I write today about Romney’s supposed “culture” gaffe in Israel. By the way, to get a sense of David Landes, the author cited by Romney in his comments, here is a passage from a talk he gave at a World Bank meeting back in 1999. He talked about how the anti-Protestant reaction set back Southern Europe for hundreds of years and ceded economic leadership to northern Europe:
Now, this reaction of refusal and denial is not simply an example taken from this 16th century experience. It is very common historical behavior and collective behavior in the affairs of nations and the affairs of individuals. Denial is an easy way out. But it’s expensive. In the affairs of nations, I think of the Islamic Middle East which felt that somehow that history had gone wrong, which remembered when it was on top and felt it should still be on top. I even see signs of it in today’s Japan.
So, this is a major problem and one not unrelated to the program of cultural enhancement that we were talking about earlier today and which is one of the themes of this meeting. Because it’s one thing to promote culture and identity, and it’s another thing to think that people can become productive in a material way without changing. The Europeans had to change, the Asians are changing, and there’s no one in this world who’s going to start making lots of shoes and cars and so on without giving up a lot of precious culture.
In addition, I have to say that the assumption from what I heard this morning was that all cultures were equally worthy and worth preserving. I’m sure that is absolutely true. But I must tell you, they are not all equally suited to successful high productivity in a material sense. They may be spiritually equal or even superior. They may get people to heaven faster. But they will not make faster cars. Indeed, I would argue there are cultures that I would call “toxic” cultures. I repeat, toxic cultures which handicap the people who cling to them. They may get all the consolation they want from this, but it handicaps them in their ability to compete in a modern world.
Saeb Erekat take note.