After the First World War, in “The Decline of the West”, Oswald Spengler described a society that had reached its final phase. A century later, this fear – fuelled by the perception of a deep, irreversible crisis – seems to be re-emerging in an even more dramatic manner. Yet, despite the contradictions and tragedies that pushed it to the edge of self-destruction, the West has conquered the world thanks to its cultural, social, economic and scientific-technological prowess. These developments have improved the living conditions of billions of people, offering them both material benefits and the dignity of freedom. Ever since the myth of Ulysses and his journey beyond the known frontiers, the West has always been the place where every achieved goal has been a springboard for the next, every failure an opportunity for renewal. Has this demanding dynamism now completely disappeared?
Vera Zamagni teaches Economic History at the University of Bologna and the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS Europe) in Bologna.