Friday, September 26, 2014

Eulogy For The West

  I met a traveller from an antique land,
  Who said--"Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
  Stand in the desert....Near them, on the sand,
  Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
 And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, 
  Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
  Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, 
  The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
  And on the pedestal, these words appear:
 My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings, 
  Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
  Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
  Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
  The lone and level sands stretch far away." 

By Percy Shelley

            We are witnessing the death of a civilization.  Journalist Mark Styen has predicted that,  “Much of what we loosely call the Western world will not survive this century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most Western European countries.”1 Charles Krauthammer came to an similar conclusion in a Time Magazine article in 2005 where he stated, “France . . . is an aged and exhausted civilization, the hollowed-out core of European Christendom, static, aging, contented, coddled, passive and literally without faith.  The old French, like the rest of Europe, are literally disappearing.”2 Patrick J. Buchanan has claimed, “A civilization, a culture, a faith, and a moral order rooted in that faith are passing away . . .”3     Many people might find this proposition absurd. The “death of the West” has been predicted for generations.  Yet the power, influence and even vitality of the West appear to be at their zenith. What are the factors that lead Styen and other to conclude that we are rapidly nearing the end of Western civilization?

            The symptoms of decline have been diagnosed by many historians.  The most important of these are, a loss of religious faith, a decline in demographics, a coarsening of morality and an influx of outsiders.  Perhaps the most important of these symptoms is the loss of religious faith.  Orientalist Franz Cumont, writing in 1906 at the apex of Western civilization, wrote:

Let us suppose that in modern Europe the faithful had deserted the Christian churches to worship Allah or Brahma; let us imagine a great confusion of all the races of the world in which Arabian mullahs, Chinese scholars, Japanese bonzes, Tibetan lamas and Hindu pundits would be preaching fatalism and predestination, ancestor-worship and devotion to a deified sovereign, pessimism and deliverance through annihilation - a confusion in which all those priests would erect temples of exotic architecture in our cities and celebrate their disparate rites therein.  Such a dream, which the future may perhaps realize, would offer a pretty accurate picture of the religious chaos in which the ancient world was struggling before the reign of Constantine. 4

Civilizations are organized around an idea.  As T. S. Eliot has asserted, “no culture has appeared or developed except together with a religion.”5 When that organizing idea loses its vitality the society based upon it is in jeopardy.

            There has been an effort, beginning with the Enlightenment, to organize Western societies along another set of ideas.  The proponents of these “enlightenment” ideas claim that they are rational and based upon scientific proofs.  In their zeal to promote these enlightenment ideas they have frequently been overcome with a desire to destroy traditional institutions, seeing in them the obstacle to fulfillment of their dream.  Many of them have come to identify all western traditions and customs as the enemy.

1.The New Criterion THE CENTURY AHEAD It's the Demography, Stupid The real reason the West is in danger of extinction. BY MARK STEYN, January 4, 2006
2.  Time Magazine, November 21, 2005, p. 162
3.  The Death of the West, Patrick J. Buchanan, Thomas Dunne Books, New York, 2002, p.  9
4.  Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism, p. 197
5.  Christianity and Culture, T.S. Eliot, Harcourt Brace & company, San Diego, 1948, p. 87

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Obamas: Conspicuous Sacrifice vs. Conspicuous Consumption

A recurring theme of the Obama White House is "sacrifice." The president has repeatedly stressed the need for us to tighten our belts. He has informed us, "We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times ..." During the campaign, his wife told us that we have to compromise and sacrifice for one another in order to get things done. Shortly after the election, the president said that "[e]verybody's going to have to give. Everybody's going to have to have some skin in the game." 

This emphasis on "sacrifice" is presented as a simple matter of justice. We are told that we live in a nation that comprises a small fraction of the earth's population, yet we consume a disproportionate share of the world's resources.

The Obamas do not expect us to sacrifice alone. They believe that they have established a long pattern of self-sacrifice. According to Michelle Obama, one of the Obamas' first major decisions after graduating from college was, "Do I go to Wall Street and make money, or do I work for the people?" As we all know Barack, decided to "work for the people." During the campaign, Michelle informed six women in the playroom of the Zanesville Ohio Day Nursery, "We left corporate America." She advised these working-class women to do the same: "Don't go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers." According to Michelle, these are "the careers we need." She discouraged them from going into "corporate law or hedge-fund management." She warned these women, however, that their salaries would respond negatively if they made that choice. 

After attaining the White House, the Obamas have continued to sacrifice, with a notable example being their trip to Denmark in order to secure the 2016 Olympics for Chicago. Michelle explained, "As much of a sacrifice as people say this is for me or Oprah or the president to come for these few days, so many of you in this room have been working for years to bring this bid home." The Obamas appear to be bearing up, however. They are tough. As Michelle told her Zanesville audience, "So I tell people, 'Don't cry for me.'" In spite of their apparently sincere belief that they are sacrificing "for the people," Michelle's behavior occasionally seems to belie this idea. This is most obvious in her thirst for fashion.

Michelle attended a luncheon for the homeless wearing a pair of $540 Lanvin sneakers. On a trip to Russia, she was seen sporting what was thought to be a $5,950 VBH alligator manila clutch. The White House protested that she was actually carrying the $875 VBH patent leather clutch. This is perhaps another example of self-sacrifice. She has ordered a pair of thigh-high leather boots from Robert Clergerie, a famous French designer. On her trip to China she stayed in an $8,400 per night hotel suite.  Had Governor Sarah Palin made any of these purchases, she would have been criticized on the front pages of the major newspapers. Their treatment of Michelle Obama is considerably kinder. She is seen as a fashion icon.

For a couple with a preference for $100-a-pound Wagyu beef, it is inconsistent to claim that "we can't eat as much as we want." Apparently the president's admonition that we can't "keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times" does not apply to him. If his senior adviser David Axelrod is to be believed, the president prefers a warm environment. Axelrod is reported by the New York Times as describing the temperature in the Oval Office as rather temperate: "He's from Hawaii," Axelrod said. "He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there." The president's years in Chicago apparently were not sufficient to acclimatize him to the cold.

The Obamas have every right to dress as they please. The have every right to spend their money as they choose. However, they cannot spend lavishly while contending that they are sacrificing for "the people." The majority of "the people" know about sacrifice. A Zogby poll reported that 70 percent of households are forgoing movies and restaurants. Are the Obamas? Perhaps the pièce de résistance was a statement by Michelle after a party for the "first dog," Bo: "We had a really sweet celebration -- [Bo] got a doghouse cake made out of veal stuff and he had his brother Cappy come over and we had party hats." Poor Bo. I am certain that he would have preferred Wagyu steak.

This elite behavior is described by Victor Kravchenko in his book, I Chose Freedom.  He states, “I found myself among men who could eat ample and dainty food in full view of starving people not only with a clear conscience but with a feeling of righteousness.”  To describe the Obamas as nouveau riche would be an insult to the nouveau riche.