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President Trump was right to defend the West, a civilization which goes back to the Homeric epic and the Hebrew prophets, and having been baptized by Christ, is “not the property of any particular race but the universal aspiration of humankind”…

west progressivesIn an essay for The Atlantic earlier this month, Peter Beinart, an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York, attacked President Trump’s Warsaw speech for its repeated reference to “the West” and to “our civilization.” According to Mr. Beinart, President Trump referred to “the West” ten times during his speech and to “our civilization” five times. For Mr. Beinart, who evidently shares the racial obsession of most “progressives,” all such references to the West and to “our civilization” are racist. He states that Mr. Trump’s “white nationalist supporters will understand exactly what he means” when he uses such terms and that, therefore, “it’s important that other Americans do, too.”

Mr. Beinart then proceeds to educate his American readers about what President Trump means by “the West” and by “our civilization.” The West “is not a geographic term,” he informs us, reminding us that Poland is further east than Morocco and that France is further east than Haiti. Continuing the geography lesson, he points out that Australia is further east than Egypt, yet Poland, France, and Australia are all considered part of “the West,” whereas Morocco, Haiti, and Egypt are not. So far, so good. We are all agreed that the West, in this context, is not merely a geographical thing.

Next Mr. Beinart reminds us that the West is not an ideological or economic term either. India is the world’s largest democracy and Japan is among its most economically advanced nations. And yet, says Mr. Beinart, “no one considers them part of the West.” This might also seem a point on which we can agree, unless by “the West” we mean the sort of globalist hegemony in which the G-20, global corporations, the World Bank, and the IMF rule the world in the name of an “economically advanced” ideology, an ideology which indubitably has its roots in Western political philosophy, albeit a philosophy which is the cankered fruit of a decaying “West.” In this ideological sense, we can say that Japan and India have become westernized insofar as they embrace the sort of “capitalism” that leads to global corporatism. Such a view could even be seen as a form of western economic imperialism. Mr. Beinart is not interested in this definition of the West because it precludes his being able to characterize President Trump’s use of the word as “racist,” which is really the point that Mr. Beinart wishes to make.    

The West is, Mr. Beinart insists, “a racial and religious term”: “To be considered Western, a country must be largely Christian (preferably Protestant or Catholic) and largely white.” It’s important at this point in Mr. Beinart’s argument that we catch his sleight of hand. With a quick rhetorical change of direction, he will now discuss the “racial” and the “religious” as scarcely distinguishable synonyms, an implication which is accentuated by the title of his essay (“The Racial and Religious Paranoia of Trump’s Warsaw Speech”). The implication is that to be “religious” in an orthodox Christian sense is simultaneously to be racist.

Where there is ambiguity about a country’s “Westernness,” it’s because there is ambiguity about, or tension between, these two characteristics. Is Latin America Western? Maybe. Most of its people are Christian, but by U.S. standards, they’re not clearly white. Are Albania and Bosnia Western? Maybe. By American standards, their people are white. But they are also mostly Muslim.  

In order to justify this juxtaposition of the “racial” and the “religious,” Mr. Beinart reminds us of the influence of Steve Bannon on “Trump’s civilizational thinking,” quoting a 2014 speech by Mr. Bannon in which he celebrated “the long history of the Judeo-Christian West’s struggle against Islam” and praised “our forefathers” for having “bequeathed to us the great institution that is the church of the West.”

Let’s look at Mr. Beinart’s dexterous sleight of hand a little more closely; in slow motion, so to speak. He is suggesting that the struggle of Christians against the militaristic expansion of Islam from the early middle ages right through to modern times is not merely a struggle for religious and political freedom but is “racial.” When Charles Martel, way back in 732AD, defeated an Islamist army, which had invaded Spain and most of France during the previous twenty years, advancing as far as Poitiers and Tours, he was not defending Christian civilization from a murderous military invasion but was somehow being a racist. When, almost eight hundred years later, in 1529, the people of Vienna defended their city from the siege placed upon it by the Islamic imperialist, Suleiman the Magnificent, they were not defending their homes and their families, and their faith and their freedom, they were being racist.

