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Kerry Bolton explores the insights of Brooks Adams, a prominent figure in Western historical-philosophy. Much like Oswald Spengler, Adams deeply studied cultural decline, underscored the impact of money, and proposed solutions derived from identifying the core problems.

There are many causes given for the death of civilizations, including environmental, moral, religious, racial, economic, and dysgenic. However, those who reject political economy, whether of the English Free Trade School or its Marxian and other socialist derivatives, give too little attention to the central role of materialism in the decline and fall of civilizations. Indeed, it can be contended that materialism is a primary cause of cultural etiolation, with other factors being symptoms of a prior culture-pathogen. For it is the way money is regarded as a culture-symbol that reflects the state of a civilization.

The towering genius of Western historical-philosophy, Oswald Spengler, detailed this culture-problem in his epochal Decline of the West a century ago.i Even prior to Spengler however, the American Brooks Adams wrote a masterful study on the role of money in the decline of cultures in a no less remarkable book, The Law of Civilisation and Decay.ii For here, as with Spengler, we have the diagnostic method of culture-pathology and the possibilities of a cure once the cause is known.

It was for this reason that Ezra Pound, who was committed to overthrowing the money-power, enthusiastically recommended Brooks Adams’ book as essential reading.iii

This is not to say that Brooks Adams, in preceding Spengler, was the first to consider the rise and fall of cultures or societies from an organic perspective. Rather, such a discernment was the norm in traditional cultures, from Hindu Indian to American Indian, as Julius Evola pointed out.iv In Western civilization, Giambattista Vico (1668–1744) is a prominent example. Vico referred to cyclical epochs of a civilization: Poetic/imaginative, Heroic, Reasonable (Rationalist),v which each have their analogous cycles in Spengler’s methodology: Spring, Summer, Autumn/Winter,vi while these analogous concepts from both Vico and Spengler can also be seen in Adams’s method.

Brooks Adams (1848–1927) came from a distinguished American lineage. He was the great-grandson of President John Adams, and the grandson of President John Quincy Adams. His father was a diplomat and author, Charles Francis Adams. Historian Henry Adams was a brother.

Educated at Harvard, Brooks was secretary to his father as a diplomat at Geneva. Although, when acknowledged, he is best known for The Law of Civilization and Decay, he wrote many other books and articles on social theory and history. For example, his book The New Empire, published in 1902, traces the origins and development of numerous civilizations.vii Here he sought to show that change must occur in an orderly fashion, and that inertia will create what we might call with psychologist Carl Jung “repression,” until suppressed forces of energy are unleashed in sudden and catastrophic revolt:

Every considerable political innovation must thus affect a portion of the population, for men always live to whom a change in what they have been trained to respect is tantamount to sacrilege. This temper of the mind is conservatism. It resists change instinctively and not intelligently, and it is this conservatism which largely causes those violent explosions of pent-up energy which we term revolutions. Still, changes, peaceful or bloody, must come, and it behooves each generation to take care that such as it shall have to deal with shall be accepted without shock. Intellectual rigidity is the chief danger, for resistance to the inevitable is proportionate to intellectual rigidity.viii

It is thus incumbent on the ruler-stratum to ensure that innovation can proceed without causing the collapse of a civilization. What might otherwise be destructive should be in Jung’s term “canalized,” or in Nietzsche’s term, “sublimated.” Hence, conservatism, unless it becomes the cause of societal collapse through social and cultural stagnation, as Adams warned, should realize what parts of the cultural organism need pruning, or as Edmund Burke said of the relationship between preservation, change, and upheaval:

[T]he change is to be confined to the peccant [errant] part only; to the part which produced the necessary deviation; and even then it is to be effected without a decomposition of the whole civil and political mass. […] A state without a means of some change is without the means of its conservation.ix

The analogy by Burke of the biological organism in describing a social organism is a primary foundation of Rightist thought, such organicism predicating the analytical methods of Spengler and Adams.

Adams refers to the rigidity of the Romans, “and the massacres which attended their readjustments are memorable,” alluding for example to the massacre of the Gracchi. “Similarly the French, in emergency, have always resorted to massacre to overcome obstruction, from the crusades against the Albigenses in the thirteenth century to the Commune of Paris in the nineteenth.”x National flexibility is regarded as the remedy for such tumult. Adams refers to the constitutional development of the USA as a premier example of this. It is analogous to evolutionary adaptation.

Adams precedes Spengler in seeing the domination of “money” over “blood,” as  Spengler termed it, where money rules behind the facade of “democracy.” Adams’s remedy of strong government balancing the forces of capital and labour is analogous to what Spengler called “Prussian socialism,” which might be defined in a word as an ethos of duty; antithetical to class-war socialism.

In The Law of Social Revolution,xi published the following year, Adams examines the cultural impact of economic centralization firstly by monopolistic capital and later by its counterpart, the monopoly of labour by trade unions:

The same acceleration of the social movement which has caused this centralization of capital has caused the centralization of another form of human energy, which is its negative: labor unions organize labor as a monopoly. Labor protests against the irresponsible sovereignty of capital, as men have always protested against irresponsible sovereignty, declaring that the capitalistic social system, as it now exists, is a form of slavery. Very logically, therefore, the abler and bolder labor agitators proclaim that labor levies actual war against society, and that in that war there can be no truce until irresponsible capital has capitulated. […]xii

With such a dislocation in the social organism, the authority of the state is required to balance these contending forces. This does not require the suppression of conflicting elements, but to the contrary, the conciliation of what are different organs of the same social organism, each having their vital functions. The function of the State is to ensure that all organs of the social organism function in social harmony, otherwise an organism is engaged in a self-destructive war with itself.

