Political Compass
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Existential Threats

By Jonathan B. Wight

Does the West face an existential threat?

That is the conclusion of one columnist, who wrote recently: “The news media in the West pose a far greater danger to Western civilization than Russia does,” and that “The real threat to Western civilization is Western civilization ceasing to believe in itself” (emphasis added).

There is no question that loss of confidence in key institutions is a detriment to the survival of a culture or peoples.  And the constant harping on our deficiencies as a Western society is one thing that could undermine that confidence, particularly in young people who will either carry on our traditions or adopt some new ones.

But criticism and open debate are the very things the West stands for, isn’t it? 

Putin.trumpWe live at a time when the current holders of power in the U.S. do not believe in facts—either scientific facts (evolution or climate change), or political facts (who won the popular vote, or how many people showed up for the inauguration).  Our fearless leader also eschews accountability and transparency, other traditional hallmarks of an advanced civilization. He holds up dictators and despots as role models.  Aren't these the signs of the beginning of the end for Western civilization?  

What brought me to this particular article was an an “Adam Smith” alert that I’ve set up for the New York Times.  Turns out, Adam Smith has something pithy to say about the decline of the West, namely, “There is a great deal of ruin in a nation.”

He was referring to Britain’s loss of Burgoyne’s army to America at the Battles of Saratoga in 1777, marking the beginning of the end of colonial rule.  Smith’s insight is that—despite what many have tried to force down his throat—he is not a believer in nirvanas or Edens or paradises on earth.  They don’t exist.  We only have messy stuff to sort through and live with.

The media that criticize and expose our foibles are part of that messy stuff, without which we would not have a thriving Western democracy.  Holding up Putin as a role model is a far greater threat to our morals and existence than the media who report that our emperor is buck naked.


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