Dangerous patterns of decadence in today’s world

By Sener Akturk

Nietzsche once said, “Decay is universal and the sickness goes deep” (The Birth of Tragedy and the Case of Wagner).

Our Age is most certainly an age of decadence. But we should not forget that decadence in dominant civilizations coincides with an awakening and a rebirth in peripheral civilizations. As decadence, disintegration, and sublime darkness dooms half of the whole, a divine Dawn shows her rosy fingers in the other half. This Dawn will eventually illuminate the whole.

Decadence, as illumination, is systemic, and as such, it contaminates all aspects of life, including language and culture, arts and sciences, work and leisure.

Systemic Decadence, as I choose to call it, has an overall pattern that can be summarized as such: the whole disappears and the particles declare their independence. The relationship among the particles — that is, the order that maintains the whole — disappears.

Simultaneously, what is real and tangible is abandoned in favor of contemplation and pure speculation. Overall, life is abandoned — first by the intellectuals, and perhaps by the people, if the tangible is abandoned in favor of contemplation and pure speculation. Daily life, and anything that relates to the lives of the people, is abandoned because life as such is horrible and thus unbearable for the alienated ivory-tower intellectuals in an Age of Decadence.

There is evidence of literary decadence. “What is the sign of every literary decadence? The life no longer dwells in the whole. The word becomes sovereign and leaps out of the sentence, the sentence reaches out and obscures the meaning of the page, the page gains life at the expense of the whole. But this is the simile of every style of decadence: every time, the anarchy of atoms, disintegration of the will, ‘freedom of the individual,’ to use moral terms … expanded into a political theory… Everywhere paralysis, arduousness, torpidity or hostility and chaos… The whole no longer lives at all; it is composite, calculated, artificial and artifact”(Ibid).

There is also evidence of philosophical decadence. As already noted, in an Age of Decadence, theories that emphasize the individual at the expense of the whole become the central features of social, political and cultural policies. As such, liberalism, especially in its most speculative and idealist form, is the ideology of decadence par excellence.

Deliberate ignorance towards peoples’ lives, disdain and disgust towards material reality, elaborated and embodied in a decadent Idealism and Individualism triumphs over the materialism of tangible and intangible reality and any conceptualization of “society-as-a-whole.”

“Academia as an ivory tower” has always been, and will always be, the primary symptom of Decadence. Plato is resurrected and becomes the King of Academia. Through Plato’s dialogues the decadents – the more visionary, educated and illuminated among them – hope to reconstruct the aristocratic-oligarchic slave-trader state of Athens. Ancient Greece, that monstrous archetype of all decadent societies, the first successful colonizer and slave trader in the world, that “murderer of civilizations,” is being held up as a model of pure civilization. (A sick tendency is to purify life by getting rid of its reality, to idealize it.) Indeed, it seems as if the historical task, the teleology, of Decadent tendencies, is to rebuild the Ancient Greece and order the cosmos according to the “Colonizer’s Model of the World” (as in J. Blaut’s book with the same title).

What then? An unending dancing and whirling around such a decadent New World Order till the darkness of ignorance, constantly reviving itself in a twilight of idols, consumes the breath and blood of its whirling dervishes. They cannot even die since they never lived in the first place. They cannot be blamed for their general weakening since the dialectics of Decadence allowed and forced them to survive as the living dead.

Decadence is a “systemic failure” that is inherent and inescapable in all systems of inequality. As such, it is perfectly consistent and universal in its symptoms, and it does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion or occupation, as it corrupts and decomposes a social whole.

One can observe the characteristic symptoms of decadence that Nietzsche observed in a decadent musician (Wagner). In any decaying individual, whether he is a politician, a genetic engineer, or a soccer player: “What Wagner has in common with the others? I’ll enumerate it: the decline of power to organize; the misuse of traditional means without the capacity to furnish any justification… excessive liveliness in the smallest parts… more and more nerves in place of flesh” (Ibid). And he adds: “He flatters every nihilistic instinct… every religious expression of decadence.” The decadent individual is a nihilist, an anarchist, an idealist and a liberal at the same time; it is against his legacy to engage in a social construction; he merely destroys and destroys til he destroys himself. Through his self-destruction, he convinces himself of his own righteousness.