Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A Selfish Society Will Not Survive

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a very long, quite fascinating essay by the conservative columnist Mark Steyn. The essay boldly predicts the coming end to Western Civilization as we know it. And the culprit? If you guessed liberals, then give yourself a point for knowing the rules of the modern sport of full-contact punditry.

Of all the lines of reasoning Steyn explores, his one big point is this: the welfare state combined with liberal ideology has made Europe and, to a great extent, America too weak and unprepared to combat the rising threat of Islam.

That's what the war's about: our lack of civilizational confidence. As a famous Arnold Toynbee quote puts it: "Civilizations die from suicide, not murder"--as can be seen throughout much of "the Western world" right now. The progressive agenda--lavish social welfare, abortion, secularism, multiculturalism--is collectively the real suicide bomb.

Conservatives of Steyn’s ilk are all too quick to blame liberals for every ill—as if we’d all be happy, prosperous and tan if it weren’t for the soul-sucking ideology of the left. It’s a narrative that works for them, but it’s annoyingly simplistic.

The great promises of modern capitalism are as much to blame for cultural “weakness” as is the over-protective welfare state. After hearing for decades that we can have what we want, when we want, how we want while never getting fat, poor or ugly, a society is going to become a little me-centric.

And that, in my reasoning, is the greatest threat. We Westerners have a tendency to be a selfish bunch. Sure, we give a lot in terms of monetary donations to charities. But how often do we give of ourselves, put down our desires and our ideologies and focus of the greater needs of society? Not often.

There are good reasons why Steyn goes after liberals. Liberalism, in its modern form, is a sickly ideology, hollowed out by the cancer of Marxism and left toothless by the decay of pacifism. But what has truly sent this once noble ideology to its deathbed is the same wasting illness that also infects conservatism: selfishness.

Just as liberals seem incapable of comprehending why it’s necessary to sacrifice on the battlefield, many conservatives seem incapable of sacrificing on the home front, preferring pork barrel spending and power games over making hard choices. We all want it our way and only our way and those who want something different are condemned as the devils of our day. Whatever oneness we experienced after 9/11 shattered in a barrage of self-interests, leaving us divided not only at home but with our allies as well.

Our culture is threatened. Our declining birthrates, as Steyn notes, would alone open us up to extinction. But combine that with a pervasive selfishness and we have a hard road ahead. Our enemy is willing to commit suicide to further their dark cause. Shouldn’t we at least be willing to lay down the swords of the red state/blue state conflict and call our countrymen our neighbors and our European allies our friends?

After all, we’re in this together.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thoughtful comments, but Steyn was also making the point that the most liberal societies in the world are dying off because they are not reproducing, while fundamentalist Moslems are reproducing around the world at a ferocious rate. Whether liberalism is the cause of declining birthrates is an interesting question, but Steyn is not obviously wrong.

3:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, what can I say? Why not say that the genesis of all the problems lies in a lack of balance. When we say someone is imbalanced, it usually means that they are crazy. Elevator does not go to the top floor. What we have seen is the byproduct of imbalanced and amoral individuals who have abdicated good common sense and social responsibilty. Maybe what needs to happen from now on is that everyone who wants to go into public service get a thorough psych exam before being considered. I think it would help.

8:48 PM  

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