Terrible events occur in history that devastate the cities that our minds build. The Barbarians sack Rome, and other-named disasters have similarly brought ruin to all past civilisations across time and the globe.
It is hard not to see, from my crumbling Tower of Thucydides, in all the obscure runes of our time, a similar collapse coming for our dominant cultural order. Our culture is fragmenting beyond repair, leaving no common agora in the imaginary cities we dwell in. The canon is trashed and burned. The universities that once protected this culture are now its principal enemies. They no longer fulfil their purpose, that is to bestow to succeeding generations “a store of knowledge and the culture that makes sense of it” (Scruton, The end of the university). Our republics are in distress, after decades of deracination of political institutions, racked by vicious mercenaries, not virtuous citizens. Society is bullied again by Red Guards and twitter mobs. David Attenborough sings his late lament for the dying generations of the flora and fauna of the world. Our planet, and not just the archive of our fleeing angels, is burning.
Fire will destroy the forests where we camped.
Fire will destroy the beaches where we dreamt.
Fire will destroy the libraries where we survive.
Zarathustra will walk, charred and silenced,
From the stands of burning mountain ash
Into the forgotten city
There he will cry to the crowd,Jeff Rich. “The prophet in a box“
What does deep midnight’s voice contend?
Amidst this Götterdämmerung, there are shouting priests of the dying order who proclaim the birth of a New Normal. But history never has turned out the way predicted by Klaus Schwab and the Davoisie of the World Economic Forum. The death of one normal is not succeeded by the reign of a new normal. Only empty courtiers, like Schwab and the consulting firms of the global elite, pretend their order is not ruined, and proclaim “The Normal is Dead. Long Live the New Normal.”
When decadent cultures collapse into ruins, the resilient remnants of the second culture they repressed take hold of their now feral cities. There is strife. There is conflict. There are weeds that spread over the great square. But there are also reseedings of heritage plants that grow in the niches and crevices of the crumbling order. After the sack of Rome, the classical heritage was reseeded in Byzantium and in the monasteries, awaiting its multiple rebirths in the late middle ages and the Renaissance.
Hope in these dark ages comes with those reseedings, not the dethroned masters who preach a Great Reset. To those reseedings we give our faith and our trust. By tending to the regrowth of our human heritage, we commit ourselves to that Coming Renaissance of the Second Culture, as Zbigniew Herbert did voice his great envoy of endurance:
Keep watch – when a light on a hill gives a sign – rise and go
as long as the blood is still turning the dark star in your breast
repeat humanity’s old incantations fairy tales and legends
for that is how you will attain the good you will not attain
repeat great words repeat them stubbornly
like those who crossed a desert and perished in the sand
for this they will reward you with what they have at hand
with the whip of laughter with murder on a garbage heap
go for only thus will you be admitted into the company of cold skulls
to the company of your forefathers: Gilgamesh Hector Roland
the defenders of the kingdom without bounds and the city of ashes
Be faithful GoZbigniew Herbert, “The Envoy of Mr Cogito” The Collected Poems 1956-1998 (2007) pp 333-334.
Image credit: Roman Ruins with a Prophet (1751), Giovanni Paolo Panini , Public Domain, Wikimedia