A sobering centenary

Dr. Norman Bailey

The extreme concentration of wealth makes Oswald Spengler's "The Decline of the West" look alarmingly relevant, 100 years on.

Between 1921 and 1923, the German philosopher Oswald Spengler, published the two volumes of his masterwork, "The Decline of the West." According to Spengler, World War I was a civil war within the West that heralded the beginning of the decline of Western civilization.

Spengler did not live to experience the second chapter of the decline, World War II, or the third chapter, The Cold War. Taken together, these three conflicts occupied more than half of the twentieth century, and much of the rest of it was taken up by the Great Depression and various bouts of hyper-inflation.

Despite all that, by the end of the century the latest Paladin of Western civilization, The United States, bestrode the world like a benign colossus. Francis Fukuyama, the American political scientist, declared that this heralded "The End of History", with the triumph of political democracy and the market economy. It should only have been so.

Now, only over twenty years later, and a hundred years since Spengler declared the decline of the West, the United States is a pathetic, whiney giant, stumbling about the world in a display of ineptitude which is undoubtedly causing hilarity in centers as widespread as Beijing, Pyongyang, Tehran and Moscow.

Western civilization has plenty of external enemies, but its most serious threats, undoubtedly, come from within, just as Spengler said. Invective instead of dialogue, political, economic and social hatred, instead of coexistence. The collapse of classical education, beauty in art and music, and a birthrate in precipitous decline, all herald an internal collapse all too reminiscent of the decline and fall of previous civilizations. Most serious of all is the decay of Judeo-Christian morality with the spread of aggressive secularization, and of Greco-Roman civil ethics.

One of the most obvious manifestations of decline is the obscene concentration of wealth in a tiny percent of the population. This benefits those who service the super-wealthy: lawyers, accountants, managers, scientists and technicians, who altogether represent perhaps 10 to 12 percent of the population. The shrinkage of the middle class and lower middle class, and the absence of social mobility for those out of work and those in dead-end jobs, create a highly dangerous social situation which is ripe for exploitation by demagogues of right and left, as well as greatly increasing political corruption and the growth of the criminal economy, often in alliance with terrorist organizations.

In the US alone, we have excellent examples of policies and programs that can halt and reverse the concentration of wealth, among them cooperatives, employee stock ownership plans and community investment trusts or corporations. There is no excuse whatever not to promote the adoption of such structures, not only in the US but in other countries, including Israel.

An American think-tank, the Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ), has developed the model of an "Economic Democracy Act", which can be adapted to local circumstances. I heartily recommend that Israeli political and intellectual leaders look into this initiative. Those with a stake in society are not likely to support individuals or groups which want to tear it down.

Dr. Norman Bailey is professor of Economic Statecraft at the Galilee International Management Institute, and adjunct professor at the Institute of World Politics, Washington DC. Dr. Bailey was a senior staff member of the National Security Council during the Reagan administration and of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence during the George W. Bush administration.  

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 14, 2021.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2021.

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