Thoughts on Western Decline | Dinah Kolka
The concept of Western decline has permeated niche right-wing discourse for quite a while. Many, especially esoteric thinkers, preoccupied themselves with the idea that modernity has ruined society at large.
In order to conclude that Western Civilisation is in decline, we need to specify the following: what characterises Western Civilisation? How do we measure the decline? When did it start? When did the decline commence? How can we stop it, if at all? I will attempt to cover this issue in some detail in this article.
Western Civilisation is generally understood as the democratic Western nations, this including the remnants of the British Empire, as well as The United States of America due to its former status as a British colony. As the British Empire faded, the US flourished and continued to do so.
It’s easy to notice that neither the US or Britain is no longer at its peak. This is easily noticeable by looking at the leaders currently in charge. The senile elderly surely isn’t the best representation of a thriving nation, but it is certainly a representation of what happened to the formerly so driven and ambitious nation – it turned senile, slow, and sanctimonious.
Britain itself is a creation in an image of its master – scruffy, unkept, remnant of what used to be and no longer is. Western Civilisation has had its golden age. When did it go wrong?
I believe that to answer this question we need to look back to find the time where Britain was truly thriving. The Victorian era saw Britain flourishing economically, socially, and was built on prestige and pride. Despite the issues with the colonies, the subsequent years saw the true golden era of Britishness.
A good symbol of it was the ever so famous Crystal Palace which brought many inventors, artists and the cream of society to Britain, making it a prestigious venture showing off the British progress and superiority.
But what was the sign of progress, was simultaneously also a sign of the decline. When we look at the literacy statistics in the 19th century, we can see that by the end of it, around 1900, there was a steady continuous increase of people who were able to sign their name. This is notable, as the literacy data wasn’t gathered on purpose per se, but it can be gathered based on how many people were able to sign their marriage register. Based on this information, we can see that literacy has improved in the space of one hundred years.
Literacy did not necessarily include the ability to read, as many were often able to sign their name but couldn’t read. As such these statistics should be read with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, there is a clear pattern of a growing number of people, including those from the working-class background who were able to read. This is also clear based on the fact that specific libraries were catering solely to working-class citizens.
The Victorian era popularised access to books and newspapers, especially with the Stamp Tax legislation being repealed in 1855. This led to working classes having easier access to various texts. As a consequence, many writers during that era chose to challenge the existing status quo. Sensation fiction, for example, made a point of making the higher domestic society at its centre to ‘reveal the rot within in’. Dickens, on the other hand, documented the struggles of the working classes during the Victorian era, presenting the terrible conditions that many people lived in at the time. Cheaper newspapers, the rise of tabloids, alongside the rising literacy levels led to poorer parts of the society becoming more aware of what was going on around them.
As such, social justice grew in strength. When we look at the 19th century through the prism of the concern for the poor, we can see that this century marked the most rapid socioeconomic changes in Britain and Europe.
The literary movement in Poland called ‘Positivism’ had equality and justice at its heart. Naturalism in France presented the poor conditions of the miners, prostitutes etc in the most graphic way possible, which led to people feeling empathy for their situation.
The class conflict permeated the literature at the time which gave way to an increased concern for those in destitution.
I think it is paramount for me to mention that the literacy or even the specific literary movements shedding light on poor working conditions aren’t in itself a bad thing. It is, however, a natural progression that led to the decline we currently find ourselves in. Unfortunately, this cannot be stopped.
At this point, the social justice movement has taken a life of its own. Wannabe activism seeped into every sphere of daily life, even the fields that were once untouchable. Business, politics, education, crime, even physics! Social justice was the key that started the engine of the decline and at this point, that key is stuck, and we are speeding into a cliff end to fall deep into the water and fall into ruin. This also means that the future seems bleak – we might think that there are ways for us to stop the tide, but we might not be able to. Could accelerationism be the only feasible option?
Nick Land, the author known for his accelerationist works, stated in his essay ‘A Quick-and-Dirty Introduction to Accelerationism’: “the definite probability that the allotment of time to decision-making is undergoing systematic compression remains a neglected consideration, even among those paying explicit and exceptional attention to the increasing rapidity of change”. We neglect the extent to which the change has taken up a fast pace, and we refuse to accept that we might not be able to stop it.
Had we known what would happen to society, would we try harder to stop it in time? We wouldn’t be able to. We are caught with forces bigger, faster, and greater than we think. This may potentially be the darkest article I have ever written as I don’t think there is any light at the end of the tunnel. As such, it might be that accelerationism is the only way to deal with this. Let the world burn.