December 09, 2010

Describing Europe at the dawn of the nineteenth century as a Third World basket case is as ridiculous as referring to first-century Judea or fifth-century-B.C. Athens as primitive societies. Europe’s cultural, literary, and intellectual achievements even before 1820 were the most extensive and possibly the most impressive the human mind ever produced. Rich’s description of this now-vanished world as a priest-ridden poorhouse betokens his utter repugnance for the West’s true civilization. There is no West for him and his minicon buds except for living it up in Manhattan, manhandling Obama and other Dems, and calling for technological expansion.

In the real West’s real history, there were economic dips and turns, although once certain hurdles had been surmounted, material progress continued unfolding. Certain negative effects also resulted, such as pollution, urban sprawl, and the loss of economic incentives for preserving extended families. Moreover, some forms of material progress took longer than others to reach. As medieval historian Norman Cantor noted, medical advances are mostly products of the twentieth century.

But the reason for such problems is not that society was priest-ridden or ground under heel by noblemen. Many medical breakthroughs came about as lucky accidents or were built on rapid communication among English, German, French, and other modern-era researchers. Finally, the bourgeoisie’s rise as a cultural and social force goes back to the High Middle Ages in tandem with the “€œbourgeois dignity”€ the guilds represented. But the Protestant work ethic, which Rich disparages on his way to nonsensical conclusions, shaped bourgeois attitudes about capital accumulation in the early modern period. The Weber thesis about the nexus between Calvinism and capitalism’s rise is still perfectly defensible. Dismissing all such arguments in about three words is monumentally arrogant or perhaps indicative of “€œconservative”€ commentary’s present state.

The triumphal picture of the present furnished by Lowry-McCloskey is utterly Pollyanna and looks like a promo ad for some new war of global democratic liberation. European countries are well below replacement population levels. The Western family is in retreat before sterile live-in arrangements and alternative lifestyles. Educated or not, Westerners have no more appreciation for their national, religious, and cultural pasts than Lowry does (except when he’s talking about American exceptionalism). I conclude that the opera ain”€™t over until the fat lady stops singing.

It is possible that Europeans in their current madness (particularly the guilt-obsessed Germans) may allow Islamists to occupy and reconstruct their societies. And what will the U.S. look like if in the next century it becomes demographically indistinguishable from Central America? Note that infinitely greater minds than those found on NR‘s editorial board believed in the early nineteenth century that they were standing at human history’s apex. (They probably were back then.) Much of what they admired about Europe came apart in the following century, and there is no reason to assume that the global democratic pretensions our material achievements have bred carry the mark of eternity. As King Solomon wisely taught, “€œPride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before the fall.”€


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