What attributes make a given society "good?" What attributes make another society "evil?" Why does a society, at one particular point in time, rise to dizzying heights, only to later collapse into despair? How could the same culture have produced both a Cincinnatus and a Caligula?
These were the questions plaguing my thoughts over the past week as I read a variety of news stories concerning the degenerating situation in Iraq, the machinations of our political class in Washington, and the increasingly worrisome state of our economy. (I was also pondering these issues after seeing Mel Gibson’s latest movie, Apocalypto, which raises a myriad of disturbing questions about the nature of man and civilization).
Several weeks ago, I wrote a piece for LRC titled Statism, Post-modernism, and the Death of the Western World. In that article, I attempted to describe two alternate forms of social organization (which I called post-modernism and organic culture) and argued that the former is ravaging our culture. Since then, I’ve received numerous emails requesting that I develop those ideas more fully, and the above events finally stirred me to action.
Post-modernism is my name for a family of policies and practices that have taken over the Western world since the demise of organic Western culture, a demise that began with the French Revolution and culminated in 1914. Post-modernism is not, strictly speaking, a culture. It is an anti-culture; it is what people do in the absence of authentic culture. It is like a throng of weeds overrunning a flower garden after the rose bushes have died.
Statism, post-modernism’s antecedent, manifests itself differently in different areas of human endeavor, and a quick examination of our contemporary society reveals each of these vividly. In our domestic politics, statism is expressing itself as authoritarian social democracy. In foreign policy, it expresses itself as crass imperialism. Economically, it has evolved into a corrupt system of crony-capitalism. Culturally, it has morphed into a strange series of degenerate and dehumanizing habits and practices (post-modernism).
Each of these expressions of statism, like the threads of a sweater, is intimately intertwined with the others. They each act to reinforce one another, and each, in turn, promotes the growth of yet more statism.
Our domestic governance is, for instance, quickly shedding its constitutional boundaries and evolving into something wholly outside the visions of our Founders. Staffed by a bossy, overweening bureaucracy, our government is intruding into every trivial detail of our lives (or, as Lew Rockwell recently put it, the state treats us like Pavlov’s dogs, demanding the right to fine-tune our behavior through a variety of "carrots" and "sticks").
This policy, when projected outward, manifests itself as imperialism, which is typified by the accelerating frequency of American "nation building" and "democracy spreading" operations that are currently plaguing the planet.
Each of these policies, in turn, greases the wheels of the state capitalist system that dominates Washington. With ever more frequency, wealth in this country is not being accrued by those who "build a better mousetrap," but rather by those who excel in the favor-swapping, influence peddling, and no-bid contracts that dominate the Imperial capital (for an example of state capitalism at its finest, I ask the reader to investigate the history of the Carlyle Group.)
But these manifestations of statism have been fairly well-described and are almost too obvious to merit further comment. It is, rather, my intent to focus on statism’s cultural manifestation: post-modernism.
As mentioned above, organic Western culture is essentially dead. It survives only in a vestigial form among part of the middle classes and, in a purer form, among certain isolated, relic groups. In the process of destroying Western culture, post-modernism has replaced it with a dehumanizing system that has marginalized men, debased women, and discarded children. The resulting cultural debris, not coincidentally, has provided fertile soil for the growth of yet more statism.
Let us consider each of these in turn:
The marginalization of men
In a healthy, organic culture, boys are raised with the central goal of harnessing their aggressive nature and channeling it toward socially desirable ends. First among these is to prepare every young man to fulfill his future responsibility as the leader of his family.
Note that I have not said tyrant, or dictator, or bully. Such words are often substituted for the leadership concept by those who despise the idea of male leadership and who wish to misconstrue it as being something it is not.
Leadership is a call to duty, not a license to oppress.
As anyone who has ever been the captain of a sports team can confirm, leadership is the willing acceptance of additional burdens. A leader must be the first to hoist the load, and the last to put it down. He must rally the team when the chips are down, and he must serve as the rock upon which other members of the team depend.
Nature has, despite an avalanche of political bluster to the contrary, uniquely suited men for this role.
Post-modernism, on the other hand, has spared no effort to diminish and hide this fact, and it has displaced men from this critical role by a myriad of obnoxious political and social policies.
