Politics & Policy

Defend Western Civilization

The British riots show what happens when the elites give up on their civilization.

I embrace all cultures. If the Irish want to drink green beer and have a St. Patrick’s Day parade — let them. Likewise, I support Cinco de Mayo festivals, and have no problem with the Scots’ Tartan Day (April 6). I have no more problem with Muslims fasting during Ramadan than I have with Christians giving up meat for Lent. Moreover, I feel no more threatened by a group of Arab men sitting in a Brooklyn café smoking their hookah pipes than I do by a group of Italian men playing bocce ball in a Brooklyn park.

People who choose to live in America should be welcome to keep many of the attributes of the culture they or their ancestors left behind. It adds to the color and vibrancy that make America a wonderful and interesting place in which to live. By all means, bring your culture — your art, your songs, your literature, your food. America will take it all and integrate it into a greater and ever more distinctively American culture.

But leave your civilization behind.

#ad#Although the terms culture and civilization are often used interchangeably, there is a distinct difference. Within Western Europe, for instance, there are dozens of distinct cultures (Italian, French, Irish, etc.), but all of them reside within a single Western civilization. Similarly, the vast American melting pot is home to hundreds of intermingled cultures. What allows these myriad cultures to coexist on generally peaceful terms is that most of their adherents accept the basic tenets of Western civilization. When this is lost, everything else goes.

Foremost among these tenets is respect for the rights, freedoms, and property of all individuals. Although last week’s riots in Britain were not blamed on any one cultural group, they did represent a general fraying of civilization’s social compact. I am not going to try to explain what caused Britain’s riots. There are thousands of sociologists only too eager to offer explanations for the indefensible behavior of thousands of British youths. What is obvious, however, is that the spread of multiculturalism has weakened the governing classes’ ability to cope with attacks on the very underpinnings of our civilization. Convinced that no culture is superior to another, they are equally convinced that no civilization is better than any other. It is but a short step from this point to seeing nothing worth defending in the civilization that has nourished us to greatness.

The British rioters were not possessed of any noble goals. Rather, their fixed purpose was to destroy or take the property of others. And they were prepared to use violence, up to and including murder, to accomplish that. But what is truly troubling is the fact that Britain’s political leaders allowed them to get away with it for five full days. Worse, many commentators, while condemning the violence, told us in the very next sentence that, given the socioeconomic conditions of the rioters, their anger was understandable. No, it was not. And even if their anger were understandable, their actions would still be wrong.

In any viable civilization the state has one function that supersedes all others: to protect the rights, property, and lives of its citizens. If it cannot accomplish that task, it has no reason to exist. The British government, which spends about half of the nation’s entire GDP, appears ready to undertake every task except the one for which it was created. It now does so much of the trivial that it is incapable of accomplishing the most basic task of any government: to defend its citizens. In some regards we in America are not far behind. Our government is willing to regulate the minutest details of our daily lives, but is incapable of producing a budget that will not bankrupt the nation.

In a just society the state is supposed to have a monopoly on violence. Although Americans are generally permitted to arm themselves for self-defense, the assumption is that the need to use their weapons will remain rare. Of course, if the U.S. government abdicates its raison d’être, the average American is much better prepared to defend his life and property than the average Briton. For the most part, though, Americans count on the state to protect them from violence, even if it has to meet violence with violence.

#page#In fact, violence remains the only effective response to any group willing to collapse the social order. Violent acts must everywhere and always be met with an overwhelmingly violent response. Afterward, there will be plenty of time to talk and to let sociologists search for deeper meanings. In the meantime, there are innocent lives to save and many millions of dollars of private property to protect. Paul Collier, in his magnificent book The Bottom Billion, points out that what halted Sierra Leone’s descent into barbarity was that the British government sent in paratroopers willing to face down the forces of barbarism and to both take and inflict casualties. Where was that same British backbone when it came to facing down the barbarians in their midst?

#ad#As I see it, the reason the British elites and the country’s ruling class failed to act was that too many of them are convinced that their civilization is no longer worth defending. They have made a serious mistake in accepting that an equality between cultures holds true for civilizations too. Personally, if given a choice between classic Irish pub tunes and the music of an Arab bazaar, I will pick the pub tunes. This is a matter of taste and upbringing, and I fully accept that those brought up to appreciate the music of the bazaar have every right to enjoy it. I do not, however, accept that anyone living in the United States has a right to choose between the American Constitution and sharia law. This is a matter of civilization, and it should never be the subject of serious debate within our borders.

The West has endured thousands of years of war, misrule, genocide, and a multitude of other trials. Out of these tribulations evolved a political system that places respect for the rights and freedoms of the individual at its center. It is not a perfect system, but it is far superior to what can be found anywhere else. It deserves to be defended, and must be defended. Any person choosing to come to America (or Britain, for that matter) from a non-Western country must give up the tenets of whatever civilization he was raised with. In its place must be substituted a strong belief in unfettered democracy (of the people, by the people, and for the people), human dignity, equal rights, and the freedom of the individual.

When I was in London a few weeks back I was absolutely stunned to see how many women walked the streets in full burqa — the garment that covers the whole body, including the face. That this is permitted for any person residing in Britain (or the United States) is unconscionable. I am fine with the burqa as a cultural artifact. Women should be permitted to wear it — if they choose — whenever they are celebrating an Islamic cultural event. It should, however, be forbidden for women to wear it on the street as their typical day wear. The burqa is not only a sign of female oppression, it is an instrument of it. It is a direct affront to any concept of freedom, equal rights, or personal dignity. In the West, allowing women to wear burqas in daily life is not being culturally sensitive. It is a betrayal of all that is good in Western civilization.

Of course, burqas are just one of many manifestations of the ongoing assault on Western values. In many areas, value systems alien to the precepts of Western civilization make daily inroads. That they can make such advances is primarily due to the fact that our intellectuals no longer feel the idea of the West is worth saving or even teaching about. Two decades ago, at Stanford University, Jesse Jackson led 500 clueless students in demanding an end to the required class on Western civilization. Unbelievably, they were wildly successful not only at Stanford but almost everywhere else. The National Association of Scholars, after examining the curricula at 50 leading universities, reported that in 1964, all of them required a Western-civilization survey course. By 2010, however, none of them required a basic Western Civ course, not even for history majors.

One wonders how the next generation of intellectuals will be able to defend the concepts that nourish our society when the very existence of a superior Western civilization is being denied within our foremost academic institutions.

— Jim Lacey is the author of The First Clash and Keep from All Thoughtful Men.  

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