The Age of Decadence

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I have just been reading about a Queer Studies Conference hosted at UCLA which seems to have come straight out of Jonathan Swift’s “A Voyage to Laputa” or Petronius’ Satyricon, works that anatomize the pretentious folly of intellectually decadent societies. The blatant contradictions, sheer delirium and rancid jargon-fat on display in the UCLA colloquium must be read to be believed—though, palpably, not understood.

One conferee’s research consisted of several weeks working in a bar. Another delivered a paper with the loopy title “On the (Im)possibility of Queer Translatabilities and the Formation of Gender Identities in Post Civil-War Beirut, Lebanon.” A third proposed the establishment of a new State of Sodom. In a blaze of mathematical wizardry, we are informed that “There are three types in the world…men, women, homosexuals, and lesbians.” It seems a good time was had by all, especially as the event concluded with a musical performance by one Vaginal Davis.

The unmitigated drivel and sanctimonious dementia passing for intellectual discourse exhibited here—at a major American university—has become ubiquitous in the postmodern liberal academy—that is, when professors are not busy indoctrinating students with anti-American tripe or discharging anti-Israeli bilge into the troubled waters of contemporary politics. The scope of the ludicrous “explored” by the modern academy has grown humongous and called its good faith and intellectual credentials into critical doubt. Indeed, the liberal university, overloaded with suspect cargo, has not slipped so dangerously beneath the scholarly Plimsoll line since its pro-fascist 1930s.

The decay of intellect starts in the university but spreads throughout the culture like another Black Plague, this time affecting not the physical body but the very mind and soul of an entire civilization. The evidence is all around us. Seriousness has become play and facility has turned into facileness. The idea of moral authority and the belief in universal values are regarded with patronizing insouciance. Intellectual discipline has been gradually but remorselessly displaced by earnest frivolity. We spend our time exchanging idle stories about a world we no longer understand or are willing to come to grips with, like characters in a latter-day Decameron. Most damagingly, what we used to call “truth” is now a deprivileged category of verbal exchange, a mere notion with no greater validity than any other.

According to the reigning school of academic thought, loosely known as post-structuralism, truth is only a species of “interpretation” that depends on one’s ideological predispositions or power base—what that admittedly brilliant dufus Michel Foucault in The Order of Things called the “episteme.” Except, of course, if one inhabits the conceptual realm of the left where the truth, in defiance of the postmodern dogma that there is no such thing, apparently resides. The inconsistency, or rather, the hypocrisy, of the university-sponsored left, which has conquered the intellectual citadel of the culture and controls the terms of our conversation with one another, boggles the unadulterated mind.

The erosion of the concept of truth has come to mean that one can lie with impunity and in this way the moral and intellectual structures at the foundation of communal life have been radically undermined. The result is that we now inhabit a civilization on the skids, one in which the lie is no better than the truth, democracy is no better than tyranny, the sham is identical to the real, a fabricated area of study can replace an authentic discipline, rhetoric trumps substance, and surface is infinitely preferable to depth. It is a kind of cognitive regression we are experiencing or, if one likes, a celebration of the duck-billed platitude as our totemic insignia.

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  • Bear from Russia

    A good article, I am impressed! There is a good book of Alexander Nikonov about modern society: "The end of feminism". I am not sure it was translated to English, but this book explain many roots of modern problems.

  • Margalit Shinar

    This is an excellent article that summarizes the abysmal state of the humanities in academia. It is nothing new, we've been in the decadent mode for a long time. Back in the nineteen eighties the barricades of trash research that passed for scholarship were already very much in evidence. Never mind the mountain of feminist/marxist articles that the blank slates who were my fellow students could not even begin to digest. Donatello's David anyone? The urgent focus in class at Tufts University was on the sculptor's latent homoeroticism. Michelangelo got the same treatment. And this passed for higher education for a bunch of undergraduates who had no cultural clue as to what Western civilization is all about, to whom history prior to 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue was one huge black hole. Yet if one did not bend to the prevailing postmodern poststructuralist mindset and its attendant jargon one was doomed. In my hopes to pursue a Ph.d. in Art History, I did try to conform by tweaking my papers with the prerequisite "patriarchies" and "phallocentricisms" and "deconstructed truths" and so did land my chance to interview at Princeton and Harvard. But lo and behold — my interviewers, upon learning I was Israeli, assailed me with hostile questions regarding my government's stand on the Palestinian question. Academic qualifications? No interest. I waved my hopes of an academic career good-bye. Those of you who regard the sinking of the West with alarm desist: the ship is already sunk.

