This article was published in New Dawn Special Issue Vol 11 No 3 (June 2017)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction,
while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity
– W. B. Yeats, The Second Coming
Apocalyptic literature and prophecies are found throughout history. But as the ‘world’ has not ‘ended’, our modern day smug intelligentsia – imbued with a belief in ‘progress’ and the Darwinian concept of history that sees a ‘march of humanity’ – scoffs at such notions. Dr. A. R. Wallace, a leading Darwinian scientist of the Victorian era, in a book optimistically entitled The Wonderful Century (1898), wrote of this as the best of all times:
Not only is our century superior to any that have gone before it but… it may be best compared with the whole preceding historical period. It must therefore be held to constitute the beginning of a new era of human progress…1
The philosopher-historian Oswald Spengler predicted the ‘decline of the West’ in the aftermath of World War I. The word most commonly used to describe him, even by his admirers, was that of a ‘pessimist’. Does one, however, become a ‘pessimist’ to acknowledge the mortality of organisms, and acknowledge they have life cycles that end in death? Such is life; such is history. Spengler explained:
I see in place of that empty figment of ONE linear history… the drama of a number of mighty cultures, each having its own life; its own death… Each culture has its own new possibilities of self-expression which arise, ripen, decay and never return…. I see world history as a picture of endless formations and transformations, of the marvellous waxing and waning of organic forms… The professional historian on the other hand, sees it as a sort of tapeworm industriously adding to itself one epoch after another.2
Entitling the first chapter of his treatise on alchemy ‘The Plurality & Duality of Civilisations’, Julius Evola – Spengler’s Italian translator – states:
Recently in contrast to the notion of progress and the idea that history has been represented by more or less continuous upward evolution of collective humanity, the idea of a plurality of the forms of civilisation and of a relative incommunicability between them has been confirmed. According to this second and new vision of history, history breaks down into epochs and disconnected cycles.… A civilisation springs up, gradually reaches a culminating point, and falls into darkness and, more often than not, disappears. A cycle has ended….3
Today’s liberal-democratic intelligentsia actually refer to our era as ‘the end of history’, the term used by Francis Fukuyama as the title of an essay and a subsequent book. Our liberal-democratic ideals, epitomised and imposed over the world by the USA, have supposedly reached such perfection there is nothing left other than to establish a liberal dispensation over the universe for all time, and nothing more need be done. Another name for it is ‘American millennialism’.
Romans, Greeks, Chinese, Moors, Iranians, Assyrians, regarded their empires as eternal. They had their ‘prophets of doom’ who predicted the empire would fall if they forgot their traditions. These doomsayers arose at those very epochs where their civilisations were at the height of wealth and power, typically at the empire-state. Here stands the dilemma, the paradox. When a High Culture (Civilisation) has reached its external limits – as when a human organism reaches middle age – sudden or gradual disintegration is the only course possible. A slow decline may be largely imperceptible. It is what T. S. Eliot referred to when writing of the end of Western civilisation, “not with a bang but with a whimper.”
Oswald Spengler stated that he could show the West is going through the same cycles as Greece and Rome in their epochs of decay. He revealed through studying analogous eras of the history of civilisations, that there is nothing unique about the West’s cycle. It is therefore nonsense to refer to something as ‘progress’ when it has appeared many times before over thousands of years. This is especially true of liberal and left-wing ideas implemented as ‘progressive’, such as the West’s birth control and high abortion rates. A sage from ancient Greece, Rome, India, Egypt, Israel, would say in regard to Western social doctrines called ‘progressive’: ‘been there, done that, and it does not end well’.
Universality of Cyclic Outlook
Traditional societies, that is, those societies that intuited and maintained a connection with divinity and saw their place in a cosmos, regarded cultures as living organisms that passed through cycles of birth, youth, maturity, old age, decay and death.
The Greeks and Romans referred to four eras named after the four metals: gold, silver, bronze and iron. Between the Bronze and Iron cycles was an intervening Heroic cycle, where the Heroes resist encroaching Chaos. The Hindus have four cyclic divisions called yugas: Satya, Treta, Dvapara and Kali, a demon not to be confused with the goddess Kālī; the Kali Yuga being the Dark Age of decline and chaos. The Persians had four cycles named after gold, silver, steel and an iron compound. The Chaldean view was similar. The Mayans had solar cycles, with a fifth Heroic cycle in which giants are fought. Chinese tradition recounts ten former Ages called ‘kis’ that have passed in succession. The Chinese also have an historical perspective based on ‘dynastic cycles’. The Buddhists have ‘Seven Suns’ or epochal cycles.
