By DAVID ROSS
When asked what he thought of Western Civilization, Mahatma Gandhi famously replied, “I think it would be a good idea.” Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck!
From the point of view of someone who was fighting for India’s independence from Great Britain this quip was probably a pretty telling verbal blow. Nevertheless, the general superiority of Western Civilization and its impact on the world is hard to dispute.
In his speech two weeks ago in Poland, President Trump brought a lot of the commentariat down on his head for refusing—as President Obama did time and time again—to apologize for the West and its works.
Western Civilization is pretty cool, in my humble opinion, and I don’t think we need to apologize for it, or to feel that it is not worth defending against all comers.
At the dawn of Western Civilization, the Ancient Greeks invented democracy. It was the tiny (by our standards) city of Athens, a state about the same size as modern-day Escondido, that defended the Western values of liberty self-rule against the mighty Persian Empire. Persia was, and is a great civilization. Its artworks and architecture, and even governmental structures were very admirable for the day, and its people were often ruled in a benign fashion. But it was absolute rule by a monarch, and if the Athenians and their allies had not stood against it, our history would have been very different.
Whether Christianity is a “Western” religion or not, it was nurtured in the West. Christianity’s main contribution to our heritage, even if you are not a religious person, is the value of the individual and that individual’s immortal soul. This is a concept that didn’t exist anywhere in the world prior to Christianity—and it became an integral part of our values.
The scientific method, which led to so many great advances, was invented by Aristotle, also a Greek—and perfected during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The industrial revolution, which followed the rise of science as night follows day, or flowers follow a thunderstorm, helped bring about the technological wonder that we live with today.
Capitalism is also an invention of “The West,” where it was birthed by the Dutch, raised to young adulthood by Britain and brought to its full flower of productivity and creative freedom by the United States.
Democracy, scientific advancement, the value of the individual, and capitalism, are the fruits of the West. They are so pervasive in our global culture that many nations that are not Western, such as Japan, have adopted them root and branch. India, whose modern founder found “Western Civilization” so wanting, today has more in common with the U.S. and the other democracies than it does with China.
When people say we shouldn’t defend our Western values, that we should be willing to subsume the roots of our culture by allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by the values of those who want to enter our country, I draw the line and say, “no further.” I’m not interested in your values if you don’t first tell me that you want to be an American first—and all of those other values can come after.
I saw a wonderful movie called “The Big Sick” recently. I consider it one of the best movies of the year. The hero, a Pakistani brought to this country by his parents, who grows up in the United States, is criticized for refusing to agree to an arranged marriage. Instead, he falls in love with an American girl. To his outraged parents he says, “Why did you bring me to America if you didn’t want me to become an American?”
Why indeed? Why would anyone want to enjoy the fruits of freedom, without subscribing to the values that defend it and allow it to flourish?