I don’t specifically disagree with any of this but feel it’s over stated.
There have been plenty of ideologies in the 20th century and they are much the same as ideologies from previous ones. They’re always a mish mash of new ideas with a core that is mostly old ideas. You can date back English socialist thought to the reformation and the Civil War radicals like the Levellers. They had broadly similar aims, were dealing with broadly similar problems and had broadly similar demands. Yet the way the discussed it in the 17th century was deeply religious and in the 20th century deeply not. There is both continuity there and difference. That’s just a continual normal process though. So I don’t think the west presented a vacuum of ideology, or that any other time or place has ever presented a particularly unified one. There is something to the idea of the west showing a lack of ambition/confidence/leadership/ideas in a coherent way that would have been constructive, but that just seems like business as usual. I wish we could do better though.
Since the end of the Cold War, individualism and secularism has taken very firm root in Western Europe, but has offered nothing to fill the vacuum that the decline of Christian society created. People now feel isolated and without common ground to a degree which is unprecedented and exacerbated by social media and cultural habit. In its Hyper capitalist comfort, the West has stagnated, outside the areas of technology and economy. A focus on social mobility and progress, which was the hallmark of nations in the late 19th century and in reality the bedrock of western comfort in the 20th, has been put aside. There’s nothing vital about the West, and there are increasing tensions between the current generation in power who actively refuse to help or allow the coming generation to take the reigns. Current power structures are maintained by people who are ill equipped to deal with the threat of entirely new problems to their generation.
I think this is off a bit as well. Social mobility was a hallmark of absolutely no nations in the 19th century, except a slow trickle of 5-10% of a population moving into professions/middle class/nouveau riche. People placed a lot of emphasis on progress back then but they also thought eugenics was part of that. We don’t live in some moribund period of time where that’s all gone. Those things are still far better than they were 120 years ago, capitalism itself is far more tempered by government than it was back then as well. Capitalism is going through a crisis at the moment but it’s not necessarily different to the ones it went through at the end of the 18th century, the 1870s-1880s or the 1940s. The capitalist period has encompased a lot of different social arrangements and power structures over the last 300 years.
Meanwhile, while we were enjoying unprecedented degrees of economic safety in the West, the Middle East was getting bombed to fuck and having its political make up constantly re-engineered by the Cold War powers. The wake of this was war and instability. People have been drawn together against a common, persistent enemy and they don’t have the life expectancy or opportunities to live for to make the idea of striking out as an individual appealing.
So I think the fundamental crisis is actually one of a well protected but incoherent, confused and atomised set of individuals versus the concept of a disenfranchised but united collective. The scary thing is that the momentum of the latter almost by definition halts that of the former by default.
The conclusion that needs to be drawn, and understood, in my opinion, is that the logical end point of where the West is at now, regardless of ISIS or otherwise, is oblivion, because never before in history has any group of people survived on the basis that they don’t need each other. Which is absolutely the way we’re going.
I think “us” being disorganised and individualistic is holding us back from being better. But I don’t think we’re heading to oblivion, at least not in this way. Things are mostly pootling along much as they always have, which is to say things change in stages while a lot stays the same. People still behave and work in groups in a fundamental way and those deep social roots are not being dissolved. The political organisation of solidarity and the political ability to operate levers in a way that is for the common good instead of individual selfishness are broken right now. I’m not convinced that spells oblivion rather than being a blip; or that the 1940s-1980s wasn’t the blip and we’re just going back to business as usual the way it worked for centuries. It’s not like those centuries spelled oblivion for the west.
Problems we face now that seem kind of insurmountable within the capitalist system we have, in my mind, are ones around work and automation (specifically who owns the capital), global warming and trans-national companies. There are really no effective mechanisms for dealing with any of this in an organised way, and the west is deeply bereft of any thought to deal with it.
At the end of the day people are alienated from capital and power; increasingly so but people always have been. It’s going to get worse but it’s not clear that’s either oblivion or different to business as usual. The real difference is the global nature of it now, which has eroded any given government’s ability to do jack shit about anything.
NOTE: Drunk, so apologies for spelling.