Does the poison of cultural pessimism generate its own antidote?

“Comparison Of Cultures And Epochs: What Discourses On Weaknesses Can Trigger” is the title of an interesting $7m European mega-project now getting under-way. Seemingly it’s driven by scholarly legal historians and ethnologists, who will survey 20th century history at the meta level. In order to…

“examine the debate involving the [alleged] political, economic and cultural decline of Europe, which raged throughout the entire 20th century”

… and more importantly to ask what strengths may have developed in response to the decades of self-defeating chatter about weaknesses.

The project will apparently range far beyond the well-worn economic debates about raw materials and the depletion/abundance of natural resources. The project will also range across disparate cultures…

“Our aim is to compare cultures and epochs, in order to be able to provide highly generalised findings”.

So that’s an awful lot of complexity to untangle. It may raise possibly intractable questions. Such as when, exactly, did the cultural pessimism triggered by trench warfare become a commonplace notion, and what were the effects of this at different levels and in different nations? Is it even possible to untangle the complicated emergence of new strengths from 1935-1955, due to the distorting influence of the technological and organisational progress during and after the Second World War? However, the UK can proffer one concrete example: 1970s Britain was indisputably in decline in all sorts of ways (I was there), and that situation directly prompted a series of interlocking strengths to emerge in and around Thatcherism, which broadly solved the problem, and did so in an amazingly short period of about five or six years (broadly 1984-1989).

Advertisements