While the West has made more than its share of mistakes, it has also done some things better than any other civilization, or, at the very least, introduced things to the world that the world then claimed for all of humanity…
For those of us who still love Western civilization and consider ourselves loyal patriots to our ancestors, we are in a world of pain. At best, the world of today regards us as antiquated eccentrics. At worst, we are secretly promoting some kind of European supremacy and cultural hegemony. We are, supposedly, deaf to the cries of the oppressed, presenting history as a series of successes of one peoples (almost always white, against those who are not). Or, maybe in full innocence, we are simple reactionaries of the worst kind, the kind who really don’t know just how reactionary we are. Or, a bit more generously, we are misguided romantics, endlessly tilting at windmills.
Admittedly, I would love to be Don Quixote. At best, though, I’m merely his noble but decrepit steed, Rocinante.
When I was a student in college, back in the late 1980s, the Western canon was under attack. Of course, it had been under attack for nearly a century at that point, but it came blatantly under attack in the late 1980s by the newly-tenured radicals (those who came of age in the 1960s) who called for “inclusivity” in the canon of the West. They did not argue against studying Plato, but they wanted to know about Plato’s wife or if Plato had been influenced by central African philosophy. Frankly, every not quite “in-group”—at least as they saw themselves—wanted representation in the canon. Perhaps the most memorable and influential book at the time was, appropriately enough, named Black Athena (1987). In the late 1980s, each side saw the other as intractable and somewhat insidious. How naïve we all were then, presuming the debate would simply continue about inclusivity. And, how I long for those days when at least we debated what should be in the canon. As we approach the third decade of the twenty-first century, no canon can be stated with any certainty to exist. Not in the minds of academics and, most certainly, not in the minds of the average citizen of Western civilization. At least in 1989 and 1990, we still presumed a canon existed. Today, few even know that the word “canon” exists.
Today, though, most academics not only fail to recognize a canon, they act as though a canon should not exist in a rational world, evolved culturally past the superstitions of an older age. A canon belongs with pre-anesthesia dentistry and chattel slavery, in the past. Long in the past.
As conservatives, we have a duty to our ancestors, ourselves, our children, and their children to remember and conserve what must be remembered and what must be conserved. While the West has made more than its share of mistakes—after all, the West is no different than any other civilization, in that it is made up of men and women, some who choose to do good and some who choose to do ill—it has also done some things better than any other civilization, or, at the very least, introduced things to the world that the world than claimed for all of humanity.
Sometime within a generation of either side of 500 BC, a recognition about the uniqueness of each individual person—yet tied to a whole—arose among Ionians, Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucians. Each of the four great civilizations began to ask if an ethic might be universal. All peoples keep a certain set of rules—such as no murder, no adultery, no theft—for their own communities, but around 500 BC these four beginnings of civilization began to wonder whether or not ethics applied to those not in the in-group. Perhaps, such ethics might apply to action toward, to, and with one’s neighbors, near and far.
In Miletus, now sadly under water in the Aegean, several profound thinkers took such ethics seriously and asked the first questions that would soon be called “philosophy,” that is, a love of wisdom. If there was a universal ethic, these Greeks asked, what tied all peoples—regardless of time, soil, ethnicity, etc.—together? Was there a universal principle that held all together? Perhaps some primal element, such as earth, wind, water, or fire?
While this topic deserves an essay or two of its own, for now, it is worth noting that through the Stoics and early Christians, the West adopted its primal element as fire (logos). What matters most for this essay is that the entire discipline of philosophy began in the West, and it began as a way to find the universal that holds all humans together so that there is neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female, black nor white—but all made one through the Logos. When I see modern conservative claims that digging into the idea of universals is succumbing to the madness of political correctness, I only shake my head in disbelief, as they know not what they are trying to conserve. Since its beginning, the West has sought—more successfully than not—to find a way to balance the individual manifestations of universalism with the universalism itself. It is a difficult thing to do. Too readily, one can focus on the universals at the expense of the individual. This, of course, results in tyranny, pure and simple. One, however, can equally focus too much on the individual. Our modern world sees this is in the absurdity, “Well, that’s your ideology, and this is my ideology.” In the end, of course, no matter how much chaos might arise from such an unsustainable view, it will end in nothing less than might is right. This, I fear, is the greatest danger that comes from our loss of tradition and our loss of the understanding of the true West. By losing any anchor or pride in our purpose as citizens of the West, we also risk everything that makes the West special and gives us particular freedoms.
Thus, rather than a reactionary view, one can readily state the themes of the West in the best way possible—by asserting them as positive contributions, original or not, to the world and humanity at large. But, this comes soon. Very soon…
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