Thursday, October 1, 2009

Nattering Nabobs of Neo-Spenglerianism

Pessimism, declinism,'s all a belief in what a bummer tomorrow will be. The argument for downward trajectories of any kind is tempting but intrinsically misleading. It's easy to think of something great from the old days that isn't around anymore, or has been perverted. And it will be easy to reflect back on 2009 as a golden era.

If ever there was an era to feel gloomy about European affairs, it was the aftermath of World War I. Nationalistic aggression and incompetent leadership had brought about a slaughter of unprecedented scale. There goes our Whiggish self-improvement: sorry children, and children's children. Unfortunately, as Richard Overy points out in "The Morbid Age," the civilizational pessimism had much in common with incipient fascism, including the intellectual vogue for eugenics.

Today the bogeymen thought to undermine our seemingly steady world are moral relativism, shrugging permissiveness and atheism. These vices leave us open to the fundamentalists in our midst, assert Christopher Caldwell and Theodore Dalrymple. These thinkers are right to lament a lack of serious debate about the ramifications of immigration, and the blurring of personal emotions with broad political concerns. But they are wrong to believe that these unresolved questions can only hurt society.

Caldwell's anxiety about Muslim integration hinges on the primacy of Christianism to any respectable civilization. This view is out-of-date by at least one hundred years. Secularism is as valuable to the modern world as any of the teachings of Jesus. In the words of Slavoj Zizek, "isn't it time to restore the dignity of atheism, perhaps our only chance for peace?"