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EMERITUS PROFESSOR REX AHDAR: Is Western Civilization worth defending?

Updated: Jun 9

Is Western Christian Civilization something to be proud of, something worth defending? I believe so.  Let us begin with Samuel P Huntingdon in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996) at 311:


All civilizations go through similar processes of emergence, rise and decline. The West differs from other civilizations not in the way it has developed but in the distinctive character of its values and institutions. These include most notably its Christianity, pluralism, individualism, and rule of law, which made it possible for the West to invent modernity…


Western Civilization is, in the eyes of many, teetering dangerously at the precipice of a long and perhaps rapid decline. (Tool masterfully present this in their 13-minute masterpiece, “Descending” (Fear Innoculum (2019)). For Prof Niall Ferguson: “we are living through the end of 500 years of Western ascendancy” (Civilization: The West and the Rest (2011) at xv). Not everyone sees it so. Professors Peter Heather and John Rapley in Why Empires Fall: Rome, America and the Future of the West (2023) console readers (at 162) that “the modern West doesn’t yet find itself in the ‘last chance saloon’ that faced the Roman West in the late 460s.”. Perhaps they are correct. To quote Huntingdon again (at 303):


The overriding lesson of the history of civilizations . . . is that many things are probable but nothing is inevitable. Civilizations can and have reformed and renewed themselves. The central issue for the West is whether, quite apart from any external challenges, it is capable of stopping and reversing the internal processes of decay.


Those who would defend against the Barbarians at the gate, not to mention seek to reverse the more insidious and intangible “internal processes of decay”, do exist. But it is fair to say that the ranks of public intellectuals who are prepared to engage in the deeply unfashionable exercise of defending Western civilization are thin. We have the likes of Douglas Murray (The War on the West (2022)), Niall Ferguson, Yoram Hazony (Conservatism: A Rediscovery (2022), Tom Holland (Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (2019)), John Milbank and Adrian Pabst (The Politics of Virtue (2016)), Michael Walsh (The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West (2017)), Nigel Biggar (Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning (2023)) and so on. It is a list that peters out quite quickly.


It is hard to defend something that one is not proud of. Michael Walsh (at 6) inveighs:


Chief among the weaknesses of Western man today are his fundamental lack of cultural self -confidence, his willingness to open his ears to the siren song of nihilism, a juvenile eagerness to believe the worst about himself and his society and to relish, on some level, his own prospective destruction.


In short, “Western Civilization appears to have lost confidence in itself” (Ferguson at 17-18). It might be that Western man has succumbed to dependency, comfort and security (pandemic lockdowns did not help) and, in doing so, developed what New Zealander Professor Kenneth Minogue called “the servile mind” (The Servile Mind (2012)). “You will own nothing and you will be happy”, as Klaus Schwab prophesied.  Or it might just be that the enemies of the West are many and powerful and dissolve the courage of all but the most stubborn.


Who then are the opponents of Western Civilization? They are legion. The attacks come:


(1) as they always have, from the neo-Marxists (or ‘New Left’) and Critical Theory activists, along with their fellow travellers and ‘useful idiots’. The “long march through the institutions”(Rudi Dutschke and Herbert Marcuse)---bureaucracy, mainstream media, law, academia, schools, social services, language itself, human resources departments, the police, the military, and most recently, giant transnational companies---is well documented (see Walsh, Devil’s Pleasure Palace and Christopher Rufo, America’s Cultural Revolution (2023)). The rights of free speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion, and other key democratic institutions are, to the cultural Marxists, mere out-dated totems or shibboleths for the oppressive, hegemonic, ruling class to advance their agendas.


We can add (2) the radical Islamists and political Jihadists who now have considerable influence in Western Europe. Conservatives such as Sir Roger Scruton, The West and The Rest (2002) and Christopher Hitchens warned us about this, as did Douglas Murray (The Strange Death of Europe (2017) more recently. This seismic shift was aided by advocates of multiculturalism (more useful idiots) who successfully eviscerated the traditional policy of assimilation (now a dirty word).


In some countries, such as New Zealand, Australia and Canada, we encounter (3) the anti-colonialism, indigenous detractors. The First Nations peoples, or at least a vocal minority, are trenchant critics of the colonisation process. In their neo-Marxist rhetoric, the European colonisers bequeathed a Western society that is structurally (a favourite word) tilted against the indigenes:  at worst, this amounts to cultural genocide, or at the very least, denigration to second-class citizen status.


