Radical Alienation in Western Civilization
and the Modern Apocalyptic Mood


[In Western civilization] there is nothing on which one can fall back. As distinguished from a Greek civilization or Egyptian civilization, there is no archaism, for instance, possible in the Western civilization because Western civilization has no archaic period. There is no such thing in Western civilization as, for instance, the late Egyptian period, in which one can fall back on the sculpture and art forms of the third millennium B.C. And you cannot fall back on the Vikings; they are just too remote from any developed civilization.

Thus, from the early beginnings to the present, there is no internal coherence in Western civilization. But when you have an acculturation process of this kind, the deculturation process, with the resultant disorder, is considerably more dangerous than periods of disorder in other civilizations that have connections with an original mythical order. . . .

Therefore the phenomenon of alienation, which, for instance, as you will see, we find amply present around 2000 B.C. in the Egyptian great crisis, has a particular acuteness in Western civilization in our time; it becomes a radical alienation, because there is nothing on which one can fall back. If certain cultural concepts are destroyed, you have to go about trying to recapture them somehow.

That is one of the problems of the twentieth century. That is the reason why so many people today, since we don't have a myth of our own in our civilization, will now go back into archeology, into comparative religion, into comparative literature and similar subject matter, because that is the place where they can recapture the substance that in our acculturated, and now decultured, civilization is getting lost.

That is why people all of a sudden become Zen Buddhists. You have to become a Zen Buddhist because there is nothing comparable in Western civilization to which you can fall back, if a dogmatism has run out, as the Christian has in the Age of Enlightenment.

Therefore, in this sense, beginning with the nineteenth century, we have a peculiar development of historical constructions in which all previous history is thrown out. A sort of original beginning is made, always in the present, with the present state of consciousness, be it in the Hegelian, or the Comtean, or the Marxian system, or any of the other ideological systems of the nineteenth century—a sort of apocalyptic construction by which all past history is thrown out as more or less irrelevant, or having its relevance only as leading up to its present point, the modern point in which we all have to live. Living on a point, throwing out all past history, that is perhaps the characteristic of the modern apocalyptic mood.

CW VOL 33,
The Drama of Humanity
and Other Miscellaneous Papers, 1939-1985
The Drama of Humanity,
pp 178-179.

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