Revisiting The New Atlantis

A commentary on the new things I've learned

Approximately two months have passed since I first published The New Atlantis. Since then, many people have reached out to me with additional thoughts regarding the subject of my essay. Through these discussions, I have come to recognize a number of key elements that were missing from my initial project. The New Atlantis notes, in detail, the very real process of cultural synthesis that has emerged from the interactions of the different races and ethnic groups found on the American continents. One of the issues my essay faces, however, is the fact that cultural exchange does not, by itself, birth new cultures. Cultural exchange can provide new ways of thinking that may be employed by individuals or groups, but it doesn’t account for the foundational drive that is necessary in order to bring about a new culture and, later, civilization. 

To further illustrate my point, let us explore the ideas of a German historian named Oswald Spengler who published a book titled The Decline of the West in 1923. Spengler’s work articulated a number of valuable ideas, one of them being that “the great events of history were not really achieved by peoples; they themselves created the peoples” because “every act alters the soul of the doer”(Decline of the West; Volume II; Ch. 5; pg 165). In other words, the comradeship that emerges from groups of disparate people overcoming hardships together gives rise to new tribal identities. Frankly, I am embarrassed to have left this out of my piece because it describes the exact process I and many other college students went through when formally joining fraternities after being hazed. Spengler wrote that these tribes could then, under specific circumstances, first become highly creative, growth-oriented “Cultures” before declining as rational, stagnant, and expansionary “Civilizations”. The source of the group’s initial creative capacities is in its irrationality (in the form of religion), which is then dissected and analyzed during its later civilizational phase. Spengler’s estimated total lifecycle for a civilization spanned 2000 years, with each phase lasting approximately 1000 years.

The relationship between a culture’s religion, its creative power, and the inability of a people to sustain that power once rationality is embraced, is one that I did not fully appreciate until I reflected on an exchange with one of my Twitter mutuals, Ahmed (@Post_Apathy), while posing a question to my followers. The question I sought to explore was whether my followers believed that it was absolutely vital for children and families to express faith in their heritage religions or whether educating children regarding the history of their heritage religion while maintaining a secular and rational attitude towards it was enough to impart them with a lasting sense of identity. Ahmed’s response, which coincides with Spengler’s analysis, was that I was approaching this question incorrectly, stating that culture “is informed by faith. To merely have the cultural backdrop is like adopting the dead fragments of a once living world” and that “it won’t pass to [my] children” because it had “barely lasted with [me]”. Without faith in the tradition, the cultural inheritance I received lost its power and mystique and would not pass to the next generation.

I’ve come to agree with these assessments regarding the role of religion in the creation of culture. The religious impulse found in Spengler’s description of cultures —which is irrational in nature— propels individuals and groups forward in life, providing a lens and means through which they can interpret and manipulate a living and dynamic world. This brings me once more to The New Atlantis, particularly the tripartite mission I envisioned in the final third of the essay. After reading the portion on the tripartite mission, Alpha —one of my Twitter mutuals found at @alphabarryxi— told me that he had an intuition that my civilizational missions required an ontological shift in our society that had not yet occurred, specifically one that “doesn’t center humanity in the cosmos, and also doesn’t debase him as nihilism does”. My goal was to convince a hemisphere to embark upon a bold new program, but I had not explained how these projects could actualize a person, his or her family, or their country. 

Alpha was also working on an essay covering civilizational teleology at that time, titled War and Peace and Life Everlasting, and the insights found in the essay have helped me refine my ideas. Of particular note, he makes a distinction between the Promethean spirit of the ancient world, which was characterized by the pursuit of glorious and great acts (often through intensely violent deeds) and the Christian spirit which replaced it “with an immortality conditional not on great heroic acts, but on piety, humility, and compassion” and that eventually “neuter[ed] the Promethean spirit of man in a world which has lost faith in the divine”. The future, then, would belong to those who could consolidate the wisdom, compassion, and mercy of the Christian Revolution while reigniting man’s Promethean spirit. But how could this be achieved? I believe I have found an answer to this question and it is one that I will be exploring through this Substack soon. Stay tuned for more…