Il faut se rappeler que les chefs militaires allemands jouaient un jeu désespéré. Néanmoins, ce fut avec un sentiment d’effroi qu’ils tournèrent contre la Russie la plus affreuse de toutes les armes. Ils firent transporter Lénine, de Suisse en Russie, comme un bacille de la peste, dans un wagon plombé. Winston Churchill
Debout ! les damnés de la terre ! Debout ! les forçats de la faim ! La raison tonne en son cratère, C’est l’éruption de la fin. Du passé faisons table rase, Foule esclave, debout ! debout ! Le monde va changer de base : Nous ne sommes rien, soyons tout ! C’est la lutte finale Groupons-nous, et demain, L’Internationale, Sera le genre humain. Eugène Pottier (1871)
Attention, l’Amérique a la rage (…) La science se développe partout au même rythme et la fabrication des bombes est affaire de potentiel industriel. En tuant les Rosenberg, vous avez tout simplement essayé d’arrêter les progrès de la science. (…) Vous nous avez déjà fait le coup avec Sacco et Vanzetti et il a réussi. Cette fois, il ne réussira pas. Vous rappelez-vous Nuremberg et votre théorie de la responsabilité collective. Eh bien ! C’est à vous aujourd’hui qu’il faut l’appliquer. Vous êtes collectivement responsables de la mort des Rosenberg, les uns pour avoir provoqué ce meurtre, les autres pour l’avoir laissé commettre. Jean-Paul Sartre (« Les animaux malades de la rage », Libération, 22 juin 1953)
Notre nation fait face à une campagne visant à effacer notre histoire, diffamer nos héros, supprimer nos valeurs et endoctriner nos enfants. (…) Le désordre violent que nous avons vu dans nos rues et nos villes qui sont dirigées par des libéraux démocrates dans tous les cas est le résultat d’années d’endoctrinement extrême et de partialité dans l’éducation, le journalisme et d’autres institutions culturelles. (…) Nous croyons en l’égalité des chances, une justice égale et un traitement égal pour les citoyens de toutes races, origines, religions et croyances. Chaque enfant, de chaque couleur – né et à naître – est fait à l’image sainte de Dieu. Donald Trump
Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children. Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities. Many of these people have no idea why they are doing this, but some know exactly what they are doing. They think the American people are weak and soft and submissive. But no, the American people are strong and proud, and they will not allow our country, and all of its values, history, and culture, to be taken from them. One of their political weapons is “Cancel Culture” — driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees. This is the very definition of totalitarianism, and it is completely alien to our culture and our values, and it has absolutely no place in the United States of America. (…) In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished. (…) Make no mistake: this left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution. In so doing, they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress. To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage. Our people have a great memory. They will never forget the destruction of statues and monuments to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, abolitionists, and many others. The violent mayhem we have seen in the streets of cities that are run by liberal Democrats, in every case, is the predictable result of years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education, journalism, and other cultural institutions. Against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country, and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but that were villains. The radical view of American history is a web of lies — all perspective is removed, every virtue is obscured, every motive is twisted, every fact is distorted, and every flaw is magnified until the history is purged and the record is disfigured beyond all recognition. This movement is openly attacking the legacies of every person on Mount Rushmore. They defile the memory of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. Today, we will set history and history’s record straight. (….) We believe in equal opportunity, equal justice, and equal treatment for citizens of every race, background, religion, and creed. Every child, of every color — born and unborn — is made in the holy image of God. We want free and open debate, not speech codes and cancel culture. We embrace tolerance, not prejudice. We support the courageous men and women of law enforcement. We will never abolish our police or our great Second Amendment, which gives us the right to keep and bear arms. We believe that our children should be taught to love their country, honor our history, and respect our great American flag. We stand tall, we stand proud, and we only kneel to Almighty God. This is who we are. This is what we believe. And these are the values that will guide us as we strive to build an even better and greater future. President Trump
Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go! Jesse Jackson (1987)
By focusing these ideas on all of us they are crushing the psyche of those others to whom Locke, Hume, and Plato are not speaking. . . . The Western culture program as it is presently structured around a core list and an outdated philosophy of the West being Greece, Europe, and Euro-America is wrong, and worse, it hurts people mentally and emotionally. Bill King (Stanford Black Student Union,1988)
Still nominally very much part of an atheistic, anti-foundational, French academic avant-garde in the United States, and now increasingly prominent in his position at Johns Hopkins, Girard was even one of the chief organizers of “The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man,” the enormously influential conference, in Baltimore in October 1966, that brought to America from France skeptical celebrity intellectuals including Jacques Lacan, Lucien Goldmann, Roland Barthes, and, most consequentially, the most agile of Nietzschean nihilists, Jacques Derrida, still obscure in 1966 (and always bamboozlingly obscurantist) but propelled to fame by the conference and his subsequent literary productivity and travels in America: another glamorous, revolutionary “Citizen Genet,” like the original Jacobin visitor of 1793–94. After this standing-room-only conference, Derrida and “deconstructionism,” left-wing Nietzscheanism in the high French intellectual mode, took America by storm, which is perhaps the crucial story in the subsequent unintelligibility, decline, and fall of the humanities in American universities, in terms both of enrollments and of course content. The long-term effect can be illustrated in declining enrollments: at Stanford, for example, in 2014 alone “humanities majors plummeted from 20 percent to 7 percent,” according to Ms. Haven. The Anglo-American liberal-humanistic curricular and didactic tradition of Matthew Arnold (defending “the old but true Socratic thesis of the interdependence of knowledge and virtue”), Columbia’s Arnoldian John Erskine (“The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent,” 1913), Chicago’s R. M. Hutchins and Mortimer Adler (the “Great Books”), and English figures such as Basil Willey (e.g., The English Moralists, 1964) and F. R. Leavis (e.g., The Living Principle: “English” as a Discipline of Thought, 1975) at Cambridge, and their successor there and at Boston University, Sir Christopher Ricks, was rapidly mocked, demoted, and defenestrated, with Stanford students eventually shouting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho! / Western civ has got to go!” The fundamental paradox of a relativistic but left-wing, Francophile Nietzscheanism married to a moralistic neo-Marxist analysis of cultural traditions and power structures — insane conjunction! — is now the very “gas we breathe” on university campuses throughout the West (…). Girard quietly repented his role in introducing what he later called “the French plague” to the United States, with Derrida, Foucault, and Paul DeMan exalting ludicrous irrationalism to spectacular new heights. M. D. Aeschliman
