I have been listening to more classical music, of late, than I had for a while, and aside from the sheer beauty of it, there is one thing that strikes me quite dramatically: classical music, especially but not exclusively the great Baroque classics by composers like Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel, was above all supremely confident music! Like Baroque art and architecture, in their spheres, it was the music of a people who honored their past, rejoiced in their present, and had great hope and expectations for the future.
How different from much of what is written now (the “industrial” music popular a while back was called by one commentator “the sound that civilization makes as it’s coming apart,” and that could describe much of the contemporary oeuvre). I am not saying that there is not some great music being written today, or even that I do not like some contemporary music in the more “popular” genre (although if I have to listen to contemporary music, I’ll take country, thank you). But it is almost without exception nowhere close to the great classics in either musicality or the confidence in the future it expresses.
And that leads me to my sad observation: that we in the West, who value the civilization of the West, need to somehow recapture that confidence, or the decline of the West will continue until we are irrelevant, if not extinct. A culture which does not believe in itself, and its prospects for the future, has no future; if we continue down our present path, we are doomed to replacement, either by invading alien cultures such as Islam, or by something new and inferior springing from within, but lacking a sense of connection with, or respect for, our cultural heritage and inheritance: what Supreme Court nominee Judge Robert Bork called “the vertical invasion of the barbarians.”
The problem is that downward spirals, whether in an aircraft or a culture, are fiendishly hard to pull out of, and the further down you get, the harder it is. We need to revamp our educational system away from “political correctness” and neophilia (*) and back to respect, appreciation, even love for our customs, traditions, history, and heritage; we need to return, not to Taliban-like rigid enforcement of moral purity, but certainly away from the absurdities of obsessive sexuality and rampant gender confusion characterizing the present age; and we need to regain our ability to draw borders and boundaries to protect our cultural integrity and distinctiveness: gardens need fences, and those who attempt to be all things to all people end up being nothing to anyone.
How that is going to come about, though, I confess I do not know. Will it require complete bottoming-out, and (hopefully, painfully and over time) rebuilding from a “faithful remnant”? Or is it possible that some new idea, some new and powerful personality, might serve to inspire us to recapture our sense of our own possibility? I hope so, although I don’t see any such on the horizon. The alternative is almost too painful to consider.
* Neophilia: the love of the new simply for its own sake, combined with the belief that what is newer is automatically and necessarily better than what is older / more traditional.