Thinking About the West

sleeping in dangerWestern civilization is adrift in the world of ideas. Uncoupled from religion for over a century, the Judeo-Christian ethical tradition which endured—albeit, once it had been absorbed into a secular, modernist rationale—is under existential threat from within. The Twitter-lynching of Chris Gayle, the asylum seeker crisis in Europe and connected sexual violence in Cologne and other cities on New Year’s Eve, and the increasing frequency of attacks by Islam-inspired jihadists are all in their own and disparate ways symptoms of the same ailment.

Although perhaps well intentioned, the groupthink of Left orthodoxy is accelerating the demise of liberal values on which Western culture was built. While the Left may be more purposeful in severing the links that tie the West to its philosophical and religious past, the ‘right’ is not without fault. Its silence as liberal values become corrupted and discredited implies complicity; its retreat to behind the walls of neoliberal economics concedes defeat as fiscal short-termism is prioritised at the expense of reflecting on the the power and importance of ideas.

The dilution of Western values can be seen most prominently in the mainstream media and its role as a censor, rather than facilitator, of public debate. Pick any contentious topic — from gay-marriage and abortion to the role of Islam in terrorism or issues of race or gender — and you will hear only one side of the story, the politically correct angle. Dissenters beware, presenting an alternative view, or even questioning why the dominant view is dominant, will result in outrage and judgement. There is no such thing as truly free speech under such circumstances — no dialogue, no alternatives to the impulsive and dogmatic Left’s cause du jour, whatever its promoted crusade of the month might happen to be.

Sure, there may still be de jure freedom of expression—being ‘an Islamophobe’ won’t see you end up in prison, not yet anyway. But the threat of public embarrassment and excommunication from all ‘civilised’ conversations won’t seem like ‘freedom’ to many. By far the easiest thing to do as the Left colonises institutions and shuts down debate is to do nothing at all.

To return again to the media’s role, the Fourth Estate not only shapes the societies on which it purports to report, it also represents them: news organisations not only give us what they want us to hear but also what we want to hear. We wish to believe, for example, that a religion whose values are antithetical to the West’s traditions of secularism is nothing to worry about, that its oppression of women is but a quaint and colourful manifestation of ethnic diversity. The media will make sure that the nothing-to-see-here narrative is given pride of place.  Maybe we should pause and ask ourselves, ‘What are our values? What is the West, and what makes it unique? What do we stand for?’

Irving Kristol, American intellectual and ‘godfather’ of neoconservatism, wrote in 1973 of the ‘depletion of moral capital’ in the West. Arguing against the rampant and damaging individualism present in Western society at the time, he warned that ‘society was living off the accumulated moral capital of traditional religion and traditional moral philosophy.’ Once expended, the foundations of the society would be uncertain at best.

Kristol was writing during a time in which the current West must have been unimaginable, so his prescience is startling. Today we see the culture of postmodernism in the final stages of its journey from university campuses of the Seventies to dominating discourse and ‘acceptable’ opinions in wider society. Rather than allowing debate and discussion about what is right and wrong, what liberty and freedom mean and what defines the West, defenders of the old, allegedly illiberal order have seen the baton seized by reprentatives of an even less liberal one.

Postmodernists initially sought to do away with concepts of right and wrong, but all they really did was redefine them — and not according to any particular religious or philosophical tradition. The nihilism they originally championed was quickly discarded, as rewriting the rules was infinitely more interesting than having no rules at all. It is in this context, for example, that there arose the current fascination—a remnant, no doubt, of Marxism—with assuming that the West is to blame for everything, and that traditional Western values are by default inferior to those of any and all other cultures.

Western guilt, this compulsive self-flagellation, views Judeo-Christian values as comparable, if not inferior to those of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam—take your pick. And if you think this comparison between values is the result of careful thought and discussion, you are wrong. Tearing down the values of the West is the end in itself, what replaces them is beside the point. The very least we in the West can do is to spend some time thinking about ourselves, our values, and our history.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Most of us in Australia are rich and comfortable. Why should we bother with a task as onerous and disquieting as self-reflection? In this world of instant gratification, thinking can be a real chore. That makes it so easy to forget which ideas and values are the foundation of Western society because dialogue about them is absent.

So, I ask again, what is the West? What are its values? Are there better alternatives or not? Can we grow out of the ludicrous belief that all values and societies are equally good, or is moral and cultural relativism here to stay?


  • Homer Sapien

    I take it, we in the West are a “low context” society as opposed to our Muslem bretheren who might classify as “hight context”, hence we are easier to work out.

  • pgang

    Postmodernism is a knee-jerk reaction to the horrors perpetrated through modernism. Today we live with a confused mixture of modernism/rationalism and postmodernism, with a sprinkling of Christianity when any real meaning is called upon.

    Frankly no society can exist indefinitely within a godless ‘enlightened’ worldview, since all such philosophies collapse under their own weight and the value of humanity is always reduced, with terrible consequences.

    Soon we are going to discover whether we still have the will to live, and the only way to return to a state of ‘western’ civilisation will be to re-embrace its core worldview, which is Christianity. A reformation is required, and Peter Smith, I’m not seeing it coming from the Vatican.

