On May 18, 2006, Richard Koch and Chris Smith wrote about their book Suicide of the West in Financial Times, London. Excerpts below:
In 1900, most Westerners were confident and optimistic, full of pride about their civilization. Since then, the West has made enormous strides in economic, scientific, military, political and social terms. Yet the earlier confidence has gone. We have stopped believing in the ideas that drove earlier generations to improve the world.
Six main ideas made the West, century after century, progressively successful, powerful, and attractive – Christianity, optimism, science, economic growth, individualism and liberalism.
Christianity: Christianity transformed the West. It was the world’s first individualised, activist, self-help movement. Ordinary people were encouraged to clean up their act and given God’s help to do so. Everyone had a “soul”; individual human dignity and responsibility were greatly enhanced.
Optimism: the importance of optimism in driving success – of individuals, of whole civilizations – has been greatly overlooked. Optimism comes from three Greek and Christian “myths” – the myth of autonomy, the myth of progress and the myth of human goodness. Creation is ultimately good.
After 1760, our stories began to feature bad heroes – egotistical people, amoral or immoral. The last century confirmed a dim view of human nature – Freud’s ideas, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, two world wars, horrific and hateful societies. A diminished view of people facilitated these horrors.
Science: science is pre-eminently Western. It arose through belief in a perfect, rational Creator, and in our ability to figure out the perfect universe that God created.
Growth: the West’s stunning economic advance over the past 1,000 years, and especially the last 200 years, has made mankind a …success and the West dominant. Victories over hunger and disease are unprecedented.
Individualism: this has always been the West’s most striking characteristic. Now many inside the West are worried by individualism. Our highly atomistic society makes it easy to feel a failure.
If we do not demand truly responsible individualism, from our leaders, role models and ourselves, our civilization will disintegrate.
Liberalism: the greatest threat to the West comes from [classical] liberalism’s decline … Also from the “ultra-liberals”, the relativists who see nothing special about Western liberal society, who deny personal responsibility and incubate the “victim mentality”.
Western civilization has reached a fork in the road…[The West needs] a recovery of nerve, confidence in ourselves and our culture, unity within and between America and Europe, a society of individuals held together by self-improvement, striving, optimism, reason, compassion, equality and mutual identity. The road chosen will determine whether our civilization collapses or reaches its destiny.
Richard Koch, an author, and Lord Smith, former UK culture secretary, are co-authors of Suicide of the West (Continuum, 2006).
Comment: There is much of interest in the Koch-Smith book but they do not agree with James Burnham (1905 – 1987) in their conclusions. In his book Suicide of the West Burnham focused on the intangible, often vague leftist doctrine that is dominating Western civilization.
Long after Burnham’s death the suicidal tendencies of the West have increased greatly, especially in the last eight years. The first edition of Burnham’s book was published in 1964. It was republished in 2014.
There is no lack of resources or military power in the West, said Burnham, but there is an erosion of intellectual, moral, and spiritual factors in modern Western society represented by the liberal left. It represents the ideology of Western suicide. It can be argued that civilization is not about military might. It is true but without bases, posts, and soldiers there can be no civilization, there is nothing. The lines of defense are the limes also of civilization. Left liberalism has a way of comforting us in our afflictions. It transmutes the dark defeats, the withdrawals and catastrophes into their bright opposites: into gains, victories, advances. The geographic, political, demographic and strategic losses emerge as triumphs of Freedom, Equality, Progress and Virtue.
Burnham wrote during the Cold War but his views continue to be accurate. At present the liberal leftist leaders are telling us that we should not be troubled by the attacks of Islamic terrorists. These terrorists are on the run, they say, although the West is not using its full military resources to defeat them. Both the Russian, Chinese and Iranian empires are challenging the West, but the liberal leftist leaders assure us that all is well and appeasement works if we only accept peaceful coexistence with these empires. When the final defeat of the West comes the liberal leftist leaders will declare that Mankind as a whole is joining in a utopian universal civilization that has risen above distinctions and divisions of the past. It is in truth, they would declare, eternal peace and happiness.