Strictly personal

The professors of decline are again picking up their pens. Here is a sneak preview of one of the finest of the genre
October 19, 1998

Among my autumn reading, I am looking forward to a brilliant new book entitled Going West. If promises are kept, it will offer a trenchant analysis, garnished with specific and spicy examples, of what its exultantly pessimistic author regards as "the end of morals":

"When adultery becomes sincerity and sharp practice secures promotion, when fraud is enterprise and plagiarism authorship, when nobility is gained at the gang-bang and titles by bragging, when the truth is a lie with the right spin on it and when God is a prude with an out-of-date agenda, what morality has more leverage than a matchstick, except with those who, by their irrelevant credulities, announce resignation from all prospect of office, preferment or syndicated admiration? Vices are never deadly in today's world; only virtues engender morbidly uncomely symptoms such as scruples, honour and keeping one's word. Venality is today's certificate of merit: a man who is not for sale is simply not pulling his weight."

In offering jeering, Veblenesque acknowledgement to Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West, Going West is bound to argue, if argument is needed, that "the west" has won both the cold war and-by creating and, crucially, servicing the world market-the economic-cultural hegemony of the globe. "Who owns the oil-press is never short of olives," as the Corsicans are quoted as saying. By commanding the banking machinery, the west became immeasurably richer while Opec was said to be bleeding it white. Now, of course, the drug cartels, in their turn, pay their dues direct to the world's bankers, who:

"...hardly know what to do with the filthy richness they launder for the demonised special customers who corrupt their children. The New Class, in which organised crime and multinational cartels combine on extra-territorial terms, 'taxes' the punters by levying revenue from pleasures and vices which governments dare not advocate but from whose fiscal benefits they cannot afford to be excluded. In the name of modernisation, and competitivity, our betters dismantle all the institutions (especially the universities) which once created the genuine illusion of 'a world elsewhere.' What seems to be nobody's fault-the steady destruction of standards, in life and in art-contributes, as if by chance, to the maximisation of the mug's market, where prices for crap are slashed until they are exorbitantly cheap.

"As official taxes appear to be lowered, the credulous are milked of their spare cash by offers they cannot refuse. Householders are sold into grateful slavery by becoming eligible for loans they will have to borrow to repay.

"As long as certain basic hypocrisies remain in ostentatious place, governments can both sponsor and repress rackets, thus levying righteous pennies to create mugs' jobs in anti-vice agencies which can (and must) never prevail against the viciousness on which the west's prosperity actually depends."

In its chapter on "Allah and Armageddon," Going West analyses the terrorist-inspired neo-Shelleyan "Revolt of Islam" as one more futile reaction to-and evidence of-the Muslims' definitive ejection from the seats of global power. Islam can respond only with explosive impotence to the triumph of un-christian Christendom (the west has long abandoned the inhibiting sincerity of a religious identity which shackles at least some Muslims to pious obsolescence):

"Despite the assertion that it menaces 'us all,' Islamic extremism kills far fewer people than the motor car. Sad as individual casualties are, and because they are, the outrages merely warrant the dominant power to dominate more forcefully. After all, what can "extremists" hope to achieve by their present tactics? Assassination may once have seemed a plausible weapon for the excluded: to take out Caesar, or Napoleon, or the Tsar or Hitler, might have been a practical way of altering policy, but the west has now developed the perfect political response: polyvalent incompetence.

"No statesman, no general (war is too difficult and too automated for commanding officers to be personally brilliant any more), no individual now in presidential or prime ministerial office can even be imagined, as JFK was, to be irreplaceable. Hence an assassin might embarrass, but can never incapacitate, us by murdering one of our leaders, or even all of them. How can anyone decapitate a headless society? We do not require our leaders to lead; they need only be obedient to public opinion, which is immortal. The deaths of statesmen, and of princes and princesses, can still be mourned as if they mattered, but do they? The crowds weep, and enrich the florists, because their emotions crave the exercise denied them by the junking of art, seriousness and accountability."

Going West applauds, with warm derision, the end of party politics which followed the collapse of the east. Democratic choice is now a matter of conspiring to pretend that choices are available. Tweedledee and Tweedledum agreed to have a battle, and their rage, we can now guess, arose from a suspicion that whoever won, the result would be the same.

Going West concedes that nothing guarantees that the west will not, like Midas, choke on its own wealth or, by pressing "delete" where "save" was intended, destroy itself with its own armaments. But policies no longer weigh with those who buy and sell our futures. The bottom line can never involve values; the numerate have won over the literate.n