The West’s Reigning Ideology: A Critical Analysis
In the course of the last ninety odd years three revolutions have rejected European civilisation and attempted to permanently replace it: the Russian Communist revolution, the German Nazi revolution and the American left-liberal revolution. The Russian attempt lasted 70 years, the German attempt was thwarted by military defeat; the American effort, ongoing since the 1960s-70s and backed by Western capitalism, has been increasingly shaping life in the West, Ireland centrally included. In each case the revolutionaries believed that European civilisation was, in differing ways, oppressive and unjust and saw their envisaged new construct as a righter of those wrongs. Before tracing the course of what has been in effect the Second American Revolution, let me clarify a civilisation; European or Western civilisation; and a revolution.
A civilisation is essentially a citied community whose rulers and ruled over a long period subscribe to a grounded hierarchy of values and rules that covers all of life and makes sense. ‘Over a long period’ (unless a natural or military disaster overwhelms it) because the community is motivated to keep reproducing itself by the sense, and therefore goodness, that it finds in its set of rules, its framework for life. The rules derive from the values held. Many of them are adjustable or replaceable as the centuries pass and circumstances and mentalities change. The essential rules are those whose continuous acceptance is necessary for the civilisation to remain itself. They form its defining core.
European civilisation was constructed in western Europe in the eleventh and twelfth centuries by Latin, Germanic and Celtic Christians; it later crossed the Atlantic and other seas and lasted as Western civilisation, with its essential rules intact, into the twentieth century. Among its essential rules were the following:
Europe is a Christian community of Christian nations. Its divinity is the Christian God. Whether on religious grounds or for secular motives, national and international law generally subscribe to the Christian principles of interpersonal and international behaviour. Connection with the West’s Roman-Greek-Judaic roots is maintained through the educational system and educated public discourse. An educated man knows Latin. Art is work which has a formal crafted beauty. Frugality and chastity are admirable virtues. Reason must rule instinct, feeling and desire. Private property is protected by law. Charity of the rich to the poor and kindness of the healthy to the infirm are moral duties. Massacre is grievously wrong and strictly forbidden. Sexual relations are legitimate only in the monogamous betrothal and marriage of man and woman. Homosexual relations are unnatural and wrong. Abortion is a heinous crime, pornography a degrading evil that must be denied circulation. Adults do not foist sexual awareness on children. A girl who bears a child without a committed father is a disgrace. Human nudity and bodily intimacies are not for public display, but nudity may be represented decorously in art. Men’s work and women’s work are different. Men have authority and legal preference over women; they accord women social pre-eminence and physical protection. Age has authority over youth.
Such were some of the essential rules which, in combination with others, made sense to our ancestors as a life framework for nearly a thousand years. While affirming and reaffirming them at home and abroad, Europeans increased their numbers many times over, created a great intellectual, artistic and scientific culture, and made themselves, and the white race which they embodied, leaders and masters of the world.
Finally, a revolution as distinct from a mere coup d’état. It begins with a group of people who adhere to a new ideology which they believe contains the formula for a morally better and more empowering collective life. These people, the revolutionaries, take possession of a nation’s central government and by unconstitutional means increase its power. Using that augmented power, they preach their ideology, establish new rules derived from it, empower those who are likely to support the new rules system, and disempower opponents. This process takes about twenty years or more.
Until the first half of the twentieth century there existed a tacit agreement of European nations, at home and overseas, that all political and military action must respect—or after a transgression re-assert—the essential rules of European civilisation. This tacit agreement, applied to revolutions, meant that the new rules which a revolution enduringly established must not breach the essential European framework. In the early twentieth century the Irish Revolution and the Italian Fascist revolution operated within this framework.
