There are rare pieces of insight written down, that allows us to map out the history and future of civilizations. One of these is “Our Enemy, The State” by Albert Jay Nock. It was written almost 80 years ago, by a man who understood history and could project very far into the future. What he didn’t know was how long it would take for history to unravel. Another piece is a poem by Rudyard Kipling, which is believed to be a reflection on the dying British Empire. It was written in 1919. I am sure there are many interpretations of this poem, but in my mind it is very clear what it is all about. Thus, I decided to write a short, verse-by-verse analysis for those who are interested. Here goes :
AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.
An important thing to note as we begin is that the “Gods of the Market Place”, have little to do with market economy, rather it is a description of those ruling a decadent culture. I prefer to see them as the politicians, or possibly those that try to sell us shallow consumerism, void of moral and values. Not until I decoupled the “Gods of the Market Place” from what would seem to be its implied economic meaning did this poem make sense. It is important to note the implied difference between “real” values, and the shallow pointlessness of commerce and trade for the sake of commerce and trade. The “Gods of the Copybook Headings” refer to the tradition of writing words of wisdom on the top of pages of 19th century student notebooks.
We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.
This clearly describes the tendency among people to quickly abandon the source of knowledge, once we believe that we know it all. Instead of pursuing deeper studies of the world and history, we quickly abandon this for something more “uplifting” or “visionary”. The applications of this to modern society are uncountable. The number of students who bother to get a classical education, as compared to the number who want to learn the latest fancy. The continuing practice of treating knowledge like something without value, that everyone can “read from a book”, as if there was no difference in knowing, being able to recite – and understanding. The “March of Mankind” depicts the idea of humanity constantly needing to “progress” to some new stage, throwing of all values and knowledge gathered by passed generations. Fabian socialism comes to mind.
We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.
This is one of the most clear evidence that this poem is about the cycle of civilizations, and how its all very predictable. As a society reaches increasing heights, it becomes more and more likely to lose touch with the fundamental values upon which it was built. The story of the 20th century United States is very telling. The conclusion becomes that the basic knowledge of how societies work, while during long periods being forgotten, always returns – but not until a civilization has died, and a new one starts emerging. We are currently living the period before the empire falls, and the Western civilization ends.
With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.
Again, a reference to how culture goes from a dedication to the values that is the foundation of society, and how these traditions and values become “utterly out of touch”. Instead people start pursuing narcissistic dreams and fancies, completely ignoring the fundaments that has enabled them to do so. And along always comes politicians, the merchants of ignorant dream-fulfillment and lies that people want to hear.
When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”
This is an astonishing verse, which quite obviously refers to the fact that every time a brutal dictatorship like Nazi Germany, the Italian fascists or similar has emerged, the first thing they do is take away the peoples means of protecting themselves (eventhough these two specific examples lie into the future when this poem was written). Without guns, there will be no violence is that which we are told. They forget to tell us that the violence we should most fear is that which comes from the governing class. Without the means to protect itself, a population will always be at risk of being sold into slavery by its masters. The price we pay for avoiding being enslaved by the system, is having to face the possibility of every man being armed. Freedom is not free, it requires that you are willing to take risks. A promise of safety is a promise of future slavery.
On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”
The idea of social communism, where everyone shares everything, inevitably ends with having to share even your wife. This was in fact how Plato saw the ideal society, a communist state where all property was communal, including wives. Another interpretation is how the idea that all should be shared, and everyone equal, ends with nothing but more of the jealousy and moral decay that it was intended to stop. Man is by birth a property owner, claiming exclusive ownership of his own body. Any negation of the principle of ownership negates the existance of a free society. And being free to create and homestead all that which is previously unowned, man will in the end find himself not among equals, rather among other men which own in accordance to their capabilities, and their willingness to work.
The second last sentence is of great interest – “Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith”. This is in fact the stage that the West has found itself in. Thanks to the destruction of traditional values, women are having fewer and fewer children. Our dying western culture is becoming barren, and our homes are being taken over by other cultures. Meanwhile the “men lost reason and faith”, which hardly needs any explanation if we simply look at how much honest work is being done, and how many dedicate their life to crime, destruction or decadent behaviour. Through the loss of our cultural heritage, we have lost that which makes us civilized, and the spiral downwards will continue.
Society, as we know it, is dying.
In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”
The reference to socialism hardly needs any further explanation. What is interesting is the interpretation of “though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy”, which is a very astute observation of what happens when less and less of real value is produced. Whether or not Kipling foresaw a future where money would become worthless paper is maybe a bit unclear, but the fact remains that many experiments with fiat paper money had been made long before his time, and they all ended in monetary destruction. A clear sign of decadence is when money is decoupled from value, and the control of it is given to the political class.
The final sentence brings a message that is the essence of what I am trying to say : All those dependant on the effort and money of others, to be given to them by the State, are going to find themselves destitute and starving, unless they again learn to work. When things come crashing down, there is no wealth to redistribute. There will be no “social security” or “welfare”. When everyone finds themselves empoverished, only a fool will expect to be handed free sustainance. Those of us able and willing to work will survive, others may not.
Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.
Inevitably, reality sets in. The “Gods of the Market” will tumble, and their smooth talk and chicanery will be for nought. They will head for the door, tail between their legs, desperately preparing to dodge any bullets, as the common man reaches for his gun. And finally, as all that most held dear and everlasting has come crashing down, old wisdom returns, slowly and steadily.
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
History inevitably repeats itself, and “Social Progress” is always a progression first towards ever-increasing wealth and prosperity, and as the people become complacent and decadent, a likewise inveitable collapse and reset of the system. The burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wobbling back to the Fire. Man is destined to repeat his mistakes, and our efforts to root out ignorance and foolishness out of society will never be completely succesful. Civilization will continue to come, and go, and when the book on mankind is finally closed, our experiences will be nothing but a small blot of ink, among the innumerable pages that have been written.
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
The “Brave New World”, inevitably turns into the “Decadent Old World” once more. Another reference to socialism is rather clear-cut. What “no man must pay for his sins” means needs none of my explanation, taking it literally will move you straight into the early 21st century. And The Gods of the Copybook Headings…… with terror and slaughter return!
From now on, I will be returning to this poem on occasion. Expect to see it in the footnotes of many posts. And while it would be easy to label me as delusional, now openly predicting the collapse of Western society as we know it, at least I know that there is one intelligent, and increasingly learned individual that believes it to be true. While I may be currently rather lonesome, I expect more and more of you to join, eventually. When the coming Great Collapse wipes banks, governments and social safety-nets out of existence – regardless if it is this year, the next year, or in a decade – we will all learn to be humbled before the lost wisdom of past ages.
*Since this was written from beginning to end, in the middle of the night, I am fully aware that I may have manhandled and misused the English language quite a bit. If you find anything that seems unintelligable, it is most likely because I tried to find a word, but ended up with another. My English vocabulary needs refreshing from time to time. Often I type words that sound similar to what I’m actually trying to say, not being completely able to recollect the word or phrase in question. All corrections will be received gladly.