Abandoning Western Civilisation: Views of an Evolving Professor
One recent article in Charlton's blog, Bruce Charlton's Miscellany, caught my eye: Should Western Civilization be Saved? In the article, Charlton expresses the view that since western civilisation contains the seeds to its own destruction, it can probably not be saved regardless of what is done.
Since much of the Al Fin enterprise is devoted to saving just enough of western civilisation to jump-start "the next level," Charlton's warnings of the impending demise of the west are not taken lightly in the planning offices of the Al Fin Consolidated Syndicates.
Charlton is not the first thinker to declare that the west is doomed. And he will not be the last. But he is a thinker and blogger of considerable depth, and his ideas should be taken seriously.
The self-destroying aspects of the West have always been there, and they permeate or are woven-into the whole.Notice the reference to Christianity. Such thoughts will prove important to understanding his meanings. Charlton was once an atheist, and his change of heart to religious belief casts his ideas under a fascinating lighting scheme. All the same it is best to take a person's words at "face value" (as you interpret the term), and shade the meanings appropriately as you learn more.
Western Civilization has always been changing - not merely superficially, but deeply. It has never been stable - not even for two generations in a row.
The West is continually becoming more abstract, more specialized, less Christian.
There is no evidence that The West ever could be stable - and everything suggests the opposite. _BCM
The West is perpetually in transition: it has no essence: it is evolutionary.The suicidal references, coming from a psychiatrist who has himself suffered considerable recent tumult, are no doubt very meaningful.
Those who set out their stall on defending 'Western Civilization' are therefore either defending a process (markets, democracy, 'the Open Society'), and an evolutionary process which might lead anywhere, including to self-destruction of Western Civilization (as, in my opinion, it already has)....
Or else they are really defending some other bottom line entity that is not Western Civilization and would quite likely dispense with Western Civilization at some point in the future: e.g. a nation or group of nations, a race, a ruling lineage (e.g. of monarchs, or castes)... the preservation of which might well necessitate at some point dispensing with what are currently 'Western values'.
In other words, if you favour a process (like democracy, sexual freedom) you must be prepared to sacrifice an entity (like a nation or a race): if you favour an entity you must be prepared to dispense with processes.
So, I am saying that it is strictly nonsense - and destructive nonsense - to claim to be defending Western Civilization.
...The West cannot be saved.
There is nothing to save; and anyway The West has self-destruction built-in, woven-in, pervasive.
How can you save something which so much wants to kill itself?
Take your eye off Western Civilization for just a moment and it will be swinging from the rafters with its own belt around its neck... _BCM
The west is certainly full of contradictions and mutually destructive movements of variable and cyclic vitality. But is it true that "there is no there, there?" Certainly the west can be quite difficult to define and pin down in a comprehensive way. Is the modern west, for example, similar enough to the civilisations of ancient Greece, Rome, and middle ages Christianity, to consider it the same civilisation that is a bit futher along in evolutionary time? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Can you not ask the same questions about any particular human mind? We are full of contradictions, and we all carry the seeds of our own destruction. Each living human is evolving in both constructive and destructive ways.
Civilisations can survive the deaths of any number of its members, of course, so the evolutionary stream of a civilisation is much more interesting to observe.
It is true that a civilisation can destroy itself, or evolve "away from itself." But there are particular essences within a civilisation which can be worth saving, even if such essences are capable of creating instabilities within the system. If you try to remove all sources of instability from a civilisational system, you are left with a stagnant system which will choke on its own offal. At that point, competing civilisations will take over the territory, or a new civilisation will rise from the grave of the old.
The urge for stability can be taken too far, with fatal results for dynamic systems of all kinds -- from human brains to civilisations.
It is absolutely crucial that humans who are capable of doing so should learn to think "one level up" from Charlton's fascinating discussion. I am certain that Charlton is capable of such meta-thought. But many people who choose an orthodox ideology later in life (or at any time in life) can be resistant to lines of thought which may compel change.
Suffice it to say that Al Fin Futurologists conceive of a next level civilisation which owes a great deal to modern western civilisation -- particularly to western thought, from the European renaissance through the writing of the US Constitution.
Given the significant changes in the human substrate of the next level, the resulting civilisation will "feel" different, and will derive much of its stability from the underlying agreed-upon principles of outlook. But the next level as conceived by the Al Fin Syndicates contains far more dynamism than conventional western thinkers can typically imagine.
You must have that tension between stability and dynamism.
More from Charlton's blog later.
More: This short essay by French Philosopher Andre Glucksmann should be read alongside the short article by Charlton. By looking at "the original birth of freedom" in Athens, it is perhaps possible to see more clearly some of the strengths and weaknesses of western civilisation. Glucksmann admits the instability inherent in freedom, but accepts the risk:
Athens did not perfectly succeed, and it eventually collapsed—just as our own democracies may someday collapse. I do not believe in the eternity of systems, even our own. Those founded on the attempted negation of chaos and the suppression of freedom will, I hope, collapse sooner. But those founded on freedom may be destroyed by the imbalance inherent in their constitutions, an imbalance that animates and sometimes consumes them. _CityJournal