On the other hand any government to be effective must be strong. It is futile to talk of keeping peace in labor disputes by compulsory arbitration, if the government has not the power to command obedience to its arbitrators’ decree; but a government able to constrain a couple of hundred thousand discontented railway employees to work against their will, must differ considerably from the one we have. Nor is it possible to imagine that labor will ever yield peaceful obedience to such constraint, unless capital makes equivalent concessions, unless, perhaps, among other things, capital consents to erect tribunals which shall offer relief to any citizen who can show himself to be oppressed by the monopolistic price. In fine, a government, to promise stability in the future, must apparently be so much more powerful than any private interest, that all men will stand equally before its tribunals; and these tribunals must be flexible enough to reach those categories of activity which now lie beyond legal jurisdiction.xiii

Adams returns to a theme of The Law of Civilization and Decay, that the late epoch of civilization is dominated by the money ethic rather than the martial, and the martial becomes a servant of capital.

For more than a century past, capital and credit have been absolute, or nearly so; accordingly it has not been the martial type which has enjoyed sovereignty, but the capitalistic. The warrior has been the capitalists’ servant. But now, if it be true that money, in certain crucial directions, is losing its purchasing power, it is evident that capitalists must accept a position of equality before the law under the domination of a type of man who can enforce obedience; their own obedience, as well as the obedience of others. […]xiv

Here too Adams precedes Spengler in seeing the domination of “money” over “blood,” as  Spengler termed it, where money rules behind the facade of “democracy.” Adams’s remedy of strong government balancing the forces of capital and labour is analogous to what Spengler called “Prussian socialism,” which might be defined in a word as an ethos of duty; antithetical to class-war socialism. This would require the imposition of the state of “equality before the law” of capital and labour. Here, too, in referring to the need of “a type of man who can enforce obedience,” Adams precedes Spengler’s Caesar-type who returns to restore order at the time when a civilization has reached a state of terminal decay. In this, Adams alludes to the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt. Adams states that eventually all ruling classes must confront the problem of relations between labour and capital, and this has usually been resolved by destructive conflict, because of a lack of statesmanship on the part of the ruling class of a late civilization. xv

Briefly the precedents induce the inference that privileged classes seldom have the intelligence to protect themselves by adaptation when nature turns against them, and, up to the present moment, the old privileged class in the United States has shown little promise of being an exception to the rule.xvi

The aim is “social equilibrium,” but ruling classes in a state of “decay” are seldom conscious of what is needed until too late, and the result is civil war or revolution.xvii “Thus while an incessant alteration in social equilibrium is inevitable, a revolution is a problem in dynamics, on the correct solution of which the fortunes of a declining class depend.”xviii

Since society is an organism, its laws of life can be defined. Pathogens in the social organism can therefore be recognized and healed.

What we call civilization is, I suspect, only, in proportion to its perfection, a more or less thorough social centralization, while centralization, very clearly, is an effect of applied science. Civilization is accordingly nearly synonymous with centralization, and is caused by mechanical discoveries, which are applications of scientific knowledge, like the discovery of how to kindle fire, how to build and sail ships, how to smelt metals…xix

“Social consolidation” is required to maintain the health of the social organism. That is the problem to be resolved by administration and law. Adams considers that the social organism is subject to organic laws, and that disequilibrium, or what one might regard analogically as social pathogens or social cancers, results at a certain stage in the late phase of a civilization, as he shows in The Law of Civilization and Decay:

I take it to be an axiom, that perfection in administration must be commensurate to the bulk and momentum of the mass to be administered, otherwise the centrifugal will overcome the centripetal force, and the mass will disintegrate. In other words, civilization would dissolve. It is in dealing with administration, as I apprehend, that civilizations have usually, though not always, broken down, for it has been on administrative difficulties that revolutions have for the most part supervened.xx

Social Decay

For Adams, the flaws begin in the administration of the state when it fails to be adaptive and the social organism proceeds from aesthetic and ethical origins to those of oligarchy. Plato observed this process of organic unfolding in the political forms of a state several thousand years previously. Plato saw a line of degeneration reflected in five phases of government that is contrary to our modern conceptions of “progress” with “democracy” being – as Francis Fukuyamaxxi (and Marx) optimistically believed – the ultimate achievement of mankind:

Aristocracy –government of the best, “just and good,” as Plato saw it.

Timocracy – government of honour, arising from aristocracy.

When contention arises over differing outlooks on the role of material wealth, and here we also see Brooks Adams’s analysis of the “law of civilization,” a concept of government and the state depart from both the aristocratic and the timarchic, proceeding to,

Oligarchy – “A government resting on a valuation of property, in which the rich have power and the poor man is deprived of it”; where men will be “covetous of money”; “a fierce secret longing after gold and silver, which they will hide in dark places.” Here the new ethos of materialism spreads from the top to the rest of the social organism, where “the great mass of citizens become lovers of money.” The ethos of civilization changes radically,

And then one, seeing another grow rich, seeks to rival him, and thus the great mass of the citizens become lovers of money.

And so they grow richer and richer, and the more they think of making a fortune the less they think of virtue; for when riches and virtue are placed together in the scales of the balance, the one always rises as the other falls.

And in proportion as riches and rich men are honoured in the State, virtue and the virtuous are dishonoured.

And what is honoured is cultivated, and that which has no honour is neglected.

