The West at War

CommentaryThe West is under attack at home and abroad. The war, at one level, is between the West and other countries, especially Russia and China. It may be hot or cold. The rivalry may be direct or indirect (a proxy war) and involve economic, political, ideological, and cultural conflicts. The other aspect, the subject of Douglas Murray’s new book, “The War on the West,” is the internal war waged mainly but not solely by our own “woke” or progressive elites. This war attacks our history and culture, our institutions from education to business to media, and “cancels” dissenters. A recent statement by eminent conservative leaders summarizes the “woke” or leftist program of anti-Western defeatism, apology, and demoralization. It begins: “We live in an age of increasing national self-doubt. “The American project, as such, is under assault. Our history is the subject of a revisionist critique that is all-encompassing, unsparing, and very often flatly inaccurate. Our traditional heroes are under threat of being run out of the national pantheon. Our institutions, from elections to the job market to law enforcement, stand accused of perpetuating a systemic racism that is impossible to eradicate. Our educational system, from kindergarten through graduate school, is increasingly a forum for crude propagandizing. Our system of government is attacked as archaic, unfair, and racially biased. Our traditional values of fair play, free speech, and religious liberty are trampled by inflamed ideologues determined to impose their will by force and fear.” Compared to What? Susan Sontag (1933–2004), the writer and activist, opined that “the white race is the cancer of history.” At the time, 1967, at the height of a deeply unpopular war in Vietnam, Sontag’s comment revealed a kind of self-loathing that had limited appeal among elites and even less among working people. Camille Paglia, at first an admirer and later a severe critic, said of Sontag that she “had become synonymous with a shallow kind of hip posturing.” The current Progressive conquest of the West has been remarkable in scale and reach. You see its work of cultural destruction everywhere, on cable network shows, in razor advertisements, at sports events, in the tax-funded education of our children, and in the military and corporate boardrooms. You see it even in the program of the insurance company State Farm—abandoned in response to strong protest—to distribute LGBTQ-themed books for children as young as 5 to public libraries, teachers, and community centers. What Murray describes is a war of elites in the West on Western culture, history, and civilization. Imposed from the top down, in elite institutions, this woke war on the West has been compared to a religion that is zealous but unforgiving and brooks no dissent. A peculiar aspect of this war is how it treats the West as uniquely evil and other countries and peoples as its passive victims. The evils of others are explained as responses to the West’s actions or excused on the grounds that things are or were worse in the West—that is, with whataboutery and false equivalence. The oddly Eurocentric response in the English-speaking world places heavy emphasis on Western involvement in slavery and the slave trade. It largely ignores the scale of the Arab trade in African as well as European slaves who were sold and shipped east rather than west. Slavery is certainly a terrible, inhumane institution. But it has existed throughout the world and persists to this day—over 40 million slaves worldwide, predominantly in Africa and Asia. Its ubiquity in no way justifies any kind of slavery at any time or place. At the very least slavery is not peculiar to the West or to capitalism. Nor are genocide, concentration camps, poverty, hunger, disease, racism, religious persecution, suppression of free speech, subjugation of women, war, or violence of all kinds. We distort our own history and our relations with other countries and cultures if we fail to recognize this. A Gift to Our Adversaries The self-doubt and self-blaming of this internal war on the West are a gift to our adversaries. In the rivalry between the democratic West and authoritarian or totalitarian regimes such as China and Russia, the West stands condemned out of the mouths of its own leaders. Western condemnation of human rights abuses in China or of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine are brushed aside as hypocritical (who are you to talk?) or racist. Even the mildest questions about the abuses of our adversaries are thrown back in our faces. Murray reminds us of some recent examples of this American strategy of self-shaming in the international arena and of the international response to it. The present American ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, has a unique approach to her job. Unlike ambassadors of other nations, she evinces no pride in the country she represents but emphasizes its “original sin” of slavery, its “white supremacy,

The West at War

Commentary

The West is under attack at home and abroad.

The war, at one level, is between the West and other countries, especially Russia and China. It may be hot or cold. The rivalry may be direct or indirect (a proxy war) and involve economic, political, ideological, and cultural conflicts.

The other aspect, the subject of Douglas Murray’s new book, “The War on the West,” is the internal war waged mainly but not solely by our own “woke” or progressive elites. This war attacks our history and culture, our institutions from education to business to media, and “cancels” dissenters.

A recent statement by eminent conservative leaders summarizes the “woke” or leftist program of anti-Western defeatism, apology, and demoralization. It begins:

“We live in an age of increasing national self-doubt.

“The American project, as such, is under assault. Our history is the subject of a revisionist critique that is all-encompassing, unsparing, and very often flatly inaccurate. Our traditional heroes are under threat of being run out of the national pantheon. Our institutions, from elections to the job market to law enforcement, stand accused of perpetuating a systemic racism that is impossible to eradicate. Our educational system, from kindergarten through graduate school, is increasingly a forum for crude propagandizing. Our system of government is attacked as archaic, unfair, and racially biased. Our traditional values of fair play, free speech, and religious liberty are trampled by inflamed ideologues determined to impose their will by force and fear.”

Compared to What?

