West Declining, Africa Self-Destructing, Korea

By Beichman, Arnold | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 6, 2002 | Go to article overview

West Declining, Africa Self-Destructing, Korea


Beichman, Arnold, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Arnold Beichman

Oswald Spengler has been called the "creator of the modern thesis of historical decline." His surname has become an adjective as in "spenglerian pessimism," although that philosophical doctrine is to be found in the speculations of Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer. But Spengler's book, "Decline of the West," published in 1922, is still regarded as a major and influential contribution to the philosophy of history. In 1942, James Burnham published "Suicide of the West" and Patrick Buchanan has topped them with his forthcoming "The Death of the West."

Spengler argued that every civilization is a living organism in its own right and recapitulates the story of the individual man - childhood, youth, manhood and old age. And then, of course, the grave. Thus the Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations had their day and died. Western civilization, he wrote, has not yet completed its life cycle.

John Farrenkopf's Prophet of Decline: Spengler on World History and Politics (Louisiana State University Press, $65 cloth, $24.95, paper, 304 pages), an intellectual biography of one of the great thinkers of the 20th century, is a superb piece of writing and research. Its timing couldn't, unhappily for us, be more appropriate in the Day of Osama bin Laden, AIDS, weapons of mass destruction, ethnic conflict, Saddam Hussein and who knows what other joys are ahead.

* * *

Africa: A Continent Self-Destructs by Peter Schwab (St. Martin's Press, $26.95, 212 pages) is another cheerless report on sub-Saharan Africa which follows the usual formulation of academic specialists. The United States, global miracle-worker, could, had it really tried, rescue this tormented continent from any one or all of these afflictions: civil wars, ethnic conflict, the AIDS epidemic, hunger, human rights abuses, serfdom, kleptocracy, soaring infant mortality rates and all other Pandoran tribulations.

The author, a political scientist at the State University of New York, is a well-known human rights activist and a fine scholar. A lot of the blame for the African disaster, he says, is due to America's "bungling," its refusal, regardless of what party is in the White House, to get involved. But is that accusation correct?

No post-colonial area got as much U.S. attention, interest, investment as(spade) sub-Saharan Africa going back to the days of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. White House dinners, presidential and vice-presidential visits to Africa, scholarships, AFL-CIO union activity, Peace Corps, vocational training schemes and money, money, money. It's no secret where all the money went. And 50 years later we have tens of millions dying of AIDS and tens of millions already dead, no access to clean drinking water by 70 per cent of Africans, child slavery, genocidal attacks on neighbors, dictatorships everywhere.

What many Africanists fail to consider is that sub-Saharan Africa may represent a problem which no single Western country, let alone the United Nations, can solve. Bernard de Jouvenel has suggested that political scientists ought to consider that certain political problems are insoluble. I wonder whether sub-Saharan Africa warrants such consideration.

* * *

Geoffrey Blainey, the author of A Short History of the World (Ivan R. Dee, $27.50, 480 pages, maps) is a controversial Australian historian who has dared to do the impossible: Write a history of the world in 500 pages. (The original edition was 669 pages but it's been cut for some reason. …

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