The View From 1776

§ American Traditions

§ People and Ideas

§ Decline of Western Civilization: a Snapshot

§ Books to Read


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Monday, May 24, 2004

The Decline of Western Civilization: Explanatory Notes - Part Three

This is Part Three of the summarized narrative to supplement the list of dates and events in the time-line posted below on May 15, 2004.? It brings us up to conditions in 20th century America.


The full time-line is also accessible via the sidebar to the right of your screen.

To understand the views that led American colonists in 1776 to fight for independence and to write the Constitution in 1787 you must have some familiarity with the historical and philosophical background of the Western world.

Part One of the explanatory notes covered Plato and Aristotle, noting that both held that morality, for individuals and for the political state, is the highest and best expression of human nature.  Aristotle explains this as part of the natural law, the intelligent design of the world, to which everything in existence conforms.

Part Two covered the end of the Western Roman Empire and the beginning of the Middle Ages.  Christianity was presented as the basis of Western civilization and the sole unifying force across tribal and national borders.  Greek philosophy was incorporated into Christianity in the 13th century with St. Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa Theologica,” which separated governance into the spiritual realm, under the church, and the secular realm, under the political ruler.  Both were part of the God-given natural law, so that separation of church and state did not mean at all that religion had to be rejected by the political state.  This is the understanding on which the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution are inextricably based. Thus the idea that the First Amendment requires renunciation of all expressions of religion in government is arrant nonsense.

Clearly this understanding is no longer accepted by roughly half the American population today.  How did we come to this disconnect with our Constitutional traditions?

Mid-1700s - Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Condorcet, Diderot, Voltaire and other intellectuals in France begin a 40-year period of propaganda, asserting that social justice requires the political state to impose equal distribution of property and political rights.  The Romantic period in literature, art, and music is born, bringing the fantasy of the Noble Savage who, in the State of Nature, is perfect, benevolent, and lacks nothing in the way of food, clothing, and shelter.  People, before the invention of private property, said Rousseau, exhibited no aggression, crime, nor war.  Political societies were created by the powerful to protect their property and to exploit “the people.”  This is the source of American liberals’ doctrine that criminals are the victims of a society that protects private property, as well as the idiocy that Al Queda was compelled to attack us on 9/11 by unequal property distribution around the world.

Late-1700s - These French Revolutionary philosophers openly propagandize, in books, pamphlets, and newspapers, for overthrow of the Roman Catholic Church and the monarchy.  The French Revolution of July 14, 1789, is the result.  As in Great Society riots in Newark, Detroit, and Los Angeles, 1789 Parisian mobs roam the streets hanging anyone they please from lamp posts and ransacking businesses at will. The Revolution destroys the monarchy and the Church, and exiles the hereditary aristocracy.  Rather than good government, the French socialist Revolution introduces political instability continuing to this day in France.  France has had more than a dozen different constitutions and repeated restorations of monarchy, empires, and socialist republics, ending with today’s republic established by General De Gaulle’s military coup in 1958. 

Far from being the model of social harmony and economic efficiency predicted by French philosophers’ doctrine of socialism, France has become a feckless and declining society, sinking under the weight of its unsupportable welfare-state obligations.  Farmers and labor unions today routinely blockade highways and shut down Paris and other principal cities with general strikes if their demands for higher farm prices and more benefits and less work are rebuffed.

The French Revolution becomes the first instance in history of a political upheaval created via manipulation of public opinion (recall Plato?s dim view of uninformed public opinion in a democracy as the source of political legitimacy; see Part One of the notes below).  This model is well understood today by American liberals in education and the media.  Teach-ins, sit-ins, street demonstrations, and a litany of anti-American courses occupy about as much attention on college campuses as learning useful subject matter.  So-called black leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton use the same play-book.

Beginning in 1793, the Reign of Terror slaughters more than 70,000 Frenchmen on the guillotine in the world’s first instance of terrorism as official state policy.  The Committee of Public Safety declares this barbarism is necessary to eliminate “enemies of the revolution.”  Lenin and Stalin later acknowledge the French as their models.  Note that the Reign of Terror becomes possible only after Catholic Church property is confiscated and priests and nuns are imprisoned or silenced as paid employees of the state.  Without morality and religion, expressed as part of natural law, the intellectuals are unrestrained in their power to impose any degree of brutality to perfect humanity, a pattern repeated in Russia, National Socialist Germany, Fascist Italy, Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, etc.

1800-1830s - Order is restored when Napoleon seizes power and directs French fratricidal energies outward for the imperial conquest of Europe.  Despotic rule is imposed over most of Continental Europe in the name of Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood.  Smoldering resentment in the German Confederation paves the way for Bismarck’s creation, 45 years later, of the German Empire, setting the conditions for two world wars.  For good measure, Napoleon invades and despoils Egypt, rekindling Islamic resentment against the West and priming the Arab street for Osama Bin Ladin.

French philosophers Henri de Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte systematize the early ideas of social justice under the religion of socialism.  Saint-Simon, in his last work in 1825, calls it “The New Christianity.”  Comte creates The Religion of Humanity, which teaches that God and spiritual religion are superstition and ignorance.  The true object of worship, says Comte, is mankind itself.

