Recently I have seen a number of articles with titles that are some variation on,
“Western politicians refuse to defend their civilization”
These headlines betray to core error of their writers. This error is also common among politicians, journalists, and even academics. This error makes it virtually impossible to explain what is wrong and it certainly prevents a proper response to current pressures on Western nations. But this error is easy to understand because Western world has gone through a major transformation over the last 200 years and the actual transformation is tragically misunderstood.
Change was largely completed by 1899 and the 20th Century was little more than empirical proof that the West had completed its transmogrification.
Throughout my life I have read scores of articles that discuss the collapse of the Roman Empire and that conjecture that the Western world in general (and often America in particular) are facing their own collapse within a generation or two. Conjectural causes ranged from Communism to overpopulation to a new Ice Age to global warming and terrorism. But a worry of the West for about 50 years has been ‘when will the West collapse like the Western Roman Empire?’.
The collapse of the Western Roman Empire was not a sudden change; the power of Rome declined over centuries and even after the ‘official’ date considered the end of Rome by contemporary historians Rome staggered on for many years. At least a generation or two of people after the “official” collapse considered themselves to be Romans who lived in the Western Roman Empire, long after its power was shattered and its influence gone. Long after the last Roman centurion was buried Western leaders tried to invoke Roman authority and prestige to convince the men of the West that all was well. The Holy Roman Empire, an attempt to be the continuation of the glory of the Western Roman Empire, continued to invoke Roman stability and prestige into the 19th Century, over a millennium after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The titles of Kaiser or Tsar, which invoke the authority of Rome, were the titles of Western leaders so recently that some few people who owed fealty to a Kaiser or Tsar are still alive today.
Consider that! People hoped for Rome’s survival so strongly that the highest title in the Western world was a Roman one 1,500 years after the end of the Roman Empire.
During the French Revolution simply being a priest was a capital crime and anyone, anywhere could kill a priest without repercussion. Being accused of helping a priest was largely the same – an immediate sentence of death without trail or evidence.
During the Red Terror in Spain began with the burning of churches and convents, the seizure of Church property, the outlawing of religious education, and the murder of priests, nuns, and monk. The oppression triggered the coup that led tot he Spanish Civil War.
During the Cristero War laws similar to those of Republican Spain strongly oppressed the Church and the government began the systematic destruction of churches and murder of priests, monks and nuns. Hundreds of priests, monks, etc. were murdered and total casualties in the conflict were over 80,000. While a diplomatic agreement ended the conflict the laws making a great deal of religious activity in Mexico remained on the books until 1992.
During the Medieval Period the Church and various Western nations slowly built up customs and laws about warfare called Pax Dei. The goal was to limit warfare as much as possible. Church councils directed all men of age 12 or higher to take an oath to not participate in warfare with other Christians from sunset on Saturday until the first hour after dawn on Monday to ensure all people could safely attend Mass on Sunday. In some areas this Treuga Dei (‘Truce of God’) grew to prohibit all combat between Christians to just Tuesday and Wednesdays. The Truce of God also prohibited all Christian on Christian combat during Lent, Advent, Holy Week, the Octave of Easter, and Christmastide.
The Peace of God forbid combat on Church lands; prohibited harming women, children, peasants, the injured, the invalid, the infirm, and any member of the clergy; livestock could not be killed or stolen (except for horses); homes could not be burnt (unless armed men were inside); fruit trees, grape vines, and such could not be destroyed; no one but armed men could be held for ransom; etc. These prohibitions were also included in oaths and were part of canon law.
Growing from Roman traditions and biblical injunctions, these developments were widely popular. Over time they grew to include making sure distinguishing combatants from non-combatants in the Geneva Convention assumes all soldiers wear uniforms. Indeed, fighting without a uniform means many elements of the Geneva Conventions don’t apply; you are an ‘unlawful combatant’.
In WWI British ships interdicted shipments of food and medicine to the Central Powers in violation of the laws of war and the laws of the sea. The British navy also began killing the survivors of sunken u-boats in violation of the laws of war and the law of the sea. As a result the German Empire began unrestricted submarine warfare, targeting all ships. Both sides in the conflict also used poison gas and used artillery to bombard villages and towns.