Nous sommes une société qui, tous les cinquante ans ou presque, est prise d’une sorte de paroxysme de vertu – une orgie d’auto-purification à travers laquelle le mal d’une forme ou d’une autre doit être chassé. De la chasse aux sorcières de Salem aux chasses aux communistes de l’ère McCarthy à la violente fixation actuelle sur la maltraitance des enfants, on retrouve le même fil conducteur d’hystérie morale. Après la période du maccarthisme, les gens demandaient : mais comment cela a-t-il pu arriver ? Comment la présomption d’innocence a-t-elle pu être abandonnée aussi systématiquement ? Comment de grandes et puissantes institutions ont-elles pu accepté que des enquêteurs du Congrès aient fait si peu de cas des libertés civiles – tout cela au nom d’une guerre contre les communistes ? Comment était-il possible de croire que des subversifs se cachaient derrière chaque porte de bibliothèque, dans chaque station de radio, que chaque acteur de troisième zone qui avait appartenu à la mauvaise organisation politique constituait une menace pour la sécurité de la nation ? Dans quelques décennies peut-être les gens ne manqueront pas de se poser les mêmes questions sur notre époque actuelle; une époque où les accusations de sévices les plus improbables trouvent des oreilles bienveillantes; une époque où il suffit d’être accusé par des sources anonymes pour être jeté en pâture à la justice; une époque où la chasse à ceux qui maltraitent les enfants est devenu une pathologie nationale. Dorothy Rabinowitz
You always told us not to boast. Gisela Warburg
How can the proposed Declaration be applicable to all human beings and not be a statement of rights conceived only in terms of the values prevalent in the countries of Western Europe and America?” Melville J. Herskovits (The American Anthropological Association, 1947)
Nelson (…) was what you would now call, without hesitation, a white supremacist. While many around him were denouncing slavery, Nelson was vigorously defending it. Britain’s best known naval hero – so idealised that after his death in 1805 he was compared to no less than “the God who made him” – used his seat in the House of Lords and his position of huge influence to perpetuate the tyranny, serial rape and exploitation organised by West Indian planters, some of whom he counted among his closest friends. It is figures like Nelson who immediately spring to mind when I hear the latest news of confederate statues being pulled down in the US. These memorials – more than 700 of which still stand in states including Virginia, Georgia and Texas – have always been the subject of offence and trauma for many African Americans, who rightly see them as glorifying the slavery and then segregation of their not so distant past. But when these statues begin to fulfil their intended purpose of energising white supremacist groups, the issue periodically attracts more mainstream interest. The reaction in Britain has been, as in the rest of the world, almost entirely condemnatory of neo-Nazis in the US and of its president for failing to denounce them. But when it comes to our own statues, things get a little awkward. The colonial and pro-slavery titans of British history are still memorialised: despite student protests, Oxford University’s statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes has not been taken down; and Bristol still celebrates its notorious slaver Edward Colston. (…) Britain has committed unquantifiable acts of cultural terrorism – tearing down statues and palaces, and erasing the historical memory of other great civilisations during an imperial era whose supposed greatness we are now, so ironically, very precious about preserving intact. And we knew what we were doing at the time. One detail that has always struck me is how, when the British destroyed the centuries-old Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860 and gave a little dog they’d stolen as a gift to Queen Victoria, she humorously named it “Looty”. This is one of the long list of things we are content to forget while sucking on the opium of “historical integrity” we claim our colonial statues represent. We have “moved on” from this era no more than the US has from its slavery and segregationist past. The difference is that America is now in the midst of frenzied debate on what to do about it, whereas Britain – in our inertia, arrogance and intellectual laziness – is not. The statues that remain are not being “put in their historical context”, as is often claimed. Take Nelson’s column. Yes, it does include the figure of a black sailor, cast in bronze in the bas-relief. He was probably one of the thousands of slaves promised freedom if they fought for the British military, only to be later left destitute, begging and homeless, on London’s streets when the war was over. But nothing about this “context” is accessible to the people who crane their necks in awe of Nelson. The black slaves whose brutalisation made Britain the global power it then was remain invisible, erased and unseen. Afua Hirsch
Why are we experiencing the worst civil disturbances in decades? It is because the proponents of radical change won’t have it any other way. Early 20th Century Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci theorized that the path to a communist future came through gradually undermining the pillars of western civilization. We are now seeing the results of decades of such erosion, in education, in faith, in politics and in the media. The old standards of freedom, individual responsibility, equality and civic order are being assaulted by proponents of socialism, radical deconstruction and mob rule. Those who charge that institutional racism is rampant in America are the same as those who run the country’s major institutions – city governments, academe, the media, Hollywood, major sports leagues and the Washington, D.C. deep state bureaucracy. Accountability? None. The irony is rich. At the same time, the only legal and institutional structures that mandate racially based outcomes do so in favor of other-than-majority groups. Anyone who questions this arrangement winds up cancelled. The public debate is hardwired for disunity, making the former language of inclusion the new dog whistle of racism. The exclusionary slogan “black lives matter” is sanctified while the more unifying “all lives matter” is called divisive. People who say they want a colorblind society are called bigots even as progressives push for segregated events and housing on college campuses and “CHOP” protesters demand Black-only hospitals. Martin Luther King’s dream that people will “live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” is judged by today’s progressives as a call for white supremacy. The media goes out of its way to coddle violent protesters, calling them peaceful even as they verbally abuse and then throw bottles at police, saying they are not “generally speaking, unruly” standing in front of a burning building. Political leaders who benefit from disunity keep fanning the flames. For example House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reckless charge that the Senate police reform bill is “trying to get away with the murder of George Floyd” is irresponsibly divisive, especially since it was drafted by African American Senator Tim Scott (R-SC). Public monuments have borne the brunt of the violence in recent weeks. As President Trump predicted, the vandalism has moved well beyond statues of Confederates. Practically any statue is fair game. Washington, Jefferson, even Ulysses S. Grant, the man who defeated Lee’s army, all have been toppled by the mobs. And liberal city governments are taking down statues at least as fast as the rioters. But it would be a mistake to think that the statues themselves are at issue, or even what they symbolize. Rather it is the need for the radicals not just to cleanse American history but to make people feel ashamed of every aspect of it. In this way they clear a path for a radical future, buttressed by an unwavering sense of moral superiority that entitles them to smack down any dissent, usually gagging people in the name of “free speech.” We were told for years that anything the Trump administration did that was remotely controversial was an attempt to divide the country. Democrats frequently blamed insidious foreign influence, using expressions like “right out of Putin’s playbook” to keep the Russian collusion canard alive. But they are the ones who are weakening and dividing the country, to the evident glee of our Russian and Chinese adversaries. They have completely adopted longstanding Russian and Chinese propaganda lines about the United States being a country of endemic racism, poverty and oppression, when in fact America is an opportunity society and one of the most racially diverse and tolerant countries in the world. The protesters, their political allies and media backers are working hard to create the very sort of divisions they claim to oppose, because a weak, divided and ashamed America is their pathway to power. Chris Farrell
