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Decline Fear And The Unique Nation

Politics / Social Issues Oct 10, 2014 - 03:33 PM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


The Mass Psychology of Decline
Unknown to some, the fear of decline and a highly developed theory of decline is certainly one of the longest-running features of modern western society and culture. The decline paradigm can be claimed as emerging either before, or simultaneously with what the Oxford Dictionary defines as “the dominant social paradigm” - in which “progress” features as the supreme value of western society. 

Several historians including Mircea Eliade and Eric Hobsbawm trace the origins of western nation building and the “unique nation” concept to about the 1770s. Eliade (in The Myth of Eternal Return) argues that almost as soon as western society started founding modern nation states such as the USA, Germany, Italy, Belgium and others - and in several cases used this nation-building as a rationale for colonization outside Europe with the creation of “confetti states and nations” - western civilization turned in on itself. It developed what Eliade calls a parallel history or “meta history” of civilization, divorced from the real world and aloof from all other cultures and civilizations.

This meta history was lean on facts and heavily value-based, but apart from the stated goals of western civilization – progress, the industrial economy, western military and moral dominance of the world – there was also the rarely-stated or “secret fear” of decline. Western fear of decline, even a decline psychosis among the elites, has been a major paradigm for at least 150 years.

The so-called unique nation was a key concept in the rush to nation building from the late 18th century and throughout most of the 19th century, In Europe this factor was sometimes ethnic, religious or purely ideological and was a driver of wars, such as the Franco-Prussian war and Italy's expansionism in the Balkans, countered by Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish Ottoman expansionism. This concept has been severely eroded with time, especially recent time. Only in a few cases, notably the USA and Russia, is the concept of the “unique nation” still given unswerving political and media support today. In the European case – which was the hearth of nation building 200 years ago – the attempt at creating a federal Europe with the near-elimination of national identities is an ongoing project. The “unique nation” has been disowned by the European elite.

Paradise Lost of Threatened
The West's meta history is value based and supposedly dominated by “progress” as the main value and goal of society, but the fear of “anti-progress” or decline has haunted western elites for at least a century and a half. We can legitimately call it elite mass paranoia.

This “Paradise Lost or Threatened” psychosis runs on exactly the same track as the “Western Progress and Hegemony” paradigm, which has suffered so many challenges, refutations and rejections from so many sources of opposition – whether geopolitical or economic, demographic, scientific, cultural or moral – that either paradigm, progress or decline, are now politically taboo and rarely penetrate the mainstream media. In the late 19th century, for example, the western progress paradigm included a major dose of white racist supremacy, but the large number of racial or ethnic superiority themes that circulate in different societies and cultures on a worldwide basis today have heavily sapped the supposedly unique status of the western version. Also, the role of racism, either political-ethnic or
 otherwise is now too complicated for a general and global ersatz culture of pseudo individualism, mass apathy and Unknowing.

Due to the western decline paradigm existing so long, it has trickled and filtered down from the elite, and colored all of popular culture from literature, films and music, through artworks and the theatre to the editorial style of mass media. So doing, it has inevitably clashed with the dominant “official” paradigm of progress, promising wealth from an ever-growing economy, from industrial technology and from science and innovation – ensuring Western cultural and political hegemony, starting with military dominance, and western moral superiority in the world.

In the view of Mircea Eliade (and also some Marxist philosophers) the decline paradigm always drives western elites towards the impossible goal of Global Reset, to a period of real historical time we could place at no later than 1750-1800 of early western nation building, nearly unopposed “pillage colonialism”, and early-stage capitalist growth. This being impossible, the secondary effects of attempting to make a return to a Golden Era for the West recurringly produces eccentric, risky and failed initiatives in all domains – from the economic and social to the military and others.

The counterpart obsession of decline prompts the constant search for remedies to limit or reverse the decline. The rush to “liberate the markets”, from the 1980s, can be seen in this light – as a risky gamble that badly backfired, with world financial markets teetering on the abyss, and the major world moneys – in the US dollar's case integrally linked with the USA's supposed “unique nation” status – under threat of massive devaluation or even demonetization. To be sure, the fear of decline is a “secret paradigm”. Decline is only rarely admitted at the microphone. It is only mentioned when the so-called “quick fix silver bullet remedies” are being floated and touted. Keeping the decline psychosis of the elites a mostly “secret doctrine” is however advantageous to them. When needed, they can suddenly declare that decline is a national emergency needing “shock therapy” to reverse the decline they previously denied, enabling them to exercise their leadership role to push the people forward.

