“The fates lead him who will; him who won't, they drag.”
- Joseph Campbell
Damned by Destiny - An Outline of Social Cycles & Trends from Cultivation to Corrosion
History is a rhythmic story that tells the tale of the rise and fall of human cultures. Each great society throughout the history of Mankind has similarly undergone a common sequence of observable events & developments that roughly correspond in some way or another, analogously filling the same array of distinct historical roles that occur over the course of any given social cycle. Seasonally correlative in both general succession and incidental circumstance, these happenings are not directly proportional as a matter of subject or of juncture. Regardless of such circumstantial variance, which should be viewed as more or less inevitable, there exists a universal pattern that symptomatically unfolds with the turning of each cycle, where specific incidents of historical import within the isolated timelines of each civilization come to organically fulfill equivalent phenomena; history may not repeat itself, but it always echoes.
Western culture is presently nearing the end of a century-long period of sociohistorical transition. While this cultural shift is something that even the most lowbrow members of the plebiscite are capable of identifying, even if only due to the easily-observed chaotic rearrangement of the West’s own civic and geopolitical paradigm, which has been ongoing since the conclusion of the Cold War, the truth of the matter is that the average person is ignorant when it comes to the nature of human history.
Given that most members of today’s general population are historically illiterate, the average Westerner, bound within the confines of such human ignorance, tends to view current events through the lens of his or her own limited experience as an individual member of the species; when interpreting such events, he or she frequently defaults to the fallacious perspective of basing historical analysis upon modern-day notions & sensibilities rather than doing so on the basis of situational, cultural, strategic, and, of course, historical context. As such, the typical Western plebeian of the twenty-first century is unaware that modern society’s general outlook on history has been influenced by dangerous perspectives & ideals that intrinsically undermine the values of the body-social. The average Westerner is therefore prone to assume that each of the episodes, occurrences, and social climates thus observed throughout his or her life are themselves fundamentally unique, and isolated events. But nothing could be further from the truth.
All living beings go through their own stages of development. No two flowers are identical, but both still share a foreseeable course of development that is delineated by determinable stages of growth and decay.
The same is true for Man.
If we were to look beyond our own brief lives, we might be capable of discerning countless precious insights into both the past and the future. Life is marked by an ongoing struggle between the Old and the New. But life is change, and history has consistently demonstrated that the New will always triumph in the end, victory naturally bound to be its destiny. It is then, out of a culture that has exhausted nearly all of its possibilities, that a transvaluation of all values occurs.
By this point, the forces of civilization have already managed to triumph over the forces of nature, and, as a direct result of this, its population-members begin to see human existence as devoid of any meaning, with life’s deeper sense of purpose having been lost in the fray. No longer fundamentally capable of living life, the individuals within that society come to view life as something inherently problematic. With their culture degenerating all around them, these individuals instead try to find ways that would solve life’s perceived “inconvenience”.
As a hegemonic elite slowly begins to emerge out from the pits of materialism, the thought-leaders of society, concerned with the visions of what couldbe rather than attempting to understand the world as it is, turn against the very intellectual & spiritual traditions that nurtured them in the first place; more and more elements of society begin to attack their own cultural institutions, including those that are fundamentally essential to the society’s health. Eventually, such traditions come to be replaced by a newly developed set of foundations, which, later-on, prove incapable of holding civilization’s weight upon its shoulders.
As for those traditions that are actually retained, most eventually morph into grotesque parodies of that which they once were. The Arts grow significantly more lifeless, with the largest percentage of individual works becoming little more than pale, uninspired imitations of previous masterpieces. Instead, visual art, music, theatre, and, to a lesser extent, literature loses its high-form, turning into popular, sometimes even meaningless, fads meant to excite the urban population. This is what denotes the birth of what we today call “popular culture”.
The population thus begins to lose its touch with nature, as Earthly wonders come to be more and more vastly underappreciated by the bulk of civilization’s city-dwelling masses. Fertility begins to decline due to the individuals within a society having since lost any basic sense of loyalty towards the culture, apathetic towards its future and hellbent instead upon chasing their own, often-materialistic pursuits. Morals are discarded, as raw relativism rises to dominate the ethos of intellectual and urban thought. The culture not only becomes turned inside-out, but is also flipped upside-down. All that was once low is made high, and all that was once high is made low.
