On Decadence (What It Isn't)
In his survey of the idea of decline, historian Arthur Herman dates its beginning to Arthur de Gobineau’s Essai sur L’Inégalité des Races Humaines, published in 1853 on the heels of the 1848 revolutionary movements. When its apocalyptic view of the disintegration of European culture was attacked, Gobineau shrugged it off. “I never supposed that I can tell people today, ‘you are in a state of complete decadence, your civilization is a swamp, your intelligence a smoldering lamp, you are already halfway to the grave,’ without expecting some opposition.” —Charles Murray, from Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950
Up until recently it was an established maxim among historians that “decadence” tends to be a telltale harbinger of the collapse of civilizations. Not all great civilizations end as a result of moral decay; for example classical Greece fell mainly because the Greeks had a grotesquely inefficient political organization—that is, each town was a sovereign nation—and they wouldn’t stop fighting amongst themselves, thereby exhausting themselves to the point that they all fell to the Macedonians. But many, presumably most, great civilizations in history have eventually become weakened by some sort of societal decay before they finally collapsed.
The entire concept of decadence is now mostly buried. One rarely hears the word now. So for the benefit of society I would like to dig up the term, dust it off, and discuss it a little. I suggest that talk of decadence is out of fashion now because we are smack in the midst of it.
First of all, traditionally, decadence has been viewed largely in sexual terms. One of the most classic and well-known references to this is the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. The western Roman Empire is another, more historical candidate for destruction at least partly because of moral decadence, with Roman men eventually becoming soft, effeminate, and passive, plus maybe addicted to orgies and drinking wine from lead cups, thereby leaving Rome a vulnerable sitting duck against aggressive, “conservative” barbarians.
I would like to point out before getting any farther that sexual decadence in the traditional historic sense is not necessarily a matter of mere buggery. Men who prefer to sleep with other men are not necessarily decadent in the sense of facilitating the decline of a powerful civilization. For an obvious example, ancient Greek men, practically the inventors of Western civilization as we know it, were notorious for their preference of tight-assed boys to women. In Plato’s dialogue Charmides, Socrates returns to Athens after years away fighting in the Peloponnesian War, and asks who the Great Beauty is that all the men are drooling over—and he’s not asking about a woman, he’s asking about a teenage boy. In Plato’s Symposium, one of his most famous dialogues, some Greek men, including Socrates, discuss the nature of Love; and the discussion begins with a man’s love for a teenage boy, since the love for a woman was considered too crude and animalistic to qualify as a example of genuine love. Although many Greek men thoroughly preferred screwing women, the culture considered women to be vastly inferior to men, with “respectable” women in ancient Athens remaining illiterate and going veiled in public, if they went in public at all, much like traditional Muslim women of a later age. Thus much of the sexual preference for other men was from a hypermasculine disdain for women, not simply an effeminate imitation of them.
One striking example of this is the so-called Sacred Band of ancient Thebes. For centuries in Greece the Spartans were the undisputed badasses in battle: their military was literally undefeated for centuries, with a few exceptions like naval engagements and the honorable martyrdom of the 300 at Thermopylae. They were finally defeated by the Thebans, repeatedly, with smaller armies than the Spartans had, starting with the Battle of Leuctra in 371BCE. This is partly because the Thebans at this time were led by one of the first great military geniuses of Western history, a man named Epaminondas; but it is also because of the Sacred Band, the Theban army’s elite fighting force, consisting entirely of pairs of male lovers. Each one of them took a solemn vow that if his lover fell in battle, he would fight to the death—no retreat, no surrender—in honor of his beloved. Gay men actually have much to be proud of if they look back on history. So I suppose it is a good thing for heterosexual men nowadays that homosexual white men are being rejected by the other groups of sacred victims on the far left, and that some of the boldest voices of dissent against third wave feminism and cultural Marxism belong to gay men like Milo Yiannopoulis and Douglas Murray, who lately have been stalwart defenders and benefactors of the heterosexual Western male.
The ancient Romans also, even at the peak of their bad-assery and world domination, had no puritanical scruples when it came to “straight” sexuality. In fact the division of heterosexual and homosexual was pretty much alien to the Roman way of thinking, and there are no Latin words corresponding to them. To the masculine Roman sexual ethic, what was important was self-containment and dominance; therefore whoever was “on top,” so to speak, was being the man, and the one who was being penetrated was in the subservient, feminine role. So a macho man could screw teenage boys and it was not seen as a problem, except maybe by the macho man’s wife. But she saw his screwing of slave girls and actresses to be an equivalent problem.
