The Age of Decadence

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The extent of our present degradation owes its initial impetus to the universities of the 1960s. As Allan Bloom lamented in The Closing of the American Mind, the universities taught and graduated a vast cohort of “spiritually detumescent” students, who eventually rose to occupy the seats of authority and influence, training their successors—those who are calling the shots today—in the arts of reductive thinking. Perpetuating an “organized system of grievance,” they “have no idea of evil,” choose the wrong role models, and trade in “clichés, superficialities, the material of satire.” They have infected the minds of two generations of students with factoids and gross distortions while amping up a collective attitude of unmerited self-esteem. In a nutshell, we have been taught to speak the mind we no longer have. Bloom has been considered by many as a rigidly classical humbug, but the sequel has clearly proven him right.

The world situation has deteriorated markedly since Bloom wrote. The luxury of indifference, thoughtlessness or self-indulgence has become contra-indicated. Threats to our security and perhaps to our survival multiply on the horizon and we no longer enjoy the leisurely option of relying on emotion, partiality and pseudo-scholarly hijinks in the act of informing ourselves about domestic and international affairs. We live in an Age of Decadence, an epoch which, as Bloom points out, derives its worldview ultimately from Rousseau’s Confessions, intended to show that there is no such thing as original sin and that man has been corrupted from “the good,” as opposed to Augustine’s Confessions with its doctrine of inherent evil and the necessity for reflection, discipline and moral integrity to realize our human potential.

We need not convert to Christianity, as did Augustine, or to any other religion, to discover how to think. But we do need to take his counsel seriously, to listen to the voice he heard in the garden, tolle et lege, “take and read,” that is, to learn how to educate ourselves once again. Since it is highly unlikely that the Humanities departments of the modern university can be abolished, it seems we must educate ourselves outside the confining gates of an institution that has grown as corrupt as it is absurd. Perhaps an autodidact body of students and parents, as they are prompted to adopt what David Horowitz’s Freedom Center calls “dissenting books,” may even begin to incrementally recuperate what has been taken from us.

“The true canon,” Bloom writes in the subsequent Giants and Dwarfs, “aggregates around the most urgent questions we face…If we allow ourselves to be seduced by the plausible theses of our day, and turn our backs on the great dialogue, our loss will be irreparable.” What Bloom and important conservative intellectuals like Thomas Sowell, Russell Kirk, Theodore Dalrymple, Bruce Bawer, Victor Davis Hanson, Gertrude Himmelfarb, David Horowitz, Andrew Bostom, Roger Kimball, and others who qualify as Bloom’s epigones tell us is that we have little choice but to become an informed citizenry, if we are ever to resist the intellectual and spiritual degeneration of the times and the sinister effect of the modern liberal university.

The theme song of the Sixties was “We shall overcome,” and in a thoroughly  unexpected and destructive way, that is precisely what has happened. Today, the need to re-overcome, to overcome the overcoming, cannot be evaded. It doesn’t look good and it may well be too late. But there is no alternative. We need to establish a counter-counter-culture to repudiate and undo the effects of the counter-culture of the Sixties that has wrought so much harm. “Pretend I’m dead,” says the glutton Trimalchio in The Satyricon, “and say something nice about me.” This is perhaps the only condition under which we can say something nice about that epicurean period whose legacy continues to afflict us.

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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.