may also have been shattered in this past year I wish to speak of. Less noticed (in whole if not in parts) has been the emerging cracks that have begun to appear in another dominant order, that of the liberal Enlightenment consensus that has governed all public affairs, within the Western world at least, since the end of the Second World War. For nearly seven decades now there has been no true challenge to this seemingly unassailable ideology. All politics and public debate have been constrained within an Overton window that is split between classical liberals on the right and progressives on the left. Any real advocacy of tradition, and hierarchy, and the values of old has been at best tolerated and bought off with the occasional sop in the form of the rare rhetorical nod by some politician stumping for votes or the occasional half-hearted bit of legislative lip service.
Before going further I would like to pre-emptively state that this has by all means not been entirely bad. As much as I may condemn the (mostly unintended I feel) consequences of the philosophising of the philosophes of old, I will be the first to acknowledge that much good has been brought about as well. The emergence of the right for all to think and to speak as they see fit, without regard to the sensibilities of either creed or religion or ideology, is one of the greatest achievements of the modern world. The banishment from acceptable society of all true expressions of racism and intolerance is similarly to be applauded. To be seen, and judged, for what we do and say as individuals is a hard fought right I will defend to my last breath and I give due deference to the liberals of old who unquestionably championed this against the might of the ancien regime that came before.
That being said, it can also not be denied that this road of the Enlightenment we have been walking down for such a very long time has led us to a very dark place. Man, as it has turned out, is not a wholly rational being capable of acting solely through the guidance of reason and logic. With tradition, community, faith, family and obligations both born of blood and history having slowly been eroded over the centuries far too many of us, now cut free from the old guidelines we used to hold to for direction, have found ourselves floundering like a lost soul trapped in some dark forest. We have become spiritually sick in many ways, trying to fill a void with the material pursuit of ever more stuff or the indulging in the hedonism of sensory instant gratification as we desperately search for ever more white noise to drown out the sheer deafening emptiness of modernity.
Look around. College students decry the racist “cultural appropriation” of yoga lessons and cafeteria sushi wile demanding a safe space from any tiny hint of reality that might challenge them to think or grow in even the slightest way; Al Pacino’s dire warning of “Makers of men, creators of leaders, be careful what kind of leaders you’re producing here” rings presciently true. Honour killings and female genital mutilation are contextualized as some kind of amusing cultural quirk, while the family and monogamy are sneeringly condemned as a bygone eccentricity of the ever oppressive patriarchal construct. The West as a whole is denounced and condemned as a blight upon the world and called to account for past sins of slavery, empire and war with only it seems its own destruction being a sufficient penance, while those critics that so eagerly preach this from their pulpit in the shadows of the Cathedral ignore the slow gathering of jackals both in and out of the gates aspiring to do just that as they eagerly plot towards their own long night of jihadism and fanaticism.
But perhaps, just perhaps, as we look back upon 2015 one could hopefully begin to see the emergence not just of an awareness of how bad things have gotten but the beginnings of a Reaction against those very conditions. In Europe, parties of both the left and the right have sprung up in practically every nation decrying what they see as the sickness of the modern world. Be they the raging socialists of Podemos in Spain or the hard conservative (if not outright reactionary) governments of Hungary and Poland, the trend is there to see. In Britain, David Cameron has continued to show ever more spine in his second and final term in Number Ten, instructing the schooling system to teach that Britain is a Christian country while continuing his efforts to reorient government policies towards the promotion of the family and community in his model for a “Big Society”. In America, we have seen the phenomena of Donald Trump’s rise to the top of the Republican primary polls based largely on the nostalgic appeal of his pledge to “Make America Great Again”. While highly varied, all these threads hold in common a central distaste for the mess of the modern world by those who have been left behind by it. Indeed, Canada alone seems to have bucked this trend in the past year, with voters having opted to embrace the “sunny ways” of Trudeau the Younger whose entire campaign was seemingly based on a reassertion of the liberal ways of old.
Turn on a recent episode of the BBC’s “Question Time” (which you should watch anyway as it is a premiere example of political commentary) and you can almost sense the waves of anger radiating from the audience. People do increasingly seem to have grown fed up with “them” (who “they” are needs no definition, we all already know), and finally there seem to be those who are willing to name the Emperor Who Has No Clothes. We can see this beyond the realm of politics. In response to the ever more draconian radicalism of the campus SJWs a burgeoning civil libertarian movement has emerged arguing for the importance of free speech and free thinking on a field so wide it encompasses the latest season of South Park on one end and the traditionalist advocate Peter Hitchens on the other. To what is doubtlessly the ire of Richard Dawkins, the geriatric congregations of the Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and United Church continue to grow ever smaller with each year but the pews of the Catholic and Orthodox cathedrals are bursting at the seams with new congregants and vitality; the challenge for our growing liturgical faiths will be to find the voices to accompany their newfound strength. Even as Hilary Clinton continues to beat the old war mantra of “it’s time” on her never-ending quest for the presidency, look beyond the echo chamber of Jezebel and the pro-feminist Twittersphere and you’ll find the first stirring of a pushback as the promises of the Sexual Revolution and Third-Wave of female empowerment have been increasingly shown to be the empty words that they were.
What does this all mean? Perhaps nothing. Being the pessimist that I am I cannot help but worry I am merely seeing signs that I wish to see that in truth foretell nothing or that this is all merely a dead-cat bounce before the final flat lining of Western civilization. And it bears remembering that even if the desire for change is there that is pointless without a vehicle to channel it. The Enlightenment consensus has survived all these years for all its faults largely due to the failure for any coherent alternative narrative to emerge. Socialism, both in its national and international varieties, tried (for all that it was itself just a new evolution of thinking of the philosophes of old taken to a new level) but ultimately proved to be a cure even worse than the disease. Modern thinkers on the subject as varied as Dugin and Houellebecq have all attempted in vain to develop a counter philosophy with a depth to match their criticisms of modernity and its ills. It is not enough merely to know what the path we have been on for so many years is wrong, one must also be able to point to a way forward that is right.
What can be said with some confidence, however, is that 2015 has been a year when a growing realization has come that things have changed, or perhaps begun to change back. The same tired old solutions no longer seem to be sufficient, and an ever larger number of people finally seem willing to look outside the box for new answers. The first step to solving a problem is to admit to its existence, and the crisis the West faces of a sickness of its very soul at last seems to be out in the open. The challenge now is to ask ourselves what will we do about it?