Before Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee and other historians of cultural rise and fall, there was Brooks Adams. And while today there are ever more historians adding their theories as to why civilizations collapse through such factors as military invasion, over-taxation, or ecological shifts, most of these theories do not get to the cause of how civilizations, if not stunted and killed in youth or middle age, die of old age.
Our Western Civilization has an optimism that we have a culture of eternal life because of our science and industry, but it is precisely in this cycle of so-called ‘progress’ that a civilization falls. While Spengler described this process of the birth, life and death of cultures, several decades previously Brooks Adams, contemplating his observations of societies, concluded that the way a society considers its money as a culture-symbol tells the character of the society.
Spengler also dealt with the money question as a symbol of cultural rise and fall, and would surely have applauded Brooks Adams’ work, although he did not seem to have been aware of the American’s study.
In the Law of Civilisation and Decay, Adams considers various societies and civilisations by the symbolism, manner and influence of their coinage, and concludes that a society or civilisation becomes sapped of its culture-vigour, its creative genius, when entering a cycle where money becomes the dominant factor rather than merely serving as a mechanism. The energy of a society, or what we might regard as its collective libido, is diverted fully into commerce and trade and what remains of cultural creativity becomes an economic activity for the market: a commodity. This is precisely where our Western Civilisation stands today. For those ‘with eyes to see’ the value of Brooks Adams’ work should strike an immediate chord.