For the public, the clash of paradigms leads them being told they face an emergency - a “surprise crisis” of decline – which with elite group think, mainstream media manipulation, and mass psychology joins up the dots. The newly-announced decline is a shock, but it is also a challenge. Admitting “surprise decline of the economy” for example, the elites can declare that harsh national austerity plans are needed, to intensify social inequality and further cripple the economy. However as history proves, the unexpected results of suddenly reversing the dominant paradigm can include social confusion, the emergence of new and alternative political movements and parties, and a loss of social cohesion favoring riot and rebellion. The switching of paradigms is always a risky process, and can lead to anarchy and chaos! The Flash Mob is waiting.

A Wonderland of Decline
Economic decline of the west is now “almost official”. By the end of the first quarter 2014 for most observers, and certainly by 3rd quarter 2014 it was clear that the “western mature economies” were again in outright recession in Europe – with the UK suspiciously claiming it was enjoying “belle epoque growth” of about 2.5% a year. Data on the economy was of course heroically “doctored” but reality was seeping through.  Indicators included falling employment, household spending, house and car sales, business activity, investment, economic growth, world trade volumes, commodity prices, corporate profits. Shrinking rates of inflation were singled out by central bank chiefs as a “grave threat to the economy”. Previously, in the 1980s and 1990s, their particular struggle was to “disinflate” and cut inflation, but now inflation was badly needed – for the simple reason that inflation helps to fight the real cost of national and corporate debt – debts that in fact can never be repaid.

In the US, even in late May 2014, Goldman Sachs and other forecasters were still using the “bad weather” theme to explain the “surprise decline” of the economy and bravely forecast a rebound! The long cold winter had depressed the economy, even in May, but in Europe that excuse was not possible due to one of the warmest winters in decades. The ECB chief Mario Draghi on several occasions went to the microphone to explain that lower household energy spending, due to warm weather, was another reason why inflation was falling!

Cold winters are bad for the economy. Warm winters are bad for the economy. Inflation was bad for the economy, but now it is good for the economy.

The western decline paradigm, we can note was almost openly used by John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s, specifically equating deflation with economic decline, but even economic globalization which was so recently a key part of the “global growth paradigm” has now  become suspect and has declined as an elite value and goal. Former IMF chief economist and present head of India's central bank, Raghuram Rajan in 2014 openly accused the G7 countries of purely and simply using his country and other emerging economies of the G20 group as “disposable adjustment mechanisms”. He even accused the western G7 group of countries of “sabotaging” the global economy.

In a complete turnaround of economy-related paradigms, therefore, economic globalization is no longer vital and necessary, but inflation is. The abandonment of the “global growth paradigm” as a goal for the western developed economies is attributed to these countries now having “special problems” - of decline - which can no longer be alleviated by importing cheap industrial consumer goods from the emerging economies and using debt to pay for the goods, while their domestic industries are abandoned or downsized, and their activity is outplaced. This was a surprising revelation!

In several G7 countries such as France, the unheard-of word “industrialization” was rehabilitated, for a short while, with a short-life special ministry for re-industrialisation “to reverse national decline”. Not only the growth paradigm had been abandoned or had mutated, but the “antique symbol of wealth” - industry – had been recycled as a national asset. Various forms of the western decline paradigm are however now openly used in the media and parliamentary speeches – for example that the lack of industrial capacity is evidence of decline.

The 1870s Ghost in the Machine
Certainly by the 1870s the fear of decline was widespread among western elites and this can also be related to the first “global electronic” stock market collapse starting in 1873. The first Flash Crash. This particular symbol of surprise decline emerged because then-recently developed telegraph machines started being used for placing simultaneous buy-sell orders on several stock exchanges at one and the same time. Somewhat like the stalking fear of arcane trading technology and methods of today, such as Dark Pools and HFT' (high frequency trading), the 1870s crash shattered the illusions that technology-is-progress and innovation-is-progress. Sequels of the 1873 market crash were comparable to those of the 2008-2009 flash crash, that is a long drawn out series of hesitant recoveries and new declines or “the triple dip syndrome”, in some countries lasting more than 10 years.

