Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Suicide of the West

If there is a crisis of the West…it is internally generated. It lies in the collapse of Western self-confidence…. [This] has little to do with enemies, and everything to do with seismic shifts in Western ideas and attitudes.
Chris Smith has, in the company of someone called Richard Koch, written a book going under the title of Suicide of the West. The quote above caught my eye, as generally happens when someone says something you agree with. I'm not so sure about some of the other things he says.
A lot of modern politics is about managerialism. It’s not about debating ideas, but about who can tinker with the existing system. In the past, politics was about hope. I joined the Labour Party because I thought that it was the best vehicle for social change, for making people’s lives better.
I've always held that to be a sign of political success. Surely the apex of political achievement is just that: when politics no longer arouses glass-melting, eye-watering passion. I remember reading somewhere that in 1946, when Italians were calling each other to arms over the monarchy/republic referendum, an American colonel said something to the effect that "Italy will not be stable until what its celebrities have for breakfast matters more than the political credos that divide them". Isn't the ultimate objective of politics not to matter?

I'd say that the words above reveal Chris Smith to be a nostalgic for the very politics that have done so much harm to the world: the politics of salvation; the dream of revolution. Nevertheless, the first quote I find undeniable. In response to this crisis, Smith looks for a return to the values that made us strong; to wit,
rationalism, activism, confidence, knowledge-seeking, personal responsibility, self-improvement, world-improvement and compassion.
Again, at first sight, you nod in agreement. But the doubt lingers; can you just call them up? Were they themselves not a consequence of something else? If, among the other consequences of that something else, we find an aggressive expansionism, a certainty of the righteousness of our will, then what do we do? Can you have a cultural self-confidence without wishing to impose it on others? If we are to 'survive' this present crisis, will we be able to do it without the imposition of our values on others? If morality is defined as a set of values that you are willing to die for, are they not also what you are willing to kill for? And if we don't do it, who will?

Reviewed here.

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