What is a civilization? How does it evolve? How and why does it collapse? We can consider Carroll Quigley’s ideas on these subjects, as outlined in The Evolution of Civilizations.
Quigley’s comments on science, scientific theory, and the scientific method are must reading, particularly for those on the Left (e.g., race deniers, sex/gender deniers) and the Right (HBDers, anti-vaxxers, covid deniers) who have a complete lack of understanding, or misunderstanding, of what science is (i.e., a method, not a constellation of “facts”) and how it works (see Quigley’s fine explanations).
Quigley describes the three ways of describing social groups and the consequences of each view. One approach is to view a social group as nothing more or less than a mere collection of individuals and the group being only the sum of its individual parts; this view promotes self-interested atomized individualism and intra-group competition, as here there is nothing of more importance than the individual and his needs. This view would also be incompatible with the idea of a cultural tradition being handed down through the generations to form a civilization. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the view as the social group as an organism that is more than the sum of its parts, with individuals within the organism being non-interchangeable. This view can lead to collectivist totalitarianism in which the rights of the individual are routinely sacrificed for the common good; after all, here the entity of importance is the societal organism, and as a non-interchangeable component of that organism, the individual must – emphasis on must – play their irreplaceable role as a key component, a required body part, of that organism. Deviation from that role places the existence of the organism in danger, since the individual and their role are not interchangeable; hence, individual choice must be constrained. The intermediate view is that that the social group is more than the sum of its parts, a novel entity that allows for positive group action and cultural transmission (hence, opposing atomized hyper-individualism); however, in this view individuals are interchangeable and hence to do not require their roles and choices to be tightly constrained. Thus, if an individual chooses a different path, they can be replaced (as they are interchangeable) and the social group can survive allowing individual freedom since flexibility of social roles is compatible with group survival. The collectivist organism view would consider the individual akin to a required organ in the social group’s body, the removal of which can kill the group body; the latter intermediate view would consider an individual to be more like a modular component of a machine that can be swapped out for another component, allowing each the flexibility to perform the role they are best suited.
As a conservative in the classic liberal tradition, Quigley seems to prefer the intermediate view that rejects atomized hyper-individualism but that embraces a more muted individualism that allows for group culture while rejecting totalitarian collectivism. As a national socialist fascist, I prefer the collectivist organism view, and I observe evidence in history that the intermediate view inevitably degenerates into the hyper-individualist “collection of individuals” dystopia.
The basic social group, or social aggregate, can be merely a social group at its lowest level, or it can be a society or a civilization as one moves up in complexity. A (social) group is merely an aggregate of people who come together for a narrow purpose but who have more interactions with those outside the group than with those within; thus, to explain the personalities of the group will require more mention of those without than within the group. A society on the other hand has more internal interactions than external, the individuals within a society have more interactions with each other than with those without and therefore to explain them and their personalities would predominantly require reference to those within the societal aggregation. Quigley notes that if one considers aspects of the broad culture to be interactions, then most nation states are actually groups rather than societies, since most interactions of those within those states involve concepts and entities bigger than the nation state and peoples of those larger entities. For nation states of the West, that larger entity, the actual society, is Western Civilization. That analysis is, by the way, a major riposte to petty nationalist ethnonationalist and is supportive of Yockeyian pan-Europeanism. One can argue that globalism has contributed to the decay of Western Civilization by degrading its exclusiveness and increasing the amount of interactions with concepts and entities outside the West, so that to explain the modern “West” reference to Western Civilization itself is no longer adequate and one must reference even more broad Universalist humanist concepts and entities.
The essential thing about a group is that its members can say who is in it and who is not.
That's exactly what I've been saying about the "movement" for years - with its endless "Who is White?" debates and redefinitions and uncertainties, it cannot be even considered a group, much less a society. In fact, to be successful, a real movement needs to become more and more like a genuine society, to create a parallel society in which individuals interact more among themselves and can be explained predominantly by internal references. Such a movement can save Western Civilization – or build the next European Civilization – by replacing the inclusive humanist corpse of the modern West with a self-contained exclusive society that represents a vibrant self-referenced civilizational aggregate. I note that Quigley asserts that a political unit is comprehensible – being able to be understood without reference to outside entities – only when it encompasses the entire society. As he considered Western Civilization as a whole, and not its constituent nations (being only groups), to be a society of the West, then the only comprehensible Western political unit would be something like a Yockeyian Imperium.