And so at last, instead of loving contention and glory, men become lovers of trade and money; they honour and look up to the rich man, and make a ruler of him, and dishonour the poor man.xxii

Adams’s law of civilization and decay follows Plato’s. Both see the end epoch of a civilization where money values dominate, and the original martial ethos has gone: men have become lovers of money and trade, instead of contention and glory. Spengler’s historical morphology follows the same pattern.

What would happen if a ship’s pilot were chosen on account of his property, rather than his skill as a navigator? The answer is: a shipwreck. Today we see in oligarchy and its democratic facade the wreck of the ship of state, which can be applied to the entirety of the West, and elsewhere, where Late Western democratic-liberal-capitalism has entered through “globalization.”

The other defect of an oligarchy is a problem that is directly relevant to the issue Adams discusses in The Law of Social Revolution:

And here is another defect which is quite as bad. […]

The inevitable division: such a State is not one, but two States, the one of poor, the other of rich men; and they are living on the same spot and always conspiring against one another.xxiii

An oligarchy has the “extremes of great wealth and great poverty,” Plato stated, and herein lies the danger of what Adams described as a state of social fracture.

It is this oligarchy that Brooks Adams is also describing in The Law of Social Revolution as being the present epoch of the Western civilization. It is here that he sees the danger of social revolt due to the short-sightedness of the oligarchic ruling class. In The Law of Social Revolution, Adams describes the processes of social revolt that occurred in Rome and in 18th-century France because the aristocracy had become an oligarchy. Four years later (1917), the same process was repeated in Russia. The masses become imbued with the same money ethos as the oligarchy, yet they do not have the means of attaining wealth and are left envious. The seeds of revolt are sown. In this manner, Spengler pointed out that Marxism and other forms of class-war socialism are capitalistic; they merely aim to exchange the ownership of capital, not to transcend the capitalistic ethos.xxiv

These revolts are untaken in the name of Democracy, the bastardous offspring of oligarchy, where there is “anarchy liberty, and waste magnificence, and impudent courage. And so the young man passes out of his original nature, which was trained in the school of necessity, into the freedom and libertinism of useless and unnecessary pleasures.” The “democratic man,” as Plato called him, “his life is motley and manifold and an epitome of the lives of many.” xxv

Plato described how a disaffected underclass, ultimately led by disaffected bourgeoisie, arises in the oligarchy in a ferment of revolt.

And in oligarchical States, from the general spread of carelessness and extravagance, men of good family have often been reduced to beggary?

And still they remain in the city; there they are, ready to sting and fully armed, and some of them owe money, some have forfeited their citizenship; a third class are in both predicaments; and they hate and conspire against those who have got their property, and against everybody else, and are eager for revolution.xxvi

This is the people turned by democracy into a rabble, and ready to revolt as a mob. This is the problem being addressed by Adams in our own epoch, when the ruling class degenerates and is too inept to make the necessary adjustments to maintain a stable social organism.

The unconscious of man, with multiple layers reaching back to the most primordial, fails to keep apace with the technical changes.

The end of democracy proceeds to tyranny and the tyrant. Tyranny originates from democracy and democracy springs from oligarchy, states Plato. “Insatiable desire” for wealth destroys oligarchy, leading to democracy. The “insatiable desire for freedom” brings ruin to democracy. Anarchy brings infection which is thrown into the cauldron equality:

I mean that the father grows accustomed to descend to the level of his sons and to fear them, and the son is on a level with his father, he having no respect or reverence for either of his parents; and this is his freedom, and metic is equal with the citizen and the citizen with the metic, and the stranger is quite as good as either.

Nor must I forget to tell of the liberty and equality of the two sexes in relation to each other.xxvii


In order to adapt, ruling classes are required to keep absorbing new elements, until the pool of talent reaches exhaustion, and its potentialities are fulfilled; what Spengler called the fellaheen period of a race whose possibilities are completed,xxviii who move aside for a youthful race, and recede from the stream of history-creators. Adams states of the process:

Thus a moment arrives when the minds of any given dominant type fail to meet the demands made upon them, and are superseded by a younger type, which in turn is set aside by another still younger, until the limit of the administrative genius of that particular race has been reached. Then disintegration sets in, the social momentum is gradually relaxed, and society sinks back to a level at which it can cohere. To us, however, the most distressing aspect of the situation is, that the social acceleration is progressive in proportion to the activity of the scientific mind which makes mechanical discoveries, and it is, therefore, a triumphant science which produces those ever more rapidly recurring changes in environment to which men must adapt themselves at their peril. As, under the stimulant of modern science, the old types fail to sustain themselves, new types have to be equally rapidly evolved, and the rise of a new governing class is always synonymous with a social revolution and a redistribution of property.xxix

Adams refers above to the acceleration of technical change caused by science which proceeds in an exponential manner. The unconscious of man, with multiple layers reaching back to the most primordial, fails to keep apace with the technical changes. This is a problem that also occurred to Konrad Lorenz, Carl Jung and Alexis Carroll.

