Anyone who isn’t yet reading The Archdruid Report really ought to be. John Michael Greer is quite simply one of the most brilliant writers in existence, and even when he’s wrong, he’s importantly wrong. His perspective is coherent, learned, and uncaged by the assumptions of progressivism. Above all, his understanding of what it means to find history informative is unsurpassed. (Over at the Other Place, there’s an unfinished Greer series that badly requires attention, with the first three installments here, here, and here.)
When escalated to the extreme, the progressive conclusion is that history can teach us nothing. Innovation is by its very nature unprecedented, and insofar as it manifests improvement, it humbles its precursors. The past is the rude domicile of ignorant barbarity. Insofar as the present still bears its traces, as shameful stigmata, they are mere remains that still have to be overcome. At the limit, the concept of Singularity — a horizon at which all anticipatory knowledge is annulled — seals the progressive intuition.
In its abstract theoretical core, at least, Greer’s Druidic counter-history is radically reactionary (far more unambiguously so than NRx). Its model of time is entirely cyclical, such that past and future are perfectly neutral between ascent and decline. Every attempt to install a gradient of improvement in the dimension of historical time is broken upon the great wheels, which balance every rise with a fall, dissolving innovation in precedent. Novelty is hubristic illusion (an exaggerated correction, in the opinion of this blog).
In his most recent post Greer introduces an intriguing complication:
Arnold Toynbee, whose magisterial writings on history have been a recurring source of inspiration for this blog, has pointed out an intriguing difference between the way civilizations rise and the way they fall. On the way up, he noted, each civilization tends to diverge not merely from its neighbors but from all other civilizations throughout history. [...] Once the peak is past and the long road down begins, though, that pattern of divergence shifts into reverse, slowly at first, and then with increasing speed. A curious sort of homogenization takes place: distinctive features are lost, and common patterns emerge in their place. That doesn’t happen all at once, and different cultural forms lose their distinctive outlines at different rates, but the further down the trajectory of decline and fall a civilization proceeds, the more it resembles every other civilization in decline.
The dissymmetry calls out for philosophical investigation, since it suggests a line of synthetic diagonalization between precedent and innovation, cyclicity and escape (which is to say, the NRx or cybergothic line). It would be to stray too far from Greer to follow that now.
Straightforwardly, the claim being made is that forecasting strengthens on the down-slope of civilization. The more a social order fails, the more it sheds its originality, and thus the more accessible it becomes to accurate diagnosis on the basis of historical example. As collapse deepens, it converges with a template, bound ever tighter to a model by its morbidity. Across the peak, an age of prophecy begins — or returns.
The dark irony is delicious almost beyond endurance. The Universal, long proclaimed as the capstone of progress, is realized only as a nadir. The equality of all civilizations is asserted, in reality, as a direct measure of their proximity to death. Among the spreading ruins, the mad echoes of similarity resound deafeningly, as the blasted Cathedral plummets towards its Idea — eternal return of the same.