Most important, these events, like the 1929 crash were soon mythologized, for example as “the Lehman Bros moment” for the 2008-09 crash. All of them left a Ghost in the Machine of nagging public doubt and uncertainty about the “intrinsic superiority” of the west  – and more fuel for a process that I call Unknowing, featuring the break down and shredding or reversal of major paradigms in society.

Very importantly today, the shock therapy of war to reverse decline and prove the west still has military superiority – which was an elite theme by the 1870s - requires that “the mass” still has its social memory intact and operational. It has to remember glorious western military victories but this is not at all the case. We can easily argue and provide massive evidence that what we call “the memory objects of society”, fixed and iconic symbols such as the D-Day landings, have not been de-learned or unlearned or heavily degraded. When this is no longer sure, we are only able to forecast “unexpected results and sequels”.

Broken Backed Paradigms
Society has become unknown. Th economy has become unknown, or according to Kevin Phillips has become a kind of theocracy with its own high priests, preaching the religion of Bad Money. War “as we knew it” has also become unknown – but this in no way means that war cannot happen. By early 2014, the different strands of an emerging “new global decline paradigm” were dusted off and assembled. Normally concerning only the USA and the West, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) now also and increasingly fit the paradigm of “unexpected and surprising” economic decline. The linked aspects of political stress, social instability, social confusion and ungovernability manifested as rising social protest movements, often youth led and based on ill-defined and very wide-ranging themes, was clearly present.

Examples are now almost worldwide. The case of Federal Russia could be used – its 23 different Republics, in some cases, have powerful separatist movements. Whether it concerns Thailand, Venezuela, the Ukraine, Egypt or Brazil the common thread of mass street protests is their lack of clear goals, either from the start of protest activity, or shortly after it starts. To be sure there can be common spontaneous goals, such as “the government must resign”, but mixing street theatre, political protest, random violence and unknowing soon results in a loss of focus. Likewise, the reality of global economic decline is a direct challenge to the western “old decline paradigm”, perceived as uniquely concerning the west, which has lost almost all its focus. Western culture, to use Mircea Eliade's phrase “provincialized itself”, and centered itself solely on the fear of western decline, imagined to be a menace only threatening western civilization and its natural leadership role.

Globalizing decline, after globalizing the economy, has already produced “unintended and unexpected” results for western society, as well as the others. One likely result is further and deeper elite confusion in the groping search for “quick fix” remedies.

One direct result which is already clear is that the long standing theory of western decline has retreated and downsized to its own fundamental bases. It could be called “another shattered paradigm”, whittled down to a few key bases and featuring apocalyptic nihilism, directly drawing on the Biblical myth which underlays many western value paradigms. The major point is these fundamental bases are deliberately fantasist and irrational. The unknowing process has favoured this.

The basic nihilist argument that “nothing exists” makes it easy to accept that economic decline, and any other kind of decline is not only inevitable but is also entirely normal – in an abnormal world. Even by the late 19th century, writers and speakers could ask if Western liberal democracy and its market economy are on the right side of history  - or are they at the wrong end of their own history?  By the 1930s, intensified by the Great Depression, declinism resurged as a major theme in western society, from literature and the arts to politics, social philosophy and the economics of J. M. Keynes.
Then as now, declinism was heavily and often openly influenced by nihilism and “the heroic philosophy of salvation” and this genre material was openly anti-democratic and intensely pessimist. Mot of all, the supposed solutions and remedies, then as now were fantasist or eccentric and usually offered with no conviction.

Back to Terror                                                                                                                                            The enduring and mutating strands of “The War on Terror”, which started in September 2001, are another example of the decline anguish of western society being transformed and mutated into national security or its avatars, like the well-being and safety of average citizens. Terror is the direct result of a confused struggle “against evil in the world” and the recourse to terror has a very long track record.

In Europe, the mutating strands of “the European federal project” is another example of the decline paradigm, countering an ill-defined and diffuse fear of another European war spanning the entire continent – while today's European elites rush to war against Russia as the handmaidens of US war hawks pushing back the Russian Bear! The European federal project, theoretically, creates a beatific illusion of peace, brotherhood and tranquility in an ever-growing economy. When none of these pillars exist or lose almost all credibility, the result can only be confusion and disillusion. The European federal project, we can say, has become another Lost Paradigm.

