Babylon the Great is Fallen: Gregory R. Copley on Un-Civilization


The press-kit on Australian writer Gregory R. Copley from Simon & Schuster’s author-information website declares that he “has worked internationally at the highest levels of government advising on strategies to achieve economic and political success.” The same source identifies Copley as “the founder and editor of the Global Information System intelligence service used by governments, and the Defense & Foreign Affairs series of publications, including the Defense & Foreign Affairs Handbook, hailed as ‘indispensable’ by President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor, William Clark; and author of thousands of articles, classified papers, speeches, and books on strategy, defense, and aviation.” In passing self-references Copley describes himself as a strategic thinker, not exclusively in the military or diplomatic spheres. Copley’s newest book, Un-Civilization: Urban Geopolitics in a Time of Chaos (2013), concerns itself with fundamental and perhaps terminal changes occurring globally, not only in the industrialized nations, which portend, in his diagnosis, the enormity summed up in the over-title. At the heart of Copley’s vision of the near-future lies the counter-intuitive event that he forecasts for the mid-Twenty-First Century – not the Malthusian catastrophe of runaway population and insufficient resource that various Cassandras from Paul R. Ehrlich to Albert A. Gore have profitably vouchsafed to connoisseurs of doom since the 1960s, but rather its opposite, a sudden steep population-decline linked to the desertion of the countryside and the morbid engrossment of the already hyperbolically distended megalopolitan centers.

Copley has coined a group of terms that justify themselves by their appositeness to his discussion: Cratogenesis, cratometamorphosis, and cratocide, all deriving from the Classical Greek word for governance. As the coinages imply, Copley acknowledges cyclic patterns in history; he accepts as fact the mortality of civilizations, but he advocates less than a strict version of cyclicism (a cycle can get knocked sideways) and in nowise endorses a fatalist outlook. With foresight, even cratocide, the resentment-driven murder of a rational governing order, is survivable. Unsurprisingly the names of Plato and Oswald Spengler turn up in Un-civilization. Copley writes: “The key elements of change which we are facing… include the unprecedented urbanization of human societies, and the changes which this brings in thought and dependency-patterns; and the reality that human population numbers are about to go into a period of substantial decline.”

Gregory R. Copley
Gregory R. Copley

Copley’s analysis is not, however, purely quantitative; it is also qualitative. Echoing one of the themes of Spengler’s Hour of Decision (1934), Copley remarks that urbanization entails distortions in epistemology and ethics. The apocalypse of the megalopolis, its apparent (but false) independence, its triumphant concentration of power and wealth, provokes the urbanite into “disregard… of respect for hierarchy,” which, while it “has not yet reached the status of anomie,” has nevertheless become “that which Plato feared most about democracy,” namely “ochlocracy (mob rule), and the demands for gratification which are the hallmark of all mobs.” According to Copley, the stable structure of Western civilization took form over a thousand years, roughly from the time of Charlemagne to the time of Abraham Lincoln. That structure “evolved from [a] a mixed town-and-country balance of society.” Under that now-dissolving dispensation, civic consciousness acknowledged the dependency of the city on the productivity of the countryside. The modern, city-dominated state, by contrast “acts as a separate entity from the population” and under it “the areas which provide food and raw materials are relegated to a position of little or no importance.” To satisfy the perpetually expanding desire for cheap food and consumer-goods, the modern, city-dominated state conceives as its goal “the enforcement of compliance from its population… minimizing the opportunity for thought and actions not controlled by the state.” The state finds support from the population, as “people… reject freedom” in favor of satiation, seen as an entitlement.

A people or a nation might well spurn hierarchy (resentment against authority drives the Revolution always and everywhere), but, as Copley remarks, hierarchy inevitably reappears, no matter the rhetoric. Political correctness is one such reappearance of hierarchy; it is again a restriction of consciousness that divorces the subject from reality and that inflates an ego that is barely separable from the collective identity of the crowd. It has acquired an enormous bureaucracy. Under political correctness, whatever offends the crowd becomes anathema, most especially any objective criticism of the crowd’s infantile dependency on wealth expropriated by government from the productive sector. Public veneration of the crowd passes over into a ceaseless obligation. Copley’s “great fear,” as he writes, “is that the militancy… which societies willingly and compulsively generate will compound rather than correct any trends toward social and economic chaos, collapse” and thereby thwart the healthy “reorganization of human society.” Copley emphasizes the now. Either consciousness of the crisis dawns or the trends descend into their foreordained conclusions. What vestiges remain of the older, stable world vanish minute by minute.

