The agony and ecstasy of western culture

Western values are so popular they could eventually unite the world in peace and prosperity

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First in our three part series The making of the West

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Robert has developed a unique perspective on modern capitalism and the deep forces impacting our economy and our lives
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EDMONTON, AB, Jan 19, 2015/ Troy Media/ – The headlines are filled with angst; foreign immigrants are swamping our nations, Islamic terrorists are murdering us in the streets, undermining free speech and minority ‘special interests’ are eroding longstanding Western culture and values.

The public is getting nervous; is it the beginning of the end for Western civilization?

It is, according to University of New Brunswick Prof. Ricardo Duchesne. He has gone on record, suggesting, “The influx of Asian immigrants is threatening Canada’s European character.” According to the professor: “immigrants don’t respect white liberals, who don’t take pride in their own nation and hand over everything.”

Irrational paranoia in western culture

This irrational paranoia of ‘others’ is not confined to Canadians. Fox News in the United States had to apologize to its audience the other day for suggesting (quite wrongly) that Birmingham (UK) is a ‘Muslim-only city’.

That is clearly not the case. But the Islamic population of Birmingham is large and growing and – there’s no doubt – It’s changing the character of the city. Many are worried that not only armed Jihadism but also ‘softer’ forms of Islamization are a transforming force, and not for the better.

western culture
Western values are so popular they could eventually unite the world in peace and prosperity

Ironically, Ali A. Mazrui, the Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at Binghamton University, is also alarmed, but for very different reasons.

He’s concerned that Western culture is taking over the world. Even the very vices of Western culture are acquiring worldwide prestige. Muslim societies which once refrained from alcohol are now manifesting increasing alcoholism. Chinese elites are capitulating to Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s hamburgers. And Mahatma Gandhi’s country has decided to go nuclear.”

He makes the point that the common calendar we use today is Western, derived from the Roman; that the global common language (English) is Western, as is the ‘business suit’ and – more significantly – the formal institutions of banking and the global economy.

Times columnist Simon Jenkins, a self-described “cheerleader for western values”, is also worried. But ‘outsiders’ do not concern him; he is more worried by the threat from within.

He suggests our military over-reaction to minor security and cultural threats is itself undermining Western culture. Instead of standing tall and supporting liberal values we’re “. . . sinking into, a fearful, besieged, security-obsessed wimpishness, in which Muslims rightly feel threatened by arbitrary violence . . ..”

So, what is the West, who is a Westerner?

The West has a long history, dating from ancient Rome. It has some unique – I would call them positive – virtues.

We now believe ‘democracy’ defines Western civilization, but truth be told it is a relatively recent development. Democratization has been a slow (but constant) process in Western life. It took many centuries for Western nations to migrate from centrally-controlled despotic monarchies to the open, largely democratic, societies we enjoy today.

How did this unusual transformation happen?

Well, it started with the economy. Believing that wealth creation was essential to progress, Western nations (as a rule) gave capital uncharacteristic freedom to grow, hoping thereby to enlarge the economic ‘pie’.

But this capital freedom was not unrestrained in Western nations; at the same time steps were taken to strengthen a variety of individuals’ economic, civil and social rights. This rights revolution was supported at various levels by progressive reforms including enfranchising the common man, and then (much later) women, the working classes and other outsiders. Reforms also were made in the economy, including the opening of markets, broad educational improvements and the shattering of social barriers to level the playing field and encourage broader participation in society.

Modern Western civilization continues to evolve and, most obviously, has transcended its traditional cultural and national boundaries.

What makes western culture unique?

What’s unique about the West? Westerner’s hold sacred certain social values, such as equality, tolerance and progress, informed by the ideal of liberty. Stunningly, the West is no longer ethnically European; today it is a global multi-ethnic, values-based community.

The Agony of the West is these values are (constantly) under threat from enemies foreign and domestic – nothing new there. The Ecstasy of the West is the agony of the rest. Fact is, the American political scientist, Francis Fukuyama is right, Western institutions, norms and values are now ubiquitous, dominating global systems. And – if we only stuck to them – western values are so popular they could eventually unite the world in peace and prosperity.

Robert McGarvey is an economic historian and co-founder of the Genuine Wealth Institute, an Alberta-based think tank dedicated to helping businesses, communities and nations built communities of wellbeing. Robert is the author of The Creative Revolution, an historical guide to the future of capitalism.

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