Other distinctions are that of parasitical vs. productive societies, with the former using the Earth’s wealth without contributing to it (e.g., hunter gatherers), and the latter actively contributing to wealth (e.g., agriculturalists). Quigley makes a tentative preliminary (and very crude) definition of a civilization as a productive society that has writing and city life (the latter would upset the Type I “twigs and branches” “hobbit hole” “traditionalists” of the “movement”). Please note that Quigley modifies this definition to eliminate the “city life” part (to the “movement’s” relief).
Quigley notes that a “scientific” analysis of civilizations must take into account that human thoughts, opinions, and desires affect the trajectory of a civilization; hence, there will be more subjectivity involved as opposed to an analysis of physical laws, for example.
Quigley gives a digression on rational vs. irrational aspects of examining reality, and contrasts Platonic “rational” analyses that are independent of actual observation (and testing) and are hence anti-scientific to more positivist “irrational” observational analyses, which are complicated by reality being composed of continuous variables. Now, strictly speaking, that may not be true, given quantum theory, but let us assume Quigley is talking about practical real-world observations. Even so, he forgets that taking several (apparently) continuous observations at the same time can result on discrete categories as entities may be continuous on single variables taken in turn but are unlikely to be simultaneously continuous on a larger number of variables taken together, all of which can “fix” different entities into discrete spots on a multi-dimensional continuum.
Quigley makes an important distinction, relevant to us, of social instruments vs. social institutions. A social instrument is a social organization composed of the sociopolitical (and other) technics needed to achieve the purposes of the subdivisions of a civilization’s basic needs (e.g., Intellectual, Religious, Social, Economic, Political, and Military). However, as a rule of history, “all social instruments tend to become institutions.” A social institution is a social organization that has taken on purposes independent of its original purpose and becomes less and less effective in performing its ostensible purpose. A self-interested, rent-seeking managerial elite takes over that pursues ends that dilute, or even conflict with, what the organization is supposed to be doing. Armed forces are a social instrument to achieve the military ends of a civilization. Eventually it evolves into an institution more concerned with the career advancement of its leaders, maximizing military budgets, maintaining institutional cultures, getting involved in politics, and pursuing insane objectives like “social justice” and “equity.” And so its effectiveness in fighting wars is compromised. Such transformations across the board in the various facets of a civilization contribute mightily to its eventual (inevitable?) collapse. These transformations are met with attempts at reform, circumvention, or reaction. In reform, the instrument is temporarily restored to effectiveness and societal collapse is delayed. In circumvention, the institution retains its privileges but its duties are given to a more efficient new instrument, which itself inevitably degenerates into an institution (while the original institution carries on as a parasite on society). Although circumvention is obviously less efficient and optimal than reform, it at least restores some effectiveness and can delay collapse. In reaction, the institution resists all attempts at reform or circumvention, effectiveness and consequent societal dissatisfaction remains and collapse is hastened. These possibilities are termed “development” and so “historical development” describes the changes at one level of society; “historical morphology” describes different levels acting on one another, and “historical evolution” is the sum total the development and morphology acting simultaneously and acting upon each other.
Every civilization has an “instrument of expansion” that is manifest when the civilization is rising; when that instrument becomes an institution, and subject to all of the negatives of societal institutions, the civilization decays. The instrument of expansion is broadly concerned with three aspects of civilizational development: 1) inventing new entities, 2) producing and accumulating a surplus of wealth, and 3) leveraging that surplus to pay for and/or utilize the inventions of the civilization (i.e., using the surplus as an investment to promote progress). Note that at this point, Quigley redefines what a civilization is, since he notes that some civilizations (like the Western) had no significant city life during the early phases of their development. Thus, Quigley more refined definition of a civilization is “a producing society with an instrument of expansion.”
