The great cultural philosopher Oswald Spengler once said of America that we were a bunch of dollar trappers with no past and no future. Spengler’s sentiment is now a common reaction against a nation that has since Spengler’s time spread its end-of-history madness across the globe. To Spengler, we were just the decadent phase of European culture- its “civilization” phase, which to him meant the death of culture in the wake of formalization and a universal state.
His logic is ever more relevant now that American civilization has hastened the demise of every culture on the planet. While reactionary thinkers like Spengler may miss seeing the benefits of civilization and modernization, most liberals still ignore the costs of technological innovation and the ambiguous nature of any notion of progress or development.
What is most unfortunate about our current cultural and political situation is that we are squandering this great moment of cultural harvest that is this process of globalization. The future could be a nightmare, the totalitarian universal state that the Right fears so instinctively, or it could be a rich seeding of future cultures within the framework of evolving universal standards and global cooperation.
Both the Right and Left contribute to a culture war that if it continues, will assuredly lead to the rise of a less than optimal arrangement of planetary managers to order the chaos. While an elite competes for the right to harvest this excess of cultural chaos, we could be working to transcend the cycle of decay and seed a sustainable future.
What is missing is an understanding of what civilization is, its dangers and opportunities. We all sense this ambiguity, but react in different ways that account for the incoherence of most political positions. The great civilizers have always been destructive to local cultures, and by that measure America has been exceptional. We have presided over the destruction of planetary diversity on a scale I don’t think the conservatives or the liberal-internationalists of Spengler’s time could have predicted.
Traditional political lines have blurred in the process, with radicals becoming the new conservatives fighting for autonomy against the machine, and liberals trying to forge a machine that will have the least resistance from the masses with the hope of salvaging this civilization from self-destruction, more or less oblivious to the paradoxes of democracy and technocracy . Then there are the traditional conservatives who, like Spengler, are still waiting for this decadent civilization to collapse.
World government is happening whether we like it or not. The situation demands it. On the horizon are technologies that at the very least would crash the economy overnight, not to mention more destructive possibilities that make the H-bomb look quaint. Unless we find coherence in this mess, it will not be a pretty picture when the last cogs of the machine finally fall into place. We need to let go of our cultural identities and stop fighting to preserve what is always doomed to disintegrate in the face of the “other”, in the space of open exchange. America may be over, but it was not just a commercialization of European culture as Spengler claimed. Like Rome in the classical world it was the impulse to universalize truths that seemed transcendent but were only a passing form.
But that impulse to the universal, when freed from culture and wed to the spiritual – to the principles of harmony that ever-escape a final formalization – can grant all impulses a seat at the table of creative evolution. We only need a faith in the immortality of our soul and that of our people. The soul is not a form; it cannot be defended nor preserved against change because its existence is defined by its relationship to difference and change. If it meets an other it cannot assimilate or harmonize with, it becomes something else, it becomes that resistance, that false front which is always doomed to decay. Yet the more the soul assimilates the more it is conquered by what it conquers, and in the long run this is merely a more rudimentary process of open system improvisation and harmonization, which itself is the ultimate horizon of sustainable relationships, ecosystems and economies.
So do not despair for what is lost. It is never really lost. Yet seize the opportunities to morph into the open system. Its the only way to conserve traditions and the only way to liberate them.