Monday, March 18, 2019

"Western Civilization" or "Middle Class Commonwealth"?

In a March 14, 2019 post titled "The End of the West?" appearing in his blog Gypsy Scholar, Professor Hodges quotes Andrew J. Bacevich, who asks if we are now living in "A World Without the West"?  Mr. Bacevich begins:
Does the West still exist? Most American politicians, journalists, and policy intellectuals seem to think so, or at least they pretend to . . . . In its heyday, the West--used more or less interchangeably with the phrase "free world"--was much more than a conglomeration of countries. The term itself conjured up a multiplicity of images: peoples sharing a devotion to freedom and democracy; nations mustering the political and cultural cohesion to stand firm in a common cause; sacrifice and steadfastness in the face of evil . . . . For several decades after 1945, the West imparted legitimacy to U.S. claims of global leadership. Nations said to make up the West endorsed, or played along with, the notion that the United States was exceptional and indispensable. Endlessly reiterated in stump speeches and newspaper editorials, this proposition came to seem self-evidently true -- or at least expedient. Today, it is neither. Seven decades after World War II and three decades after the end of the Cold War, to pretend that something called the West, taking its cues from Washington, continues to play an organizing role in international politics is to indulge in a vast self-deception. It's time to see the world as it is, not as we might wish to remember it. The collapse of the Soviet Empire at the end of the 1980s robbed the West of its principal geopolitical rationale. Nominally, Western unity derived from common values; in reality, it derived from a common threat. Once the threat vanished, centrifugal forces were certain to make their appearance.
I wonder, could there be some alternative language that will allow us to grasp the issue more effectively, or help us to uncover additional dynamics that will help to clarify the issue? I think so. Here is my suggestion:

Though obviosuly not his express intet, Bacevich's nevertheless neatly sets the "delimitations" for the concept (and the phrase) we call "The West."  And of course I am aware "The West" was used prior to WWII; Spengler, for instance. ( And when, by the way, did the phrase emerge?)

But rather than the bold refication of some sort of western "realm," what is rather more essential to the matter he considers is the "Middle Class" as a societal phenomenon in world history--the broad movement towards democratization, rule-of-law and the utilitarian distribution of goods and services that "flourished" in the Renaissance, moved through five centuries of evolutions and re-formulations, and which won a precarious "victory" in 1945. That is to say, "The West" he speaks of is a post-WWII geopolitical designation, and it's substance has been the protections that political group (The West) has in the past seven decades extended toward the Middle Classes in North America, Western Europe, South Korea and Japan.

So while we should be concerned about "The West" and speak of it as does Bacevich, we should also do well to talk about the Middle Class as a global movement (and a grouping) that is participating in, regulating, protecting, and benefiting from equitable trade, democracy, rule of law, and cultural, religious and ethnic pluralism, etc.

It is these things--equitable trade, democracy, rule of law, and cultural, religious and ethnic pluralism--that are under threat.

I'll close with something Aristotle said:
Thus it is manifest that the best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be well-administered in which the middle class is large, and stronger if possible than both the other classes, or at any rate than either singly.
-- Aristotle, The Politics, Book IV, Part XI

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