Unfortunately, Quigley blithely dismisses biological explanations about why some groups are more successful than others in these processes, particularly step 1(inventing) and, by extension, step 3 (leveraging surpluses to take advantage of those inventions). Quigley’s argument basically boils down to the observation that the same peoples, at different times in their history and/or in different locations, may have been more or less inventive. Putting aside the possibility that the “same people” may not be exactly the same over time, even if we assume that “same” really is same, then the basic problem with Quigley’s argument is that he ignored potentiality. Yes, a people may not be inventive in a particular historical context, but if they exhibit inventiveness in another context, then we can say that they have a biological potential for invention. What if another people, throughout their entire history, and in various historical contexts, invent nothing? Can we not say that they lack the biological potential for invention? And with respect to the peoples who have invented in different contexts, some may consistently invent more than others, assuming the appropriate historical contexts. So, there is a spectrum of biological potentiality – high, medium, low, none. Thus, for example, Europeans would be high, Asians would inhabit the medium and low range, while other groups would inhabit the low to none (e.g., Negroes) range. Potentiality and actuality are two separate issues; however, to show evidence of potentiality, some actuality must at some point occur. We can also pass over in relative silence Quigley’s racial theories, no doubt influenced by the stupidities of “traditional physical anthropology” (and the tripartite Nordic-Alpine-Mediterranean concept) and the idea that historical round-headed stocky peoples were Homo sapiens-Neanderthal mixes, as opposed to others (in reality, in general, virtually all non-Negro peoples have Neanderthal admixture, and no way near as much as Quigley seems to imply for certain groups). These racial theories (and all of his babbling about geography and climate) are irrelevant to his main theses, and need not concern us any further. One thing I’ll say though is that the general idea Quigley finishes this section with of Europeans as a whole genepool being composed of hinter-gatherers, Neolithic farmers, and Indo-European steppe peoples is more or less accurate, although some of the dates he gives for some of these events and specific end results of peoples involved is “off.”
Getting back to the decline of civilizations, Quigley focuses on the problems ensuing when a civilization’s primary instrument of expansion becomes an institution, a degeneration that often occurs when self-serving managerial elites redirect society’s surplus away from investment in inventions (broadly defined) into “nonproductive” endeavors such as displays of status, conspicuous consumption, monuments, and other selfish endeavors that do not contribute to societal advancement. In this manner, the cycle of invention, surplus, and investment collapses and societal expansion ceases and stagnation and decline follow. This naturally causes tension in the society, as people in the society – who have been habituated to constant expansion – now observe a lack of expansion and downward mobility for themselves and for their posterity. Sound familiar? Even back when Quigley wrote the book (published in 1961) he noted that “contemporary Western civilization” was exhibiting the problems consequent to a slowing down of expansion. Today of course these problems are much worse. Of course, reform or circumvention of this process can delay the inevitable, while reaction hastens the end.
Quigley notes that Western Civilization has gone through multiple cycles of reform, which seems unusual, and would seem to indicate the possibility for future renewal if the West was not destroying itself demographically (that last part is my interpretation. Thus, in 970-1270, the West has the instrument of expansion of feudalism that was institutionalized as chivalry. This problem was circumvented in 1420-1650 by the instrument of commercial capitalism (with the old feudal aristocracy being parasites keeping their old privileges even when no productive activity was derived thereof), which degenerated into the institution of mercantilism, which in turn was reformed into industrial capitalism (1725-1929), an instrument that became the institution of monopoly capitalism. Note that these divisions are quite different from the culture vs. civilization paradigm of Spengler. Indeed, the terminology is different as well; what Quigley calls a “civilization” is analogous to the “High Culture” of Spengler/Yockey. Thus, Quigley encompasses Spenglerian “culture” and “civilization” under the broad umbrella of “civilization.”