In the case of all major cultures known to Man, of which there have been many, each of their respective foundations are primordially derived from some initial religious underpinning. The profound sense of wonder and existential meaning that raw spiritual conviction fosters within a people is itself the natural basis that provides a culture with its own, unique creative framework. As such, it is a society’s early religiousness that becomes the prime source of its culture’s initial creativity, with most early artistic, literary, and musical traditions thematically derived from the principles & pretexts of that distinct, spiritual worldview. The lessons embedded within all great narratives & literary cycles are often, if not perhaps always, pure reflections of that early, innocent sense of religious idealism, often employing the use of certain allegorical themes, allusions, and archetypes that are themselves intrinsic to their early mythologies.
The story of Mankind - of all Mankind, spanning across all civilizations - tells the tale of our timeless search for meaning in life. We universally strive to seek out knowledge of that which cannot be explained. Man’s search for meaning has resulted in both his most glorious achievements, and his greatest defeats. The desire to know the unknowable is what necessitates the creation of a death-cult, which unintentionally breeds the initial culture of a civilization to be. Eventually, as a society evolves, it turns towards other legitimate ways to find truth - philosophy, rationalism, science. This is what ushers in the start of a “golden age”, the time of a civilization’s greatest accomplishments. For the Maya, this happened during their so-called “Classic Period”, from 300 to roughly 600 or 700 A.D. In the case of the Islamic World this occured between A.D. 750 and 1050, in a period that is quite literally referred to as “The Golden Age of Islam”. For the Hellenic civilization of Greece and Rome, this corresponds to the era of Classical Antiquity, which lasted from the overthrowing of Athens’ final dictator until the decades following the death of Alexander and the subsequent division of his short-lived world empire.
As for us - the West Europe-American culture - our Golden Age was the Enlightenment, or, perhaps more broadly, the years leading up to, during, and following the so-called “Age of Reason”, which saw the culture of the West exist in what was its highest form, beginning around the year 1650 - in the aftermath of the Thirty Years War and the subsequent publication of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan - and concluding by the time of World War I, give or take several decades. Since then, we have witnessed a steady decline in the production of high culture and a rise in economic development, technological innovation, and the expansion of the West’s cultural & geopolitical hegemony across the globe. Where we were once Hellenic, we have since become Hellenistic. But such is the way of civilization.
Life is a constant struggle between various men, institutions, and even ideas vying for power. Initially, this power lies within the priesthood. It is they who first lead the way in the search for both knowledge and meaning. They are the first scholars; the first philosophers; the first mathematicians; the first scientists. Without them, the earliest forms of kultur could not develop; were such the case, there would be no “civilization” to begin with.
But a single caste, no matter how influential, cannot hope to maintain a permanent monopoly on knowledge and ideology. Access to such things will always expand, thus breaking the clerical hold over knowledge. We see this start to occur with the growth of the first true merchant-cities, which often become centers for education and scholasticism. For the first time, the common man is finally able to access the knowledge that was once reserved for the priesthood. No longer must the people of the civilization rely solely on the clergy as a source for interpreting divine revelation. The clergy continue to retain a strong level of institutional power within the society, but no longer are they the middlemen between Man and Truth.
With the common man now possessing the agency to interpret both myth and doctrine as he so chooses, we begin to see the reformation of religious institutions and the subsequent balkanization of the death-cult into multiple sects, each of which has its own way of interpreting the Faith. It is not long until knowledge - everything from philosophy to science - reaches the hands of the merchant-class intellectuals, who, over time, eventually come to detach these notions from religion altogether. Religion ceases to be a driving force in determining political action, as mirrors for princes & sultans are replaced instead by practical guides for self-improvement and statecraft. We see this occur in the age of transition from feudalism to grand politics, as proper polities begin to take shape, with thinkers like Machiavelli in the late Middle Ages and Sun Tzu in China’s late Spring and Autumn period.
Just as Machiavelli made way for Hobbes, and then for Locke, so too did the political theorists of the 6th Century BC give way to the likes of Empedocles and Democritus. For every Confucius and every Buddha, there is a Socrates and a Rousseau; for every Mencius and Chanakya, an Aristotle and a Mill. But then Modernity turns into Postmodernity, and Classicism to Postclassicism. Confucianism is replaced by Taoism, and Liberalism by Socialism.
Philosophy thus exists in its highest form when the religious and the rational are of equal influence, and bear a mutual respect for one-another. But eventually, the culture reaches a point where it is not merely characterized by this healthy sense of institutional skepticism, but, instead, outright iconoclasm, laced with more radical notions in the form of absurdism, antitheism, moral relativism, and, eventually, nihilism. Each has existed in some form or another at equal points of evolution in every civilization’s history-lifespan. And it is at this point, as a society slowly begins to lose its meaning - once the lights of enlightenment go out - that the transvaluation of all values begins.
