16.4.17

DENY COHERENT BELIEFS, ENJOY THE INCOHERENCE.

Andrew A. Michta diagnoses the rot.
At the core of the deepening dysfunction in the West is the self-induced deconstruction of Western culture and, with it, the glue that for two centuries kept Europe and the United States at the center of the international system. The nation-state has been arguably the most enduring and successful idea that Western culture has produced. It offers a recipe to achieve security, economic growth, and individual freedom at levels unmatched in human history. This concept of a historically anchored and territorially defined national homeland, having absorbed the principles of liberal democracy, the right to private property and liberty bound by the rule of law, has been the core building block of the West’s global success and of whatever “order” has ever existed in the so-called international order. Since 1945 it has been the most successful Western “export” across the globe, with the surge of decolonization driven by the quintessentially American precept of the right to self-determination of peoples, a testimony to its enduring appeal. Though challenged by fascism, Nazism, and communism, the West emerged victorious, for when confronted with existential danger, it defaulted to shared, deeply held values and the fervent belief that what its culture and heritage represented were worth fighting, and if necessary even dying, to preserve. The West prevailed then because it was confident that on balance it offered the best set of ideas, values, and principles for others to emulate.

Today, in the wake of decades of group identity politics and the attendant deconstruction of our heritage through academia, the media, and popular culture, this conviction in the uniqueness of the West is only a pale shadow of what it was a mere half century ago. It has been replaced by elite narratives substituting shame for pride and indifference to one’s own heritage for patriotism. After decades of Gramsci’s proverbial “long march” through the educational and cultural institutions, Western societies have been changed in ways that make social mobilization around the shared idea of a nation increasingly problematic. This ideological hollowing out of the West has been accompanied by a surge in confident and revanchist nationalisms in other parts of the world, as well as religiously inspired totalitarianism.

National communities cannot be built around the idea of collective shame over their past, and yet this is what is increasingly displacing a once confident (perhaps overconfident, at times) Western civilization. The increasing political uncertainty in Europe has been triggered less by the phenomenon of migration than it has by the inability of European governments to set baselines of what they will and will not accept.
There are two propositions intertwined here. But disaggregating them isn't easy.  The nation-state is, in most places, an enlightened tribal society, where the enlightenment is a receptiveness to ideas that might not have been invented locally.  Thus, the United States, Canada, and Australia might not be tribal societies in the same way France, Germany, or Sweden are, and yet each make use of ideas invented elsewhere, whether it's, e.g. political theory from Montesquieu or Locke or Smith or music from Clementi or Beethoven.  Those ideas are probably solid enough to survive the challenge of the "long march."  It is precisely the Western liberal tradition that gives the oppressed and marginalized peoples and ideologies their claims in equity to be considered, and it is precisely that tradition that will permit those claimants to reveal the shortcomings of their approaches.  But yes, that will require defenders of that tradition, whether in positions of authority or not, to uphold those standards.

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