Quigley divides the life of a civilization into seven phases:
4. Age of Conflict
5. Universal Empire
There are some correlations we can make with this to the Spengler/Yockey scheme. Thus, phases 1-3 would be akin to the “Spring” culture phase, stage 4 to the culture to civilization crisis, moving to “Summer.” The height of civilization would be the Late Summer-Fall Universal Empire of stage 5. Late Fall is stage 6, and then we enter Winter at stage 7, as the High Culture dies. Looking at our own situation, it seems like we are in stage 7, with mass migration into the West being the Invasion that destroys Western Civilization; further reform (or circumvention) seems unlikely, as the System’s reaction to Far Right attempts at reform is to double down on their institutionalized immigration instrument. We’ll see how that all ends. Note also that Quigley dispenses with concerns over “pseudomorphosis” and pointedly states that civilizations begin with Mixture – a mixing of elements of older civilizations, typically taking place at or near the geographical border between them. The Age of Conflict and subsequent decay typically occurs because of the institutionalization of the key instruments of expansion. In order for reform to occur, all three components of expansion need to be taken care of: invention, accumulation of surplus, and investment. The masses typically focus on redistribution of the surplus, which does nothing to enhance invention and investment, and the rent-seeking, self-interested elites resist any type of reform. More often circumvention occurs to bypass elite resistance and in many cases the emergence of a new instrument of expansion occurs by accident (to the extent that is possible). It would be optimal if institutionalization could be avoided in the first place, which is why rent-seeking, grifting, and free-riding needs to be quashed as quickly as they appear. Unfortunately, it seems almost inevitable that elites selfishly institutionalize instruments of expansion for their own benefit. Interestingly, peripheral areas of the civilization have delayed conflict and decay compared to the core area, in which it happens earlier, but eventually the elites wreck things and the masses are incapable of understanding anything beyond the fact that they are displeased with society’s direction and that they want the surpluses directed toward them in a desperate attempt to restore their lost upward mobility. Peripheral areas tend to conquer core areas during the age of empire building, not only because the core areas crisis first and are thus weakened, but because the peripheral areas tend to focus more on materialistic issues like technics and military power as compared to the cultural core that is more concerned with intellectual pursuits and abstractions. Further, the core being more advanced on the historical timeline not only means it has entered crisis first, as mentioned before, but would be more exhausted from previous war and the population more “jaded” and less willing to endure sacrifice and more prone to “losing nerve” compared to the more vigorous peripheral areas.
A few more points about this scheme. To most people within the civilization, stage 5 seems like a “Golden Age” but this is a misleading surface prosperity. At this point, the elites and their selfish interests have, for the most part, firmly entrenched their institutions, crushing reform through class warfare to oppress the masses, imperialism to distract from internal problems and create an artificial prosperity (e.g., substituting for a lack of internal intensive economic expansion with imperialistic extensive expansion), and irrationalism to mask discontent and distract the masses via various types of false prophets and crazy memes. Eventually, this is not sustainable and decay sets in, as living standards decline, the ability to project power diminishes, chaos increases, and the civilization loses the allegiance of the people. When then civilization is no longer able to defend itself because it is not willing to defend itself, it succumbs to some sort of invasion, and ends. This end may result in the birth of a new civilization through mixture between the old destroyed civilization and new elements, including possibly the invaders themselves, but in some cases this does not occur. In my own opinion, I think stage 7 leads to a new stage 1 only when the new elements have innate (biological) potential for civilization and that they are biologically and culturally/spiritually not that different from the population of the destroyed civilization. I see little hope that anything useful will emerge from those destroying the West, nor would such a development be useful.
The peoples of the West would need to build a new civilization by mixing new elements of their own making (and perhaps something borrowed from compatible people – like the Classical civilization, which was European) with the best of the West. Also, civilizations are in danger of destruction only in their early or late stages, and a civilization in decay can even be destroyed by uncivilized “barbarians” – something that has occurred at various times in the past. When two civilizations at or near their prime come into conflict, it is typically the one at stage 3 (or closes to that stage) that prevails, but the losing civilization is typically not destroyed (stage 7) unless it is at stage 6 (or maybe at stage 1 or early stage 2).
A few more points of interest. Quigley defines the Age of Conflict (stage 4) as being defined by “(1) decreasing rate of expansion, (2) imperialist wars, (3) class conflicts, and (4) irrationality.” The parallels to today’s America and overall Western decline are obvious. Related to this, Quigley defines capitalism as “a form of economic organization motivated by the pursuit of profit within a price structure” and that the instrument of expansion of commercial capitalism becomes institutionalized into mercantilism when the means of profits (originally meant to obtain the end of an improved standard of living and societal well-being) becomes an end to itself, to the detriment of the civilization. Again, behold America and the West. One can also find Age of Conflict parallels in the American pro-White “movement.” Decreased expansion is evident in the collapse of the Alt Right and its consequences; imperialist wars are akin to, first, the attempt of the Alt Right to dominate the “movement” and now for the HBD-Nordicist-ethnonationalist alliance and WN 3.0 to do so; class conflict is akin to Amnats vs. Wignats; and as far as irrationality goes, while that has always been a hallmark of the American Far Right, it has gotten worse with the lunatic hysteria over the covid “death jab,” conspiritard theories (“viruses don’t exist” or “nuclear weapons are a hoax”), and the totality of hobbit hole traditionalism. With respect to how civilizations are born and die, Quigley emphasizes five practical steps: (1) law and order being established or lost, (2) long distance trade increasing or decreasing, (3) town and city life increasing or decreasing, (4) middle class prospering or disappearing, and (5) literacy increasing or decreasing – with, obviously, the increasing for each category associated with birth and decreasing with death. In today’s West, all except #3 are decreasing (with #2 breaking down recently with supply chain disruptions); one can even question #3 as the breakdown of law and order (#1) makes city life more dangerous.