    • acarroll

      +10 !

    • Patrick McCauley

      Yet somehow, once you have ditched Christianity, you can never come all the back. The secular society is unlikely to re-embrace its core worldview of Christianity. Either the Christ will have to re-appear, or we seem doomed to the beige lowest common denominator moral equivalence of the likes of John Pilger and his fellow travellers.

    • gardner.peter.d

      You may be right about a knee-jerk reaction but I would point out that post-modernism is being institutionalised in organisations such as the European Union which is specifically a post-democratic form of supra-national government unaccountable to the people of that union. Among its many objectives is the promotion of human rights which in practice means forcing the views of noisy minorities that catch its ear on the majority regardless of the wishes of national parliaments. Even the increasingly barmy rulings of the European Court of Human Rights are automatically written into EU law which has primacy over national laws. Thus the EU is a suitable vehicle, perhaps the best in existence today, for dictatorial censorship of expression, and suppression of activities or views that ‘offend’ some barmy but vociferous minority.

    • ian.macdougall


      Frankly no society can exist indefinitely within a godless ‘enlightened’ worldview, since all such philosophies collapse under their own weight and the value of humanity is always reduced, with terrible consequences.

      Invent us a god that is credible then. The outmoded model: a bloodthirsty sin-obsessed tyrant in the sky who sacrifices himself to himself (sort of) to pay the price he himself imposed after the first woman ate an apple when she was told not to, will not sell well on the modern credibility market.

      • pgang

        Of course it won’t if you go at it in such a shallow, juvenile manner. Nothing has credibility under such circumstances.

        • ian.macdougall

          Sorry. It may have been too brief a summary. But never mind “such a shallow, juvenile manner”; what specifically was its defect as a summary of Christian doctrine on sin and redemption?

  • Patrick McCauley

    Free speech – the contest of ideas – is fundamental to Western Civilisation (though constantly threatened) The freer the speech … the freer the society .. and the freer the social contract between citizen and state. There may need to be some thought put into an idea of a gender contract between men and women. The west is the place where highly trained men can endure the freedoms of feminist vengeance and vitriol … with minimal violent reaction (even under existential circumstances) … no other male culture has so far managed to train their men to this level of somnolence.

  • acarroll

    “Western guilt, this compulsive self-flagellation, views Judeo-Christian values as comparable, if not inferior to those of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam—take your pick.”

    So-called Judeo-Christian (propaganda term) values are viewed as inferior even to Judaic values. So no, it’s targeted at traditional expressions of European culture.

    Political correctness appears to have its genesis in the Critical Theory courtesy of the Frankfurt School fifth column. Have a read of these quotes and concepts and tell me that it hasn’t been adopted by the elite and MSM in all Western countries:

    “The small and powerless minorities which struggle against the false consciousness and its beneficiaries must be helped. Their continued existence is more important than the preservation of abused rights and liberties which grant constitutional powers to those who oppress these minorities.” — Herbert Marcuse

    Theodor Adorno in “The Authoritarian Personality” defines parenthood, pride in one’s family, Christianity, traditional gender roles and attitudes towards sex, and patriotism as pathological phenomena. (This appears to be inspired by that other charlatan Sigmund Freud.)

    There’s a common animus to European culture in these individuals (Freud, Marcuse, Adorno), and the philosophy’s of the Frankfurt School generally.

    • markhobart@people.net.au

      Agreed .
      I hadn’t thought of Judeo-Christianty as a propaganda term before but it makes sense.
      I wonder when it was first used.

      • acarroll

        It started to come into use after WW2, so I’ve read, and its use now has sky-rocketed with the rise of Neo-conservatism.

        It’s a word that tries to project backwards some false alliance between Christianity and Judaism, as if there was no mutual distrust and/or hatred between their religious leaders and their communities.

  • Jack Richards

    The above article and this one


    will certainly offend the pious do-gooders left establishment. But maybe the world is starting to change and cast of the shackles that have grown like mould over the past 50 years.

  • gardner.peter.d

    Two excellent books taking a broad view of all the factors leading to the decline and fall of civilisations are: ‘Why Nations Fail’ by Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson, and The Great Degeneration by Niall Ferguson, whose other relevant book is ‘Civilization: The West and the Rest’.

    One thing in common is that few people see it coming and although the signs are there for a long time in the decay of institutions, when it comes, it comes precipitously.

  • Lawrie Ayres

    The writers thoughts on the censorship of the MSM can have no better example than how moderators treat comments to particular columns. The ABC and Fairfax reject out of hand any conservative comments and the Australian, once the one paper to allow diversity of views, is quite judgemental on some subjects. Mention Islam and incompatible in the same sentence and watch your comment evaporate. Similarly when we start discussing the “Recognition” debate and begin questioning who should qualify as an aborigine and whether they should receive special consideration over other “Australians”.

  • brian.doak@bigpond.com

    Ian MacDougal throws out a good challenge as to wherefore now Christianity?
    Could we be seeing it during any of the TV church sessions on Sunday morning from 6 am to 8 am?
    *6.00 Mass
    *6.30 Hillsong
    *7.00 Joseph Prince
    *7.30 Joel Osteen

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