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From Dawn to Decadence

The symptoms of decadence result from the hypertrophy of those very traits that defined the West: primitivism, emancipation, self-consciousness, and individualism

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“History is the product of individual initiative aided or stymied by chance,” says noted historian, scholar and author Jacque Barzun in his classic book, From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present. “Above all it is concrete and particular, not general and abstract.”

Here are my notes and excerpts from this monumental work:

History is not, as one wag put it, simply “one damn thing after another.” There are patterns to be observed and docketed even if they can never be entirely plumbed. Movements in art or thought, Barzun observes, gain influence at the cost of variety.

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Cultural Nonsense, Moral Confusion

“Age of…” is a favorite shorthand of historians: the Age of Reason, the Age of Faith, the Age of Science, the Age of Anxiety. Such phrases are probably indispensable; they are also, Mr. Barzun observes, “always a misnomer, except perhaps, “An Age of Troubles” which fits every age in varying degrees.”

Barzun is convinced that our age, despite its vast technological capabilities, is a time of cultural nonsense, depleted energies, and moral confusion. Amen.

Barzun use “man” to refer to all of humanity, primarily, he tells us, for four reasons: “etymology, convenience, the unsuspected incompleteness of ‘man and woman,’ and literary tradition.”

“Intellect watches particularly over language because language is so far the only device for keeping ideas clear and emotions memorable.”

The Test of the West

The picture of the West promulgated by its enemies, as “a solid block having but one meaning” cannot survive scrutiny. It is central to Mr. Barzun’s task to show that the West has in fact been “an endless series of opposites — in religion, politics, art, morals, manners.”

The West has been working out a cultural impulse that it received in the Renaissance, an impulse that had becomes exhausted by the end of the twentieth century. This impulse was not an ideology or an agenda but an expandable list of desires, particular forms of which can be detected throughout all the cultural and political controversies of the great era.

The names of these desires are helpfully capitalized wherever they are mentioned, so that Emancipation is graphically shown to play a role in every major controversy from the Reformation to the women’s suffrage movement.

“Victory brings on imitation and ultimately boredom,” a most underrated catalyst of historical change. It is part of an historian’s task to discern continuities in what had appeared to be random; it is also part of his task to recognize the limits of those continuities.

Decadence and Revolution

Decadence “is not a slur; it is a technical label.” The sources of decadence are many and varied. Decadence has triumphed in various facets of modern life.

Manners are flouted and customs broken. Foul language and direct insult become normal. In keeping with the rest of the excitement, buildings are defaced, images destroyed, shops looted.

Angry debates multiply about things long since settled: talk of free love, priests marrying, and monks breaking their vows, of property and wives in common, of sweeping out all evils, all corruption, all at once — all of these are postulated as contributing to a new and blissful life on earth…

Voices grow shrill, parties form and adopt names or are tagged with them in derision and contempt. Again and again comes the shock of broken friendships, broken families.

Angst and Anguish

Authorities are bewildered, heads of institutions try threats and concessions by turns, hoping the surge of subversion will collapse like previous ones. But none of this holds back that transfer of power and property which is the mark of revolution and which in the end establishes the Idea.

Even the terrorist who drives a car filled with dynamite toward a building in some hated nation is part of what he would destroy: his weapon is the work of Alfred Nobel and the inventors of the internal combustion engine. His very cause has been argued for him by such proponents of national self-determination.

“How a revolution erupts from a commonplace event-tidal wave from a ripple, is cause for endless astonishment.”

This evocation describes many revolutionary periods. The term “decadent” can properly be used where people entertain goals for which they will not tolerate the means.

Labyrinthine in Nature

Decadent societies tend to become labyrinthine in both their cultures and their styles of government, as people seek to create small accommodations within a larger unsatisfactory context.

Decadence is not a neutral historical fact, it is a cultural, moral, and political disaster of the first order. The symptoms of decadence can be understood as resulting from the hypertrophy of those very traits that defined the West: primitivism, emancipation, self-consciousness, individualism, and so on.

What appear as motors for cultural development can, when pursued ruthlessly and without regard to other virtues, degenerate into engines of decadence and decline. Ridicule, denial, anti-art sensory simplicity mean that culture and society are in the decadent phase.

Art and Excellence

Western nations spend billions on public schooling for all, urged along by the public cry for excellence. At the same time, society pounces on any show of superiority as elitism.

The same nations deplore violence and sexual promiscuity among the young but pornography and violence in films and books, shops and clubs, on television and the Internet, and in the lyrics of pop music cannot be suppressed, in the interest of “the free market of ideas.”

The confusion generated by such contradictions attends every aspect of cultural endeavor. In the arts, it leads to the rise of anti-art. The transformation of art into anti-art could not have succeeded on it own. It required the collusion of institutions that certify artistic achievement as well as audience whose interest ultimately sustains it.