Quigley on the Canaanite Civilization that gave us the Jews, besides being intelligent they were: “Vigorous, practical, almost crude; grasping, unesthetic…filled with sensual desires and crass superstitions…” Sound familiar? Oy vey! Tribal kinship ties were important for these people (as they are today); further, Quigley suggests that the Jews originated with “Habiru” outcasts (surprise!).
The instrument of expansion for the Classical Civilization was slavery, which essentially doomed that civilization from the start. That instrument was quickly institutionalized with absentee landlords running slave farms and misusing accumulated surpluses and even under optimal circumstances, slavery was an inefficient economic system and always stifles technological innovation. Breaking up the large slave farming lands wouldn’t have helped in the end, since the distributed wealth wouldn’t have allowed for a concentrated accumulated surplus that could have been plowed back for invention and expansion; only a completely new instrument of expansion, from a new civilization (e.g., feudalism in the West) solved the problem. The inefficient slave economy, and other economic problems, did not allow the later (Western) Roman Empire to field the mass cavalry required to beat back barbarian invasions at a time when cavalry began to replace infantry as the cutting edge of military technology. Even earlier, slavery in Greece not only hampered innovation for the obvious reason that slave labor made technology less immediately and obviously necessary, it also discouraged simple improvements in agricultural efficiency – if agriculture became more efficient and less labor and time intensive, then what would be slaves be doing during the time they were now idle? It seems like an inefficient economy was a price paid to maintain an aristocratic, hierarchical master-slave society (the Antebellum American South seems to have suffered from the same problems).
Quigley states what in his mind was the defining characteristics of the classical world; of these, the most important to me are its emphasis on aristocratic and hierarchical values, the willingness to sacrifice material well-being for honor, for dignitas, for all of these aristocratic and hierarchical values (as with the costs of slavery discussed above); that the Classic world was “clarid” – clear and rational without Oriental obfuscation; finally, in contrast to the Western civilization, the Classical world was pessimistic, stoic, and socially regressed – the Golden Age was in the past and current degeneration had to be heroically endured. An important point is that with the partial exception of Periclean Athens of the Socrates-Plato-Aristotle timeframe, Classical culture was understood and practiced by a relatively small elite fraction of the population, not the masses. Thus, diminution of that aristocratic elite by various dysgenic trends would in turn eliminate the soil upon which the Classical Civilization grew. There is no need to invoke Nordicist fantasies of mass miscegenation altering entire populations through racial panmixia. A culture that is ultimately an elite phenomenon will always be vulnerable to the fate of that elite. Quigley notes that science typically suffers as irrationalism increases in a society (such as in the West today and in Der Movement in microcosm). However, in the Classical civilization, science suffered because of hyper-rationalism, the idea that reality can be discerned solely by rational, logical thought, with clearly distinct categories (part of the “clarid” nature of the Classical world), instead of the more messy reality derived from scientific observation of a world that at the macroscopic level is full of continua and not discrete categories at all times (Quantum theory at the microscopic level is another matter).
[Side note – I do not like Quigley’s correlating fascist states and movements to irrationality in the sense he does – while such movements were opposed to hyper-rationalism of modernity, they were not irrational in the sense of what was best for the nation and ethny and the organization of society had many positive rational aspects. I would argue that modern liberal democracy is truly irrational].
Quigley suggests that the Classical Civilization was in decay by 200 AD and that sounds reasonable. However, decay is not the same as the end, and a decaying civilization can continue for quite a while. True enough, as well, The Roman Empire of Late Antiquity was culturally somewhat different than what was present in the Republic and the earlier (prime) Imperial Period, and of course from the earlier Greek version of the Classical. Theodosius was different from Marcus Aurelius (and earlier Roman leaders), never mind from the Greeks. Nevertheless, those differences can be ascribed to the aforementioned decay (and of course the Christian and other influences that foreshadowed the Medieval World of the West, once the interregnum of the Dark Ages was past). The (Western) Roman Empire of Late Antiquity may have been somewhat different from the past, it was a decaying Classical World, but it was still the Classical Civilization. There was sufficient similarity and continuity to fully accept the Rome of, say, 360 AD and 450 AD, etc. as part of the Classical Civilization. Putting a precise date on the fall of a civilization is of course an imprecise business, but in the case of the Classical, it would seem that September 4, 476 AD fits better than any other, the say that Odoacer deposed emperor Romulus Augustulus and the Western Roman Empire came to an and in every meaningful sense.