Social Organism

The key to good governance in sustaining a social organism is to be able to co-ordinate the different components of that organism as though they were cells and organs of an organic totality. When these components are not working in accord, when they start working in conflict, this is analogous to a social cancer. The five stages of social descent defined by Plato, each leading to the next, are stages of social dissolution, the final being tyranny heralded by democracy. It should be recalled that the French tyranny was preceded by a revolution in the name of “democracy,” and Russia followed a similar process, from the social democratic provisional government to the Bolshevik state. Today, tyrannies are established in the name of “human rights” throughout the world; they are how oligarchs maintain their power behind the faç

Adams states of this necessity to maintain social cohesion by means of an organic equilibrium, describing his organic conception of sociology more specifically:

Administration is the capacity of coordinating many, and often conflicting, social energies in a single organism, so adroitly that they shall operate as a unity. This presupposes the power of recognizing a series of relations between numerous special social interests, with all of which no single man can be intimately acquainted.xxxi

Democracy: “The System of Averages”

For Adams, the equilibrium of the social organism means the maintenance of the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution, of a republican system. Of democracy, Adams was under no illusions. His commentary for the book The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma by Henry Adams refers back to the founding of the American Republic under George Washington and his chief aide Alexander Hamilton, who sought to establish the Republic on sound foundations, while combatting the Jacobinism of Thomas Jefferson and his party. It is this conservative revolution that prompted Edmund Burke to support the American Republic as an example of how change can proceed within a traditional model, in contrast to the French Revolution. Brooks Adams writes that no sooner had George Washington gone than the system began to break down under the levelling anarchy of democracy, eventually leading to the Civil War:

The original union and the original administrative system of the government was, as far as so complex an organism might be, the product of Washington’s single mind and of his commanding personality. Hardly had Washington gone to his grave when the levelling work of the system of averages, on which democracy rests, began. And it worked in all its parts with freedom and success. Domestic competition could hardly have been more thorough and consistent. And the result was war and disunion. Nor has peace on a democratic basis ever been established in the South since.xxxii

Brooks and Henry Adams’s forebears had been notable in the founding of the Republic, and the line of illustrious personalities had embraced the democratic ideal. However, they saw the fallacy of democracy unfold generation after generation, causing social dissolution and disequilibrium, which the impact of industrial competition aggravated. Brooks Adams writes of this in introducing his brother’s book:

Another generation passed and Mr. Adams’ grandson, in 1870, sat in the gallery of Congress and listened to the announcement of Grant’s cabinet. He has recorded his impressions. He blushed for himself because he had dreamed it to be possible that a democratic republic could develop the intellectual energy to raise itself to that advanced level of intelligence which had been accepted as a moral certainty by Washington, his own grandfather, and most of his grandfather’s contemporaries in the eighteenth century, and whose dreams and ideas he had, as he describes, unconsciously inherited. He understood at length, as his ancestor had learned, that mankind does not advance by his own unaided efforts, and competition, toward perfection. He does not automatically realize unity or even progress. On the contrary, he reflects the diversity of nature. It is the contrast between the ideal of the kingdom of heaven, peace and obedience; and the diversity of competition, or, in other words, of war. Democracy is an infinite mass of conflicting minds and of conflicting interests which, by the persistent action of such a solvent as the modern or competitive industrial system, becomes resolved into what is, in substance, a vapor, which loses in collective intellectual energy in proportion to the perfection of its expansion.xxxiii

International Finance

Brooks Adams saw the internationalization of finance as the extension of the chaos of democracy on a world-scale, which he predicted would eventuate in a world war, as the center of international finance shifts under the democracy of economic competition:

Another twenty-five years were to elapse, and the theory was advanced that the economic centre of the world determined the social equilibrium, and that this international centre of exchanges was an ambulatory spot on the earth’s surface which seldom remained fixed for any considerable period of time, but which vibrated back and forth according as discoveries in applied science and geography changed avenues of communication, and caused trade routes to reconverge. Thus Babylon had given way to Rome, Rome to Constantinople, Constantinople to Venice, Venice to Antwerp, and finally, about 1810, London became the undisputed capital of the world. Each migration represented a change in equilibrium, and, therefore, caused a social convulsion. […]xxxiv

Writing of Henry Adams, Brooks stated that 1917 was predicted as a year of epochal revolutionary ferment, which transpired to involve not only Bolshevism in Russia, but what they saw as the emerging of a supranational financial dictatorship:

He [Henry Adams] in 1912 named the year 1917 as the date at which a probably revolutionary acceleration of thought would take place, and in fact in that year America was drawn into the war by the resistless attraction of the British economic system, and to-day Great Britain and America, like the parts of some gigantic saurian which has been severed in a prehistoric contest, seem half unconsciously to be trying to unite in an economic organism, perhaps to be controlled by a syndicate of bankers who will direct the movements of the putative governments of this enormous aggregation of vested interests independent of the popular will.xxxv

Adams foresaw an Anglo-U.S. world plutocracy developing in the wake of World War I, although another shift of center of world finance occurred about this time, from The City of London to Wall Street.

Adams saw the modern capitalist as too intellectually narrow and psychologically ego-fixated to assume the role that the new class of oligarchs had assumed for itself – that of plutocrats destined to rule, because those who make money are best suited to lead, according to the ethos that Adams described as dominating the epoch of a civilization in decay. Economics dominates politics, reversing the traditional order whereby politics subordinates money to its demands. Indeed, in traditional societies it is the merchant who is regarded as well down the scale of the social hierarchy; while modern society places the merchant at the top of the social hierarchy, and he buys political influence through the manipulation of money and credit. In traditional societies such as the Hindu, the merchant, the vaishya, stands below the priest and the warrior. In modern societies the organic hierarchy is turned upside down and the vaishya stands supreme, in both economics and politics. Vasishya values, that of the counting-house, dominate and pervade all sectors of society: the great levelling that Adams saw as the destructive impact of democracy.