In World War II all sides used large-scale, or “carpet”, bombing on towns and cities; residential areas and even entire cities were the targets of massive fire-bombing campaigns; dams were destroyed to flood farmland, killing thousands of farmers and ruining crops to lead to hunger while ruining drinking water; rivers and lakes were mined to kill farmers and disrupt the delivery of food to cities; and much more.
The strategy and tactics of ‘total warfare’ were an outgrowth of the revolutions of the late 18th Century and the 19th Century conflicts that began with the Napoleonic Wars and the use of mass conscription. Where legionnaires, knights, and even mercenaries were (essentially) professional volunteers or a separate class of society, mass conscription meant that every adult male was at least a potential soldier, even if not yet. The ‘little war’ that began during the Peninsular Campaign developed into the concept now called insurgency, where combatants strive to look like unarmed civilians and strike at military and civilian targets to sow fear, death, and disruption. At the same time, modern professional armies use strategy and tactics that destroy roads, bridges, factories, water pumping and purification systems, electricity generation, and food distribution. The generally accepted tactics of uniform-wearing soldiers and terrorists in civilian clothing often differ only in how they are clad while bombing civilians and whether or not they do it from an airplane.
When we look up the word ‘civilized’ we see that it means ‘well-ordered; polite; restrained; humane’.
When we likewise examine ‘barbaric’ we see that it means ‘lacking restraint; savage; brutal; cruel’.
The generally accepted date for the end, or Fall, of the Western Roman Empire is A.D. 476. In A.D. 800 Charlemagne was crowned Roman king. In the 300 plus years in between others had claimed continuity with Rome and, as seen above, in the West this was true into the 20th Century. It is easy to see from surviving writings that all over the former empire many people assumed that Rome was still on-going, or would return any year, or hadn’t really ended, just changed.
The purposeful targeting of non-combatants by soldiers is inherently immoral, as any honest person can deduce. It is also against the laws of the Church and a violation of several treaties, such as the Geneva Conventions. Yet it is a cornerstone of contemporary battle strategy and tactics, an event so commonplace as to be unremarkable. The barbaric practice or purposefully targeting women and children for death to ‘weaken the enemy’s will to fight’ has legions of supporters throughout the West as can be seen in any discussion of the fire bombings or use of nuclear weapons in WWII quickly demonstrates.
Many mistake ‘technology’ or ‘art’ as the only criteria for ‘civilization’, but the ethical component of culture must also be part of ‘being civilized’. The Aztec produced sophisticated, beautiful art and architecture. The National Socialists developed very advanced technology. Both, however, indulged in continual warfare, slavery, and mass murder. Each culture has been called ‘barbaric’, and justly so. A culture with beautiful art, music and architecture and advanced technology that also slaughters millions of innocents is not civilized; it is barbarians with talent.
The West ceased to be civilized well over a century ago. Its embrace of Liberalism (in its true meaning, not its limited, contemporary, political meaning) in the 18th Century led to a sharp decline in civilization in the 19th Century as Liberalism spread. The savagery and death of the 20th Century are the natural result of barbarians fighting among themselves and attacking neighboring “tribes”.
Once this simple fact is understood, much of contemporary Western culture that befuddles many observers makes much more sense. The adoption of artificial contraception; the acceptance of abortion; the rise of usury; weapons of mass destruction; carpet bombing; the exploitation of the poor; the illogical embrace of Democracy; the hatred of king and Church; the rejection of marriage; the decline in birthrates; the inability to control borders; the unwillingness to assimilate outsiders; the rejection of reason and science involved in “identity politics”; and much more. These actions and movements are senseless in the context of civilized cultures, but part and parcel of barbarism.
The core error that prevents understanding?
Modern Western politicians think they are Romans under Augustus trying to hold back the darkness that will come in the next few generations.
They aren’t; they are Vandals squatting in a Roman villa that needs maintenance they can’t provide.