The statue of Columbus sat in front of Columbus City Hall for 65 years. It was a gift from the people of Genoa, Italy. Now the mayor’s office says it’s “in safekeeping at a secure city facility.” What a blow to U.S.-Italy relations. At least he could offer to give the statue back. A second Columbus likeness, a marble of the navigator pointing west, was booted last month by Columbus State Community College, where it used to stand in the downtown Discovery District. The mayor’s office says the unelected Columbus Art Commission will launch a “participatory process” to find new art that “offers a shared vision for the future.” Good luck. “Let’s just leave the space empty,” one Dispatch letter suggested, “because if not everyone is happy should anyone be happy?” What a sad sign of the times. WSJ
ABC News published a report this week titled “New government data, shared first with ABC News, shows the country’s premier outdoor spaces – the 419 national parks – remain overwhelmingly white.” The story’s headline reads, “America’s national parks face existential crisis over race,” adding in the subhead, “A mostly white workforce, visitation threatens parks‘ survival and public health.” “Just 23% of visitors to the parks were people of color,” the report adds, “77% were white. Minorities make up 42% of the U.S. population.” As it turns out, white people really enjoy hiking and camping, and that is a problem for the parks, the ABC News report claims, because people of color will be a majority in America by 2044. The article then goes on to quote outdoor enthusiasts of color who say they do not feel welcome at the “overwhelmingly white” national parks. These advocates, the article reads, “say they hope the moment since George Floyd’s death in police custody brings attention to systemic racism in the outdoors as well as other parts of society and translates into a long-term change in attitudes and behavior.” Sorry, everyone. Even national parks are racist now. This is not normal behavior from our press. This is a mental breakdown in the works. People of the future will look at all this and wonder how on earth these stories made it into print. The best thing that can happen now for the news industry is for the pandemic to pass, the lockdowns to lift, and for everyone to go outside and get some fresh air. Because the way nearly everyone in the press is behaving now, it seems clear that cabin fever has set in hard, and it is an epidemic we may not shake as quickly as the coronavirus. Becket Adams
People have said for decades that America needs to have “an honest conversation about race.” Is this what they had in mind—this drama of marches, riots, witness videos, tear-gassings, surging police lines, Trump tweets, Zoom pressers, statue-topplings, Facebook screeds, cable television rants, window-smashings, shop-burnings, police-defundings, escalating murder rates and the distant thunder of editorial boards? Veterans in the field of less-than-revolutionary race relations learned that a certain amount of truth-suppression is actually helpful—preferable to the “honesty” of hatred, for example. Much progress has been accomplished under cover of hypocrisy—or, if you like, civility. Good manners and artful hypocrisy were Booker T. Washington’s game, but he was written off as an Uncle Tom long ago. We live now in the regime and culture of confrontation—ideology as performance, anger as proof of authenticity. You remember how much trouble Joe Biden got into when he bragged about his ability to get along with segregationists in the 1970s. Mr. Biden was preening thoughtlessly on his skill in the arts of the old hypocrisy. Now he has learned his lesson and embraces the left’s idea of honesty—no deviation from the party line or from the officially approved emotions. How do you judge a moment of history when you are in the thick of it? How can you tell if all of this will be remembered as historic or will be superseded and forgotten as another momentary sensation, another self-important mirage? The current moment feels intensely historic now, but we shall see. Black Lives Matter has ambitions to abolish its own version of the Chinese Cultural Revolution’s “Four Olds”—old customs, old culture, old habits, old ideas—and to add a fifth, old statues. Yet this summer the titanic racial theme competes and fuses with other superstories—the pandemic and its economic consequences, the presidential race, America’s long-running politico-religious civil war. Raw emotion pours out of social media and into the streets—outrage, with a touch of holiday. On the other side is an oddly silent majority. It seems eerie that so much of the country—the land of “white supremacy,” as the left likes to think of it—gives the appearance of having almost acquiesced, as if it has conceded that the eruptions might be justified and even overdue. Can it be that the silenced majority has had an epiphany, that in its heart it acknowledges the justice of black Americans calling in Thomas Jefferson’s IOU, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that his justice cannot sleep forever”? There’s some of that—changed minds, old prejudice grown reflective. In any case, the silenced majority, out of moral courtesy, has been reluctant to criticize people demonstrating in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. At the same time, it recoils—more indignantly and incredulously each day—from the left’s overall program and mind-set, which it considers insidious if not crazy. When major cities propose to cut off funds for their police departments or to abolish them altogether, that Swiftian absurdity makes a deep impression, confirming a broader doubt about the left’s intentions and mental health. The most tragic impediment to an honest conversation about race in America is fear—an entirely realistic fear of being slain by the cancel culture. This fear to speak is a civic catastrophe and an affront to the Constitution. It induces silent rage in the silenced. It is impossible to exaggerate the corrupting effect that the terror of being called a “racist”—even a whiff of the toxin, the slightest hint, the ghost of an imputation—has on freedom of discussion and the honest workings of the American public mind. Racism in America is no longer totalitarian, as it once was, especially in the South. The cancel culture is the new totalitarianism, a compound of McCarthyism, the Inquisition, the Cultural Revolution, the Taliban and what has become a lethal and systemic ignorance of history—almost a hatred of it. All that wild, unearned certainty, all that year-zero zealotry, discredits those who associate themselves with the cause and makes a mockery of their sweet intentions. Much of the white woke rage is radiant with mere self-importance. And it’s going to backfire. Newton’s Third Law of Motion hasn’t been repealed: For every action there is still an equal and opposite reaction. My sense is that there is quietly building a powerful backlash, which will express itself on Nov. 3, if not before. My guess is that polls now showing Mr. Biden far ahead don’t reflect reality. It may be impossible for President Trump to win; for some reason, he collaborates daily with his enemies to sabotage his chances. But the outcome is by no means as certain as the polls now suggest. Lance Morrow
