Cel­e­brat­ing the val­ues of the West is right be­cause they’re the best

Trump’s cam­paign for the sur­vival of Western civ­i­liza­tion drives the so-called ‘pro­gres­sives’ crazy

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Clif­ford D. May

On var­i­ous oc­ca­sions and be­gin­ning decades be­fore he was elected pres­i­dent, Ron­ald Rea­gan warned that “free­dom is never more than one gen­er­a­tion from ex­tinc­tion.” He un­der­stood, and he wanted oth­ers to un­der­stand, that lib­erty is not an en­ti­tle­ment. It’s a rare and pre­cious com­mod­ity that “must be fought for.” In Europe last week, Pres­i­dent Trump raised this is­sue again but he broad­ened it and framed it more pes­simisti­cally. “The fun­da­men­tal ques­tion of our time,” he said, “is whether the West has the will to sur­vive.”

Re­ac­tions from those who call them­selves pro­gres­sives ranged from the ig­no­rant to the de­ranged. Jeet Heer of the New Repub­lic, Jonathan Cape­hart of The Wash­ing­ton Post, Jamelle Bouie of Slate, Amanda Mar­cotte of Sa­lon and Sarah Wild­man of Vox — all ac­cused Mr. Trump of har­bor­ing “white na­tion­al­ist” and “alt-right” views and blow­ing “dog whis­tles.”

Peter Beinart, who teaches jour­nal­ism and po­lit­i­cal science at the City Univer­sity of New York, went fur­ther. He called Mr. Trump’s con­cern for the sur­vival of Western civ­i­liza­tion “per­haps the most shock­ing sen­tence in any pres­i­den­tial speech de­liv­ered on for­eign soil in my life­time.”

He ob­jected to the pres­i­dent even mak­ing ref­er­ence to “the West” be­cause, he as­serted in the At­lantic, it is a “racial and re­li­gious term.” To be “con­sid­ered Western,” he added, “a coun­try must be largely Chris­tian (prefer­ably Protes­tant or Catholic) and largely white.”

This is clap­trap of the high­est or­der. First, be­cause Mr. Trump was ob­vi­ously us­ing “the West” to mean what, in a more con­fi­dent era, we called the Free World. Sec­ond, be­cause the West — a term also used to in­di­cate the de­vel­oped world, the mod­ern world, the non-com­mu­nist world, NATO and the sec­u­lar world — in­cludes the most di­verse pop­u­la­tions on the planet.

This truth should be held self-ev­i­dent: Free­dom, hu­man, civil and in­di­vid­ual rights, rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ment, sep­a­ra­tion of church and state, the rule of law, plu­ral­ism and tol­er­ance are all Western con­cepts, rooted in clas­si­cal Greece and Rome and de­vel­oped in the En­light­en­ment. The Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion be­gan a his­toric at­tempt to build a na­tion-state based on them.

Non-Western­ers may em­brace such val­ues. Mil­lions of peo­ple from non-Western lands pre­fer to live in what Mr. Trump called “the Western com­mu­nity of na­tions” and will­ingly risk their lives to de­fend their adopted homes. By con­trast, how many Amer­i­can and Euro­pean pro­gres­sives are ap­ply­ing for cit­i­zen­ship in Venezuela, Su­dan, Pak­istan and other non-Western coun­tries?

What about the legacy of slav­ery, im­pe­ri­al­ism and colo­nial­ism? What about racism, sex­ism and ho­mo­pho­bia?

Any­one with even the most cur­sory grasp of world his­tory — mean­ing any­one who didn’t spend his/her/ their col­lege years chant­ing “Hey, hey, ho, ho — Western Civ has got to go!” — would know that these prac­tices are not pe­cu­liar to the West. On the con­trary, they were the norm in vir­tu­ally ev­ery corner of the world from time im­memo­rial.

It re­quired a rev­o­lu­tion in moral think­ing to come to the con­clu­sion that slav­ery, big­otry and dis­crim­i­na­tion are evils. That rev­o­lu­tion be­gan within the West and was led by such in­di­vid­u­als as Wil­liam Wil­ber­force who — trig­ger warn­ing — was a white, evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian.

Slav­ery was abol­ished in Saudi Ara­bia only in 1962 and in­flu­en­tial cler­ics in that land con­tinue to ob­ject to the pro­hi­bi­tion. The last na­tion to for­mally abol­ish slav­ery was the Is­lamic Repub­lic of Mau­ri­ta­nia in 1981. The ji­hadis of Boko Haram and the Is­lamic State re­vive the slave trade where and when they can.

Democ­ra­cies not ge­o­graph­i­cally Western have bor­rowed Western in­sti­tu­tions, prac­tices and be­liefs. Some of the freest non-Western coun­tries to­day were once colonies of the West or de­feated by the West in war.

But the fall of the Ber­lin Wall did not trans­form Rus­sia into a free coun­try. Mustafa Ke­mal Ataturk in­tended for Turkey to join the West but Turkey’s cur­rent leader, Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, is tak­ing his so­ci­ety in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. I be­lieve many Ira­ni­ans to­day — hav­ing suf­fered un­der Shia Is­lamism for nearly two gen­er­a­tions — would em­brace Western val­ues if they had the chance, but that propo­si­tion can’t be tested so long as the mul­lahs have the guns. Western lib­eral democ­racy has ri­vals and en­e­mies. It took a world war to stop the march of Nazism, a to­tal­i­tar­ian ide­ol­ogy based on racial supremacy. It took a Cold War to stop the spread of com­mu­nism, a to­tal­i­tar­ian ide­ol­ogy based on class supremacy. To­day, Is­lamism, a to­tal­i­tar­ian ide­ol­ogy based on re­li­gious supremacy, threat­ens free peo­ples and those who might like to be. We don’t know what it will take to de­feat Is­lamism. We don’t even know that it will be de­feated. Is­lamists re­gard Is­lamic im­pe­ri­al­ism not as a stain on their his­tory but as a glo­ri­ous legacy. They are in­spired by that fact that, in 1453, the Ot­toman sul­tan, Mehmed II, con­quered the Chris­tian cap­i­tal of Con­stantino­ple, which was soon trans­formed into the cap­i­tal of a great and grow­ing Is­lamic em­pire and caliphate, one that would en­dure for cen­turies. How en­cour­ag­ing it must be for Is­lamists to hear Mr. Beinart and other pro­gres­sive chat­ter­ers call the West a bas­tion of racial and re­li­gious op­pres­sion, a civ­i­liza­tion not worth de­fend­ing. And one can only imag­ine what they think when those un­der the in­flu­ence of pro­gres­sives dis­play anti-Western an­imus. Con­sider Kathy Grif­fin, the ac­tress

This truth should be held self-ev­i­dent: Free­dom, hu­man, civil and in­di­vid­ual rights, rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ment, sep­a­ra­tion of church and state, the rule of law, plu­ral­ism and tol­er­ance are all Western con­cepts, rooted in clas­si­cal Greece and Rome and de­vel­oped in the En­light­en­ment.

who thought it would be amus­ing to iden­tify with ji­hadis by pos­ing for a pic­ture hold­ing what ap­peared to be the sev­ered and bloody head of Mr. Trump.

“Our own fight for the West does not be­gin on the bat­tle­field,” the pres­i­dent added last week. “It be­gins with our minds, our wills, and our souls.” Yes, it does, and that, I’m afraid is the nub of the prob­lem. Clif­ford D. May is pres­i­dent of the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies and a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times.


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