    • Dennis / Tampa

      Hello. Today, instead of " teaching to the test", students should focus on "testing to the teacher". It is a sorry situation in which THINKING OBJECTIVELY is frowned upon and students such as yourself must answer for actions totally out of your control. If interested, please see today and read Julia Gorin's article in the Political Maven's box. BTW…please believe in yourself and pursue your goal of an academic career. Don't allow simpletons to dissuade you. Study, earn your degrees, and prove them wrong. I do not know where you are, but Hillsdale College in Michigan may be of interest…they take NO GOVERNMENT FUNDS – NOT EVEN PELL GRANTS monies. They do provide a lot of student scholarships. Get motivated. Check it out and Good Luck to you.

  • persikas


    'upon learning I was Israeli, assailed me with hostile questions regarding my government's stand on the Palestinian question.'

    Is this really true ?
    I'm not being sceptical – it's just ……..what can I say , breathtaking / shocking etc.

  • MLB

    "The result is that we now inhabit a civilization on the skids, one in which the lie is no better than the truth, democracy is no better than tyranny, the sham is identical to the real…"

    Should read, of course, "one in which the truth is no better than the lie, …"

    Spot on, cogent and most literate portrait of what has been the now historic state of academia, not only in the U.S., but elsewhere in the West. See also, Keith Windschuttle's "The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists are Murdering Our Past" (1996).

    Thank you once again, David Solway.

    • David Solway

      Dear MLB

      Interesting comment on the lie/truth inversion, which I appreciate. But actually, it works both ways, if one consider that "truth" was once the accepted standard. And yes, Windschuttle's book is terrific.


      • MLB

        You have earned my respect and admiration for some time now. Your articles have become a "must read" – at once intelligent, perceptive, insightful, literate and of uncommonly wide compass and purview. Your work and thought are most refreshing and enlightening and I am grateful for your sharing them.

        Respectfully and with Best Wishes,

      • MarkTapson

        I concur, MLB – Solway is always a great read. I envy his ability to be simultaneously brilliant and hilarious.

        • DagW

          Solway is consistently excellent, and a pleasure to read and discuss. I add my written voice to the crowd cheering for Windschuttle, as well. His chapter on Captain Cook in [ital] Killing History [ital] is a grand and wonderful model for the autodidact who cannot stomach the po-mo seminar. I read Windschuttle's book well over ten years ago, and just recalling it now makes me grin.

          Those of us living in Vancouver, Canada have the opportunity to meet once a week at the public library for a few hours of challenging but informal discussion on topics of interest at Covenant Zone. We meet in the atrium outside Blenz coffee bar Thursday evenings from 7-9:00 p.m., going on now for close to five years. All are welcome, sort of. There are alternatives to the university, but one must actually make them. We've done so in Vancouver. Perhaps you'll join us one evening for coffee and discussion. Or, if you can't come here, you might start your own "Covenant Zone."

          • MarkTapson

            I think this must be intended for Solway, but it sounds like a great invitation, and since "all are welcome, sort of," I'll take you up on it if I ever get to Vancouver, which I hear great things about…

          • DagW

            Solway is in Canada, and we have mutual friends here, making his presence somewhat possible, but the invitation is open generally, and to you, Mark, for certain.

            Rregards, Dag.

          • MarkTapson

            Very nice, Dag, thanks!

  • Downsizegov

    Great description of the citadels of ignorance that pass for academia these days.

    The pessimistic tone should be tempered by offsets in our resilient society. Home schooling often includes classical education at a surprisingly high standard. The hunger for truth is evident from book sales on Amazon. The Tea Party is rich with book studies. This is a partial substitute without the structure of academia, but it is a starting point for an intellectual revival.

  • guest

    Post structuralism is "the reigning school of academic thought"? Really, Don Quixote? Where did you dig up that windmill? And Obama's trip is costing $200 million a day, right? You should remember that lots of very gullible people take your drivel seriously. You criticize research involving a few weeks in a bar (perhaps rightly, you don't provide enough info to say) and then turn around and denounce some imaginary academic crisis based on one conference you claim to have attended.

    Speaking of ideological "truth" and the "erosion of the concept of truth", maybe next you can turn that keen mind of yours towards Glen Beck University. I'm sure there are lots of straightforward, very simple answers offered there for your comfort. Or just analyze Fox News for us.

    • Mike

      Mr. Beck always sources his information. He is better when he interviews gusetssome of whom like Amity Shales are experts in their fields but is still effective when he presents the information himself. From the tone of your post it would seem that wouldn't matter to you.

      • guest

        yes, like his rock solid source on the $200/day "scandal". And the many "sources" for his nonsense on W. Wilson and American history in general. His reputable sources on Obama as a Maoist. Shall I go on? Anyone can source, it's the quality of the source that matters. Solway's source on the dominance of poststructuralism in academia? Attending one conference in one sub-discipline. That was the point of my post, which you conveniently ignored. Be careful about casting stones when they are shaped like boomerangs.