We must resist the temptation to romanticize history’s losers. The other civilizations overrun by the West’s, or more peacefully transformed by it through borrowings as much as by impositions, were not without their defects either, of which the most obvious is that they were incapable of providing their inhabitants with any sustained improvement in the material quality of their lives. (…) civilization is much more than just the contents of a few first-rate art galleries. It is a highly complex human organization (…) as much about sewage pipes as flying buttresses.” Niall Ferguson French postmodern theory refuses to distinguish between high and low culture, attempting to make it futile even to discuss whether this or that work of art is or is not lovely or important. If you want to argue that Kanye West’s lyrics are as good as Shakespeare, or Mongolian yurts are as sophisticated a form of architecture as Bauhaus, then Foucault will support you all the way. But if you want to understand why we do not have child slavery in the West, or disenfranchised women, or imprisonment without trial, or the imprisonment of newspaper editors, you simply have to study the cultural history that produced such an unusual and extraordinary situation in human history. It is inescapable and not susceptible to postmodernist analysis. It’s not about the aesthetic or literary superiority of certain artworks, but about the unequivocal good of human dignity. If Ms. Rashatwar finds the idea of losing her human rights so “romantic,” she is always welcome to move to Saudi Arabia, which is still awaiting its Enlightenment. The late, very great Gertrude Himmelfarb identified three separate Enlightenments — English, French, and Scottish — at different though overlapping stages of the 18th century, with different emphases in different places at different times. Chartres Cathedral was not dedicated until 1260, so there were five centuries between then and the Enlightenments, but they were the moments when people began to throw off superstition and belief in magic and witchcraft, to look at the world afresh, unafraid of what they might find and where it might take them, even at the risk of unbelief. If the Islamic world had had such a moment, it would not have been left behind in so many areas of accomplishment since it was turned back from the gates of Vienna in 1683, with the result that its fascist-fundamentalist wing might not have existed to lash out in such fury and resentment on 9/11. The recent Security Conference in Munich took as its theme and title “Westlessness” — an ugly word in English, worse in German — intending to prompt international decision-makers into thinking about what might happen if the Trump administration were ever to get as tough over NATO underfunding as it has long threatened to do. Another fear of Westlessness, however, should be about the eclipse of Western civilization as a subject for study, as a result of a hugely successful Gramscian march through the institutions that started long before Jesse Jackson and his megaphone visited Stanford. For far from becoming a Kumbaya touchy-feely place, a truly Westless world would be a neo-Darwinian free-for-all in which every state merely grabbed what it could, a return to the world Hobbes wrote about in Leviathan. The Left should beware what it claims to wish for, and Western civilization should be taught once more in our schools and colleges. For as Churchill knew as the bombs were falling and London was burning in December 1940, it is worth fighting for. Andrew Roberts
Après la peste… la rage !
En ces temps étranges …
L’Amérique semble à nouveau emportée – et tout l’Occident peut-être avec elle ?
Par une de ces vagues périodiques de furie auto-purificatrice …
Et où en ce singulier 244e anniversaire de la Déclaration d’indépendance américaine …
Le président américain se voit contraint …
Entre deux manifestations ou déboulonnages de statues …
A en rappeler toute l’importance au pied même d’un de ses plus imposants symboles …
Comment ne pas repenser …
Avec la National Review …
A ces alors bien innocents jours il y a trente ans à peine …
Où reprenant les nouveaux diktats de la French theory de nos Foucault et Derrida …
Jessie Jackson et ses amis appelaient au sein même de l’université Stanford …
A rien de moins que… la fin de la Civilisation occidentale ?
Andrew Roberts National Review April 30, 2020 Tuesday, December 3, 1940, Winston Churchill read a memorandum by the military strategist Basil Liddell Hart that advocated making peace with Nazi Germany. It argued, in a summary written by Churchill’s private secretary, Jock Colville, that otherwise Britain would soon see “Western Europe racked by warfare and economic hardship; the legacy of centuries, in art and culture, swept away; the health of the nation dangerously impaired by malnutrition, nervous strains and epidemics; Russia . . . profiting from our exhaustion.” Colville admitted it was “a terrible glimpse of the future,” but nonetheless courageously concluded that “we should be wrong to hesitate” in rejecting any negotiation with Adolf Hitler.
It is illuminating — especially in our own time of “nervous strains and epidemics” — that in that list of horrors, the fear of losing the “legacy of centuries” of Western European art and culture rated above almost everything else. For Churchill and Colville, the prospect of losing the legacy of Western civilization was worse even than that of succumbing to the hegemony of the Soviet Union.
Yet today, only eight decades later, we have somehow reached a situation in which Sonalee Rashatwar, who is described by the Philadelphia Inquirer as a “fat-positivity activist and Instagram therapist,” can tell that newspaper, “I love to talk about undoing Western civilization because it’s just so romantic to me.” Whilst their methods are obviously not so appallingly extreme, Ms. Rashatwar and the cohorts who genuinely want to “undo” Western civilization are now succeeding where Adolf Hitler and the Nazis failed.
The evidence is rampant in the academy, where a preemptive cultural cringe is “decolonizing” college syllabuses — that is, wherever possible removing Dead White European Males (DWEMs) from it — often with overt support from deans and university establishments. Western Civilization courses, insofar as they still exist under other names, are routinely denounced as racist, “phobic,” and generally so un-woke as to deserve axing.
Western civilization, so important to earlier generations, is being ridiculed, abused, and marginalized, often without any coherent response. Of course, today’s non-Western colonizations, such as India’s in Kashmir and China’s in Tibet and Uighurstan, are not included in the sophomores’ concept of imperialism and occupation, which can be done only by the West. The “Amritsar Massacre” only ever refers to the British in the Punjab in 1919, for example, rather than the Indian massacre of ten times the number of people there in 1984. Nor can the positive aspects of the British Empire even be debated any longer, as the closing down of Professor Nigel Biggar’s conferences at Oxford University on the legacy of colonialism eloquently demonstrates.
We all know the joke that Mahatma Gandhi supposedly made when he was asked what he thought about Western civilization: “I think it might be a good idea.” The gag is apocryphal, in fact, first appearing two decades after his death. But very many people have taken it literally, arguing that there really is no such thing as Western civilization, from ideologues such as Noam Chomsky to the activists of the Rhodes Must Fall movement at Oxford University, who demand the removal from Oriel College of the statue of the benefactor of the Rhodes Scholarships.
Increasingly clamorous demands by African and Asian governments for the restitution of artifacts “stolen” from their countries during colonial periods are another aspect of the attack, an attempt to guilt-shame the West. It also did not help that for eight years before 2016, the United States was led by someone who was constantly searching for aspects of Western behavior for which to apologize.
