Letter: Spengler and the 'decline of the West'

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ANNE McElvoy's perceptive piece ("We've taken the West fo granted for so long ...", 1 February) brought some consolation for the departure from the Independent on Sunday of the unblinkered Neal Ascherson.

But if Spengler is to be invoked, it may be kind to warn any girding their loins to read him that he has so little to say about "the decline of the West" that one suspects the "sunset" title (far more potent in German) was a catchpenny wheeze; he is much more concerned with ancient Egypt and China. True, after the Great War and the October Revolution, his Darwinian theory of how a civilisation ossifies into ceremony and pattern until overwhelmed by a creed-inspired neighbour did have European relevance. But he did not foresee the communications tidal wave which has bestowed on all social creeds, from asceticism to licence, from charity to terror, the gifts of ubiquity and equal prominence, thus uprooting the hedges within which civilisations could stay put or evolve as they had done for millennia. Today, as Mr Ascherson took pains to stress, any systematic overview will have to accommodate a subversive jostling within mosaic societies, at once more fragmented and universal than anything known before. The dilemma for any propagator of "Western" values now lies in their contamination by the seductive dross with which commerce subverts the stabilising values of non-western societies.

Bernard Noble

The Hague, Netherlands

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