On Friday, The New York Times‘ resident “conservative,” David Brooks, penned an ode to Western Civilization, tying the West’s lack of faith in itself to the rise of illiberals and authoritarians across the globe. To some extent, Brooks is correct, but he himself embodies the type of elite liberal who got us into this crisis in the first place.
“The faith in the West collapsed from within,” Brooks declared. “These days, the whole idea of Western civ is assumed to be reactionary and oppressive. All I can say is, if you think that was reactionary and oppressive, wait until you get a load of the world that comes after it.”
Brooks defined Western Civilization using the works of Will and Ariel Durant, The Story of Civilization. These authors “basically told human history (mostly Western history) as an accumulation of great ideas and innovations, from the Egyptians, through Athens, Magna Carta, the Age of Faith, the Renaissance and the Declaration of the Rights of Man.”
The Western narrative taught certain values “about the importance of reasoned discourse, the importance of property rights, the need for a public square that was religiously informed but not theocratically dominated,” Brooks explained. “It set a standard for what great statesmanship looked like. It gave diverse people a sense of shared mission and a common vocabulary, set a framework within which political argument could happen and most important provided a set of common goals.”
The ideas of the West laid the foundation for open discourse, limited government, religious freedom, science, and the unprecedented (and previously unimaginable) wealth of the free market.
But Americans — especially those in elite universities — have either forgotten or rejected this cultural bedrock. In the name of anti-colonialism and progressive identity politics, academia has slowly rejected the very foundations of open discourse, limited government, and even morality to devastating effects.
“Over the past few years especially, we have entered the age of strong men,” Brooks lamented. He cited Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, China’s Xi Jinping, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, and of course President Donald Trump.
Brooks argued that governments are turning into “premodern cults of personality/Maximum Leader regimes” and noted “the collapse of the center,” with centrist parties subsiding and being replaced by the far-Right and the far-Left.
In America, “fragile thugs who call themselves students shut down and abuse speakers on a weekly basis” and young Americans no longer say it is absolutely important to live in a democratic country. Finally, Trump “violated every norm of statesmanship built up over these many centuries, and it turned out many people didn’t notice or didn’t care.”
David Brooks is right on here — in fact, he even understates his case. But people like him are the exact reason why Americans have been rejecting Western Civilization in the first place.