Western Culture, 2000 AD (or is it CE?)

By Guido Mina di Sospiro (January 2019)

Good and Evil Angels Struggling for the Possession of a Child, William Blake, (1793-94)




Prophets are the incarnation of a dilemma. Their message is quintessentially esoteric, yet they are driven to make it exoteric. As all dilemmas, this cannot be solved, and the usual outcome is the immolation or downfall of the prophet, unless exceptional circumstances temporarily suspend this predicament. Moreover, that there should be the initiate (the prophet) and the uninitiate (the disciples), has become a rather indigestible concept.


Indeed, traditional values such as the teacher-disciple relationship, training, patience, methodicalness, and constancy, have been lost in the sacred and profane spheres alike. For example, in the figurative arts, think for a moment of Jackson Pollock, who based his life’s work on trying to reproduce in paint the patterns made by his long-lost father urinating on stone. Such paintings, to which I used to refer, perhaps flatteringly, as “unappetizing spaghetti”, are on display in many major museums the world over. Clearly, this is not the environment for Cimabue to say to his pupil Giotto, “You have surpassed your teacher.”


And yet, a “prophetic” forum such as this, one that rethinks one’s basic assumptions, feels the duty to promote and divulge esoteric ideas into the public domain. But, what is the state of  popular western culture in the year 2000?


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Consequently, we are made to commiserate a circus of painfully grotesque and implausible characters. This is the culture of the glorification of degradation, and of aimlessness. The film would seem to suggest, perhaps unwittingly, that the degree of freedom enjoyed by the characters is a burden of such magnitude, they simply cannot deal with it.


Twenty-five years ago, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, Or 120 Days Of Sodom portrayed yet more degraded individuals. Some might remember the notorious scene in which a few characters are made to eat human feces. The intent was also, presumably, to shock the bourgeois, as the film was censored, sequestered, etc. Nowadays, the intelligentsia applauds, and lavishes awards to films that not only portray man at his most disoriented worst, but demand our sympathy, and praise.


Decades ago, Ortega y Gasset had warned us: “The sovereignty of the unqualified individual, of the generic human being as such, is no longer a juridical idea, but a psychological state inherent in the average man.” Well, are average man and woman happy? Judging from Almodóvar’s film, not in the least.


And there is more.


A hugely popular recent film reveals another aspect of western culture, possibly more alarming. Titanic tells the fictitious story of a star-crossed love aboard the doomed ship on her maiden voyage. The heroine is betrothed to a rich but callous man for reasons of convenience. However she falls in love, head over heels, with a clandestine passenger, a boyish and penniless painter. As the ship sinks, the rich man selfishly saves himself at the expense of a woman or child, whereas the poor man sacrifices his life so as to save the heroine’s. Millions and millions of young and not-so-young women have wept all the tears they had as they watched this. What do we have here? A clear anti-materialistic message? Yes, but most of all we have a reshuffling of the age-old Tristan myth. Western culture in the year 2000 is, by and large, no longer Christian, yet not secular either. It is, however unknowingly, Manichaean.



Decadence is a comparative concept. Tremendous forces insist in showing us a rosy picture. “Progress,” this term of more than ordinary vagueness, has conscripted many powerful allies down the centuries. Indeed, the whole problem began in Florence, about six centuries ago.


Some jewelers on the Ponte Vecchio were asked to hold gold in their safes by friends and clients. Noticing that the amount of gold removed by owners was only a fraction of the total stored, they realized that they could temporarily lend out some of this gold to citizens in need, obtaining a promissory note for principal and interest. This was the very beginning of the modern banking system. Indeed, the first modern currency was the Florin, employed throughout Europe. Thus usury was legalized by governments, and became banking. This sealed the end of what I call The Age of the Spirit, but modern world calls The Dark Ages.


Later on, Enlightenment further consolidated man in his self-appointed throne, along with whatever was deemed useful in Newton’s physics. (It must be emphasized that Newton was much involved with alchemy, but this would not have been an ally to progress). Then came the -isms, and progress triumphed utterly: Mechanism, Darwinism, Positivism, Determinism, Modernism, and their inevitable offspring: Existentialism, Atheism, Nihilism—Western Culture, A Festival of -Isms.


Anthropocentric, unsubordinated man left to his own devices reminds me of an anaplastic cell, the cancer cell that invades and destroys the surrounding tissue, or system.


