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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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Family

Spend Less, Owe Less, Live More

If you spend less than you take in, inexorably your debt will decrease

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Society conditions us to consume more than we need and to spend more than we make. However, this kind of lifestyle is a recipe for disaster. Taking back control of your finances can help you free up time and make you feel more in control of your life more of the time.

Think back to your high school and college history classes: can you recall a nation in the history of the earth that accumulated huge deficits over a prolonged period of time, lacked a concerted effort towards reducing these deficits, yet was able to sustain economic prosperity for its citizens?

Can a nation, in debt for trillions annually, or a person – namely you – consistently run up huge deficits and expect no consequences?  For decades, tens of millions of Americans have accumulated personal debt via credit cards, loans, and other forms of financing. It’s likely that you have some financial debts.

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Subtle Servitude

Sustained deficit spending eventually erodes your ability to prepare for the future, and worse, to capitalize on current opportunities. The more you owe, the more enslaved you are! In Consumerism, Dr. Judith Schor notes that you’ve likely been taught to consume more than you need.

Right now, how would it feel if all your credit cards were paid off? How would it feel if you paid your monthly rent or mortgage several months in advance? How would it feel if your car loan was paid off? How would it feel if you were actually able to pay some of your utility bills for months in advance? For most people it would feel great. You’d feel in control of your time.

We all know the arguments about losing the (minuscule) amount of interest you could have earned if you let your money sit in the bank instead of paying the electric bill three months in advance. Ah, but wait. A month after you’ve paid your electric bill three months in advance, you receive the next month’s bill. Guess what? It shows that you have a huge credit and that nothing is due – you’ll smile when you see these kinds of bills!

A Moratorium on Spending

To reduce your personal debts, place a moratorium on optional spending, regardless of what items entice you, until your credit cards have zero balances.

Paying for material things which you don’t need, and certainly don’t save your time, might be satisfying, but ultimately can be draining.

Here are some strategies and tactics for controlling your checkbook, and hence reclaiming your life:

1. Write out checks to pay bills in advance of their due dates. Then, keep an advance file with a folder for each day of the month. Place the check in a sealed, addressed, and stamped envelope. Then put the envelope in the folder of the day it’s to be mailed. This way the money is allocated in advance in your checkbook, and your bills are paid on time. If your checking account pays interest, you don’t lose interest.

2. Occasionally, overpay the balance on your continuing accounts, or pay early. This gives you the aforementioned psychological boost when you see a credit on your next statement, and gives you a good reputation with your creditors, which is handy!

3. Keep a stick-on note in your checkbook for an immediate reference that lists what’s coming in this month and what needs to be paid. This provides you with a running mini-cash flow list to which you can refer at will. Update it weekly, or daily, if needed.

4. Review old checkbooks and see what you paid to whom for what. Do the same thing with your monthly credit card statements. Put a red mark next to all those expenditures that you didn’t need to make, or that you could have done without after further consideration.

5. Now, considering expenditures on the horizon, which ones can you do without?

Spend Less, Save More

As author Roger Dawson says, “It doesn’t matter how much money you’re making; if you’re spending more than you take in each month, you’re headed for trouble.” If you spend less than you take in, your debt will decrease, even if only a little at a time, and one day perhaps  disappear.

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Family

The Disney Corporation and its Bizarre, Massive Turn to the Left

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Disney World is not a magic kingdom, it’s a tragic kingdom.

The Disney Corporation has taken a sharp, bizarre turn to the left: its corporate officers support the sexualizing of 5-year olds, prompting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to reign in this corporation-gone-haywire.

DeSantis recently said, “The state of Florida is governed according to the interests of the people, not according to the political posturing of corporate executives in California. We will never allow corporate influence to repeal the substantive rights of parents in our state.”

Not the That Disney I knew

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Disney World, in Orlando, opened the year I turned 20. The next year, fifteen of us from college made the 20-hour drive from Connecticut in a three-car caravan. Years later, in my 40s and 50s, I was booked at various resort centers in Disney World for conventions and conferences as a professional speaker. Each visit was always a treat.

As have legions of others, I have soured on Disney World. They have been coerced, intimidated, or brainwashed by the Left. The pronouncements of their executives and spokespersons are disheartening. Disney World has joined the side of extremism, making statements in support of de-funding police, ‘canceling’ selected individuals, and the rewriting of American history.

In January 2021, Disney decided to halt all political donations to lawmakers who objected to the electoral certification of Joe Biden on January 6th. Yet, Democrat lawmakers similarly objected in the elections of 2000, 2004, and 2016, about which Disney was silent.

When I learned of this action, I wrote to a Disney official:

Greetings, Ms. Mucha,

           The Art of the Steal is a comprehensive analysis, in 32 illustrated pages, that illuminates the massive 2020 election fraud…if you’re curious enough to read it. Perhaps Disney will take an active role in publicly acknowledging the myriad issues it raises. The world is watching.

           Someday, may our representative republic recover from this historic theft, and may Disney be on the authentic side of history.

I didn’t expect a reply, didn’t receive one, and doubt that my words had any impact. Still, one has to make the effort.

Applauders of Mayhem

In previous years, Disney has made questionable statements that should be of concern. At one point, they praised Snoop Dogg (real name Cordozar Calvin Broadus Jr.), for being an ‘American icon,’ something on par with ‘Mickey Mouse.’

Who was the genius in the Disney PR department who issued such a statement? One merely has to review Snoop’s rap sheet to see his involvement in crime after crime for decades (this just a partial recap):

Cordozar Calvin Broadus Jr., born October 20, 1971, in Long Beach, California.

1990 – Convicted of felony drug possession and possession for sale (cocaine) and being a member of Los Angeles gang the Crips.

1994, 1995 – fought charges pending in an attempted murder case.

1997 – Plead guilty to assault charges and promised to make public service announcements against violence in exchange for three years probation.

2003 – Implicated in a civil rape case from when he guest-hosted the Jimmy Kimmel Live TV show. One month before the 36-year-old plaintiff filed her suit, Snoop sued her accusing her of extortion. Both suits were dropped.

2006 – Banned from the U.K. and British Airways after a fracas at London’s Heathrow Airport.

2006 – Detained at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California by airport security because his carry-on bag contained a dangerous weapon.

2006 – Arrested in October at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California in possession of marijuana and a firearm.

2006 – Arrested in November for possession of marijuana and a firearm after performing on The Tonight Show.

2007 – Avoided a jail term on gun and drug charges in April but sentenced to five years probation and 800 hours community service.

Police and airport officials obviously can’t be everywhere, so fill in the blanks as to what else Broadus, this exemplary icon, has done.

No Moral High Ground

Apparently, Disney seeks to display some type of moral superiority and exalt family values mainly to attract more patrons. As word spreads about how unfamily-friendly and unpatriotic the corporation happens to be, perhaps they’ll get hit in the pocketbook. Maybe fewer people will visit when they realize that Disney World is in league with those who seek to destroy America, as we know it.

Walt Disney must be rolling over in his grave. Roy Disney would be astounded at the changes within his brother’s beloved company.

It’s a sad situation when one of America’s showcase companies caves to the Left, but that is the sign of our times. Until such companies, their top officers, and their boards of directors show some spine, America will be held hostage by Leftist lunacy, smokescreens, and propaganda.

Disney World is not a magic kingdom, it’s a tragic kingdom.

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