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We should respond to the question of whether the West is worth defending by first asking the more important question of which West it is that we are being asked to defend…

westThere are many people who will cite the West as something which is under threat and something for which we should be prepared to fight to defend. Depending on which defender of the West is pontificating, the threat comes from Russia, or from Islam, or from China, or from some enemy within the West itself. The question is, however, meaningless unless we have a clear understanding of what exactly is meant by the West?

For some people, the West is that civilization which grew from the meeting of Athens and Jerusalem, encompassing the philosophy of the former and the theology of the latter. For others, the West is that civilization that has emerged in Europe and America since the Enlightenment and which is characterized by secularism in politics and relativism in philosophy. The older West has been called Judeo-Christian civilization or simply Christendom. The post-Enlightenment West has been called Liberalism or simply Modernity. The problem is that the earlier West has not been replaced by the latter West, in the sense that Modernity can be said to have eclipsed Christendom. On the contrary, the two civilizations continue to exist side-by-side, in contradistinction and conflict.

The post-Enlightenment West has tried to crush the Christian West at various times. We think perhaps of the so-called Glorious Revolution in England in 1688, the French Revolution in 1789, and the Russian Revolution of 1917. With regard to the last of these, it is important to insist that the Bolshevik Revolution was a Western Revolution, regardless of whether we consider Russia to be part of the West, because the ideas of Marx and Engels, as heirs of the philosophy of Hegel and others, were very much of the post-Enlightenment Western tradition. If Russia is not of the West, the Russian Revolution was the imposition of post-Enlightenment Western values on the Russian people, an act of what might be called cultural imperialism. Yet, according to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prizewinning writer, it is wrong to see Russia as being distinct from the West. Considering Russia to be part of that older Western Civilization, known as Christendom, Solzhenitsyn insisted that Russia and the West were essentially part of the same threatened Christian civilization, and that both had succumbed to the evils of post-Enlightenment modernity:

Today, when we say the West we are already referring both to the West and to Russia … And … there are ills that are characteristic, that have plagued the West for a long time and now Russia has quickly adopted them also. In other words, the characteristics of modernity, the psychological illness of the twentieth century, is this hurriedness, hurrying, scurrying, this fitfulness—fitfulness and superficiality. Technological successes have been tremendous but without a spiritual component mankind will not only be unable to further develop but cannot even preserve itself. There is a belief in an eternal, an infinite progress which has practically become a religion. This is a mistake of the eighteenth century, of the Enlightenment era.

If, therefore, Western Liberals see Russia as an enemy of their West, many Western Christians, agreeing with Solzhenitsyn, see their Eastern Orthodox brothers as allies in the traditional West’s war against the new West’s Modernity.

Having defined the two Wests, we can now answer our original question. Is the West worth defending?

If one believes in the traditional West, or what might be called Christendom, it is worth defending not merely against threats from the East, such as that of Islam, but against the threat from within posed by Western Liberalism. If, on the other hand, one believes in the post-Enlightenment West, it is worth defending not merely against threats from the East, such as Russia, but against the threat from within posed by Christendom. In short, we should respond to the question of whether the West is worth defending by first asking the more important question of which West it is that we are being asked to defend.

Republished with gracious permission from Intellectual Takeout (2017).

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5 replies to this post
  1. A very thought-provoking piece. I certainly agree that there have been and are factions of “modernity” within the West that have sought the eradication of the traditional Christian element of the West; this is only logical, as Christian teachings have historically presented the major obstacle to the “progressive” vision, which has championed such causes as eugenics, abortion, euthanasia, deconstruction of traditional sexual morality and gender definitions, statism, etc.

    However, I’m not sure I agree with the sharp distinction that the author seems to be making between the two groups within the West. While I don’t want to minimize the destruction and horror that the anti-Christian factions of Western modernity have inflicted upon the world (as the author rightly detailed,) I do see those groups as factions of post-Enlightenment modernity, rather than as representatives of post-Enlightenment values as a whole. I don’t see that such anti-Christian malevolence must necessarily stem from Enlightenment ideas. Although the Enlightenment thinkers were not all orthodox Christians, I believe that few if any were atheistic materialists in the modern sense. I think from an American perspective, Enlightenment values were written into our founding documents with both the intent and the effect of the propagation of Christianity.

    I do indeed feel that I have more in common with our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters in Russia than I do with the average atheist/multiculturalist of the modern West, but I also would not want to live in a society like Tsarist Russia.

  2. The traditional West is worth defending with the main enemy being Western Liberalism. What is being defined as Western Liberalism is not the Liberalism of the 19th century. Western Liberalism has been hijacked by Marxism and all its horrible symptoms, usually referred to as communism and socialism. Eradicating communism and socialism would return the world to a somewhat safer state.
    The only religious war would be with Islam. The only reason for war with Islam, is that Islam cannot co-exist with any other form of religion, government, or social structure other than itself. Even within itself it cannot co-exist with the differences between Sunni and Shia, which is far worse than any differences between Protestant and Catholic.
    What the West has provided in terms of knowledge, and the advancements in health, education, and technology for the past 2500+ years, needs to be defended and saved.

  3. If I may be so brazen as to say, pre-enlightenment Christendom emphasized justice, whereas the succeeding peoples championed liberty. Athens and Jerusalem discussed both, though the former showed more diverse liberality, well, with liberty. In the long run, Christendom actively defended the image of God. Enlightenment/post-enlightenment thinking was more concerned with doing rather than being, leading to man being susceptible to his own desires and at the mercy of a god-like state, which only increasingly becomes more omnipotent.

    As for Tsarist Russia, the people at large were greatly responsible for the existence of the empire and the Bolshevik takeover, considering this political party was quite miniscule when it asserted itself in 1917. Controversial, I know. Still, how do you explain a people(s) so numerous, known to revolt on a generational basis, yet they could never seem to unite long term for independence? Also, the imperial regime became more potent and efficient to rule the masses with the adoption of enlightenment ideas, tsars joining the roster of European monarchs in the age of absolutism. Food for thought if anything else.

  4. Just what I had been about to add. First, it was not a revolution, but a quasi-legitimate coup with a lot of popular support. (Just as the American Revolution was, in fact, a secession with conservative motives. There has never been a revolution-proper that turned out well.) Secondly and more importantly… are we really going to give James II a bye for being a puppet of the Sun King, just because he was Catholic?

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