WHEN THE CENTER CANNOT HOLD
You Must Find Another Way
Bill Collier- Trust in leading American institutions has dropped from a high average of 43% in 2004 to a low of 32% now, according to Gallup. What is more telling is the low approval numbers for institutions such as education, the media, and leading politicians. Only the military, with 73% trust, remains a stable institution with broad respect. For instance, while the US President enjoys approval ratings of 36% to 42%, hardly a resounding vote of confidence, Congress has an approval rating of 9%. This means 91% don’t trust the institution that makes its laws.
We could cite examples of public officials and institutions, academia, and the news media all day. Across the board, people don’t trust the gatekeepers and opinion shapers whose judgments in time past were respected. It used to be, for instance, when major news anchors declaimed on something or someone, they were finished. Walter Cronkite could make or break an issue or a politician.
But what happened, perhaps, is that holders of such influence abused it for partisan or parochial gains and, gradually, the general public caught wind of what was happening. It was realized that the Walter Cronkite were really just working to advance their own agenda. Truth and facts were never the goal, despite the claim, but only controlling your perceptions to manipulate you into acting or voting in a certain way that might help the manipulators and not you.
In this scenario, the center cannot hold. In the long term, perhaps next year or in twenty years, such a situation can lead to such upheavals that total collapse of major institutions, including governments, occurs. This is history repeating itself, of course, as it always does, in the endless cycles of the rise and fall of nations, empires, and whole civilizations. It is not possible that our nations of people, our empires (political states) or our civilization will escape these cycles any more than you can escape death.
When you live in a time of such dissolution of public trust in the institutions that normally center a society, you have to find your own center. Throughout history, the people who lived in such times and yet held their own center often became the most successful, prosperous, and powerful people in their day.
Consider the monastic orders of the 5th century. These created their own center, both physical and spiritual. They became the progenitors of our current civilization in the West. They became very wealthy and influential and it took centuries to break the power of their institutional grip.
It can be argued that the nobility and royalty that emerged in every society throughout history were the people who had their own center during times when the center could not hold in a dying society. If one traces the roots of most royal and noble families it should not be surprising to see they emerged even from humble roots because of this ability to hold their own center.
In the late 1990’s the book “The Sovereign Individual” sold tens of thousands of copies. It proposed a time of collapse in which the new nobility, my words not theirs, would emerge from sovereign individuals, people who could exist and thrive outside the limits and control of the welfare state, which, while it reached its peak in the late 20th century, would not survive the 21st century. While the tenacity of that now archaic model for organizing a society may have exceeded expectations, events have more or less tracked with that book’s prescience.
What we are witnessing cannot be seen or understood outside of an understanding of the cyclical nature of history, and the rise and fall of civilizations. Whoever understands these things knows the times in which we live and realizes that trying to preserve the old forms and structures is foolhardy. The structures and forms of a mature and now dying civilization will not fit or work in a new civilization, for instance. The ancient monastic communities which emerged at the end of the Classical Civilization were suited to the new civilization, which became the Western Civilization.
The range of possibilities is not limited only by creativity, it is limited by creativity, logic, science, and historical necessity. That which is not historically necessary will not be possible, and it will not succeed. If you to try to re-create or perpetuate the old forms and structures of a mature civilization during a time when the old civilization is in decline and the seeds of new civilizations are necessary, you will fail.
The center cannot hold in a declining civilization any more than a human heart can beat forever. Death is what follows life, even as life follows death. But each new generation begins during the previous generation, and each new civilization emerges in seed form during a preceding civilization.
Here then is where you and I have to find our own center, just as the monastic communities did, when it seems the barbarians have overrun civilization from within and from without and on every front. The ancient monastic communities may have preserved the knowledge and memory of the Classical world, but they did not preserve the culture of their day, they created the seeds of a new culture, which became Western Civilization and which is now as morally and spiritually bankrupt as was the Classical world in the 4th and 5th centuries.
Each national people and whole countries could theoretically escape the deluge that attends the collapse of a civilization into its final phase of caesarism, but usually they don’t. But the emergence of new structures and forms, suited to the genesis phase of a new civilization, occurs during this decline. This becomes the new center for the few who won’t merely be swept along insensibly in the currents of spiritual, sociocultural, economic, and political decline. Most people will be swept along, few will find the new forms and structures, and these few along with their heirs, according to the historical record, generally become the progenitors of the first nobility and royalty of the next civilization. (New noble and royal families usually emerge even after the new civilization is established, which is a different dynamic.)
I’m not arguing for monarchy or anything like that, I’m arguing that this is the historical reality. Regardless of the nomenclature, however, the heirs of those who hold their own center during a decline scenario will tend to fair better than everyone else.
We have to be honest and admit our civilization is in decline and our country has more or less chosen the path of going with the flow of that civilization. While we can seek to divert our country to the path of a new civilization, and we should, the only way to guarantee a secure future for ourselves and our posterity is to find and actualize our own center through the forms and structures of a new civilization. In fact, our chances of diverting our country to the path of the new civilization may hinge on our ability to live lives that are neither controlled and influenced by nor dependent upon the forms and structures of the old civilization.
If we don’t hold to our own center, we must follow the current over the falls.