Spenglerian decline

Robert Merry writes of the decline of the West as prophesied by Oswald Spengler 91 years ago in The National Interest:

But modern Westerners—and Americans in particular—might want to
ponder the implications of Spengler’s prediction that the first nation
of the West would lead that civilization into an era of imperialism in
corollary with serious erosions in its democratic structures. Is it
possible that the mystical German thinker was right about that, just as
he was right in so many other predictions regarding Western behavioral
and cultural patterns? And isn’t the great foreign-policy debate of our
time—whether America should continue its post–Cold War policy of
interventionism in the name of American exceptionalism and Western
universalism; or whether it should abandon that mission in favor of a
more measured exercise of its military and economic power—fundamentally a
debate over whether Spengler had it right?

What’s interesting about today’s foreign-policy debates is the
disconnection between the country’s national leaders and the populace at
large. The Republican Party is dominated by a neoconservative
sensibility that favors widespread American involvement in overseas
places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Iran, while the
Democratic Party is influenced heavily by a Wilsonian sensibility of
moral imperative that often leads to the same interventionist advocacy,
though sometimes for different reasons. And yet public-opinion surveys
show that the American people harbor strong reservations about such
interventionist vigor of either stripe.

Thus, it sometimes seems as if America is on autopilot as it moves
haltingly but with seemingly inexorable force toward ever-greater
involvement in the world even as discomfort increases within the
electorate. But what about Spengler’s corollary prediction that the
West’s democratic forms will erode as it fulfills its civilizational
push to empire? Certainly, there is no popular sentiment for such a
thing. Yet here too we see signs that the country is headed in that
direction, reflected in a growing tendency toward arrogation of power on
the part of the nation’s executive, at the expense of Congress, and
Congress’s supine acquiescence in this trend. It’s seen also in the
Federal Reserve’s remarkable power grab of recent years whereby it has
circumvented the congressional appropriations process in making funds
available to banks to execute its “quantitative easing” policies of
loose money. Again, Congress has quietly accepted this incursion into
its constitutional domain without so much as a whimper.

And so we come to the truly haunting question that confronts America
in these times of growing global instability—whether, as the last nation
of the West, America is destined to fulfill Spengler’s vision of
hegemonic zeal mixed with a push toward dictatorship. Here’s where the
natural aversion to Spengler’s dogmatic determinism will likely come
into play. The answer is no, America’s future is in American hands. But
Spengler’s audacious work stands as a great warning to Americans bent on
protecting the hallowed civic institutions established at the founding
of their Republic. The era of Western cultural health is dead, and it
died pretty much as Spengler predicted it would. And no doubt his study
of previous great civilizations did in fact accurately identify
pressures and forces that emerge at particular points in civilizational
development and push toward empire and Caesarism. This push can be
resisted by a free people dedicated to the protection of their
institutions of old. But they won’t be protected if events are placed on
autopilot. The American impulse toward imperialism will prevail if it
is not rebuffed consciously by the American people and their leaders.
And if it prevails it will leave a tattered democratic republic in its
wake. Then Oswald Spengler will have the last laugh.

I haven’t read Spengler’s magnum opus yet, although I intend to do so once I finish the very good Waugh novel that I am presently reading.  (Scoop is, in its own small way, a chronicle of decline too.) However, it will come as no surprise to most of you that I have reached similar conclusions; it is always a little disconcerting to discover that one’s legitimately original theses were not only anticipated before one was born, but anticipated by a man who didn’t have the advantage of literal decades of events from which to judge.  Spengler was on the other side of the Western civilizational peak from us, and yet from what I read in Merry’s long article, many of the conclusions he reached based on logic are quite similar to the observations I and various others have made based on events.

Even the most die-hard feminist should be at least a little troubled by the way a man from the pre-feminist era was able to correctly predict the way feminism has led to increased authoritarianism and concerned that he will be similarly correct about its link to civilizational decline. I doubt this will be enough to cause any of them to rethink their devotion to their poisonous ideology; feminists are not known for their introspection so much as their solipsisim, after all.

And besides, feminism is less the cause than the symptom.  It may happen to be the particular mechanism by which the West falls, but given the fate of the past great civilizations, if it had not been that mechanism, it would simply have been another.

I do find Merry’s declaration that “America’s future is in American hands” to be more than a little facile, however.  This is manifestly not the case, not with all three branches of government increasingly and disproportionately populated by second- and third-generation immigrants, and an electorate that has never had less cultural and intellectual connection to the American political tradition.  I don’t know yet what Spengler has to say about alien governance and mass immigration, but based on my own knowledge of civilizational decline, I suspect the fact that America’s future is not actually in American hands will tend to support the applicability of his theory of decline to the present situation.