The decay of the Classical world is described by Quigley thus:
As this aristocratic, clarid, urban, moderate, mundane culture was destroyed, it was replaced by a welter of unprincipled violence, grasping materialism, crass ignorance, crude illiteracy, and narrow, rural provincialism.
Sounds much like the decay of America (or perhaps of the “movement, “eh?). Further, “crass ignorance, crude illiteracy, and narrow, rural provincialism” sounds much like the “Bring Out Your Dead” ethnostate envisioned by the “traditionalists.” I can also point out the archaeogenetics data suggest that the terminal decay described by Quigley occurring in Late Antiquity was accompanied by a shift toward more “Northern” and “Western” genetic strains. One can argue that the seeds of decay started earlier, but Quigley doesn’t ascribe racial reasons for the decline and fall of the Classical world in any case. The final collapse of the Western Roman Empire was due to a convergence of mechanisms. The Classical Idea had practically expired and the new Christian idea, although entrenched in late Rome, as essentially incompatible with the Classical world and required a new civilization to bring it to fruition. Roman infantry could not stop barbarian cavalry, could not adopt to the new methods, and the inefficient Roman economy could not support mass cavalry even if they adopted it. The Mediterranean climate and soil was ill suited for the agricultural techniques required to support mass cavalry; Europe north of the Alps was much better suited. Not specifically mentioned by Quigley is that the loss of North Africa to the Vandals undercut the vitality of the West’s economy and the split of the West from the richer East deprived the former of the resources of the latter. Thus, fell the Western Roman Empire and the Classical Civilization ended with it.
The question of the Byzantine civilization is addressed in the book. Quigley notes that the Byzantine and Classical Civilizations are different enough so that the former cannot be simply viewed as a renewed and altered version of the latter, but yet some similarities and continuity exist and the Byzantine doesn’t seem to be its own independent civilization. Quigley raises the possibility that the Byzantine was the forerunner of an upcoming (Russian) Orthodox Civilization, which I agree is a possibility. Another [possibility is that the Byzantine was a fusion of the Classical and Magian Civilizations, but with some novel aspects that had obviously had influence on Orthodox Europe. Regardless, I believe that the consensus is that the Byzantine Empire was not a continuation of the Classical, it was quite distinct from even the decaying Western Roman Empire of Late Antiquity, which itself ended with the Fall of that Western Roman Empire. From the wreckage if the Classical Civilization, Quigley states that three new civilizations grew on its periphery, the Western (in France), the Russian/Orthodox (to the north and east and linked to Byzantium) and the Islamic (to the south and east). We will focus in the West.
With respect to our current Western Civilization (or what is left of it), Quigley subscribes to the theory that the (pessimistic - Golden Age perceived to be in the past) Classical civilization was distinct and different from the (optimistic – Golden Age is perceived to be something that can be achieved in the future) Western Civilization. Now, when I first came across this idea in the work of Spengler and Yockey I more or less was hostile to it and essentially rejected it. However, these days I see the point and am willing to recognize that the fundamental differences between the Classical and Western Civilizations are profound enough to consider them separate.
So, when Cola di Rienzi pondered the ruins of Rome nearly 900 years after the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, this was a man of one civilization pondering the material remains of a previous distinct one that had occupied the same territory in the past. Where I part with the Spengler-Yockey (and Quigley?) view is that while I note that the Classical and Western are distinct civilizations, I reject the idea that there is no organic, real connection between the two – not a civilizational continuity but a racial-historical one. Both civilizations arose in Europe among European peoples. Italians were a core population factor in both civilizations. There is a historical link between the two, via Christianity, the memories of the Roman empire and its model for attempted empires to come, and, of course the Renaissance and the overall study of antiquity. While we can recognize the Classical as different and distinct, it is not alien, as are other distinct civilizations that arise from non-European races. It would be wrong to view the relation between the Classical and Western to be the same as that between, say, the Western and non-European civilizations (the Chinese for example). The Classical resonated with Rienzi (and with other Men of the West) in a way that other civilizations did not and could not. The rise of two civilizations from Europeans is a fundamental point, pointing to this race’s cultural fertility and ability to give rise to more civilizations in the future. I have written of this in the past. We cannot blind ourselves to the important associations between the Classical and the Western Civilizations even if we recognize their distinctiveness. By the way, if optimism about the future is characteristic of the West, then given the pessimism and malaise of today, can we not see that this civilization is in terminal decay, at least in its present form?
