US academic Samuel P. Huntington, after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR, argued that the new global conflict would be between cultures when he said: “The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural.”
Based on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and Islamic State’s reign of terror in Africa and the Middle East and in London, Paris, New York, Boston, Melbourne and Sydney, it’s clear how prescient Huntington was.
Globally, Western liberal democracies like Australia and the values and way of life we take for granted are under attack, both in terms of physical terror and violence and the fear that we are no longer safe.
As noted by the human rights activist born in Somalia and raised as a Muslim, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Islamic fundamentalism strikes at the heart of Western beliefs like the sanctity of life, individual liberty, and freedom of religion, association and press that so many have fought for and died to defend.
In her most recent book, Heretic, Hirsi Ali argues “Islam is not a religion of peace” and that Islamic terrorists use the Koran to justify their jihad against the West and the practice of killing or converting unbelievers.
The fact Islam is a theocratic religion where there is no division between church and state and where sharia law prevails provides additional evidence that in Western cultures like Australia the liberties and freedoms we take for granted are threatened. That Western culture is under attack is made worse by the fact that there is also an enemy within.
Since the cultural revolution of the mid-to-late-’60s — the time of the Paris student riots, Vietnam War moratoriums, Woodstock and flower power — the cultural left has embarked on the long march to weaken Western culture.
Drawing on the works of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci and French intellectuals like Bourdieu, Althusser and Foucault, the cultural left attacks Western culture for being capitalist, imperialistic, misogynistic and hierarchal.
During the ’60s students on American campuses chanted “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Western Civ has got to go!’’ and the great works of the Western literary canon and the belief that Western culture made the world a better and safer place were all deconstructed and critiqued.
Australian universities also suffered, as noted by Pierre Ryckmans in his 1996 Boyer Lectures.
Ryckmans argued that undergraduates were no longer culturally literate and universities were no longer true to the ideal of the disinterested pursuit of knowledge, wisdom and truth associated with the vision articulated by Cardinal Newman.
Best illustrated by the mistaken concept of multiculturalism, where the argument is that all cultures are equal and that it is wrong to impose Western, liberal beliefs and values, the tenor of the times is one of cultural relativism.
Worse still, many of the cultural left, instead of defending the very culture that ensures their freedom, argue the West is inherently destructive, inequitable and unjust. Marxists argue capitalism is based on greed; ecowarriors that our lifestyle is destroying the environment; and feminists that society is misogynist and patriarchal.
However the reality proves otherwise.
History proves that Western culture is pre-eminent in defending what the American Declaration of Independence refers to as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
Christian concepts such as the sanctity of life, the separation of church and state, a commitment to the common good and social justice ensure that our freedoms and rights are sustained.
Our Westminster parliamentary system, legal institutions and common law also distinguish Western culture from those, like Islamic State, that are barbaric, totalitarian and riven with self-serving ambition and power.
It’s no coincidence that the American-based Freedom House gives higher rankings to Western nations such as America, England, New Zealand and Australia for protecting civil liberties and political rights compared to countries like China, Thailand, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Vietnam, Cambodia and Russia.
Science, technology and reason, beginning with the Ancient Greek philosophers and brought to fruition with the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, are also unique products of Western culture. Scientific reasoning and technology allow planes to safely take off and land, bridges to stay upright, and for the world’s population to experience record levels of health and wellbeing.
While many on the cultural left yearn for the socialist utopia, from each according to his abilities and to each according to his needs, the truth is as proven by Orwell’s Animal Farm that capitalism is far superior.
Capitalism, based on risk-taking and the ability to make a profit, leads to innovation and growth in areas like technology and science. As argued by Friedrich Hayek in the Road to Serfdom, capitalism, by embracing subsidiarity, also acts against centralised and oppressive state control.
Instead of denigrating and undermining Western culture we should acknowledge and celebrate what we have achieved.
Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and co-chaired the National Curriculum Review.