The Roots of Decadence
by Dr. William L. Pierce
DURING THE recent Apollo 17 lunar expedition, publicists and politicians repeatedly emphasized that it was the “last” manned expedition to the moon. There would be no more lunar exploration, because the expeditions were too expensive and the money was needed instead to “improve the quality of life” for Americans.
It was pointed out that huge expenditures for the space program could no longer be justified when millions of Americans were living in “poverty.” One columnist estimated that the money spent by NASA just for the equipment left on the moon by the various Apollo expeditions ($500 million) could have bought a large-screen color TV set for each of one million “underprivileged” (Black) families.
The political decision to halt Western man’s greatest venture of exploration and discovery — a decision seemingly concurred in by a substantial portion of the American electorate — and turn instead to more social welfare programs raises some deep and troubling questions for thoughtful Americans.
What is progress? Was Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the lunar surface progress, or is it a color TV set in every “underprivileged” home?
Is it possible that the two things are incompatible in some fundamental way?
Can a people aspire to both luxury and greatness?
Hasn’t our pampered way of life in America softened us a great deal and sapped our will? If that is so, how do we reconcile continued material prosperity with continued toughness and fitness in a hostile and demanding world?
This dilemma is something fairly new to Americans, and it is tied directly to our current lifestyle.
In the not-so-distant past, when nearly all our people lived on farms or in villages, the dilemma did not exist. The principal concern then was not prosperity but survival, and this ever-present necessity provided the frame in which people’s attitudes were formed and decisions made.
A population for whom survival was a principal concern was not necessarily one living in wretched poverty, with famine and starvation imminent. In most times hard work, intelligently directed, kept famine at a safe distance.
Close to Nature
Nevertheless, men lived closer to Nature and were more mindful of her eternal laws. The cycle of birth, struggle, and death was something everyone recognized and accepted not only as inevitable but as right.
A boy or girl growing up on a farm had daily tasks to perform — not make-work, but chores necessary to the overall operation of the farm — almost from the time he or she could walk. Likewise, the son of the village miller or smith, or the daughter of the butcher or candler, became from the earliest age an essential cog in the family economic machinery. The child did not work for an “allowance” to be spent on toys and entertainment, but as a member of the family team in its struggle for survival.
Vigilance, Genius, and Toil
Even though in his later years a boy might leave the farm to learn a trade or go to sea or join the army — or, perhaps, if he had the intellect and the inclination, study at a university — his outlook on life and his conduct were still determined to a significant extent by the experiences of childhood.
These experiences were continually reinforced by those of manhood, which taught him that, even though Nature could be bountiful and the world filled with wonderful opportunities, the bounties and the opportunities had to be earned. They were not given to man as a gift from Providence but had to be wrested from adversity through man’s vigilance and genius and toil.
Reward of Inefficiency
Each man and each woman, in order to get from today to tomorrow, remained aware of the responsibility that rested on his or her shoulders for the successful outcome of that passage. Lest anyone forget, there were always abundant examples, even in the best of times, of the lot which fell to those whose inefficiency or defects of character exceeded the norm by too great a margin: They perished.
Thus, the lifestyle of a people largely rural and agricultural led naturally to certain elements of their outlook and character: parsimony in the expenditure of resources and wealth, self-reliance, an uncomplaining acceptance of the necessity of lifelong hard work, the ability to face hardship with equanimity, the patience and perseverance which were essential ingredients of that craftsmanship whose decline is often lamented today, and a realistic attitude toward some of the less pleasant aspects of the human condition — such as death.
And a Will to Conquer
Our ancestors seldom, despite the worst ravages of war and famine, fitted the poet Edwin Markham’s pitiful image of the empty-faced man with the hoe, however. They toiled and sweated and suffered and died, but no one ever blew out the light within their brains.
In Africa, in Asia, around the Mediterranean basin perhaps, a stolid and stunned peasantry may have been the rule through long periods of history, but our northern European ancestors were never brothers to the ox. The fire of adventure, of conquest, of upward striving always burned in them — not despite the hardships of their lives, but because of them.
Spirit Burnished by Hardship
They were the Vikings, the Crusaders, the bold warriors who swept down from the north to build the great civilizations of Greece and Rome, and then again, when those civilizations had become senescent, swept them away and raised on their rubble the Western civilization which now, in its turn, topples toward ruin.
The essence of their lives was struggle. The northern climate they endured was rigorous, and it continually and harshly tested their fitness. At the same time it caused their inner fires to burn more intensely than those of their southern neighbors.
Then came that great cataclysm in the history of the West, the Industrial Revolution, which brought about a profound change in the lifestyle of our people. In the brief period of 200 years we became an urban-industrial race, giving up almost entirely the rural-agricultural life we had lived for millennia.
In absolute numbers, we spurted ahead enormously; we left the land and concentrated ourselves in urban areas containing our facilities for industrial production; our productivity soared — and with it our per capita consumption.
