Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Western Decline - Will The Third Rome Take the Torch? - Part 1

When I treat the topic of the decline of Western Culture and Civilization*, I hope to avoid being labeled as a fatalist. I have noted in many previous posts that Western people are not finished and that they still have a window in which they can return to that which made them great. That window is closing quickly though, and I want to present some possible outcomes in the event that our downward spiral is not soon arrested.

If the West reaches a point in which it  is no longer recognizable, I think that Russia may be the state that takes its place. China and India of course will be quite powerful and that is fine, but my thoughts are on a place in which at least some of the elements of Western Culture can be married to a related Culture.

[Added 6/5/13- I realized that I failed to note that the above supposes not only that the decline in the West is not stopped, but also that no move was made by Western peoples to leave most of the lost nations, coalesce in a nation that has a higher chance of being saved, and establish a reformed and restored Western Culture.]

Note that in the following historical notes I am generalizing very much.

The Slavic peoples were late in coming on the world stage. Like the ancient Gauls and other Celts, they did not have a sense of unity as a people or ethnic/cultural group. The Eastward movements of the Ostrogoths under Ermanaric, followed by the Westward movements of the Huns, Avars, and Magyars, were the first events that had the effect of subjugating many of the tribes and keeping them from coalescing and growing in strength. The post-classical  slave trade concentrated so much on them that the word for a slave - a cognate of Slav, made it way into several languages. Other invaders would follow; early Bulgars (A remnant Hunnic dynasty later to become fully Slav), Turkic tribes such as the Patiznaks, Khazars, and Cumans, and the longest-lived dynasties from the East - the Mongols.The Ukraine born much of the brunt of the Turkic invasions - their land was too attractive to horse and pastoral peoples who needed grazing lands and it was situated in a major avenue of approach for such peoples.

In the Medieval period, the Empire of Great Moravia was killed in its infancy by the Magyars, whose aggressions were diverted by the German king, anxious to both eliminate a rival and to prevet the  terrorizing pf his dominions. This move proved to be foolish as the invaders soon moved on to Central Europe and as far and France and Italy.

Russia first came into being as an organized state under the rule of the Varangians,  name for the Northmen (Mostly Swedes)that moved Eastward from their domains. My understanding is that the word Russia comes from the Finnish word Rus, which meant a rower, an attestation to their use of longships both on sea and in the great rivers such as the Volga. Like other European states, Russia underwent periods of unity and disunity in which principalities become independent. While Slavs that border Western Empire adopted, Catholicism, the Russians and other Slavs embraced Orthodox Christianity. This was to have a powerful effect on the development of the Slavic nations; they identified spiritually, culturally and politically with the Byzantine Empire. When Constantinople (The second Rome)later fell to the Ottomans, many in Russia were to see the Principality of Muscovy (It became the strongest Russian state) as being the heir of the Roman tradition and authority.

The Mongol invasions were to have the greatest effect of the Russian and other Slavic regions. Their cruelty was of a particularly savage nature and was applied in a wholesale manner to the peoples that resisted their domination. The Mongols lived off the tribute of the conquered peoples and vassal states of khanates. They ruled much of Russia and kept other principalities as tributary states from the early 13th century and were not finally ejected under Ivan The Terrible (meaning powerful or awesome).

With the many centuries of a frontier-state status, the people were never able to engage in acts of progress such as that which occurred in Western Europe. The nobility were set in their ways and the culture was a bit of a  mix of Slavic, Byzantine, European, and Mongol. Peter the Great (Sometimes viciously) attempted a 17th-18th century version of a Great Leap Forward, but as a middle class as strong as that of Western Europe had not yet developed in Russia, the economy did not have the ability to take off and grow on its own - it had been too centralized and directed right from the top.

This pattern did not change much until the collapse of the governments and the rule of the Bolsheviks. What decentralization and middle class growth had occurred was lost in the stagnation of a Marxist state. Seizures of lands, terrifying purges, forced collectivizations, attacks on the culture and religion, and purposely-created famines (The Ukraine again bears the brunt),  and the creation of a full-blown totalitarian police-state were to send this region into a backwards state that would last until the late 80's - early 90's. The horrific invasion by Hitler's Germany not only killed many more millions, it caused immeasurable damage to the industrially and agricultural infrastructure, thus undoing even what projects the Communists had attempted. It also made Russia yet again a frontier state with all that follows such a condition - only this time the threat came from Western Europe.

I will do Part 2 tomorrow-

* I prefer to differentiate between "Culture" and "Civilization" in the manner of German writers. To explain this approach as shortly (And probably as poorly) as possible, a society reaches the point of civilization when a culture has effectively given its all. The people in general have lost their virtue, desire to grow, intellectual and marshal vigor, and creative (Particularly in art and music) capacity. The shell of the Culture is maintained as a sort of a facade, and the people congregate in urban areas, where they start to become enervated - concentrating more on personal advancement and conspicuous consumption rather than living in and improving the Culture that was bequeathed to them.

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