What we can call the Culture War of declinism-versus-liberal democracy challenges and refutes all features of the liberal model. This is an intellectual war of terror dating from at least the 1930s. Democratic liberalism is theoretically defined as having free markets, bottom up political power, the rule of law, checks and balances on corporate power, freedom of information and speech, concern for the environment, gender and age equality, anti-racist multiculturalism – and so on. With declinism, all of this can be disowned and dumped.

When all of them are tainted with doubt, the logical alternatives will include despotism and the police state among few other things, which could include the outright suppression of the nation state, by supposed “supranational alternatives” like the UN's Agenda 21 and the NWO. Declinism, in its 1930s avatar we can note, was surely and certainly linked with internationalism or what we call globalization today. The nation state was doomed to extinction – in the 1930s by Nazism, Fascism and Stalinism – but is doomed today by unknown and diffuse, although powerful and insidious causes. The 1930s model of western society being doomed by capitalist despotism or communist despotism has been heavily mutated, to the point of being unrecognizable today.  The threat is so diffuse, it is unknown.

Of course the conspiracy theorists will point to diffuse threats like Agenda 21 or “the Bilderberg Conspiracy” but these are only today's extremely-diluted and almost ludic or game-playing versions of 1930s-era despotic internationalism, which in fact is the ultimate oxymoron.
Tyranny and despotism need all and every trapping of the police state, but globalist nihilism declares that no states exist! This oxymoron is as absurd as “State capitalism” which has  never existed because it can't exist, proven in reverse video format by the economic success of China – which is (or was) an economic success simply because China is not entirely State capitalist, but a mix-and-mingle of capitalism and communism.

All That Remains is The Apocalypse
With a sigh, western intellectuals of the 1930s foresaw the coming world war. They however rarely joined up the dots by saying that when economies are contracting, that is “subzero growth” (which is an oxymoron) this has relatively rapid spillover collateral damage on culture, politics, and social behavior. To borrow a quantum physics term, there is “non-local entanglement”. The fact that almost everywhere in the West, economic growth has declined since 1980, makes it easy to argue this economic decline process itself helped trigger the swath of false solutions to decline - grouped together as neoliberalism and including deindustrialisation, financialization, mass unemployment, massive income and wealth inequality, and so on.

Declinists however argue that the 1980s political-economic ideology shift only reflected History in the making. It was inevitable and had to happen, so war of some kind, such as War on Terror also had to happen. There was No Alternative.

Reversing the paradigm of Historic growth, to Historic decline is totally logical for declinists. Countries progress from agriculture and handcrafts to urban industrial manufacturing and then to a service sector and knowledge-based economy. This historical process drew on previous seemingly limitless reservoirs of cheap labor in rural areas, but as fixed investment rises, its marginal rate of return on investment declines, and each new unit of capital generates less output growth than the preceding one – as Marx gleefully pointed out, and Ricardo before him balefully pointed out.
There is therefore a transparent logical case for the Law of Declining Nations but the real problem is the earlier paradigm of the “unique nation” does not permit the unique nation to disappear – without an apocalypse. Declinists, along with nihilists can forecast that their process of decline will only stop by  catastrophe. There is a general retreat to predicting the Apocalypse.

Staying with economic decline, the Trente Glorieuses of 1948-1975 were a phase of leveling-up. The poster children for this were the reconstructed and reborn Japan and West Germany after World War II. Their economies climbed skyward, overshot, and then went into decline over a 30-odd year timeframe, which for Japan is impossible to disprove, but for Germany's economic decline to zero growth in 2014 this was (of course) treated as a major shock and surprise.

The implied cyclic change of the economy has a counterpart in the implied cycle of apocalyptic change for the “unique nations” of the western paradigm. Declinists can certainly set another string to their bow, asking if wars and revolutions are not also cyclic? What we find is that when the western decline paradigm is shaken down to its core, somewhat like the Cheshire Cat's smile, all that is left is the Apocalypse whose meanings are so diffuse and complex they can in fact fit any scenario.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2014 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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