When Bernard Lewis wrote his excellent book with this title, he had the Muslim world in mind, but not too long from now somebody will almost certainly be producing the long-expected sequel with the West as its subject. The recent kerfuffle over Jeff Sessions praising the “Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement” prompted this sad thought in me, in particular after reading this commentary by Mark Steyn. “We live in wretchedly moronic times,” Steyn writes, “in which even senators, lieutenant governors and other panjandrums who bestride the land know nothing of anything that happened before last Tuesday.”
Steyn is perhaps not the most original and deepest thinker out there, but he has all the right instincts and a truly exceptional talent for defining the big issues in clear terms. His observation that the term “Anglo-American” refers to the English culture and traditions from which we sprung and not, as the Left now seems to think, to yet another hyphenated identity group, is so blatantly obvious it shouldn’t even warrant expressing. But these days it unfortunately does.
Of course, there’s sweet irony in the fact that these “professional grievance-mongers”, as Steyn calls them, are A-OK with slapping labels on every perceived victim group and pitting them against whites and/or males, but then come out hyperventilating as soon as their designated villains start adopting that very same strategy. For that is the inevitable outcome of identity politics, with disastrous results for our society as a whole unless we decide to steer clear of it before long.
When ‘educated’ men no longer know the origins of a commonplace term like “Anglo-American”, their education, or lack thereof, is naturally to blame.
But this is beside the point, at least for now. The question is how we got here. What went wrong? The obvious culprit to point to is the breakdown of our education. When ‘educated’ men no longer know the origins of a commonplace term like “Anglo-American”, their education, or lack thereof, is naturally to blame. This answer barely scratches the surface of our problems, though, and we certainly need to dig deeper.
The explanation lies, I think, in the toxic cocktail of Marxism and postmodernism which permeated our collective soul in the twentieth century. While these are two different things philosophically, the latter was developed by a small group of Left-wing philosophers in an intellectual effort to keep legitimizing their faith in the former when real-world events in the 1950s completely crushed the flawed Marxist logic. Karl Marx himself had argued that the rise of capitalism would inevitably lead to an ever greater schism between the rich and poor in society (and ultimately to revolution), but in reality the opposite was true and the middle classes in the capitalist West were prospering. In fact, by the mid-twentieth century the middle classes were living lives of which the kings and emperors of yesteryear could only have dreamed. At the same time, it became patently obvious to any impartial observer that life behind the Iron Curtain was an absolute nightmare. The house of cards came thundering down when the Soviets invaded Hungary in ’56 to crush the popular uprising against the socialist rulers in that country. Postmodernism became the refuge for the disillusioned socialists in the West. It was, in Stephen Hicks’ words, “a symptom of the far Left’s crisis of faith,” and “a result of using skeptical epistemology to justify the personal leap of faith necessary to continue believing in socialism.” It’s not a coincidence that all the great postmodernist thinkers of the mid-twentieth century, Derrida and Foucault included, were hardcore socialists at the same time.
Postmodernism’s dark influence on our society can hardly be overstated. Ask any seventeen-year-old on the streets today about the meaning of words like “justice”, “truth” and “beauty”, and there’s a strong likelihood he or she will tell you that these are relative concepts, if not artificial constructs designed by the powerful to boost their power at the expense of others. This fallacy manifests itself in well-nigh every aspect of our politics and culture. It’s destroyed the arts, led to a libertine counter culture, and produced countless academics who fill their hours reverse-propagandizing the West.
When the postmodernist logic is followed to its utmost extreme, there’s no end to its pernicious effects, of course. When all truths are relative and merely the product of our socio-economic circumstances, culture, gender and/or skin color, who can claim that the Palace of Versailles’s architecture is more beautiful than the dilapidated concrete high-risers in Moscow erected under Communism, or even than a shack in the slums of Rio? Or that the Yosemite landscape is a prettier sight than the rusty clunkers and pile of tires in your neighbor’s overgrown backyard? Why would an intact family be more desirable to society than a single mom trying to manage a hodgepodge of kids from three different guys? How can one say our Western civilization is superior to a tribe of cannibals somewhere out in the Asian jungle? What right do we have to tell these people they are not allowed to come here for permanent settlement? Why is somebody with a PhD more educated, let alone more intelligent, than an eighth-grade drop-out? How can we say that the former’s speech, replete with long, coherent and complex sentences, is better than the latter’s syntactical concoctions replete with bad grammar and incoherent logic? Why should we read Plato and Locke, when the latest work by this or that African American Studies professor will get us our college degree too?
