America is a unique country because it is difficult to adequately define what an “American” is, or what is American culture. The problem arises because unlike any country before it, we were founded on an idea or principle best expressed as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
It is certainly true that the country was founded by white European settlers, but it is disingenuous to say it was a country founded by white people for white people. That is the root belief of your average white supremacist which makes them not only intellectual dolts, but at odds with a basic belief of conservatism- America was founded on an ideal, not a people.
People initially came to this country for a variety of reasons. Some came seeking riches, others for opportunity that did not exist in their home country, and others to escape religious persecution. Some were brought here in chains against their will. But at its most basic level, they all had one aspiration that bound them- freedom, or liberty. That meant religious or economic freedom, or even aspirations of freedom from the chains that brought them here in the first place.
At its heart, that thirst for liberty defined America at one time. There is a lot of debate today over the idea of cultural relativism which assumes some equality of cultures. All of this is nonsense and Western values are under attack.
We can all agree that “all men are created equal,” but that equality ends at birth. A child born to a millionaire is not equal to a child born in poverty. Some people are intrinsically better at math than others; some people can write novels and can’t draw a stick figure. A person with Down’s syndrome is certainly not equal to a person with an IQ of 110. This does not mean that the millionaire child is “better” or that the child born in poverty should be deprived certain rights, only that they are unequal. Inequalities exist around us everywhere among individuals, but liberty or freedom is a commonality that glues us as one people, or so it seemed at one time.
And so it is with cultures or civilizations also and the values upon which they are based. Simply, Western civilization is unequal to other civilizations, but a case can be made that it is also superior. It has given us rationalism, the potential for self-criticism and improvement, separation of church and state, the rule of law and equality before that law, freedom of conscience and expression, and liberal democracy.
These values- absent, lacking, or wanting in other cultures- are the foundational building blocks that created, built and drives our economic, social, political and cultural successes which too many take for granted today. When adopted by non-Western cultures and countries like Japan and South Korea and, to a lesser extent, India, these superior values advanced- not stagnated nor retarded- those countries.
While a case can be made that Western culture has a way to go in some areas, women, ethnic and religious minorities, and gays have it far better in Western countries than elsewhere. That is why it is so ironic that a Muslim woman like Linda Sarsour would organize and be the face of the Women’s March when her own religion criminalizes homosexuality. It is a religious, Eastern culture that denigrates women and discriminates against religious minorities. In 2016 in the US, there were over 2,100 mosques for 3.3 million Muslims, or 1% of the US population. In Saudi Arabia, there are 1.2 million Christians, or 3.6% of the population, with zero houses of worship. And for this, they are “equal?”
The propensity in the West for self-criticism- itself an outgrowth of rationalism- allowed the culture to abolish (through law or war) the practice of slavery. This was done despite the obvious economic advantages of free labor. These calls for the abolition of slavery did not resonate in Eastern cultures and exists on a widespread basis to this very day in some areas.
The Western quest for knowledge no matter where it leads- a legacy inherited from the Greeks- stands in stark contrast to the mind-numbing certainties and dictates of an Eastern culture like Islam and other non-Western cultures. Historians will tell us that the “university” is not a Western invention. That may be true, but the good ones certainly are. Very few aspire to be a graduate of the University of Cairo or Ankara with a degree in the sciences instead aspiring to be a graduate of MIT, Harvard or Oxford.
In short, the West does not need a lecture from a culture that subjugates women, forces them to undergo genital mutilation, or forces them into marriages against their will before they reach puberty. The West does not need nor should tolerate criticism from a culture where a woman accused of adultery could be stoned to death, or from a culture that advocates the denial of equal rights to a person of a lower caste.
The West does not need nor should it tolerate the sanctimonious rhetoric of calls for “equality” under the rubric of multiculturalism from another culture that cannot even provide clean drinking water and sewage for its population. Or one that cannot educate its own citizens leaving them 40-50% illiterate. It may be easy to single out Islam, but the criticism extends to all non-Western cultures. Lest we forget, protesters in Tiannamen Square did not erect a statue to Confucius or Buddha. As for self-criticism, can anyone imagine a movie like Monty Python’s The Life of Brian being remade as the Life of Mohammed?
Thousands of people die every year trying to reach Western shores and borders. We do not see too many people clamoring to get into Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan or India. Those that flee totalitarian and theocratic regimes with a thirst for liberty far exceed those trying to reach the East in search of “equality.”
It is when that thirst for liberty is expired and the demands for equality amplified that we see the development of victimhood. From the first person to set their foot on Plymouth rock, there have been victims in America, so victimhood is nothing new. There are many debates in liberal democracy, but none as enduring as the one between liberty and equality.
No one on either side of the political divide questions equal justice under the law, but that common ground ends there. Instead, there is now an assumption of an equality of things or outcomes. Our own Constitution lays the groundwork for equality of opportunity. The author and the inventor are certainly not equal to the non-author or non-inventor, yet their “betterness” is rewarded through copyright and patent law. In fact, the Constitution is long on liberty and short on equality.
In the next part of this series, this writer will look at this liberty/equality dichotomy closer and try to explain why American and Western values are coming under increasing attack.