Diverging from this norm, the above-mentioned Russian, German and American revolutions rejected the rules system of European civilisation. The two that became fully operative, the Russian and American, made new sets of rules—new do’s, don’ts and do-as-you-likes combined with some old ones—for the purpose of creating and maintaining the good life they aimed at. After Germany’s attempt had been thwarted, and while Russia’s novel framework was still in place, what was in effect the Second American Revolution was establishing its post-European rules system in its own country and, by proxy, in Western Europe. Recalling San Francisco in 1970, Naomi Wolf writes in Promiscuities (1997): ‘There were whispered arguments between our parents while we watched TV—arguments about changing the rules, we gathered, that applied to all of us, the dads and moms as well as the kids...’ That new rules system remains in force and we in Ireland live under its sway.
A tacit revolution
The Second American Revolution was a tacit revolution in the manner—to cite a classic example—of Octavian Caesar’s transformation of Rome’s Republic into an Empire behind the advertised facade of restoring the Republic. It began after Franklin D. Roosevelt had become President in the same year that Hitler came to power. Having decided that a greatly increased, unconstitutional state power was needed to tackle the economic and social ravages of the Great Depression, Roosevelt surrounded himself with left liberals who shared this belief and who saw it, moreover, as a first necessity of their intended revolution.
These American idealists called themselves simply ‘liberals’, ignoring the meaning which that word had had for over a century in the ‘classical liberalism’ of Europe. There, linked with democracy, that ideology had given us in Ireland as elsewhere ‘liberal democracy’. These new American arrivals on the West’s ideological scene wanted a liberalism which would by state action better the condition of the American working class and end discrimination against minorities of all kinds. Seeing humanity as a society of individuals, all with a moral entitlement to equal legal rights, they aimed at a state and a society whose rules would recognise this. Their first requirement for the radical reforms they sought was an all-powerful state, such as they saw had been achieved in the Soviet Union.
Roosevelt, by making formal use, as did Octavian Caesar, of the existing constitutional procedures, acquired the radically changed Constitution that he and the left liberals needed. Between 1937 and 1946 a Supreme Court packed with sympathisers would reverse 32 earlier interpretations of the Constitution extending back over a period of 150 years. In 1940, in disregard of American precedent, Roosevelt sought and won the Presidency for a third term. Four years later, while America was at war, he sought and won election for a fourth term and died in office in 1945, the year in which his German revolutionary counterpart also died.
During the emergency of the Second World War the new American state increased its power further and in 1945, by acquiring the atomic bomb, became a superpower. Official justification of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic massacres, accepted without demur by the liberals, was the first indication that America was moving towards breaking with and replacing the rules system of European civilisation.
In the late 1960s, when the US state acquired additionally, the power to put a man on the moon, and the liberal President Johnson was in office, the liberals won control of the legislature and had a sympathetic Supreme Court. This enabled them to start getting their programme of new social rules made into laws. The ascendancy of their view of the inherited culture was reflected in the Partisan Review for Winter 1967, where Susan Sontag, high-priestess of the American intelligentsia, expressed the triumphant passion of those years with the following ringing phrases:
If America is the culmination of the Western white civilisation, as everyone from the Left to the Right declares, then there must be something terribly wrong with Western white civilisation….The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilisation has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of world history.
Sontag was in tune with the subsequent liberal-inspired outbreak of anti-Europeanism and anti-whitism on university campuses where the DWEMS, the Dead White European Males, were declared the historical oppressors of mankind.
The liberal agenda
The liberals wanted an end to the tacit role of the Christian religion as chief arbiter alongside the Constitution, of America’s behavioural rules. All citizens must be equipped with buying power and have access to education and health services. Categories of citizens who were legally or otherwise unequal must be raised or lowered to legal equality, so as to create a fraternity of self-determining, mutually-respecting individuals, equal in law, in their treatment by their fellows, and in opportunity for advancement.
Implicit in that programme were ample social welfare; Black civil rights and radical feminism; normalisation of homosexuals and of unmarried mothers and their offspring; political and financial empowerment of young people; maximal empowerment of the physically deficient; invalidation of intrinsic personal authority such as that possessed by clergy, men, parents, teachers and the aged; enhanced recognition of instinctual desire as a legitimate component of the human person with consequent unshackling of sex and of pornography; legalisation of abortion; freedom of expression within the parameters of liberal principles; and a blank cheque for science. The new rules affecting behaviour, thought and language which would be required to implement this programme would be combined with some European rules that did not clash with the new ones.
Opportunistically and with decisive effect, the American government and manufacturing industry supported the liberal programme. Both saw in it a means of obtaining, through increased consumption, increased revenue or profit. The government required more money to pay for putting a man on the moon, for a big extension of social welfare, the production of thousands of atomic bombs and long-range missiles, and the financing of the war in Vietnam. Manufacturing industry with the help of new technology was producing more goods than it could sell. As a result of this support from business and the state, the left-liberal agenda became a useful component of what was in effect a consumerist or pro-business liberalism. A foot in both camps—‘left’ and ‘capitalist centre’—made it an ideology with broad appeal.
The active adherents of the new liberal values and rules came to function, tacitly, regardless of which political party was in power, as a sort of secular state church or informal, doctrinally paramount ‘Party’ similar to the supreme teaching organ in Communist states. Because its role had to do with defining correct thought, language and behaviour, to call it ‘the Correctorate’ seems appropriate. Its replacement of the capital C in ‘the Church’ with a small c signalled the new order.
The formation of this state-liberal system was a case of ambitious political power, and a new ideal vision of the good life, working together towards their distinct obje ctives. A phenomenon known to history, it operates like this. Rulers who wish to increase their power regardless of the rules, while continuing to rank as virtuous, find substantial common cause with innovative idealists who want society reshaped by new rules that formally empower people. The rulers increase their power by enacting the idealists' new rules, selectively, to their own advantage, while the idealists celebrate them as enlightened rulers. The idealists end up powerful in a semblance of their envisioned life that has been tailored to suit the rulers' interests. It had happened with Protestantism, rationalism and socialism. In this latest instance, the rulers' interests required, both among individuals and as between swathes of the citizen body, an inequality of living conditions, education and political influence as extreme as in Communist Russia, along with a capitalist inequality of financial power.
The construction of consumerist liberalism
The liberals represented their programme of new values and rules as a means by which people could become enlightened, modern and free. This implicitly elitist appeal won dominance for the new doctrine in the humanities faculties of the universities. As a tacit payback for the support of government and business the liberals preached their programme in tandem with the message that everyone had the right and ability to become rich and to consume at will, and that the rise in material well-being of the 1960s would continue into the future.
The principal preaching space which the innovators acquired was the mass media. (The media, being simultaneously businesses and preaching organs, constituted the intersection between left-liberal idealism and capitalist enterprise.) Their pedagogical dominance was dependent on, and shared with, business big and small, inasmuch as the mass media were the principal public space where business, paying taxes to the state, paid to advertise its goods-for-sale. Committed to the liberal programme because its doctrines promised rising profits, the commercial advertisers also felt a kinship with the reformers’ zeal to shape and improve lives. Their campaigns like that of the liberals amounted to telling people how, for their own good, they should think, act and be; much of it, for example, had to do with personal body care. Thus they de facto formed an adjunct to the state-licensed Correctorate.
It was in this context that the left-liberals’ programme of social ethics adapted readily to economic neo-liberalism and became in effect consumerist liberalism. The conjunction of all the interests involved made up the state-liberal system, with ethical, economic, military, technological and political dimensions, which contemporaries called simply ‘consumerism’.
The extension to Europe
In London's Sunday Times, 21 October 1962, Maurice Wiggins wrote: ‘Freedom of speech includes the temporarily unfashionable freedom to express a certain scepticism of liberal shibboleths.’ ‘Every little authoritarian these days pays lip-service to liberal ideals’ wrote Judith Pakenham in the London Spectator, 18 January 1963. They were speaking of ‘liberals’, not in the old British Liberal sense, but in that new small-l, American sense which was to become the normal usage in English-speaking countries.
