Mort Zuckerman, the Canadian-born American magazine editor, newspaper publisher, and real estate billionaire, uses his stuttering weekly news mag, U.S. News & World Report, to deliver an obituary for the U.S. economy. Generally speaking, when capitalist fanboys like Zuckerman say there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark, it’s wise to take them seriously:
The modern world has for centuries been dominated economically, intellectually, and physically by the civilization that arose in Western Europe in the wake of the Renaissance and Reformation and spread across the Atlantic.
Will that one day be seen as a passing phenomenon doomed to ascend ever upward and then slowly fizzle out like a firework?
It is nearly a century since that gloomy German mathematician and philosopher Oswald Spengler published his 1918 classic The Decline of the West. His arguments were complex, but basically he suggested that the future of the West was not as limitless as his peers imagined after the ghastly World War I. His thesis was that civilizations had an underlying trajectory, an organic rise and fall; his metaphor was to compare the stages of this process to the stages of our seasons—but seasons of many centuries. In the 19th century we were, he suggested, in the winter of the West, witnessing the triumph of materialism, socialism, and money and that the era of individualism, liberty, and humanitarianism was nearing its end. (When the Nazis rose to power he seemed vindicated—he was a vehement critic.)
Read today, Spengler’s forebodings have an uncanny and chilling association with our present predicaments. He was not saying Western civilization would vanish overnight in a puff of smoke. It would erode more slowly, as did some ancient civilizations—not to vanish forever but with symbols of their power and influence surviving (the Pyramids, the Aztec temples, the Parthenon), with the potential to re-emerge as civilizations many centuries later.
Myopic self-indulgence. Are our current plagues—the riots first in Athens and then in Paris, our global economic crisis manifest in the riots and rampant sovereign debt—merely a symptom of a deeper decay of a civilization in the autumn of its existence? A civilization unable to recognize its own vulnerability? The riots were certainly as much an example of myopic lethal self-indulgence as the sovereign debts in all the leading countries of the West. In France, students took to the streets protesting against a rise of just two years in the age of subsidized retirement—a system destined to bankrupt the state long before they, too, want the comforts that will be impossible to sustain.
Among Spengler’s convictions was that money, instead of serving mankind, would betray the Western civilization as it had others—and money in politics and media especially. If he could have seen this election season, he would have been even more downcast! Money is surely the great corrupter of American democracy. Congressmen have to spend more of their time raising money for misleading and defamatory television commercials—and resisting briberies of one kind or another—than they spend studying our predicaments…
[continues in U.S. News & World Report]