If we start taking culture seriously, we will notice these periodic breaks in history when the whole mood of our culture shifts into a new phase which lasts for over a century:
Renaissance – 1350s, 1360s, 1370s
Emerges in the wake of the trauma of the Black Death and triumphs after the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages. Boccaccio who coined the term “Dark Ages” to describe the Middle Ages completes The Decameron in 1351. Culminates in the Italian War between France and the Holy Roman Empire and the Sack of Rome in 1527 by mutinous troops of Charles V. Followed by the Reformation turning.
Reformation – 1520s, 1530s, 1540s
This is an easy one. It was an extremely fertile period in European history that set the tone for the entire century that followed. Luther begins the Reformation. Calvin publishes Institutes of the Christian Religion. Henry VIII founds the Church of England. The Society of Jesus is founded. Religious conflict culminates and expends itself in the Thirty Years War. Followed by the Enlightenment turning.
Enlightenment – 1640s, 1650s, 1660s
René Descartes publishes Meditations in 1641. Thomas Hobbes publishes Leviathan in 1651. The Royal Society of London is founded in 1660. The French Academy of Sciences is founded in 1666. The Age of Reason culminates in the French Revolution and expends itself in the Napoleonic Wars. Rapidly followed by the Romantic turning as the Industrial Revolution gathers momentum.
Romantic – 1790s, 1800s, 1810s
Delacroix, William Blake, Samuel Coleridge, Lord Byron, Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Gottlieb Fichte and others were all active in this period. The foundation of ethnic nationalism is laid which works itself out through the entire 19th century in the unification of Germany and Italy and culminates and expends itself in the World Wars. Rapidly followed by the Modernist turning.
Modernist – 1900s, 1910s, 1920s
James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Picasso, Sigmund Freud, Paul Cézanne, Arnold Shoenberg, Wassily Kandinsky, Marcel Proust were all active in this period. The development of film, radio and television spread Modernism across the entire world. The foundation of globalism is laid which works itself out through the entire 20th century. We have yet to see how Modernism will culminate and expend itself but it doesn’t seem far off.
”On or about December 1910 human character changed,” Virginia Woolf once observed. Relations between ”masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children” shifted, she wrote, ”and when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics and literature.”
In this new book, the historian Peter Stansky has taken Woolf’s hyperbolic remark and used it as a springboard for ruminations of his own. It is his contention that in 1910 England was belatedly introduced to the modernism that was already taking the Continent by storm, and that the smug, bourgeois certainties of the 19th century began to give way that year to a view of the world that was more personal, more fragmented, more willfully anarchic. …
So what happened in 1910? Well, it was the year of Halley’s comet. Tolstoy died, Stravinsky’s ballet ”The Firebird” opened in Paris, Freud’s writings were gaining greater renown, and Cubism was blossoming in France.
In England, King Edward VII died. The year’s two elections led, Mr. Stansky argues, to ”a decline in political consensus, the lessening of the shared assumptions of the previous century.” …
”The political system had been destabilized in a modernist way,” he writes. ”Those on the right, to a degree, had been alienated from the system, as they had first lost on the budget, which they regarded as confiscatory, and now they had lost on the question of the House of Lords. The Liberal Party had won, but it was hardly the victory of 1906, and its great supporters, many members of the middle class, were deeply disturbed by the abandonment of its old principles of peace, retrenchment and reform (and limited government action) and by its spending money raised by taxation on military preparedness and on new social programs.” Labor unrest, Irish unrest and increasingly violent agitation for women’s suffrage were rocking England as well.
As for the English world of the arts, there were stirrings of revolt against the stuffy realism of the Victorians and the serene rationalism embodied by the famous 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a work that would subsequently come to be regarded as a ”summa of knowledge before the First World War, when Britain ruled the waves and all seemed to be right with the world.” …”
1910 was the end of the Romantic saeculum or natural century. It was followed by a Crisis which lasted for about 30 years. Modernism took shape and triumphed at the end of this period.
From Eric P. Kaufmann’s excellent book The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America which describes the transition to the emerging Modernist culture in the early 20th century.
Look at this “iconic” image which recently thrilled our media elites:
This is not something new. It is something very old. It is the culture of the Modernist avant-garde. Why is this felt to be such an “iconic” image of our times? It is an expression of the liberation of the self in a protest before authority which is the Modernist ideal.
Derek Ryan Burros (aka Derek Housh), 28, was arrested & charged in relation to the antifa riot in east Portland where the east police precinct was barricaded & set on fire. He was quickly released. #AntifaRiots #PortlandRiots https://t.co/cbhIbTdoJ5 pic.twitter.com/r4YndtaIJa— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) August 6, 2020
In the book, Kaufmann describes the Modernist homeland as scattered urban enclaves worldwide defined by a bohemian culture and lifestyle. These are exactly the places where Antifa come from and beat people over the head with their batons. They are militant Modernists like the Jacobins before them at the end of the Enlightenment cycle or the Nazis at the end of the Romantic cycle.
In 2020, we live in a time of growing “extremism.”
This “extremism” is not the violent anarchist mobs burning down the United States. Instead, this sinister rise in extremism is perceived by entrenched elites at the very apex of our social order.
There are people who are beginning to express doubt in “progress.” They are attracting a growing audience which is critical of “liberal democracy.” Strangely, they are against globalism, but people all over the world share pretty much the same emerging “Far Right” mindset. They are cosmopolitan nationalists, but unlike fascists don’t advocate conflict between nations. Instead, their gripe is deracination, the degeneration and erosion of their culture, the absence of restraint, the loss of its identity, cohesion and vitality and their demographic replacement by immigrants. They feel stifled by political correctness.
This is how the Modernist elite perceives the emerging Anti-Modernist tide. To look with Romantic eyes on the Enlightenment or Enlightenment eyes upon the Reformation or Reformation eyes upon the Renaissance in a sense captures how we perceive Modernists.