In the 1960s, while the American state’s introduction of the new liberalism in the USA was under way, pressure from the USA via London began the extension of the new state-liberal system to America's West European satellites. (The ‘Europe’ on which it was imposed was a politically united entity that had rejected the Europe of history: that dynamic community of cohabiting, competing, occasionally warring, nations bound by a common history, culture and religion in the manner of classical Greece.) Ostensibly the purpose of this ideological colonisation was to spread personal liberation by replacing the oppressiveness of European civilisation with new enlightened rules of virtuous living; a repeat in reversed terms of what colonising Europeans had done throughout much of the non-European world. The realpolitik aim of the American rulers was to widen the area of maximal money yield and to counter, with a display of ‘permissiveness’ and prosperity, the Communist indoctrination of Eastern Europe.
In each West European state, mass-media sympathisers with American liberalism began preaching the new values and rules-to-live-by (in Ireland, under guidance from London, first in The Irish Times, then tentatively in the new television station). National correctorates took shape. Ultimately the media as a whole, losing their previous ideological pluralism, conformed in varying degrees to the new doctrine; ‘the media’ (grammatically plural) became a singular collective noun and voice, paralleling the univocal media of the Communist East. Progressively, the rulers gave legal force to the new teachings and placed liberal correctors at key points in the state administrations. The ideological takeover included the Brussels bureaucracy of ‘united Europe’; its flow of directives to the governments of the member states would be shaped by the new American ideology.
The new system worked this way. The hybrid Correctorate and its supporting legislation issued rulings and exhortations which promoted, instead of the previously inculcated rational restraint, material and sexual consumption with a good conscience. Advancing military technology, by its offshoots, supplied a never-ending array of new, empowering products for the consumers to buy. Buying potential and activity were maximised through payments by the state to the poorer citizens, encouragement of all women and teenagers to earn money, incomes constantly rising, goods promotion by television and radio in every home. Thus mass consumption, together with the instigation, nourishment and exploitation of it under both forms, material and sexual, constituted the main motor of the economy, society and the state.
Powerful as instigation was the Correctorate's reasoned assurance that all these new ways of thinking and behaving, so much at variance with the old ways, constituted ethical advances, liberations from thraldom, justice finally achieved. All in all, the West’s consumerism of the late twentieth century was the culminating realisation of the centuries-old drive by westerners to acquire, collectively and individually, ever greater power, but not just more power, more ethical power, in the sense of ability to do more things and bigger things, including things previously illicit, and be justified.
National liberal correctorates and Communist parties
From the late 1960s onwards, in North America and Western Europe, the national liberal correctorates functioned much as the national Communist parties in the Soviet satellites, except in one respect. Whereas the leading doctrinal role of the Communist parties in the ‘people's democracies’ was constitutionally formalised, that of the liberal correctorates was exercised, with the tacit support of state and business, extra-constitutionally, as a simple matter of fact.
In both instances the doctrinal teaching authority, using the ideologically homogenised mass media and the multi-party parliament, defined the set of values and rules within which society in general, and the political parties, churches and other institutions, were required to operate. But whereas the Communist parties did this by imposed constitutional right, the liberal correctorates did so by using the mass media in two ways concurrently. While giving prominence and honour to ‘correct’ elements in society, they allocated to dissident institutions, individuals, writings and speeches, treatment ranging from selective presentation to disapproval or effective silencing. They thus won sufficient acceptance of liberal values to induce a parliamentary majority or a supreme court to legislate accordingly. The correctorates called this system ‘pluralism’.
In the prevalent discourse in the Communist (officially socialist) countries the word ‘socialist’ was made to connote ‘good’. In the English-speaking countries the case was similar with ‘liberal’, in the language of citizens who ranked as right-thinking. Conversely, the negative connotation of the ideological terms ‘right’ and ‘right-wing’ in the Communist East was reproduced in the prevalent discourse of the liberal West (where, due to the left-liberal component of the orthodoxy, ‘left’ was treated respectfully if not always approvingly).
