After the first world war, Paul Valéry spoke for the entire generation when he observed that Western civilization had learned that it was mortal, and that “a civilization is as fragile as a life.” Thoughtful people discussed Oswald Spengler's work, began to criticize the idea of progress, revived cyclical theories of cultural decline, and were deeply stirred by the idea that Western civilization was in a state of decay. Since that time there has been no end to jeremiads and diagnoses judging that the crisis of our time is caused by the loss of spiritual convictions, the eclipse of transcendental values, the decline of morality, or the breakdown of traditional belief systems.
Frequently, the writings in this genre have offered not sound diagnoses but merely truisms and dolorous representations of symptoms; nevertheless, concealed in them lurks a psychological truth. The breakdown in morality and traditional beliefs, stimulated by rapid social change, mass society and secularization, has helped to devitalize the psychological bearer of conscience and morality: the superego. Historically, the cultivation of the superego had propagated civilized men and a system of internal controls. Now the deterioration of the superego has brought crisis for political power and regression for civilization.