In any case, we have, originating in France, an optimistic West, based on Christian ethos, with an economy and technology originally founded on animal power, centered around castles and military cavalry as opposed to the pessimistic, aristocratic Classical world with its clarid pagan rationality, an economic technology build around slavery, centered on cities, and with a military focused on infantry. Spengler would of course cite the “Faustian” nature of the West, which is linked to what Quigley describes as optimism and future orientation.
Quigley states that the essence of the West is the idea that:
Truth unfolds through a communal process.
Thus, truth is not some final definitive entity that is known or becomes known and that’s that – instead, we have a continual process of striving toward truth, achieving ever-closer approximations, but without ever really knowing that “this is it.” This process is achieved through a group, communal, societal process that is both cooperative and competitive, achieved through observation, experimentation, and debate, not through any person, god, or other type of entity, handing down a final, truth to us. Thus, this is opposed to the Classical, where an aristocratic elite arrives at a final truth through rational processes (but the process of dialectic debate is adopted by the West from the Classical) and the Islamic, where truth is what is in the Koran. This Western idea is manifested in the scientific method, in which there is no final truth but only hypotheses that are tested and that – so far and so far only – have survived falsification, and the Western political tendency toward liberalism as opposed to authoritarianism, since truth is strived for by group activity not imposed in final form by a higher authority. Thus, the Western ideal is marked by pluralism and moderation, finding a balanced effective compromise position to keep society on the upward track toward the truth. For this reason, Quigley states that the “extremist fanatic” Hitler was not part of the Western tradition. Of course, a counter-argument would be that at times “extremist fanaticism” is required to save a civilization under threat and the only way to save Western pluralism from truly non-Western fanaticism is through Western fanaticism (i.e., in my opinion, National Socialism). When pluralistic moderation fails to protect a High Culture from fanatical enemies, then, to paraphrase Goldwater – extremism in defense of civilization is no vice.
There is much talk of economics in the book, particularly in the section about the West; this is useful, but too detailed to discuss here and I don’t want this review to be as long as the book itself. One thing Quigley notes is that capitalism is an instrument when it attempts to increase profits by reducing costs (e.g., of production, trade, etc.) and becomes an institution when profits are only (or predominantly) obtained by increasing prices. With today’s inflation, guess which of those two exist; and, after all, costs have been reduced through outsourcing our entire productive economy to China, a move that, regardless of what Quigley may have believed, seems to me more of a destructive institutionalization of the economy than it working as a healthy instrument. I would like to cite the following equations Quigley provides. Total prices = total costs and profits. Because those costs and profits go to pay those in the firms, we can say Total incomes = total costs and profits. That means that Total prices = total incomes. But savings are held back from incomes so that Available purchasing power = incomes minus savings plus investment. Unless all savings are plowed back into investment that means that the available purchasing power is not adequate to pay for goods sold at the given process. If there is an inefficient distribution of income so goods cannot be bought then there is no incentive to invest savings and the problems worsen, as in The Great Depression. Quigley’s entire analysis is very economics-oriented and seems to make economics the major causative factor in the ups and downs of civilizations. One wonders though whether economics is a cause or an effect; probably both – it exerts an influence and it is influenced upon by other factors, such as race and culture. In the midst of a deep demographic and cultural decline, economics-based solutions will be both ineffective and, in the case of temporary alleviation of superficial problems, counter-productive, by delaying the inevitable and the real underlying problems worse.
A careful reading of Quigley makes clear his belief that authoritarian forms of government tend to be associated with eras in which the tools of force and coercion – military weapons and tactics – are expensive enough and specialized enough that they require smaller forces of expert professional soldiers rule by an elite that uses this instrument of force to control the population. On the other hand, democracy and various forms of political pluralism are associated with eras in which military weapons are cheap enough, mass produced enough, and easy to use to the extent there can be a mass army and as general armed citizenry; thus, small elite groups cannot monopolize the tools and tactics of force and thus use coercion to impose their will on the masses. This leads to nationalism mass armies of patriots fighting ideological wars of annihilation, sustaining mass causalities through high morale (as opposed to mercenaries fighting small scale set piece battles and relatively unwilling to sacrifice their lives for whomever is paying them).