And what of the numerous people of impeccably non-white heritage who have fought the good fight for Christendom and have been canonized by the Church as saints? The website Catholic Online (www.catholic.org) lists no fewer than 937 of them. From an orthodox Christian perspective these saints are beacons of the West, the heroes of Christendom. It might be argued by those who are as racially obsessed as Mr. Beinart that some of these so-called black saints were from north Africa and might not be technically black but Arab. From a Christian perspective, it doesn’t matter whether they are black, white, or any of forty shades of grey in between. To be of the West is to be part of Christian civilization. It’s a question of creed, not of colour. In other words, the juxtaposition of “racial” and “religious” is not merely a sleight of hand but an outright lie.   

The irony is that Mr. Beinart and his ilk are as “religious” as the rest of us. It’s just that they worship different gods. “Every president from George H.W. Bush to Barack Obama emphasized the portability of America’s political and economic principles,” enthuses Mr. Beinart. “The whole point was that democracy and capitalism were not uniquely ‘Western’. They were not the property of any particular religion or race but the universal aspiration of humankind.”

In point of fact, contrary to Mr. Beinart’s belief, “democracy” and “capitalism” are uniquely “Western,” insofar as they began in the West, though they are not uniquely or originally “American” as he seems to imply, the former having its origins in ancient Greece and the latter originating in England. They are, however, not applicable to the West alone but have become global phenomena, much as Christendom has become a global phenomenon. Mr. Beinart goes further, applying a proselytizing religious zeal to the principles of “democracy” and “capitalism,” which are “not the property of any particular religion or race but the universal aspiration of humankind.” Whether we are as keen to bend the knee to such abstract Western concepts as those in which Mr. Beinart places his faith, we can agree that the West is for everyone, regardless of any accident of birth. The West, as understood by Christians, is the flowering and flourishing of a civilization which goes back to the Homeric epic and the Hebrew prophets, and having been baptized by Christ, is “not the property of any particular race but the universal aspiration of humankind.”

President Trump was right to defend such a civilization, even if he doesn’t really know what it is, and Mr. Beinart is wrong to accuse him of racism when he does so. It is Mr. Beinart and not Mr. Trump who sees everything in terms of an unhealthy obsession with race, reducing everything to the level of skin colour. Perhaps he should look at the log in his own eye before criticizing the perceived splinter in anyone else’s perspective. Once he follows such sound Christian advice, he might stop being the proverbial pot calling the kettle black.  

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28 replies to this post
  1. I’m not sure capitalism is a uniquely Western creation.

    To me the uniqueness of the West is its long history of debating the ideal form of political organization along with the Roman Empire’s imposition of a secular state under Constantine as a model for the future.

    Theodosius’ creation of Federatio could be considered the birth of the modern nation state of today.

  2. It strikes me that if anyone was to look at “capitalism” apart from the West we see what it is without Christianity. While my knowledge is limited, we could look at capitalism in China and India and see how industry does not value the worker with factory conditions or fair wage: both are held as inseparable in true West nations. Therefore to promote the ideas of capitalism or democracy without the Christian ethic is indeed a dangerous experiment which is far worse than racism (dare I say such a thing publicly?).

  3. I don’t know but wouldn’t Monaco be part of the West?, and they are hardly a Western titan. Mr. Beinarts lamentations, his splitting of hairs is purely an exercise in frustration, “white nationalist supporters”?, a slam at a political opponent, and one who couldn’t care less.

  4. I accused Mr. Beinart of projecting, when he characterized Trump’s speech as “racially and religiously paranoid”. The biggest transgression against PC prohibitions is for White Christians to have an civilizational or racial identity.

  5. I checked three transcripts of Trump’s speech and was unable to find the line where he said the West is “not the property of any particular race but the universal aspiration of humankind”…

    • That is because President Trump did NOT say it. As Mr. Pearce makes clear in his essay, this was said by Peter Beinart: “Mr. Beinart goes further, applying a proselytizing religious zeal to the principles of ‘democracy’ and ‘capitalism,’ which are ‘not the property of any particular religion or race but the universal aspiration of humankind.’”

  6. M. Gorbachev said: “The market existed long before capitalism and should exist to serve humankind.”
    Socialism is a creation of the West. The Soviets made a complete hash of it until Gorby tried to put things right.
    The Swedes and other Nordic countries, for example, have got it right.
    There is still, always, hope…..

    • Not sure the Swedes have gotten anything right, at least not lately. A welfare state might work (somewhat) in a homogenous society, but not since they’ve been admitting waves of immigrants, especially Muslims. A native Swede might choose not to abuse the welfare system, but a foreigner with no connections to the host culture might feel very differently.