The Hopi of Arizona say there have been three prior ‘world cycles’ or ‘Suns’. According to Hopi lore, this cycle will end if people do not change their ways. The spirit of the world will become frustrated. A Hopi elder commented to author Graham Hancock that, “There are no values at all any more – none at all – and people live any way they want, without morals or laws. These are the signs that the time has come.” The elder stated that the only chance is “that the Hopi do not abandon their traditions,” and that the Hopi impart their Traditionalism to the rest of the world. He explained that all is fated according to divine law.4
In the Old Testament ‘Daniel’ this rise and fall is represented by a statue of four civilisations symbolised by a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, stomach and thighs of brass, and the legs of iron and feet of iron and clay.5
According to Islam, there is a succession of ‘prophetic cycles’, each ending with the corruption of that cycle and the nexus with the divinity restored by a new prophet.
Warnings from the Past
The whole cosmic order is under Me. By My will it is manifested again and again, and by My will it is annihilated at the end.
– Bhagavad Gita6
A High Culture is maintained by its adherence to Tradition. This typically includes a symbolic axis, such as Mount Olympus or Fuji, or perhaps one that is imaginative such as Yggdrasil of the Norse. The ruler often is a god-king or at least a priest-king whose primary function is to maintain the balance between the terrestrial and divine order, such as the annual rituals performed by the Chinese Emperor at the temple of the Forbidden City. He is responsible for nothing less than the balance between Earth and Cosmos.
If a culture reaches the civilisation stage, the focus is diverted from the internal to the external, from ethos to wealth, from spirit to matter. The degradation is manifested in every facet of society. Religions lose their inner meaning, and become Reformations for example; kings become at most figureheads in a democracy, the social classes reflect money rather than élan, aristocracy gives way to oligarchy and plutocracy in the name of ‘democracy’. This is all called ‘progress’, but has occurred many times before as the symptoms of decay. The process is analogous to a cancer that destroys the cells of an organism, the cells being the classes and institutions of the social organism. In this situation, to quote W. B. Yeats, “the centre does not hold,” ‘progress’ (chaos) destroys the axis around which a culture is maintained, and everything falls apart like spokes falling from a wheel whose axis has broken.
During epochs of decay, those who maintained traditional beliefs are warned of impending culture-death. Religious texts also mention the cyclical character of the cosmos. The Norse referred to the final culture-cycle as the Wolf Age-Axe Age. The focus is on moral decay:
Brothers shall battle and slay one another
Blood ties of sisters’ sons shall be sundered.
Harsh is the world. Fornication is rife,
Luring to faithlessness spouses of others.7
The Hindu text Visnu Purana describes the Kali Yuga in terms that could just as well have been written by a contemporary critic of modern Western society:
Wealth (inner) and piety (following one’s dharma) will decrease day by day until the whole world will be entirely depraved. Then property alone will confer rank; material wealth will be the only source of devotion; passion will be the sole bond between the sexes; falsehood will be the only means of success in litigation… Earth will be venerated for its mineral treasures… He who gives away much money will be the master of men, and family descent will no longer be a title of supremacy… Men will fix their desires upon riches, even though dishonestly acquired.8
The Greek poet Hesiod referred to successive ages, the final being the ‘Iron Age’, in which,
men never rest from labour and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them…. The father will not agree with his children, nor the children with their father, nor guest with his host, nor comrade with comrade; nor will brother be dear to brother as aforetime. Men will dishonour their parents as they grow quickly old, and will carp at them, chiding them with bitter words, hard-hearted they, not knowing the fear of the gods. They will not repay their aged parents the cost their nurture, for might shall be their right: and one man will sack another’s city. There will be no favour for the man who keeps his oath or for the just or for the good; but rather men will praise the evil-doer and his violent dealing. Strength will be right and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked will hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him, and will swear an oath upon them. Envy, foul-mouthed, delighting in evil, with scowling face, will go along with wretched men one and all. And then Aidos and Nemesis, with their sweet forms wrapped in white robes, will go from the wide-pathed earth and forsake mankind to join the company of the deathless gods: and bitter sorrows will be left for mortal men, and there will be no help against evil.9
Polybius (born circa. 200 BCE) observed this phenomenon in Hellenic Civilisation like Spengler did of ours, writing:
