Can Western Civilization Survive?

Wayne Carlson
May 6, 2001

Few would argue with the assumption that it is preferable to live in a civilized society as opposed to an uncivilized one. My Webster’s dictionary describes a civilization as the process of civilizing or becoming civilized. Countries and peoples that reach a high stage of social, intellectual, and cultural refinement are said to be civilized. To civilize means that a nation or people come out of a primitive or savage condition and improve in general habits or manners. Most of us today are the beneficiaries of what is commonly accepted as “Western Civilization”. This civilization, having its origin in Europe, over time, came to “civilize” the barbaric tribesmen that had previously known little but savage cruelty, rapine, and internecine warfare. Western civilization has also been called Christian civilization because it has been Christianity that has served as the binding force for its rules of conduct and law. Society’s actions, both individually and collectively, were confirmed, ratified, or rejected based upon Christian principles of right and wrong.

The Republic that emerged here in 1776 was certainly the product of that civilization, yet history teaches us that civilizations, even extremely powerful ones, are nonetheless vulnerable, over time, to corruption, decay, and eventual collapse. Lord Alexander Fraser Tytler (1747-1813) noted that the world’s great civilizations generally progress through a similar series of cycles. A natural question should arise from what follows as to our own susceptibility to the pattern of these historical cycles. Civilizations emerge from

“Bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back again to bondage.”

Our general dependency on government to solve all of the myriad problems that beset our society today leads us to wonder when the chains of bondage will begin to register on our collective consciousness. In light of a recent study that showed that when all of the taxes are figured into the cultivation, harvesting, manufacture, packaging, transportation, and sale of everything we consume, we pay 61% of our income to the government, one begins to ponder where bondage begins and our self-proclaimed liberty ends.

In presently wading through a wonderful book called, The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver, I came across an applicable quote by W. B. Yeats who describes the first sign of the decay of civilization as a process that results in the “sinking in upon the moral being”. Weaver, expounding upon this point declares, “Those who throw aside the traditions of civilized self-restraint are traveling a road at the end of which lies nihilism”.

Nihilism is the general rejection of customary beliefs in morality or religion. It includes the belief that there is no meaning or purpose in existence and that there is no basis for absolute truth or knowledge. This obvious rejection of Christianity, and thus of Western Civilization, has many adherents today. In the realm of politics these people promise to completely destroy our long existing social, political, economic, and cultural institutions. They seek to supplant these institutions through the power of coercion and the heavy hand of government. The traditional family, the sanctity of unborn human life, limited government, and the sovereignty of God, are but a few of the “antiquated superstitions” that must be done away with in order to usher in a utopian new world order. Our present complacency and apathy, coupled with our dependency and foolish trust in government, come some declared national emergency, may very well close the chapter on what remains of Western Civilization and Christendom.

Perhaps it is not coincidental that the last book of the Bible (Revelation 3:2) includes the admonition from Jesus to “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.” It is an admonition that Christians are required to heed, or ignore at their peril, but it is also an admonition that should be seriously contemplated by those who have been the beneficiaries of its many blessings. Those who foolishly believe that man can mold the human heart and construct a man-made utopia on earth invariably turn to political, social, and economic tyranny to coerce compliance. The examples today are plenteous. The only question that remains is, what will you do to preserve your civilization and bequeath its blessings on your children?

I welcome comments at

Mr. Carlson is a staff writer for The Missouri League of the South

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9 may 2001