Privacy, Independence Lost
As our social interdependence became more complex we lost certain aspects of our individual freedom, but our increased productivity and specialization greatly enlarged our freedom of choice in other areas. Gone were the freedom of the village common, most of the opportunities for privacy and solitude, the ready access to unfenced forest and meadow where a man could work things out between himself and Nature in the manner he chose. In their place came all the laws, rules, regulations, restrictions, ordinances, form-filling, record-keeping, and permit-applying with which an impersonal government bureaucracy hems and hedges the lives of modern men and women.
But with the more complex form of social organization came other things: increased efficiency in the production and distribution of food, clothing, tools, and other goods; a new realm of career activities, distinct from those of the farm-village economy; a partial independence of the cycles and quirks of Nature.
One man could, with less effort, produce as much food in a day’s time as ten of his predecessors. If he did not choose to be a food producer, he could be an airline pilot, a physicist, a bridge designer, a draftsman, or an astronaut (until the recent cancellation of the space program).
He could turn darkness into daylight if it suited his purpose and moderate the heat of summer, the cold of winter, or the ravages of flood and drought far more effectively than previously.
Western man did not conquer Nature, nor can he ever, but, by learning a little of how Nature works and applying that knowledge, he opened new possibilities for his continued, upward progress.
The great misfortune of our age is that that progress is not being realized.
Instead, our values have been transformed by the new lifestyle which the Industrial Revolution brought. Comfort, convenience, and consumption became the ends to which we turned our new power.
What Is a “Good Life”?
The man whose personal wealth once would have consisted of the clothes on his back, a good musket, an ax, and perhaps a few other hand tools now owns two almost-new automobiles (air conditioned), two television sets (one color), a stereo, a fiberglass powerboat on a trailer in the driveway, a full freezer in the basement, an expensive set of golf clubs, an electric wristwatch, and a pocketful of credit cards. Furthermore, he has 200 shares of AT&T and a big life insurance policy, because he wants his kids to have a “good life” too.
The current American definition of the good life includes economic and physical security, freedom from worry, short working hours at a non-strenuous occupation after four years of vacation at a country-club-called-university, plenty of leisure time, enough income to afford not only time-and-labor-saving conveniences and appliances but also an abundance of other consumer goods and hobby items. It is in terms of these things that we define our “standard of living” and compare ourselves with the other nations of the world.
That this is so should be neither shocking nor surprising. What could be a more natural development than a people, having learned how to work more efficiently, so that their labor yields more than previously, rewarding themselves by increasing their level of consumption or exerting themselves less or both?
It is in the nature of man to avoid pain and seek pleasure.
Westerners — people of European, or Aryan, race — are rightfully proud of the great achievements their genius and labor have brought about in science, technology, and social organization: the harnessing of Nature’s energy sources; the creation of a multitude of useful synthetic materials; the development of mass, high-speed, worldwide transportation systems; the conquest or control of many of the diseases and physical handicaps which once scourged mankind; the evolution of industrial mass-production techniques; the invention of nearly instantaneous methods of long-distance communication and their development into mass-communication networks.
Worse than Pollution
These achievements have their concomitant drawbacks, of course, which are widely recognized. But there is also another drawback which is not generally recognized and which is far more serious in its long-range effects than the others — even than environmental pollution, which, being recognized, can be controlled.
In one word it is decadence. Just as the struggle for survival leads, through Nature’s process of biological selection and elimination, to fitness of a species, so also does the struggle of a people for their daily bread lead, on a timescale of decades instead of millions of years, to their social and moral fitness to survive in a world of eternal conflict and competition with other peoples.
Struggle is the driving force, in the biological realm, for upward evolution; in the realm of human affairs it is the driving force for all true progress.
When a people are freed from the burden of struggle they inevitably begin to lose their fitness, their toughness, their ability to meet and overcome difficult challenges which they may face at some later time.
Dilemma of Progress and Decay
Therein lies a real dilemma for us. Through struggle come strength, material and moral progress, and greatness; but from material progress also comes relief from struggle, and from this relief come relaxation of vigilance and determination, softening of moral fiber, erosion of will, loss of the capacity for self-sacrifice and self-denial, loosening of social bonds, national decay, and eventual extinction.
Every people who have made their mark on history have been trapped in this cycle. They have struggled; they have risen; they have attained greatness; they have decayed and passed away.
The customary explanation for the decay is a biological one: a people, having grown powerful and expanded beyond their ancestral boundaries, subject weaker races to servitude. Inevitably, racial mixing takes place, and the half-breed descendants of the masters and their slaves have neither the will or the capacity to maintain the empire or the culture established by the dominant race.
Thus passed Greece and Rome and many another great power. Sic transit gloria.
But this explanation is, in most cases, an incomplete one. Certainly, racial mixing eventually results in the physical disappearance of the empire-builders.
This is not the cause of their decay (at least, not the initial cause), however, but only a consequence. Racial mixing hastens and makes irreversible the final dissolution, but that mixing does not take place until decay has already set in.
While the master people still have their moral strength they do not interbreed with their slaves — or, at least, the products of such limited interbreeding as there is themselves become slaves, and so the dominant race is not weakened by the absorption of mixed offspring.