What Thomas Carlyle referred to as the “cash nexus” in his 1843 book Past & Present,xxxvi forms the relationships between citizens bonded by nothing other than the economic relationships of individuals, with the state reduced to the role of arbiter of social contracts; or what is called Liberalism. Moreover, the relationships between states becomes a matter also of the “cash nexus” determining foreign policy, which is a reflection of nothing more than trade relations. “To this money-making attribute all else has been sacrificed,” writes Adams of the democratic era:

The scope of the human intellect is necessarily limited, and modern capitalists appear to have been evolved under the stress of an environment which demanded excessive specialization in the direction of a genius adapted to money-making under highly complex industrial conditions. To this money-making attribute all else has been sacrificed, and the modern capitalist not only thinks in terms of money, but he thinks in terms of money more exclusively than the French aristocrat or lawyer ever thought in terms of caste. The modern capitalist looks upon life as a financial combat of a very specialized kind, regulated by a code which he understands and has indeed himself concocted, but which is recognized by no one else in the world. He conceives sovereign powers to be for sale. He may, he thinks, buy them; and if he buys them as he may use them as he pleases.xxxvii

Adams succinctly sums up the problem of modern society, which is to say Late Western capitalism and its spread over the entirety of the world in a process we now call “globalization.” Adams, referring to the new rich class of oligarchs, points out that so far from this class epitomizing the best qualities of humanity, it reflects the basest, most elemental – primitive qualities, which are the antithesis of the aristocratic: “He is too specialized to comprehend a social relation, even a fundamental one like this, beyond the narrow circle of his private interests.”xxxviii

The isolated village tribe of hunter-gatherers, expending its time to just accumulate sufficient material to survive is no different in mentality from the ultramodern megapolis under the rule of a plutocratic class and its managerial and technocratic elites, who expend most of their time, and that of their wage and debt-slave underlings, to accumulate the elements of material existence because they are on the unstoppable treadmill of the “growth economy.” Homo economicus is a reversion to the primitive insofar as he reverts to a strictly material form of existence, which the shamans of mass advertising persuade him is necessary for his survival and happiness. Homo economicus expends all his energies because he is on an economic treadmill of production and consumption and has no time to stop and ask “why?”

The West’s Medieval epoch, in contrast with the modern era, which Carlyle so cogently portrays in Past & Present when the Industrial Revolution was making its impact on the remnants of traditional Britian, had shorter working hours, food breaks, and abundant annual “holy days” that the present-day worker would find incredible.xxxix

Money Enervates

The leisure hours that were a feature of traditional High Cultures, such as the Western Medieval epoch, that allowed for the conservation of energies that could be redirected culturally, are lacking in Late Civilization. Predating Spengler, Brooks Adams said in warning of this money preoccupation that it would cause Western civilization to self-destruct in a pattern similar to prior civilizations:

Should Nature follow such a course as I have suggested, she will settle all our present perplexities as simply and as drastically as she is apt to settle human perturbations, and she will follow logically in the infinitely extended line of her own most impressive precedents.xl

Spirit of Commerce versus the Spirit of Imagination

Money versus Blood

The Law of Civilization and Decay was published in 1896; that is, several decades prior to the first volume of Spengler’s Decline of the West. Like Spengler, Adams traces through the analogous epochs of civilizations the impact they have upon culture across many fields, from architecture to politics, focusing on the economic influences. He shows, like Spengler, that civilizations proceed through organic cycles. Spengler used the names of seasons to illustrate the organic character of culture-life, going through the stages of birth (Spring, Culture), youthful vigor (Summer, High Culture), maturity (Autumn, Civilization), old age and senility (Winter), with an intervening era of revival, a “second religiousness” and the revival of “strong-man” leadership in an effort to restore a semblance of order (Trump? Putin?).

Where Adams wrote of a dichotomy in civilization between “commerce” and “imagination,” Spengler called the same conflicting elements “money” and “blood,” and stated that this was the final conflict within a civilization for its soul, and one that determines the manner of its fulfilment.

Adams first noted the “law of civilization and decay” in the differences in architecture between the city-states in civilizations. In contrast to merchant cities such as Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Florence, during the early Medieval epoch, “the religious idea” was expressed in the Gothic style (which Spengler identified as one of the purest Western – Faustian — culture forms, epitomized by the Gothic Cathedral).xli Adams wrote of this:

Furthermore, commerce from the outset seemed antagonistic to the imagination, for a universal decay of architecture set in throughout Europe after the great commercial expansion of the thirteenth century; and the inference I drew from these facts was that the economic instinct must have chosen some other medium by which to express itself.xlii

Adams concluded that a “mercantile community” would express itself through its type of coinage. Another primary factor, Adams concluded, was that men act through impulse and instinct, and only rationalize their actions once they have attained their aims. Characteristics, states Adams, are inherited through familial generations, but as changes occur, and the inherited characteristics become redundant in new circumstances, families fall from fame to obscurity. “Particularly has this been true in revolutionary epochs such as the Reformation; and families so situated have very generally become extinct.”xliii

The dichotomy that utilizes a stored collective energy either impels great achievements or dissipates that energy. This is based on the two drives of fear that prompts religion, imagination, metaphysics, and the priesthood; and greed that “dissipates energy in war and trade.”xliv These two primary drives, as we might call them, fear and greed, are analogous to the Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter epochs of Spengler’s morphology of cultures.

Fear equates with a religious instinct. This should not be seen as having negative connotations, as Marx and other materialists, rationalists and atheists assume. Rather, it is that primordial quality of feeling of cosmic awe that Spengler saw in the Spring epoch of a High Culture, where great art and great adventures are played out in a culture’s “glory to God.” That this religious instinct is transformed into a new pseudo-religious form in the Autumn and Winter epochs of a civilization can be seen from the use the emergent bourgeoisie made of Puritanism.xlv Such forces were at the foundation of the USA. From the earliest period of European colonization of the Americas, there was a conflict between Catholicism and Puritanism: spirit versus money, and the latter won.xlvi

Adams’s theory of energy seems akin to C. G. Jung on the “canalization” of psychical energy (libido);xlvii with the two primary drives, fear and greed, in Adams’s theory, being the means by which Jungian “canalization” manifests. In both Adams’s and Jung’s theories, instinct is at the base of this energy activation. Likewise with Spengler, feeling is at the base of the flowering of a High Culture in its Spring epoch, before ossifying into “reason” in the Late or Winter epoch, as Vico likewise stated.