In our time all Greece was visited by a dearth of children and generally a decay of population, owing to which the cities were denuded of inhabitants, and a failure of productiveness resulted, though there were no long-continued wars or serious pestilences among us. If, then, any one had advised our sending to ask the gods in regard to this, what we were to do or say in order to become more numerous and better fill our cities, – would he not have seemed a futile person, when the cause was manifest and the cure in our own hands? For this evil grew upon us rapidly, and without attracting attention, by our men becoming perverted to a passion for show and money and the pleasures of an idle life, and accordingly either not marrying at all, or, if they did marry, refusing to rear the children that were born, or at most one or two out of a great number, for the sake of leaving them well off or bringing them up in extravagant luxury.10
The words were echoed by Roman historians centuries later, as Rome underwent the same cycle of decay. Tacitus remarked that regardless of state efforts to encourage the birth rate, “childlessness prevailed.”11 At the beginning of the second century, Pliny the Younger wrote that his was “an age when even one child is thought a burden preventing the rewards of childlessness.” Plutarch observed that the poor had lost the confidence to sire children.12 By the middle of the second century Hierocles stated that “most people” seemed to regard children as interfering with their lifestyle.13 Marriage was no longer regarded a crucial institution, even considered a burden to a hedonistic existence. As early as 131 BCE the Roman Censor Quintus Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus proposed to the Senate that marriage be made compulsory, as too many males were opting to remain unmarried. A century later Augustus Caesar quoted Quintus in proposing his own marriage laws, but met no more favour in the Senate than had the Censor. Prostitution was so widespread it became a substitute for marriage. Roman cities also abounded with male prostitutes as homosexuality and bisexuality had become common.14
Rome, in its decay, sounds all very ‘modern’, very ‘Western’.
In Egypt Nefer-rohu warned Pharaoh of the inversion of the social order that will destroy the cosmic nexus:
The weak of arm is now the possessor of an arm. Men salute respectfully him whom formerly saluted. I show thee the undermost on top, turned about in proportion to the turning about of my belly. The top man will make wealth. It is the paupers who eat the offering bread, while the servants jubilate. The Heliopolitan Nome, the birthplace of every god, will no longer be on earth.15
The predicament sounds like today’s ‘progressive’ theories of equality.
Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406), a well-travelled sage, grappled with the same problems confronting Islamic Civilisation as those Spengler confronted in regard to the West. Like the Greeks, he referred to ‘progressively’ decaying ‘generations’, each further removed from the founding tradition of the culture:
When a tribe has achieved a certain measure of superiority with the help of its group feeling, it gains control over a corresponding amount of wealth and comes to share prosperity and abundance with those who have been in possession of these things. It shares in them to the degree of its power and usefulness to the ruling dynasty. If the ruling dynasty is so strong that no-one thinks of depriving it of its power or of sharing with it, the tribe in question submits to its rule and is satisfied with whatever share in the dynasty’s wealth and tax revenue it is permitted to enjoy…. Members of the tribe are merely concerned with prosperity, gain and a life of abundance. (They are satisfied) to lead an easy, restful life in the shadow of the ruling dynasty, and to adopt royal habits in building and dress, a matter they stress and in which they take more and more pride, the more luxuries and plenty they acquire, as well as all the other things that go with luxury and plenty.
As a result the toughness of desert life is lost. Group feeling and courage weaken. Members of the tribe revel in the well-being that God has given them. Their children and offspring grow up too proud to look after themselves or to attend to their own needs. They have disdain also for all the other things that are necessary in connection with group feeling…. Their group feeling and courage decrease in the next generations. Eventually group feeling is altogether destroyed…. It will be swallowed up by other nations.16
Amidst the corrupt opulence of the eunuch-ridden Chinese court, while the Manchus approached, General Shih K’o-fa addressed his Emperor in Spring 1645:
Whilst Your Majesty is banqueting on choice viands and quaffing wine from beakers of jade, it behoves you to remember your starving servants in the North. If, in spite of all his efforts, the late Emperor was unable to ward off disaster, how much more should you, inferior to him in ability, tremble as one who stands on the brink of a precipice. If you perform your duties with zeal and vigilance, it may be that your ancestors’ spirits in Heaven will intercede with the Almighty on your behalf, and that your heritage may be regained. But if you remain in idle dalliance in Nanking, lavishing favours on sycophants and forgetful of the welfare of your troops, if you proclaim our secret plans from the housetops and fail to distinguish between loyal devotion and treason, if you show yourself so lacking in dignity that the worthy men about you are constrained to retire from official life, and the brave hesitate to serve you, then assuredly your ancestors will regard you as unworthy of their aid, and destruction, inevitable and final, will come upon you.17
China fell to the Manchu and another cycle of dynasties proceeded, until the Manchu also succumbed to decay.
