History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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decline, modernity and confusions of Spengler/Toynbee …//Narratives of Decline Among the US and UK Elites

August 21st, 2017 · No Comments

We have discussed ‘decline’ many times in terms of the eonic effect, in the process remaining critical of the many confusions here, with particular reference to the confusions of Spengler and Toynbee. http://history-and-evolution.com/whee4th/intro1_2_2.htm

The problem they had was the question of ‘civilizations’ as the unit of analysis and the anti-modernist prejudice of both. Spengler thought in terms of a ‘Faustian civilization’ starting in 1000AD and now in decline. Neither of those two really saw the way in which modernity was an advancing tide. The model of the eonic effect can help. In terms of that model we can see that the decline of the Roman Empire makes sense in terms of an effect clocked against what we called the ‘Axial interval’. Comparisons with the modern world are misleading, but not inherently fallacious: decline would be clocked against the interval of the modern transition and by the standard of classical antiquity it would be centuries from now before a similar effect might become probable. Note however the way the context has changed: decline now is about a ‘modern’ ‘civilization which is really a global entity now with many ‘states’ inside it. All sorts of effects are possible, advance to decline. But a phenomenon like that of the roman empire can’t be expected in the same way…who knows. In terms of the eonic effect there are two levels: the macro level operates over the long range while the interior to the intervals is far more open to free agency. There is thus no inherent causality to decline (and parallels to the Roamn decline are not clearly evident in China or India, as far as one can see…)
If we look at the decline of Rome then look at Athens we see ‘instant decline’, something else entirely: clocked from ca 600 BCE Athens energized by its ‘archaic age’ suddenly blossomed and produced a democracy. This was almost evanescent and only lasted two plus centuries… The period of flowering is a clear eonic effect as is its waning, which is not the same as decline…
We should ask then if this kind of ‘instant decline’ relative to the early modern is visible. In fact modern civilization would seem relatively robust and is advancing along its seeded lines starting in the early modern transition. One might well claim that american democracy has declined from its starting point: do we have a democracy at all any more? Note the ominous similarity to Athens.

But there are too many issues here for facile discussions. Much of the discussion of decline is just crackpot nonsense based on derivatives of Spengler and Toynbee and these are confused analyses…
We should however be alert to the dynamics here: decline may not as yet be evident but the system, technology apart, is on a level plane: it is not producing the fundamental innovations we see in the early modern, and these innnovations are cultural, not technology. So we should be alert to the increasing probability of ‘modernity’ wearing out in some sense. In any case the eonic model distinguishes systems in action and free agents in side them: there is a high degree of free agency able to modify the action of the system…etc…

Our basic point is clear: be wary of the analyses of Spengler/Toynbee and the way they have confused conservatives….
Another issue is that of external catastrophe which will obviously disrupt an ongoing process: at this point climate catastrophe could change the rules completely and produce breakdown! But that is different from decline.
Much discussion confuses ‘decline’ with ‘mediocre or flawed realization’: we see a lot of poorly realized effects of so-called modernity and the overall effect can lower the quality of the whole, etc…that’s not the same as the ‘decline’ of the Roman empire, say, which is actually somewhat mysterious and yet in another way as obvious as entropy, save that the latter is not a concept with a theory of civilizations to match, so what are we talking about.
The whole question is ‘as it were, non-linear’ and we have free agents inside a system: there is no inherent reason why those agents can’t see that is going on and intervene to modify.

Source: Narratives of Decline Among the US and UK Elites

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