“Hey-hey, ho-ho, Western culture’s got to go.”
– Slogan from 1988 Stanford University protest led by Jesse Jackson.
In the aftermath of San Bernardino and Paris massacres, our cognitive leaders – from President Obama on down – have warned Americans not to engage in what Hillary Clinton has described as “a clash of civilizations.” But you can’t have a real clash when one side – ours – seems compelled to demean its traditions and values.
Leaders in America and Europe don’t want to confront Islamic fundamentalism, or other nasty manifestations of post-Western thinking, because they increasingly no longer believe in our own core values. At the same time, devoted to the climate issue, they are squandering our new energy revolution by attempting to “decarbonize,” essentially leaving the field and the financial windfall to our friends in Riyadh, Moscow, Tehran and Raqqa.
Western ethos deconstructed
As the great 15th century Arab historian Ibn Khaldun observed, societies that get rich also tend to get soft, both in the physical sense and in the head. Over the past two centuries, Western societies, propelled by the twin forces of technology and capitalist “animal spirits,” have created a diffusion of wealth unprecedented in world history. A massive middle class emerged, and the working class received valuable protections, not only in Europe and America, but throughout parts of the world, notably East Asia, which adopted at least some of the Western ethos.
The current massive movement of people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia to Western countries suggests the enduring appeal of this model. After all, people from developing countries aren’t risking their lives to move to North Korea, Russia or China. The West remains a powerful beacon in the “clash of civilizations.”
Yet a portion of these newcomers ultimately reject our culture and, in some cases, seek to liquidate it. They do this in countries where multiculturalism urges immigrants to register as “victims,” and not indulge in Western culture, as did most previous immigrant waves. After all, why assimilate into a culture that much of the cultural elite believes to be evil?
Perhaps the biggest disconnect may involve young immigrants and their offspring, particularly students. Rather than be integrated in some ways into society, they are able, and even encouraged, not to learn about “Western civilization,” which is all but gone from campuses, with barely 2 percent retaining this requirement.
The dominant ideology on college campus – “cultural relativism” – leaves little room for anything other than a nasty take on Western history and culture. Many students, whether of immigrant parentage or descendants of the Mayflower, have only vague appreciation or knowledge of Western civilization, making them highly vulnerable to such pleading. They often go through college now with only the vaguest notion of our history, the writings of the American founders, the philosophy of the Enlightenment, our vast cultural heritage or the fundamental principles of Christianity or, if you will, Judeo-Christianity.
This extends beyond religion to the very basics – like respect for the First Amendment – that underpin our social order. Two in five millennials, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, believe the government “should be able to prevent people from saying ... statements that are offensive to minority groups.” A third of millennials opined that government should prevent speech “offensive to your religion or beliefs.”
The media and much of the nonprofit world share this perspective. For all the talk about Rupert Murdoch – the aging last remnant of contrarian journalism – and the Koch brothers, the cultural wars have been entirely won by the far larger, better-funded and protected progressive media and nonprofit establishment. In virtually every part of the West, more traditional values, from the primacy of the family to religion and belief in the efficacy of market capitalism, are being undermined, with increasingly disastrous results.
Over a decade ago, the British historian Martin Weiner proffered his theory of “psychological deindustrialization” to explain the decline of the British capitalist class. In Weiner’s estimation, the great 19th century industrial expansion of that remarkable island nation lost its momentum as the scions of the capitalist class lost their taste for manufacturing, preferring the comforts of country estates, the clubby world of London and high-minded charity.
In the West today, the children of the rich, and often the rich themselves, embrace causes, notably climate change alarmism, that work against the whole ethos of progress and mass affluence. Now many of these people – notably in Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Hollywood and other centers of absurd wealth – are determined to “save” the planet by regulating and taxing the middle class back to the 19th century. That this effort is led by groups like the Rockefeller brothers, who owe their fortunes to black gold, is ironic, to say the least.
In this intellectual climate, it is no shock that at the recent Paris climate conference, Western capitalism was blamed entirely for climate change. This has sparked the demand for “climate reparations” without a thought that, over the past two decades, this same capitalism has helped a billion people out of poverty, mostly in the developing world.
The blame-the-West-first trend extends well beyond environmental concerns. Disbelief in the system of democratic give and take to address climate change reflects views on a whole set of issues, from feminism and gender to race. No surprise that draconian proposals to address the climate “crisis” often see little need to deal with Congress, legal due process, even free speech.
So, rather than address how to improve the environment without eviscerating our own middle class, we expend enormous energy on peripheral issues like transgender rights, often exaggerated claims surrounding “a war on women,” and whether the lives of African Americans matter more. A writer in a recent article in the New York Times, cogitating on racial privilege, opined, “For me, whiteness is not an identity but a moral problem.”
Such attitudes have been around a long time. It’s been almost a half century since the late Susan Sontag opined that the “white race is the cancer of human history,” for everything from eradicating “autonomous civilizations” and upsetting “the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.” But in 1966, when these views were first expressed, they were in a minority, even on campuses. Today, they have evolved into holy writ.
As such views have become mainstream, it’s not surprising that there is little interest, at least in the culture’s higher circles, in protecting the Western heritage, even when under direct assault. One painful example is the pathetic nonresponse to the gradual genocide being carried out in the Middle East against Christians. Threatened with the abolition of the West’s dominant religion does not seem to motivate mainstream Christians often more worried about the evils of Islamophobia and climate change than mass killings of their own co-religionists.
A society that no longer believes in its core beliefs cannot prevail against rivals who, although less wealthy and far less technologically advanced, embrace their core ideals. A West that rejects (and sometimes is unaware of) its own heritage cannot overcome those who, for religious or national reasons, have a powerful belief in theirs.
Some people in Western countries are reacting to this abandonment of culture and heritage. Unfortunately, many of them are attracted to demagogues like Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front whose anti-immigrant xenophobia now has potent analogues in countries from the eastern frontier of Poland, Slovakia and Hungry to seeming secure reaches of Scandinavia. Given the cultural dominance of the relativist Left and the post-Christian nature of the culture, none of these movements will likely do more than make noise and inspire “tut-tuts” among the intelligentsia.
Ultimately, we can only confront the challenge from authoritarian forces – whether in the Middle East, China or Russia – when we once again embrace our cultural values as important and worthy of protection. Our opponents – and that’s what they are – may be fundamentally weaker than us, but can count on the advantage of belief in their destiny. To save ours, Western culture needs to stay, not be put away.