In Brief: The West Is Superior
If rival civilizations feel they are “second class,” there’s a reason for that.
One of the great lies told by American leftists is that America is no better than any other country. In fact, we’re so bad we should be ashamed. There are certainly aspects of Western Civilization that are shameful, both in our history and today — things that modern leftists often promote, ironically. But Rich Lowry says there’s really no contest when compared with other civilizations. First, he sets the stage:
The increasingly evident de facto alliance between Russia and China makes the war in Ukraine begin to look a little more like a front in a larger clash of civilizations. …
In a speech last year, Vladimir Putin railed, as usual, against the West’s “undivided dominance over world affairs” and blamed it for holding down what it regards as “second-class civilizations.”
President Xi has talked in similar, if less barbed, terms. He believes his country is on the verge of providing “a new option for other countries” and “a Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind.” In short, ours “will be an era that sees China moving closer to center stage.”
Both Russia and China are driven by a resentment over past humiliations that feel very immediate no matter how distant.
Next, Lowry considers the current conflict in Ukraine, and the debate over whether Western involvement “is too expensive, or imprudent, or both.” There are reasons for both sides of the argument.
What there can’t be any doubt about, though, is the moral and political superiority of the West over its authoritarian adversaries who represent corrupt and poisonous imperial traditions.
Of course, Russian and Chinese civilization have great depth and are responsible for amazing cultural achievements. Our leaders and diplomats should always acknowledge that, but the fact of the matter is that if Vladimir Putin sounds defensive about “second-class civilizations,” there’s a reason for that.
A couple millennia after Athens and a couple hundred years after the modern democratic revolution, Russia and China have never managed to create stable, democratic, open societies.
They both have corrupt presidents for life who jail and kill their opponents. Aggrieved by or envious of the modern West’s success, and particularly America’s, they dream of reestablishing a version of their authoritarian empires of old.
They both have hideous crimes involving the murder and imprisonment of millions in their not-too-distant pasts. China is perpetrating a genocide as we speak.
They are different, of course. Russia is the rickety mess it’s almost always been, its power largely a function of mass and natural resources, while China has managed an extraordinary economic, technological, and military rise to pose a challenge to the United States that may well eclipse the old Soviet threat.
As for the West, Lowry admits that the slave trade and similar racial problems “appear at the top of the negative side of the ledger.”
But the question in life is always, compared with what? And compared with the rest of the world, and especially with the regimes challenging us, it isn’t even a close call.
The West may be naïve, feckless, foolhardy, or self-destructive, but it isn’t malicious or evil. It represents the greatest advance in liberty, broad-based prosperity, and self-governance in human history, and forged modernity as we know it.
The record on individual and human right, the shift to sovereign nations that don’t war over territory, the elevation of Rule of Law, and governments that are more accountable than the historic norm are all achievements of the West. He concludes:
All of these things are hateful to our adversaries. Now, they will say — along with the West’s internal critics — that it’s all built on lies, or undermined by our flagrant hypocrisy.
But pretty much nothing the West is typically accused of is unique to the West. Slavery? It long predated the West and lived on long after the West had eliminated it from its societies. Warfare? It’s endemic to human nature, as demonstrated by the evidence of violent deaths prior to large-scale political organization and the behavior of contemporary tribal societies. Colonialism? Please. How about the Arabs, Parthians, Mongols, Hans, and on and on, not to mention the Aztecs or Comanches?
Reasonable people can disagree about Ukraine policy, but there can be no question which of the civilizational contestants is superior in every way that should matter. The West needs to understand why it’s so distinctive, and what feeds the animosity of those who would topple it.
- Rich Lowry
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