The Fall of Western Man
The soul is that ungraspable, illimitable, and living citadel of a man and his aspirations, which itself grasps and delimits what his future shall attain to; and so for a collectivity of men.
And no other subject should supersede examination and assay than the state of our soul, individually and corporately, for, as men of the West, it is the ground of our well-being and the compass of our posterity. The soul is who we are.
The Fall of Western Man by Mark Collett concerns the enfeeblement of his soul, the enfeeblement of his control over himself, an enfeeblement instigated by those who would bring about his dissolution. Carefully and with dispiriting thoroughness, after first defining his terms and illustrating a perfect society (through the analogy of the beehive, amongst other means), the author anatomizes the component causes in this demise and how far they have caused our society to depart from the ideal.
To formulate problems by reference to the concept of the soul is to have belief in the existence of an abstract entity, whether that be regarded as an object of cognition abstracted from a wholly material reality or as an independent subsistence, immaterial in its essence. And the extent to which such an intangible soul may be thought of as sentient to right and wrong, to beauty and to truth – to that extent the discourse that arises will be implicitly religious, or so it seems to me.
Thus it is that although this book does not touch on questions of Deity, nor attribute the benefits of church attendance and institutional religion to anything but the societal and psychological, it strikes me as deservedly belonging within an older genre of devotional literature – if that does not sound too strange a thing to say – when volumes of collected sermons were a mainstay of the publishing industry, and when it was the preachers who were the celebrities. And of course, by this I mean to praise the book, for the voice of the author is clarion, intelligent, and passionate in speaking of how far our civilization is disintegrating, how it is falling below that of which it is capable. It is a shame that one feels one has to say that this homiletic comparison is not an adverse criticism; and the need to make that clear indicates something of the current climate’s resistance to moral injunction, against which the book rightly rails.
The author is a compelling speaker, and I hear his voice in a crisp style, unencumbered by references; and in the pace of the prose. As few have the luxury of spending time with a text in a private, wood-paneled library where nothing interrupts the progression from sentence to sentence except the beat of a clock, it is advantageous if the thread of a work is lively and readily followed, however much noise and jostling to which one might be subjected in whatever means of public transport has to serve as one’s de facto study. That is definitely the case here.
This may sound strange: I would suggest reading The Fall of Western Man from the point where the author stops indicting the illness and instead affirms the healthy restorative, to wit, chapters 24 and 25; but then return to the beginning and read through to the end.
The positive message is worth reading twice in itself, for one thing; secondly, the proposed cure will read differently after one has been depressed by the long litany wherein the panoply of our malaise is laid bare; and thirdly, I think it helps one to evaluate the unhealthy present dispensation if one keeps in mind as a foil the recommended alternative.
No doubt the forgoing would not apply to those whose taste is for hearing how bad everything is – those who seem to enjoy nothing better than a cathartic denunciation of the ills of the world. I am not one of them, I am afraid, and it was the final part of the book that gladdened me the most to read.
To have an inkling of the way out of a predicament outranks any sense of whatever may have been the way in. Certainly, on a journey, it can be instructive to know the route that led one to the place one has reached in order to orientate oneself; but, strictly speaking, if one knows where one is going and how to get there from where one is, one does not need to know where one has come from.
The sense of fall, as suggested in the title, is not that of an already and irreversibly realized decadence, but rather of a state of falling. Reverting to the previous metaphor, we are lost and must find our way again.
I would urge those who, like me, are not disciples of Freud not to be put off by the use of concepts of his coinage in analyzing what has happened to the Western soul, or, as it was expressed in the way the book was initially titled when I read it: “the death of the Western Superego.” For the author defines all the psychoanalytic terms so precisely that one may mentally translate them using other names unconnected with Freud’s system of thought if one so desires. My practice was often this: translating Id to Lower Instincts or Base Drives; Ego to Higher Instincts; Superego to the Conscience, Soul, or as it pertains to a collectivity, Culture or Civilization. In my opinion, whichever terms are used does not detract from the cogency of the arguments advanced.
One point that is salient in how the Superego as Conscience is defined is that it is said to be acquired. “It is a highly complex set of learned morals and values which guide the individual . . . ” (p. 19). “It . . . is something that is learned and develops over time and is also something that is unique and differs between different cultures and racial groups . . . is primarily imparted by parents and strong rôle models within the community” (p. 15).
As I read the text, my understanding was that all moral awareness and probity is regarded as acquired. My view would be that virtue is more deeply embedded in us than that, more deeply a part of us than the more or less arbitrary rules of a game that one has to be taught. The knowledge of right and wrong seems to me to have an irreducible ground of instinct. The traditional religious account seems to me true, according to which the Conscience has at its root our connection to Deity, however thin and frail the thread may be, or however far away the uttering of Its directions may be heard; and coextensive with this, a large part is therefore unacquired and internally determined. The evolution we underwent through the long periods of cold and the harsh conditions of Northern Europe has had profound consequences for our societal mores, as reflected in the r/K types of behavior or survival strategies. I think we, as white people, are relatively less ethnocentric and more open to strangers than others, and we should try to become aware of our tendencies, like the alcoholic, before they kill us.
