How Do Civilizations Collapse?

Bill Whittle is up with a thought-provoking piece at National Review Online, asking how civilizations collapse. His answer: neither with a bang nor a whimper, but when the great bulk of people decide that the civilization is simply no longer worth defending.

The heart of the piece is this passage:

I live a few miles from Santa Monica High School, in California. There, young men and women are taught that America is “a terrorist nation,” “one of the worst regimes in history,” that it’s twice-elected leader is “the son of the devil,” and dictator of this “fascist” country. Further, “patriotism” is taught by dragging an American flag across the classroom floor, because the nation’s truest patriots, as we should know by now, are those who are most able to despise it.

This is only high school, remember: in college things get much, much worse.

Two generations, now, are being raised on this poison, and the reason for that is this: the enemies of this city cannot come out and simply say, “Do not defend the city.” Even the smartest among us can see that is simple treason. But they can say, “The City is not worth defending.” So they say that, and they say that all the time and in as many different ways as they are able.

If you step far enough back to look at the whole of human history, you will begin to see a very plain rhythm: a heartbeat of civilization. Steep climbs out of disease and ignorance into the light of medicine and learning — and then a sudden collapse back into darkness.

And it is in that darkness that most humans have lived their lives: poor, nasty, brutish, and short.The pattern is always the same: at the height of a civilization’s powers something catastrophic seems to occur — a loss of will, a failure of nerve, and above all an unwillingness to identify with the values and customs that have produced such wonders.

The piece goes on to discuss this central idea in more detail, and is worth reading in full. It should be noted that Whittle believes Western Civilization is under assault, but he does not believe we are doomed.

And who does he believe has the best chance of holding our culture and civilization together? You got it: the yeoman farmers of the nation. He doesn’t use that phrase, but his conclusion is Jeffersonian to the core:

It is the small-town virtues of self-reliance, hard work, personal responsibility, and common-sense ingenuity — and not those of the preening cosmopolitans that gape at them in mixed contempt and bafflement — that have made us the inheritors of the most magnificent, noble, decent and free society ever to appear on this earth. This Western Civilization… this American City… has earned the right to greet each sunrise with a blast of silver trumpets that can bring down mountains.

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