I’m afraid that when today’s teens hear the expression, “the West,” they think of Colorado or California. I doubt that they think of “western” movies, so far removed are they from these representations of the American West. However, their minds probably don’t rush to Greece, Rome, modern Europe or America, either.
But they should. The West, meaning Western civilization and the locations that birthed and cradled it, isn’t just a vague term. It’s an ideal that has been incubating and/or advancing for two millennia. That ideal has been cherished not by China, Russia and Iran, but by Western Europe and North America. It is the belief that we can govern ourselves, that political freedom releases creativity and inventiveness -- making our lives better -- that a man’s home is his castle, and that unelected monarchs, dukes and imams are no more favored by God than the rest of us.
Where today are populations freer, happier, more creative and productive than in the West where power is spread among the people and the rights of individuals are honored? Why do hungry and desperate people still risk their lives and separation from their families to come to America?
Of one great Western city, lexicographer Samuel Johnson wrote in 1777, “To be tired of London is to be tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford.” A stretch, perhaps, but it still indicates what the first dictionary writer thought of his homeland. Less than a year ago while in London, I saw, heard and felt everywhere the pride that Londoners hold for their city, not to mention their unabashed respect for traditions.
While in London, however, two of my fears about Western civilization were confirmed. One, the fear that Western values are imperiled by uncontrolled immigration. Two, that both America and Europe, whose roots are Judeo-Christian, are chopping off those roots. Although I already knew that London’s duly elected mayor is a Muslim, I did not know of the resistance he faces because of his alleged favoritism toward the borough of Tower Hamlets in northeast London at the top of the Thames River. Tower Hamlets is now 46% Muslims, many of whom are touting Sharia law. This reality reminded me that it is possible for immigrants, legal or not, to change the country they have adopted to become like the country they left.
Western values came to America by way of Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London and Philadelphia, not from Mecca, Tehran, Calcutta, or Beijing. This assertion is no slight of the Middle or Far East, but a factual observation of the path taken by such values as individual freedom, representative democracy, and neighborly love.
Rudyard Kipling has been criticized for his famous poem “Ballad of East and West,” the first line of which reads, “Oh East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.” Critics apparently haven’t read the entire poem or they would not accuse Kipling of xenophobia. Kipling always extolled the virtues of his native Britain. He exalted the institutions and the values of the West, knowing that in India where he also lived and wrote, the values of equality and freedom were not so cherished. He asserted, rightly, that Christianity became the West’s defining value and that Islam was its antithesis.
One could write books on the sins of the West, but no one can reasonably argue that the people of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea are as free as Americans, or as well-fed. The West has poor people but not whole cities living in squalor.
As for the root-chopping that’s going on in Europe and America, it is being done by courts and academia. Many universities are now minimizing the study of Western civilization, advancing multiculturalism, and arguing that no culture is “exceptional.”
Those who apologize for Western values and who dislike Kipling should read the rest of Kipling’s poem: “Oh East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet / Till Earth and sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat / But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth / When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth.”
Kipling, a lover of both India and his native West, believed as did Lincoln, in “the mystic chords of memory.”
“Forget your folks and you forget yourself,” lanky Abe proclaimed. God forbid that the most advanced (and blessed) civilization in the world forget the values of the folks and the places that birthed it.