The saddest line in all of Western literature is at the end of Thomas Malory’s Le Mort d’Arthur. The divinely blessed Round Table has been destroyed, betrayed and sabotaged by the very knights who had been charged with its protection. King Arthur has been utterly defeated by jealous, power hungry hordes whipped into fury by his own kinsman, Sir Mordred. Sir Bedivere, Arthur’s only remaining faithful knight, assists the dying king onto an otherworldly barge that will disappear into the dawn. All is ruined, lost, abandoned, betrayed. Britain has been left to savage, godless men. As he watches the king disappear, Bedivere cries out, “Ah my lord Arthur, what shall become of me, now ye go from me and leave me here alone among mine enemies?”
This line seems particularly apt today. Bedivere’s lonely cry of sorrow has become a dull roar. It seems clear that we are caught up in the rapid decay of Western civilization itself, and the darkness and godlessness of the wreckage is far too close. The perpetrators of the current chaos are—almost to a man—many of those charged with the protection and defense of our civil and religious institutions. Like Mordred, they ransack and lay waste, seeking out the last bastions of stability, orthodoxy, morality, tradition. They seek to destroy that which God has blessed in our own era. And we are sick at heart, alone among our enemies.
As the world as we have known it tears itself ever more frantically apart, I have found it strangely consoling to remember that this is not actually abnormal. J.R.R. Tolkien, while still a student at Oxford, struggled to cope with the outbreak of the First World War—one of the first major tremors of the civilizational earthquake bringing our epoch to what appears to be its end. He asked one of his Catholic professors for guidance. The old don told him to look at history: peace, prosperity, health, even widely-held religious orthodoxy and harmony are bright, brief flashes in the long account of humanity’s struggle in the Vale of Tears.