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Who Hates The West?

Oh John, why do you waste your time thusly? But while we're on the subject, the extent to which Reynoldsism -- the doctrine that "the left" (whatever it is) has been captured by an irrational and pathological hatred for western values -- is a dishonest, absurd, and manipulative piece of propaganda is the least of its problems.

The thing here is that when you tease out the argument Glenn's trying to make, the consequences are completely absurd. The anti-west faction of the west turns out to include the majority of the citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, The United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. The citizens, in other words, of every countries normally understood to be inhabited by western persons except for the United States and Israel. Nor have nations which have adopted western norms of human rights and governance (Turkey, Japan, South Korea, India, Taiwan, etc.) seen their populations embrace the pro-west point of view. Indeed, outside of the Old Confederacy a majority of Americans are in the anti-west faction. The territories of Latin America, strongly influenced as they are by western culture, have turned against the west, have uniformly turned against the west.

Now if this is right, it constitutes a very serious problem indeed. A problem whose scale goes so far beyond anything insurgents may or may not due in Iraq that obsessing over the details of Ted Kennedy's views seems irrelevant. The enemy is everywhere, apparently, and western man is doomed. The "transnational progressives" of warblogger fame have already won the battle. The only question is whether the TP faction will beat the Islamists or whether the Islamists will beat us. Or, perhaps, the ChiComs will inherit the earth after we've wiped each other out. The pro-western point of view has simply become a terribly small minority within its zone of cultural influence and has no hope of prevailing. Even the Pope isn't really anti-war -- he's on the other side.

How could something like this have even happened? Most Americans have never even taken a humanities course at an elite university. But some of us have. Add to that the New York Times readers and the insidious influence of the BBC World News on continental opinion and maybe you can see.

But of course nothing of the sort has happened. Let me pose for Glenn a contrary view of events that one often hears offered up by Europeans. On this view, it's the United States and Israel who've abandonned western values and gone -- loaded up with half-assed geopolitical notions and inspired by obscurantist religious doctines -- charging off on a bizarre and incomprehensible imperial campaign. I don't think this view is quite right, but I think it has a number of things going for it. For one thing, it identifies western values with the values affirmed by the overwhelming majority of westerners. Second, it locates the demographic center of rejection of the west among populations -- American southern whites and Israeli sephardic Jews -- that are legitimately marginal to the main tradition of western culture. Opposition to current American national security policy is, in this view, embodied in institutions -- from the United Nations to the Westphalian state system to the Catholic Church to the human rights establishment -- created by westerners and rooted in the historical processes operating at the core of the western world.

As I say, I think this view is overstated. But it at least is more-or-less in contact with reality, even if lacking in some nuanced understanding of how and why policy is shaped in Washington, DC and the extent to which domestic factors continue to predominate in American politics even during times of global crisis. The other view, however, is little more than a paranoid delusion, the near-precise inverse of the overheated view that Bushism is the leading edge of American fascism.

February 4, 2005 | Permalink


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Strawman: a made-up version of an opponent’s argument that can easily be defeated. To accuse people of attacking a straw man is to suggest that they are avoiding worthier opponents and more valid criticisms of their own position.

Posted by: Paul | Feb 4, 2005 2:46:10 PM

Give 'em hell Matt. ("I told the truth and they called it Hell"--Harry Truman)
Got into an arguement yesterday with local idiot who came to the bookstore objecting to my letter to the editor of the local rag calling Bush on the real scandals (no WMDS, phony economic claims, torture, no-bid contracts, his real history: not Texas cowboy, but old New England son of president and grandson of senator, failed businessman). He told me I shouldn't criticise the Pres in time of War. I told him I owed the current president the same loyalty, suspicion and respect as he gave the previous President in his letters to editor... He left, fuming.
Now we have the spectacle of Ward Churchill becoming the poster child for liberal 'hate speech'. As overwrought as his essay (Talkleft links to it) is, he makes a point that the Right in America cannot abide: the US Government and Global Corpations have made decisions that have hurt and killed millions. 9/11 was awful, but if we cannot try to understand the motivations of its actors, we are screwed. It's not hating America to criticise it.
If , as W says, "They hate our freedom," well, yes, the hate the freedom with which we've played with their lives for power and profit.

