Bryan Caplan  

Western Culture: Crisis of Confidence?

Flight of the Red Balloon Euro Bet II: Win Mark Steyn's ...

From Mark Steyn's paranoid but enviably well-written America Alone:

The question for today's Europe is whether the primary identity of their fastest-growing demographic is Muslim or Belgian, Muslim or Dutch, Muslim or French.

That's where civilizational confidence comes in: if "Dutchness" or "Frenchness" seems a weak attenuated thing, then the stronger identity will prevail. One notes the similarities between revolutionary America and contemporary Europe: the United Empire Loyalists were older and wealthier; the rebels were younger and poorer. In the end, the former simply lacked the latter's strength of will.

My own view is that Steyn greatly underestimates the confidence of Western culture (and probably Belgian/Dutch/French culture, though I know a lot less about these specifically) because the West has so few self-conscious spokesmen. In fact, though, the shortage of spokesmen is a sign of a culture so confident that it doesn't bother trying to win converts. Western culture, beautiful, fun, and smart, wins converts and undermines the competition simply by existing.

For most of the 20th-century, socialists had hyper-confident advocates, but they lost anyway - in large part because capitalism is simply better-looking. I say the same thing will happen in the 21st-century competition between traditional Islam and Western culture. Islamists have an army of fiery spokesmen. But the West has Paris.

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COMMENTS (14 to date)

Not true. The West has had plenty of spokesmen -- only they have all spoken out against the West, deconstructing it and accusing it of racism, sexism, injustice, etc. precisely because it it Western (never mine that most of the world is also, and oftentimes more, sexist, racist, etc.). The humanities intellectuals, who should be arguing for Western culture (or at least not against it), are nihilistic neo-Marxists whose goals are to undermine Western civilization. Nobody is defending Western civilization anymore. The closest we have are a few people trying to influence politicians, to try to get them to support slightly more free market laws. But the culture is ruled by the postmodernists, giving us feces and abortion as "art." Indeed, the fact that postmodern art is what is boing given to us as "high culture" makes it harder to say the West is prettier than Islamic culture. Which, of course, was their intent.

What we need are defenders of the West.

Fergus O'Rourke writes:

But ... Paris is French and you're ... American. I'm confused.

Dain writes:

Well said, Bryan.

I'd even say that the fact there are so many authors and artists making a living bashing western culture is testimony to its strength.

TGGP writes:

During the Cold War we didn't have lots of socialists immigrating and having above-average numbers of children. Not that I fear Eurabia, check out my link in your next Steyn post.

This talk about how the West is too wimpy reminds me of the Jimmy Johnson Rule.

Dr. T writes:

The contest between socialism and western capitalism/democracy was predominantly about economics and control of wealth. That is very different from the current contest between Mohammedism and western culture, which is predominantly about religion, morals, and laws. I do not believe that Paris's fashions and Amsterdam's red light district will convince Muslims to adopt western culture. If anything, the perceived immorality of non-Muslim western Europeans will tend to drive the Muslims to more fundamentalist beliefs. The inability of most western European nations to encourage assimilation and discourage continuation of barbaric Muslim practices means that shallowly rooted Muslim fundamentalism will be allowed to become deeply rooted. I predict severe conflict in multiple nations by 2020.

If you don't think socialism isn't about at least morals and laws, you're fooling yourself. The argument for socialism has always been an ethical argument, not an economic one.

Robert Scarth writes:

"Islamists have an army of fiery spokesmen. But the West has Paris."

No, the west has London. Paris is a museum; London is the future.

Speaking of enemies of Western Civilization, I just had a comment left on my blog Interdisciplinary World by Bill White -- head of the American National Socialist Party. He seemed to take issue with one of my comments.

icr writes:

But the West has Paris.

I thought (at least every time they decided to riot) the Muslims had Paris.

8 writes:

From the way I read it, they mean that Westerners are unwilling to support their own values, not that it lacks spokesmen. Muslims, to use the example given, are not telling Westerners why Islam is superior so much as Westerners are simply giving way to Muslim demands. The immigrants aren't arguing to change the host culture, they are just ignoring it.

It's as if you invite me to your home and ask me not to smoke, and I light up anyway. Then I ash on your floor, and you ask me not to, and I tell you to get an ashtray. And you do.

Tom W writes:

I agree completely. I find implausible the claims made recently that Europe is becoming "Eurabia" and western culture is receding.

Go to the middle east and you'll find blue jeans, business suits, MTV-style music channels, schwarzenegger movies, fast food, rock music, italian designer clothing, and young people with their ears turned to the west.

On the other hand, when you're in the west, which influences do you see from the middle east? Hummus? What else?

Danforth Fuglehoffer writes:

Well to paraphrase the brilliant Steyn, you can have all the western music, food, and chlothes that you want but if your population doesnt believe in liberal pluralist democracy your still in trouble regardless of being able to listen to Hillary Duff in Riyadh or Damascus

Also congrats on being Mark Steyn's reader of the day as of April 28

Kenny writes:

One obvious problem with Tom W's analysis is that Muslim terrorists coming out of the welfare culture of Europe have assimilated on "blue jeans, business suits, MTV-style music channels, schwarzenegger movies, fast food, rock music, [and] italian designer clothing" -- but that doesn't keep them from blowing themselves up on the Tube or burning cars in the streets of Paris or honor-killing their sisters or stabbing Dutch gay movie directors to death or threatening riots over cartoons.

Barkley Rosser writes:

Using "Belgian" as an example is pretty weak. That identity is about shot, given the ever-widening divide between the Flemings and the Walloons in that barely-existing country. Its impending breakup says little about Western Civilization.

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