Whereas in a culture’s highest form both city and country retain equal influence, urban life becomes dominant by the time that a golden age finally comes to a close. No longer do cities come together through spontaneous order. Rather, they are purposefully constructed - planned, patterned, orderly, imposing, and, above all else, characteristically imperial. Where cities such as Classical Athens, Bronze Age Knossos, Mecca, Uruk, Chichen Itza, Paris, and sub-Roman London were urban centers - early urban centers - that coalesced naturally, cities that are built in the late-civilization phase are artificially constructed and deliberately populated. Examples of such late-civilization imperial cities would be Alexandria, Akkad, Tula-Tolteca, Persepolis, Constantinople, Neo-Assyrian Nineveh, St. Petersburg, and New York. During and after the conclusion of a golden age, more and more of these metropoli are constructed, leading the way to the creation of the imperial-ecumenopolis - a massive network of interconnected urban sprawls littered throughout the cultural sphere.
As the civilization’s ecumenopolis continues to grow, covering the once-rural lands from which the culture-spirit first emerged, city life comes to totally dominate society. The hegemony of the polis is slowly taken over by a de-facto cultural elite composed of urban intellectuals and wealthy merchants; their ascent thus ushers in the Rule of Money. Slowly, the lines between state and corporate power begin to fade, as wealthy elites try to influence the political process.
The external pursuits of the populace become fundamentally informed by the power of the ecumenopolis, as compared to the rugged, internal pursuits of the early tribes who first tamed the land. In the earliest days of a civilization, when the country nurtures the cultivation of high culture, its people are simpler and more introspective; it is a state of blissful innocence. However, the ultimate fulfillment of the city makes life - both literally and existentially - more complex, for better or for worse.
As the culture continues to sterilize itself, we finally witness nihilism and sociopathic instinct increase among the population. There is a rise in senseless massacres, meaninglessly committed by deranged criminals and gangs in the very streets of the polis itself. For Western-European-American society, it was victorianism - a system that compelled the people to suppress their innermost emotions - that resulted in the creation of the modern serial killer, and thus the disgruntled and culturally repressed werewolves of London channeled their rage by submitting to their most violent urges. Likewise, the early 1900s also experienced an acute rise in political violence in the United States, against both factions and statesmen, beginning with the assassination with William McKinley in 1901. The same was true for Rome. The murder of the elder Grachus was the first act of bloodshed in the city of Rome for hundreds of years. Following this assassination, his former enemies proceeded to drive his brother to suicide. From there, in the Greco-Roman World, political violence only continued to escalate.
The same was true for Islamic society in the aftermath of its so-called “Golden Age”, as it entered its own period of cultural decay amidst the backdrop of contending dynasties. Also similar was the age of political violence that emerged in Ancient Persia during the 5th Century BC, ushered in by the assassination of Xerxes and reaching its peak during the Hellenistic Era.
During a society’s midlife transformation from kultur to civilisation - from Hellenism to Hellenisticism - a Great Man will often emerge; rising from relative obscurity, he becomes a Hegelian Hero - a commoner in a crown on the back of of a horse - who embodies the zeitgeist of the of the age into which he was born, as if he were the very Spirit of the World itself. Riding forth a conqueror come to conquer, a mighty host of men at his heels, his apocalyptic charge emboldens the refined soul that will one day usher in the Final Order of Imperium.
While this great conqueror shall always succeed in building a mighty empire that embodies the spiritual ethos of his civilization, it matters not if his empire lives on after his death, as Akkad did following Sargon’s reign, or if it becomes balkanized into a number of smaller powers, like the Graeco-Macedonian ascendancy in the wake of Alexander’s untimely demise. The fate of the Conqueror’s imperial order has no effect upon the course over which the now-fully fledged civilization will embark. Whereas younger, maturing cultures remain susceptible to destruction by external forces, as the Aztecs were by the Spanish, once a civilization is fully self-actualized, it cannot be stopped. Once Imperialism is in motion, it’s momentum only continues to increase. Finally, upon the Fulfillment of Empire, the civilization ultimately congeals into its final cultural expression - the universal culture-state.
Within a matter of centuries, sometimes even decades, the contending states that denote the great struggle of the Imperial Age are finally subdued by the might of one, single hegemonic power - the Imperium to Be.
This transition - that of Warring States to World Empire - is where we are today.