If a new work or style was not easy to like, if it was painful to behold, revolting, even it was nonetheless ‘interesting.’ “Art is what you can get away with” …Andy Warhol, 1987.

How Decadence Comes To Be

“When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent.” Futility and absurdity only seem normal to a damaged sensibility. That damage has been wrought by a progressive loss of resistance to humbug. One then becomes susceptible to all manner of cultural viruses.

This lowered resistance has affected connoisseurs, critics, and teachers. It has also affected the public at large, whose healthy rejection of absurdity one used to be able to count on. No more.

The questions with which intellectual history confronts us can be parsed as elements of that large, perennial question, “How should I live my life?”

The stolid bourgeois used to aid culture by resisting it; by the late twentieth century, he had been transformed into a “docile consumer” for whom the avant-garde achieves “the status of a holy synod.”

The Great Switchover

The realms of social relations and politics are equally beset by confusion. One result is the “Great Switch,” “the reversal of Liberalism into its opposite.”

If Liberalism originally “triumphed on the principle that the best government is that which governs least,” today “for all the western nations political wisdom has recast the ideal of liberty into liberality.”

The universalization and extension of the welfare state has nurtured a culture of entitlement. What began in an access of largess ends in an explosion of regulation and hectoring scrutiny.

Motives that had once encouraged unity and social comity such as emancipation and  self-consciousness, now act as centrifugal forces: forces of decadence.

Decadence vs Progress

As Oswald Spengler said in 1918, “One day, the last portrait of Rembrandt and the last bar of Mozart will have ceased to be, though possibly a colored canvas and a sheet of notes may remain, because the last eye and the last ear accessible to their message” will be gone.

Sooner or later, some few intrepid souls will turn with new curiosity to the neglected past and use it “to create a new present,” discovering along the way “what a joy it is to be alive.”

The forces of decadence are formidably potent. But decadence is no more inevitable than progress. Myopia is perennial, despair a temptation to be resisted. One never knows what reparations await the touch of fresh energies.

Indeed, so completely will the modern age be forgotten that its rediscovery will have an impact quite as revolutionary as the impact that classical culture had on the late medieval world. The result, we hope, will be another renaissance, when the young and talented will again exclaim what joy it is to be alive.

A Cheerful Explanation

The one thing that I think you can say about From Dawn to Decadence is that it provides the most cheerful explanation you are ever likely to encounter as to why Western culture is ending.

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Jeff Davidson is the world's only holder of the title "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" as awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars, including: Managing the Pace with Grace® * Achieving Work-Life Balance™ * Managing Information and Communication Overload®



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Faith

The New Democratic Sex Cult

They have stopped worshipping the Creator and instead worship the created.

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The Democrats have become a sex cult. Sex is their religion. They have exchanged worshipping God the Creator and instead worship sex, the created. PolitiCrossing founder Chris Widener explains in this short video and gives you the true answer on how to defeat the sex cult. Read Romans 1:18-27 below the video, then watch the video.

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From Romans 1:18-27

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

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Faith

Unleash the Spirit Within

It doesn’t take considerable effort to engage in spiritual-type behavior that will benefit everyone

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You can practice being more spiritual in little ways that add up quickly to your being a more spiritual person. For example, there are relatively minor things you can do to start the process, although nothing is minor when it comes to acting spiritually. As an example, if you smile at someone, they tend to smile back. If you go out of your way to help someone, that person might in turn help another and so on.

Spirituality certainly does not have to be restricted to the confines of organized religion. Freed from the rules, restrictions, and impediments that organized religion may impose upon you, how and where might you be more spiritual in your life?

Each little action sets in motion the potential for greater good. So, as you proceed through six items below, do not discount the value of engaging in any of these. Each has the potential to add up to more.

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Spirituality While Driving

Researchers report that when people get in their cars, they think they’re in some type of invisible vehicle. No one sees them as they motor down the road. If you curse or scream, who’s to know? Obviously, you’re not invisible and the way you conduct yourself as a motorist potentially impacts other motorists, as well as pedestrians.

The next time someone cuts you off in traffic, fails to use their turn signal properly or otherwise engages in improper driving, practice maintaining your composure.

Don’t curse, scream, or honk your horn. If the other person is in view, look at them blankly, but not with disgust or anger, or a mocking smile.

Often, the other party knows what they did wrong. If not, venting your spleen is not likely to change their behavior.

If you travel frequently, say as part of your job, and often traverse high traffic arteries, chances are you’ll have an opportunity at least several times a week to practice engaging in small displays of spirituality. As a goal, why not establish for yourself one composed response per week?

Each time you can remain composed, you increase the probability that you will be more composed in other aspects of your life. Perhaps you’ll even be kinder to people in face-to-face encounters when they commit a transgression.

