For twelve years I have been working on what I call a "crisis of civilization." I taught a graduate seminar at JHU AAP from 2012-2014 on "global net assessment." Working with my students, the focus moved away from an initial focus on war, pandemic, and climate change — as the heart of crisis — toward human, cultural shifts. It became clear that the heart of crisis in history lies in collective shifts in consciousness. Physical dynamics act as triggers, but big change in history is cultural transformation.
Hence my new paper, in the journal Humanitas, looks at today's political and upheaval as a potential transformation, and a crisis of civilization:
Here I posit an existential shift in consciousness as disruptive and as potentially enduring as the 4th century transformation of the Greco-Roman world as it "woke" to Christianity. My essay is a comparative look at the power of woke to force a shift in human consciousness:
What follows puts Late Antiquity and Today’s world side-by-side. The reason to do this is compelling. Simply, we are facing a potential civilizational discontinuity.
What does that mean?
Modernity’s revolutions have cut deep into our civilization but have failed to overthrow it. The West at least has upheld its power and continuity. The Greco-Roman world of Late Antiquity, in contrast, was transformed. Christianity literally dismantled a millennium of Greco-Roman civilization, suppressing its literature and thought for 500 years. Classical Antiquity would not be rediscovered until “The Renaissance of the 12th Century.”
We may be facing civilizational discontinuity as deep as the end of Classical Antiquity. It may feel uncomfortable to stack the Church of Woke against fourth-century Christianity—yet this may be the only real historical analogy we have.
To be clear: There is no way to stack the Church of Woke against early Christendom morally and spiritually. This analysis insinuates nothing of the kind. In fact, today’s woke religion is a mocking, empty caricature of Christianity, like earlier, Marxist heresies of the last century.
A potential discontinuity in our world is the only issue here—and it must be run to ground if we are ever to grasp how civilizational rupture can happen.
The goal is to compare—not mere revolutions, but transformations—side-by-side, to test whether or not the Church of Woke has the power to work another discontinuity in this civilization. We need to understand how discontinuity works.
This is an analysis of civilizational change.
I decided to work through this existential analysis for one reason: If this transformation comes to pass, it will have consequences for the very preservation of the civilization we have known. From where we stand, looking ahead, we have no way of knowing whether or not this will come to pass, or pass like a summer storm. My analysis, however, will not let me discount its real and emanant possibility. Today, the odds are no longer 5, or even 10% — but much higher.
And it is happening right now.