And why are reason and logic even preferable over irrational gibberish, verbal abuse or physical assault in conducting an argument?
These extremes demonstrate that the postmodernist proposition is plain ridiculous on its face, but they are not hypothetical examples. The postmodernists put them forward all the time. If you don’t believe it, take a look at the violent riots at the hands of Antifa brown shirts every time a Right-wing speaker visits a college campus for an (attempted) lecture nowadays.
It’s obvious that postmodernism’s central thesis is intellectually self-defeating, for if any claim to truth were the product of ‘power structures’, this would apply to postmodernism itself too. But that contradiction is hushed away by always directing the postmodernist claims at a perceived external enemy, never against oneself. So the dichotomy is shaped as the white male patriarchy on the one hand versus women, the poor, gays, lesbians, transgenders, African-Americans, immigrants and Muslims on the other, but never as postmodernist academics versus their conservative peers (who by all measures face glass ceilings of their own today).
When you really think the above through, what is it but warmed-up Marxism? We’ve come full circle at this junction. The entire postmodernist thesis as played out in the real world boils down to the idea that some bad people get ahead in life at the expense of others. In the old days it was the capitalist who enriched himself over the backs of his poor workers. These days it’s the cis-gendered heterosexual white male who oppresses every identity group you identified the day before yesterday. (Remember when gender-neutral bathrooms to accommodate the petty needs of 0.3% of our population were not a hot-button issue? Yeah, me too.)
This is what went wrong in our Western societies: A hostile philosophical take-over that destroyed our classical education, our traditions, and our culture; and made us all dumber, less virtuous, and more hysterical.
So our problem is twofold: First, at a deeper psychological level we’ve become intellectually lazy. It’s no longer necessary to read Plato and Aristotle, or Peter and Paul, or Plutarch, or Hobbes, Locke and Smith, or Publius and Tocqueville, all of whom require years of dedicated study to fully comprehend. Instead, your mediocre mid-twentieth-century feminist rant will suffice. In terms of educational value, who can say that the former category is better than the latter anyway? Since few things instill more gratification in us than being offended on someone else’s behalf, the siren song of identity politics substituting for real education in our modern universities and colleges is hard to withstand. Who can blame an 18-year-old these days if he doesn’t feel like doing a close reading of the Bible? It’s not like there’s any top-down (let alone peer) pressure for him to do so.
Secondly, the Marxist element gave this intellectual idleness a dynamic of its own. If postmodernism doesn’t require us to read the Great Books any longer, Marxism actually requires that we don’t. You see, the yellowing pages written by these old dead guys materialized within the male white patriarchal power structure of yesteryear. They are not only at odds with the postmodern claims about truth and knowledge, but intend for the powerful to retain their dominance over the various designated victim groups. These books are part of the problem and to be banned from our college campuses like Mein Kampf from post-Nazi Germany.
It is clear that the postmodernist mission is not a quest to teach students a skeptical attitude towards all claims of knowledge and truth, but only towards claims that refute the Marxist class dichotomy. As such, what we’re seeing in higher education today — the dumbing down of our curriculum; women and African-American and Raza and gender and queer studies; the rioting; cry-ins; safe spaces; and you name it — is but a naked power struggle to achieve uncontested dominance on campus. And ultimately in our culture.
This is what went wrong in our Western societies: A hostile philosophical take-over that destroyed our classical education, our traditions, and our culture; and made us all dumber, less virtuous, and more hysterical. We see the results around us every day. Since we’re already consuming our daily two minutes of hate as well as re-writing our civilization’s history, it’s a matter of time before we’ll do away with the constitutional formalities and make Orwell’s dystopian future a reality. Courtesy of the far Left.