Our opinions and advice to the world. Updated whenever we get around to it.

Death Of An Idea?

Anyone who visits here regularly, knows that I love anything that Mark Steyn puts to paper. Sure his material is usually on the depressing side (i.e. you get more disgusted with the world each time you nod your head in agreement) but his ability to insert some humour into a debate is amazing.

Well I suspect that Mark isn't in the jolliest of modes these days. His latest piece isn't the least bit funny:
America and Europe both face security threats. But the difference is America's are external, and require hard choices in tough neighbourhoods around the world, while the EU's are internal and, as they see it, unlikely to be lessened by the sight of European soldiers joining the Great Satan in liberating, say, Syria. That's not exactly going to help keep the lid on the noisier Continental mosques.

So what would you do in Bush's shoes? Slap 'em around a bit? What for? Where would it get you? Or would you do exactly what he's doing? Climb into the old soup-and-fish, make small talk with Mme Chirac and raise a glass of champagne to the enduring friendship of our peoples: what else is left? This week we're toasting the end of an idea: the death of "the West".
If anyone else had written that last sentence I wouldn't have dwelled on it so much. Regardless, it kind of struck me... well I just kept repeating it over and over.

The death of 'the West'. What exactly does that mean? The death of us? Or is it simply the death of an idea, easily replaced with another?

Did those present during the fall of the Greek states lament the death of 'the West'? Did the citizens of Rome feel the barbarian invasions meant the death of 'the West'? Did the Spaniards fleeing from the Moors predict the death of 'the West'?

I'm certainly not qualified to answer any of these questions but if I had to hazard a guess I would suspect in all cases that they didn't. History is local. It always has been. The idea of 'the West' is simply too much for people to grasp. Sure you have historians who can string the narrative together but the narrative only fits if history allows it to.

Would we still consider Europe and America as part of the same 'West' if the Nazi's had won World War II? Would we have considered Europe and America part of the same 'West' if Communism had overtaken Europe after World War II? I suspect in both cases that we wouldn't and I suspect that most people reading this would agree with me.

So what does this all mean? Honesty I have no idea. Heck I don't even know where I'm going with this. I could read a thousand books about 'the West' and yet I doubt that even then I would feel like I understood it.

The situation in Europe does depress me because I honestly do feel that we are seeing the end of an era of history. I'm still not ready to proclaim the death of 'the West' like Mark is but I do feel that the world is rapidly changing underneath me.

I guess that the only positive way I can look at all this is to consider that history unwinds in the most unexpected ways. The concept of a 'free man' with rights originated over 2000 years ago in Greece. And today? All over the world we find that the most brutal of dictators must speak the language of freedom and democracy. The idea of a 'free man', isolated to Europe 500 years ago, now infects the entire globe. Could this have all been an accident?

Could an idea that spans 2000 years now be at it's end? Or alternatively... does the idea need Europe?

crossposted to The Shotgun


Anonymous said...

My guess – Steyn is saying our traditional view has been that Europe plus North America = The West. But that may be changing given the EU pacifist/appeasing attitude and its new constitution discussed here …

Publius makes the simple but interesting point
' The US Constitution begins, famously, "We the People…". The European Constitution begins, "His Majesty the King of the Belgians…". That gives you a fair idea of the different spirit of each document.'

I’m not sanguine about the EU but I’m more hopeful then Steyn. I’ve been going to little Denmark for over 20 years to visit relatives. Denmark over that time has moved from being a bastion of socialism to being a haven of computer engineers involved with world trade – more so then Canada I daresay. Also Denmark , Poland etc supported Bush in Iraq – if only with a submarine (???) – it’s the thought that counts. Smaller EU countries may “get it”. The issue is really what Rumsfeld famously called “Old Europe” - what are France and Germany going to do? Also will the UK sign onto the EU constitution?

As your site has remarked in previous posts , we need to be focusing on what’s happening with India and China. Over time their influence on world affairs will be more important then the EU.

Anyway , that’s my guess about what Steyn is getting at.


Dana VR said...

The idea that Steyn refers to as "the West" has really only been a long running fiction. It's the idea that at least on matters of global importance the nations of western Europe and North America would act together due to a common way of thinking. If such a common way of thinking ever existed, it's been gone a very long time indeed. The apperance of solidarity between the European portion of "the west" and the North American portion has been the result of various periods of history when the Europeans needed their trans-atlantic breathren to protect and/or rescue them. The only reason that it lasted long enough in its last occurance to bring about the fantasy of being a semi-permanent condition is because of the length of the cold war and the fact that it began even before WWII ended.

But look at the period since the fall of the USSR, the period between WWI and WWII, and the period before WWI. During those times, western Europe has tended to view North America (particularly the US) more as rivals than as allies. The French opposition to the Iraq War was a perfect example of this. The French put enormous effort into getting other nations lined up against the US stating that they needed to be a counterbalance to US power.

So by this definition at least, the west is not only dead, but the body is long since cold. Steyn is simply giving it the courtesy of a eulogy.

Anonymous said...

Dana, I think we agree that since the Berlin Wall fell the socialistic governments who have resented the free market success of America could come right out and position themselves as anti- American which is what their CBC –like propaganda outlets have been doing openly for years. But European Socialism can’t work in the long run given their demographics, it’s a failed dream , like our Health Care. The point I guess I buried was that the smaller and newer countries to the EU, such as entrepreneurial Denmark, are more likely to want a trans-Atlantic relationship – we’ll see.
Bottom line : who cares? It’s only India and China that count. Japan is more helpful to the US then Europe . Interestingly the huge economies Japan and India are not members of the Security Council – one more reason to dump the UNnecessary. Meanwhile Bush has to play nice to Europe because Hillary will come along in 2008 and try to make the case she can get along with Ch’Iraq better then Condi.
It will be fun to watch and I’m like our PM “ I like to watch”.

jon said...

I am looking everywhere for man shoes and man shoes, while doing so I somehow stumbled onto your man shoes blog. I am happy to say I learned something and will look into this further...

Thanks for the great posts...