August 7, 2012

Western Civilization Is Obsolete

Providing sufficient relief to end physical hardship and formulating a program aimed to achieve social justice is outside the scope of western civilization. Its institutions were not designed to share abundance. On the contrary, they reached their present proportions of planetwide diffusion under an economy of scarcity so organized that only a propertied and privileged minority of mankind, with their middle class retinues, could enjoy e necessaries and comforts, leaving the vast majority in the outer darkness of hunger, malnutrition, periodic famine, inadequate housing, ill health, ignorance, superstition and despair. A social pattern which has served for a thousand years as a means of benefiting the few at the expense of the many must be redesigned and rebuilt before it can serve as an instrument of shared abundance. Until that rebuilding is completed the obsolete social pattern must continue to be one of the chief obstacles blocking the path to social improvement.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to state that western civilization has had a thousand years to demonstrate its capacity to assimilate and utilize the abundance which science and technology make possible and, barring accidents, inevitable. By any standard of judgment the results of this millenium of testing permit only one interpretation: the outlooks, activities and institutions of western civilization are inadequate to share abundance or to achieve social justice.

First, it has been operated for generations by an aristocratic-business minority to defend and promote minority interests. This minority has concerned itself with the general welfare only in so far as advancing the general welfare furthered minority interests. Consequently, in the chief centers of western civilization (the capitals and the commercial and industrial cities) poverty and riches have existed side by side as two parts of the establishment. The oligarchs drew their necessary cheap exploitable labor and their cannon fodder from among the poor.

The countryside of civilized nations was run by and for the landlords who used unpaid forced labor or wretchedly paid seasonal farm hands to do the necessary work. Poverty was so widespread and exploitation was so savage in the countryside, especially in the more fertile areas, that workers hoping to better their lot fled to city slums as an escape from countryside under-employment, degradation and wretchedness.

Second, throughout their history the civilized oligarchies which decided the policies of European nations, devoted their energies to the concentration and monopoly of wealth and power in their own hands. Their chief source of wealth was the ownership of land in the countryside and of land and capital in the cities. Property ownership, one of the pillars of western civilization, enabled the owners to live without labor and accumulate rent and profit by exploiting the labor power of poverty-ridden peoples.

Third, during the last four centuries of western civilization, oligarchies of the wealthiest and most powerful European nations organized colonial empires in the Americas, Asia and Africa by invading, occupying, and sometimes colonizing the conquered territory, plundering its wealth and using slave labor, forced labor and grossly exploited wage labor to provide the European imperialists with cheap food and raw materials, captive markets and investment opportunities in which they made super profits. Living standards among the colonials were even lower than the poverty levels among workers in the European homelands. Such shocking conditions persisted until colonial independence movements and revolts put an end to the imperial-colonial relationship.

Fourth, the major political preoccupation of West European oligarchs was preparation for war and the waging of wars, organized by the oligarchs and fought by the healthiest and sturdiest sons of the people. The oligarchs planned and officered military operations. During the later centuries businessmen made fortunes providing money, supplies and weapons. It was into these wicked and wasteful enterprises that the West poured its wealth and manpower during five centuries of competitive free enterprise empire building.

Fifth, the economic, political and social institutions of the West were developed during an era of economic scarcity, intensified by the wastes of war and conspicuous consumption. Ideas, practices and institutions generated under conditions of scarcity cannot be adapted easily to conditions resulting from the abundance developed by mechanized and automated assembly lines.

Sixth, during the half century following 1910, western civilization suffered a catastrophic breakdown, including two general, devastating wars; economic inflation, insolvency and depression; planetwide colonial independence movements, and the rise, after 1917, of a socialist sector which presently includes about one-third of the planet.

The accumulation of this mass of damaging evidence led up to the anti-imperialist and essentially anti-western movement which has played so conspicuous a part in the international relations of the 1960s. On the face of the evidence, western civilization stands condemned as inadequate, anti-social and obsolete.

Leaders of western civilization do not aim at adapting their outmoded social apparatus to mechanized productivity with its consequent abundance, shared among the planet’s inhabitants on the basis of need. On the contrary, since 1946 they have utilized the surpluses of their vast mechanical, automated productivity to plan, construct and stockpile weapons of mass destructivity which threaten the existence on the planet of the entire human race.

Advocates of the new capitalism or “people’s capitalism” (symbolized by states like Britain and France, with large public sectors in their economies and an extended welfare program; or most important, the United States — the home of assembly-line production and widely distributed stock ownership in giant trusts and cartels) argue that western civilization has made a come-back and is adapting itself to the mandates of mechanization and abundance. The facts do not support this contention. Not only has widespread poverty continued among members of the Atlantic Alliance, but the Cold War, waged since 1946 against socialism-communism, is directed against the principle that income should be distributed according to need.

The weight of evidence today makes it probable that the coalition of empires and former empires, led by Washington, will fight another general war rather than permit the socialization of the social means of production, the ending of exploitation and unearned income, and the distribution of abundance according to need.

Recent developments, particularly the direction and scope of the Cold War, lead to only one conclusion: western civilization is out of line with presentday trends toward social justice, symbolized by shared abundance, and is the victim of internal contradictions and conflicts which must eventuate in its self-destruction.

(from Chapter VI, The Conscience of a Radical, Scott Nearing, Harborside, Maine: Social Science Institute, 1965)

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