Seeing the Present in the Past
While each High Culture and Civilisation is self-contained, the corresponding culture-epochs between each have been noted by present day historian-philosophers, most notably Spengler. The Traditionalists Julius Evola and Rene Guénon both stated that nothing can stem the tide of decay during the Kali Yuga/Iron Age/Axe Age. However, those with perception of what is taking place around them might, to use a biblical reference, ‘live in the world, but be not of it’. Evola used the Eastern phrase, ‘ride the tiger’, and Guénon explained:
If the elect of which we spoke could be formed while there is still time, they could so prepare the change that it would take place in the most favourable conditions possible, and the disturbances that must inevitably accompany it would in this way be reduced to a minimum; but even if they cannot do this, they will still have before them another yet more important task, that of helping to preserve the elements which must survive from the present world to be used in building up the one that is to follow. Once one knows that a re-ascent must come, even though it may prove impossible to prevent the downward movement first ending in some cataclysm, there is clearly no reason for waiting until the descent has reached its nadir before preparing the way for the re-ascent. This means that whatever may happen the work done will not be wasted: it cannot be useless in so far as the benefit that the elect will draw from it for themselves is concerned, but neither will it be wasted in so far as concerns its later effects on mankind as a whole.18
The writings of sages in Greece, Rome, Egypt, and India seem remarkably familiar, distinctly ‘modern’, as though their observations were warnings for our own time. Rome and Greece, in particular, were so very ‘modern’ in their dismissal of family and childrearing, as ‘burdens’ to hedonistic enjoyment. Today, ‘progressives’ congratulate themselves on how enlightened they are, and celebrate the demographic demise of Western societies, where aging populations are replenished by emigrants with alien manners and thinking, whose assimilation is based not on their adaption to the host cultures, vestiges of which are now few, but in a common pursuit of material gain. The Late West is barely sustained by a money nexus which replaced a spiritual nexus, and the resulting culture is one in which everything becomes a commodity, life is reduced to a banal consumer existence devoid of higher purpose.
The West, existing in name only, proceeds as an infection upon the world, purveying its culture-pathogens on any remaining societies that are attempting to maintain some degree of tradition. When such societies resist Western pathogens, they are called ‘undemocratic’ and targeted for destruction. History does not ‘end’, however. Our epoch of decay is nothing unique, and has been seen many times before across time and place. As Spengler foresaw, with indications even in his own time, after the West something new arises: an era led by a people who maintain their vigour and hold high a torch of the next Civilisation.
- Quoted by Asa Briggs (ed.), The Nineteenth Century: The Contradictions of Progress, Bonanza Books, 1985, 29
- Oswald Spengler, The Decline of The West, Allen and Unwin, 1972, Vol. 1, 21-22
- Julius Evola, The Hermetic Tradition, Inner Traditions, 1995, 13
- Graham Hancock, Fingerprints of the Gods, 1995, 533
- Daniel 2
- Bhagavad-Gita, Ch.9:8
- Voluspa, v. 46
- Vishnu Purana, Elysium Press, 1896, 310
- Hesiod, Works and Days, ca. 700 BCE, translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914
- Polybius, Histories, 37.9
- Tacitus, Annals of Imperial Rome, iii, 25
- Plutarch, Moralia, Book iv
- Stobaeus, iv, 24, 14
- Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History, Princeton University Press, 117
- ‘The Prophesy of Nefer-rohu’, translated by John A. Wilson, The Ancient Near East, Vol. I, Princeton University Press, 1973
- Muhammad Ibn Khalud, The Muqaddimah, Franz Rosenthal, ed., Dawood, Princeton, 1969, 107
- E. Backhouse and J. O. P. Bland, Annals and Memoirs of the Court of Peking, Houghton Mifflin, 1914
- R. Guénon, La crise du monde modern [Crisis of the Modern World], Paris, Bossard, 1927
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