“Prosperity” is one of those things which most people would say is a good thing. Nearly everyone wants “prosperity,” in whatever way they may define it. Yet, how to secure it is a question which creates quite a bit of division, and has indeed birthed many of the almost innumerable ideological conflicts that have plagued the modern world. I believe that much of this has to do with the failure on the part of modern man to adopt a rational definition of “prosperity.”
The typical Westerner today, and especially the American, would tend to define “prosperity” in solely economic terms. For them, prosperity is that which leads to economic growth and a greater abundance of superficial expressions of wealth such as access to entertainments or the possession of various status symbols. Prosperity would be measured in increasing GDP, more electronic baubles on the shelf at Best Buy, and an ever-rising stock market index.
However, there is a good argument that can be made that these are not really “prosperity,” in a reasonable and traditional sense of the word. The traditional sense of “prosperity” which has applied for most of human history (once again, we find modernism to be an aberration here, as it is in much else) can best be summed up in the Hebrew (shalowm) and Greek (eirēnē) terms, found in the Scriptures, which the ancients used. Both of these terms transcend the shallow and materialistic sense which modern Western man applies to “prosperity.” Rather, “prosperity” involved a deeper sense of spiritual, moral, and mental peace (indeed, “peace” is a common translation of both of those words). It portended an absence of conflict, not just in the bare sense of not fighting with someone else, but more broadly in leading a stable, well-grounded, balanced life that was suitable for your station in life. To the extent that it involved economics, it did so in the sense of communal abundance grounded in hard work and industry which allowed individuals within a community to lead lives secure from hunger or privation, rather than speculation in commodities or eternal pursuit of wealth and trinkets.
One of the biggest mysteries that plagues the world of neoconservatism is the question of why the end of history – that final triumph of liberal democracy and consumer capitalism – hasn’t occurred yet. All around the world in many different cultures and nations there is a strenuous reaction against these very things. Indeed, even in the western core – Western Europe and the Anglosphere – there is increasing skepticism about these tenets of the Enlightenment.
The question which the neoconservatives ask is, “Why do they hate us?” This question increasingly applies to pretty much everybody all over the world, but most especially to the Muslim world. Instead of seeing Fukuyama’s end of history, we’re seeing Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilisations. It seems to many of the neocons that the Muslim world is simply being obstinately ungrateful in refusing to recognize the blessings of democracy, secularism, and hedonism being imposed upon them by the force of Western military might.
Now, far be it from me to defend Islam itself or to defend the terroristic tactics which Muslims use. Certainly, I find Islam to be a false religion and Muslims to be primitive barbarians for the most part. However, my attitude toward them tends to be one of desiring to neither invade them nor invite them. I’m perfectly happy to let them do what they want in their own lands and to run their own countries as they see fit, so long as their barbarism is not imported into our Western countries.
Of the many pathologies which afflict the modern Western world, one of the most pernicious is the soullessness of Western economic life. The essence of modernity, from an economic point of view, is to work for a repetitive eight hours a day so we can then go home and sit in front of a television for eight more, or else go out to the mall and buy useless junk that we don’t really need. Many in our societies recognise this problem, but feel powerless to do anything about it. We feel locked in, chained to a system which maximises “economic growth” and minimises our humanity. We have no choice but to feed the relentless machine of “progress” by offering ourselves as sacrifices to the great god Mammon.
Modern Western man finds himself in the grip of monergocapitalism – the inexorable, undivided will of the economic imperative. Many may be familiar with the Calvinistic theological position of monergism, which essentially posits that God will work through His Holy Spirit to bring about the regeneration of individuals whom He chooses, regardless of their actual cooperation with Him. The term comes from the Greek mono (“one, single”) + ergon (“to work”). Essentially, God’s action AND will alone (as it is often applied) are involved in the theological process of salvation. By analogy, economic monergocapitalism follows the same line – the only acts and will that matter are those of the capitalist imperative, the “invisible hand” that drives all transactions, all goals, all desires, all purposes. All economic life is ever more centralised, ever more monopolistic, ever more fitted into the same mold. To attempt to hinder in any way the progress of this economic imperative is to be a regressive, to be a heretic and a reprobate. Everything must be subsumed under the economic will, even the very essence of human life itself. We in the West have indeed reached the point where the human body itself, even that of the unborn child, is subject to dismantlement and sale to the highest bidder. Likewise with the human soul, captured by the vapid entertainments and propaganda of a society which enslaves the mind to the plasma screen TV.
What we see going on with respect to this monergocapitalism is an extension of the larger and more overall tyranny over mankind of “technique” which was discussed by Jacques Ellul in his book The Technological Society. In it, he discusses the role which technique (which extends far beyond mere machine technology) and its advancement plays in dominating human society ever more thoroughly. Technique is, essentially, any means by which any realm of the human life is regulated, systematised, and organised in what we might call “inorganic” ways. Mankind has always had technology and methods of organising his life, and had even had fitful starts at systematic science. However, it is only since the late 18th century (i.e. coinciding with the full efflorescence of “Enlightenment” thought) that human industry and life began to be dominated by “technique” in such a way that “progress” became formalised as a social aim and the function of economic competition became enshrined as the single acceptable driving force in society, with all others such as religion and morality being shunted to the side as “not useful.” Both man and machines were subordinated to the drive for economic improvement and advancement.
Tradition is one of those terms that’s easy to use, but hard to define. Everyone has their own particular idea of what it suggests, and then, of course, there is the fact that one nation’s general set of traditions may be vastly different from another’s. So in my discussion below, I’m going to implicitly use the term to mean “Western” traditions. When we talk about the traditions of the West, what do we really mean? Are we longing for a turn away from the sort of technological society which we have built since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution? Are we merely talking about a return to simpler days of our nostalgia? What is being said?
I believe we can say that even outside of the realm of Neoreaction and Tradition, there is an increasing sense of dissatisfaction among many Westerners with the direction in which our societies are going – a dissatisfaction that is arising from a rightward direction. For many, this sense may be inchoate and inarticulable, but it’s there. Others may be able to give voice to their complaints, but only inadequately, or in the wrong directions, mistaking symptoms for causes. It’s fine to discuss the symptoms, but let us not mistake them for the root origins of the many sicknesses that afflict the West which result from turning from our traditions.
There is a strong strain among those who long for a return to the “good ol’ days” to equate modernity (for that is really what we’re condemning) with technology and/or science. In many ways it is similar to the “noble savage” mythology that has persisted for centuries in Western thought. Technology itself is bad and dehumanising; primitivism is good and natural and in line with the human spirit. In many ways, then, the Amish and other pietistic sects who reject modern technologies are the most authentically Western among us.