      • Once in my Unitarian church I asked the congregation if anyone had ever lived on welfare. 11 Irish said YES & 2 astonished Americans said Never. One American felt it unthinkable that she could know someone on welfare. Signing on between jobs is Normal in Ireland. We pay tax to insure ourselves against unemployment. Even if welfare is charity we are entitled to it and morally obliged to accept it. And to give it. Welfare abuse is a secondary issue. I do believe the Swedes cope with this well.

        • If someone were wanting to get welfare, I would say – don’t you have friends? Don’t you have family? If they won’t take care of you, why should the government?

          I don’t know how things are in Europe, but here it is un-American. It’s also wreaked havoc with the poor, especially blacks. Plus, it’s a cheap way for politicians to get votes and put on airs of phony compassion. Hillary Clinton is a classic example of this.

          • The traditional Western European left had as its goal the same utopia that the Communist Party lead Socialist countries of the east, but gradually and democratically. A recent split from the Irish Labour Party are the Social Democrats who advocate the Nordic model. Good services (free health care, free education as well as good welfare) paid for by high taxation. (Swedish standard rate 60% approx) A SD public representitive recently said….. in America one pays low taxes but God help you if you get into difficulties.

            If I was in difficulties I would prefer to rely on my rights under a just taxation system than on the voluntary charity of others. Here it is shameful to abuse the welfare system, not to use it.

  7. In the context of this article, it is relevant to note that voluntary socialism (not imposed) was part of the original Christian ethos as we read “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need” (Acts 2:44-45). It was the voluntary nature of this sharing that distinguished it from later perversions of socialism that differed from what was found in early Christianity. This is clear from the words of Peter: “when if was sold, was it still not under your control?” (Acts 5:4).

  8. This is a very good piece, a pertinent one, and insightful. Why the left are so anti western is truly a mystery. The hatred goes deep and far back in time, really to the beginning of this modern progressive/conservative split.
    In psychological terms – and I don’t normally advocate using psychology to understand mass movements – it seems that the anti western impulse comes from a self-loathing, a distaste for one’s own heritage and values.

    If I may simplify a definition of what constitutes western,” I would classify it as a grouping of subcultures that derived from the Roman Empire, and that would include the countries of the new world and Australia. Since the Roman Empire had transitioned to Christianity almost two centuries before the western half collapsed, it is natural that that these subcultures are Christian, and therefore assimilating the Judaism of the Old Testament, and it owes its roots to the Hellenistic world of pre Roman Empire. This would include the Eastern Orthodox Christian subcultures and its transplants, which would be the Slavic language countries. Now if one wants to look at splits within the west, we could look at historical events, such as communism or the fall of the Byzantine Empire that would create sub factions within “the west,” but I think those are still the west. My point is, the west is construct of the Roman Empire.

    • ” Why the left are so anti western is truly a mystery. ”

      The best explanation for it might be virtue signaling. By sneering at the West, the left winger assumes a posture of superiority to it (and everything else).

  9. In the (European) West Socialist parties enter government when elected. In the USSR under Gorbachev freedom of speech and expression culminated in the 1989 elections where the Party was placed under the control of the electorate.

    Here in Europe Liberals are considered to be more ‘centrist’ than ‘left’. I recently read a Time Magazine(?) article which described the German Free Democrats as primarily interested in advocating maximising individual freedoms – surely leading to minimising cultural input into the running of society.

    My wife, some time before we met, was involved in an electable quasi-communist party. She has long since been a Catholic. She rejected Liberalism in both her ‘incarnations’ as society must order itself.

    My vote is with the mild-mannered Social Democrats…

    • To me, Gorbachev was more like Darth Vader thinking he could reform the Evil Empire from within, when in reality it was unreformable and had to be dismantled entirely.

      • In the bad old USSR everyone at election time was “free” to vote against the CP by requesting the Pen to cross off CP candidates name. A week later the KGB would arrest this individual on an “unrelated” matter.
        On election day 1989 I saw Gorbachev on TV wave the Pen at the camera as he was about to cast his vote.

  10. Quote: Next Mr. Beinart reminds us that the West is not an ideological or economic term either. India is the world’s largest democracy and Japan is among its most economically advanced nations. And yet, says Mr. Beinart, “no one considers them part of the West.”