Susan Sontag (1933–2004), the writer and activist, opined that “the white race is the cancer of history.” At the time, 1967, at the height of a deeply unpopular war in Vietnam, Sontag’s comment revealed a kind of self-loathing that had limited appeal among elites and even less among working people. Camille Paglia, at first an admirer and later a severe critic, said of Sontag that she “had become synonymous with a shallow kind of hip posturing.”

The current Progressive conquest of the West has been remarkable in scale and reach. You see its work of cultural destruction everywhere, on cable network shows, in razor advertisements, at sports events, in the tax-funded education of our children, and in the military and corporate boardrooms. You see it even in the program of the insurance company State Farm—abandoned in response to strong protest—to distribute LGBTQ-themed books for children as young as 5 to public libraries, teachers, and community centers.

What Murray describes is a war of elites in the West on Western culture, history, and civilization. Imposed from the top down, in elite institutions, this woke war on the West has been compared to a religion that is zealous but unforgiving and brooks no dissent.

A peculiar aspect of this war is how it treats the West as uniquely evil and other countries and peoples as its passive victims. The evils of others are explained as responses to the West’s actions or excused on the grounds that things are or were worse in the West—that is, with whataboutery and false equivalence.

The oddly Eurocentric response in the English-speaking world places heavy emphasis on Western involvement in slavery and the slave trade. It largely ignores the scale of the Arab trade in African as well as European slaves who were sold and shipped east rather than west.

Slavery is certainly a terrible, inhumane institution. But it has existed throughout the world and persists to this day—over 40 million slaves worldwide, predominantly in Africa and Asia. Its ubiquity in no way justifies any kind of slavery at any time or place.

At the very least slavery is not peculiar to the West or to capitalism. Nor are genocide, concentration camps, poverty, hunger, disease, racism, religious persecution, suppression of free speech, subjugation of women, war, or violence of all kinds. We distort our own history and our relations with other countries and cultures if we fail to recognize this.

A Gift to Our Adversaries

The self-doubt and self-blaming of this internal war on the West are a gift to our adversaries. In the rivalry between the democratic West and authoritarian or totalitarian regimes such as China and Russia, the West stands condemned out of the mouths of its own leaders.

Western condemnation of human rights abuses in China or of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine are brushed aside as hypocritical (who are you to talk?) or racist. Even the mildest questions about the abuses of our adversaries are thrown back in our faces.

Murray reminds us of some recent examples of this American strategy of self-shaming in the international arena and of the international response to it.

The present American ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, has a unique approach to her job. Unlike ambassadors of other nations, she evinces no pride in the country she represents but emphasizes its “original sin” of slavery, its “white supremacy,” and its need for “humility” in addressing issues of equity and justice at a global scale.

As Murray put it, “But it was not clear that America’s rivals at the UN shared any of Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s strategic or moral outlook.” Toward the end of her UN speech, she had briefly paused from her litany of American racism to acknowledge the oppression of the Rohingya in Myanmar and the genocidal crimes committed by the Chinese regime against the Uyghurs.

The Chinese ambassador, Dai Bing, did not respond with shame or remorse, but with belligerence. As Murray describes it:

“In an exceptional case,” Ambassador Dai said, his American counterpart had actually “admitted to her country’s ignoble human rights record.” And so, he said, “that does not give her country the license to get on a high horse and tell other countries what to do.”

The American secretary of state, Antony Blinken, received an even fiercer 18-minute harangue from his Chinese counterpart at U.S.–China talks in Alaska in May 2021, when he dared to mention his “deep concerns” over Chinese actions. The United States, he said, had deep-seated problems regarding human rights that, unlike China, it was not making progress to address. The United States should mind its own business and keep out of China’s “internal affairs.”

Russia, of course, takes a similar line, regarding its war in Ukraine as an internal matter and rebroadcasting to Russian audiences criticisms of the West from within the West. The most audacious use of such deflection and redirection, perhaps, was a Russian official’s response to the common perception in Russia that Putin’s war—and especially government propaganda, control of news, and suppression of dissent—is reminiscent of Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” (published in 1949). Its most famous line is, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” A foreign ministry spokesperson, asked about the analogy, said that Orwell’s novel was not about the USSR (as everyone thought), it was a critique of Western liberalism.

Facing Reality, Facing the World

My late co-author Michael Novak, who was the U.S. human rights ambassador to the UN, used to joke that he was known for his humility throughout the world. For him it was a joke, not a serious approach to diplomacy. He consistently nudged Russia in the direction of respecting basic human rights, but not by being unctuously humble in the manner of Uriah Heep, the Dickens character in the 19th-century novel “David Copperfield.”

No society has a history free of bloodshed or oppression or the need to know and correct the faults and evils it has tolerated.

But none can thrive for long or defend itself against aggressors if it teaches its young, including the young men who will be called upon to risk their lives if the rivalry turns to war, to loathe themselves, their history, their culture, and their faith.

Learning to despise themselves in the manner of the false religion of identity politics or Wokery (see John McWhorter, Glenn Loury, and Joshua Mitchell) benefits no one but offers a powerful weapon to our adversaries.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Paul Adams is a professor emeritus of social work at the University of Hawai‘i, and was professor and associate dean of academic affairs at Case Western Reserve University. He is the co-author of "Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is," and has written extensively on social welfare policy and professional and virtue ethics.