This belief that Western civilization is at heart morally defective has recently been exemplified by the New York Times’ inane and wildly historically inaccurate “1619 Project,” which essentially attempts to present the entirety of American history from Plymouth Rock to today solely through the prism of race and slavery. “America Wasn’t a Democracy until Black Americans Made It One” was the headline of one essay in the New York Times Magazine launching the project, alongside “American Capitalism Is Brutal: You Can Trace That to the Plantation” and “How Segregation Caused Your Traffic Jam.” When no fewer than twelve — in the circumstances very brave — American Civil War historians sent a letter itemizing all the myriad factual errors in the project’s founding document, the New York Times refused to print it. Yet the Project plans to create and distribute school curriculums that will “recenter” America’s memory.
None of this would amount to much if only schools and colleges were not so keen to apologize for and deny Western civilization, and to abolish or dumb down the teaching of important aspects of it. The classics faculty at Oxford University, to take one example of many, has recently recommended that Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid be removed from the initial module of the literae Humaniores program in ancient literature, history, and philosophy, giving as their reason the difference in recent exam results between male and female undergraduates, and the difference in expertise in Latin and Greek between privately and publicly educated students. The supposed guardians of the discipline are therefore willing to put social experimentation and social leveling before the best possible teaching of the humanities, a disgraceful position for one of the world’s greatest universities to have adopted.
A glance at the fate of “Western Civ” courses in the United States suggests that there is a deep malaise in our cultural self-confidence. The origin of the concept of Western civilization as a subject is found in the “War Issues” course offered to students at Columbia University in 1918, just after the United States’ entry into World War I. By learning the politics, history, philosophy, and culture of the Western world, students were given the opportunity to understand the values for which they were about to be asked to risk their lives. In 1919, the Columbia course was developed into “An Introduction to Contemporary Civilization,” which was followed by a similar innovation at the University of Chicago in 1931.
By 1964, no fewer than 40 of the 50 top American colleges required students to take such a class, which, to take Stanford University as an example, had evolved into a core canon of around 15 works, including those by Homer, Virgil, Plato, Dante, Milton, and Voltaire. While the content of the Western Civ courses was considerably more flexible, complex, and diverse than subsequent critics have suggested (as Herbert Lindenberger’s study The History in Literature: On Value, Genre, Institutions explains), the courses did indeed treat Western civilization as a uniform entity. In the last decade, that was derided as so inherently and obviously evil that Western Civ courses had disappeared altogether, miraculously holding out in their Columbia birthplace and in few other places, including brave, non-government-funded outposts of sanity such as Hillsdale College in Michigan and the incipient Ralston College in Savannah.
For all that we must of course take proper cognizance of other cultures, the legacy of Western culture, in terms of both its sheer quality and its quantity, is unsurpassed in human history. We are deliberately underplaying many of the greatest contributions made to poetry, architecture, philosophy, music, and art by ignoring that fact, often simply in order to try to feel less guilty about imperialism, colonialism, and slavery, even though the last was a moral crime committed by only a minority of some few people’s great-great-great-grandparents.
As a result, future generations cannot be certain that they will be taught about the overwhelmingly positive aspects of Western civilization. They might not now be shown the crucial interconnection between, for example, the Scrovegni Chapel by Giotto at Padua, which articulates the complex scholasticism of Saint Augustine in paint; Machiavelli’s The Prince, the first work of modern political theory; Botticelli’s Primavera, the quintessence of Renaissance humanism in a single painting; the works of Teresa of Ávila and Descartes, which wrestle with the proof of discrete individual identity; Beethoven’s symphonies, arguably the most complex and profound orchestral works ever written; and Shakespeare, whose plays Harold Bloom has pointed out, “remain the outward limit of human achievement: aesthetically, cognitively, in certain ways morally, even spiritually.” Even if students are taught about these works individually, they will not be connected in a context that makes it clear how important they are to Western civilization.
We cannot therefore know, once the present campaign against Western civilization reaches its goal, that our children and grandchildren will be taught about the living thing that intimately connects Europe’s Gothic cathedrals, which are mediations in stone between the individual and the sublime; the giants of the 19th-century novel, from Dickens to Flaubert to Tolstoy, in whose works contemporary life realistically observed becomes a fit subject for art; the Dutch masters of the 17th century such as Rembrandt, who wrestled visually with the human condition in a fashion that still speaks to us across the centuries; Versailles, the Hermitage, and the Alhambra, which, though bombastic, are undeniably ravishing expressions of the human will. Faced with the argument that Western culture is no longer relevant, it’s tempting to adopt Dr. Johnson’s argument, aim a good kick at the nearest neoclassical building, and announce, “I refute it thus.”
Mention of the Alhambra in Granada prompts the thought that any course in Western civilization worth its name ought also to include the Umayyad Caliphate, of which Córdoba in modern-day Spain was the capital between 756 and 929. In the wake of the conquest of Spain and the establishment of the Muslim confederacy of Al-Andalus, Córdoba became a flourishing, polyglot, multicultural environment in which religious tolerance, despite Jews’ and Christians’ being obliged to pay a supplementary tax to the state, produced an atmosphere of intellectual progressiveness that made it one of the most important cities in the world. Discoveries in trigonometry, pharmacology, astronomy, and surgery can all be traced to Córdoba. At a certain point, then, a very particular set of historical circumstances produced an equally particular set of intellectual ideas, which had significant material consequences. The study of Western civilization is therefore emphatically not solely that of Christian DWEMs.
In 1988, Jesse Jackson led Stanford students in the chant, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go!” The protests attracted national headlines and inspired a television debate between the university’s president and William Bennett, then secretary of education. Bill King, the president of the Stanford Black Student Union, claimed at that time, “By focusing these ideas on all of us they are crushing the psyche of those others to whom Locke, Hume, and Plato are not speaking. . . . The Western culture program as it is presently structured around a core list and an outdated philosophy of the West being Greece, Europe, and Euro-America is wrong, and worse, it hurts people mentally and emotionally.” He presented no actual evidence that reading Locke, Hume, or Plato has ever hurt anyone mentally or emotionally, and that was of course decades before the snowflake generation could proclaim themselves offended by the “micro-aggression” of a raised eyebrow.
