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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Steyn on the decline of the West « Previous | |Next »
August 31, 2006

The journalist, Mark Steyn--- the current pin up boy of Australian conservatives---is a bit of a puzzle isn't he. This is what he says about why the West is in decline at the CIS Big Ideas Forum, which dealt with the challenges confronting the West:

...we’re losing the consensus within our populations on what it means to be a citizen of a pluralist society. Multiculturalism, I believe, was conceived by Western elites not to celebrate all cultures, but to deny their own and in that sense it’s the real suicide bomb. Islam and terrorism would not be a threat to the Western world if the Western world weren’t so enervated that it gives the impression that it’s basically just dying to keel over and to surrender to somebody.

The puzzle is this. Steyn's key thesis in the lecture at the IPA was demography is destiny. How do we connect the two---a lefty liberal culture that loathes the West and demography as destiny? If the cause of the rot and decay is the agenda of contemporary liberalism, then how does demographics fit in? A self-loathing progressive liberal culture causes the decline in birth rates in the West?

Secondly, Steyn says he is a conservative as opposed to a liberal. So what has happened to the traditional conservative perspective on the destructive consequences of capitalism; a mode of production that is melts all that is solid into air and so undermines the conservative values of stability, order and authority? Conveniently forgotten?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 08:22 PM | | Comments (5)


I am intrigued that the "Der Untergang des Abendlandes" (the decline [twilight] of the West) meme had an earlier circulation. Oswald Spengler's thesis followed the First World War, which Owen Harries described as a European civil war. Perhaps, despite everything, there has been progress?

Secondly, if the the West was never a monolith, then it may be equally true that Islam is not either, it is just that many of us do not understand that religious topography.

Could it be that Capitalism is the cause of the rate of population, and might that not be a good thing from a global perspective?

I have always wondered what the term self-loathing could possibly mean? It is term freely used by Steyn and Albrechtson et al.

Speaking of the conservative critique of the destructive consequences of capitalism did you read Albrechtson's article in the Oz on Wednesday -- three cheers for destruction -- let it rip -- the faster the better. No time for "sentimental" attachments to structures/institutions that have served us well and/or over which we have some sort of effective local control.
By comparison I am reminded of the superb essay by the profoundly conservative Wendell Berry titled "The Idea of a Local Economy" -- written in response to both globalisation and Sept 11.
It is also interesting that one of Berry's book had a highly favourable review in Quadrant earlier this year. Quadrant & the CIS Policy magazine now boldly advertise each other!!
Somebody is speaking with forked tongues!

re self-loathing.I reckon it has a Christian overlay.Try this

The spiritual tradition of the West, which begins with classic tragedy and continues through St Augustine's Confessions, tells us just the contrary, namely, that one's inner feelings are the problem, not the solution. The West is a construct, the result of a millennium of war against the inner feelings of the barbarian invaders whom Christianity turned into Europeans. Paganism exults in its unchanging, autochthonous character, and glorifies the native impulses of its people; Christianity despises these impulses and attempts to root them out. Western tradition demands that the individual must draw upon something better than one's inner feelings. Narcissism where one's innermost feelings are concerned therefore is the supreme hallmark of decadence.

The liberal left is narcissistic and motivated by inner impluses that rebel or are in revolt against conservative values.

I agree.Spengler resonates all through Steyn and the conservatives who love him, and see him as their pinup boy. They really do hold that the West is doomed and that its sun is already setting--hence the twilight. The mechanism explaining the inevitability of decay is demographics. 'Untergang' implies downfall, doom, death as in growing old,.

Looking back from now, we can interpret 'The Decline of the West' as standing at the gate opening onto postmodernist relativism, multiculturalism. Spengler's Decline expresses a public mood of living uneasily through the end of an old, tired, dying culture.

Spengler also held that a culture would flower and flourish in its turn and then decline and die. The cultures were external to each other, neither influencing nor inheriting; in fact, they could not understand each other and their relations consisted of deliberate misunderstanding.

I reckon Steyn has drunk deeply from the Decline of the West. He has modified Spengler though. For Spengler, cultures did not clash; they succeeded and misunderstood each other. A culture did not meet its fate accidentally, for example by going down to a rival culture, but inexorably, by aging into a war-torn and degraded civilization. Steyn holds to the clash-of-cultures which is very different---presumably relying on Samuel Huntington's clash of civilizations thesis.