Vital Signs

The West’s Guilty Feelings

The decline of the West may sound like a well-worn cliché, but this shouldn’t blind us to the fact that there might be some truth to it.  The modern West has emerged from a rebellion against the old one, which was at least in part a parricide.  Today there seem to be signs of an uneasiness, which may be regarded as the beginning of self-doubt.

The wisdom of ancient times, be it pagan or Christian, held that the whole universe was somehow like an immense organism, so well composed and harmonious that every part of it had its place and played a role in the life of the whole, even if neither the place nor the role was visible to the human eye.  The most heinous crime one could commit in this universe would be to disturb the natural harmony of any one part with all the others.  Even inanimate things could affect this harmony, and animals still more.  It was the sad privilege of man, however, to act as if he were willing to upset it, whether because of his passions, which was the pagan notion, or, more radically, because he was endowed with such freedom that he could go against the general order of things, which was the Christian notion.  In both cases the rebellion amounted to one part envisioning itself no longer as a part but as a ruler, freely distributing distinct roles to some, if not all, of the other parts.  This was man’s prerogative, even though his endeavor was doomed to...

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