Copley argues plausibly that the West’s downfall lay in its astonishing success. Affluence corrodes wisdom; seeming to justify itself, it encourages the society to jettison its own past and tradition. Thus, as Copley writes, “it was modern civilization’s abundance… which caused thought, reason, and the leadership [born] of experience to be set aside as being no longer of any account.” Charles Baudelaire had the vision in his poem Les septes vieillards of the Fourmillante cité, cité pleine de rêves, / Où le spectre en plein jour raccroche le passant! – “Ant-heap city, city engrossed in dreams / Where ghosts in broad daylight accost the passer-by.” The modern city differs radically from its precursor cities of earlier eras. Poets, novelists, painters, and film makers have been right in representing it under the sign of monstrosity. For Baudelaire’s contemporary Herman Melville, writing in Pierre (1852), Manhattan already resembled a circle of Dante’s Hell; for Baudelaire’s Twentieth-Century successor T. S. Eliot, writing in “The Waste Land,” the modern city is “unreal. For Fritz Lang, in Metropolis (1926), the World-City’s towering bulk bodied forth a ravenous Moloch.

Copley’s chapters often take their epigraphs from the poets. Copley knows, as the poets knew, that, by the early Twentieth Century, a long-standing qualitative view of life had succumbed to an emergent quantitative view of life, no less in Western Europe and North American than in the USSR and elsewhere under the Marxist regimes. The Second World War accelerated the transformation because during it quantity itself became a kind of quality, at least in a short-term perception. People streamed into the cities to work in manufacturing. Governments, aggrandizing their powers, mobilized whole societies to effectuate the nearest possible near-term defeat of the enemy. “Wars,” on this, that or something else, characterized post-war domestic policy in the West. In Copley’s maxim, “Preoccupation with process and means is tactical; preoccupation with outcomes and future context is strategic.” An entitlement-society cannot think strategically; it focuses its attention entirely on “short-term gratification,” as recent events have demonstrated in Greece, Spain, and California.

The modern megalopolis has become, in Copley’s description, a “hiding-place” to which an increasingly childish and petulant population flees in order to find refuge “from nature” and no less “from history.” Copley imputes the flight from reality to all levels of society in the urban colossus, not merely to the millions of welfare clients, but also to the bureaucracy, the professoriate, and the ruling-class, whose mentalities tend towards coalescence. “The cities become isolated from everything but their own increasingly abstract thoughts.” The contemporary jet-setter travels “from one urban cocoon to another… from one ‘house of self-worship’ to the next.”

In The Decline of the West, Volume II (1922), in the chapter on “The Soul of the City,” Spengler writes: “The stone colossus ‘Cosmopolis’ stands at the end of the life’s course of every great culture. The Culture-man whom the land has spiritually formed is seized and possessed by his own creation, the City, and is made into its creature, its organ, and finally its victim.” What Spengler names “the absolute city” is so much “soulless material,” “stone desert,” and “wholly intellect.” The dwelling ceases to be a house, with a hearth, “in which Vesta and Janus, Lares and Penates, have… footing”; it becomes “mere premises,” interchangeable with any other. The notion of the city as a synoecism of boroughs, each with its proper character, disappears into the cold and homogenizing praxis of so-called urban renewal through so-called city-planning. “Massing without limit,” as Spengler writes, betokens the onset in every civilization of spiritual “petrifaction” according to the expressionless pattern of the “chessboard.” Thus, “regular rectangle-blocks astounded Herodotus in Babylon and Cortez in Tenochtitlan”; while “in the Classical world the series of ‘abstract’ cities begins with Thurii, which was ‘planned’ by Hippodamus of Miletus in 441.”

It soon reaches the point, Spengler assures his readers, “when Being is sufficiently uprooted and Waking-Being sufficiently strained,” that “there emerges into the bright light of history a phenomenon that has long been preparing itself underground and now steps forward to make an end of the drama – the sterility of civilized man.”

Spengler, anticipating Copley, asserts on good evidence that the developmental acme of the megalopolis, which is also the Cosmopolis, heralds the moribund phase, which can last “for centuries,” of “appalling depopulation.” Copley will have taken note of the following lines from The Decline, Volume II: “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 poured incontinently into the towns, merely to bolster them up awhile.” Copley himself, having quoted Spengler, writes that “only by returning spending power to the innovative section of society (in other words, the people) can economies become nimble and productive,” but, as the follow-on sentence grimly states, “this is unlikely to happen.” As to why, Copley might have used the word inertia. He prefers to use mythic diction, invoking the “hubris” of the world-cities and the “fearful, selfish, and ignorant intellectual processes” that nowadays drives their policy.