For instance, our education system, rather than preparing boys for this leadership role, actively defames and vilifies them. Our popular culture lampoons men and devalues their contributions to the family unit. The welfare state and our increasingly fascistic child support laws have promoted the displacement of men as well.
Thus bereft of their central social function, and viewed by popular culture as essentially disposable, young men have drifted into other, more destructive behavior patterns.
After all, where else can they go? What does anyone expect them to do?
Post-modernism is perfectly at ease with man-as-gangster rapper, or man-as-promiscuous cad, or even man-as-axe murderer…but it is not at ease with man-as-family leader, because such a role would threaten the fabric of the post-modern social order. (A society of disconnected rabble hopelessly addicted to "bread and circuses" will, on the other hand, always require a Caesar to lead it, and is thus more acceptable to statist ideologues.)
To experience a cinematic representation of man-as-leader within the framework of a healthy organic culture, I refer you again to Apocalypto. I won’t spoil the plot for those who haven’t seen it, but suffice it to say that it involves a man (an Indian named Jaguar Paw) who fights his way through the gates of Hell in order to rescue his pregnant wife and his son. His ordeal is one of the most gripping and emotional struggles you will ever see on the big screen, and the idea that his family would be somehow better off without him (and make no mistake about it, post-modernism does, in fact, believe this) is a moral obscenity of the highest order.
The debasement of women
Organic cultures go to great lengths to carefully define the proper avenues of sexual expression. They set forth rules for courtship, marriage, and child rearing (which are based on custom, etiquette, and religious principles). They do this both to protect women from sexual predation and to provide a stable environment for raising children.
Post-modernism is, on the other hand, a system of moral, ethical, and cultural relativism (post-modernism often claims that it is multicultural, but that assertion serves merely as a "cover" for the deconstruction of culture altogether and its replacement by nihilism). Post-modernism disdains any consistent set of ethics as naïve and oppressive. Being an anti-culture, post-modernism is a vacuum, little more than a self-indulgent lifestyle wedded to a series of addictions. As such, it should come as no surprise that the circumstances of most women’s lives have eroded steadily as post-modernism has progressed. The objectification of women’s bodies, the commercialization of female sexuality, and the woeful statistics concerning such issues as abortion and illegitimacy should give pause to anyone who believes that women are better off under the reign of post-modernism.
I first realized that Western culture had essentially disappeared when I read about Germany’s preparations to host last summer’s World Cup soccer tournament. The German government, with typical Teutonic efficiency, had constructed a series of elaborate tent cities near the soccer stadiums to be staffed by nearly a hundred thousand prostitutes.
I could only stare at the page in horror.
What can be said about a society that spends such enormous amounts of time and effort to facilitate the industrial-scale exploitation of its own daughters for the sexual amusement of visiting soccer fans?
Words failed me then, and they continue to fail me now.
By way of contrast, I remember seeing a movie some years ago about the Amish (who are, admittedly, a rather extreme example of an organic culture). The movie noted that when Amish women appear in public, they wear their hair up and cover it with a small, white cap. They do this because they believe that a woman’s hair is her crown, bestowed upon her by God, and that only her husband is worthy of seeing it in all its glory.
The distinction between these two cultural paradigms could hardly be more dramatic.
It is also important to note that the Amish are actually Germans. They share the same language and heritage as their sisters back in Europe…the only difference being that one group lives under post-modernism, and the other does not. And this is not an idle, philosophical distinction, since the consequences for the women in question could hardly be more divergent.
Aside from women’s exploitation and abandonment, post-modernism has also treated us to several other oddities. First among these is the emergence of predatory female sexuality.
Post-modernism has encouraged young girls to adopt sexual mores and attitudes that have been traditionally reserved for adolescent males. I’ve lost count of how many mothers of young boys have commented to me about this issue. These mothers are shocked at the forwardness and aggressiveness of young girls in pursuit of their sons (and I’m not even referring to teenage girls here, but rather 11 and 12 year-olds).
This strange, masculinization of female sexuality has also manifested itself in the bizarre epidemic of female teachers seducing their male students (sometimes as young as junior high). While this behavior has, tragically, long been associated with male predators, I don’t think it has ever been seen in women with any frequency…until now.
But alas, with post-modernism, all things are possible.