Frequently in the 1960s, and to a degree in the 1970s, serious talk of ‘revolution’ had occurred in the political talk and writings of western radicals. Gradually, as a tacit signal that in the West, as in the East, a definitive revolution had already taken place, the word passed out of politics into commercial advertising, where it served in the promotion of new soap powders and face creams.
The net result was that throughout the West—Ireland centrally included—a collection of non-European rules, combined with some surviving European rules, became the reigning and widely accepted system of do's, don'ts and do-as-you-likes. The liberal agenda was implemented, more or less, by legislation, shaped the public language, and was welcomed by the categories who benefited from it. Broadly speaking, the only social groups who expressed dissatisfaction with its practical results were Christians, socialists and men disadvantaged by its feminist bias.
The radical evil—the radical senselessness, with which the world presents itself— must be explored to its core, in order to tackle it with hope of overcoming it…
Claudio Magris, Dialoghi in Cattedrale, p.129.
As the West’s reigning ideology, consumerist liberalism claims to offer a good, and indeed the ideal, framework for human life. I want to assess this claim. On the face of it, it’s surprising that no Irish intellectual has done such a critical analysis before this. When Russian Communism was the reigning ideology in Eastern Europe, there were quite a number of so-called ‘dissidents’, much celebrated in the West, whose writings analysed and criticised that ideology at the risk of being sent to Siberia. For our part, without the risk of Siberia, we have been remarkably docile and intellectually passive in the face of this American ideological colonisation. And leaving critical analysis aside, our historians, accustomed to narrating the arrival in Ireland and subsequent effect of foreign religions and ideologies from Christianity onward, have omitted any similar narration of the arrival, nature and triumph of this latest comer.
The Liberal Agenda was an effort to remove, at least in the West, the injustices and inequalities of human history by establishing a new set of rules-to-live-by which would produce social justice and individual freedom. Helped by its capitalist and state sponsors, and guided by its chosen values, it brought about with that intention a new collection of social rules; some old ones combined with many new. Implemented, this improved the material living conditions, and increased the legal rights of minorities of various kinds. It also greatly increased the rights and earning power of women and—in business and politics—their public status. The Agenda’s fatal flaw was its ignoring of the innate needs of human nature with respect to a rules system. No amount of reasoned idealism could substitute for that requirement.
The first of those needs is that the rules system make sense to the people in question, as European civilisation had so evidently done, thereby becoming for them a set of internalised or owned, and thus effective, norms. In order for a set of rules-to-live-by to make sense, and thereby have that consequence, it must in the first place have a venerated source, divine or human; secondly, have a rational coherence covering all of life. If it does not have these characteristics, then it can be nothing more than a western counterpart to the Marxist-Leninist system of the Soviet Union, whose failure to make sense to most Russians, with the abovementioned intrinsic consequence of normative effectiveness, brought it down after 70 years.
The production and presentation of the required sense is the fruit of creative interaction over a long period between a people’s rulers and ruled. It cannot result from a new collections of rules, mostly new, some traditional, propagated by idealists and made law by rulers who are—to quote Claudio Magris in this
regard—‘capable of inducing the masses
to believe that they want what their rulers consider appropriate’.
What white westerners have been faced with over the past half-century is a framework for life similar to that which confronted every so-called ‘primitive tribe’ whose rules system had been adulterated by colonising Europeans. The resulting hybrid of new and old lacked, a priori, a venerated source guaranteeing the rightness of the system as a framework for life. And it lacked a single rational structure pervading all domains of life from the most abstract to the most particular.
Small wonder, then, that the hybrid ethical framework imposed on such tribes produced, in one instance after another, a condition of effective normlessness, and with that—together with a lot of alcoholism, prostitution, suicide and brigandage—a sort of creeping despair and the gradual dying-out of the tribe. The fact that among the ethnic groups that make up the contemporary USA, the American ‘Indians’ have the lowest fertility rate illustrates this phenomenon in action.