Comfort the Less Fortunate

As a small gesture of spirituality, what can you do for someone you see right on the street? It’s one thing to write a check to charity; it’s another to encounter someone who is in need and aid that person on the spot.

When you have shoes that you no longer wear, but are not necessarily in pieces, keep them in your trunk as you motor around town. Then, if you see a homeless person with less than sufficient footwear, and it looks like you might be roughly the same size, pull over.

Promptly get the shoes from your trunk, walk up to the person and say that you want them to accept the shoes. If he or she accepts, fine, bid them good day, and be on your way. If he or she chooses not to take them, that’s okay too.

Your goal in this area could be to give away each pair of shoes or other worthwhile item of clothing that you no longer want, perhaps on a monthly basis.

Participate in Group Action

If this is not for you, volunteer once a month to serve a meal at a local shelter for the homeless. If you’re a busy career type, perhaps serving dinner will work best for you. Whatever your preconceived notions about this may be, once you actually serve dinner to real live people, you’ll see that reality is different than you thought.

Perhaps you think that people would be reluctant to speak up for what they wanted. Or worse, they’d be groveling, and you would have to do your best to remain humble. Perhaps you feel like you’ll seem to be some kind of “goody-two-shoes,” dispensing dinners with an overly pleasant, “And how are you this evening? Here’s a nice dinner for you.”

Actually, none of the above usually happens. Person to person, you simply serve another, as if you were in partnership. More peas? Fewer carrots? It’s much more matter-of-fact than you might imagine. They’re appreciative but not groveling.

Note: Some people who show up at a shelter are well dressed. Perhaps they’re temporarily unemployed, or they had a financial emergency they were unprepared to handle.

The more often you serve others in this way, the easier it becomes to do it again. You start to get the notion that there are a lot more similarities between human beings than differences. The old axiom, “There but for the grace of God, go I,” is much more true than we all often acknowledge.

Look for the Good in Others

Is there a co-worker with whom you have had a nasty relationship? Is there something good about this co-worker that you can draw upon, so that you can get yourself to  say something nice to him/her at your next encounter?

Will Rogers, a political satirist, entertainer, and beloved figure in the first half of the twentieth century allegedly said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Many people have interpreted Will Rogers to have meant that he could find something admirable in everyone he met. So, too, can we all.

Is there a neighbor with whom you have had a continuing squabble? What would it do to your relationship if you sent your neighbor a card or a brief note that said something along the lines of, “I noticed how lovely your garden was the other day, and wanted to let you know that I appreciate the work you’ve done in maintaining it.”? Too syrupy, or, pardon the expression, too flowery? Guess again.

List five people at work or elsewhere in your life with whom you may not have a good relationship, but whom you can acknowledge. Next to each person’s name, write a dash and then what is good about them.

You’re going to be on Earth for a finite amount of time. Do you want to go through your life trading hostilities with people, never having the where-with-all to restore some semblance of civility to the relationship?

Listen More Closely

Human beings have a profound need to be heard. When you give others your full and complete attention, in essence, you’re telling them that you value them as a people. All activity and concerns in your life stop as the words and emotions of another person take on paramount importance.

Listening is one of people’s most underrated skills. Your ability to listen to another person, giving him or her your full and undivided attention, can be an act of spirituality, particularly if the other person needs someone to listen to him/her. In this rush-rush world, too often we want people to summarize everything they say.

Consider the people in your life who have mattered the most to you and, chances are, they were the people that listened to you best. Whether it was your parents, a brother or sister, a good friend, a relative, a teacher, a coach, a coworker, a mentor, or just somebody down the street, you tend to value those who value you by listening.

In Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse, the young Siddhartha speaks about his most well-developed skills. He can listen, he can fast, and he can wait.

These talents don’t seem like much to the Western mind, but they’re handy if you want to increase the spirituality of your life. As a goal, why not to listen in earnest to one person per week in the workplace whom you would not have otherwise given such time and attention?

At home, give your significant other one good listening to per day, and I promise things will go better. Do the same with each child.

Judge Deeds, Not People

Judgment is a necessary and practical skill. It’s likely that you judge things, including others, all day long. After all, if you want to choose the colleges appropriate for you, friends that share similar values, and the professional, social, and civic groups that you will enjoy being a part of, you need to make some judgments.

We all judge one another, however, sometimes harshly. Everyone can learn from each other. It is so easy to fall into that game, as psychologist Carl Rogers articulated, of “mine is better than yours.” It is too convenient to conclude that people who walk, talk, or look differently than we do, must be vastly different, and by extension, inferior.

As you might have already concluded, it doesn’t take considerable effort to be spiritual and to engage in spiritual-type behavior that will benefit yourself, and benefit others. The opportunities are all around each of us, every day. All we have to do is be aware.

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