Civilization is not guaranteed

Victor Davis Hanson reminds us of the thin and fraying thread that is the survival of Western civilization:

Had the Greeks lost at Salamis, Western civilization might easily have been strangled in its adolescence. Had Hitler not invaded the Soviet Union, the European democracies would have probably remained overwhelmed. And had the Japanese just sidestepped the Philippines and Pearl Harbor, as they gobbled up the orphaned Pacific colonies of a defunct Western Europe, the Pacific World as we know it now might be a far different, far darker place.

I am not engaging in pop counterfactual history, as much as reminding us of how thin the thread of civilization sometimes hangs, both in its beginning and full maturity. Something analogous is happening currently in the 21st-century West. But the old alarmist scenarios — a nuclear exchange, global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps, a new lethal AIDS-like virus — should not be our worry.

Rather our way of life is changing not with a bang, but with a whimper, insidiously and self-inflicted, rather than abruptly and from foreign stimuli. Most of the problem is cultural. Unfortunately it was predicted by a host of pessimistic anti-democratic philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Hegel and Spengler. I’ve always hoped that these gloom-and-doomers were wrong about the Western paradigm, but some days it becomes harder.

The problem is cultural, but not in the sense that most people mean it. Western civilization is Christian and European. There are other civilizations, to be sure, some of which predate Western civilization, but no one who has studied the history of Chinese and Japanese civilization is under any illusions that life under global Han domination is likely to resemble the world when the sun never set on the British Empire. The fact that Western civilization was less than perfect does not mean that its replacement, whether it be by pagan savages, sterile seculars, or one of its old rivals, will not be considerably worse by every objective measure.

Societies are seldom wiped out by conquest, at least, not until they have been sufficiently enervated by their own failure of confidence in their foundational principles. Western civilization cannot survive either the abandonment of Christianity or the importation of non-European peoples. The geography will remain, but neither the culture nor the values will survive. Just as we wonder at how the Romans declined, future generations will read about us and marvel at how the most powerful civilization in human history murdered its children and welcomed their replacements with open arms.

Representative democracy is already effectively dead. Christianity will survive, but probably not in its culturally dominant form. The European subspecies will survive, but in a smaller, more concentrated, and more tribal form that will likely transform into a larger and more lethal variant of the Jewish diaspora. Warlords have always arisen amidst the ashes of empires and I see no reason to doubt the same phenomenon will occur when the collapse of the American empire brings an end to the 60-year Pax Americana.