View from USA: Must ‘Western Civilization’ be synonymous with ‘Decline’?

11:05 14.01.2024 •

Pic. from American Institute for Economic Research

History shows that we are unlikely to accept decline as a permanent state. If our current ruling class won't stop it, sooner or later, majorities will clamor for someone who will, writes Rod Dreher, an American journalist who writes about politics, culture, religion, and foreign affairs, a director of the Network Project of the Danube Institute in Budapest.

There’s a funny clip from the TV series The Young Pope, in which Pius XII, a brash, cynical American played by Jude Law, hosts in his office the Vatican’s new marketing chief. She tells the pontiff that she was educated at Harvard.

“The word ‘Harvard’ may impress people around here,” the pope sneers, “but to an American, it means one thing only: decline.”

Ain’t that the truth! The Claudine Gay affair has revealed the hollowness inside America’s most prestigious university. It is now undeniable that Harvard appointed Gay as its president not on the basis of her qualifications for the job – based on her record, she’s a pipsqueak compared to her predecessors – but because she is a black woman who endorses, and even embodies, the DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) ideology that has conquered the ruling class in the United States, and much of the West.

Gay is no aberration, of course. It has become standard operating practice for businesses, colleges, media and other institutions to hire and promote people not strictly on the basis of skill and accomplishment, but because of race, sex, or other identity characteristics. The US has gone from civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. memorably saying that he longed for an America where his children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” to one in which the head of DEI at Google — one of the planet’s most powerful institutions — complains bitterly that parents are teaching their children to follow King’s moral principle.

It has emerged in recent days that Lloyd Austin, the U.S. Defense Secretary, was in the intensive care ward at a hospital for several days, but nobody told the White House. This happened at a time when American troops are under attack in multiple theaters daily. Then again, if someone had thought to inform President Biden, who can be confident that he, halfway to senility, would be able to understand the news?

I related the story about how a few years ago, a European friend who had just completed a year of graduate-level study at Harvard told me he was shocked by how fragile American elites are. He and his fellow foreign students were amazed to see graduate students at the US’s supposedly top university routinely asking professors to avoid certain topics, out of fear of being emotionally overwhelmed by the discussion — and professors complying with their wishes.

My friend said that none of these frail hothouse flowers doubted for one second that it was their right and their destiny to rule America. They were Harvard men and women, after all. But in his judgment, they were manifestly unfit, because they could not handle information that ran counter to what they preferred to believe. In effect, they preferred to be deceived. And they were being coddled by the very institution that exists to prepare them for the real world.

The TV segment captures why it is so difficult to solve challenges among Western elites today, not only in America, but in Britain and in Europe: the Left has made honesty and accountability all but impossible, at least when its favored ‘victim’ classes are involved. The Left has shifted its evaluative standards away from an objective assessment of facts and performance to measuring according to how well the person, institution, or entity has fulfilled emotional needs embedded within the ruling-class ideology.

And then there are the endless lies from UK and European elites in power, both in government and in media—especially concerning the migration crisis, on which the future of Europe itself hinges. But it’s getting harder to hide the truth. Christopher Caldwell recently pointed out that the murder of a French teenager, allegedly by an anti-white Muslim mob, appears to have pushed the long-suffering French people to the wall.

It took France’s Journal de Dimanche days of pressing officials before they finally released the names of the accused killers — all of which were Arabic. A columnist for the newspaper noted “the fear of all the authorities who were in a position to deliver [the names].” Of course — this corrupt elite don’t want to know the troubling facts, and they don’t want the people to know them either.

But the real world is not an American Ivy League campus, where unpleasantness can be wafted away, like a bad smell. For that matter, now that Gay’s woke bona fides did not protect her from accountability, even Ivy League campuses may not be reality-free zones of epistemic privilege much longer. Maybe the European public square is changing in the same way. As A.M. Fantini wrote in this magazine recently, Europeans are being “gaslighted” by both the media and elected leaders, who protect their power through self-serving lies and by manipulating the attention of voters. We in the West still have the power of the vote, and the responsibility to reject the ideologies that are destroying our societies and our civilization.

The words ‘Western civilization’ used to impress people around the world, but to anybody with eyes wide open, it increasingly means one thing: decline. History shows that we are unlikely to accept decline as a permanent state. If our current ruling class, across governmental and civil society institutions, will not arrest the fall, sooner or later, majorities will clamor for someone who will.


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