Why the current Western crisis is worse than any in the past

John Hagan writes about my exposition of Tolkien and the issues the West now faces:

If we survive this coming confrontation with Islam, and this time I’m not sure we will, it will take a spiritual overhaul of modern Western man that will be nothing short of revolutionary. Western man is so much hollowed out that it will take every bit of moral fiber we have left to fill him in again to patch him up and make of him a man worthy of the history and lineage of the West. We are up to our metaphorical hips in rot, and cultural filth so much so that we swim in it as fish swim in the sea.

Try and envision America as she was in 1959: a nation that had saved the world from German madness and the Japanese death cult. That was holding back Communism, that had just cured polio, and then roused her citizens to study math and science so it could compete in the space race. Look around now! Where are we … who are we? 1959 looks like a dream, an impossibility … bad times are on the way.

LA to JH:

You point to a key dimension of the crisis that I left out of my discussion of Tolkien: we’re facing not just the barbarian enemy without, and now, far worse, within, but the internal treason and rot coming from our own leaders and institutions and our vast Eloi population of fat consumers. This makes the difficulty of past Western crises pale beside what we face now. It will certainly take a miracle to save us. But that, after all, was one of Tolkien’s concepts, which I just heard about in one of the features in the extended DVD of The Return of the King. He had a notion of “eucatastrophe,” the opposite of catastrophe, when a situation that seems utterly dark and hopeless unexpectedly turns in a positive and harmonious direction. As I’ve said many times. I believe in that, too. It’s not something I can explain rationally. It may be entirely irrational and an escape from approaching disaster that I don’t want to face. But as someone who lived for years with dread feelings of civilizational ruin that I shared with no one, perhaps I’ve experienced as much cultural despair as one person can experience, and so my mind has turned in a different direction. As Yeats said, “Things thought too long can be no longer thought.” Or perhaps this hopeful feeling is not just a matter of my own mental ecology but is an expression of the truth that Western man can, despite all evidence to the contrary, turn this encroaching horror around.

On another point, I like it that you picked 1959 as a benchmark year with which to compare our own time. I have always viewed 1959 as the summit of our postwar culture before the disaster of the Sixties, both in terms of high-brow and middle-brow culture. Go down the list of books and movies from that year—it’s just extraordinary. Several books that were key to me were published in 1959. The culture had reached an exceptional level of balance between popular and high, between the particular and the universal. I have to write about this some time.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 25, 2005 02:31 AM | Send

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