No, I’m not talking about global warming or nuclear war. The philosopher Andre Vltchek speaks of something even more fundamental in his essay The West is finished.
He begins with the obvious: the West is utterly triumphant. Measured by its ability to dominate the planet, to amass colossal wealth, to control what people think, and to neutralize almost all dissent, the West is doing well.
But there is also something very wrong:
What has almost entirely disappeared from life, at least in such places like New York, London or Paris, is simple human joy, which is so obvious and evident when it exists. Paradoxically, in the very centers of power, most people seem to be living anxious, unfulfilled, almost frightened lives.
He asks an obvious question: Shouldn’t the victors be feeling confident and optimistic? Instead there is cynicism, withdrawal, self-absorption, conformism.
What has happened, Vltchek argues, is that the West has managed to kill the most vital of all human instincts: the ability to dream, to feel passionate about things, to rebel.
Single-mindedness, optimism, naiveté are almost entirely gone. But those are exactly the qualities that used to move our human race forward!
Vltchek believes that the greatest advances in human society come not from reason, science, or technology, but from passionate visions of the human good.
The progress was always triggered and fueled by human emotions, by seemingly irrational and unachievable dreams, by poetry and wide scale of burning passions. The finest concepts for improvement of civilization were frequently not even logical; they were simply born out of some beautiful human instincts, intuitions and desires (logic was applied later, when practical details had to be nailed down).
Vltchek is right. Reason, science, and technology are all dead. They have no life in and of themselves. They can be extremely useful or extremely destructive, but they give no meaning and purpose to life. By themselves they are dead. Dead. And yet the West is mindlessly devoted to them, willing to sacrifice everything, like worshipers of Baal.
Of course, what the West is really devoted to is the accumulation of capital. Science, reason, and technology are celebrated because they have been of such enormous service to this ultimate dehumanized goal.
The West has been so successful in imposing this dead order on the entire planet — crushing myriads of living cultures, defeating superior civilizations (such as communism) — that in its very triumph it has killed its own dreams.
What gives meaning and joy to life are qualities that are deep, instinctual, emotional, naive. Progress in human existence doesn’t come from any of the things the West is devoted to. None. Progress requires a humane vision, rooted in elemental human instincts, and a fierce dedication to that vision. All this is lacking in the West. The very idea of passionate commitment would seem silly to most people, if they ever heard of it.
Maybe nothing illustrates this better than the miserable state of the Western Left, which has become about as hollowed out as anything can possibly be. There is no vision, no fight, no rebellion. Certainly no fierce devotion to revolution. Fierce quibbling, maybe. More likely is cynical resignation. And this on a good day.
The Left has been pulled down into the deadness of Western civilization. Communism was pulled down into that deadness. Communism didn’t collapse, as the Western triumphalists proclaim. No, it died from contact with the West. It died spiritually because it was still spiritually connected to Western civilization.
This is the greatest possible lesson for a resurgent communism. This time around the connection to the deadness of the West must be finally severed and cauterized. The West is death. It is killing everything. It is killing the planet and everything on the planet.
And it has killed its own soul. Maybe there is hope in this. But the dead can live on for ages.