Like Spengler, Adams states that the formative stages of a High Culture, still based on fear, i.e. the imaginative qualities, produce a culture that is “religious, military, artistic.”xlviii Adams states that, “as consolidation advances, fear yields to greed, and the economic organism tends to supersede the emotional and martial.”xlix Hence we arrive with Adams at the same place as Spengler, where money dominates at the late (“Winter”) cultural epoch, and energy is expended on material gain at the expense of the founding spiritual ethos. Energy that is not expended is stored.

Again, we come to the theory similar to the libido of Jungian psychology. This surplus energy might be stored as wealth. Puritanism made a religion of this. Eventually conquest for booty or empire, still undertaken under the impress of the founding spiritual ethos, is replaced by the greed impulse which manifests as economics. Adams writes of this process:

However large may be the store of energy accumulated by conquest, a race must, sooner or later, reach the limit of its martial energy, when it must enter on the phase of economic competition. But, as the economic organism radically differs from the emotional and martial, the effect of economic competition has been, perhaps invariably, to dissipate the energy amassed by war.l

We might consider that the martial ethos becomes distorted in the service of commerce. Within the building of empires, a dichotomy exists where both impulses of the spiritual and the commercial exist side-by-side in subduing new lands. Hence the modern presentist historian and social critic might easily condemn “imperialism” as being motivated by nothing other than greed, while the heroic vitalism of a Pizarro or Robert Clive becomes subject of ridicule and abuse rather than esteem and emulation. Hence, the bravery of the Conquistadores or of the Welsh engineers at Rorke’s Drift become nothing more than the subject of the economic and sociological analyses of imperialism or more specifically European imperialism.

Usury, Cultural Exhaustion, and the Fellaheen

In describing the cycles of decay, Adams and Spengler are again remarkably similar, with Adams explaining how money dominates,

When surplus energy has accumulated in such bulk as to preponderate over productive energy, it becomes the controlling social force. Thenceforward, capital is autocratic, and energy vents itself through those organisms best fitted to give expression to the power of capital. In this last stage of consolidation, the economic, and, perhaps, the scientific intellect is propagated, while the imagination fades, and the emotional, the martial, and the artistic types of manhood decay. When a social velocity has been attained at which the waste of energetic material is so great that the martial and imaginative stocks fail to reproduce themselves, intensifying competition appears to generate two extreme economic types, – the usurer in his most formidable aspect, and the peasant whose nervous system is best adapted to thrive on scanty nutriment. At length a point must be reached when pressure can go no further, and then, perhaps, one of two results may follow: A stationary period may supervene, which may last until ended by war, by exhaustion, or by both combined, as seems to have been the case with the Eastern Empire; or, as in the Western, disintegration may set in, the civilized population may perish, and a reversion may take place to a primitive form of

Here the primary elements of Spengler can be identified in Adams in terms of materialism giving rise to scientism or the “Age of Reason,” on the ruins of faith and an awe of one’s place in the cosmos. The latter is replaced by a rootless struggle for economic existence or power, as approvingly observed by Marx in The Communist Manifesto. The intellectual replaces the priest, the banker replaces the aristocrat, and the proletarian replaces the craftsman and peasant. After the death of the civilization, the peasant, having contributed the most vital blood to a civilization, reverts to existence outside of history, in stagnation; fellaheen as Spengler terms him in a post-civilization, as in Egypt and India “a reversion […] to a primitive form of organism,” as Adams put it. Very close to the above passage from Adams is the following from Spengler:

At this level, all Civilisations enter upon a stage, which lasts for centuries, of appalling depopulation. The whole pyramid of cultural man vanishes. It crumbles from the summit, first the world-cities, then the provincial forms, and finally the land itself, whose best blood has incontinently poured into the towns, merely to bolster them up awhile, at the last. Only the primitive blood remains, alive, but robbed of its strongest and most promising elements. This residue is the Fellah type.lii

On this culture-exhaustion Adams identifies the role of economic competition in expending the vitalic forces that were originally directed by an heroic impulse, or what Adams calls the “imaginative” and Spengler simply calls “blood”. The remnants of the race become “inert,” which is analogous to Spengler’s fellaheen:

The evidence, however, seems to point to the conclusion that, when a highly centralized society disintegrates, under the pressure of economic competition, it is because the energy of the race has been exhausted. Consequently, the survivors of such a community lack the power necessary for renewed concentration, and must probably remain inert until supplied with fresh energetic material by the infusion of barbarian blood.liii

Where that “infusion” of fresh “barbarian blood” is to be found to reinvigorate a decaying West is problematic, given that culture-pathology has spread to every corner of the globe through international commerce, and is even exported as a world control mechanism to break down traditional barriers.liv Spengler suggested, even in 1919, regardless of Bolshevism, that the fresh blood and new ethos might come eventually from Russia,lv as did in particular a now forgotten Germano-Baltic philosopher, Dr. Walter Schubart.lvi

As both Spengler and Adams state, the Late (Winter) epoch, that is, the epoch in which we are now living, is based on money, with the usurer, as Adams states, being the highest incarnation of Late Civilization. The Late epoch makes literature, theater, art and music commodities like any automobile or refrigerator, as a quick turnover for profitability, designed for quick obsolescence. Power is exercised through money, loans, international finance, and the power centers of the world are the money centers: New York and The City of London.

