The Decline of the West Revisited

MADRID – Since the publication in 1918 of the first volume of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, prophecies about the inexorable doom of what he called the “Faustian Civilization” have been a recurrent topic for thinkers and public intellectuals. The current crises in the United States and Europe – the result primarily of US capitalism’s inherent ethical failures, and to Europe’s dysfunction – might be seen as lending credibility to Spengler’s view of democracy’s inadequacy, and to his dismissal of Western civilization as essentially being driven by a corrupting lust for money.

But determinism in history has always been defeated by the unpredictable forces of human will, and, in this case, by the West’s extraordinary capacity for renewal, even after cataclysmic defeats. True, the West is no longer alone in dictating the global agenda, and its values are bound to be increasingly challenged by emerging powers, but its decline is not a linear, irreversible process.

There can be no doubt that the West’s military mastery and economic edge have been severely diminished recently. In 2000, America’s GDP was eight times larger than China’s; today it is only twice as large. Worse, appalling income inequalities, a squeezed middle class, and evidence of widespread ethical lapses and impunity are fueling a dangerous disenchantment with democracy and a growing loss of trust in a system that has betrayed the American dream of constant progress and improvement.

This would not be, however, the first time that America’s values prevailed over the threat of populism in times of economic crisis. A variation of the fascist agenda once appeared in America, with Father Charles Coughlin’s populist onslaught in the 1930’s on Franklin Roosevelt´s “alliance with the bankers.” Coughlin’s National Union for Social Justice, whose membership ran into the millions, was eventually defeated by the American system’s powerful democratic antibodies.