A community’s long-inherited culture can be compared, not for the first time, to a vase containing the community’s life. If its complex of values and rules becomes adulterated by alien values and rules—thus lacking a venerated source and a life-covering rational coherence—the whole then becomes that vase broken. The community faces as a framework for life a brokenness rather than a whole. And that brokenness presents a senselessness causing a psychological hunger pain and an effective normlessness suggesting anti-social opportunities. As a result the people becomes a combination of sufferers and opportunists with varying degrees of both conditions in all of them.
The hybrid rules system imposed on the white western ‘tribe’ lacked the two abovementioned qualities necessary for sense. Its source and guarantor was ultimately only the American superstate; its incoherence made it impervious to reason. Assembled piecemeal over half a century and variously grounded, this new morality comprised qualitatively undifferentiated do's and don'ts for parts of life and virtual do-as-you-likes for other parts.
Some don’ts for example
Take a random array of don'ts as taught and administered by the Correctorate. No intelligible ranking of incorrectness was indicated as between don't kill civilians unless collaterally in righteous state wars; don't be fat, or think or speak badly of Jews, or urge that a law should reflect Christian morality or tell lies; don't be smelly, or invade another country without the authority of the United Nations, or smoke in an enclosed public space, or think or say that homosexuality is a perversion or ‘deny the Holocaust’; don't torture prisoners, break a treaty, pollute a river, treat women as sex-objects, ban pornography that does this, or prevent women aborting their babies; don’t restrict what adults think, say or write apart from restrictions which the law imposes, or, if a man, hit your wife or children, or pat a female colleague’s bottom.
Leave aside the contradictions in that sample. Because the consumers did not have available a grounded exposition by the Correctorate of which of these incorrectnesses was gravely, less gravely or only somewhat incorrect, they had perforce to try to gauge this from the Correctorate's reactions or non-reactions to incorrectnesses as they occur. And the teaching thus delivered was bafflingly dual. On the one hand, it was to the effect that all behaviours, thoughts or language forbidden by the Correctorate were, for a variety of variously grounded reasons, very grave. On the other hand, the same teaching indicated—read the contemporary newspapers—that the gravity of many incorrect behaviours was greater, less or cancelled, depending on who committed them, or if there were victims, on which nation, creed, party or sex they belonged to. Much the same would appear if we looked at a bunch of the do’s. Thus the liberal system lacked a third quality necessary for a set of rules to make sense to people: namely, consistent application reflected in corresponding condemnations and punishments for breaches. The lack of this indicated effective normlessness inviting opportunism.
That impression was intensified by the Correctorate’s approving support for a wide array of virtual do-as-you-likes: ‘virtual’ in the sense that the positive rules they contained were so minimal as to leave caprice or desire substantially in command. Virtual do-as-you-likes operated for art in all its forms, for official killing in righteous wars, as for dress, dancing, sexual relations, social manners, modes of personal address, utterances about Christians, freedom-fighters, or other non-protected social categories, and for relations with the supernatural on condition that these did not impinge on social life. Tacitly approved do-as-you-likes operated for the borrowing and lending practices of banks and, regardless of international law, for the behaviour of the state of Israel.
In a fourth and decisive way the new collection of rules offended against sense. Innate in human beings as in other animals is an imperative to reproduce the species or in its lieu a representative group. Consequently, in a framework for living presented to a human community, fundamental in determining whether it makes sense to it or not is the cluster of rules relating to reproduction: that is, the conception and birth of children and the raising of them to adulthood by their father and mother. If that cluster of rules seems unfavourable to reproduction, then, a priori, the entire framework fails the test of sense. The liberal element in the new hybrid rules system was not only unfavourable to reproduction: it communicated disregard for it.
Invariably, in this zone of behaviour, the basic rules are those which apply to the use of the reproductive organs. The Correctorate's new rules ran as follows: provided that minors and adults used their reproductive organs separately, that if more than one user is involved there is mutual consent, and that a contraceptive is employed unless conception is intended, do as you like in private, or in a defined public space to gratify a paying audience.