So when historians over the centuries have spoken of sexual decadence leading to the decline of civilizations, they have mainly been talking about something other than mere homosexuality, bisexuality, or general “immodesty.” They speak not so much of a supposed crime against God or religion as of something that clearly, significantly undermines society, something that makes it weak, effete, unable to effectively defend and sustain itself amongst other societies.
Perhaps I should mention here also that stereotypically masculine traits in women also do not appear to constitute social decadence. Ancient Germanic women, for instance, were hard as wood, occasionally fought side by side with their men in battle, occasionally drove their retreating men back onto the battlefield with indignant rebukes and accusations of cowardice, and were notorious for killing their children and themselves rather than endure the shame of being enslaved by the Romans. Tough women are not the problem.
I remember, long ago, reading Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; and in that great book the author makes a comment to the effect that, it is a truism among historians (of the 18th century and earlier, anyway) that the rise of eunuchs into social prominence is a telltale sign of the decline of a civilization. “Eunuch” is an old-fashioned word and possibly politically incorrect nowadays (as may be terms like “tranny,” “shemale,” and “bloody poofta”), but what it means is a castrated male, or, more loosely, a man who is transgender, this latter especially in the East. (For example, the panduka of ancient India was primarily a castrated male, but could also be a “femme” homosexual.) Some traditional cultures accept transgender people, presumably without any great stigma; for example I have read that in some American Indian tribes, if a man was too gentle or timid or whatever to want to be a warrior, he could opt to become officially a woman. He would dress and act as one, and be treated as one, presumably with little scorn. In Burma also transgender people are accepted even in traditional rural villages; although this is largely due to the Buddhist belief in rebirth: such a person is a lu win zah, which is, in this case, a person who is in transition between one gender and the other, involving a multi-life process. But for such people to become celebrities for this, for them to be glorified for it, for it to become a fashion, is the telltale sign of decadence, supposedly.
An obvious example in America, a veritable poster child of what I’m talking about here, is Bruce Jenner, who was actually glorified as America’s “Woman of the Year,” and as a kind of national hero. Former President Obama’s bizarre decree—essentially a decree—that all public restrooms must be transgender friendly, may also represent this supposedly decadent state of society. Same goes for his pushing of the United States military to recruit transgender soldiers.
Now, I am not opposed to the idea of someone being transgender. Don’t get me entirely wrong here. Partly because I’m a Buddhist, I can appreciate the Burmese lu win zah theory; and I can accept that some people have a personality or “spirit” that does not fit their body. For me a kind of litmus test of how to regard them is their behavior, and to some degree their appearance. For example, one of the YouTube channels I occasionally watch is that of Blaire White, whom I would never have guessed was born a biological male, but she was. She looks like a woman, talks like a woman, has feminine body language like a woman…perhaps the only apparently male thing about her, other than her DNA, is her sharp, incisive comments against social justice warriors. But women with two X chromosomes per nucleated cell can do that too. Some of them can, anyway. Besides, some shemales are real hotties. Some Thai ladyboys are prettier than most Thai girls.
On the other hand, I remember seeing (also on YouTube) a clip from some kind of TV talk show on which, included among the speakers, were the conservative spokesperson Ben Shapiro, and a transgender “woman” who looked for all the world like a big guy in drag. Kind of grotesque for a woman, actually. At one point Shapiro pointedly called him/her/whatever “sir”; whereupon this person adopted a low, purring tone of voice and informed Shapiro that if he said that again she/he/whatever would send him home in an ambulance—thereby not only looking like a big guy in drag but behaving like the stereotypical Neanderthal. Of course, all the other people on the stage took the politically correct side of this person against Shapiro. I’m sorry to say that after the show Mr. Shapiro was walked out to his car by a security guard, to prevent the nice lady from waylaying him and beating him up. So anyway, if a transgender person seems authentic, I am much more inclined to take their new pronouns seriously. Otherwise what we’ve got is a man identifying as a woman, not an actual woman.
It has been my intention to write shorter posts for this blog than for the last one, but it hasn’t been working out so well thus far. So, I unnaturally cut this one short, and will continue next time with what decadence actually is…and how 3rd-wave feminism promotes it.