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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.

Trending on PolitiCrossing.com: Leftists Know Little of History, Naturally

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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Education

Putting North Carolina Public Education Back on Track  

With Michelle Morrow’s leadership, North Carolina public schools can be better equipped to educate and inspire today’s students.

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It’s no secret to conservatives that the nation’s children, every single one of them, are at risk. In the main, not for reasons malnutrition, growing up in a tough neighborhood, or having toxic parents. The risk that all kids face today is the potential to be indoctrinated in public schools by their own teachers, teacher’s aides, and administrators.

America’s Children Are under Siege

Some school districts in America, are populated by boards of education, principals, and school administrators who think it is their sacred duty to indoctrinate children, exposing them to all manner of adult and sex-related topics long before any child should be. As such, they usurp the rights of parents and guardians.

Nowhere is this more evident than in North Carolina where 23% of all kindergarten through 12th-grade students are enrolled in either a charter school or private school, or study at home, and the percentage increase in these three options is 84% over the last 11 years. Why? Parents want to determine the best educational options for their own children and they don’t believe that North Carolina public schools are doing an adequate job.

Trending on PolitiCrossing.com: Leftists Know Little of History, Naturally

Fortunately, one candidate running for NC superintendent of public instruction means to the state’s education programs back on track. Her name is Michelle Morrow, and she is a personal dynamo whose grasp on the issues is outstanding.

First and foremost, Morrow advocates having safe schools with a culture of academic achievement and civility. If it takes having a security guard in every single school throughout the state to ensure the safety of children attending class as well as teachers and school staff, Morrow is all for it.

She believes that schools should be the safest buildings in the state. Alas, they are not. In North Carolina, school crime and violence increased a whopping 84% in just the past five years. The top three crimes being reported include drug use, weapons possession, and assault – even assault of teachers.

An Advocate for What Counts

As the NC superintendent of public instruction, Morrow will support fair and effective policies that both deter crime and promote classroom civility. She’ll be a strong advocate for teachers’ rights to employ fair and reasonable measures to manage their classrooms as they see fit.

Morrow will insist on parent-friendly schools, recognizing that a child’s academic performance often hinges on the vital partnership between teachers and parents. In too many schools throughout the state, parents are kept completely in the dark about medical treatments and, surprisingly, even academic performance.

Some children are forced to take surveys requiring them to reveal details of their sexual habits and mental state, and schools employ such data to monitor, diagnose, and treat psychological issues. Parents alone, however, have the right to make medical decisions in relation to their children’s health and well-being. Government sponsored data collection needs to end. Morrow will enforce a Parents’ Bill of Rights to ensure that families are protected and that parents have dominion over their own children.

Back to the Basics

Academic achievement has suffered for years on end in North Carolina’s kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms. A staggering one-quarter of eighth graders cannot meet national math, science, or reading standards. Test scores throughout North Carolina reveal that more than 800 schools are under-performing.

As superintendent, Morrow will be focused on ensuring that all the money earmarked for education actually makes its way to the classroom. She will ensure that schools focus on teaching science, math, reading, and real history. She will advocate for small group tutoring when needed by students who are not performing well, and touting for those who are doing exceedingly well and can do even better.

Morrow recognizes that the government in Washington, D.C., has no business in the education of North Carolina students. Parents are not co-parenting with the federal government. The programs and policies that politicians and special interest groups attempt to impose on North Carolina schools must come to an end, and any interference in teaching core academics must cease immediately.

As such, Morrow will sever the ties with public interest groups while helping to strengthen local school districts’ ability to employ proven teaching methods, with the goal of enhancing core academic achievement.

The Big Picture

Morrow will seek to enhance national unity and patriotism. Too many students throughout North Carolina are subjected to one-sided history lessons that portray America as an oppressive, racist, unredeemable nation. Some schools go so far as to stereotype their students and inform them that, as a result of their ethnicity, sexuality, or religion, they are oppressors.

This one-sided, warped view of humanity and method of education must end. Instead of dividing students, Morrow will seek to foster unity and understanding. America is an exceptional country. While every country faces challenges, ours in particular has been fair, compassionate, and forward thinking in recent years.

With Morrow’s leadership, North Carolina schools can be better equipped to educate and inspire the next generation who will become the leaders of our great nation.

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Faith

A Nation of Unsung Heroes

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The movie, Unsung Hero, is not only a great movie. It’s a movie that captures the struggle and hard-earned survival and eventual success of millions of Americans who have had to overcome struggles to earn their own American Dream. For two centuries, Americans have been known for their resourcefulness and resilience, and we are not done yet!

We are again living in difficult and challenging times. Surveys suggest that nearly 60% of American families are living paycheck to paycheck. Their solutions to their plight won’t be coming from politicians in Washington. Their success, as always, depends on their will and resourcefulness in overcoming daily obstacles, their ability to survive on limited resources, their scrounging for work that allows them to survive another day, and help from those who care.

That common but heart-rending struggle is conveyed in an inspiring way in Unsung Hero. The film focuses on the early struggles of the Smallbone family in the early 90’s. We watch as David Smallbone’s once-thriving music business as a concert promoter in Australia falls apart. They lose their home, their car, and their life’s savings. With no opportunities in Australia, David moves the family halfway around the world to Nashville to secure the only job he could secure. After missed flights and a long and tiring journey to Tennessee, David learns that his promised job had been given to someone else.

Trending on PolitiCrossing.com: Leftists Know Little of History, Naturally

As their dreams fall apart, you watch as the steady faith and creativity of Helen Smallbone, played by Australian actress and mother Daisy Betts, pulls the family through one setback and challenge after another to find a way through. With six children and another on the way, every member of the family is challenged to do their part to keep them afloat. They do yard work, any work that would fill their jar of savings. They couldn’t let it be empty, and they didn’t. They kept finding a way.

They were Australians with no friends, no family, no car, sleeping on beds made out of clothes. To nurture their faith, they began attending a local church. Aware of their needs, church members found ways to help in any way they could. In a foreign country living in a city with over half-a million people, it took finding a loving faith community who cared enough to help. Watch the movie, to find out the rest of the story. Bring plenty of tissue and be ready for a few tears along the way.

America needs this movie right now. Why? Too many people are feeling hopeless in the face of growing inflation and lost jobs. They face frustrating obstacles and enormous challenges, and the answer is summed up by a quotation of Mother Teresa shared in the movie, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Luke Smallbone, the producer of the film, acknowledged the importance of that truth, “That is really the heartbeat behind the film.” It is also the local solution that has always helped Americans find their way through-the power of family and the presence and support of their local “family of God.”

Washington may send you money, but they can’t provide the flexible and persistent support needed. It’s one’s local family, friends, and faith communities who can encourage resilience and help shape a needed recovery. Solutions come from a local community’s caring and support. It used to always be that way, and it needs to be that way again.

Our nation is full of unsung heroes who are helping their family and friends, and they are more needed than ever. If you don’t have anyone helping you, stop looking to Washinton for the help that will never come no matter who is elected President. Get involved again in your family and your community. Call your family and let them know you need help. Get back involved in your church or synagogue and let God work through them to help you get back on your feet. Investing in community is an adventure that allows you to help and be helped to the glory of God and country.

When you get involved, you most likely will not make any headlines. That is left for terrorists, violent demonstrators, and other disasters and threats out of your control. But America is strong because of millions of unsung heroes who make it all work and seldom get acknowledged. This column is dedicated to you. You deserve to be honored and applauded for all you have done and will do to keep America the country it has been and must remain. May it continue to be so in your adventure!

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