Ideological outgrowths from the rule changes made the disheartening message about reproduction clearer still. Out of the decriminalisation of homosexual behaviour had grown an aggressive celebration of it; out of the decriminalisation of abortion an imperious assertion that ample provision for it was a necessary characteristic of a good society and that if a woman chose it, it was a good thing; out of the opening to women of careers previously closed to them, had grown public celebration of any kind of female achievement or public service except that of good motherhood; and out of the ending of legal preferment and privileges for men had issued a downgrading of fathers as educators of their children. Add that the ending of social disapproval of sexual intercourse outside marriage had metamorphosed into the ubiquitous representation of sexual intercourse as primarily a recreational activity.
Senselessness producing hunger for sense
For this combination of reasons, white westerners, sometimes consciously, but mainly subconsciously and therefore uncontrollably, experienced the new rules system as senseless. They experienced it as senseless in that depth of their being where countless generations of human beings before them had trained them by heredity to assess—in a combined act of reason, feeling and intuition—any presentation purporting to be a framework for life. And that encounter, when their minds and hearts were seeking sense, sent distress pressing into their consciousness. Consciousness of the rules-to-live-by that were presented to them was accompanied by a hunger-pain of soul; a feeling of offence that sense in life was not being provided to them by their society. Nothing more natural, then, than that they should want, as individuals, to annul that pain and, collectively, feel little desire to reproduce that white western life.
Sensitive young people, on the threshold of life, are particularly attentive to the framework of rules presented to them. Little wonder then that many of them practised various methods of annulling the pain. Many, mainly females, did so by superficial self-injury, in an effort to manage the pain by transferring it from soul to body. Male and female, they sought the desired annulment, recurrently, through a temporary or partial annihilation of consciousness. Recurrently, they accomplished this through binge-drinking or drugs or reckless sex, through motorised speed or shrieking self-immersion in celebrity pop concerts or hours-long frenetic dancing; or, ubiquitously, by means of personal stereos or mobile phones feeding distraction, suspending reflection. Or else, as we know well in Ireland, they increasingly opted for annihilating consciousness permanently; if female, often irresolutely and unsuccessfully, if male, usually with full resolution and success.
Monthly, from Afghanistan, Columbia, Mexico and other producing countries, tons of mood-altering and hallucinating drugs arrived to dull the West's pain. To the manifold efforts of self-help were added two phenomena characteristic of the age: an unprecedented profusion of professionals of various ilk offering to cure or alleviate psychic distress, and massive production by the pharmaceutical industry of medicaments with a similar purpose. Those were the years in the history of Europe when women stopped singing as they went about their housework, and boys stopped whistling in the street.
There was also that other, protracted reaction. Motivation to reproduce the given life flagged. Faced with a senseless life, what seemed, rather, to make sense was a protracted collective suicide. Significantly, by the early 2000s, among the ethnic groups in the USA, white people had, after the American ‘Indians’, the lowest fertility rate. For the European Union it had fallen to 1.5 children per woman, well below the 2.1 needed for maintenance of the population. Several of the larger European countries were expecting sharp declines in population in the next twenty-five years.
The demographic situation of the white West repeated that of Russia in the latter decades of the Soviet Union. There, the similarly utopian change of rules system under Communism had produced rampant vodka addiction with a steep lowering of male life expectancy. Russians noted with dismay an increasing fall in their fertility rate in contrast to that of the Union's Asian republics. In the foreseeable future they would be a minority in the Union.
