Social cycle theory argues that stages of civilization and history generally repeat themselves in cycles. The most famous explanation of this is Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, where he compared human civilization to an organism. There is the birth phase where society comes into being. An adult phase where is fully formed and reaches its potential and then the decline of old age and eventually death. Another way of stating it is that human civilization has seasons, spring through winter.
This way of thinking about the West has been popular with various right-wing movements ever since, as it generally fits the more realistic worldview of the Right. The Left, in contrast, has always embraced the idea that human civilization evolves toward some idealized point of existence. Progressives chose their label, because they are not only in favor of progress, but they believe it is inevitable. They are on the right side of history, because unlike their enemies, they are not standing in the way of progress.
The argument for Spengler has a lot of support in our history books, as there are plenty of civilizations that were born, lived and then died. If human history naturally progressed to some ideal form of existence, it would seem that the middle ages were a detour, which means there could be other detours. Alternatively, Africa made no meaningful progress until Europeans arrived and handed them the tools of modernity. Even so, the magic of historical progress does not appear to be working its magic on the Africans.
Closer to home, it is obvious that the West has hit some sort of wall, when it comes to inventiveness in the social sphere. Regarding political organization, not much has happened since widespread democracy was embraced a century ago. It has become more absurd and corrupt, but that hardly qualifies as progress. Culturally, the West has not produced much of anything worth commenting upon, other than popular culture, which also seems to have stalled. Pop culture today is reboots and repeats of the past.
At a more granular level, this is obvious in the political sphere. Take a look at the Democrats running for president. Bernie Sanders is a sort of weird nostalgia tour for Baby Boomer lefties and their spiritual soulmates in the younger generations. Listen to him speak and he barely makes any sense. In fact, all of them rely on emotive gibberish and their mostly concocted back stories. The gay mayor a gay who speaks in riddles. The mixed senator is Obama with a vagina. Warren is an angry old hen.
Take a step back and the Democrat Party is no longer a political party in the traditional sense of the concept. It has no agenda, other than a hatred of white people, but even that hatred has no point, beyond keeping the non-whites angry. The GOP had been a pointless collection of castoffs for decades until Trump came along, but even there, the MAGA stuff is just a weird echo of the Reagan years. If Sanders is a nostalgia candidate for lefty boomers, Trump is a nostalgia tour for aging Reaganites.
The near total lack of political innovation is quite startling when you read something like this, which was posted at American Conservative. The general thrust of the article is the Right needs a new Frank Meyer, who helped turn the American Right into a fusion of social conservatism, libertarian economics and hawkish anti-communism. The post reads like the pitch for rebooting an old movie franchise. Instead of fighting the Soviets, the new Conservative Man will start a Cold War with China and promise to cut the debt.
It is not just the mainstream political ideologies that are staggering around in the darkness of the past, searching for a reason to exist. The alt-right embracing fascist iconography and larping as Nazis was as much about a lack of imagination as breaking taboos. They could not think of a way forward, so they were hoping for a do-over. This surge in what is called white identity politics is mostly just a rediscovery of old ideas that lived and died a century ago. There are a lot of antiquarians in identity politics.
Francis Fukuyama famously declared the end of history, as if the West had finally reached the Promised Land. Liberal democracy triumphed over communism. He has since backed off on that a bit, but this is the end of a long super-cycle that started in the late middle ages and peaked in the Industrial Revolution. There really has not been an innovative political idea since the beginning of the last century. The expansion of liberal democracy has brought with it weird cults and heresies, but those are decoration, not innovation.
The view from the Right, properly understood, is to look at this and see the winter of Western civilization. The barbarian hordes are pouring over the border. It’s not that the West is incapable of defending itself. It’s that it lacks the youthful energy to do it. Like an old man sitting in his rocker, the Occident is simply too burdened by time to get up and defend, much less build, his civilization. In other words, we are in the same place as Rome entering the final century of the Western Roman Empire.
Another way of viewing this, however, is to be a bit less grandiose and see the West in a transition period. The period from the French Revolution through the Second World War was driven by the technological and economic changes that swept the West. The old political order, which was rooted in the feudal economics of the middle ages, slowly and often violently gave way to a new political order rooted in capital and industry. The feudal relationship does not make a lot of sense when capital is king.
Perhaps this period we are in is a transition from the industrial order to something that better fits the technological age. One reason national governments are in such shabby condition is they have lost one main reason to exist. People in Europe are no longer in competition for resources. Everyone in the West has extra of all the things that matter and extra of most of the luxury items. Organized competition for stuff is no longer a salient part of political life. Germany is not going to be invading Poland to get more farm land.
Put another way, the path forward may be exactly that, allowing the past to fade into the darkness of history, while looking for a new organizational model that fits the needs of technological, post-industrial and post-scarcity societies. A political philosophy that has the attributes of the block chain, rather than the corporation, is the future for a technological society. Instead of decorating old ideas with new trimmings, it will be the past decorating new a political philosophy, purpose built for the current age.