Europa, in Greek mythology, was a Phoenician princess abducted by Zeus and carried off to Crete. In time, Europe was meant to designate the western extreme of Eurasia. Europe, essentially, was the quite provincial Western seed that then sprouted an octopus: the global West.
Over five centuries after the Age of Discovery, we all know a long historical cycle is ending. The Decline of the West is shorthand for a tangle of immense complexity – directly proportional to the ascent of the century of Eurasia integration, driven by China's New Silk Roads.
Every time I dig deeper into the Decline of the West, I have to go back to the roots. And that means – echoes of Stendhal, Keats, Nietzsche — a Journey to Italy. I had recently engaged in an extended dialogue with Machiavelli in Florence. This time, the French presidential election was looming – widely billed as the "civilized" West facing a crucial crossroads.
I set out after reading Décadence, by the explosive philosopher and founder of the Popular University of Caen, Michel Onfray. His thesis is devastating; Judeo-Christian civilization, thus the West, was built on a fiction, "that of a Jesus never having an existence other than allegorical, metaphorical, symbolic and mythological." Over a thousand years of art history had conferred him "the body of a white man, with blond hair and a thin beard' (where better to examine it than through Renaissance art?) And "nothing that constitutes this emblematic portrait, finds justification in a single verse of the New Testament."
Thus, Onfray writes, "our whole civilization is based on the attempt to give a body to this being that had only a conceptual existence." Jesus of Nazareth, "who did not exist historically," becomes the "Christ Pantocrator" (meaning, in Greek, "ruler of all"), "crystallizing under his name almost two thousand years of a Western history saturated by him."
Ambrogio Lorenzetti: Allegory of Good Government (detail) at the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena