A New York Times article entitled “Are Western Values Losing Their Sway?” begins by asserting, “The West is suddenly suffused with self-doubt.” It goes on to describe what appeared to be the triumph of the Western values with the fall of communism, followed by a stark reversal:
But couple the tightening of Chinese authoritarianism with Russia’s turn toward revanchism and dictatorship, and then add the rise of radical Islam, and the grand victory of Western liberalism can seem hollow, its values under threat even within its own societies.
The observation regarding the weakness of the West is true enough. The unconditional surrender of most of Europe to a relatively small minority of Muslims that have moved in and virtually taken over finds a parallel in a similar unconditional surrender embodied in the “Iran Nuclear Deal.” The United States displays similar weakness in unwillingness to confront ISIS expansion, Russian incursion into the Ukraine (despite our commitment to their protection), Chinese hacking and other aggressive acts.
These shameless acts of capitulation expose the cowardice of the West in the face of weaker adversaries. In other words, the weakness of the West does not reside in military or numerical weakness, at least for now, but in weakness of will and character. Anyone can push us around with impunity.
We find the answer in the quote above, which describes the former ascendancy of the West as “the grand victory of Western liberalism.” The West has erroneously attributed its previous strength to Western liberalism.
The mother of Barack Obama expressed similar sentiments regarding our societal strength, reflected in a passage from Barack Obama’s autobiography, Dreams from My Father. When the family was living in Indonesia, his mother, realizing that the Indonesian culture was not having a good influence on Barack’s character, decided to return him to America. Here is his recollection of her concerns:
“If you want to grow into a human being,” she would say to me, “you’re going to need some values.” Honesty— Lolo should not have hidden the refrigerator in the storage room when the tax officials came, even if everyone else, including the tax officials, expected such things. Fairness— the parents of wealthier students should not give television sets to the teachers during Ramadan, and their children could take no pride in the higher marks they might have received. Straight talk— if you didn’t like the shirt I bought you for your birthday, you should have just said so instead of keeping it wadded up at the bottom of your closet. Independent judgment —just because the other children tease the poor boy about his haircut doesn’t mean you have to do it too.[i]
Obama’s mother in effect wanted her son to develop strength of character. Tragically, this was her perspective as he recalls it on the source of American virtue that was missing in Indonesia:
My mother’s confidence in needlepoint virtues depended on a faith I didn’t possess, a faith that she would refuse to describe as religious; that, in fact, her experience told her was sacrilegious: a faith that rational, thoughtful people could shape their own destiny. In a land where fatalism remained a necessary tool for enduring hardship, where ultimate truths were kept separate from day-to-day realities, she was a lonely witness for secular humanism, a soldier for New Deal, Peace Corps, position-paper liberalism.[ii]
Her conclusion that virtues not present in Indonesia but prevalent in America were the result of secular humanism, of position paper-liberalism, i.e. of Western liberalism, reflects a serious flaw in her analysis of the source of American cultural strength, as does the author of the Times article cited above. If she were alive today she would see, if she would admit it, that as secular humanism and position-paper liberalism have come into full bloom they are not producing the strength of character she desired for her son but the converse. That is because Western liberalism never was the source of American character strength. Christianity was.
Islam, though misguided, gives a person something to die for, escaping from hell and receiving 72 virgins (a thinking man may struggle to distinguish between the two prospects). Communism promises power to the party member. Christianity promises God’s presence, peace, and power now and eternal life later. Western liberalism American style promises big government that will provide welfare, food stamps, and ObamaPhones to the poor, and burdensome taxes to pay for them to the rich—hardly causes to die for, but rather a way of life that produces physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual flab.
So a showdown between John Kerry and Ali Khamenei is reflective of a woman on a countertop pleading for mercy from the mouse on the floor below.
[i] Obama, Barack (2007-01-09). Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance [Kindle Locations 927-933]. Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[ii] Ibid: Locations 937-941