Now, the West, and much of the rest of the world under globalization, is dominated by an international oligarchy, and the same processes that had destroyed Rome have resulted in Western depopulation and replacement by alien peoples.

Money rules during the closing epoch of a civilization, until overthrown by an internal resurgence of authority and faith, or by invasion. Adams points out that Rome soon succumbed to decay because the land-tiller-soldier was not equipped to deal with the rise of a mercantile elite, and the whole edifice became debt-ridden. The patrician class became moneylenders and shaped policy according to their interests. Debtors or their children often became slaves of the moneylenders. “The stronghold of usury lay in the fiscal system, which down to the fall of the Empire was an engine for working bankruptcy.” Although one thinks of Rome primarily as ruled by a stern martial ethos, Adams shows that at an early period “Romans had been bred destitute of the martial instinct.”lvii

Replacement Migration” in Classical Rome

The Roman spiritual ethos was reasserted when the oligarchic families were overthrown by Pyrrhus, who saw Rome’s strength in her farmers. However, with Roman greatness and her imperial expansion came the conquest of populations that had already succumbed to decay, “and their cheap labour exterminated the husbandmen of Italy,” writes Adams.lviii This passage from Adams cogently expresses the problem:

By conquest the countries inhabited by races of a low vitality and great tenacity of life were opened both for trade and slaving, and their cheap labour exterminated the husbandmen of Italy. Particularly after the annexation of Asia Minor this labour overran Sicily, and the cultivation of the cereals by the natives became impossible when the island had been parcelled out into great estates stocked by capitalists with eastern slaves who, at Rome, undersold all competitors. During the second century the precious metals poured into Latium in a flood, great fortunes were amassed and invested in land, and the Asiatic provinces of the Empire were swept of their men in order to make these investments pay. No data remain by which to estimate, even approximately, the size of this involuntary migration, but it must have reached enormous numbers, for sixty thousand captives were the common booty of a campaign, and after provinces were annexed they were depopulated by the publicans.lix

Where there were slaves imported from the subject peoples, filling an Italy whose population was being denuded, there is today an analogous process in an analogous epoch: that of immigration from the “Third World’ into the Western states whose populations are ageing. Oligarchy constituted the core of the Empire. Nobility became defined by wealth. Now, the West, and much of the rest of the world under globalization, is dominated by an international oligarchy, and the same processes that had destroyed Rome have resulted in Western depopulation and replacement by alien peoples. When the Dissident Right warns of this “Great Replacement,” it is dismissed as a “far-right conspiracy theory,” but the same process is called “replacement migration” by the United Nations Organization, which refers to the same processes.lx

While Spengler notes how the cities suck the country of vitality, forming a proletarianized mass from the peasantry, Adams relates that the same process took place in Italy. Free trade with Egypt caused the destitution and proletarianization of the Italian farmers. Does this not seem very “modern,” very present-day?

By 22 AD Tiberius was trying to address the matter of how to return the Romans, who had become obsessed with opulence, to a simpler life. A trade imbalance, in the pursuit of luxury items from the East, brought Italy to ruin, with a financial crisis culminating in 33 AD. Rome, to maintain any military vigour, was obliged to recruit or press gang from its Germanic subject tribes. “This military metamorphosis indicated the extinction of the martial type, and it extended throughout society. Rome not only failed to breed the common soldier, she also failed to produce generals.” In a passage particularly analogous to Spengler, Adams provides a summary on the condition of Roman civilization:

This supremacy of the economic instinct transformed all the relations of life, the domestic as well as the military. The family ceased to be a unit, the members of which cohered from the necessity of self-defence, and became a business association. Marriage took the form of a contract, dissoluble at the will of either party, and, as it was somewhat costly, it grew rare. As with the drain of their bullion to the East, which crushed their farmers, the Romans were conscious, as Augustus said, that sterility must finally deliver their city into the hand of the barbarians. They knew this and they strove to avert their fate, and there is little in history more impressive than the impotence of the ancient civilization in its conflict with nature. About the opening of the Christian era the State addressed itself to the task. Probably in the year 4 AD, the emperor succeeded in obtaining the first legislation favouring marriage, and this enactment not proving effective, it was supplemented by the famous Leges Julia and Papia Poppsea of the year 9. In the spring, at the games, the knights demanded the repeal of these laws, and then Augustus, having called them to the Forum, made them the well-known speech, whose violence now seems incredible. Those who were single were the worst of criminals, they were murderers, they were impious, they were destroyers of their race, they resembled brigands or wild beasts. He asked the equites if they expected men to start from the ground to replace them, as in the fable; and declared in bitterness that while the government liberated slaves for the sole purpose of keeping up the number of citizens, the children of the Marcii, of the Fabii, of the Valerii, and the Julii, let their names perish from the earth.lxi

We come now to the present, when the pre-eminent world-city is New York as a symbol of the “leader of the Western world,” the USA. Here we see in the USA not the beginning of something new and vigorous, but the outgrowth of the most decayed elements of Western civilization: a dichotomy of Europe’s late Enlightenment Deism, and of English Puritanism. The latter sanctioned money-making as a divine commandment, and culture as a devilish waste of time.lxii It is an ethic that fought against the development either of an American High Culture or America as the custodian of Western High Culture. For example, at the founding Puritan American Colonies, music was excluded as a professionlxiii, while Puritan functionalism worked against the development of a significant Puritan visual art.lxiv While, as Adams states, the Reformation of Henry VIII paved the way for the dictatorship of money,lxv the impetus was given by the English Puritan Revolution of 1642–1648. Adams stated of this that but for the hostility of The City, Charles the First would never have been vanquished, and that without the help of The City, Charles the Second could scarcely have been restored.lxvi The establishment of the Bank of England in 1688, facilitated with the assumption to the Throne by William III of Orange, signified the subordination of the Throne to the money-lender. The world money centre shifted from The City of London to New York City following the exhaustion and ruin of Europe by two world wars. The reasons and consequences of these historical dynamics are perhaps no better explained to the Anglophone world than by Brooks Adams.


i Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West (London: Allen and Unwin, 1971).

