The War on the West
Douglas Murray's new book, The War on the West is a must-read. In it, he details the successful efforts of leftists, revisionists, bigots, postmodernists, post-colonialists, and grievance-industry professionals (not all mutually exclusive groups), to not simply downplay the greatness of the West, but to castigate and demonize it for its perceived failings, and what's more, to punish anyone living or dead who'd dare to extol its virtues.
These same bad actors have not only denigrated the West, its heroes, and its accomplishments—championing iconoclasm, destruction, and even murder in the name of resentment and revenge—but held it to an impossible standard they refuse to apply to Africa, Communist-occupied China, the Near East, and the rest of the world.
Murray takes up the criticisms levied against the West and analyzes them, their veracity, their intention, and their greater context.
Towards the end of the book, Murray contemplates the answer given by City Journal's Christopher Rufo to a question posted by Marc Lamont Hill in an interview last year (i.e. "What do you like about being white?"). Recognizing the prudential nature of Rufo's answer and the danger he faced by otherwise answering forthrightly, Murray seizes upon his position as uncancellable to provide an alternative "nuclear" response, which is excerpted below.
Prior to providing the excerpt, it is worthwhile to note: Murray is no identitarian. He is not a white supremacist. He is a Leddihnian diversitarian of the true variety; a liberal who reviles group and racial politics; one who, in providing this answer—which may be regarded as playing Ibram Kendi, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Angela Davis' game of viewing historic rights and wrongs solely through a racial lens—is looking to provide nuance in a debate that has determined, ignoring all available evidence, that the West is irredeemable and that whites in the West have no culture or history to be proud of; to demonstrate by himself playing the identitypolitik game that while it can be played by all, it should be played by no'ne, particularly when the competition is this fierce.
That said: with the undeniable Western sin of the Transatlantic Slave Trade weighted on one side of the scale, Murray considers what may serve as counterbalance—what virtues and positives may be attributed to the West, without of course excusing its involvement in the horrific practice of slavery, which the entire world and every extant people has at one point or another had a hand in.
pp.260-264, Hardcover. The War on the West:
"I don't especially think of myself as being white and don't particularly want to be cornered into thinking in such terms. But if you are going to corner me, then let me give you an answer to the best of my ability.
"The good things about being white include being born into a tradition that has given the world a disproportionate number, if not most, of the things that the world currently benefits from. The list of things that white people have done may include many bad things, as with all peoples. But the good things are not small in number. They include almost every medical advancement that the world now enjoys. They include almost every scientific advancement that the world now benefits from. No meaningful breakthrough in either of these areas has come for many centuries from anywhere in Africa or from any Native American tribe. No First Nation wisdom ever delivered a vaccine or a cure for cancer.
"White people founded most of the world's oldest and longest-established educational institutions. They led the world in the invention and promotion of the written word. Almost alone among the peoples it was white people who--for good and for ill--took an interest in other cultures beyond their own, and not only learned from these cultures but revived some of them. Indeed, they have taken such an interest in other peoples that they have searched for lost and dead civilizations as well as living ones to understand what these lost peoples did, in an attempt to learn what they knew. This is not the case with most other peoples. No Aboriginal tribe helped make any advance in understanding the lost languages of the Indian subcontinent, Babylon, or ancient Egypt. The curiosity appears to have gone almost entirely one way. In historical terms, it seems to be as unusual as the self-reflection, the self-criticism, and indeed the search for self-improvement that marks out Western culture.
"White Western peoples happen to have also developed all the world's most successful means of commerce, including the free flow of capital. This system of free market capitalism has lifted more than one billion people out of extreme poverty just in the twenty-first century thus far. It did not originate in Africa or China, although people in those places benefited from it. It originated in the West. So did numerous other things that make the lives of people around the world immeasurably better.
"It is Western people who developed the principle of representative government, of the people, by the people, for the people. It is the Western world that developed the principles and practice of political liberty, of freedom of thought and conscience, of freedom of speech and expression. It evolved the principles of what we now call 'civil rights,' rights that do not exist in much of the world, whether their peoples yearn for them or not. They were developed and are sustained in the West, which though it may often fail in its aspirations, nevertheless tends to them.