Two Sad Cases
We have before us two perfect examples today: the British and the Americans.
The British Empire has already crumbled to dust, yet the British people have only within the last few years entered into the final phase of their decay — large-scale racial integration with their former subject peoples.
When they allowed their corrupt leaders to seal the fate of their empire more than three decades ago by leading them into a catastrophic world war contrary to their interests they had not even embarked on the racial insanity that now finds their industrial centers swarming with millions of Pakistanis and West Indian Negroes.
A hundred years hence, if they remain on their present course, they will be a nation of mongrels with no hope of a return to greatness. But one cannot blame their fall on racial mongrelization.
An analysis of the situation in America leads us to the same conclusions. We lost our national will to survive years before we unleashed upon ourselves the present racial horror which is devouring us.
As long as we were tough and strong and proud, we could laugh in the faces of those sly ones who tried to tell us that our slaves, or former slaves, were our “equals.”
But now, look what a century of soft living and conspicuous consumption has done to us! It relaxed us just enough so that the fungus of liberalism, that manifestation of Western man’s death-wish, could take root in our souls.
We have not yet plunged into the final abyss of mongrelization; there is still a slim possibility of halting the decay. But, having halted it, what shall we do?
Can an affluent people, accustomed to luxury and shielded from the rigors of existence which once stiffened the backbones of their ancestors, deliberately deny themselves that luxury and affluence in order to toughen themselves up again?
We would not be wise to bet on it. Recognizing the dilemma of decadence and doing something about it are two different things.
It would clearly be better for America if we maintained a more Spartan lifestyle than we do; it would also be better for the next generation of Americans if we did not try to provide so many “advantages” for our children.
But we cannot simply dismantle our technological civilization and return to the land for the sake of our moral health. We clearly will not do that, nor should we, for obvious reasons.
That is not the upward path we seek; instead it would simply put us at the mercy of those races to whom we have taught the secrets of our Western technology.
Where the Evil Lies
And it is important for us to note here that, although the decadence of today is a consequence of the urban industrial lifestyle introduced with the Industrial Revolution, it is not the technology resulting from the Industrial Revolution which is the root of the evil but the social changes accompanying that revolution and, more so, the new system of materialistic values which brought on those changes.
In 1770 most of the great technological advances of the Industrial Revolution were yet to come, but the acquisitive materialistic attitude of mind was already becoming dominant and with it came the great social upheavals which that attitude demanded. Thus, in that year Oliver Goldsmith penned the words of lament in his poem, The Deserted Village, which tell us how far the process of decay had already gone in England two centuries ago:
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates and men decay:
Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;
A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroyed can never be supplied.
A time there was, ere England’s griefs began,
When every rood of ground maintained its man;
For him light labour spread her wholesome store,
Just gave what life required, but gave no more:
His blest companions, innocence and health;
And his best riches, ignorance of wealth.
But times are altered; trade’s unfeeling train
Usurp the land and dispossess the swain . . .
“Trade’s unfeeling train” — those whom Brooks Adams, in his Law of Civilization and Decay, has called “economic men,” as opposed to those they dispossessed, the “spiritual men” — found the new lifestyle more congenial to them than the old. They worked to make that lifestyle universal, and they succeeded — although they cannot be justly accused of having foreseen or wanted the decadence which has been its yield.
To the economic man progress is strictly a material thing. It means increasing the average standard of living of the world’s population.
The economic man dreams of the day when everyone can enjoy the lifestyle of a millionaire playboy or playgirl, with no worries, no work, every luxury at his fingertips, every whim capable of indulgence. When every Puerto Rican and Hottentot has reached this state there can be no more “progress,” for we will have attained a state of perfection.
A Different View of Progress
To the spiritual man progress is upward movement on man’s unending path from the subhuman to godhood. Austerity is more a way-condition on that path than opulence, pain than comfort, self-denial than self-indulgence.
Above all, struggle rather than relaxation is the prerequisite for each upward step.
There is in each of us something of economic man and something of spiritual man. The balance varies from one individual to another, just as it varies from people to people.
Shifting the Balance
In Western man that balance was on the spiritual side during our rise to greatness. Now it has shifted strongly to the economic side, and we must succeed in reshifting the balance if we are to survive.
We are faced with a very complex and difficult problem — a problem which no people before us has solved successfully. Nevertheless, we remain convinced that Western man has the capacity to overcome even this obstacle and regain the upward path he trod for millennia.
In order to do this we must have two revolutions: one of the flesh and one of the spirit. Without the second the first will lose its meaning and become transitory.
With the cleansing fire of total revolution — spiritual and physical — we must wipe out the false set of values now guiding the course of our people.
We must once again put greatness ahead of prosperity, fitness ahead of comfort, duty ahead of indulgence, honor ahead of security.
When we have done this, regardless of the cost in blood and gold, we can then do anything else to which we set our will.
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From Attack! No. 17, 1973 transcribed by Anthony Collins and edited by Vanessa Neubauer, from the book The Best of Attack! and National Vanguard, edited by Kevin Alfred Strom