Why Global Leaders Are Talking About De-Civilization

This isn't a story of sudden, fast societal collapse.

Last week, the news of a Syrian immigrant stabbing four children and two adults at a playground in Annecy, France shook the country to its core. Amidst the chaos, the heroic intervention of a courageous 22-year-old Frenchman named Henri halted the rampage, prompting a meeting with the French President, Emmanuel Macron.

Ironically, just two weeks before, Macron quietly convened a group of advisors at his palace to discuss the decaying state of French society. Asked to put aside their phones and to speak candidly, the group, which consisted of four prominent French sociologists, warned the French President about threats of “de-civilization” facing the country, as political and ethnic violence increases.

According to leaked details, Macron took these warnings seriously and swiftly changed his plans. As Quillette reported, rather than giving “a speech on the environment, he went to Roubaix on the Belgian border to honor three policemen recently killed by an intoxicated driver. The president had to be seen standing beside the forces of law and order, which he had just been told were weakening, perhaps fatally. He told his Council of Ministers that France would fight against the forces of “de-civilization.”

France has witnessed months of fiery protests in Paris and increasing attacks on political leaders. Macron, facing his lowest approval rating yet, is watching as populist insurgents from the left and right promise to fix economic stagnation, violent crime, and migrant inflows plaguing the nation.

De-Civilization Has Arrived

De-civilization is the process of the breakdown of society — a regression or deterioration in terms of a state’s social, economic, and political structures, often resulting in a decline in overall quality of life, stability, and the rule of law. It involves a slow breakdown of social order, erosion of institutions, and a loss of civility and collective values.

To a reader from the United States, these trends may sound alarmingly familiar. After a series of fiery riots in 2020 dismissed as “mostly peaceful,” a pandemic that destroyed the credibility of top U.S. and international health institutions, the 2016 election and 2020 election viewed with skepticism by both parties (2016 with Hillary Clinton’s claims of Russian interference, 2020 with Trump’s claims of election fraud), and now the second indictment and arrest of former President Trump, the forces of de-civilization seem to have arrived at home.

All over the Western world, rising polarization, a decline in trust in institutions, and the erosion of social order — all symptoms of societies facing de-civilization — are impacting nations across Europe and in America. These trends impact both individuals' lives and the overall health of democratic societies. But without looking to root causes, liberal elites ensure that populist insurgents continue to flourish politically.

South Africa as a Warning

When people consider the fall of a civilization, like the fall of the Roman Empire, some might imagine a demise that is much more immediate or dramatic. The truth is, it looks a lot like the world we are witnessing now. Take South Africa, for instance.

The country is dealing with an unemployment rate of over thirty percent, regular rolling blackouts, daily violence, food and medicine shortages, private police, and political unrest. Personal home generators and private police have become not the exception, but the norm. The government has lost the ability to govern effectively, and the guardrails that keep society safe and prosperous are eroding.

Violent crimes in South Africa, such as robberies, carjackings, and murders, are on the rise. This has created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity, and police can take hours to respond — if they do at all. As a result, most neighborhoods have to rely on private home security.

Instances of corruption and mismanagement of public resources have undermined trust in government institutions and have had a negative impact on the delivery of essential services. This erosion of trust has consequences for the functioning of democracy, as citizens may become disillusioned and disengaged from the political process.

South Africa also has institutionalized anti-racist programs, which contribute to societal divides and decay, pitting classes and ancestral groups against each other. Once the gem of the continent, South Africa has become all-against-all; each man for himself.

The United States and the West

The U.S., like France and South Africa, and other Western nations, have dealt since at least 2008 with increasing polarization, political violence, a sterilized and under-funded police, and a breakdown of institutions. All of this Is exacerbated by policies that bring foreigners in en masse while instituting affirmative action-style policies that cause division — forfeiting fundamental rights like equal justice under the law.

Crime, homelessness, and public indecency in New York City, for example, have worsened, and public services have been left behind. Henri, the French bystander who stopped the attack in Annecy, brought to mind the recent New York City incident involving Daniel Penny, the 24-year-old Marine arrested after the death of Jordan Neely.

Jordan Neely, a man threatening passengers with a rap sheet of over 40 arrests, was left on the streets of New York by authorities. A Daniel Penny stepping in to stop him is the logical conclusion to a society undergoing de-civilizational pressures. When you can’t trust that police or public services will help, one takes the matter into their own hands.

It’s not just New York. California has dealt with rolling blackouts, public mismanagement, human waste, and heroin needles littering the streets in major cities — all while the left maintains its positions of ‘defunding the police’ and radical expansion of government bureaucracy as the only answer.

Portland, Seattle, Chicago — the list goes on. These kinds of pressures — decline in overall quality of life, stability, and the rule of law — come slowly. Those anticipating a dramatic fall of the West might be disappointed. Instead, decline will look more like it has in South Africa, or in San Francisco.

Liberal Leadership in Crisis

Western institutions have eroded public trust following a decade of crises that exposed them as unresponsive to societal needs and susceptible to corruption and mismanagement. From the financial collapse in 2008 to the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens have learned that the emperor has no clothes.

Rather than face these issues head-on, Western governments are doubling down, blaming populism not on a decrease in living standards and economic stagnation but instead on everything from “racism” to “misinformation.” Whether it be open borders, inflation, flat wages, or rising crime, the elite class is keen on telling voters not to believe their own eyes — inflation is transitory, there’s no recession, and the protest was fiery but mostly peaceful.

As a result, populist leaders promising to reverse these trends, from Donald Trump in the United States to Giorgia Meloni in Italy, have gained mass political support.

On one hand, Western leaders can learn from Macron’s identification of de-civilization as a threat to France and Europe. Identifying the problem is surely a step in the right direction. But lip service can only go so far — instead of a plan to actively counter the forces of de-civilization, Western institutions will only further lose credibility — a recipe for backlash. France, like the U.S. and beyond, should expect to continue to see populist uprisings continue unless things turn around.