No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
So wrote England’s John Donne in 1623. From a family of great Catholic faith, through a wild period of debauchery, on to a spiritual conversion, Donne became the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the final period of his life. Of this former playboy it was often said, “If Donne’s path could be altered, so could that of any other rogue in England.”
Though he became famous as a poet and essayist, Donne, like many other European writers, is now essentially neglected. Even his contemporary, Shakespeare himself, is de-emphasized. The author of “Lord of the Rings,” J.R.R. Tolkien — though not his books — is also diminished. Tolkien’s Christian faith bothers the critics. Alas, even “Narnia” author C.S.Lewis (your children and grandchildren know about “Narnia,” even if you don’t) is out of favor at his beloved Oxford University.
What’s happening to Western literature and Western civilization generally? From what did Western culture spring? Not geographically or ethnically, but philosophically. What ideas, principles, or values brought Americans — white, Black, and brown — more freedom, opportunity, groceries and more equality before the law than any other nation or culture ever known to mankind?
What we call western civilization wasn’t birthed in Philadelphia. It was planted in ancient Greece, sprouted, believe it or not in ancient Rome, and moved toward full flower in Europe well before 1776. As far back as 1215 King John of England learned that kingly power had limits and was forced to sign the Magna Carta, a precursor of our U.S. Constitution.
Western civilization, from the 300 BC streets of Athens, Greece, to present day Main Street, USA, has brought delivery from political darkness that still marks so much of the eastern world. Western civilization with its personal liberty, freedom of expression, art, architecture, monuments, inventions, free enterprise, commerce and representative democracy has not perfected westerners, but it has freed them from monarchy and automatic poverty because of one’s birth.
Yet despite of such blessings and greatness, more and more American academics, corporate heads, religious leaders, and elected politicians are faulting western civilization, especially white Americans, for “inequities” and “systemic racism.” Siding with radical socialists, they argue that western civilization is at heart morally defective. Examples abound: the “1619 project” (please look it up), the almost total disappearance of western civilization studies at America’s most famous universities, the Jesse Jackson-led chant at Stanford University, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go,” the assignment of DWEM’s (Dead White European Men) to a class worthy of scorn, and of course the destruction of statues. (Now there’s a “hate crime” if you believe in such, for which culprits go unpunished.)
Self-loathing is the air that far too many Americans now breathe. Daily, another athlete, entertainer, CEO, minister, or politician envisions a noose or apologizes for something they never did. Fawning apologizers cannot explain the success of Barack Obama, Oprah and countless other Blacks. Liberal guilt has become white guilt. Those who don’t feel or profess guilt are deemed racists.
All of this mania amounts to a new tyranny. That tyranny demands that we “understand” the looters and monument defacers and their attitude toward the police.
Other than that of Alveda King, guilt-ridden whites seldom hear the Black voices who appreciate America and Western culture. That’s because the media denies them a platform. Burgess Owens, Shelby Steele, Candice Owens and Thomas Sowell are all Black people who have rejected the bandwagon of self-loathing “white privilege.” How often are they on television?
I have never taught from or seen a college or high school American literature textbook that didn’t contain the great writings of the former Black slave, Frederick Douglas, the Black poet James Weldon Johnson and many others. The many contributions of blacks to our nation are acknowledged and celebrated everywhere, except by those who wallow ID fashionable self-loathing. Note to all “white privilege” subscribers: The killing of so many Blacks in Chicago isn’t coming from whites.
John Donne wrote further in Meditation 17 above, “Any man’s death diminishes me for I am involved in mankind; therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” In other words, all lives matter.
Does the bell now toll for Western civilization? What would a Westless world look like? We are getting an idea now. Right from our streets. From a socialist who almost won the Democratic nomination for president. From transnational, corporate globalists. And from the lips of blue-state and blue-city leaders who never liked America very much in the first place.