Saint-Simon and Comte conceptualize a theory of history that sees the 19th century as the new scientific age, following the first and second ages of ignorance, then rational religion and philosophy.  This is what Comte calls The Immutable Law of History, which he modestly claims to have discovered.  It predetermines the course of history, which needless to say, is toward social justice under socialism.

Mankind has now presumably moved beyond religion, morality, and God, and is prepared to assume the role of God to make its own destiny.  Intellectuals, naturally, are the leaders who will take us to earthly perfection of human nature and human society under socialism.  Only they understand the Law of History and can instruct the rest of us.  All that exists, according to liberal-socialists, is the product of human rationality, therefore intellectuals can remake human nature and human society in any fashion that meets their ideas about social justice.  They have only to manipulate uninformed public opinion via the media and education. 

Socialism is to be the only religion.  Intellectuals will determine the policies of the state, which will be carried out by social engineers and bureaucrats, so that individual greed will be eliminated.  Everyone must have equal access to all of society’s goods and services.  To that end, property will be “socialized,” or administered for the collective benefit of society, rather than for individual benefit.  This does not require state ownership of all property.  Bureaucratic regulation of the kind imposed here by the New Deal is sufficient.

Because socialist intellectuals are so much better informed than individual businessmen, economic activity will be organized and carried out more efficiently and the total abundance of goods and services will increase dramatically.  To aid this efficiency, intellectuals will determine which goods and services are proper for the people and eliminate production of things they deem undesirable.  Hence President Clinton’s statement that he decided against tax reduction, because people would spend the money on the wrong things, for example SUVs and single-family homes in the suburbs that would counter the liberal-socialist doctrine of environmentalism.

Most important of all, intellectuals are to control education so that nothing but the catechism of social justice may be taught.  Schools are to become the agencies for converting callow youth to the religion of socialism.  Lenin put it bluntly in his 1920s address to the Commissars of Education: we must teach students to hate their parents if the parents aren’t communists.  Anti-Americanism, multi-cultural education, and speech-and-behavior codes, anyone? 

Intellectuals must also control public opinion, via the media.  Remember that the French Revolution was made by manipulating public opinion.  In Revolutionary France, that required government licensing and censorship.  Such measures are unnecessary in the United States today, because roughly 70 percent of reporters and news casters are self-described liberals, converted to the religion of socialism in college.

Intellectuals teach the view that public opinion is the only source of political legitimacy; moral codes and religion are to play no role, because value judgments are unscientific.  Hence the mindless mobs in the world’s streets demanding that American national defense be handed over to that latrine of world opinion, the UN.  To keep young people milling in the streets we have Al Franken’s Air America and Al Gore’s new cable network aimed at America’s youth.

1830s - 1930s - Saint-Simonian and Comtean socialist doctrine spreads to Germany in the early decades of the 1800s, where it becomes orthodoxy in German universities.  German traditions of statist primacy over individual rights, the belief that individuals have meaning only within the traditions and aims of the political state, are reinforced by socialism and the Comtean view of stages of historical development in three ages.  Hegel takes this up in his philosophy of history as the spiritual unfolding of human freedom, reaching its apogee under German Protestantism.  Both Hegel and Marx take their dialectic analysis of “thesis, antithesis, and synthesis” from Saint-Simon and Comte. 

Marx, unlike Hegel, rejects the unfolding of history as a spiritual phenomenon.  In the mid-1800s he says that history and human nature are purely materialistic phenomena.  That is, humans have no inherent nature, but are the product of the external, material conditions in which they live and work.  Hence Lenin’s expectation of creating The New Soviet Man, a selfless creature who would follow the bidding of state planners for the greater good of humanity.

At the same time that Marx and Engels are publishing “The Communist Manifesto,” Charles Darwin is working on his thesis, published eleven years later as “On the Origin of Species,” the doctrine that rejects all concepts of order in the universe.  Life, in Darwin’s materialistic and secular thesis, just “happened” and various life forms evolved entirely by random chance, influenced only by external, material conditions.  Marxians welcome Darwin enthusiastically, citing him as further proof of materialistic socialism.

In the same year that Darwin publishes his attack on “the damnable doctrine of christianity,” John Stuart Mill publishes “On Liberty,” a perennial favorite among American liberal-socialists.  Mill, an ardent admirer of socialism, touts the idea of unrestrained expression of religious, moral, and political views as a defense for his fellow socialists.  His formulation amounts to present-day American liberal-socialist assertions that freedom is the right to destroy individual freedom with collectivized and repressive government control of individual actions, provided it’s for the purpose of instituting socialism.

After the Civil War, German universities and German science become the best in the world, attracting American scholars who aspire to professorships in the U.S.  There they absorb the ?scientific? theories of socialism and belief that individualism and private property are selfish greed.  They return to America and transform American universities into secular institutions modeled on the German universities.

Since that time, most university graduates in the United States have been converted to or strongly influenced by the supposedly scientific doctrine of socialism, often without being aware of the true nature of what they are taught.  However abominable his ideas, John Dewey was extremely penetrating in identifying education as the way to transform our society into a socialist despotism.  Liberals and their often witless fellow-travelers continue marching down the trail blazed by Dewey.  With so many young people now attending college, the conversion rate to socialism is exponential.  In another generation, if Al Queda doesn?t conquer us first, the U.S. will have become an entirely materialistic, hedonistic cesspool of socialism.