Blood Meridian: The Decline of Western Civilization

Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is perhaps one of the greatest works of contemporary fiction. It delves into the psychology of human nature, and invites us to question our collective future. The book gets underway following the antics of our protagonist who is only ever referred to as “the kid”. His name directs the reader’s mind to the innocence of youth and how easily it can be stripped away by acts of barbarity. Eventually he joins a band of men led by a man named Glanton and another more supernatural character referred to as “The Judge”. They are seeking fame and fortune by killing and scalping Native Americans for bounties from the Mexican government. The kid becomes increasingly disillusioned by his own actions as the gang moves from killing bloodthirsty Apaches to slaughtering whole tribes of peaceful Native Americans and Mexicans living in the desert. It didn’t matter where the scalps came from, so long as they returned with their macabre trophies. Although the kid has a problem with the actions of the Glanton gang, he finds himself unable to cease his participation in the bloodshed. The savage brutality present throughout the book might lead some to the belief that it’s a tacit endorsement of violence, with the primary antagonist of the novel, The Judge, spouting off deeply convincing syllogisms about the nature of war and violence. However nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s start with the title of the book: Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West. What’s perhaps most intriguing about the title is that it seems contradictory at first glance. The book has two titles, both referring to time. The first refers to the meridian or highest point, midday. But the subtitle refers to the evening or the end of the day. Now why would the title refer to two seemingly contradictory times? Ultimately it means that the high point, the meridian, can often be seen as the end of any great period in history. The author specifically refers to it as a “blood” meridian, indicative of a period of profound violence and ferocity. Rape, murder, genocide and any manner of human indignities were all commonplace. The novel takes place specifically in the mid to late 1800s in America west of the Mississippi River. This was a period in which the United States and its people were enthralled by the ethos of manifest destiny as they trudged Westward across plains, deserts, and mountains to conquer the frontier. A fire had been lit in their hearts—a burning desire, driven by their belief in a supreme being, to tame God’s creation in earnest. With it came untold atrocities; but such is the nature of humanity. By the end of the novel, we’re faced with the penultimate reality: the West had been conquered, and mankind’s fire had been stamped out by civilization.

One might ask how this novel relates to our present circumstances. Although McCarthy is referring to the American West, the same sentiment could be felt about Western civilization. Having already progressed far past the unique time and place of the American frontier, contemporary civilization reached its own “blood meridian” in the first half of the 20th century during the tumultuous period following the First World War. This war had been so destructive it was referred to as “the war to end all wars”. The advent of mechanized warfare had heralded a new age of barbarity that brought with it the cold and sterile reality of modern combat. Having learned from the mistakes of the Great War, several great leaders emerged that were intent on preventing such massacres from happening again through the creation of numerous political ideologies. Fascism, Falangism, National Socialism, were but a few organic responses to the chaos that embroiled the world. These philosophies heralded the creation of perhaps the greatest nations to have risen from our earthly soil, only to be struck down mere decades later. This was our peak. Our zenith. Our meridian, soaked in the blood of the greatest nations ever forged. Once again mankind’s fire had been stamped out.

McCarthy uses Blood Meridian’s numerous references to the nature of war and violence by The Judge, to emphasize the most negative aspects of mankind. The Devil’s nihilistic view of humanity reflects the sentiment that our high point has long since passed us by, like a fleeting childhood memory, reminiscent of simpler times. The great populist leaders of our time brought society to its zenith and we are now on a crash course towards the dustbin of history. Some people refuse to recognize the faults that brought about the collapse of Western civilization, humanity’s greatest accomplishment. Much of what made the West as we know it great, are the same things that have contributed to its downfall. The time for mourning our loss has ended, and the time for action has commenced. The course of history will be determined by those who muster the courage to blaze its trail. The old guard won’t give up their power and authority without a fight, and as the sun rises and peaks in our time, so does the probability of bloodshed. It’s now time for us to create a new system that begins when we stop believing that we can save the old one. American Third Position is the realization that change can be enacted without the need to revert to mankind’s most violent and debased natural tendencies.

That man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.” – The Judge

One thought on “Blood Meridian: The Decline of Western Civilization

  • February 21, 2021 at 4:24 pm
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    Put this up on FB. This part I esp liked:

    “American Third Position is the realization that change can be enacted without the need to revert to mankind’s most violent and debased natural tendencies.”

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