Today in the West (and in general) while we still have relatively cheap weapons, they cannot compete with nuclear bombs, ICBMs, tanks, fighter jets, etc. – assuming of course an equal will to fight. Thus, there will be some who say “stone age Afghans beat off the Soviets and the USA, and look at the Vietnam war” – well, yes, if the “big boys” want to “win hearts and minds” and/or the “big boys” have fat and stupid hedonistic populations with low morale, then, yes, high morale peoples with nothing to lose and who are willing to sacrifice may beat foreign invaders. But what about a nation controlling its own people, particularly when that people have become coddled hot house plants? Can Billy Bob stand off against the US Army here in America the same way Afghan tribesmen can do thousands of miles away (and even there, the USA could nuke the Afghans out of existence if they wanted to, and the Soviets were the same). “Movement” Turner Diaries fantasies aside, I wonder if the new age of military technology, as well as surveillance technology, is enabling authoritarianism – meaning that dissidents either must politically obtain power or hope for a collapse that equalizes the forces to a low level in which the dissidents have more of a chance. In any case, Quigley notes that the rise of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes in the 20th century had much to do with the increasing specialization and technical advances of the military, which once again concentrated the power of coercion to specialists and their elite leadership. Further, increased communication coupled with increased power projection means that nationalism is no longer sufficient and we now have ideological struggles spanning continents (The Cold War in Quigley’s time, which followed the two World Wars). As far as the future of democracy, Quigley believes that would require new weapons and tactics that would make guerrilla warfare and other small scale force projection viable against weapons of mass destruction. Some may think that the tactic used in Vietnam and Afghanistan would qualify, but as I have stated, I do not see that applying for internal struggles within Western nations.
So, more than 60 years ago, Quigley described the then state of the West as an army of specialists in an ideological state, with a pluralistic planned economy, ruled by managers. That is similar to today, but can be modified to – an army of incompetents in a Far Left ideological state, with a crumbling economy, ruled by hysterical social justice warriors. Quigley’s question as to whether the West will be mired in an Age of Conflict leading to inevitable decay or whether it can revive to another era of expansion has, I believe, been answered in favor of the former. That may well be for the best. The West has become so degenerate demographically and culturally that some sort of economics-based revival will only make the inevitable Fall all the worse. It’s time for a new civilization for the European peoples.
As regards the book itself, the author could have invested sometime contrasting his views with that of Spengler more than the brief mention “The Philosopher of History” received in this work. I actually found Quigley’s book more informative than The Decline of the West, although the latter was more entertaining and certainly less “dry” than Quigley’s more “scientific” effort.
In summary, Quigley’s work is a useful and thought-proving book; it is recommended reading.
One of the most insightful comments about Hitler that I have ever read was made by Quigley in this book:
The inability of Hitler to make such a shift from a nationalist to an ideological (or other wider) basis at a time when his factual power was so much wider geographically than the area of Germanism was but one of his fatal errors.
Thus, Hitler’s narrow German nationalism and hegemonic desires and the Germanocentric Nordicism of Hitlerian National Socialism did not have an appeal in the wider non-Germanic Europe that he expanded into at the height of his powers. Hence, he failed to appeal to Europeans as a whole and to the broad Western Civilization, which helped doom his efforts. If he had instead made National Socialism into a true pan-European movement aimed at a regeneration of Western Civilization, instead of Deutschland Uber Alles, he would have been more successful. This view is supported by the fact that when, after Stalingrad, the Nazis moved a bit – at least superficially – in a more pan-European direction there was a bit more support from rightist, anti-communist, and fascistic elements in Europe, some of which joined a Waffen SS that was then somewhat more relaxed in its Nordicist racial standards. One can also consider how the Germans were originally hailed as liberators in Ukraine before they alienated the native population with Germanocentric Nordicist anti-Slav attitudes. Quigley is therefore correct. While Hitler latched onto National Socialism as an ideological antidote to Marxism, he made an error in restricting it to Germanics, an error that became fatal when he conquered and/or gained influence over, most of continental Europe. He had little to offer non-Germans in his embryonic empire.