Is the West Slip, Slip, Slipping Away? What has become of free speech, free markets, and the rule of law? By Victor Davis Hanson

Sometimes a culture disappears with a whimper, not a bang. Institutions age and are ignored, and the complacent public insidiously lowers its expectations of state performance.

Infrastructure, the rule of law, and civility erode — and yet people are not sure why and how their own changing (and pathological) individual behavior is leading to the collective deterioration that they deplore.

There is still a “West” in the sense of the physical entities of North America, Europe, many of the former British dominions, and parts of Westernized Asia. The infrastructure of our cities and states looks about as it did in the recent past. But is it the West as we once knew it — a unique civilization predicated on free expression, human rights, self-criticism, vibrant free markets, and the rule of law?

Or, instead, is the West reduced to a wealthy but unfree leisure zone, driven on autopilot by computerized affluence, technological determinism, and a growing equality-of-result, omnipotent state?

Tens of thousands of migrants — reminiscent of the great southward and westward treks of Germanic tribes in the late fifth century, at the end of the Roman Empire — are overwhelming the borders of Europe. Such an influx should be a reminder that the West attracts people, while the non-West drives them out, and thus should spark inquiries about why that is so. But that discussion would be not only impolite, but beyond the comprehension of most present-day Westerners, who take for granted — though they cannot define, much less defend — their own institutions. 

No one claims that such mass immigration into Europe is legal. No one wonders what happened to the fossilized idea of legal immigration, much less the legal immigrant who went through what has now been rendered the pretense of bureaucratic application for legal entry into Europe. Germany, which lectures others on law, is lawless.

In theory, Westerners have the power to stop the mostly young males from the Middle East from swarming their borders, but in fact they apparently lack the will. Or is it worse than that? Without confidence in their own values, much less pride in their accomplishments, are they assuaging the guilt over their privilege by symbolic acts of undermining the foundations of their own culture? Certainly, Germany, which insists on European Union laws of finance applying to its fellow European nation Greece, has no compunction about destroying, for its own particular purposes, the Union’s immigration statutes as they apply to Middle Easterners.

#share#The same is true in the United States. Millions of foreign nationals from Latin America, and Mexico in particular, simply have crossed the border without even the pretense of legality. They assume Americans not only won’t enforce their own laws, but also will find ways to demonize any who suggest that they should. If there is now no such thing as an “illegal alien,” what in theory prevents anyone from arriving from anywhere at any time and making claims on the American state?

Again, the irony is not just that millions of Mexican nationals want into the U.S., but that, ostensibly, no one in Mexico or even the United States knows why that is so (certainly not the National Council of La Raza [“the Race”]) — much less wonders whether Mexico might learn from the U.S. about ways to make a nation’s own people become content enough to stay in their homeland. Only in the West does a migrant fault his host for insufficient hospitality while exempting his homeland, which drove him out.

Sanctuary cities illustrate how progressive doctrine can by itself nullify the rule of law. In the new West, breaking statutes is backed or ignored by the state if it is branded with race, class, or gender advocacy. By that I mean that if a solitary U.S. citizen seeks to leave and then reenter America without a passport, he will likely be either arrested or turned back, whereas if an illegal alien manages to cross our border, he is unlikely to be sent back as long as he has claims on victimhood of the type that are sanctioned by the Western liberal state.

Do we really enjoy free speech in the West any more? If you think we do, try to use vocabulary that is precise and not pejorative, but does not serve the current engine of social advocacy — terms such as “Islamic terrorist,” “illegal alien,” or “transvestite.” I doubt that a writer for a major newspaper or a politician could use those terms, which were common currency just four or five years ago, without incurring, privately or publicly, the sort of censure that we might associate with the thought police of the former Soviet Union.

It is becoming almost impossible in the West to navigate the contours of totalitarian mind control. Satirists can create cartoons mocking Christ, but not Mohammed. If a teen brings a suspicious-looking device of wires and gadgetry to school, he will be suspended — unless he can advance by his religious or ethnic background some claim on victimization.