    No one? I certainly do, although India’s ancient struggles with caste and its more recent ones with endemic corruption make its place shaky. Much as the U.S. is defined as a set of beliefs than can encompass people from anywhere, the West is a set of beliefs that can be adapted and adopted onto a host of cultures as different as Japan and India.

    Peter Beinart illustrates a cancer that’s now inflicting Western intellectuals—the tendency to label everyone and everything they disagree with “racist.” It makes more sense to see that as a projection of their own internal attitudes. Why otherwise would they pretend to be outraged at an occasional police shooting in a black inner city but purr with contentment when a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic kills thousands?

  11. “The irony is that Mr. Beinart and his ilk are as “religious” as the rest of us. It’s just that they worship different gods.”

    Amen. This is a point which needs to be driven home at every opportunity.

  12. It is difficult to understand those that undermine Western Civilization with epithets such as “racist” except to understand that such do not have an historical perspective. Remi Brague describes Western Civilization as possessing secondarity which means that European culture is derivative of others, and Roman in that the Romans considered the Greeks to have first place in the development of culture and that works from the Greeks should be preserved rather than discarded which the Muslims for example would do by translating into their own tongue the ancient works then discard or destroy the originals. The essence of the West then is an appropriation of the foreign which also preserves the foreign rather than destroy it as now inferior to the translation made. By this manner the “otherness” of the original texts is maintained and because of this the West has its renaissances by “a return to the original texts against the traditions that claimed to follow them (Brague, Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization, pg.106).”

  13. I though I’d add something I came across today while reading in Herbert Butterfield’s History and Human Relations. It seemed appropriate since Mr. Beinart likes to place so much in one box.

    “One of the great weaknesses of young historical students at the present day is that they know so little of what goes on inside human beings. In times when religion was fashionable and men knew their Bibles by heart, they had one advantage in that by intensive self examination they learned about the profundities that lie within a human personality; they learned about the intricacies of human motive, and the fund of spiritual forces which enable a man in many things, though not in everything, to conquer his environment and rise above circumstances. In days when poetry was more fashionable and people had more time to reflect on the great works of literature, students knew more about the deep wells at the bottom of the human heart and the springs of their emotions. And it is a good thing to read narrative history and even biography in order to learn more about the insides of human beings, the corridors and recesses within them-and not talk history in a bloodless kind of sociologist’s jargon as though men were machines, or as though we who know so little about the insides of one another can box Martin Luther and Napoleon into a few simple formulas. One of the surprising things in present day historical discussion is the thinness and crudeness of some people’s ideas about human motive, and the shallow academic character of their views on personality.” Butterfield, History and Human Relations, Pg. 92

  14. “If I was in difficulties I would prefer to rely on my rights under a just taxation system than on the voluntary charity of others. ” BB

    I would prefer the reverse.

    • A wise old Socialist once said… it would be better that 10 people abuse a welfare system than one genuine person go in need. BUT welfare fraud is not just shameful, it is illegal.

  15. First, teach people self reliance. And if people need temporary help, that’s what friends and family are for. Socialism at best turns people into well managed farm animals. At worst it turns them into slaves.

    I reject socialism. It is immoral. It turns belief in God into belief (and dependence) on government.

  16. Any genuine democracy is imperfect, yes? Trump was elected by due process yet the American left seems intent on toppling him. America IS its constition to a much greater extent that is the case in a European country. Anti Trump fanaticism is a threat to Americas very being.
    On the other hand… The business of any government is central planning, by definition, though not to the absurd extent as was in the USSR. The American right seems to regard itself as being in opposition to Government…on principle. One may be in favour of a low tax-low services administration ( without taxation there is no administration) or a high tax – good services administration, but once the votes have been counted put up with things…until next time.
    I might *Dream* of a Labour lead left-Ish government here in Ireland but the (soft) left has never had more than 1/3 of cabinet seats. Thats how the vote went.
    Of the people, by the people, for the people may be an idealisation but it is not nonesense.
    Support your government….. then vote for Jill Stein.

  17. “On the other hand… The business of any government is central planning, by definition”

    Actually, no, maybe that idea was based on the Roman Empire, but America is different. Here, the government is based on protecting the rights of the citizens, indeed, most of the original 10 Amendments to our Constitution (the Bill of Rights) are based on establishing those rights and then forbidding the government from infringing on those rights. So, small, limited government has always been an American ideal, and makes it incompatible with socialist/left wing ideology.

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