Are We Decadent?rnIf there is one premise that serves to uniternthe Old Right, it is that the West—orrnAmerica, or Christendom, or whateverrnlabel and identity they want to specify—rnis in trouble, has been in trouble for arnlong time, and is probably not going tornget out of trouble for quite a while, if ever.rnIn a famous but overdone synopsis ofrnthe course of modernity, Richard Weaverrnsaw the decline beginning with the 13thcenturyrnnominalism of William of Ockhamrnand proceeding logically to the nihilisticrnexistentialism of the current era.rnFriedrich Hayek believed the age wasrnlurching merrily down the “road to serfdom”;rnWhittaker Chambers was convincedrnthat the side he had joined whenrnhe deserted communism was the losingrnone; and James Burnham warned thatrnthe liberalism that dominates Westernrnculture and politics would facilitate thern”suicide of the West.” From OswaldrnSpengler to Robert Bork, virtually ever)’-rnone on “the right” has prophesied arnsteady descent into Avernus and a relentlessrndisintegration of Western morals, religion,rnsocial institutions, cultural traditions,rnpolitical freedom, economicrnaffluence, and civil order. Only in thernlast few decades, with the electoral victoryrnof Ronald Reagan and the collapse ofrnthe Soviet Union, have people callingrnthemselves “conservatives” begun tornchirp and coo about the “victory” of thernright and the triumph of the “ConservativernRevolution.” But most of those arernsimply the hired hacks and professionalrncheerleaders of partisans. The intellectuallyrnserious right—conservative, counterrevolutionary,rnor reactionary—entertainsrnno illusion that any such triumph is onrnthe horizon, or even over it.rnYet the visions of decadence and declinernmay be exaggerated. Those versedrnin world history know that epochs that appearrnto one historian as periods of collapsernare viewed by others as periods ofrnrebirth and regeneration. Wliat the secularistrnEdward Gibbon saw as the declinernand fall of the Roman Empire and thernpagan classical civilization it ruled, thernCatholic Christopher Dawson saw as thernrise of Christian Europe. Virtually thernsame stretch of time in which Jacob Burck-rnPrincipalities & Powersrnby Samuel Francisrnhardt perceived the civilization of the Renaissance,rnJohan Huizinga understood asrnthe waning of the Middle Ages. Thernprinciple is nothing more complex thanrnwhat every schoolchild knows: Whateverrngoes up must come down, and wheneverrnone thing is coming down, another isrnprobably going up, if only we have therneyes to see it rising.rnIn the case of civilizations, the thingsrnthat are rising and declining are elites orrnruling classes. As James Burnham put itrnyears ago in The Machiavellians:rnA nation’s strength or weakness, itsrnculture, its powers of endurance, itsrnprosperity, its decadence, dependrnin the first instance upon the naturernof its ruling class. More particularly,rnthe way in which to study arnnation, to understand it, to predictrnwhat will happen to it, requires firstrnof all and primarily an analysis ofrnthe ruling class. Political historyrnand political science are thus predominantlyrnthe history and sciencernof ruling classes, their origin, development,rncomposition, structure,rnand changes.rnThe transition from pagan Roman imperialismrnto Christian Creco-Roman imperialismrnoccurred not because most peoplernin the Roman Empire suddenly gotrnright with Jesus but because a new.rnChristian ruling class displaced the old,rnpagan ruling class. I do not question thernhonesty or devotion of the converts, butrnChristianity offered advantages for rationalizingrnthe polifical regime and mobilizingrnthe loyalty of its subjects that an exhaustedrnpaganism no longer possessed.rnAt the risk of sounding cynical, I suspectrnit was the political and other secular advantagesrnof Christianity as an imperialrnpublic orthodoxy, rather than its purelyrnspiritual appeal, that enabled it to becomernthe animating fiiith of a new civilization.rnThe same seems to be true of the endrnof the Middle Ages, whether we see thernera as one of “waning” or of “renaissance.”rnThe emergence of new rulingrnclasses based on commercial wealth, humanisticrnlearning, scientific and technologicalrnadvances, and the growth of cifiesrndemanded a new civilization —onernmarked by what we now call individualism,rnsecularism, rationalism, and continuousrninnovation —in opposition to thernmedieval civilization created by the olderrnfeudal elites whose power was based onrnland and its products. Fix your eyes onlyrnon the medieval dimension, and all yournwill see is its gradual decline. If, on thernother hand, you fix your eye on emergingrnsocial and political forces, you will probablyrnsee something else.rnSo it is today. Most of the exponents ofrnthe Old Right I have cited wrote from thernperspective of the civilization of whichrnthey were members and of the rulingrnclass whose dominance they approved,rnand, as a result, what they saw was indeedrnthe long, slow, and painful historical processrnof “waning,” what Spengler so poeticallyrncalled the “Undergoing of thernEvening Lands.” The ruling class beingrndisplaced was the descendant of the classrnthat rose to power at the close of the MiddlernAges, the bourgeois elite, and thernremnants of the feudal aristocracies withrnwhich it had allied. From the perspectivernof the interests, values, and ideologiesrnof that elite, the erosion of the family, thernsexual revolution, the decline of traditionalrnreligious beliefs, the emergence ofrnmass democracy, and what Robert Nisbetrncalled the “racial revolution” of the 20thrncentury are all self-evident signs of decline,rnnot only of their civilization butrnprobably all civilization.rnBut this is simply not so. New elitesrndisplaced the old bourgeois class, and thern”civilization” they “created” (I am sufficientlyrnbourgeois as to be unable to speakrnof them without quotation marks) is thernmanagerial system that has been slouchingrntoward, if not Bethlehem, then atrnleast New York and Washington to bernborn. From the standpoint of the olderrnelites and those traditional conservativesrnwho express their values, it is no civilizationrnat all, merely a jungle of moral, aesthetic,rnand social anarchy, frequentlyrnpunctuated by periods of actual politicalrnanarchy and occasionally relieved by otherrnperiods of political repression. Thernlate Allan Bloom’s complaints about thernprevalence of “relativism” among his studentsrnillustrate a typical conservative (althoughrnneoconservative) criticism of ourrnage. “Almost every student entering thernuniversit)’ believes, or says he believes.rnNOVEMBER 2000/33rnrnrn