[Editor: This is a chapter from The Foundations of Culture in Australia (1936) by P. R. Stephensen.]
The world gone mad
The Twentieth Century came in with a fanfare of the trumpets of peace, optimism, progress, prosperity, and human certainty. Everything was for the best in the best of all possible Everlasting Empires and epochs. Alas! since then only three decades have gone by; we are but half-way into the fourth decade of the Wonderful New Century — and all those simple enthusiasms have already gone crash. The glittering bowl of prosperity is broken; pessimism, dismay, and sickness of spirit have afflicted all mankind. Even Australia Felix has become decidedly in-felix. From the world-depression there seem no escapes except war and revolution.
Disease and death, hatred and fear, ride the whirlwind of human imagination. The old are paralysed by the thought of their own ineptitude in the face of events beyond their experience to control; the young are bewildered and hurt by any attempt they may make to understand the apparent insanities of an earth gone whimpering mad to all appearances — a Waste Land, as their prophet from Boston has called it:
This is the way the world ends,
Not with a bang but a whimper . . .
Few minds, indeed, are so basically resilient as to have preserved, across the Abyss of the second and third decades of this century, the simple optimism of the first decade.
Into that Abyss, of the Great War and the Great Aftermath, crashed not only ten million and more young human lives, but also the Spirit of Man itself, everywhere on the earth, and even in Sunny Australia.
If a resurgence of the Spirit of Life, and thus of Life itself, is possible anywhere on the earth, it may be possible in our Commonwealth, which is young enough, in mind and nerve, to remain uncynical under terrific shocks of fate: it may be possible here, where the physical basis of life is so young and strong, and as yet so comparatively unwearied and undefeated.
P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia, W. J. Miles, Gordon (N.S.W.), 1936, pages 92-93
Australia Felix = (Latin) “fortunate Australia”, or “happy Australia” (“felix” may be translated as blessed, fortunate, happy, lucky, or successful)
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