Like Plato, like Spengler, and again like many another among his Twentieth-Century precursors, Copley deeply distrusts the rhetoric of “democracy.” Occasionally something resembling classical democracy has worked, but only in those periods when a nation or a people arranged itself in more or less equal distribution between town and country. In the USA, for example, a healthy balance prevailed until the 1920s. Copley is referring to the USA, Canada, Australia, and Great Britain when he writes that it is the balance between agriculture and industry that enables national greatness. It might strike a casual observer that when the USA organizes agriculture so that it is “able to produce food surpluses with an allocation of less than one per cent of GDP,” that would constitute a magnificent achievement of rational efficiency. Copley sees it the other way around, as irrational. “Given that each eligible person can vote, and therefore can help determine the leadership and policies of the state, it is clear that there are [today] fewer and fewer people who vote for policies which protect the interests – and understand the value – of rural society and agricultural production.” In a complementary motion, industrial production migrates not only beyond the confines of the world-city, but beyond the borders of the home nation.

The dislocation of manufacturing also obliterates knowledge. Thus people “increasingly vote for what are, essentially, intellectual concepts” that appeal to the sense of “rights” and “entitlements,” without reference to reality.

As Copley sees it, the world-cities are currently absorbing and abolishing the nation-states, whose form dates back to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The USA formerly consisted of fifty nominally sovereign states, each with numerous cities and towns and large rural regions, but nowadays it consists effectively of the Eastern-Seaboard Megalopolis that stretches from Baltimore to Boston, Chicago, Houston, and the West-Coast San-Diego-to-Los Angeles conurbation. Britain has contracted itself into Greater London; France into Paris. Japan is Tokyo; Egypt, Cairo. Western world-cities attract immigrants from the Third World so that New York and London increasingly resemble Cairo or Islamabad. Los Angeles increasingly resembles Mexico City. To represent Johannesburg, South Africa, in his film District 9 (2009), director Neill Blomkamp had to imagine an extraterrestrial presence. That is how alien the World-City is to any traditional perspective. The sclerosis of the cities corresponds to an unprecedented uprooting of peoples and their migration to the megalopoleis. Millions of migrants are cynical handout-seekers; others are participants in a remittance-economy that sends currency out of the country. Some are both. The elites celebrate the ethno-chaos that results from their open-borders policy under the banner of multiculturalism, one of the programs of political correctness.

Copley follows Lewis Mumford in seeing the city as a machine, in which, “to function, or even to move, it is necessary to comply with the mechanical shape of society, and to accept the ‘value chain’ which keeps the lights on.” It is the city, not the countryside, that breeds – or rather demands – conformity, so that “the importance of social compliance… becomes compounded with the growth of urbanization.” Although the city seems to supply education in greater abundance than the countryside, the appearance remains that: Modern education, formulated by the city, is a sub-mechanism for inculcated propaganda, ‘the introduction of often logic-defying fashionable beliefs [and] arguments or positions reduced ad absurdum to slogans… sustained independently of facts or knowledge.” Why then are the cities so replete with agitation, unrest, and gang-activity? Copley writes, “Social conformity does not… preclude protest and revolution”; but, on the contrary, “social conformity enables and produces revolution, because revolution is reliant on an unthinking, unreasoning mob of true believers.” One function of the city-machine is to throttle and channel such revolt; wealth is redistributed as entitlements according to the diversity-schedule while the calendar of multiculturalism assures the unassimilated communities that they are invaluable and important.

What of the impending population-decline? Basically, Copley sees a simple movement. The cities draw hinterland populations to swell their ranks, it is true; but an effect of city-living is a swift precipitous drop in reproductive rates. Depopulated hinterlands cannot continuously feed the cities. Indeed as the countryside becomes depopulated and knowledge of agriculture restricts itself to fewer and fewer, the potential for a food-supply disaster increases. Cities, as Copley explains, are also totally dependent on the power grid. Copley never argues the absolute “peak oil” position, but he does argue that when the megalopolis sets national policy, that policy will reflect the radical risk-averseness of its framer. Copley therefore sees a growing gap between the fuel-requirement of the electricity-dependent city-machine and the ability to find new fuel-reserves; superstitious fear of nuclear energy production exacerbates the crisis. Cities also produce a whole new range of diseases, which were almost unknown before the mid-Twentieth Century, such as heart-disease and diabetes.

