[Since at least the 1980s], the leading opinion makers in the media, the universities and the churches have regarded Western superiority as, at best, something to be ashamed of, and at worst, something to be opposed. Until [the early Seventies], when Western intellectuals reflected on the long-term achievements of their culture, they explained it in terms of its own evolution: the inheritance of ancient Greece, Rome and Christianity, tempered by the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the scientific and industrial revolutions. Even a radical critique like Marxism was primarily an internal affair, intent on fulfilling what it imagined to be the destiny of the West, taking its history to what it thought would be a higher level.
Today, however, such thinking is dismissed by the prevailing intelligentsia as triumphalist. Western political and economic dominance is more commonly explained not by its internal dynamics but by its external behaviour, especially its rivalry and aggression towards other cultures. Western success has purportedly been at their expense. Instead of pushing for internal reform or revolution, this new radicalism constitutes an overwhelmingly negative critique of Western civilization itself.
According to this ideology, instead of attempting to globalise its values, the West should stay in its own cultural backyard. Values like universal human rights, individualism and liberalism are regarded merely as ethnocentric products of Western history. The scientific knowledge that the West has produced is simply one of many “ways of knowing”. In place of Western universalism, this critique offers the relativism of multiculturalism, a concept that regards the West not as the pinnacle of human achievement to date, but as simply one of many equally valid cultural systems.
Although originally designed to foster tolerance and respect for other cultures, these sentiments were subsequently captured by the radical left and manipulated to the point of inconsistency. Their plea for acceptance and open-mindedness does not extend to Western culture itself, whose history is regarded as little more than a crime against the rest of humanity. The West cannot judge other cultures but must condemn its own.
Though commonly known as multiculturalism, this position is defined by its supporters with a series of post prefixes: postmodernism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism. However, it is best understood as an anti phenomenon because it defines itself not by what it is for but by what it is against. It is entirely a negation of Western culture and values: whatever the West supports, this anti-West rejects.
The aftermath to September 11 provided a stark illustration of its values. Within days of the terrorist assault, a number of influential Western intellectuals, including Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag and youthful counterparts such as Naomi Klein of the anti-globalisation protest movement, responded in ways that, morally and symbolically, were no different to the celebrations of the crowds on the streets of Palestine and Islamabad who cheered as they watched the towers of the World Trade Center come crashing down. Stripped of its obligatory jargon, their argument was straightforward: America deserved what it got.
This intellectual response was not couched in terms of Western humanist values. Instead, it represented a descent into the kind of relativism not seen since the days of Lenin and Hitler when class-based and race-based hatreds were morally sanctioned by radical politics. The major difference today is that this time it is not class or race but the whole of Western society that has been relativised.
This anti-Western, multicultural, postcolonial intellectual edifice constitutes a true ideology: it sees the world as an arena of conflict and has a political program to change the world for its own ends. It is formidable in its comprehensiveness and in the number of intellectual fields it encompasses. They include history, literature, the arts, the social sciences, the physical sciences, and the law. It is also formidable in the number of professional and public institutions it has successfully captured and whose agenda it now controls. With the demise of Marxism since the 1980s, it has emerged as its major ideological successor.
– Excerpted from “The Cultural War on Western Civilization,” by Keith Windschuttle (New Criterion, January 2002). To read the full article, click here.
(Original URL: https://www.newcriterion.com/issues/2002/1/the-cultural-war-on-western-civilization).
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