The West faces an existentialist crisis which cannot be resolved within
the current paradigm of politics and laws. This thesis, advanced by Fred
Harrison, traces the pathologies of the 21st century to a culture of cheating
that is too deeply embedded to be eliminated by the ruling elites. A Great
Awakening is needed, to generate the power to motivate a mass movement behind
The author's "decline of the West" prognosis is grounded
in a sociogenic survey of the conditions that led to the evolution of humanity.
Harrison classifies the natural laws on which healthy societies rely for
long-term viability. Armed with insights from anthropology, evolutionary
psychology and history, the author exposes the cheating at the heart of civilisations
that collapsed, in the past, a cheating which is now corroding the foundations
of western civilisation.
Cheating as a social process arises when that part
of a population's income which everyone helps to create is privatised.
Economists call that income economic rent. It made possible the formation
of the social "commons" – all the components of what constitutes the collective
consciousness of humanity. Today, the West is weakened by the sustained
onslaught on the rents that measure the value of services provided by nature's
and society's commons. So many people now want to live off rents that they
cannot be supported by the people who add value to the wealth of the nation.
In the past, those who sought to live off the labours
of others preserved their privileges by perverting power. The power of
creativity was corrupted and diverted away from the common good. As a result,
societies are not now grounded in the authentic cultures that would otherwise
have emerged as expressions of the preferences of free people. The outcome
is a perverse social structure whose agents are incapable of recognising
the cause of problems like institutionalised poverty and environmental degradation.
The author shows that pre-literate peoples successfully
created sustainable communities because they assigned property rights in
nature to their deities. This tradition was maintained by the first monotheistic
religion. The Old Testament elaborated the theology of land. It was a covenant
with God: the gift of land in return for living a moral life that freed
people to realise their human potential. The biblical stories are focused
on what goes wrong when that sacred covenant is breeched. The outcome is
the trauma of landlessness. The Old Testament provides one template for
re-basing society on principles that would re-establish harmonious relationships
between people, and between them and their natural habitats.
Secular declarations of human rights, like the UN's
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, do not reflect realities on the ground.
The "rule of law", as currently constituted, cannot lead to the realisation
of each person's freedom while society is captured by a privileged class
of rent seekers. This thesis is tested against the histories of the UK, Argentina
and China. The evidence demonstrates that populations are traumatised when
they are violently disconnected from their natural habitats. China is a
real-time study of a population being converted into that state of trauma.
Social progress in the past was driven
by the re-awakening of spiritual and moral sensibilities. A new Great Awakening
is needed to inspire the leadership required to rescue a globalised civilisation
that many observers believe is in decline. Harrison challenges those who
want the awakening to be inspired by scientific reasoning. The secular approach,
he argues, needs to provide a compelling account of how the rule of law
can be reconfigured to deliver the justice that is embedded in natural law.
It is not too late to rescue the West
from a looming Dark Age. Harrison explains that society's automatic stabiliser
is the pricing mechanism that treats land rent as the public's primary source
of revenue. If this financial formula is adopted, it would be possible to
pay off the debts that now burden nations and enhance everyone's employment
prospects. This would facilitate the transition to re-balanced communities
in which people were free to enjoy healthy lives unimpeded by cheating.