The Byzantine Transition is a term Lunacy Now uses as shorthand to describe the current phase of Western civilization.
The name refers to the changes made in the Eastern Roman Empire after Diocletian split the empire into two in 254 AD. The Eastern Roman Empire converted to Christianity under Constantine the Great and reformed itself. These changes preserved the Empire in the East for another 1000 years or so.
The contention is that Western civilization has reached a similar crisis point in terms of its underlying structure. Over the past 100 years, two world wars, mass abandonment of Christianity, feminism, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, decolonization, mass immigration and the development of a new moral framework based on the idea of human rights have intersected with an unprecedented and rapid technological revolution to totally change the fabric of western civilization beyond all recognition.
Yet our social, political and economic systems remain the same as they were before any of these changes took place. This is creating tremendous strain, as we seek either to force institutions to cope with circumstances they were never designed to manage, or force individuals and groups to deal with institutions totally inappropriate for their needs.
To survive, Western Civilization will need to acknowledge the vast changes which have taken place over the past century, and adapt to them. The most important of these changes culturally has been the replacement of Christianity as the bedrock of Western civilization with a vague set of notions based on rationalist ideas of human rights. There are a lot of ambiguities as to what overarching moral meta-narrative the West even has anymore. The so-called “Culture Wars” being waged on American campuses are a symptom of this uncertainty.
Recognition of these trends is not new. Many commentators on both the left and the right have acknowledged them. Factions of the left want to take it further and destroy what they call “the patriarchy” and take down the remainder of Christianity’s continued influence on the affairs of their states. Factions on the right want to return to their idealized version of the past.
Neither of these approaches are constructive. There are a lot of positive aspects to Western civilization which we shouldn’t want to throw away. Similarly, a return to the past means bringing back all sorts of retrograde ideas that we shouldn’t really want.
The Byzantine Transition is not:
- A moral claim
- A panicked attempt to turn back the clock.
- A predictive model about how this change will take place.
- A set of rules or policy prescriptions about what we should do.
The Byzantine Transition is:
- A framework to think constructively about the changes taking place in our society.
- A healthy way for people who love Western Civilization to respond to the changes appropriately.
Lunacy Now’s focus is on helping people navigate this transition in their own lives.
This means asking questions like:
- Which parts of the Western heritage should we celebrate and teach to our children?
- What elements from non-Western cultures should we integrate into the new civilizational culture we are engaged in building?
- Which parts of the Western heritage are getting in the way of growth?
- Are there ways in which we can tweak institutions and traditions to serve modern purposes without throwing them away? What would that look like?
- How should we restructure education when information is freely available online?
- How can we use technology for maximum benefit?
- How can we stabilize cultural antagonism and unify around one central meta-narrative which allows diverse communities to live peacefully with each other?
- How can we build strong identities and cohesive communities in an era of mass globalization?
- How can we appropriately respond to alienation and other side effects of modernity?
- What are we replacing Christianity with as an overarching metanarrative that binds us together?
Approaching this moment in history is something to be excited about and embrace, not to fear. Approaching it calmly can bring people together to chart what direction to go in next.