Loss of subordination to a spiritual authority came hand in hand with loss in subordination to a temporal authority.


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“Traditional” civilizations, unlike “modern” ones, were based on a different vision of the world. Reality was sacred and spiritual, as opposed to material and materialistic. Consequently, Power, Authority and Sovereignty were not based on the number of votes (which would have been a very outlandish concept indeed), but on a superior and metaphysical origin. In a society living in the time of myth, the divine origin of Power was not absurd, as any contemporary bien pensant would have it, but natural. It was not an abstract, but a concrete and indeed factual concept. The person who incarnated it, the King or Queen, the Monarch, had a twofold function. Not only did he govern his subjects, but was also a go-between with the Authority that, from above, legitimated his power. He or she was, in other words, a pontifex, a bridge-maker.


The Catholic pope is still considered a pontiff, a pontifex, but from the inception of the Christian Church this concept was misapplied. When the Holy Roman Empire was born in 800, its first Emperor was not a pope, but Charlemagne. This fracture between Spiritual and Temporal Power has caused wars, blood-baths and man-made calamities since.


HRH Queen Elizabeth II is “by the Grace of God, Defender of the Faith,” although not the Head of the Anglican Communion, as the latter has no central authority and no one person from whom it can expect final authority. Rather, it consists of national, autonomous churches that are bound together by ties of loyalty between the see of Canterbury and each other. This is due to historical reasons, of course. But, as Defender of the Faith, Queen Elizabeth II is the closest incarnation of a Traditional, and metaphysical, form of Authority. As is to be expected, many, many forces have been at work in the Twentieth Century so as to undermine Her Authority. This is a pity, for She represents a miracle of Tradition in an otherwise degenerated world.


Liberals may now trumpet their slogans and stock phrases. But they must be reminded, once more, of what Ortega y Gassett wrote:


Contrary to what is usually thought, it is the person of excellence, and not the common person, who lives in essential servitude. Life has no savour for her/him unless (s)he makes it consist in service to something transcendental . . . This is life lived as a discipline—the noble life. Nobility is defined by the demands it makes on us—by obligations, not by rights. Noblesse oblige.


One of the many casualties of this climate of self-destruction and nihilism is prayer. The West no longer prays. On the other hand, Moslem nations pray five times a day, and then more. A semi-serious hypothesis has come to mind time and again. Could it be that, in response to their fervent prayers, the Arab nations were granted immense oil-fields, as if they were a manna, while the non-praying West produced its various industrial revolutions, which made this liquid hydrocarbon so all-important? It would be a meta-historical instance of retroactive praying. The response to their supplication was under the feet of the faithful, already. But it took the West to “activate” this long-granted response.


Does this mean that praying is advisable? By all means, and not merely for selfish reasons, obviously. Praying, kneeling before the Godhead, sanctions one’s subordination to a Transcendental Authority. The goal in one’s life is outside it, beyond it. Transcendence makes us yearn for God and this goal at once. They may well be one and the same. As Queen Elizabeth II a-scended to the throne, so can we tran-scend our insulated egos and short-sighted desires. This is the life of the pilgrim, or, as the Sufis call it, the Tariqa. Transcendence implies subordination to a higher principle, and yet the elevation, and sanctification, of one’s life.


But the intelligentsia sanctifies, with awards and promotion of all types, the glorification of degradation. There is an intrinsic anti-transcendental meaning in the very word. To degrade, from the Latin de- de- gradus- step. To transcend, on the other hand, derives from trans- trans- scandere to climb.


When man was created, he could not help being jealous of the birds. Flying along invisible lines, they soared as high as he could see, and migrated to distant lands he could only imagine. Since he could not fly, he started to dream. In time, he began to build temples. But a more compelling drive was inside him.


He became a pilgrim.


Solar in his conception of the sacred, but also seeking the complementary lunar principle, all he needed was to align his path with the invisible tellurian forces along which shrines of all types have been erected down the ages.


May we all start on a pilgrimage, reach our destination, and go well beyond it.



Guido Mina di Sospiro was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, into an ancient Italian family. He was raised in Milan, Italy and was educated at the University of Pavia as well as the USC School of Cinema-Television, now known as USC School of Cinematic Arts. He has been living in the United States since the 1980s, currently near Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books including, The Story of Yew, The Forbidden Book, and The Metaphysics of Ping Pong.

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