The Long View: The Perfection of the West

The Perfection of the West is one of John's self-published books, an anthology of the writings on his blog. It is an attempt to build a thematic whole out of his writings, and I think he succeeds. You can still order the book from xlibris. I've copied the table of contents on this page,  with links to each article or essay.

The Perfection of the West
By John J. Reilly

There was certainly at least one way in which the great 20th-century macrohistorians were wildly misleading: the expectation that the West would become increasingly amoral as it passed into a season of pure power politics. Postmodern theory, maybe, tended to move beyond good and evil, but postmodernism is really just a phase of late modernism, and it shows every sign of being mortal. In contrast, one of the characteristics of today's world is the search for legitimacy, for an ethic suited to a world that Toynbee hoped would become "an ecumenical society with Western characteristics."

This anthology is intended to aid that search. The book has two themes.

The first is that the morphology of history that Spengler and Toynbee described is essentially correct. Yes, the modern world has turned out to be very much like Hellenistic times. Yes, the modern international system is probably going to coalesce into a global version of the Roman Empire. Yes, the real post-modern age, the age that will follow when the modern era is really past, will lack something of the cultural innovation and democratic ethos of modernity. Very little of this is happening in quite the way that macrohistorians expected in 1920 or even 1950. However, simple realism requires that we acknowledge the shape of the future will resemble that of late antiquity in important ways.

The other theme is that this future is not necessarily a tragedy, or even a "decline." As the items in this anthology remind readers more than once, Oswald Spengler himself denied he was a pessimist: instead of The Decline of the West, he said that he might have called his big book The Completion of the West or The Perfection of the West. Sometimes it is hard to know what to make of intellectual misnomers of this sort. Spengler's contemporary, Albert Einstein, once remarked that a better popular title for Special Relativity would have been "The Theory of Invariance." If that is what these people meant, then why didn't they say so in the first place? Be that as it may, this book embraces Spengler's more sanguine interpretation of the trajectory of the modern world: the work of the modern age is to produce the final forms of the West, the culture and institutions that will last as long as the civilization of the West endures. In Spengler's model, that need not be forever, but it could also be a very long time.

What makes it worthwhile to take another look at these ideas at the beginning of the 21st century? In part, because the speculations of Spengler and the other macrohistorians were so often wrong. For instance, the contemporary course of globalization is quite contrary to Spengler's state-driven model of economics. Toynbee's surmise that the fate of the world would be resolved by a "knock-out blow" of one superpower by another now seems very unlikely to come true. Even when the macrohistorians seem to have been right about the structure of history, their imaginations failed them with regard to the specifics. Thanks to the passage of time, this anthology can provide many of the specifics. We can see the often-ironic ways in which a philosophy of history has turned into real history.

The imaginations of the macrohistorians failed them regarding evil as well as good. The Perfection of the West also deals with some of the dark alternative histories. Although the 20th century seems to have avoided the worst possible outcomes, there are imaginable final forms for the West that would mean a civilization of waking nightmare. These futures are not likely, but the currents that would make them possible still flow underground. Folly and malice could bring them to the surface again.

* * *
A glance at the Table of Contents to the left will show regular visitors to this website that the material in The Perfection of the West is not new. The book consists of book reviews and essays, most of which have already appeared on this site and in print. All this work has, of course, been edited. There has been some reorganization of the texts, particularly with an eye to reducing repetition. (Some readers may think two eyes would have been even better.) Still, this material can be offered again, in book form, with a clear conscience. For one thing, +70,000 words are a great deal to read in electronic format, even on sites with better resolution than this one. (An ebook version is nonetheless available from the publisher, by the way.) More important, I hope that presenting these items in this order will clarify the key ideas I have been trying to get across through this website. Yes, there really is a point to all these menus and subpages, or at least there is supposed to be. The Perfection of the West should help make it portable.

Table of Contents


Part I
Terminal States

The World After Modernity
(The archetype of the Once and Future Empire: Presented at the Sixth Annual Conference of the Center for Millennial Studies, Boston 2001.)

Prophet of Decline
(John Farrenkopf's groundbreaking contribution to Spengler Studies, including the conclusion that Oswald Spengler's late thought went beyond historical cyclicity.)

Tragedy & Hope
(In this key text of conspiracy theory, Carroll Quigley explains why the future is the Holy Roman Empire.)

(Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt's postmodern plot to overthrow the City of God.)

Our Global Neighborhood

(The Report of the Commission on Global Governance, setting out a plan for world governance and a new People of the World: Culture Wars, September 1995.)

Part II
Imperial Ethics

One World
(Peter Singer urges global government with a redistributionist ethic.)

Warrior Politics
(Robert Kaplan urges Peace with Teeth: First Things, June/July 2002.)

Tribe and Empire
(In a new “Essay on the Social Contract," Patrick E. Kennon argues that the Nation must give way to the Empire.)

Part III
The Great Republic

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes
(G. Edward White's biography of a decisive man during the Decisive Lifetime: Culture Wars, January 1996.)

TR: The Last Romantic
(Theodore Roosevelt, in this biography by H. W. Brands, gives imperialism a good name: Culture Wars, March 1998.)

A Republic, Not an Empire
(Patrick J. Buchanan explains why the US should not have entered either 20th-century world war.)

The Coming Caesars
(Amaury de Riencourt applies The Decline of the West to the United States.)

Part IV
The Evil Empire

After the Third Age
(Esoteric Fascism and the Future of the West: Presented at the Seventh Annual Conference of the Center for Millennial Studies, Boston 2002.)

The Dreamer of the Day

(Kevin Coogan's account of the life and times of the Red-Brown conspirator, Francis Parker Yockey.)

(Francis Parker Yockey explains how the outcome of the Second World War will be reversed.)

Men Among the Ruins
(The thought of the strangely influential Baron Julius Evola.)

Part V
Late Culture

From Dawn to Decadence
(Jacques Barzun explains the meaning of the past 500 years: First Things, November 2000.)

Art Lessons
(Alice Goldfarb Marquis on the decline and fall of the National Endowment for the Arts: Culture Wars, February 1996.)

At the End of an Age
(John Lukacs on the end of the Modern Age, and maybe the of the world.)

Part VI

The Seafort Saga
(David Feintuch's series: the Empire is a democratic theocracy, with space ships.)

The Cunning Man
(Robertson Davies mixes Spengler and the Perennial Philosophy.)

The Glass Bead Game
(In Hermann Hesse's famous novel of the future, perfection is not enough.)


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  The Perfection of the West By John J. Reilly