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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Death Of An Idea?

Anyone who visits here regularly, knows that I love anything that Mark Steyn puts to paper. Sure his material is usually on the depressing side (i.e. you get more disgusted with the world each time you nod your head in agreement) but his ability to insert some humour into a debate is amazing.

Well I suspect that Mark isn't in the jolliest of modes these days. His latest piece isn't the least bit funny:

America and Europe both face security threats. But the difference is America's are external, and require hard choices in tough neighbourhoods around the world, while the EU's are internal and, as they see it, unlikely to be lessened by the sight of European soldiers joining the Great Satan in liberating, say, Syria. That's not exactly going to help keep the lid on the noisier Continental mosques.

So what would you do in Bush's shoes? Slap 'em around a bit? What for? Where would it get you? Or would you do exactly what he's doing? Climb into the old soup-and-fish, make small talk with Mme Chirac and raise a glass of champagne to the enduring friendship of our peoples: what else is left? This week we're toasting the end of an idea: the death of "the West".

If anyone else had written that last sentence I wouldn't have dwelled on it so much. Regardless, it kind of struck me... well I just kept repeating it over and over.

The death of 'the West'. What exactly does that mean? The death of us? Or is it simply the death of an idea, easily replaced with another?

Did those present during the fall of the Greek states lament the death of 'the West'? Did the citizens of Rome feel the barbarian invasions meant the death of 'the West'? Did the Spaniards fleeing from the Moors predict the death of 'the West'?

I'm certainly not qualified to answer any of these questions but if I had to hazard a guess I would suspect in all cases that they didn't. History is local. It always has been. The idea of 'the West' is simply too much for people to grasp. Sure you have historians who can string the narrative together but the narrative only fits if history allows it to.

Would we still consider Europe and America as part of the same 'West' if the Nazi's had won World War II? Would we have considered Europe and America part of the same 'West' if Communism had overtaken Europe after World War II? I suspect in both cases that we wouldn't and I suspect that most people reading this would agree with me.

So what does this all mean? Honesty I have no idea. Heck I don't even know where I'm going with this. I could read a thousand books about 'the West' and yet I doubt that even then I would feel like I understood it.

The situation in Europe does depress me because I honestly do feel that we are seeing the end of an era of history. I'm still not ready to proclaim the death of 'the West' like Mark is but I do feel that the world is rapidly changing underneath me.

I guess that the only positive way I can look at all this is to consider that history unwinds in the most unexpected ways. The concept of a 'free man' with rights originated over 2000 years ago in Greece. And today? All over the world we find that the most brutal of dictators must speak the language of freedom and democracy. The idea of a 'free man', isolated to Europe 500 years ago, now infects the entire globe. Could this have all been an accident?

Could an idea that spans 2000 years now be at it's end? Or alternatively... does the idea need Europe?

crossposted to canadiancomment

Posted by Dana on February 22, 2005 in International Affairs | Permalink


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Tracked on 2005-02-23 7:27:10 PM


It's the death of one "West" - the Atlantic Alliance of the US and Western Europe - and the birth of another. You are right: the idea of the West began with the Greeks. It spread west to Rome, north to the Carolingian Empire, across the channel to Britain, and over the ocean to America. There have been schisms within the camp of the West before: between the Latin West and the Byzantine Greek East, between the Protestant North and the Catholic South. The current split between continental Europe and America, with the UK as a middle term between the two, has been a long time in the making. But the Western idea still remains. It's core is now the "Red States" of the USA. It's periphery is the "Blue States" and the Anglosphere countries. And there are Western outposts throughout the world: places like Taiwan, Israel, and Poland. But continental Western Europe, once at the heart of the West, is now no longer really part of the West in a meaningful sense. It will linger on the fringes of world history until it is reborn as Eurabia 50-100 years from now as one of the principal enemies to the Western idea it did so much to give birth to.