Frequent reference is made to those who would undermine our collective soul. I should have liked more to have been said about that and the sources of the aqueous and nefarious ideas, which have permeated our culture and brought about the growth of rot at a deep level. If only one could locate the tap and turn it off rather than spend all one’s energies bailing out the water, though that would have been a different and more involved type of work.
One of the biggest taps that can never be turned off, but only allowed to fade, if it can, is that of the knowledge of the concatenated horror of the First World War. That one of the highest points in the development of Western Civilization should have led to such industrially-produced carnage has subsequently continued to undermine the traditional structures that are perceived to have allowed this calamity to take place.
Yet even this source, it seems, has indeed receded behind the still dominant paradigm case of right and wrong as it is found in the popular perception of the Second World War – a state of affairs which only the passing of years, or yet bloodier, more pressing events will ameliorate.
The propensity to sacrifice individual satisfaction, either to some future time or to the locus of that common good of the greater body to which one belongs, that is to say, how readily a person will forgo the immediate actualization of pleasure in time or within the directly knowable space of the single self, and instead be willing to resist the natural animality of satisfaction in the present and propinquate through the faith that it shall be found at its right moment, or within the less selfish self of that multiplied self which is the community – that may be claimed as the real strength of a civilization, from the single man to the nation; and the author details how socially engineered education, the lack of rôle models, debased popular music, feminism, individualism, hedonism, Hollywood, and irreligiosity have all undermined the family and the core foundations upon which the strength of this Will to go beyond rests.
Conservatism, it is argued, can but retard the progress of a pathogen. When there is no underlying campaign of contamination in operation, when new notions are being thrown up for consideration and new directions indicated for exploration as they innocently arise in the unfolding of history, then the ballast of conservatism can benignly forestall a society hurtling down a blind alley with such haste that it would be unable to turn back. It can form a defense, a line of resistance which is, however, forever retreating in the face of innovation. Were the forces to be resisted disparate and without an agenda, conservatism would be the balancing complement to radicalism and, in another universe, such a complementary combination might in itself be a sufficient measure to ensure we kept to the line of our destiny. Now, however, our minds are focused upon the frighteningly acute demographic window which has precipitated the need not merely for a defensive rearguard action, but a repulse and reestablishment of control.
And libertarianism, it is argued, will also fail to reconquer and cleanse the land. It boots one not to wear the finest Saville-Row suit if one is forced to live in a sewer. It would appear self-evident to many minds that personal freedom of choice should be as great as possible, and that restrictive laws should be as few as possible. But the most important range of a person’s choices pertain to those domains which are shared by the community of persons, and for these domains to exist simultaneously in more than one elected state is impossible. A room is silent, or it is filled by music, or it is cacophonous. Libertarianism seems to me most appropriate when there are multiple choices, none of which impinges upon the others. But those determining our corporate existence in communities always do impinge upon everyone who constitutes them. It also seems appropriate to cases where a person may vote with his feet, so to speak. Such abound in commerce. But many of us have venerable, ancestral ties to where we live, and these ties are not transferable.
In a work that, of necessity, dwells on deficiencies, I was refreshed by sentiments from the last century, which I shall quote in case they are unfamiliar to you as well – a modest set of six sentences, which, as the author says, could not be bettered as expressing moral injunctions for children:
A Scout is to be trusted
A Scout is to be loyal
A Scout is to be friendly and considerate
A Scout belongs to the worldwide family of Scouts
A Scout has courage in all difficulties
A Scout makes good use of his time and is careful of possessions and property
A Scout has self-respect and has respect for others. (p.74)
Another pleasure in this work was the author’s account of the lyrics of some pop songs and their absurdity, his taking of their literal meaning to its moral conclusion. This caused me to laugh – I hope not out of turn, for it was being done for a serious purpose.
He prioritizes three bonds as being those which specially minister to and nutrify the soul, and it seems incontrovertible that if these relations are harmonious, the foundational timbers of one’s life will be too: that of immediate family, that of the environment, and that of religion. I should probably have added that of rewarding work, something to do that gives one the sense of having a place in society. And I think my preference would be that of work over that of environment, if it had to be three.
The Fall of Western Man runs to almost three hundred pages and covers much material that I have not adverted to here.
The task of pulling together the strands of a fragmented polity into one that is coordinated and directed toward the recovery of our well-being and historically grounded identity must commence upon the foundation of virtue, the will to excellence of its constituents. Namely, of us, the men and women who are of the West, to whom a valedictory and friendly exhortation is made in the book’s peroration; and such a book could end in no better way.
Mark Collett has an acute sense of what is right and wrong; and his lucidly written diagnosis of how we are falling to pieces is an unpleasant pleasure to read, in that it is sadly true. And yet there is always hope, there is always virtue, to which one can dedicate oneself and draw close thereby to the Divine Powers.
This is highly recommended reading.
The book may be freely downloaded or purchased in physical form from the book’s Website.
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