“There’s . . . that strange phenomenon where every generation thinks that the next one’s standards are fatally declining.” 
He who talks of this strange phenomenon needn’t have given much thought to its existence; he requires only short-sightedness and pig-ignorance in the service of progressive whiggery to believe in it, helped by the democratic habit of reaffirming an opinion heard a thousand times. He cannot be accused of having surveyed the prevailing opinions of men in all generations throughout history; even if he could, he would not be bothered to extend his thoughts so far, and besides, he would be bothered thereby to find his claim falsified. Rather he observes in recent generations the opinion expressed that standards are declining, and he perhaps knows of a few examples of such an opinion uttered in the ancient world, wherefrom he comes to the conclusion that it has been the prevailing opinion in every generation of man, and that he should therefore pay it no heed.
.....It simply does not occur to him that standards of many kinds are declining; and that these standards have been declining for a long time, and that the process has been noticed. If he is himself an enthusiastic part of the decline, he will not see his own presence and that of his fellows as a decline, but rather as a progress; after all, it is his generation and its low standards with which he identifies that are triumphing. Effectively he banishes from thought any consideration of the possibility of decline, and vows not to sit in judgement upon the next generation, which he will allow to decline further.
.....Yet, in dreaming up his strange phenomenon, he was almost right: in periods of change there have been men of historical consciousness who have had the capacity to express regret for what has already passed, which is in part a recognition of the transitoriness of the world, and who have feared also the loss of whatever they themselves have inherited, urgently seeking to secure its preservation in the next generation. Modernism is the predominance of another kind of man, who is more like a machine-part in a process: a man who says good riddance to all past things, and who tolerates every kind of degradation for the future too. He is the most shallow and complacent creature ever to walk on two legs, and I include pigeons.
.....All those German pessimists were right: the dullness of progressive optimism would one day be such that so few people would be able to recognize their own degraded state, but rather would even congratulate themselves for it.
 “Labourpartysuicide”, commenting on Mark Lawson, “That golden age? It never happened, except in the minds of pessimists”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 1st August 2008.
Monday, 4 August 2008
“There’s . . . that strange phenomenon where every generation thinks that the next one’s standards are fatally declining.”