Posted by: Mr. Bill | Feb 4, 2005 2:56:17 PM

Mr. Yglesias,

As I see it, it is an update of Spengler.

I have a certain agreement with Spengler. The fact that so many are so lacking in will, so reluctant to do battle against genuine enemies, even to passively accept their own destruction (through demographic collapse, apparently, but in so many other ways as well) seems to me to reinforce Spenglers point.

The US and Israel may be the last redoubts of the "West", the remainder is asking to be overwhelmed.

Posted by: luisalegria | Feb 4, 2005 3:00:09 PM

He was the Ghostbuster with glasses, right?

Posted by: norbizness | Feb 4, 2005 3:03:26 PM

Mr. Norbizness,

Oswald Spengler, "The Decline of the West"

Its worth reading.

Posted by: luisalegria | Feb 4, 2005 3:05:01 PM

The right likes to think they can imperialistically claim the entirety of Western Civilization for themselves. The history of this meme goes at least back to Allan Bloom, but probably beyond. It's implied then that if you criticize anything on the right, you're criticizing The West, too -- the assumptions behind this are just so ludicrous that you have to dismiss the entire argument.

Posted by: ScrewyRabbit | Feb 4, 2005 3:06:30 PM

Is it time to break out the Hofstader again?

Posted by: praktike | Feb 4, 2005 3:11:38 PM

Where'd all this straw come from?

Posted by: Al | Feb 4, 2005 3:12:27 PM

Mr. Screwyrabbit,

If you phrase it that way, of course you are correct, the "right" would be overreaching. And no doubt there are plenty of people who would use such rhetoric.

But Bloom was no rightist, and there are plenty of people in the third world (and within the "west") who criticize the "west" wholesale for their own nefarious reasons, with whom neither the western right or left should have any sympathy.

And here is the problem - too many on the left find common cause with these barbarians for the sake of rhetorical attacks on the right.

I have witnessed this my whole life, and you can see it to this day - that fool Zapatero is playing ball with Castro and Chavez just to tweak the Americans.

Posted by: luisalegria | Feb 4, 2005 3:15:19 PM

Well, when the core of an argument is a word that has no concrete meaning: "the West," you know you're in for sophistry. What, pray-tell, is the West? Ask 10 people, get 10 different answers. What does Western Civilisation mean? It's nowhere near as clear as one thinks. Americans, in particular, have a very mongrel pedigree in this childish East-West divide.

So, of course, what the sophist Reynolds does is pick a meaning of West that is non-standard and beneficial to him: the West means conservative/Republican American thinking, and anyone that agrees with them. That's all. It's so stupid it almost doesn't deserve comment. It's like the person that is convinced a cabal of Jews is running the world, keeping the white man down. So, too, is the conservative that convinces himself the "Left" is against everything "the West" stands for. Both are out of touch with reality. Both are paranoid delusions. Or propaganda meant to fire up the base.

Posted by: Timothy Klein | Feb 4, 2005 3:15:34 PM

I will be shocked if one of the trackbacks to this post isn't someone saying, "The Left thinks that American southern whites and Israeli sephardic Jews are legitimately marginal. This is their true face." The trackback may add something in about how Matt is usually portrayed as a fairly moderate, reasonable liberal, so if he thinks that, the real Left is if anything more extreme. The trackback post will be linked to by Glenn Reynolds, who will, when questioned, say that he wasn't agreeing with it.

Mr. Bill, I think you're too kind to Churchill. He doesn't say we should try to understand the 9/11 attackers motivations, he says they were fully justified and showed impressive restraint in not doing more violence.

Posted by: washerdreyer | Feb 4, 2005 3:16:40 PM

so reluctant to do battle against genuine enemies

Uh, yeah.

Like Saddam?

You ever sit around and wonder, just for like a second or two, if maybe the rest of the world isn't lacking in will, it's that you are a crazy, paranoid, freak with a lot of company? Like after Saddam's Cabinet of Horrors was empty?

Posted by: absynthe | Feb 4, 2005 3:18:52 PM

Mr. Klein,

What Reynolds means I don't know for certain. But what Alan Bloom or Oswald Spengler meant is clear enough.

And against that definition the left has a long tradition of offense. If that idea is paranoid, then it it paranoia with solid roots.