In major news accounts, the identification of race and ethnic background of a criminal suspect is often predicated on liberal notions of social engineering. Recent graduates of journalism schools must have learned during their time there that identification by race of a white criminal suspect, but not commensurately of a suspect of color, is a social obligation, a way of avoiding a “micro-aggression,” the latest Orwellian exercise in creating a new word in hopes of inventing a new reality. Marchers with Black Lives Matter banners chant, “Dead Cops!” and also call for them to be roasted, even as to quote what they are saying is deemed racist. As the president of the United States lends his support to Black Lives Matter, a violent crime wave hits his upscale Capitol Hill neighbors, as young inner-city predators go on a rampage against the yuppie liberals living there. Liberal residents call it a “reign of terror,” yet they win as much attention from the president as does the slaughter each weekend in Chicago.

In a San Francisco middle school, recent democratic elections for student officers were massaged into nothingness, since the outcome did not result in the preferred architecture of diversity. Note that the female white principal who nullified the election should not, by her own logic and the theory of proportional representation, be principal of a school where her own race is in the minority. Bureaucratic apparatchiks, apparently aware that careers are enhanced or destroyed by the degree of adherence to diversity and political correctness, have become genteel fascists, somewhere in between those of the Soviet Union and those whom Orwell described in 1984.

#share#When Hollywood puts out a movie called Truth, we know, also in good 1984 fashion, that it should be called Lies — a story of how the supposed noble end of electing a liberal president justifies all the sordid means necessary to achieve it, including amateurish forgery. The probable Democratic nominee for president of the United States just hours after the Benghazi attack announced in private to concerned parties that it was an al-Qaeda terrorist operation, while she was telling the world that it was a spontaneous riot in reaction to an illiberal video, confirming the Obama campaign’s old talking point that al-Qaeda was “on the run” and thus incapable of doing what it had just done. Truth? Lies? There are no such things — just operative and inoperative narratives. Ask the video maker who went to jail for his short movie, or the families of the dead Americans who were assured that it was not al-Qaeda that had killed their loved ones.

In the same mode, today’s campus is a cross between premodern Victorianism and something postmodern out of Clockwork Orange. Never have so many undergraduates hooked up for impersonal, crass, and callous sex, often fueled by alcohol and drugs, and never have the rules of such ad hoc intercourse been so formalized.

If universities really believe that they have and should have the power of stopping males from engaging in improper sexual congress that results in post-coitus unhappy parties, it would be much simpler to go back to the 1950s paradigm of segregating dorms by gender, banning alcohol from campus, viewing possession of illegal drugs as grounds for expulsion, and formulating new rules of treating women during sexual unions according to past formality and manners. A sober and drug-free male who picks up the tab, opens doors for women, watches his language around the opposite sex, and allows a woman some privilege in entering a building might be more receptive to asking formal (written?) consent at each ascending step of love-making, the apparent objective of the new campus sexual codes.

The one constant in the more recent manifestations of the slipping away of the West is the emergence of a new privileged, mostly white progressive class of plutocrat. A Google exec, an Al Gore, a university president, a diversity czar, a Goldman Sachs progressive, a Clinton Initiative apparatchik, a pajama-boy techie — none of them ever expects the ramifications of his ideology to hit home. They assume that they have the power and influence not only to change the mentalities of the caricatured middle class, but in the process to enjoy their own privilege without either guilt or risk. Opposing charter schools usually means your children are in private schools, just as championing open borders reflects one’s own gated community, just as promoting affirmative action in the abstract suggests recourse to a countervailing old-boy network to gain admissions, internships, and jobs for one’s own offspring. Our progressive elites resemble the opportunists of the French Revolution, who rode the crest of popular revolt — hoping that their calls for enforced egalitarianism and fraternity by any means necessary allowed their ample privilege to be exempt from the disorder they had incited.

The Obama administration did not create an anti-Western Western world (indeed, if Obama didn’t exist we would have to invent him), it simply summarized the recent pathologies of late Western life, codified them, and made them institutional, as in “workplace violence,” “white Hispanic,” “micro-aggression,” “sanctuary city,” and the rest of the lexicon of misrepresentation.

In the new West, freedom is inequality, liberty selfishness, and tribalism unity.

That is all ye need to know.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals.

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commented 2015-10-31 12:17:37 -0400 · Flag
Karl-Heinz R. commented

There really is a sense amongst some people that we are experiencing the decline of the West right before our very eyes.

Some MP in Thüringen, Germany took an oath of office and refused to utter the words “so help me God”, for fear of “offending” Muslims. The Frankfurt School Critical-Theory poison has indoctrinated generations of self-hating beta males and wiped out cultural self-esteem across this Continent too.