In 2016, over 300 Stanford students signed a petition requesting a ballot on the restoration of the Western Civ course. Fewer people voted for the ballot than voted to have it in the first place. In his book The Lost History of Western Civilization, Stanley Kurtz places the events at Stanford center stage for what went so badly wrong later across America, as the skewed thinking behind the deconstructionist, multiculturalist, postmodern, and intersectional movements caused so much damage to education for so long.
Kurtz reminds us that what the Western Civ courses really did was to root a people in their past and their values. The trajectory of Western culture was shown to have run from Greece via Rome to Christendom, infused by Judaic ideas and morality along the way via Jerusalem, but then detouring briefly through the Dark Ages, recovering in the Renaissance, which led to the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and thus the scientific, rational, and politically liberated culture of Europe and European America. “From Plato to NATO,” as the catchphrase went.
At the center of this transference of values across time and space was democracy, of which Winston Churchill famously said, “Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” The generations who grew up knowing that truth, rather than weltering in guilt and self-doubt about “false consciousness” and so on, were the lucky ones, because they were allowed to study the glories of Western civilization in a way that was unembarrassed, unashamed, and not saddled with accusations of guilt in a centuries-old crime that had absolutely nothing to do with them. They could learn about the best of their civilization, and how it benefited — and continues to benefit — mankind.
As Ian Jenkins, the senior curator of the Ancient Greek collection at the British Museum, put it in his book on the Elgin Marbles — politically correctly entitled “The Parthenon Sculptures” — “Human figures in the frieze are more than mere portraits of the Athenian people of the day. Rather they represent a timeless humanity, one which transcends the present to encompass a universal vision of an ideal society.” The Parthenon itself set out the architectural laws of proportion that still obtain to this day, and later in the book Jenkins points out how the sculptures “transcend national boundaries and epitomize universal and enduring values of excellence.” It was no coincidence that interest in them permeated the Western Enlightenments of the 18th century.
While the Parthenon was being built, Pericles contrasted the openness and moderation of Athenian civic life with the militaristic, secretive, dictatorial Spartans in his Funeral Speech of 430 b.c., and this struck a chord with the Enlightenment thinkers of 23 centuries later, just as it should continue to do with us today, reminding us why Western values are indeed superior to those that actuate the leaders of modern China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, and Zimbabwe. Marxism-Leninism began as a Western concept but was overthrown in the West, whereas it tragically still thrives in other parts of the world. And yes, we know that the architect Phidias employed slaves and metics (foreigners) in building the Parthenon, not just Athenian freemen.
“Carved around the middle of the fifth century bc,” writes Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum, the Elgin Marbles “are the product of a creative culture that is credited with the invention of such aspects of modern Western civilization as democracy, philosophy, history, medicine, poetry and drama.” Of course, no one is claiming that Oriental, Persian, and Arab civilizations did not have all of those listed — except democracy, which they did not have then and most still do not today — and no one suggests that Aboriginal Australians, South Sea Islanders, the Aztecs and Incas, ancient Egyptians, or the Khmer Empire that built Angkor Wat for the god Vishnu did not have their own worthy civilizations, too.
Yet even the very greatest achievements and physical creations of those other civilizations simply cannot compare to what the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian Western civilization has produced in philosophy, history, medicine, poetry, and drama, let alone democracy.
Anyone reading Charles Murray’s superb and unanswerable book Human Accomplishment cannot but accept that the contribution made to mankind — the whole of it, not just the West — by DWEMs has statistically utterly dwarfed that made by the whole of the rest of the world combined. Whilst the transformative powers of cathedrals and concertos are relatively debatable, Nobel prizes for science and medical breakthroughs can be numerically compared, as can the fact that there is no one in any other civilization who can objectively match the sheer volume and density of the poetic and dramatic work of Shakespeare. To deny that is to start going down the route of the discredited Afrocentrist historians who were reduced to claiming that ancient African civilizations had visited Latin America and significantly influenced the cultures they found there.
“From the constitution drafted by the founding fathers of the American republic to the war-time speeches of Winston Churchill,” Jenkins writes, “many have found inspiration for their brand of liberal humanism, and for a doctrine of the open society, in the Funeral Speech of Perikles.” If Pericles had lost an election or been ostracized in the annual vote of Athenians, he would have stood down from office in the same way that Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, and Emmanuel Macron would after a defeat in a free and fair election in their countries, whereas that is inconceivable in many totalitarian countries not infused by the ethics of the West. That is ultimately why we should not apologize for Western civilization, why it should be proselytized around the world and certainly taught as a discrete discipline in our schools and universities.
Western Civilization courses never pretended that the West invented civilization, as the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss emphasized in his foreword to the UNESCO International Social Science Bulletin in 1951. Considering some of the most ancient sites of human habitation in the world, such as Mohenjo-daro and Harappa in the Indus Valley, he observed straight streets intersecting at right angles, industrial workshops, utilitarian housing for workers, public baths, drains and sewers, pleasant suburbs for the wealthier classes; in short, what he called “all the glamour and blemishes of a great modern city.” Five thousand years ago, therefore, the most ancient civilizations of the old world were giving their lineaments to the new. As a new history of the world by the British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore will shortly demonstrate, the inhabitants of Egypt, China, and Persia were creating sophisticated art and architecture, legal and numerical systems, and literary and musical traditions while the peoples of Europe were still covered in woad and living in mud huts.
What might Homer have to say about being civilized? The Iliad, which describes the clash between the Greeks and the Trojans, is not a description of a conflict between two nation-states. Adam Nicolson characterizes the conflict in The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters as “the deathly confrontation of two ways of understanding the world.” In this 4,000-year-old scenario, the Greeks are the barbarians. They are northern warriors, newly technologically empowered with ships and bronze spears, who want what the Trojans have got. They are pirates: coarse, animalistic, in love with violence. They are savage, rootless nomads who trade women as commodities (a three-legged metal tripod to put vases on is worth twelve oxen; a woman, four) and lust after the treasure hidden within Troy’s walls.
The city of Troy is wealthy, ordered, graceful, and stable, and the Greeks covet it. In the climax of the poem, Achilles, the ultimate man of the plains, confronts Hector of Troy, the man of the city. In disarmingly exhilarating and violent poetry, the outsider slaughters the insider. The barbarians have won. Or have they? After the battle, Priam, Hector’s grieving father, visits Achilles in his tent. Troy is doomed but Achilles marvels at Priam’s humility, at his ability to respect the man who has murdered his beloved son. From the “mutuality and courage of that wisdom,” writes Nicolson, “its blending of city and plain, a vision of the future might flower.”
