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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.

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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Family

A Huge Parental Opportunity: Making Changes Within

Remarkably, you have the opportunity at any time, to set goals unlike those you’ve ever set before

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Maybe you’ll never be the type of parent who comes home at the end of the day with boundless energy, all smiles and hugs and ready to play with your children until their bedtime. However, some room exists for you to expand your range of behaviors.

Leave the negativity outside and switch on an upbeat attitude you before walking in the door. Your family deserves that. Before you enter, look up, smile, and ask yourself what do you love about your family? Why are you lucky? Create the energy before you walk in the door. Then, engage them with your time, attention and affection.

If your goal is to be more responsive to each member of your family, you can undertake a variety of activities that will help.

Below are many suggestions among thousands of possibilities. Although all of the suggestions and ideas for goal-setting presented are in relation to children, with a twist and a turn, they each could be applied to your spouse as well:

Applaud Accomplishments

If your child comes home from school with an ‘A’ on her spelling test or a piece of artwork she’s particularly proud of, seize the moment. Pick up the item, look it over carefully, ask questions about it, and show interest.

It’s not difficult to show interest in something once daily that your son or daughter brings to you. Indeed, it’s a worthwhile goal for many reasons. It tells your child that you’re interested in him or her, that what he or she does is important, and, most importantly, tells your child that the next time they’re taking a test or drawing a picture, they’ll want to do their best because after all, daddy will see it.

Listen to Their Favorite Music

You might like classical music or classic rock ‘n roll. Your kids might like pop, rap, hip-hop, or who knows what. Is it too much to simply sit with them for a few minutes and listen to two of their favorite songs, even if you’re secretly thinking, “How can anybody buy that, let alone record it in the first place?”

Have you ever wondered why teenagers in those jazzed-up cars play their music above the hundred-decibel level? They want others to hear what they’re hearing. Music, and specifically lyrics, has the ability to reach deep into the human psyche.

Listening to music together, much like eating together, is a form of bonding. People seem to want others to hear what they hear and enjoy what they enjoy. Usually this happens in the car. Devise a plan to alternate who has control of the music and motor along happily.

Include Them in Your Discussions

Suppose you’re talking with your spouse and your children are nearby. Do you exclude them from the conversation as if they don’t have a worthwhile opinion?

Once a week, what if you were to say, “Mark, don’t you feel that we XYZ…?” or, “Caitlin, do you think if we were to…?”

After the initial shock wears off, you’ll find that your children are pleased to be called upon. In essence, what you’re doing is respecting them on the interpersonal level. You’re saying that they’re full-fledged human beings, even if they are smaller than you, and that they have opinions and observations that count.

Drop in on After School Activities

No matter how busy you are, how demanding your job is, or how unreasonable your boss is, you can find a way to see a few practices and attend a few games your kids would love to have you see.

When you catch your child kicking the ball over everyone’s head, participating in a sing-along, or simply having fun with other kids, you do yourself and your child a big favor. You indicate to your kid that he or she is special enough for you to break your routine now and then and see what’s happening at school or with the other kids.

Visiting your child unannounced minimizes your child’s need to have you around every minute you’re at home and enables him or her to be more understanding when you’re traveling.

After all, if daddy or mommy drops in on me unexpectedly every now and then, they certainly love and care about me. This is especially effective: dropping by for lunch when they are in grade school, but make sure you sign in first and follow school procedures.

Maybe you’ll be the only parent who does this, but so what? Why not set as a goal to visit your child once each calendar month at an after school activity.

Say Yes A Little More Often

Kids ask to do so many things that for many parents it almost becomes automatic to say no.

Can I stay up later? No.

Can I have some ice cream? No.

Can I go across the street with my friends? No.

What’s the real reason behind some of these refusals? Is it fear for their safety or well-being? Do you think they’ll be corrupted if some family rule is bent on one particular evening? Or, are you exercising authority the same way your parents did?

Often, we forget that although our rules are conceived with good intentions, some of which could be rather arbitrary. I don’t have hard evidence that each of the rules creates a desired outcome, i.e., a goal we previously established for our family and specifically for our children. Saying ‘yes’ a little more often than usual has its place.

Set a goal of saying yes one more time per week than normally. This is not so hard to monitor, since you’ll have to ponder the situation for at least a few seconds, and realize that you’re about to say yes when your instinctive reaction was to say no.

If it helps, keep a running log of the times that you surprised your child with a yes. At the least, you’ll have ammunition for later when your child says you never say yes.

Seek Their Help

Do you have business and financial problems for which you think your children cannot be of much assistance? Think again for out of the mouths of babes sometimes come great ideas.

In his book, A Whack On the Side of the Head, Dr. Roger von Oeck contends that the solution to problems often comes by looking at a situation with creativity – taking a different view than you did before. Who better to help you than someone small who doesn’t know all of the givens of the situation?

When it comes to using technology, your son or daughter might have insight that you’ve never considered. How often have you asked your children for some type of support? Could you ask this of them at least once a week? If you’re self-employed, you can lawfully hire them at a young age, pay them, and claim the labor expense.

Go Ahead and Ask

Regardless of whether or not you believe your children can help you with a particular issue, go ahead and ask them. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you discover.

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Business

It is Time for Civil Disobedience

Civil disobedience is the only thing that will get their attention: We will no longer comply

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PolitiCrossing founder Chris Widener talks about why civil disobedience works and why it is time for conservatives to make the decision to no longer comply. Yes, there are ramifications and you need to know what they are and be willing to accept them. No violence. No anger. No craziness. Just civil disobedience. Let the left act out in their criminality. We will be peacefully non-compliant. Watch the video below:

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