Posted by: luisalegria | Feb 4, 2005 3:19:26 PM

Matt, on your most recent TAPPED post, I'd say that Howard Dean has added far fewer Democratic 'enemies' to his list than Dems who have added Dean to their own enemy list. Let's keep in mind that tt takes two to make amends, as well as tango. Dean may not have been the ideal DNC chair, but it may also be that state Dems want to make sure that beltway Dems are hearing them loudly and clearly about the need for changes in how the party is run.

Posted by: David W. | Feb 4, 2005 3:22:05 PM

Mr. Absynthe,

Saddam Hussein was small potatoes.

More serious matters include selling advanced arms and technology for producing them to the Chinese imperialists, failing to properly support Taiwan, permitting the spread of Wahhabi ideology, taking a soft line on nuclear proliferation, and in general permitting the existence of totalitarian states in a world where they can so easily aquire annihilating weapons.

And of course both the US and Israel have been guilty of all of this too.

Posted by: luisalegria | Feb 4, 2005 3:25:17 PM


Sounds like the germ of a good book project to me. After all Peter Beinart is getting $600,000 for his much less interesting musings...

Posted by: Otto | Feb 4, 2005 3:31:13 PM

...fool Zapatero is playing ball with Castro and Chavez just to tweak the Americans.

Luis, what makes you think that Zapatero, Castro and Chavez represent hte West in any lesser degree than you, President George W Bush and, say, Generalisimo Francisco Franco?

Posted by: abb1 | Feb 4, 2005 3:31:24 PM

But Bloom was no rightist, and there are plenty of people in the third world (and within the "west") who criticize the "west" wholesale for their own nefarious reasons, with whom neither the western right or left should have any sympathy.

Who are you talking about? I don't know anyone, on the left or otherwise, who says they have sympathy for the likes of Castro. And even though I don't like Castro, I may find that I agree with some point or other he might make about western domination. Does that make me an apologist for Castro? Hardly. Am I anti-Western? No, there are plenty of things I love about our political and cultural tradition.

BTW, I didn't mean to imply that Bloom is a rightist. I don't know what his personal beliefs are, but I know the right LOVED his book and Newt Gingriches of the world used it to argue against any left-wing criticism post_1966.

Posted by: ScrewyRabbit | Feb 4, 2005 3:31:37 PM

I'm afraid I don't get it. I coulnd't figure out if you are pro or anti-Europe or anything. The link you provided was even more cryptic. Maybe I'm just dumb

I have a feeling that you may be preaching to the choir here and assuming as you wander across the literary world that we've all been right there with you. Maybe your regular readers have, in which case, bon chance!

Posted by: Ryan | Feb 4, 2005 3:34:51 PM

Or even non-totalitarian states like Venezuela apparently!

So basically the world is going to be dangerous until it's led by all pro-US states. The U.S. is always that right that it isn't that the U.S. and Israel should maybe wonder why 90% of the globe doesn't agree with them. Somehow, the whole world needs to agree with you and elect (presumbably elect) people that agree with you, but the world is dangerous, not you?

Posted by: absynthe | Feb 4, 2005 3:35:55 PM

both the US and Israel have been guilty of all of this too.

How is it then "an offense of the left" rather than "an offense of the western world"? Am I understanding you correctly as insinuating that the left is guilty of these offenses?

Posted by: Jeremy Osner | Feb 4, 2005 3:36:51 PM

Not only that but if you actually meant "the left" you aren't going to find many takers for sending weaponry to Israel, which is going to sell it to China anyway.

Posted by: absynthe | Feb 4, 2005 3:38:25 PM

I had an advisor who, every time the name of any graduate student who was taking too long to finish his dissertation came up, would mutter, "(s)he's like those people who write dissertations on Spengler."

Posted by: david | Feb 4, 2005 3:38:52 PM

Well, you will find plenty of elected democrats but the percentage of "the left" which wants to ship weapons to Israel would be very much in the minority.

Posted by: absynthe | Feb 4, 2005 3:40:05 PM

Praktike - yes, it is time to break out the Hofstadter again (or at least, I was thinking exactly the same thing the other day when scrolling down through some of the oddnesses in comments to Armed Liberal's post - if we want examples of the paranoid style in American politics, we have plenty of them).

Posted by: Henry | Feb 4, 2005 3:40:15 PM

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