My position, stated many times, is that a person doesn’t need to have a reason to love his people. In fact, he cannot have a reason, since love is always directed at particular instances rather than general qualities. You may think your children pretty and clever, but you would still love them if they lost these qualities or another set of children was found to exemplify those qualities to a greater degree. Similarly, we men and women of European descent do not need to prove that our culture is especially refined or creative, that our ancestors were especially virtuous, or that our customs are especially agreeable by some objective standard.
Still, although we are not obliged to think about it, the fact is that other peoples are constantly noting the distinctiveness of the West. We may wish to ignore their observations, because they are not at all meant to be complimentary, but then we would miss the chance to learn about ourselves. I plan to comment each day this week on one of this features.
So, for instance Westerners are said to have a distinctive relationship to the natural world. While other peoples are “at one with nature”, we live in alienation from, one might almost say in adversity with, the animals, plants, and landscapes. We study the natural world unsympathetically, always with an eye to its exploitation.
I don’t think this claim is entirely without merit. The critic of the West has put his finger on some actual truth. Let us grant also that this quality of ours has certain dangers associated with it: spiritual dangers to us and physical dangers to others. But in our defense, we could say that this feature is not entirely bad. One could say that there really is an inescapable polarity in the act of knowing between subject and object, also that there really is an important ontological gulf between intelligent beings and the rest of creation, and Westerners happen to have an unusually vivid sense of these facts about the world.
Another thing to be said about our alienation from nature is that our cure, if there is any, surely comes from following through with our distinct inclination rather than fighting against it. We Westerners regain our appreciation for the natural world through science (or occasionally art or poetry, which also aim in their own ways to capture some aspect of the object as faithfully as possible) and through direct work (“exploitation”) with the soil, animals, and other “unprocessed” fruits of the land. When we pose as Eastern mystics, we are only being inauthentic; the focus then is not really nature, but ourselves.
Not everyone has to relate to nature the way Western men and women do. Perhaps it’s best that they don’t. But I think one can argue that our way has sufficient value that it’s good one people follows it.
One could say similar things about other distinctive features of the West. We are dogmatic and intolerant in our religion. For us to try to interpret our beliefs as myths or expressions of a particular religious spirit is to cease to take them seriously at all. We simply cannot “do religion” like other peoples–more enlightened peoples, if you insist. We are said to have a harsh and excessive sexual ethic, and yet to be hypocritical degenerates in our private lives. We are said to be particularly oppressive to our women. We are hierarchical; democracy and socialism are alien to our spirit. Indeed, egalitarians have long known that whites are their only real enemies. Nor have we even tried to construct a hierarchy based on any sort of merit (like the Chinese) or virtue (like the Pharisaical Jews) or spirituality (like the Hindus), but shamelessly organize ourselves around accidents of feudal inheritance and wealth. We are exclusivists, racists, as is clear from this essay’s very existence–that I should make no claim of the West’s objective superiority while still wanting us to maintain our distinctiveness.
All of this is essentially true, and there are indeed disadvantages to the Western way: our alienation from nature, our dogmatism, our strict sexual morals (that we don’t even do a good job following), our preference for hierarchy and indifference to “social justice”, our particularism. However, these things have usually been discussed in a very one-sided way. They can be understood more deeply if we withhold condemnation and consider the Western way dispassionately. In every case, some valuable and sympathetic features shine forth.
In what follows, I will leave “the West” vaguely defined, as it is when applied to questions of cultural identity. Western civilization includes everything whites are supposed to be ashamed of and non-whites are not expected to identify with. Western Christendom is definitely included; classical paganism and Western diaspora Jews may or may not be included, depending on context.