Effective normlessness inviting antisocial opportunism
The incoherent and capriciously administered collection of rules, devised, it appeared, merely by ‘people like us’ backed by state power and multinational mass media, struck many as effective normlessness offering opportunity and justification for any behaviour that promised satisfaction. In Ireland, as elsewhere, we have seen such opportunism in action. Bankers pursuing unlimited profit almost brought the country to ruin. As growing numbers died of overdoses of drugs, gangs emerged to feed the habit. Whereas within living memory a single murder could engross public interest for the best part of a year, now murders came to seem an almost daily occurrence. Only in the aftermath of the greatest wars of the past did so many households consist of a mother living alone with young children. Women in theory ‘liberated’ found that the spaces and times in which they could move safely alone diminished steadily.
Ersatz sense countering the hunger pain
Put into service by capitalism to serve its purposes, the liberal system included an effective means of countering, if not the famine of sense, then the conscious impact of the hunger pain. As a result, most westerners most of the time managed to suppress consciousness of it. On top of the training they had inherited from the generations before them in assessing for sense the life regime presented to them, another skin-deep training was now superimposed. From tender years onwards, the consumerist economy, and the Correctorate's teaching, conditioned them to accept an ersatz sense in place of the real sense they craved for.
This substitute sense was provided, fundamentally, by the continuously increasing power to buy things and to do things which the consumerist economy supplied. The persuasive force of this increasing power to buy and do—the power to do, and ever more of it, being an innate craving of the human heart—was actualised for the consumers in two interlocked ways. Repeatedly it enabled them to acquire more, bigger or costlier things, and these included the powers of new tools that enabled them to do more things than they previously could. Among the many derived powers thus conferred were the ability to pause a television programme while answering the phone, to use mobile phones for many things besides phoning, to fly through the air to a holiday resort and—with the help of advancing medicine—to live increasingly longer than their ancestors.
While such benefits, in the eyes of most people, gave material sense to the life on offer, a central message of the Correctorate's teaching furnished it, for some, with moral sense. This message, constantly repeated, told them that those who thought and lived in accordance with the Correctorate's rules lived a freer, more just and kinder life than the western generations that had preceded them and than all the other peoples that had inhabited, or that now inhabited, the planet.
The net result was that most consumers, most of the time, believed in the surface of their minds that this current life of westerners was a pretty good life, better certainly than the life that had preceded it. Stress, everyone recognised, stress of body and soul, regularly accompanied the living of it. But stress with recurrent depression, most westerners resignedly accepted, was an inevitable condition of living a life which, despite occasional distresses and the sense hunger gnawing subconsciously, was a pretty good life.
When the ersatz sense ends
As the new millennium arrived, that was the situation. For as long as the power to buy and do of governments, corporations and consumers keeps increasing, and the teaching that this new western life is morally the best life ever, continues to have force for some, the West's post-European system will continue to function. It still has some years to go before it matches the life span of its more conservatively post-European Soviet counterpart. That the American system could last as long as that seems possible. That it can endure much longer is excluded by the extreme fragility of its life-support mechanism.
Inevitably, within a matter of years, there will be an end to the continuous increase of the power to buy and do, and with that the main source of the system's ersatz sense and social glue will vanish. Ipso facto, its vaunted moral superiority will become an irrelevant twaddle. Nothing will then remain to prevent the direct and continuous impact of its senselessness and effective normlessness on the consciousness of westerners, nor to make the system's senseless and unloved life framework seem a good life. Bereft of its life-support mechanism, it will turn sufferers into opportunists whom the ever-growing number of regulations, and the ever-better-equipped police forces, will fail to tame. Like a creeping earthquake, first here then there, the chaos of the utopian values and rules will translate into a violent social disintegration which long-foretold ecological disorder will exacerbate. The only effective remedy will be the eventual slow emergence of a new civilisation—providing, as do all civilisations, sense and internalised norms, and relegating Europe’s, after Rome’s, to history.
To repeat: The fatal defect of this post-European venture has been its ignoring of the enduring needs of human beings with regard to the system of rules-to-live-by that governs their life together. Pointless, given that neglect, that in its pursuit of justice, freedom and power, and the perfecting of those practical arrangements that serve human material needs and longevity—it reached towards the sky. The sky is not a human habitat.