summer of discontent: is the end near?

” The nature of people is first crude, then severe,  then benign, then delicate, finally dissolute.” ( Vico) People have no doubt been bemoaning the decadence of the times since the expulsion from the Garden. But what actually constitutes decadence and whether we in our time are suffering its effects is not easy to answer. But, the proposition is worth exploring. The debt ceiling, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, health care, income disparity; can we be positive about the future or do we line up behind the likes of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee, cap in hand?…

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Its not apparent that history repeats itself in minute detail. Rome, after all, in its twilight, attained a certain majesty, but not all the civilizations of the past died as well. Others, with an unkillable will to survive, like China and Pharaonic Egypt, refused to give way and went on ceaselessly, century after century, tirelessly dotting the i’s and crossing t’s of an increasingly empty existence. Perhaps we will drag on, technologically capable of keeping the barbarians at bay but of little else.

---The decision by an Australian advertising watchdog to order the removal of a Calvin Klein campaign because it appears to depict a woman in a cage being raped by three men says a lot about advertising in the fashion world: Rape fantasies — and other themes of non-consensual sex — come up a lot in advertising for clothes, particularly in campaigns by Calvin Klein and Dolce & Gabbanna.---

For Oswald Spengler, an embittered product of the years following Germany’s catastrophic defeat in WWI, a dark prophet of the Decline of the West, is more than a sign of civilization’s advancing age. It is a sign of mongerlization, of the domination of rootless people devoid of style and destiny. This is polemic, but Spengler the self-educated eccentric is more than a mere polemicist motivated by the spectacle of the collapse of the Prussian Idea under the blows of the “money civilization” of the West. His total system is far more complex.

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Each society, according to Spengler, is an organism whose fate is inexorably ruled by Destiny, and this destiny is as fixed as the stars. All societies experience the four seasons with winter being the petrification and eventual death. A society in growth is a culture and a society in decline is inevitably transformed from culture into civilization. Bruce Mazlish has written that this last phase is dominated by eclectic art and literature, economically dominated by money, and politically by imperialism with in the end a depopulation of the cities and a crumbling of this mass. MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft from the 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron takes off from Ali Base, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Through the use of advanced capabilities, focused doctrine and detailed training, the Predator provides integrated and synchronized close air combat operations, to include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sabrina Johnson)---

Spengler’s assertion is the period of civilization is that of victory of city over country, whereby it frees itself from the grip of the ground, but to its own ultimate ruin, “it is dead to the cosmic, irrevocably committed to stone and intellectualism.” Only when the culture passes out of its growth phase do people begin to become aware of themselves, of what their culture has been, or means, “the sick man feels his limbs.” Read More:

The Culture, in Spengler’s system, is an organic concept, not a mechanical one, and no doubt he would allow for the dying tree’s sending out a tendril or two.—When men construct an unmetaphysical religion in opposition to cults and dogmas; when a “natural law ” is set up against historical law; when, in art, styles are invented in place of the style that can no longer be borne or mastered; when men conceive of the State as an “order of society” which not only can be but must be altered – then it is evident that something has definitely broken down. The Cosmopolis itself, the supreme Inorganic, is there, settled in the mdist of the Culture-landscape, whose men it is uprooting, drawing into itself and using up.— Read More:

---Russell Smith:The film in question is an amateurish video of a student art piece that happened last spring in a small gallery in Chicago. It shows an audience of extremely young people – they look to be mostly students – crammed into a space, most of them sitting on the floor, to see a young woman (her name, it turns out, is Natacha Stolz) doing a performance that involves reciting a couple of nihilistic lines and then doing strange things with a can of SpaghettiOs. Some of the things that the woman does are deliberately shocking, and there is brief nudity, so you won't want to watch it at work. The piece is an homage to an artist called Carolee Schneemann, who did similar performances years ago, and even the title, Interior

otics, is a reference to a notorious 1975 Schneemann performance called Interior Scroll.

And this fate, according to Spengler is already upon us, being recognizable in the coming of nihilism. Spengler was not interested in detail so much as the “feel” of an age. Showy achievements such as personal computers,electric cars, robotic surgery,  bit torrent downloads, are merely extensions of an earlier growth phase of our civilization and would not shake his gloom. Again, are we in Rome? the Rome of imperium and outward growth even if it also is the Rome of inner sterility?

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It is possible we have passed from culture to routine civilization. When Spengler made his charge over ninety years ago, it may have seemed the caviling of an embittered crank. There were giants in the earth in those days: Freud, Einstein, kafka, Joyce, Gide, matisse, Braque, Rilke, Gorky, Mahler, Bergson, and on and on…Spengler’s intuition may not have been totally wrong after all. Especially if we ask whether technological expertise is a true index of society’s growth or inner health. After all, technology is cumulative and has gone on growing throughout history mutually exclusive to the rise and fall of the great civilizations.

…Horkheimer was ultimately more concerned about the popularizations of phenomenology and vitalism than with the philosophical doctrines themselves. One important example that Horkheimer gives of such a popularization was Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West, which enjoyed wide popularity in Germany in the 1920s, especially among culturally conservative circles. Horkheimer dismisses Spengler’s study as an eclectic and superficial synthesis of poorly understood material from a wide variety of fields. He is particularly vehement in his rejection of Spengler’s facile comparison of the development of human culture with the life cycle of plants. For Horkheimer, there is no comparison between genuine Lebensphilosophie and popularizers like Spengler. He states,

Whereas Bergson [was] very much aware of the internal difficulties associated with Lebensphilosophie in all its forms, insofar as it calls the absolute validity of thought and science into question, without, however, diminishing the emphatic claim to truth for its own arguments […] Spengler blithely and pathetically presents his sweeping views about the relativity and transience of all types of science, indeed, of culture in general, while at the same time drawing on every page upon claims that he has appropriated […] from this same science.

…Not surprisingly, another defining characteristic of this intellectual and cultural movement was its rejection of the Enlightenment. In fact, many of its adherents viewed the Enlightenment, which had mounted the first concerted attack on metaphysics and rejected appeals to legitimacy based on authority or intuition, as the source of their problem. Horkheimer was deeply concerned about this widespread sentiment and he took it very seriously. In lectures he had given in previous semesters on the history of modern philosophy, Horkheimer devoted an inordinate amount of time to the Enlightenment.10 He stressed, in particular, the need to recover the materialist and radical political impulses of the French Enlightenment. This was truly an exceptional argument at this time, for the invidious comparison of French “civilization” to German Kultur, popularized by Spengler, still played an important role among Weimar intellectuals, especially those on the political right. But the critique of “shallow French civilization” was part of a popularized, nationalist version of a much deeper critique of rationality, which was by no means limited to conservative thinkers. Read More:

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