Of course, the title needs some qualification. “End” can mean a lot of things, thanks to its multiple meanings. In this case, I mean the end phase of the run of Western Civilization. As for “near”, speaking of processes such as these can mean anywhere from 50 to 500 years, depending on the breaks. Sorry if anyone wanted an immediate, everything goes all at once scenario, but that’s not historically probable. These civilization things tend to lurch towards their finish, not hit the wall and then vanish. When a historian or archaeologist says “suddenly”, he usually means, “over the course of decades”.
Classic Mayan civilization, took 100 years or so to grind to a halt, and it’s not like the Mayans vanished off the face of the earth. They just started their Postclassic period, which saw the population centers shift northward and change their architectural styles. The Romans didn’t suddenly cancel their empire in 476: the thing had been falling apart since the reign of Commodus, back around 190. 476, by the way, was just a date set for the Western Roman Empire. The Eastern Roman Empire wasn’t totally wiped out until 1453, although it had been in definite decline since around 1050-1100. These “end of civilization” things take time.
But they do happen, and the onset of decline is typified by a convergence of crises. The 20th Century was one of the worst ever for Western Civilization: two horrific global wars, a global economic depression, and massive erosion of traditional values and virtues. The 21st Century started off with a global economic depression that got papered over by central banks in a desperate effort to contain its potential damage. The result of that has led to major upheavals in Europe among nations economically trapped by their Euro membership. Tensions run very high between the West and its rivals in Russia and China, with both those powers eager to pick away at the edges of the West and expand their spheres of influence.
Even the key ideal of The West, that our aspirations are unbounded, is challenged with the realization that resources are finite and that some barriers are insurmountable. Perhaps we can put a man on Mars, but to what avail? What would a colony of humans there profit us? No, Tibet is as far into space as human colonization will go.
Look also to our architecture. Where once cathedrals and skyscrapers reached for the stars, now we build with an eye towards greener construction, with preservation of resources foremost in our minds. The very fact that we now think electric power doesn’t come cheaply is a strong opposite to the ideal that we could have power “too cheap to meter.” Like the case of the Mayans – and it was also true for the Romans, by the way – when the architecture changes, it’s a sure sign that the civilization is changing with it.
Changes in architecture, doubt of the core ideal, and crises accelerating and deepening: all these are signs that the end of Western Civilization is upon us and that it will convulse and grind along until the people in the lands once dominated by its thinking choose to think a different way. And that’s really not a bad thing, in and of itself.
The idea of preservation, conservation, and stewardship of resources is emergent not just as a fad of the times, but as an actual challenging idea to that of Western Civilization. It’s not yet ready to take flight on its rise, noontime, and fall over a millennium, but it will. Perhaps one day, maybe 50, or maybe 500 years from now, we’ll see this new way of thought dominate the minds of men… and then another way of thought will come along, after that. Such is history.
But to say, “The end is near!” is to also say, “The beginning starts soon after that!”