"All this is before you even get onto the cultural achievements that the West has gifted the world. The Mathura scul[tures excavated at Jamalpur Tila are works of exceptional refinement, but no sculptor ever surpassed Bernini or Michelangelo. Baghdad in the eighth century produced scholars of note, but no one ever produced another Leonardo da Vinci. There have been artistic flourishings around the world, but none so intense or productive as that which emerged around just a few square miles of Florence from the fourteenth century onward. Of course, there have been great music and culture produced from many civilizations, but it is the music of the West as well as its philosophy, art, literature, poetry, and drama that have reached such heights that the world wants to participate in them. Outside China, Chinese culture is a matter for scholars and aficionados of Chinese culture. Whereas the culture created by white people in the West belongs to the world, and a disproportionate swath of the world wants to be a part of it.
"When you ask what the West has produced, I am reminded of the groups of professors assigned to agree on what should be sent in a space pod into orbit in outer space to be discovered by another race, if any such there be. When it came to agreeing on what one musical piece might be sent to represent that part of human accomplishment one of the professors said, 'Well, obviously, it will be Bach's Mass in B Minor.' 'No,' averred another. 'To send the B Minor Mass would look like showing off.' To talk about the history of Western accomplishments is to be put at great risk of showing off. Do we stay just with buildings, or cities, or laws, or great men and women? How do we restrict the list that we put up as a preliminary offer?
"Of course, you may dispute some of these details, or you may dispute whole swathes of it, think its tone is wrong, does not show enough humility or self-deprecation. You may even say that this understated homily sounds 'triumphalist' or otherwise in bad taste. But what cannot be disputed is the most devastating proof of all, which is the simple matter of footfall: a footfall that is entirely one-directional. For there is, even today, no serious movement of peoples in the world struggling to get into modern China. For all its financial prowess, the world does not wish to move to that country. It does want to move to America and will go to extraordinary lengths--even the risk of life--to reach that goal. Similarly, there is no serious global effort to break into any of the countries of Africa. Indeed, a third of sub-Saharan Africans polled in the last decade said that they wanted to move. Where they want to move is clear.
"The migrant ships across the Mediterranean go only in one direction--north. The people-smuggling gangs' boats do not--halfway across the Mediterranean--meet white Europeans heading south, desperate to escape France, Spain, or Italy in order to enjoy the freedoms and opportunities of Africa. No significant number of people wishes to participate in life among the tribes of Africa or the Middle East. There is no mass movement of people wishing to live with the social norms of the Aboriginals or assimilate into the lifestyle of the Inuit, whether those groups would allow them in or not. Despite everything that is said against it, America is still the world's number one destination for migrants worldwide. And the next most desirable countries for people wanting to move are Canada, Germany, France, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The West must have done something right for this to be the case.
"So if you ask me what is good about being white, what white people have brought to the world, or what white people might be proud of, this might constitute the mere beginnings of a list of accomplishments from which to start. And while we are at it, one final thing. This culture that is now so fashionable to deprecate, and which people across the West have been encouraged and incentivized to deprecate, remains the only culture in the world that not only tolerates but encourages such a dialogue against itself. It is the only culture that actually rewards its critics. And there is one final oddity here worth nothing. For the countries and cultures about which the worst things are now said are also the only countries demonstrably capable of producing the governing class unlike all of the others.
"It is not possible today for a non-Indian to rise to the top of Indian politics. If a white person moved to Bangladesh, they would not be able to become a cabinet minister. If a white Westerner moved to China, neither they nor the next generation of their family nor the one after that would be able to break through the layers of government and become supreme leader in due course. It is America that has twice elected a black president--the son of a father from Kenya. It is America whose current vice president is the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica. It is the cabinet of the United Kingdom that includes the children of immigrants from Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, Uganda, and Ghana and an immigrant who was born in India. The cabinets of countries across Africa and Asia do not reciprocate this diversity, but it is no matter. The West is happy to accept the benefits this brings, even if others are not.
"This would have been one way for Rufo to answer that question. But it is understandable that he did not. For at present, such a truthful answer remains at the very edges of permissible sayability. And into the silence left by the impossibility of saying what is true, anything and everything can roam. When white people have to be ashamed of the culture that has produced them, almost anything can happen..."