The megalopolis is not only “un-civilization,” it is also counter-nature. It is an unstable system poised over an abyss of its own making. That drastic depopulation might occur is made plausible by the fact that it has occurred – at the end of the Bronze Age, in the Early Medieval Period, and on other occasions around the world. Rome had a population of at least a million in the century of Marcus Aurelius; two hundred years later it was probably reduced to a tenth of that, and five hundred years on to a few tens of thousands living among the ruins. Detroit was a Millionstadt in 1950s; today it is a welfare-sink full of crime and derelict architecture. Multistory towers in the old downtown have all their windows boarded up. No sane person goes walking alone. California currently suffers its third year of drought, notwithstanding that its water-supply has been critically low for decades. Take away the water-replenishment and the Greater Los Angeles area can only revert to a semi-desert in rapid stages. All over the continental USA, copper-theft is a problem, as though the infrastructure was eating itself alive. Being unstable, the megalopolis is extraordinarily vulnerable to the “butterfly effect.” A seemingly small failure here can cascade upwards through the whole system before anyone can move to stop it.

Copley quite seriously poses the question whether “a new ‘Dark Age’ is likely”? Copley points out that the West’s last Dark Age, which stretched from the late Fifth to the Early Ninth Century, was “not all that dark.” Literacy retracted to the monasteries, but there were many of them, and a manuscript-tradition brought Greco-Roman literature through the interregnum so that, with movable, type, it could reappear after 1450. (See Sylvain Goughuenheim’s Aristote au Mont-Saint-Michel [2008] which not only establishes the continuity of Greek and Roman letters but utterly disproves the tendentious claim that the Medieval West owed its knowledge of the Classical world to transmission-by-Islam.) The present situation differs from the Early Medieval situation in at least two important ways: One way is that the modern world is rapidly replacing paper documents with electronic documents, which, while easier to access than books, and easier to store, are more vulnerable; even supposing the magnetic pulse fails to erase them utterly, how to read them without electricity to power the devices? “A paperless world could be a memoryless world.” Another way is that the megalopolitan society is a functionary society, in which people know only their own limited function. The general knowledge and spirit of competency required to answer crises has been deliberately and foolishly purged from the culture.

Un-Civilization, while an important book that deserves serious attention, is also symptomatic, in a small but irritating way, of cultural decline. It is badly edited, with numerous typographic errors and grammatical and syntactic errors that an actual, human editor might have caught. An author, asked to edited himself, never catches all of his errors. I mean not to single out Copley. Many, perhaps most, modern books suffer the same vices, most especially those from the university presses. Readers of The Brussels Journal will undoubtedly find much nourishment in Copley’s extended plea for strategic thinking about our common and increasingly grim prospect.

future cities are doomed

Given the growth of population, cities will enlarge until they collaps. Today 10million + cities have unresolved difficulties, managing a scarce status quo. Lack of ressources and energy will drop well-being and life expectancy of people. Due to media and political propaganda, this decay will be escorted by the creation of an 'outside' enemy, thus triggering wars and tribalism e.g. nationalism on the lowest level. The splitting-up in Europe has already begun, other continents will follow. Unfortunately education will be one of the first victims.

Responding to KO: One of

Responding to KO:

One of Copley’s rhetorical devices in Un-Civilization is the question: Can you name ten per cent of the polities that existed 300 years ago?  According to Copley (it’s entirely plausible), the usual answer is total bemusement.  Most of the “countries” that existed 300 years ago no longer exist.  Most of the countries that exist now probably will not exist 300, 200, or even 100 years hence.  The former USSR is a case in point for the mortality of political structures.  I assume that Quebec will eventually separate from the rest of Canada and that a sundered Canada will split into several parts, whose only central relation will be to nostalgia.  Secession-movements are afoot in many of the United States, including California and New York.  The plan being proposed in California would divide the state into six new states, forcing Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco to become independent city-states.  The petition circulating in New York would split most of the northern part of the state away from New York City and its areas.  Some counties of Colorado and Arizona want to secede.  It will be instructive see what happens when Quebec asserts independence or when Flemish Belgium tells French Belgium that it wants a divorce.  Based on history (the USSR, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia), I would expect the next fifty years to be secessionist.  So does Copley.  The question is whether secession can be accomplished peacefully.  The USSR and Yugoslavia outweigh Czechoslovakia as examples.

Spengler is endlessly nourishing.  here’s to Turner’s “counties”!


Thanks for this worthwhile article.  I happen to be reading Vol. II of Spengler.  It is worthwhile to augment and update the speculations to which that astonishingly fertile teacher sometimes gave too few pages. 

I pray the remnant, the thousand scattered pockets of resourceful people, will survive the breakdown, perhaps becoming the nucleus of Fred Turner's "counties."  As the megalopolis withers, new communities will grow, pre-cultures of we know not what.