  • pbeaird

    In the 1930s, a little, dark-haired escapee from Russian communism, entered an American library and asked the librarian, "Don't they write serious novels any more?" Well, she wrote one herself. In the last 2,5 years, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged has sold more than 750,000 copies, in reaction to the bi-partisan imposition of socialism on American citizens. Amazing for a book that was published 53 years ago. Timeless books do endure. Read Rand's other novels of American individualism, too.

  • Dennis / Tampa

    "THE KILLING OF HISTORY…" by Windshuttle was an excellent read and presentation that History cannot be taken on face value. I found Amity Schlaes's "THE FORGOTTEN MAN" fascinating and especially so since I used to have discussions with my brother-in-law's father who worked in the CCC during the Great Depression and he thought it was the end all-be all of FDR's programs for saving him from utter ruination. I do believe that it is nearly impossible to study all things such that one can attain an deep-deep objective, factual knowledge base from which to evaluate events, but I do believe it is possible to discover a working list of researchers and authors who have credentials and are credible in their writings such that their readers can accept much of their findings and conclusions. As for Glenn Beck…at the very least, he tries to motivate his audience to READ and CROSS-CHECK and, as Fox News says, you be the judge.
    Personally, when I get tired of all the goofy hypotheses, I rely upon the following: IN VINO VERITAS. Thank you for an interesting article.

  • USMCSniper

    Homosexuals spend all their energy time and guile to justify their sexual decadence and deviancy with a capacity for evasion of facts that has a property equivalent to that of infinite elasticity. It is a con game that wants homosexual decadence and deviancy to enjoy equal status with the norm.

    • guest

      you seem to be intimately familiar with homosexuals.

      • USMCSniper

        Sorry I am straight, and when I enter a room full of women there is not a dry panty in the place. FPM is not the forum for you queer trollers to shop for homosexual partners. You know you have your own websites for soliciting decadence and debauchery.

        • guest

          Charming. I guess we know why you're still single.

          • USMCSniper

            A wise man who stayed single once said "why go ala mode when you can have the full buffet, because, variety is the spice of life. I am married.

  • waterwillows

    To point the finger at feminism as somehow having the responsibility for the degrading of the intellectual mind is pure nonsense. The fact is, that the 'intellectual' mind was never there in the first place. Too many people today are being educated beyond their level of intelligence. We have now morons and idiots, who by waving a piece of paper, declare themselves to be the experts. They have not a shred of wisdom, even collectively.
    Common sense should says that not everyone is suited for higher education. But with our new found morons in charge, the insanity of "making every person equal" prevails.
    When we lost our respect for the necessary plumber, we lost the plumbing.
    This has nothing to do with feminism.

  • Liberty Clinger

    "The erosion of the concept of truth has come to mean that one can lie with impunity…"

    “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously (the lie and the truth), and accepting both of them (Insanity)… with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth… She (Julia) did not feel the abyss opening beneath her feet at the thought of lies becoming truth." George Orwell – 1984

  • MLB

    To top off this discussion, I must add Oswald Arnold Gottfried Spengler, whose work "Der Untergang des Abenlandes: Umrisse einer Morphologie der Weltgeschichte", originally published in two volumes between 1918 and 1923, and with English translation appearing variously with title "The Decline of the West" and "The Decline of the Occident", both signaled and fleshed out the long ongoing decline ("Untergang") and decadence of Western civilisation.

  • Guest

    We live in a gnostic mileu concocted by arrogant individuals with tiny brains and huge egos who have shot-up with a Postmodernist kool-ade. The rush they get is the illusion that their useless existence has some meaning.

  • USMCSniper

    Go here and see what the Somolian Muslim Africoons in the USA are up to with young children:

    • guest

      Moderator? Hello? Is this what FPM is about? We know conservatives are mostly closest racists, but at least keep up appearances.

      • USMCSniper

        I was pointing out the most extreme decadent pedolfilia in the USA where all the pimp child-sex slavers are foreigners who happen to Somolian Muslim Blacks who fully deserve the term "Africoons" at the least. And here you are worried about political correctness.

        • guest

          get back under your rock ku klux cockroach.

          • USMCSniper

            Yassah youse be dah cake wawkin nation uf Islam Farrakan bootlickah. Awl abouts hatin dah whitey aint it Buckwheat.

  • scum

    "There are no facts, only opinions." – Ronald Reagan

  • truepeers

    I would be interested in David Solway's opinion on Thomas Bertonneau's take on the epicurean:

  • Chanel Beckom

    Class action suit should be launched at all manufacturers putting panic buttons with no way to disable it. Constantly wake up at dummies pushing the button (accidently or not). My time spent on this is at several hundred bucks I want back. I’m gonna sue.