Overall, it is incomprehensible to me that anyone could believe that women living in this post-modern system are better off than those residing in a strong organic culture. In fact, I contend that women are worse off now than they have ever been in the history of Western civilization. Never have they been so exploited, so abandoned, and never has their sexuality been so crassly manipulated and commercialized
Nevertheless, some dare call it "liberation."
The abandonment of children
In my first article on post-modernism, I described its relationship to child-bearing thus:
Post-modern culture treats children as an expensive and peculiar hobby, something like a curious fashion statement. Children are, after all, expensive, messy, and they interfere with an active dating life. And if children are seen as a mere fashion accessory or an emotional indulgence, then one will do just as well as two (and much better than three or four). This attitude reveals itself in the demographic statistics of all societies that have adopted post-modernism.
While post-modern culture undeniably promotes sterility, it is also worth noting how it copes with the few children who do manage to be born.
The American family has survived revolutions, civil wars, famines, and plagues. It has emerged relatively intact from almost every calamity that man and nature could throw at it…until now.
The statistics are both depressing and well-known.
In a social democracy, society always degenerates into an institutionalized war of all against all, as each "group" desperately attempts to seize the reigns of public power and wield it against the other groups.
Since children do not have a voice in this system, and are not capable of organizing themselves into their own "group," they have largely been left behind. Post-modernism instructs individuals to seek their own pleasure with callous disregard for the effects on others, and it sternly admonishes anyone from voicing concerns about the moral consequences that result.
Under the destructive influences of statism and post-modernism, the family fabric first began to unravel in the black community. Their families had survived the additional traumas of slavery and segregation, only to be sucked into the bosom of the welfare state. They are now three or four generations into a dysfunctional, matriarchal family system that is awash in chronic welfare dependency and sky-high crime rates, fueled by an illegitimacy rate hovering in the 70—80% range.
The Hispanic community is following closely behind. They are being rapidly assimilated into post-modernism, with rising welfare dependency rates and an illegitimacy rate around the 50% mark.
Not to be outdone, the white community has been experiencing a slow-motion disintegration of its own, with recent rates of illegitimacy at nearly 30%. When one adds a burgeoning divorce rate to the mix, only a minority of white children in this country will make it through their childhood with an intact family structure.
The result of this cultural dysfunction is a generation of children largely left to their own devices (and to the tender care of a deplorable state-run education system). For the most part, they raise themselves, usually with some help from television and their peers (in the form of a violent, Lord of the Flies youth culture). Having no exposure to an authentic heritage, they are bereft of the most precious parts of the human experience. They are taught no myths, they read no literature, and are exposed to nothing sacred. They live in a starkly materialist world without even rudimentary knowledge of the thoughts and deeds of their ancestors.
In organic cultures, enormous effort is expended to socialize children into the values and norms of their society. Surrounded by their parents and their extended families, they are never far from the watchful eye of their elders. They are usually given productive chores at an early age, and they receive additional, intensive instruction in their history, culture, and value system by the elderly (who, by the way, are also typically abandoned in a post-modern system) and by their culture’s religious leaders.
By way of example, I am still haunted by an early scene in Apocalypto, where Jaguar Paw’s small tribe (which is really just an extended family) all gather around the fire to listen to its eldest member, an impossibly wrinkled and toothless old man, recite their culture’s creation story. It is one of the most moving and soulful moments in movie history.
Again, the contrast could not be more absolute.
The Western world has descended into a post-cultural state that has despoiled everyone involved. This process, while partially promoted by technological advances that are not necessarily related to a particular cultural or political philosophy, was nevertheless not accidental.
Many ideologues (Antonio Gramsci being the most famous) consciously promoted the deconstruction of Western culture for the purpose of rendering it more susceptible to the advances of statism. With malice aforethought, they tore asunder the cultural underpinnings of the Western world and left it with nothing.
The result has been twofold. First, this process has led to the death of a cultural tradition that was responsible for enormous beauty and creativity in its own right. Second, the demise of authentic culture has left an enormous human tragedy in its wake (about which most of the Western world is still in denial).
In my third and last article on post-modernism, I’ll discuss what I believe can be done, within the strict confines of libertarian philosophy, to create a better and more genuinely human form of social organization.
Admittedly, the most probable end-point of post-modernism is moral, social, and financial bankruptcy, which I believe is approaching just over our collective horizon.
Although I am not overly optimistic, history does have a way of turning in unexpected directions. The odds are long, but stranger things have happened.
Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.