A new edition, published as two volumes, is available from Arkos Media Ltd.

ii Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilisation and Decay (1896)

A new edition has been published by Black House Publishing.

iii Ezra Pound, (1942) A Visiting Card (London: Peter Russell, 1952), 8-9.

Pound (1944) America, Roosevelt and the Causes of the Present War (London: Peter Russell 1951), p. 8, p. 13, p. 16.

Pound (1944) Gold & Work (London: Peter Russell 1951), p. 6.

iv Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World ([1969] Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1995).

v G. Vico, The New Science of Giambattista Vico (1730] Cornell University Press, 1948).

vi See: K. R. Bolton, The Decline and Fall of Civilisations (London: Black House Publishing, 2017), pp. 53-55.

vii Brooks Adams, The New Empire, (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1902).

viii Brooks Adams, The New Empire, xiii.

ix Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France.  ([1790] J. M. Dent and Sons, London, 1910), pp. 19-20.

x Brooks Adams, The New Empire, xiv.

xi Brooks Adams, The Theory of Social Revolution (London: The Macmillan Co., 1913). Online:

xii Ibid., p. 27.

xiii Ibid., p. 30.

xiv Ibid., p. 32.

xv Ibid., p. 33.

xvi Ibid.

xvii Ibid., p. 133.

xviii Ibid.

xix Ibid., p. 204.

xx Ibid., p. 204.

xxi Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (Free Press, 1992).

xxii Plato, The Republic (ca. 375BC), Book VIII.

xxiii Plato, ibid., VIII.

xxiv Oswald Spengler, “Prussianism and Socialism” (1919) in Spengler, Prussian Socialism and Other Essays (London: Black House Publishing, 2018), pp. 23-110.

xxv Plato, The Republic, Book VIII.

xxvi Ibid.

xxvii Ibid.

xxviii Oswald Spengler, The Decline of The West, Vol. II, p. 105.

xxix Brooks Adams, The Theory of Social Revolution, p.205.

xxx K. R. Bolton, The Tyranny of Human Rights: From Jacobinism to the United Nations (Antelope Hill Publishing, 2022).

xxxi Brooks Adams, The Theory of Social Revolution, p. 208.

xxxii Brooks Adams, “The Heritage of Henry Adams,” in The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma (New York: Macmillan, 1919), 108.

xxxiii Ibid., p.109.

xxxiv Ibid., p. 110.

xxxv Ibid., p. 114.

xxxvi Thomas Carlyle, Past & Present (London: Chapman & Hall 1843);

Available as The Present Time, from Imperium Press.

xxxvii Brooks Adams, “The Heritage of Henry Adams,” in The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma, pp. 209-210.

xxxviii Ibid.

xxxix Juliet B. Schor, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, present-day://

xl Ibid., p. 229.

xli Oswald Spengler, The Decline of The West, op. cit., Vol. I, 396: ‘The character of the Faustian cathedral is that of the forest […] the architectural actualising of a world-feeling […]”

xlii Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilization & Decay, vi.

xliii Ibid., vii.

xliv Ibid., ix.

xlv Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1950).

xlvi For an interesting account of this see: Nicholas Hagger, The Secret Founding of America: The Real Story of Freemasons, Puritans & the Battle for the New World (London: Watkins Publishing, 2007).

xlvii Calvin S. Hall and Vernon J. Nordby, A Primer of Jungian Psychology (New York: New American Library, 1973), “Canalization of Energy,” pp. 76-80.

xlviii Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilisation & Decay, ix.

xlix Ibid.

l Ibid., x.

li Ibid., x-xi.

lii Oswald Spengler, op. cit., Vol, II, p. 105.

liii Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilisation & Decay, xi.

liv Ralph Peters, “Constant Conflict,” Parameters, US Army War College, Summer 1997, pp. 4-14.

lv Oswald Spengler, “The Two Faces of Russia and Germany’s Eastern Problems,” February 14, 1922, Politische Schriften, Munich, 1922. See: Oswald Spengler Prussian Socialism & Other Essays (London: Black House Publishing, 2018), pp. 111-125.

lvi Walter Schubart, Russia and Western Man ([1938] New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing,1950). On Schubart’s doctrine see: K. R. Bolton, Russia and the Fight Against Gobalisation (London: Black House Publishing, 2018), pp. 43-47.

lvii Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilisation & Decay, pp. 12-13.

lviii Ibid.

lix Ibid.

lx K. R. Bolton, The Tyranny of Human Rights (Antelope Hill Publishing, 2022), pp. 271-288.

lxi Brooks The Law of Civilisation & Decay, p. 42.

lxii F. J. Bremer, The Puritan Experiment: New England Society from Bradford to Edwards (New York: St. Martins Press, 1976).

lxiii R. Crawford, (ed.), America’s Musical Life: A History (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005).

lxiv F. J. Bremer, op. cit.

lxv Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilisation & Decay, p. 233.

lxvi Ibid., pp. 292-293.

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