Posted by: Joe McCartney | 2005-02-22 7:47:04 AM

My guess – Steyn is saying our traditional view has been that Europe plus North America = The West. But that may be changing given the EU pacifist/appeasing attitude and its new constitution discussed here … http://godscopybook.blogs.com/gpb/2005/02/us_vs_eu_consti.html

Publius makes the simple but interesting point
' The US Constitution begins, famously, "We the People…". The European Constitution begins, "His Majesty the King of the Belgians…". That gives you a fair idea of the different spirit of each document.'

I’m not sanguine about the EU but I’m more hopeful then Steyn. I’ve been going to little Denmark for over 20 years to visit relatives. Denmark over that time has moved from being a bastion of socialism to being a haven of computer engineers involved with world trade – more so then Canada I daresay. Also Denmark , Poland etc supported Bush in Iraq – if only with a submarine (???) – it’s the thought that counts.
Therefore smaller EU countries may “get it”. The issue is really what Rumsfeld famously called “Old Europe” - what are France and Germany going to do? Also will the UK sign onto the EU constitution?

We need to be focusing on what’s happening with India and China. Over time their influence on world affairs will be more important then the EU.

Anyway , that’s my guess as to what Steyn is getting at.

Posted by: nomdenet | 2005-02-22 8:37:54 AM

I think Steyn is simply rehashing one of Samuel Huntington's themes in "The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of World Order", published in 1998, but derived from an essay Huntington wrote in the early '90s. The most startling thing I took away from "Clash" wasn't how prescient Huntington was in predicting the "bloody borders" of Muslim-dominated nations, but his proposition that the "West" (constituting essentially those free democratic nations whose founding culture was entrenched in the "judeo-christian ethic")was in decline and would cease to dominate world affairs in relatively short order. Huntington suggested a combination of factors such as low Western birth rates, "multiculturalism" diluting the extent to which societies are bound by history and tradition, and increasing disconnect between the values held by the founding fathers and succeeding generations as a few of the explanations for his proposition.

I can't say I'm yet convinced Huntington is right, but in the decade or so since he first presented his proposition, I've seen very little to prove it wrong and a lot that is entirely consistent with it. Certainly, Canada (although "da first" (or is it "da second", I can never remember) greatest nation according to the Koffites at the UN)is in many ways a poster child for Huntington's proposition. After 9/11, it is even simple to imagine scenarios whereby the world's only hyperpower might be regarded as being in "decline", to the extent that 9/11 proved how unbelievably vulnerable even the most secure nation really is and how difficult, if not impossible, it is for such a nation to seek to enhance its own security in the face of widespread condemnation and resentment.

Posted by: firewalls 'r us | 2005-02-22 9:40:40 AM

The Western Message

" ... the heart and soul of the unending human adventure: freedom of inquiry, freedom of controversy, freedom of criticism, and the vote."

Raymond Aron (1905-1983)

Posted by: maz2 | 2005-02-22 10:07:58 AM

Firewalls r us

Huntington would have been right if Al Gore was elected in 2000 or Kerry in 2004.

Meanwhile Canadians are doing what Huntington predicted , ¾ of us – please see this article today in the Post -


don’t believe in the promotion of democracy, presumably most of us still think the kleptocracy at the UN and Ottawa is preferable to sound democratic principles.
Again, it all comes back to leadership. This can all turn on a dime for the positive if we get the right leadership into 24 Sussex.

Posted by: nomdenet | 2005-02-22 11:18:10 AM

Steyn, increasingly, though not suprisingly, gets it wrong. One wonders whether his notion of the 'West" ever existed; a common ideological force to confront a common enemy, considering America's late entrance into both world wars. Even more problematic is his refusal to recognise the nature of the threat to the US. The attacks on 9/11 originated internally. As Michelle Malkin pointed out in her book, 'Invasion',

"Of the 48 Islamic militant terrorists involved in conspiracies against the US in the last decade, only 16 entered legally on temporary visas as students, tourists or business executives. Another 17 were either US citizens or permanent residents-a huge breakdown in itself. Other terrorists had political asylum applications in process or had been granted amnesty. The final tally: of 48 terrorists, 21 were in violation of US immigration laws.