Our word “civilization” derives from the Latin “civilis,” from “civis” (citizen) via “civitas” (city). The city is the locus for human encounter and understanding, for exchange and connection, for the development of communal and peaceful coexistence, for the flourishing of both everyday exchange and sophisticated arts. Opponents of the teaching of Western civilization object that European countries built their wealth and cultural achievements on the colonial exploitation and enslavement of non-European peoples. Yet as Homer demonstrates, the development of civilization has always been predicated upon darker forces.
The Crusaders of medieval Europe were no more bloody and cruel than the wars of conversion enacted by the expanding Islamic world in the seventh and eighth centuries. The Ethiopian Empire (1270–1974) was founded upon slavery, as was the Ottoman Empire (1299–1924). If the history of the West needs to be taught critically, then so too does that of the East or the so-called global South. No civilization has been morally pure.
“Competition and monopoly,” writes Niall Ferguson sagely in his book Civilization: The West and the Rest, “science and superstition; freedom and slavery; curing and killing; hard work and laziness — in each case, the West was the father to both the good and the bad.” Those early Western Civ courses never tried to argue that it was flawless — Karl Marx sometimes used to be taught in them, after all — but in the 20th century, students had more common sense and took that for granted, and were not looking for ever-new ways to be offended.
Christianity, for all its schisms and intolerance, its occasionally obnoxious obscurantism and iconoclasm, has been overall an enormous force for good in the world. The Sermon on the Mount was, as Churchill put it, “the last word in ethics.”
Christians abolished slavery in the 1830s (or three decades later in America’s case), whereas outside Christendom the practice survived for much longer, and identifiable versions of it still exist in some non-Christian and anti-Christian countries today.
The abolition of slavery did not merely happen by votes in Parliament and proclamations from presidents; it was fought for by (and against) Christians with much blood spilt on both sides. That would not have happened without the Judeo-Christian values and the Western Enlightenment that are so central to Western civilization. The Royal Navy ran its West Africa Preventive Squadron for over 60 years with the sole task of fighting slavery, during which time it freed around 160,000 slaves, and an estimated 17,000 British seamen died of disease or in battle achieving that.
When considering “the rest” — those civilizations that did not produce what Western civilization has — Ferguson is unblushingly honest. “We must resist the temptation to romanticize history’s losers,” he writes. “The other civilizations overrun by the West’s, or more peacefully transformed by it through borrowings as much as by impositions, were not without their defects either, of which the most obvious is that they were incapable of providing their inhabitants with any sustained improvement in the material quality of their lives.” For all my earlier concentration on art and architecture, poetry and music, Ferguson is also correct to point out that “civilization is much more than just the contents of a few first-rate art galleries. It is a highly complex human organization,” which is why his book is “as much about sewage pipes as flying buttresses.”
In response to the issuing of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the American Anthropological Association released a critique that asked, “How can the proposed Declaration be applicable to all human beings and not be a statement of rights conceived only in terms of the values prevalent in the countries of Western Europe and America?” The question assumes that the 30 articles of the Declaration could not be universal, since universality of human rights was of necessity a “Western” assumption. This was intended as a criticism, not an endorsement.
Yet the West has not stolen these values, as the Greeks stole the Trojans’ gold; it has not appropriated or co-opted them. Rather they are seen as objectionable because they do, indeed, according to their detractors, inhere in Western culture. So, given that a belief in human rights is, apparently, predicated on Western culture, is not that culture worth examining and teaching?
Instead, there is an entire industry devoted to trying to topple DWEM heroes from their pedestals — literally, in the case of the British activist Afua Hirsch’s attempt to have Admiral Nelson removed from his column in Trafalgar Square in London on the grounds that he did not campaign to abolish the slave trade (which was not abolished by Britain until two years after his death in 1805).
The climate-change movement is similarly riddled with anti-Western assumptions, whereby capitalism, development, and growth are demonized, all of them supposedly primarily Western concepts. A glance at the actual carbon emissions from the new coal-fired power stations still being built every month in China should put Western climate self-haters right about the importance of development and growth, but campaigning against democratic, guilt-ridden Western governments is far easier than taking the fight to Beijing and Delhi, which now is where the real difference can be made. When Greta Thunberg denounces Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party outside the Great Hall of the People, she will be worthy of our respect; until then, she is merely playing on Western guilt, like every other demagogic critic of the West so beloved of the Left.
The self-hatred virus is a particularly virulent and infectious one, and has almost entirely overtaken the academy in its attitude towards Western civilization. We all know the concept of the self-hating Jew who instinctively and immediately blames Israel for everything bad that happens in the Middle East (and often in the wider world, too). If the term is unfamiliar, look at some of the lobbying organizations on Washington’s K Street, or the equally virulent “Jews for Corbyn” movement inside the ultra-left Momentum organization in Britain.
Western self-hatred, which is quite different from healthy self-criticism, has gone far too far in our society. American self-haters such as Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore have made hugely successful careers out of a knee-jerk reaction that whatever ill befalls the West is solely its own fault. They argue, of course, that they in fact like their country — rarely “love,” as that would differentiate it from other countries — and it’s only one particular administration or policy with which they take issue rather than the whole culture. Yet this is false. If after a lifetime one has never — as in Jeremy Corbyn’s case — once supported a single Western military operation under any circumstance, and always had a good word for every opponent of the West, whether it be a state actor or a leftist terrorist group, then the truth becomes obvious.
British self-hatred goes back a long way, via Thomas Paine and Kim Philby, but today it is not enough for the Chomskys and Corbyns merely to hate their own country; they must hate the West in general, which for them tends to mean NATO, the special relationship, the Anglo-American form of (relatively) free markets and free enterprise, and of course the concept of Western civilization itself, which they consider an artificial construct. Recently Seumas Milne, Jeremy Corbyn’s spin doctor, tried to argue that capitalism has killed more people than Communism, although of course he did not accept the figure of 100 million that most responsible historians recognize was Communism’s death toll in the 20th century.
Mention of Corbyn and Milne prompts the thought that all too often consideration of the contribution of Judeo-Christian thought to Western civilization tends to underplay the first — Judeo — part of the conjoined twins. It is impossible not to spot an enormous overlap — the shaded area in the Venn diagram — between hatred of the concept of Western civilization on one side and at least a certain haziness over anti-Semitism on the other. In America, there are unfortunately still those who believe that Western civilization is at risk from Jewish culture. This view is as ignorant as it is obnoxious. For without the “Judeo” half of the phenomenon, Western civilization would simply not exist.