We ought not forget about (4) the Greens, with their anti-free market, anti-GDP productivity and anti-technology approach, tinged with a neo-Pagan re-sacralization of Nature. The momentous achievements of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. Reason and objective truth, empiricism and the scientific method, are all very well but there’s a planet to save.


Lastly, there are (5) the globalist elites who seek to dissolve the nation state and re-mould and corral its slumbering citizenry into a controllable, surveillance, ‘smart’ society assisted by AI algorithms and a CCP-like ‘social credit’ system. The World Economic Forum and its ‘Great Reset’ is perhaps the most visible expression of this global totalitarian impulse.

 

These five groups sometimes work alone or, when the opportunity presents itself, forge strategic alliances. The Greens idealize and romanticise the indigenous peoples as early ecologists; the hard Left and the committed Islamists are united in their hatred of Israel; the globalist elites draw from the unholy Left to mandate the politically-correct ESG criteria for businesses, utilities, banks and insurance companies to abide by.


The neo-Marxists, the Islamists, the indigenous activists, the Greens and the Globalists---the list is, sadly, not exhaustive---represent the modern counterparts of the Goths, the Visigoths, the Franks, the Vandals and the Huns. Those who would defend the West have a job on their hands.


Emeritus Professor Rex Ahdar, Faculty of Law, University of Otago


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135 Comments


All of this presupposes that these purveyors of hate with their DEI crap as an excuse for change are intelligent. They are not. They refuse to accept history. History tells us that modern as opposed to feudal totalitarianism has never worked. It is simply that those who are ignorant of history will repeat it and be strung up for it. Good but I will not see it. Best we could all do right now is get rid of the UN, get rid of the nutcases who run Iran and have a bloody great war that will result in the dormant and brainwashed youth either being wiped out or hardened up so they get back to normality and living proper live…

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I think writer needs to stick to law and re-think his last paragraph as I believe he has no idea of history! to relate modern ideals to past civilizations is stupid and the ones he names are not only part of western culture/civilization but big part of Europe's development and growth!

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Unusual comment ? On the contrary I suggest that you might benefit from brushing up on your historical knowledge

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The problem I believe is the moral vacuum left from the demise of Christianity in Western civilization.. Secular humanism, for all its trumpeting of the dignity of man, human rights, progressivism and the scorn it throws at the religious attitude, has put ITSELF at the apex of evolution. It is this loss of a higher moral order one sees in the Christian message -- whether one is a theist or not --that has been the tragedy of Western progressivism. In its confusion, it now turns to the idealism of DEI as the new religion. That way it can imagine itself at the cutting edge of social progress without needing to feel humility in the face of "eternity" as most Europeans…


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It seems to me that Christianity and Western Civilization integrated ideas from many past cultures and civilizations in which scholars tried to understand the "human condition".

The influential philosophers of The Enlightenment" derived their ideas about Natural Law and equal Natural Rights from study of previous theories and hypotheses. Basic to this is our dual nature and the conflicting influences of our basic unconscious primitive instincts and emotions and our ability to REASON. The primitive instincts and emotions served our species well for most of our existence as small groups of hunters and gatherers but caused more problems as we became more "civilized" and formed larger more diverse communities. Reciprocity is easier in a small community of people that are inter-dependent. It is more…

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stu
stu
Jun 09

I’ve been listening to True Dictators on Spotify and all bar none follow the path of totalitarian governments that control the masses, control the media, create a common enemy and make the majority beholden to them.

Does any of that sound familiar?

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The lust for prestige, authority, power and control is an appetite that can never be satisfied. Democracy is supposed to enable us to limit control the people with this lust but they figured out how to divide us against one another and use us all as a means of satisfying their insatiable appetite. We cannot change these Omnipotent Busybodies but we can change ourselves and stop allowing them to manipulate us to become divided into hostile tribes. That change requires avoiding the divisive influences and more acceptance of our less obvious similarities as human beings with the same basic wants and needs that are willing to cooperate for their mutual benefit. This mutually beneficial cooperation, caring, harmony and HUMANITY cannot be achieved unless w…

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There are several dimensions to this fight and we must pick and choose our battles. Education and science are two critical battlegrounds. We must fight for the integrity of each, as otherwise the education of our young people will be degraded and our science will go downhill too. It is a tough fight bcause we are up against those who think that they have the moral high-ground and against the lingering effects of a former government that had no idea how to run a country. David Lillis

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Education is the key yet it seems few are capable of delivering and even fewer are interested in trying.


Education starts in the homeand when we are populated by sheep it is unlikely to change.

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