Even that horrible statistic is generous. As pointed out by Peter Brimelow in his VDare review of "Invasion" 16 terrorists who were technically in the country "legally" on valid visas should not have gotten in. Since a visa applicant is required to truthfully state his purpose for coming to the US, those 16 submitted false documents.

Sadly, 9/11 wasn't enough of a warning signal to those in charge of federal immigration policy. For the six-month period immediately following 9/11, the INS handed out another 50,000 tourist business and student visas to Middle Eastern residents exclusive of Israel. Another 140,000 visas were issued to al-Qaeda friendly nations like Pakistan, Yemen and Syria."

The death of the west, as Buchanan rightly asserts, is "declining birth rates; uncontrolled immigration of peoples of "different colors, creed, and cultures"; a rise of "anti-Western" culture antithetical to established religious, cultural, and moral norms; and a "defection of ruling elites" to the idea of world government."

What is Steyn's agenda? And why is he so desirous of sending US soldiers to liberate Syria?

Posted by: DJ | 2005-02-22 11:25:27 AM

DJ, you just argued yourself out of your original position.

Each of your assertions regarding immigration, student visas and birthrates have been topics Steyn has been writing about since 911.

"The West" did exist, sharply defined as those behind the iron curtian and those in front of it. Unfortunately, the threat to the West is not so clearly defined and as a result neither is The West.

Posted by: Gareth Igloliorte | 2005-02-23 5:55:11 AM

Ok Gareth, then why is he now arguing this inside outside nonsense. Why is Euope's threat different than the threat to the US? How will invading Syria remedy the immigration fiasco and falling birthrates?

So it wasn't about fighting the Nazis or the Kaiser? Were the Soviets, when they were destroying Nazi Germany, part of the 'West.' And, it appears George Washington who warned against US entanglement in European wars, does not fit in Master Mark's sharp definition. Pity.

Posted by: DJ | 2005-02-23 12:18:35 PM


I don't kow what Steyn is defining as "The West". I believe that "The West" is a much more recent description of countries, ie. post WWII: A coalition of countries who, in one degree or another, took part in the Cold War on behalf of democracy.

The Soviet war against the Nazi's was not for freedom, but for survival. Lets not forget that WWII effectively started with a German and Soviet agreement to invade and divide Poland. The Soviets were allies with the UK and US by default. Late in the war Soviet, American and British strategy revolved as much around taking the most advantage of the German fall for themselves as it did defeating the Germans, specificly with respect to German industrial and scientific research.

As to Steyn's inside/outside argument, I believe it is along these lines: Europe relies heavily on Muslim immigrants to maintain their current population. The Muslim immigrants are not being integrated into European society and in fact a significant population of 2nd generation Muslims are become more radical than their parents. The problem is that the "native" European birthrate is hovering around 1.1 whereas the immigrant birthrate is much higher. Assuming these trends remain (they don't have to) In fifty years Europe is going to be short on Europeans and long on Muslims, a significant portion of which, while not becoming terrorists, would support the religous cause "Islamofacists" stand behind.

In comparsion, while the US INS is a beaucratic nightmare, US immigrants are mostly drawn from Latin America and share the same "values" as Americans and in fact aspire to them. Furthermore, American birthrates are in the area of 2.1, the sweetspot for steady population growth. So, while the face of America may become more Latino, its Heart will remain true to the American Dream. America's problems are external in source, but they will ultimately materialize in American soil. After all, if terrorists kept to attacking American interests off American soil we wouldn't be in this situation.

Also, I don't believe Steyn is advocating the invasion of Syria. In fact, Steyn's reason for supporting the Iraq war was specifically to avoid invading other Middle Eastern countries. What Steyn is saying is that Europe's problem cannot be solved by invading Syria, so why expect them to help with that cause.

Posted by: Gareth Igloliorte | 2005-02-24 10:48:47 AM

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