Once again, Charles Murray is invaluable here in enumerating in numbers and places and names and statistics the contribution made in every field by Jews over the millennia, around 100 times what it ought to be in relation to their demographic numbers on the planet. Writing of Max Warburg’s daughter Gisela in his book The Warburgs, Ron Chernow recalls how, “once asked at a birthday party whether she was Jewish, Gisela refused to answer. When Alice [her mother] asked why, Gisi stammered confusedly, ‘You always told us not to boast.’” That might be true of her, but philo-Semitic Gentiles such as I enjoy boasting about the contribution the Jews have made to Western civilization in every sphere. Beware the hater of Western civilization; very often there’s an anti-Semite not very far away.
French postmodern theory refuses to distinguish between high and low culture, attempting to make it futile even to discuss whether this or that work of art is or is not lovely or important. If you want to argue that Kanye West’s lyrics are as good as Shakespeare, or Mongolian yurts are as sophisticated a form of architecture as Bauhaus, then Foucault will support you all the way. But if you want to understand why we do not have child slavery in the West, or disenfranchised women, or imprisonment without trial, or the imprisonment of newspaper editors, you simply have to study the cultural history that produced such an unusual and extraordinary situation in human history. It is inescapable and not susceptible to postmodernist analysis. It’s not about the aesthetic or literary superiority of certain artworks, but about the unequivocal good of human dignity. If Ms. Rashatwar finds the idea of losing her human rights so “romantic,” she is always welcome to move to Saudi Arabia, which is still awaiting its Enlightenment.
The late, very great Gertrude Himmelfarb identified three separate Enlightenments — English, French, and Scottish — at different though overlapping stages of the 18th century, with different emphases in different places at different times. Chartres Cathedral was not dedicated until 1260, so there were five centuries between then and the Enlightenments, but they were the moments when people began to throw off superstition and belief in magic and witchcraft, to look at the world afresh, unafraid of what they might find and where it might take them, even at the risk of unbelief. If the Islamic world had had such a moment, it would not have been left behind in so many areas of accomplishment since it was turned back from the gates of Vienna in 1683, with the result that its fascist-fundamentalist wing might not have existed to lash out in such fury and resentment on 9/11.
The recent Security Conference in Munich took as its theme and title “Westlessness” — an ugly word in English, worse in German — intending to prompt international decision-makers into thinking about what might happen if the Trump administration were ever to get as tough over NATO underfunding as it has long threatened to do. Another fear of Westlessness, however, should be about the eclipse of Western civilization as a subject for study, as a result of a hugely successful Gramscian march through the institutions that started long before Jesse Jackson and his megaphone visited Stanford.
For far from becoming a Kumbaya touchy-feely place, a truly Westless world would be a neo-Darwinian free-for-all in which every state merely grabbed what it could, a return to the world Hobbes wrote about in Leviathan. The Left should beware what it claims to wish for, and Western civilization should be taught once more in our schools and colleges. For as Churchill knew as the bombs were falling and London was burning in December 1940, it is worth fighting for.
— This essay is sponsored by National Review Institute.
Robert Curry American Greatness June 10, 2019
On January 15, 1987, Jesse Jackson and around 500 protesters marched down Palm Drive, Stanford University’s grand main entrance, chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go.”
They were protesting Stanford University’s introductory humanities program known as “Western Culture.” For Jackson and the protesters, the problem was its lack of “diversity.” The faculty and administration raced to appease the protesters, and “Western Culture” was formally replaced with “Cultures, Ideas, and Values.”
The new program included works on race, class, and gender and works by ethnic minority and women authors. Western culture gave way to multi-culture. The study of Western civilization succumbed to the Left’s new dogma, multiculturalism.
When I attended college in the 1960s, taking and passing the year-long course in the history of Western civilization was required for graduation. The point of the requirement was perfectly clear. Students were expected to be proficient with the major works of their civilization if they were to be awarded a degree. It was the mark of an educated person to know these things.
Because it was a required course, it was taught by a senior professor in a large lecture hall with hundreds of students. The course was no walk in the park. When I took the course, only one student got an A grade for the first semester. Students went down in wave after wave. Many dropped out of the course, planning to try again later. Others dropped out of school or transferred to another college or university.
Student protests were all the rage on campus in those days, too. But nobody protested the Western Civ course, its contents, the difficulty involved, or the fact that it was required. Students evidently accepted the idea that studying the story of how we got here and who shaped that story was essential to becoming an educated person.
It is also not at all clear that the faculty in those days would have raced to appease student protesters chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go.”
Many of the faculty, after all, had served in World War II. My best friends on the faculty had all served either in the European or the Pacific theater. They had put their lives on the line to defend Western civilization, and served with others who had lost their lives in that fight. Whether they were teaching Plato or Italian art of the Renaissance and the Baroque eras, they taught with the passion of men who had fought as soldiers and were working as teachers to preserve Western culture. Perhaps my fellow students would not have dared to present our teachers with that particular protest.
The protesting students at Stanford in 1987 were pushing against an open door. Radicalized professors, products of the student protests of the 1960s, welcomed the opportunity to do what they already wanted done. The protesters provided the excuse. Instead of doing the hard work of teaching Western civilization, they were free to preach multiculturalism—and the change was presented to the world as meeting the legitimate demands of students.
It is worth noting, I think, that the chant has an interesting ambiguity. Was it the course in Western civilization or Western civilization itself that had to go? Clearly, Jackson was leading the protesters in demanding a change in the curriculum at Stanford, but the Left, having gotten rid of “Western Civ” at Stanford and at most other colleges, is reaching for new extremes. Today, ridding the world of Western civilization as a phenomenon doesn’t seem like such a stretch.
In the wee hours of the morning recently, in a nearly deserted international airport terminal, I got into conversation with a fellow passenger while we waited for our luggage. He told me he was returning from a stay at an eco-resort. He said because of cloudy weather there had been no hot water on most days—and little hot water when there was any—and the electric light ran out every night soon after nightfall.
The worst part for him, he said, was the requirement to put used toilet paper in a special container provided for that purpose. When I remarked that what he had experienced at the resort was what the Greens have planned for all of us, he cheerfully agreed. He went on to say that he believed the real purpose of the Greens’ plan is population control, that a truly green future would only be able to support a much smaller population.
The amazing part is this: he conveyed a complete agreement with the environmentalist project and what he believed to be its underlying purpose. It seemed that what he had experienced at the resort had not caused him to re-think his attitude, or even to consider that there was a risk he might not survive the transition to a much smaller population.
As he spoke, I easily imagined him as a younger person chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go.”