America, the West, and the Rest

by Jay Nordlinger

Response To...

Western Values Can Be Universally ...

To what David says, I say, mainly, amen. Also, on the subject of Afghanistan, I say, What are we doing there? What is our goal? What does “winning” constitute? I think we should be serious or leave.

Afghanistan is our longest war. But I think it is weirdly untalked about. It is simply there, like the weather. And yet, the weather is talked about.

I would like to tell two stories — and they are related. I have a long-running and teasing argument with a friend of mine, who’s a staunch conservative. In his view, the things he likes about America are America: gun shows, country music, football, etc. (By “football,” he does not mean soccer.) This is “real America,” he says. Hollywood, Berkeley, and 60 Minutes are not real America. They are something else.

And yet, all of it is America, from sea to shining sea (as WFB would say). Gun shows and Broadway shows, cowboys and hipsters, Berkeley and BYU. These are different aspects of a star-spangled country.

We have things we like about it and things we despise about it. I’m not crazy about abortion on demand, political correctness, and racial obsessions. And yet they seem entrenched.

Anyway, now let’s talk about the West, our beloved West. Not Colorado and Idaho (though we love those too) but Athens, Shakespeare, and Churchill.

Some years ago, I was talking with a Falun Gong practitioner — a member of a group that has been persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party. There are all too credible reports of organ harvesting, for instance.

This man said, “The government is always saying that Falun Gong is foreign to China. But the truth is, Falun Gong has deep roots in China: our history, our culture. You know what’s a foreign imposition? Communism. Marxism-Leninism. It came from you guys, in the West! It was imposed on us in the 1940s, and it is utterly alien to Chinese culture. For instance, we have always placed great importance on the family. It was always the center of our lives. Then came this one-child policy.”

Etc.

Do you ever think of Marxism-Leninism as Western? As a Western value? How about Nazism, which came into being, and came to power, in the heart of Europe? Western?

The West sets an example — a positive example — for the world at large. But there are liberals and illiberals in every society. (I’m talking about “liberalism” in the old sense, of course — not in the sense of acid, amnesty, and abortion, to borrow three old A’s.) This is a great contest in the world today: liberalism vs. illiberalism. It has long been so, I guess.

I once asked Robert Conquest, “What are you?” Meaning, how would you describe yourself, politically and philosophically? He said that he would accept “Burkean conservative.” But he went on to cite Orwell, who spoke of “law and liberty.” “I’m for a law-and-liberty culture,” said Conquest.

Me too.

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